Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘women’s lives’ Category

1960sPoldarkNovelsBodleyHeadArtworkonCovers
Bodley Head edition (in the 1960s the Bodley Head press produced an edition of the first four books)

Coastof
From the coast of Cornwall, ruin of a fortress

Dear friends and readers,

A third blog of appreciation, analysis, love, for Graham’s second Poldark novel, Demelza. The first, “Herstory,” came out of my own reading of the novel and watching of the 1975-76 Poldark mini-series; the second, “A young lady’s entrance into the world,” out of my teaching the book to college students aged 18-27 and having read all twelve novels by that time; this third, from teaching the book to retired and older people, aged 50-70, and having reread the novels, written “Liberty in the Poldark Novels,” and watched the first 8 episodes of the 2015 Poldark, not to omit having read (at long last) some intelligent understanding of these books in Nickianne Moody, Rachel Moseley and and Julie Taddeo’s essays on why the series is so politically compelling and relevant, why Cornwall is so central to the success of the first mini-series, and the ambivalent presentation of sexuality, and especially rape and sexual abuse in Graham’s fiction. It is a somewhat revised version of the class discussions and my brief lectures.

I treat the book as a hyrid form between history, political-social or ethnographic study, and romancing novel. The particular threads added to Ross Poldark are captured in the character of Dwight Enys, introduced in this book, and his doings: he enables the opening up of a long exploration of how medicine was practiced in the long 18th century and how this mirrors our own era begins, and how the very definition of what was a crime and what its punishment was the result of a long class struggle and economic development over the course of 2 centuries. When I come to write blogs on the new series (2015, starting in June, I’ll follow the PBS schedule though by that time hope to have the BBC DVDs and use the BBC arrangement of the mini-series). Then my perspective will follow that of Tom Bragg (in Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama, historical films) on how the series fits into the development of historical film in the 1970s: its use of landscape, interior settings, roving immersion camera work, its genuine humane progressivism. Just about all my stills for this blog come from 1970s mini-series as this is the only one I have a DVD for.

This blog will best be appreciated and is indeed meant to supplement a slow reading along of Demelza; the pages cited are keyed to the American Sourcebook editions of the first two Poldark novels. It is critical and evaluative and takes in the whole arc of the series (all 12 books) when appropriate, so it assumes you have read them all.

I began this second novel with the use of allegorical names and emotional resonances in non-allegorical names; about the characters of Ross and Demelza Poldark, Warleggan, and Jud. Graham uses semi-allegorical for his characters, which are often realistic too (but not always, as in Dr Choake). Many have personal associations or resonances for him.

Ross Poldark is named after his best friend in his twenties, a chemist (in the UK that’s a drugstore person, would know about medicine, we’d call him pharmacist), called Ridley Polgreen. He died tragically in her 20s, sense of wit and “deep appreciation of all that was good and beautiful in life. But he felt “green” was too bright, then during WW2 he came across a scarred, bony flyer in a train in WW2: had been in a crash, broken leg, broken ribs, scars on face, had in him “a high strung disquiet” towards life. Thoughtful man.

Demelza – it has become a common name in Cornwall; he saw a signpost with the name; he began with the conception of a “dark-haired waif whom Ross picked up at Redruth Fair”. 1790. These are thoroughly researched, based on a bedrock of knowledge. Dr William Pryce. Two books: Mineralogia Cornubiensis – 18th century mining. He also wrote An Essay to preserve the Ancient Cornish Language. De means thy or the. Melza – honey or sweetness so my sweetness – links back to French, miel, honey. Graham used Pryce’s dictionary for some names.

Nampara: valley of bread, name goes back centuries, he is thinking of Perranport.

Warleggan, a village on the Bodmin moors, lonely place, desolate; unaltered for centuries, he tells of how he came upon it on a cold mid-June day, south-easterly wind blowing, squat church made of granite, a ruined spire, tombstones unkempt, plain altar. Unameliorated capitalism; the first thing this man does in Warleggan when he gets hands on Trenwith is to enclose the land, kick tenants off; if mind not making a big enough profit, closes it

Elizabeth is popular name at the time; Chynoweth an old Cornish name. Enys an old Cornish name. Zacky: Zechariah. Biblical names liked.

Jud Paynter. Partly a composite but again he came across an obstinate old working class man in a pub; he sister he lived with is the prototype for Prudie. Came across him while the second mini-series was being filmed: had a doom-laden point of view, a kind of comic pessimism, thick Cornish accent, poor, in ragged clothes, a battered hat. Saw him as in a way sublime in his obliviousness. Graham has said maybe he overdid the character but felt Paul Curran’s performance was perfect for the character: he’s not quite real.

Then I suggested how the books related to one another:

Demelza takes place in that world and we begin to meet many characters who are situated in houses. In Ross Poldark, Graham was feeling his way into his historical fiction world, and inventing a group of characters he was deeply attached to personally – as surrogates and who he managed to attach readers to. Ross and Demelza, Verity and Francis, Elizabeth more shadowy. Verity will drop out as will Jud and Prudie gradually in later novels. But the four or two couples remain central to the end: tellingly, Elizabeth and Francis will vanish by Book 4 (Warleggan) and Book 6 (The Angry Tide), respectively, but their presences are never forgotten nor what they left behind. Through her son by Ross, Valentine, Elizabeth is as much part of last or 12th book (Bella) as she was of the first; that book is only resolved with a final death and Ross facing his irresponsibility about Valentine, and that he should have told the boy the truth about himself as his father. Ross Poldark was a reaction to WW2: he was looking for a usable past he could find restoration in; carving out value system for the mid-20th century.

Demelza is not a sequel but a continuation. All the novels are continuation, all 12, continuing the story. Each one has a peculiar structure and themes of its own but they do not introduce a new set of characters who are dismissed from the action beyond the one novel. In Stranger from the Sea there is a leap of 11 years (from 1799 to 1810), but otherwise In Demelza Graham widens his purview to include the 18th century world. We might say the first is an introduction and exploration of two characters in a landscape with a few close around them: Francis, Verity, Elizabeth, Jud, the Carters, with mentions of Warleggans and forays into outer world.

In Demelza Graham began to fill out the 18th century world – it’s in this that topics like mining, banking, crime and punishment, laws, prisons, and medicine emerge centrally (see Austen Reveries for these 18th century historical matters). Dwight Enys is introduced and like Caroline Pevenen (introduced in Book 3, Jeremy Poldark), Dr Enys will last until the close of 12th book, though take on a lesser role once Ross begins to be an MP in London and the characters travel to France. Dr Enys is the site for Graham’s exploration of medicine then as a mirror of today.

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

2DemelzaCover1
From book covers of 1970s series

CornishMineOpening
A Cornish Mine opening

Book 1 ends on tragedy in the community: the closing of Grambler mine – that is brought about by private doings: Francis is using Grambler money to live a life of gambling, women, goes into debt. We feel the poingnance of how the men don’t want to leave; how all the people in the community experience this as a disaster; we have here the modern equivalent of globalization where a corporation moves to another country to get dirt-cheap wages, no controls on their conditions; cities in the US and UK disaster areas who try to find some other way to live. There are companies which grow rich by deliberately buying up, pulling money out of and destroying the company and then selling it – Romney did this. Look at the last line of Demelza, Book 1, the unwatering of the mine, the sound of the engines goes, the man work as long as they dare, and even then some (p. 125) – who will they turn to? The plangent close of those sea gulls.

Note that the second book starts a year and 11 months later than the first. It opens with Demelza giving birth. So it opens hard upon the close of Ross Poldark, about May 1788, the first book ended December 1787 (this would be 7 months later) – several of the books end on Christmas time. A ritual time of remembering, taking stock, high emotions can be brought forth

Novels of the 18th century especially by women are endlessly in indirect ways criticizing marriage and exposing this trap. Graham has this enclosed in his plot-design too.

What most 18th century women did regularly once they married: Gave birth. While the inescapable trap this meant for women is not central to this book, in the later ones it becomes so: women in the 18th century were faced with near-mandatory marriage – in order to participate as a fully functioning adult in the society you had to marry – if you did not, you remained a kind of upper servant, a daughter, a sister. The problem for women is they lacked the power to define marriage for themselves: we do see this in Verity. They were hindered from meeting people their families didn’t approve of, of choosing a husband within the men they met; particular men were forced on them for family aggrandizement. What man you choose makes for what life you live. It was very risky to run away and defy parents as there was no way of getting positions for a man outside the patronage systems stemming mostly from families. Ended up prostitutes.

What 18th century fiction presents less often but it’s there is that if you married, continual pregnancies for most and childbirth was dangerous. Very high death rate – numbers are hard come by, but many men went through 3 wives. Contraception was known and understood. Graham’s way of presenting women emphasizes this reality. In the case of Graham, he is bringing to bear the voices of the marginalized and the strong pro-revolutionary currents of the 1780s and 1790s into discourse – that’s why the books still matter in some ways (also the proto-feminism and some other themes). Women were part of this powerless group.

The equivalent of condoms were sheep-guts, very expensive as you used each one up. 5 pounds each for Lord Byron. Got in the way of pleasure, really used as prophylactic to prevent disease. All the moral rhetoric of the period against contraception. Yes we have evidence people used anal intercourse and various forms of fellatio and other non penetrative sex but kept quiet about it. Found in diaries and French sources, soft core porn novels of the Enlightenment – regarded as radical politically.

What was happening in the 18th century was midwifery was beginning to be somewhat scientific – John Hunter still respected and celebrated as one of the great surgeons in history described and drew a series of remarkable depictions of the embryo, the way it developed, how the baby had to turn, and yet when it came to getting it out, not so easy. Forceps invented in first half of 17th century Chamberlain brothers, Huguenots who came to England and Pierre said to be inventor; find definitive descriptions in 1634, – he became obstetrician-surgeon to Henrietta, the French Queen of Charles I (famous in history for being deposed and beheaded, but it was kept secret as a trade secret for 150 years. They would not disseminate – one of the great obstacles to science has been the profit motive and secresy – not sharing information is still a central problem and obstacle.

Ross does become indignant and insist the doctor come back, but luckily Dr Choake (allegorically named) keeps away, and Prudie, Ross’s woman servant, and the woman who partly brought Demelza up, and Verity, Ross’s cousin, who has become Demelza’s good friend, assist Mrs Zacky Martin (Jinny’s mother) who suddenly emerges as a woman with knowledge of childbirth. Notice she is not paid and Dr Choake is paid.

The birth itself is not really described only suggested. She then gets up from bed, the young baby begins to thrive. Verity has come to stay during her convalescence and help out. Demelza’s love for Verity, her bonding with her leads Demelza to ring Verity, together with Captain Blamey, the man Verity loves. She tries to open this purpose to Ross but he is not keen to see Blamey refound, is as distrustful as Francis and Charles Poldark were (pp 18-2). Then she broaches this to Verity (pp. 20-21). No one but Demelza for it it seems. Thus Jud not far wrong when he understands Demelza’s purpose in going to Falmouth and remarks: “”Ten sense, tedne natural, tedn right, tend safe.” (p 22)

Chapters 3 & 4 & 5: then two christenings, the first and then introduction of Enys and the scheme for opening an independent mine (Pascoe): a first Christening one in which the upper class characters & Ross’s family are invited, and the next day the lower class ones & Demelza. She is central figure for the novel as someone who engineers central plot-design (much flows from Verity’s flight with Blamey); here she brings these people together. So we have class clash. There is an anti-religious satire in the novel rare in American books. Francis’s dialogue captures some of this irrevent spirit, pp 31-32

It’s very neat how all the threads are plotted together (Pp. 30-33): What we see is the religion you practice is a function of your character, not the other way round. If you are a violent, intolerant man religion will give you a doctrine to rationalize your behavior; if you are filled with class resentments and an instinctive desire to control libido, pleasure, have authority and power over others, you will invent rules that enforce that. Hints throughout let us know Francis is a reader as is Ross.

Poor Demelza is just desolate. She is a lower class woman thrust into an environment where she does not fit easily and she feels (is made to feel) this daily; she is independent-minded (as so many say), acts on her own for her own existence: we do not see her as a wife much, in this book scarcely as a mother (though frequently pregnant three times thus far), but rather Ross’s mistress, sex partner (this is done discreetly), working with and for him for his causes (which I like) and his safety (which is hers), waiting for her revenant-adventurer (primarily she is at home). He reads evenings (though what we are not told, alas, as that would be fun to see which 18th century texts Graham might pick for him) and often drinks, is more solitary than one might expect; she sits by his side, sewing, talking. She walks, rides (sidesaddle), goes boating and fishes.

Well in this scene he is in control as host, as the Top Male of this gathering and the way to stop further outbreaks of social poison is to assert the norm of respect to families, respect to him, and he manages to make this stick (p. 35): Demelza sees that he “had come out the best.” Ruth Teague acts badly again, but Francis refuses to be provoked, and both Mrs Carne who shows common sense and does not have the class resentments her husband does and Treneglos is willing to overlook the insult to his wife – the sort of thing that could end in a duel except an upper class gentleman is not supposed to duel with a working class male.

He insists she must not retreat; took her to Trenwith and now they must have the second day. Powerful ticketing scene (pp 37-43). This is how it was done – Buckley’s book on Mining in Cornwall recounts this. At the same time we see Ross hire Enys to be a mine surgeon and give him a house to live in. Nice to have all these houses just lying about. Even the son of a second son in such a family has resources.

Chapter 5: During this second christening (much happier because so much more natural), Keren, the strolling actress and her company are to be there; she is introduced and Mark Daniels who came to this second christening is mesmerized, enthralled and persuades her to marry him. The disaster of their union is played out in this book: she creates a liaison between herself and Dr Dwight Enys and Mark acts in crazed hurt when he discovers that his all was not good enough. So this series of events is tied to the christening, and also Ross’s need for a surgeon for his new mine and his giving Dwight the gatehouse near the mine, just at the edge of his property and near Mark’s dwelling.

The event gives Graham a chance to present a scene of provincial players doing a typical melodrama of the era. Aaron Hill was an 18th century theater man who wrote and translated plays (Voltaire’s), Samuel Johnson a man of letter who wrote one tragedy which was bad; they would go back to old English names like Elfrida. Mark is very allured by her. Is the depiction of Keren was fair? What happens? She too is lower class, she wants to better herself, get on as Demelza puts it. Would you like the destiny she is supposed to like? in a dark dank cottage caring for endless babies? She does not find in Mark any companion for her. Keren is a parallel figure to Demelza, only Graham presents her hostilely too.

Fristmeetinghetransfixed
The first meeting of Mark and Keren: he enthralled, transfixed by an icon (like Ross with Elizabeth Chynoweth), she her impersonally gracious

Jump interweave: Chapter 7: Mark comes to Demelza for land to build his house and she helps (Pp 63-76) the opening phase of the Mark Daniels and Keren story. Chapter 8 the building of the house, Keren almost flies away, but stays reluctantly, best of bad choices, he falls asleep exhausted (pp 69-76). Her resentment at his being too tired to have sex is made a point of.

Chapter 6: Demelza goes to Falmouth, making contact with Captain Blamey and fostering and engineering Verity’s renewed love affair. At first Blamey is hostile; he too so hurt, he more isolated than she. The depiction of Falmouth (to which Demelza travels to find and see Blamey) is very fine, convincing and pleasurable, with the character of Demelza vivid with uncertainty about her plans once she sees him — and on the first visit her coming leads to nothing. She does see how lonely Blamey is but also how twisted, not really perhaps to be trusted because husbands were so powerful (Pp 53-62).

TrioWatching (2)
Corn demonstration of desperately hungry people turns into riot when soldiers arrive

TrioWatching (1)
Verity, Demelza, Blamey caught up, watch as POV

Again jump interweave: Chapter 10; Demelza waiting for Ross is visited by Blamey who does want to court Verity again and asks her; Ross comes home to tell her of his schemes to use Pascoe’s bank, enlist a group of men to open a business; the invitation to Warleggan has been refused; the deepening of their relationship in Ross’s mind (p. 88). Demelza waiting for Ross is visited by Blamey who does want to court Verity again and asks her; Ross comes home to tell her of his schemes to use Pascoe’s bank, enlist a group of men to open a business; the invitation to Warleggan has been refused; the deepening of their relationship in Ross’s mind (p 88)

Chapter 12: The intertwining of the riot with Verity and Demelza in town and Blamey helping them to escape. When Blamey is brought together with Verity through Demelza’s machinations — a trip to Truro where Blamey and Demelza agree to meet in a shop (in fact they meet in the street because his nerve faltered). Then she is intensely reluctant and moves away; they are caught up in a strike, half-riot so Demelza loses sight of them but by the end Verity has been brought to acknowledge she still wants to marry Blamey, to have another identity and role in the world than sister, aunt.

We have some intertwining of movements in Blamey with Keren come to ask for a promotion for Mark and Demelza taking Verity to Truro to meet Blamey; a food riot developing from starving – very good because we see intertwining of several threads

Chapter 9: Ross’s attempts to enlist Francis and the various men to open Wheal Leisure( pp 77-81) – it’s starve and let the mines die and go under control of banks and people outside Cornwall or try themselves. Chapter 11: In fact Ross goes to male hegemonic party, sees Enys there and much richer Margaret (who is sarcastic to Ross) and preying on Francis – several people are now preying on him. He is weak, gambles.

How does the style function to take you into a characters mind as he or she is dealing with the environment and allow for more general thoughts and discussion of ideas and descriptions.

It’s a flexible middle style, can rise to real eloquence and principles “I have the right to chose my own life,” and talk of principles as people plan business dealings – at the same time sharp narrative and dialogue. We are often half in Demelza’s mind (pp 57-58), From “They trekked … another noise in the street drew her notice again. In Chapter 10 we see how narrator can move from distanced description into her mind, “The joys of leisure … All the trees leaned the other way” (p 82). This is called free indirect style. Again and again important incidents of outward history brought in sometimes three paragraphs in a row by subtle moving from inside a character’s mind to the paragraphs and then back to character’s mind. So Demelza watching the rioters (p 99) – called free indirect speech. There are sentences there that are the narrator’s. Sleight of hand. Chapter 13, p 112-113 – quick intensities – Verity left alone having made her intense contact with Andrew again.

There are many inward thoughtful characters; Ross is often not one of them in the sense of giving away his darkest thoughts. His thoughts are often very narrowly aimed. He is private character – you can’t reach the back thoughts. You are allowed to reach them in Dwight Enys. Graham can translate principles into demotic working class Cornish English and he does this a lot with Jud. Jud is angry and resentful (pp 106-7). He and Prudie did not have the self-esteem to have a wedding. Prudie feels bad because her mother would have been ashamed since they aren’t.

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

2DemelzaCover2
From the 1990s covers of the PanMacMillan series

DrawingofEllisAngharadasRossDemelza
A drawing of Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees as Ross and Demelza Poldark (taken from a promotional photograph)

Move onto Book 2; April 1789 (p 128). So time has passed for Verity and Andrew to keep contact and for Keren and Dwight’s affair to carry on, and Mark and Keren’s relationship distance and deteriorate. In Book 3, Graham brings together the fall of the Bastille with Verity’s flight – Francis poo poohs it (Chapter 2, p 232). Of course Trencomb would have heard, he is back and forth as a businessman-smuggler from France continually.

Book 2: April 3, 1789,

Chapter 1: Whole chapter given over to ticketing for Carnmore Mining Company with Zacky Martin as agent (there was a Cornwall Copper company which attempted the same thwarting of outside and bank monopoly interests); they succeed in buying; the company is floated with Pascoe’s money; the strike for corn has repercussions and they are moving prisoners as the prisons fill up — alas Jim Carter is just then reaching end of his term; Pascoe tells Ross of rumors about Verity (Pp 127-135). Zacky may be “a fellow of an inferior class” but he’s close-mouthed, effective. Banker Pascoe tells Ross somehow word always gets to him of other people’s doing. What I find rewarding here beyond the scene is the theme: George Eliot might provide the epitaph for this book: “There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life,” – the way justice was administered – getting ahead of myself was imprisoning only a few but delivering terrifying draconian punishments. Read Blight’s ugly reactionary comments (p. 133)

Chapter 2 (pp 136-142). We are in Ross’s mind: we see how he sees Verity and Blamey, No reconciliation with Jud and Prudie. Important history – Sherborne Mercury was an important revolutionary radical newspaper in the mid-lands (p. 137). A time of revolution. Ross talks with Verity about situation at Trenwith; Elizabeth patient but no understanding for Francis (p. 137) – Hastings is Warren Hastings, in charge of India took too huge bribes, and committed some unacceptable injustice to Begums. Ross home sees Demelza playing as “a thread of silver into the spring” — an invitation to an Assembly and Ball put on by Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and she wants to go so he accedes. She is thinking about her dress: apple green and mauve – mauve a new color then. Dyes more particular. New kind of purple, new shades of green. The scene in bed between them is going to blow up in both of their faces

Chapter 3 (pp 143-150) At home with Keren and Mark; Mark’s reference to the thrush. Touching connection to natural world: the thrush has a beautiful song about singing against despair and savagery. It fits Mark’s behavior.

Poem by Basil Bunting:

A thrush in the syringa sings.
Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things
Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.
Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things
fear, hunger, lust.
O gay thrush!

Keren’s thoughts given in italics I don’t know why. I wouldn’t like to live the way she’s expected to.

Keren visits Enys once again; he says they must stop but does not throw her out; she must not criticize Daniels for not being other than they are; she stays to help with his work and leaves. Shows his larger humanity (p 145):. They have not have understanding or charity outside their understanding, but within that they have sterling qualities (p 147), a bit condescending. How manipulative she is (p 149-50). Encys presented as an innocent boy. Like Demelza she’s afraid he’ll react with contempt – a parallel – women are so vulnerable.

Chapter 4 (pp 151-60) The Warleggans to hold a party just before; a male party with disreputable women about.
Good use of song from Beggar’s Opera – if we’ve seen Gay’s play the gay flirtatiousness and erotic desperation come across – Keren an actress and singer (p 153). Mark would not appreciate it.

Chapter 5 (pp 161-66) Ross and Enys’s attempt to save Jim by amputation — how today doctors are similarly determined to try to save the patient. Mark visits Demelza because he now suspects Keren of sexual infidelity, she cannot give him help for real; she knows Keren is “carrying on” with someone.

Ross in Truro buys lovely objects for Demelza to wear. Again what shopping is like (Pp 154-55). how in life talk is interwoven (p 156). And here a scene we went over in terms of style and point of view (pp 157-63), references to time. Graham also moves quickly – One story carrying on, another: now it’s Mark come to talk to Ross and Demelza is there – -and sees “some new darkness at the back of his eyes.” He confesses to her – givens more sincere talk (pp. 164-65). And we move to Verity persuading Ross it is in his interest to go (pp 170-72)

Graham cleverly uses attitudes of mind about medicine just now, attitudes that might not have been prevalent in the early 20th century but emerged mid-century. It’s particular not universal. That’s the real trick. These things come together in these heightened thematic moments. When Ross and Dwight force their way into the prison. Most prisons were not that well guarded, gun was enough. Book 2, Chapter 4 (p 155): We begin in Dwight’s mind; the POV moves between Dwight and Ross. Admiring the view brings in a bit of history: this was where Wm the Conqueror brother built his castle (p 156). If you are a producer you might think, Should I photograph some of the old castles at the edge of Cornwall, guarding it from sea attacks. We are embedded in this scene. Read Ross watching (pp. 158-159).

Typhus a strange rash, and gangrene has set in. He is dying of having been put in that prison. Then sudden speech of abject subaltern being who hardly ever is heard (pp. 160ff). Jinny did beg him not to go (p 160). Should you let him die in peace, Dwight makes the usual doctor’s decision, “let me try” to save him (pp. 160-61) Dwight can’t let the guy die in peace. Works on him all night. (I daresay some of us have seen this – should the person be let alone – I’ve been there twice now.)

This is a moment which reverberates through the rest of the novel, not just the result in Ross’s behavior at the assembly ball, but is part of the rage that leads him in the book’s penultimate scenes – then it’s Julia’s death and the failure of his smelting scheme through Warleggan having found out the names of the combine’s members and put a stranglehold on them through their monopoly power, to say nothing of hs deeper angers – to instigate a riot.

Demelza’s slow moving plan-plot to bring Verity together with Blamey again will also reverberate and past this novel – as Verity is taken from Trenwith where she was needed if not herself living the life she wants and has the right (she says and the novel too) to live

Chapter 6 (pp. 167-72). Verity and Demelza and Ross at Nampara: the bitterness of Ross’s loss; now Demelza cannot enter into his feelings – p 168: opposite reactions. – one line utterance and counter utterance, a technique in drama. It is a matter of loyalty; if he won’t go, she doesn’t. I feel that. Verity tells him he is unwise not to go to ball and assembly. What a difference from Elizabeth’s well-meaning aristocratic point of view: “sorry about your farm boy”

Chapters 7-12 It’s a several chapter marvelous set piece: The high point of the novel visually and dramatically is the assembly ball they go to with again Demelza at center, this time as dancing lady. Ross does not want to go because just before he and Dwight had brought Jim Carter out of a prison he had been moved to and he had died. Ross is incensed at his class and his world. Ross exposes Sanson, a nephew of the Warleggans. At that ball Francis sees Blamey and again Blamey tries to conciliate and again Francis won’t. So there is nothing for it but Verity must run away or give up her life to Francis’s prejudices and needs. We see the two couples with Verity leaving together at the close.

Chapter 7: pp 173-78. The Warleggan ball: Ross goes, the Teagues there; Demelza dressing; George Warleggan making points with Elizabeth. Again (pp. 184-85) each time Warleggan seems stronger in Elizabeth’s mind – I hear Ralph Bates’s voice. Begin with Demelza holding her own against the women and witty (pp 175-76). Demelza drinks and it gives her courage.

Ball
Demelza braves the ball with Ross

For me one of the most striking sequences in this book to hit me personally occurs when she goes to an assembly dance with Ross, and he angered intensely over Jim’s death first does not want to go, and then does not do his part in helping her to integrate. This is to anticipate next week’s reading – unless you’ve read it already – Demelza does not know how to command male respect and ends up a kind of subrisive target, like a girl who goes to a fraternity house and does not know how to cope. Not as bad, but bad enough (Book 2, Chapters 8-10. pp 179-200). I find myself very moved by these scenes because even if I did not live in the 18th century I remember from my teenagehood and later a bit too how hard it was to cope with male abrasiveness and aggression; you were not supposed to reject them, yet their behavior was such if you didn’t respond in just the right way you’d be called a tramp; Ross behaves badly in the scene too. He does manage to see by the end that they are making one another worse and hurting their relationship and so calls a halt but abruptly.

Demelza cannot keep Ross away from his thoughts. He again captures other people’s otherness, p 178
At the ball itself, p 188 Demelza’s inability to cope with upper class abrasive males leaves her vulnerable; Ross apologizes later on for deserting her and she forgives. (A repeat of this will happen in London in Angry Tide (where a duel ensues) and Stranger from the Sea, after which whereby she does not again travel with Ross away from Cornwall or go into high class society for a long time (not until Twisted Sword, Novel 11 — trip to Paris). It’s too much for her as a non upper-class woman with no high self-esteem and background of training to cope. This is good insight. Class gives a woman a weapon against abusive males.

In a mild way it brings to my mind how a girl in a college fraternity can be set upon and used in ugly ways.
We are in her mind, experiencing everything from someone overexcited and not able to comprehend it all, p 180 – she lacks poise that Elizabeth and Verity have.

Chapters 8 – 10 (pp 179-200). The card tables and Verity has to refuse to run off with Blamey (angering him) – reminds me of how in Persuasion Captain Wentworth was angry at Anne Elliot for not running off with him, held against her the training that gave her the obedient character. You are damned if you don’t (and rebel) or do (and are obedient, pp. 193-94). Very kind and useful gesture by Demelza to fix Verity’s hair. Graham is concerned to show us; how Ross does not help Demelza with the men accosting her at first and finally comes over to take his place by her side as her husband (p. 199). He is remiss in all sorts of ways.

Chapter 11: The gambling scene with Sanson and Ross’s final dunking (pp 203-7); I’ve been told if you know
Faro, the playing of the game is accurate. Note Sanson was able to fool Francis and fleece Francis for 600. That money will set another train of evil betraying events a foot. How things are linked (as in Trollope) –this was very effectively done in the 1970s production, this sort of scene they were good at.

Chapter 12: The banker is brought in to show us that the neighborhood only heard the superficial description of what happened (p 212-13). You think everyone despises you and cringe (Lacanian psychology) but they don’t know the inner realities. Then goodbyes after the festivity. The Warleggans’ resentment on behalf of Sanson. The two male cousins (212-13). Had Francis joined, would he have stuck. Elizabeth & Demelza and Elizabeth and Francis go off separately home to Trenwith; Ross and Demelza’s conversation on the way to their home; some understanding in both of them: she how easy the bitter words, how hard the kind ones; back to Julia (Pp 208-9). This has been her debut into society – as I said The History of a young lady’s entrance into the world. They are together at the end of chapter 11 (pp 207-9); again at the end of Chapter 13, pp 215-16. It is up to her to keep him home, but the task as she does not reach his innermost thoughts seems to her beyond her.

Chapter 13: Powerful two opposing presences: Mark and Keren not seeing the same world (pp 217-219). Keren blamed for not being a good manager. Did she think .. . did he think: they accuse one another it the silence of working minds (p 218). Keren comes to Enys and he can no longer resist: “then take” she says. Actually liaison starts late in the book and it is found out quickly (Pp 220-221)

Chapter 14: May 2, 1789: the Warleggans, Cary, Nicholas and George: vowing revenge but also showing the means through squeezing interlopes out once they know who they are. Warleggan could then put the screws on Ross and his Carnmore Copper Company — loans will be called in, property reclaimed — and destroy Ross’s company WE know that Sanson’s mills are a front; they are doing manipulative banking.

Ross’s perpetual kicking against the laws and customs of his world directly while Demelza works against them indirectly — both are pro-friend, pro-decency, and if family members will let them by not insisting on amoral behavior on their part, pro-family.

LauncestonGaol
Launceston Gaol (1980s photograph from Poldark’s Cornwall).

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

Continued in comments: Books Three and Four.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

LadySatdinner

Violetappreciatesit
Lady Sinderby (Penny Downie) winning the first round against Lady Flincher (Phoebe Nicholls), with Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) alone registering appreciation

Lady Flincher: ‘Tell me, do you find it difficult these days to get staff’
Lady Sinderby: (observant of the Flincher’s desperate state): Not really but then we’re Jewish, so we pay well
Violet, Lady Grantham smiles in enjoyment

Dear friends and readers,

It’s unfair and inaccurate to declare the fifth season of Downton Abbey was so much treading water, even if the experience often felt that way; but if so, it’s fitting that this season’s penultimate episode is Rasselas-like in that we have Resolutions, in which little is resolved. How did Fellowes manage this? By making important not what the principals in each drama said or did, but how what had just happened was brought about by other people enigmaticallyas the curtain went down on all left standing or walking towards Downton Abbey.

Walkingback
Far shot of nearly (but not) everyone walking back to the Abbey

For example, did you imagine Lady Rose McClaren (Lily James)’s wedding to Atticus Aldritch (Matt Barber) was about hopeful youthful love, or showed how intolerance can be overcome (pace Mrs Hughes’s “Hurrah for intolerance on both sides”), or even about Lord Sinderby’s (Daniel Aldritch) apparent intransigence (a theme of the episode as heard in Violet telling Prince Kuragin “Don’t proclaim your intransigence as if it were a virtue”). No. What happened is Lady Sinderby won, but not just over Lady Flincher who at the last moment said publicly she and Lord Flincher (Peter Egan) are getting a divorce, just what Lord Sinderby said he would not tolerate, as divorce is a degradation, a confession of weakness, failure (he was intensely strong on that), but also over Sinderby himself:

TheBattlecompleted (2)

Lady Sinderby: Thank you, Lady Flintshire. Or may I call you Susan? We are forewarned and so now we will be forearmed.
Lord Sindeby: You can’t mean
Atticus: Father, I beg you …
Lady Sinderby to her husband: Do anything to stop this marriage, anything at all, I will leave you, and then you will have a scandal worthy of the name! (HUSHED CONVERSATION) …

TheBattlecompleted (1)

The camera focused on Lady Sinderby’s intense trembling satisfaction first and returned to shots of her during the ceremony. Mr Carson (Jim Carter) was not the only one to remark on something odd going on. Like others he focused on the lack of a veil: “it was a funny marriage. No proper service, no veil! You’d have thought one of them was divorced.” But that was not it. We have yet to see the 30 year old young woman brought to Alnwick Castle Christmas time with her young boy. She comes because by Thomas (Rob James-Collier, a kind of avenging angel in this latest phase) as a mode of getting Lord Sinderby to dislike his spiteful steward-butler for exposing Lord Sinderby. But how did Thomas know about her? Something wants explanation. Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) says she wishes the young couple “well.”

Anibundel was correct to suggest not the new characters introduced in the first episode of this season, but those on board towards the end are the most intriguing.

Surely it will be said we have a resolution for Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichol) and the whole of Downton Abbey for closure for World War One. WW1 began the last episode of the first season went on through the second (WW1), and lingered past the third (Mrs Patmore’s nephew killed by the British army for not killing as ordered). The fourth season saw the disappearance of Michael Grigson. This fifth season there was the memorial committee and the widow in the village. Robert, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonnevile) despite all bumbling, disregard (called “Donk” by his grand-daughter with Lady Mary’s [Michelle Dockery] encouragement), has had a memorial plaque put up for Mrs Patmore’s nephew too. We watched the ceremony of all the characters (but our true heroine, Anna Smith Bates, Joanne Froggart) sitting and standing as group remembering those who died and the war.

EMBARGOED_UNTIL_3RD_NOVEMBER_DOWNTON_EP8_64.jpg

Mrs Patmore is closer to feeling a resolution than the others. But her tie is now to Daisy (Sophie McShera) as we see when she walks back after gazing at the plaque; here is her daily life and future. How it grieved her to think Daisy would be giving her notice in so she could remain in London with all its advantages. She could not stop crying.

Is Daisy going to stay? The farm and her all-wise (better than Fielding’s Allworthy who was not all-seeing too) guiding spirit, Mr Mason (Paul Copley), win out for the moment:

Mrs Patmore: ‘At her age, it’s right she should have a new adventure, isn’t it?’
Mr Mason: ‘Is this true, Daisy?’
Daisy: ‘No, she’s just teasing! At least, I did think about it, but I’ve decided I’m not going anywhere, or not until after I’ve passed my exams.’
Mr Mason: ‘I’m glad. I hate it when people who love each other must be far apart.’

Another beautiful moment occurred when Mr Moseley (Kevin Doyle), Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) and Daisy walked back from the Wallace Collection together.

BackfromtheWallace

I know it’s absurd when Mr Moseley laments that he comes to London and never manages to see anything, as if he were not a full-time servant but a modern tourist; still it’s touching when he quotes an art book and shows he can respond as much to a reproduction (anachronistic again) as the pictures in the gallery. The point is Daisy with her Vanity Fair will not forget. Nor Miss Baxter who however rings in a new form of doubt about the future: “You’re never safe ’til the ring’s on your finger,”

Mr Moseley: ‘Do you want to be safe, Miss Baxter?’
Miss Baxter: ‘I might … ‘

To return to that last walk back to the Abbey after the Memorial ceremonies, Lord Grantham reveals he has guessed that that Marigold is Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) child by Michael Grigson, but is that the end of her story? (or his?). Tom (Allen Leech) tells Lady Edith that she should go back to London to run her publishing business and write; he’s going to take his Sybbie with him to Massachusetts. Why not take Marigold?

Does anyone believe he’s going for sure? Oh he’ll stay until Christmas, and then there are the houses he wants built on the estate. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) vows to stop him.

The worst is what has happened to Anna and Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle). She has held out against the Inspector Vyer’s (Louis Hilyer) bullying attempt to get her to admit she was raped by Mr Green, advised by Mr Bates to keep their secrets until they must reveal them. The upshot: she is arrested.

anna-is-arrested

Mr Bates says ominously to Lady Mary on the walk back to the abbey she won’t be convicted. In those words are a threat he’ll confess and prove himself guilty first.

Reversals too. Near the close it’s Mr Carson who tells Mrs Hughes as she reveals her intense anxiety about the Bateses’ future and for once her own:

Mrs Hughes: ‘Sorrow seems to shadow them both and in their wake, it shadows us.’
Mr Carson: ‘Come, Mrs Hughes. This isn’t like you. Take courage for their sake. We must always travel in hope.’

In previous episodes we’ve heard how hope is a treacherous distraction, hurting more when the illusion is done.

But has not Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton) made up her mind not to remarry Lord Merton? we saw as she came away from one dinner table the hurt Lord Merton’s sons were able to inflict her on, the tension between Merton and her they could cause. It’s been reinforced by watching what has surrounded Lady Rose’s marriage. But she looks grim coming back to the Abbey. She had expressed surprise at Violet’s disappointment for her in an earlier walking scene between the two of them late one evening as they were off to bed befoe the others

Balcony

Mrs Crawley: ‘You’ve changed your tune.’
Dowager: ‘I’ve been reminded recently that one is not given many chances in life and if you miss them, they may not necessarily be repeated… ‘

Mrs Crawley was not been at yet another scene between Kuragin (Rade Serbedzija) and the Dowager where Violet wavered:

Kuragin (2)

Kuragin (1)

And on this final walk, it seems what is holding Violet back is the existence of the Prince’s wife. Lord Merton’s wife is dead. Yet there they are walking and talking the true companions.

Is there anyone who does not either waver or express doubt about the future or act enigmatically or suddenly change their tune? Miss Denker (Sue Johnston) has it in her to be an unscrupulous lapper-up of alcohol, and we begin to wonder if Spratt (Jeremy Swift) is not right about her, though unable to do anything about her but hide his mistress’s case under the bed to get her into trouble. The Dowager caught that.

Who believes Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) will be happy with Mabel Lane Fox (Catherine Steadman) who has returned to her supercilious self, so her thought about her wedding is her preference for the city over the country where there will be less mud, while he carries smoldering with resentment against Lady Mary Crawley.

Beyond “Uncle Thomas” (! he calls himself) rescuing another male footman so generously (in character that; he rescued Jimmy more than once), I found myself feeling for Lady Mary at the close of the episode because Mr Carson observed underneath her aloofness a bleakness. Carson may overrate her, but she is not a fool, and she will miss Tom.

MarynearStairs

Carson: ‘Is everything all right, m’lady?’
Lady Mary: ‘I thought I’d sneak away. I don’t think I’ll be missed.’
Carson: “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.’
Lady Mary; ‘I feel as if our household is breaking up, Carson, but I suppose that’s what happens. People grow up and move away and things change.’

She showed much feeling when mourning Matthew, unable to turn to someone else. Now she may be left with Edith and (as she jokes) get sent away for murder.

This episode was more Thackeray than Trollope.

Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? — come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets for our play is played out.

After all since Lady Sinderby was introduced, she has been my favorite puppet this season.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

mrs-miniverGreerGarsonfamilyairraidshelter
Greer Garson and Walter Pigeon as Mr and Mrs Miniver with their children in a locally dug-out air raid shelter with their children, Toby and Judy (Christopher Severn and Clare Sandars)

Dear friends and readers,

If you read my other blog, Austen Reveries, you know I’ve been working on a paper on the importance of screenplays to be given this March at the ASECS, part of my larger project on Austen films, and just enjoyment of, interest in screenplays.

This week I’ve been reading great and powerful screenplays, chosen mostly as a result of what’s in print and well-prepared in two sets of what ought to be famous collections (John Gassner and Dudley Nicols, 10 Best Film Plays, 1942, and Best Film Plays [10] of 1943-44; and George Garrett, Jane Gelfman, and O. B. Hardison Jr’s Film Scripts 1, 2, 3, 4 (1970s). This to help me demonstrate the centrality and great power of them when well-prepated, and how they are a new changeable experimental genre, worthy reading and study in their own right. When I read Dashiell Hammet’s Watch on the Rhine adapted from Lillian Hellman’s stage play of the same name, the experience was gripping, almost as good as watching it. When I read Graham Greene’s screenplay for The Third Man this week (once again), maybe it was better in some ways. To my surprise, and not meaning at all to have Downton Abbey in mind (though Fellowes has been smart enough to publish the screenplays of the first three seasons completely annotated, with omitted scenes, stills, the works), I discovered a real provable source for one of the striking episodes of the first season: The Flower Show. Here is a still from that in Mrs Miniver:

TheflowerShow
Probably not one of the more remembered scenes of the movie, though it leads into the tragic climax

First let me suggest just a few of the characteristics of screenplays that put them apart from other genres that I’m working on: The writer writes with camera visualization in mind, and an awareness of there will be a world created by the hallucinatory screen from production and costume designs: screenplays presuppose encompassing specific worlds constructed so the viewer shall suspend disbelief, and within this assumed imagined environment the scripts present bits of dialogue, descriptions of movements of setting, suggestions for actors and silent moments, and camera angles as a quick succession of fluid and suggestive experiences with movement involved, freed of the time and space of a literal stage. In recent contemporary films what happens in this film is conveyed through a continual movement back and forth between past and present time, with lingering voice-overs that spill voiced thoughts across the interwoven obsessively remembered past and present time in quick change montages. Studying film adaptations alongside the scripts has taught me the films are made of dislocated series of images which can be moved about; Sarah Cardwell demonstrated these are not in the present tense, but tenseless or timeless (in her essay “About Time”). The relation of the words, the dialogue and voice-over, crucially tell the relationships in time between the images. They are concentrated, the feel is intimate because of the close-ups, split seconds of visualization brings us close-up and magnifies the experience. From this comes fan groups for cults of stars. If you know who played the parts and have not seen the movie, you try to visualize the actors and actors; if you don’t know who played the parts, or the screenplay was never filmed, you try to cast it with favored actors and actresses.

In the second Gassner and Nicols volume the screenplays are accompanied by stills from the films dropped it (like illustrations for 19th century novels) at the spots in the screenplay they visualized. That’s also done in the New Market paperback shooting script series, and in many publications of screenplays — often the better ones will have essays by the writer, or a journal of the filming, or particulars about production design, costumes, houses …. Mrs Miniver is in the first volume so I went onto the Net to find stills. I was not surprised to discover I could not find shots for the most traumatic and best scenes — that’s typical. What one finds are stills where the people look beautiful. It’s also hard to find stills of landscape, and the encompassing world which is so central to films. I did find this one of her compassionating the German soldier after he terrified, threatened and was ready to kill her but then sat to eat and wait, and collapsed:

mrs-miniver-greer-garson-helmut-dantine-1942
Helmut Dantine played the part of the German pilot forced down

First the 1940s screenplay is extraordinary. It is not by Joyce Anstruther (also a poet) whose columns in the 1930s were a precursor of The Egg and I, or Bridget Jones, the self-deprecating woman, here quietly ironic about much of her life, but herself the cynosure of competence and complacent assured middle class life (discussed extraordinarily well by Alison Light in Forever England). I can see from just reading the screenplay, how it could have the effect on its viewership it did. It subscribes to the most appealing myths of what England is. Paradoxically at the same time like so many movies of the 1930s and 40s the central characters are upper middle class and as a matter of course have servants (This is true of the characters in Watch on the Rhine, it is not true of the characters in screenplays starting in the 1960s, then we are no longer in firm middle class households, no servants anywhere, e.g, Darling a 1965 screenplay and movie, The Apartment, same era). Mrs Miniver opens in an expensive men’s club in Pall Mall; they are going about their business undisturbed as yet. She is the wife of such a man; we see her first jumping off a bus and rushing back to an expensive shop to treat herself to an unnecessary concoction of a hat. Yet as the story went on, and we go home with her, are introduced to her servants (whom she treats well but keeps in good order by her benign orderly ways herself) I believed in her and these children. Her grown son home from Oxford. The girl he meets and falls in love with — but lacks her upper middle class rank (Orwell would find all the careful nuancing par for the course).

Well emotions are worked up as this orderly life begins to fall apart, but everyone is stout together. I found myself coming close to tears, especially when the family was in the bomb shelter under their house, intensely engaged when the German soldier broke into Mrs Miniver’s house (of course she dealt with him, a bit of luck too, which Mrs Miniver ever has). One of its authors was William Wyler, and apparently some of the lines he wrote for the screenplay were used by Roosevelt in one of his speeches. The sense of the characters are turned far away from Anstruther then.

What startled me though is here is an important story in the first season of Downton Abbey. Remember that Flower Show and how the dowager at the very end gave the prize for roses to Mr Moseley’s father. It had been assigned her as always. The way you can tell if something is a source is if the source has something idiosyncratic which is repeated. In Mrs Miniver the movie the prize is again award to the great dragon lady turned women-with-heart-of-gold, Lady Beldon and similarly when up there Lady Beldon lies and gives the prize to the man who deserves it.

DAME MAE WHITTY
Dame May Whitty as Lady Beldon

MaggieSmith
Maggie Smith as the Dowager doing precisely the same generous act — we might ask why we should be so charmed after she has been taking the prize for years (Miss Obrien [Siobhan Finneran does ask]

It was then I asked myself if Mrs Miniver had a first name. Had Anstruthers and now these writers gone so far as to imitate earlier novels and not give us a first name for this lady. I hunted and found that at night when they talk (in separate twin beds of course) Mr Miniver who is referred to as Clem often calls her Kay.

Much is left out by Fellowes from the original: Mr Ballard (Henry Travers) who grew the beautiful rose wanted to name it Mrs Miniver and that had angered Lady Beldon as no rose should be named after a non-aristocrat. She had learned to accept that, and was about to about to accept seeing her granddaughter become engaged to Mrs Miniver’s son; Fellowes instead has Mr Moseley’s father accepting that he will always win second place though it breaks his heart. But Lady Beldon has always gotten it the way the Dowager had. The moment is much stronger in Mrs Miniver because of this secondary story of love and because the sirens have begun to wail loudly that the German bombers had been seen on their way.

Mrs Miniver is an important source text for a significant Downton Abbey the first season, and the attitude towards war in the second. In Mrs Miniver we see how class barriers break down and how everyone is valued together as they fight — so too in Downton Abbey season 2. (Sigh … .). Flower shows and the beauty and science in Kensington Gardens (its world-wide reputation alongside the Bronx Botanical Gardens) remain important symbols for middle class English-speaking people today. Another story in the first season, about Carson’s past was modelled on a story about Hudson’s past from the 1970s Upstairs/Downstairs. But using Mrs Miniver exposes how Downton Abbey repeats all the myths of this movie — other images in the movie reappear in Downton Abbey.

Applauding
All applaud the Dowager for her tremendous act

Let me bring up another unlikely or unexpected collocation: Dora Bruder, the autobiographical meditation by Patrick Modiano who won the Nobel this year. One theme of his book is how Dora Bruder, this young girl was just thrown away, powerless flotsam and jetsam when things got at all rough — or when the establishment decreed. Well in Mrs Miniver at said Flower Show we see a group of working class children from London who have been parceled out to people like Mrs Miniver. Of course not quite living in the great houses, or put in an attic, but that is not mentioned. We are to look quite sentimentally at them and think what an opportunity to get into the country. When the reality is these children in this movie are Dora Bruders. Who cares what happens to them as individuals, who considers it? how they got back home? if they got back home? why these were sent?

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

I did come across two other more general sources for Cora, Lady Grantham: I’m following a Future Learn course on British imperialism (on which much more in another blog) and came across the name of Mary Leiter, Lady Curzon, the first American wife of a Viceroy of India during the Raj, and aspects of her life reminded me of Cora, Lady Grantham. I like reading memoirs, someone recommended to me Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan (1877-1964), who wrote a readable autobiography, The Glitter and the Gold.

(c) BRIDGEMAN; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Mary Leiter, Lady Curzon in her famous super-expensive peacock feather dress — her expression reminds me of royal people in Goya’s paintings

Mary’s book is a slender volume of letters selected out of volumes and volumes by John Bradley. Once Mary Leiter marries and becomes the viceroy’s wife her life is endless showing of herself for spectacle, and having babies and caring for them. She becomes less open too, much less. The glimpses of a worthwhile person become rare. She begins to sound like Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide when she poses, and registers no sense at all of what she (as a symbol and to keep up in this life style) is costing everyone else. Mary Leiter died of disease, sick and ailing by her early 30s, probably childbirth at the age of 36-37. Her mother-in-law died young too, similarly.

A biography by Nigel Nicolson tell you that Mary Leiter had been the daughter of a man who was a partner in one of these huge luxury-serving department stores that opened in the 1880s in NYC, London, Chicago — a Mr Selfridge (!), and Nicolson’s book opens with the portrait of such a store. These are a dying breed; now we get these cavernous warehouses of mostly junk. There are still a couple of them around: Lord and Taylor’s on 37th and 5th was still practicing making the person shopping feel as if he or she were a rich guest and all the objects important art, the experience somehow home-y, comfortable — complete with coffee for free at 9:30 (this was only 3 years ago). Anyway all her life she lived in a privileged environment, a glass box — only her real body she could not escape nor diseases. She was thought Jewish or half-Jewish because some names in the family “seemed Jewish.” In fact they were Memnonites. So she fits Cora, Lady Grantham — a link between one costume drama and another.

consuelo
Consuelo and Jacques Balsan, her “commoner” husband

CVB reminds me of the Mitford sisters; she has that strong sense of what she deserves, who she is, and while she was wholly tyrannized over as a child (she was even whipped), and when a young adult could be coerced into making bad important decisions (like marrying the super-rich Duke of Marlborough), give her time and she gets out of it — and married a nobody Frenchman who she lived happily with in France until WW2 when they escaped to the US. Lady Carnavon, the turn of the century owner of Highclere Castle who wandered about the world as an anthropologist of sorts, was a strong independent individualist iconclastic too — none of them stayed home to obey any gongs for dinner ….

Long ago at the close of Caleb Williams William Godwin had his imprisoned driven-insane servant hero, ask why are these people numinous (he had actually told the truth about his employer killing a man), why is are they so much more valued than others. The interest of Modiano’s book is how hard he tries to discover her life and what happened to her, and that he does find a trail. It’s much more than a detective story.

dora-bruder

Here is one of Joyce Anstruther’s poems — about whom I’ll write one of my foremother poet blogs next week, the first I’ve done in a couple of years:

Dedication to an Unknown Reader, from The Glass-Blower (1940)

Like rays shed
    By a spent star
The words of a dead
    Poet are,
That through bleak space
    Unchecked fly on,
Though heart, hand, face
    To dust are gone;
And you who read
    Shall only guess
What thorn-sharp need,
    What loneliness,
What love, lust, dream,
    Shudder or sigh
Lit the long beam
    That meets your eye:
Nor guess you never
    So well, so true,
Shall comfort ever
    Reach from you
To me, an old
    Black shrivelled sphere,
Who has been cold
    This million year.

She was nowhere as uncomplicatedly competent and cheerful as she made her Mrs Miniver to be. See my preliminary foremother poet blog: Joyce Anstruther.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

MaggieSmithMichelledockery
Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) explaining to Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery why the prospect of Isobel Crawley’s (Penelope Wilton) marriage to Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) hurts so

Mary: Granny, I know why you’re finding this difficult.
Dowager: Do you?
Mary: Yes, but you mustn’t give in to it.
Dowager: What? Give in to what?
Mary: Isobel has always been your protege. She looks up to you and you have kept her from harm in return.
Dowager: Have I?
Mary: Yes. So of course it’s difficult that she is to take her place ~ among the leaders of the county.
… you simply have to be bigger than that.
Dowager: Is that what you think of me? That I care about her change of rank?
Mary: Well, you’re not exactly pleased, are you?
Dowager: No. But that is not the reason … If you must know … I have got used to having a companion.
A friend. You know, someone to talk things over with … You have your own lives … Isobel and I had a lot in common. I shall miss her.
Mary: Granny, you’re quite dewy-eyed ….
Dowager: You’ve made me regret my confidence… And for your information I don’t think Isobel has EVER looked up to me.

Dear friends and readers,

Soap operas when they do their work right root their suggestive believable characters into the daily memories and feelings of their viewers. That Fellowes has achieved this may be seen in his continuing audience for a group of stories that he lacks any new material for; one never needed new material for As the World Turns. This week I found my face was wet, the tears had overflowed beyond my eyes over fleeting scenes of decently felt emotion most of us struggle against or want to feel. Some were less tenuously set-up than others. The finest and slowest-fully built up to is above: the Dowager explains to the obtuse Lady Mary that she will miss her friend.

Robert Lord Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) close relationship with his dog, Isis, has been before us from the opening credits (much mocked) where we see the dog from the back, presumably walking alongside Robert back to Downton, to the incident where Thomas (Rob James-Collier) ruthlessly locked the dog out in the wet cold wild so he could gain Lord Grantham’s trust by rescuing her, to her just being there, with him. Even that quiet boss-lady, Cora, Lady Grantham, oblivious as she was to the twisting of Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), her second daughter’s character and pregnancy, and much else seemed to notice the dog’s decline, and opened her bed so the suffering creature need not be alone and feel unloved in her last hours:

Lossoffriend (2)

Daisy continues to gain in skills and self-respect from the time we first saw her when the series began and she was making the fires in the house, filthying herself in the cold. She’s now reading Vanity Fair under the tutelage of that thwarted teacher, Mr Moseley (Kevin Doyle). While I wish we didn’t each time have to re-assert the justification for learning for Daisy, and this time it was to enable Fellowes to take potshots at the labor gov’t, I enjoyed the visit to Mr Mason (Paul Copley) engineered by Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichol) so as to keep Daisy’s spirits up. At his dinner table no one insults anyone. He wouldn’t allow it — all is generosity and decent social thought:

Miss Baxter: Are we all finished? How lovely, Daisy, to have such a beautiful place to come to.
Mr Mason: She’s always welcome is Daisy.
Daisy: I’ve not been here enough lately.
Mr Mason: You’ve been busy I know. With your books. That takes up time.
Daisy: I think I’ll stop it now. So I’ll be able to visit more.
Mr Moseley: Do you think she’s right to give up her studies, Mr Mason?
Mr Mason: I do NOT.
Daisy: Don’t you want to see more of me?
Mr Mason: You know I do. But education is power.

Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) had been startled to find herself invited, and once there, perked up, looked like she had some self-respect, enjoyed herself guiltlessly, and held Mr Moseley’s hand as they comfortably came home after a comfortable meal.

HomewardBound (2)


HomewardBound (1)

Things were quite otherwise in the dinner scene closely juxtaposed next. I felt for Isobel as those wretched sons of Merton made themselves obnoxious again (to Edith too).

isobelinsulted

I loved Tom Branson for getting up and calling one of them a “bastard.” They did throw a stink bomb at any coming happiness in marriage with them in the Merton house. I don’t know why anyone eats dinner at that place: it is a landmine.

dinner

Of course dinner tables have ever been places where you dramatize social agons, it’s inherently theatrical.

The ball of agon has not left the Bates’s residence either. I did love the scene of Anna (Joanne Froggart) and Mr Bates drinking tea so comfortably at home together.

Episode7

Here I just wish Fellowes didn’t think it necessary for me to suspect one of the pair is a murderer. I have realized (from reading one of the Downton Abbey facebook fan pages where they regularly take the most small-minded positions, siding with the worst people) that we are supposed suddenly to suspect Anna. This is surely out of character. What would she feel in a prison? horrified. so humiliated and mortified and filled with inculcated self-hatred she’d wither up with shame.

Alas I’ve covered the fine moments and have now to turn to the absurdities and offensive omissions. I omit the condescension enacted towards the Duchess’s adult servants, Spratt (Jeremy Swift) and Miss Denker (Sue Johnston) as children squabbling. To this is Fellowes driven for material you see. Mrs Drewe gets to have her say to Cora, Lady Grantham, but we are not allowed to see or hear her, and doubt we’ll ever be permitted to develop some sympathetic imaginings for the Drewes at home now.

Implications: When told by Robert that Isis has “cancer,” and Cora replied: “Poor old thing … Oh, how I hate that word,” she for a moment redeemed herself, but like Anibundel whose recap is again worth reading, I cannot grasp how Fellowes expects us to take seriously her indignation at her mother- and sister-in-law, Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond) at having not told her what she should not have needed telling to know. She will never forgive them, never trust them for not having informed her her daughter had a baby while away on a suddenly “mysterious” 10 month trip to Switzerland:

corabigbosslady

Yet worse there was Edith, since Episode 6 closed, set up at last, running a business she owns (left her by Mr Grigson), a job to do, writing she does well, a place to live, a nanny on the spot, with money to pay her:

edithatwork

And what does she do? return to the Abbey where she hides from Mary and her maid at the station giving up her baby once again to the conveniently there Mr Drewe (Andrew Scarborough)

DependentEdith

in the library again overridden by Mary (coolly despising Edith’s generous impulses to take “an orphan child”), look like some rabbit or deer staring at headlights lest daddy say no to adopting this strange child until mummy declares it is right. The family obtuseness passes to Edith’s father. There’s more than a hint that Tom (Allen Leech) suspects (he asks her more than once to be open with him about her troubles over many episodes). Mary of course couldn’t be bothered to figure anything out about anyone, least of all Edith. Psychologically for Edith it does fit: she is the bullied, over-sheltered, super-ego driven ugly daughter. I hope she never marries, because surely she’ll end up abused — and we saw in the fourth season that Grigson saw this and refrained.

Is there any more to add? I fear Fellowes enjoys inflicting pain on Edith because he likes Mary’s meanness, identifies, triumphs with it. So more obnoxiousness from Lady Mary supported by the complacent Charles Blake (what ever happened Julian Overdeen as the man who worried about the average person’s housing in Britain): if it was so little trouble for Mary to get rid of Gillingham (Tom Cullen) by a kiss in public of Overdeen, why did we have that scene in the park? Fellowes gives away how he manipulates shallowly to milk scenes.

Lady Rose’s (Lily James) continuing charitable impulses and her hurt and fear she will lose her suitor, the good-natured bright Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber), are a decent note and rightly rewarded by Lady Sinderby’s (Penny Downe) generous liking of her despite her being a non-Jew; Lady Sinderby and her husband showed real awareness of the prejudice against them, he that he needs to fight to maintain respected space to thrive in, and thus is not eager for a daughter-in-law who will not be Jewish (conversion never mentioned), but their son’s total lack of any consciousness of what it was to be a Jew in England in the 1920s brings us back to the incredible. Someone on a Jewish news on-line page suggested he is modeled on Prince William (Charles’s son); so when he kneels to this princess, far from an intermarriage, we have a simulacrum of revered English royalty:

acceptingprposal

(Jim was one of those who wanted to see their huge fortunes taken from them, lamented when again the Queen was no longer to pay taxes.)

I suggest Fellowes is moving time so slowly because he does not want to reach the 1930s. He frequently gives Violet quips which are designed to obscure hard truths, this time it was “My dear, men have no rights.” In the real world of 1924 or so the men were in charge, servants were beginning to flee these places for work for money and freedom. There was a general strike in 1926.

But allow me to end on another of the good moments: Tom leaning over a bridge in the green landscape of the Abbey (one of its attractions for him, one he is at work on as steward in his fine office daily), with his daughter, trying to get her used to the idea they will perhaps leave for another country where he will fit in, be able to maintain his identity (and hers) better:

vlcsnap-2015-02-15-19h43m18s53

Now if we could just get a message to Miss Bunting (the show is a continual fantasizing so why not?) to meet him at the New York docks.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

VivienLeigh
Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois (1951 Kazan/Williams Streetcar Named Desire)

Dear friends and readers,

Another announcement of a publication. (Rest assured very soon this will stop and I will return to our regularly scheduled programming mostly about films and books.) I’m happy to say my review of Nora Gilbert’s Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films and the Benefits of Censorship is now published on-line in Cercles: Revue pluridisciplinaire du monde anglophone

Better Left Unsaid, reviewed by Ellen Moody

Those who read this blog more than occasionally may recognize a few of the films I’ve written blog reviews of: Preston Sturges’s Miracle of Morgan’s Street, Cukor’s Philadelphia Story and Gaslight, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve been enjoying myself mightily watching (and re-watching) a selection of the films covered by this book and also reading for the first time (Thackeray’s Catherine: A Story) and rereading (Bronte’s Villette) a selection of its Victorian novels, not to omit material on actresses and other people centrally involved in film-making.

The book is significant because aspects of its thesis, its assumptions may be found in many recent and older publications. Perhaps among the more interesting of the secondary books I read was the collection by Kucich and Sadoff called Victorian Afterlife (about historical fiction too), and some of the individual screenplays and books on these films; also James Chandler’s The Archeaology of Sympathy comparing 18th century sentimental novels with (among other film-makers) Capra.

I would not have thought comparable Austen’s Mansfield Park with Cukor’s Gaslight:

BergmanGaslight
Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist readying herself virtuously for bed (1944 Cukor/John Van Druten Gaslight).

I also liked following trails away from the main movies and books under consideration; one of these I’ve seen before included a commentary on the famous scene between Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront where in the make-believe cab seat we and Charlie Malloy (Steiger) are made to feel Charlie’s terrible betrayal of Terry Malloy (Brando)

onthewaterfront\
(Kazan/Schulberg, 1954 On the Waterfront)

I wish I had made more time to develop separate blogs on these books and films but do urge my readers to read and to watch or re-watch these books & films.

itsaWonderfulifeforblog
See some Christmas commentary coming out of It’s a Wonderful Life this year – Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey pleading with the inexorable banker to give him more time (it’s the banker who has been able to steal the money George had been saving to pay his debt).

Ellen

Read Full Post »

TilerPeckMarievanGoethem
Tiler Peck enacting the famous Degas statue: Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Dear friends and readers,

I did not realize I was going to see a mainstream Broadway musical circa 1950s when I bought my ticket to go to The Little Dancer this past Sunday. A man I had talked to a couple of times at the Film Club at Cinemart had recommended it, saying it was having its “world premiere” here in DC rather than NYC. I thought only of the famous statue, and did not foresee there’d be Ethel Merman like numbers sung by Marie’s mother, Martine (Karen Ziema), played as your robust but downtrodden and heavy-drinking laundress who does a little prostituting on the side.

Balletdancing

But as the musical began and I heard some of the corny language – at its climax Degas (Boyd Gaines) actually cries more than once: “My God! what have I done?” and runs about — and saw what was supposed to be desperate poverty and maginalized aspiration sung about in this super-cheerful way, with choral numbers of men dressed as abonnés (exploitative upper class men who hung around these theaters, sometimes supporting them for a time) and girls alternatively dressed as ballerinas and laundresses gyrating rhythmically or in parallel formation, I knew what I was in for. (The director and choreographer is Susan Strohman.) Still I was a little surprised at the standing ovation and strong cheering the full auditorium gave the people on stage since at no point were there shouts of bravo or high sudden applause of the type showing spontaneous deep accord or pleasure or emotion. I had heard a couple of people during intermission saying this was an “old-fashioned musical” in a way that showed approval, but in fact it lacked the stand-still kind of singing and full crew dancing numbers that characterized Oscar and Hammerstein or My Fair Lady. And the story was implicitly much darker than these mid-century vehicles (Carousel let us recall makes up for misery by asserting one never walks alone and then showing us heaven watching out for Julie).

I’ve been spoilt. What Jim did was buy half-price tickets to see unusual plays, original musicals (and or operas) in local repertory theaters around the area, so the conventionalism of the 3 hours blared out at me. I don’t watch the Net, pay attention to what’s on everywhere, and haven’t the intuition to recognize what will be worth the time as he did — though once I get there I recognize what’s in front of me. I’m not the only one. Charles Isherwood was less than overwhelmed. The Washington Post article by Philip Kennicott is more about the genuinely relevant material to us today that makes up the circumstances of the story than the musical itself.

DegasWork
One of the replicas of this statue now in the National Gallery in DC

I don’t mean to be too hard on this musical. It was as much a ballet as a musical.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

There was effective expressive dancing by Peck continually and with Harris and the chorus, and male and female ballet and ballroom dancing ensembles. The books and lyrics were clearly by a woman, Lynn Ahrens; the structure was cyclical and empathetic to central female figures — Mary Cassatt (Janet Dickinson) was represented as Degas’s great friend. Central female figures, the issue of abonnés show the women-authored nature of the piece. There was a woman voiceover-narrator, the adult Marie who has come to visit Cassatt after the death of Degas. I didn’t realize that the actress-singer, Rebecca Luker, was a known favorite of this audience until I read in the playbook Luker is famous for her performance on Broadway of Mary Poppins: I fear a benignly strong saccharine version of Julie Andrews’ role, and then heard the applause for her at the musical’s end and recognized she was dressed to recall her previous role.

MaryPoppins
Luker is to the left and Mary Cassatt as old to the right, with Degas and the devastated young Marie (he’s ruined her career by his daring statue!) at center

Nonetheless, the music (by Stephen Flaherty) was disappointing — maybe the apparently necessary continual rhythmic background for the dancing numbers precluded individuation, the way one could not ask Peck and the other ballerinas also to be a nuanced actress (they were not, it was soft caricature all the way). It was a kind of cross between a weak version of lyricism of The Secret Garden (book, lyrics, screenplay, all by women) where what is being remembered criss-crosses with what is happening now, an interlace; and a weak version of Sondheim’s self-reflexive wittiness. You could feel Sondheim in the talk rhythms and staging, as well obviously in the bringing forth from actors on the stage simulacrums of works of art. But to remind one of Sondheim had the unfortunate effect of comparison and the lines were so utterly banal, and to remind one of The Secret Garden is to invoke music more like The Pearl Fishermen: The Secret Garden has dual tenor duets, a strong mezzo-soprano singing with bell-like barritone, quirky rhythms as well as melancholy lingering. None of that here.

I was very moved at moments, and tears came to my eyes (not hard to do with me nowadays) at some of the trials and disappointments of Marie. The refrains of a couple of songs were about how one’s future is sometimes determined on the chance of a single event. I got caught up intensely when in the second act it seemed as if Marie was going to be raped by the abonné, who kept Antoinette (Jenny Powers) her sister, though this being a musical which ultimately doesn’t question or disturb, she is saved by poor but honest loving musician, appropriately named Christian (Kyle Harris), just in the nick of time.

Little Dancer  Susan Stroman: Director and Choreographer Credit Photo: Paul Kolnik studio@paulkolnik.com nyc 212-362-7778

Since nothing disquieting here, our Marie does not experience much conflict over not eloping with the poor violinist when he is fired for saving her: she is ever prudent, looking out for her career, supporting her feckless mother (made violent towards Marie doubtless to match the men of course). The real ballerina Degas sculpted did not go on to a successful career and that is here explained by showing that Degas offended the contemporary audience, something that one must not do (according to the thrust of this piece) or one will be punished. Marie becomes a pariah and the theater manager fears being made a laughing stock by a statue not made of bronze but of material and wax, and real or simulated hair: he told her (manager scolds) “to stay away from Degas.” Musical as warning lesson to any Bohemians out there. While the book and vignettes include the types of the commercial world of art (patrons, “rats” — cattle call, workmen, cataloguers, patrons), it is very naively invoked. (The Kennedy Center audience included mother-daughter pairs with the daughters in dancing or ballet outfits!) The dialogue did at least show an awareness of what Jim used to say about Degas: that his paintings of downtrodden hard-worked women were cold and distanced, somehow voyeuristic and that was reflected in the treatment of the abonnés.

But hey you didn’t have to go all the way to NYC, pay extravagant hotel fees and the price was less than it would have been in NYC. It had its moments, real talented people on the stage giving it their all, seemingly engaged by this simple material about art.

MarieChristian

Ellen

Read Full Post »

john-lithgow-shares-the-stage-with-lindsay-duncan
Tobias (John Lithgow) with his sister-in-law and occasional lover, Claire (A Delicate Balance, directed by Pam MacKinnon)

MaggieGEwanMcGregor
Henry (Ewan McGregor) with Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), at first his mistress and then his wife (The Real Thing, directed by Sam Gold, David Zinn set design)

I am so much accustomed to be alone — Madame Max, in Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn

Dear friends and readers,

While in NYC I went to two great plays performed greatly. Well, maybe the actors playing The Real Thing needed to project depths of emotions much more, only the highly verbal intellectual continually witty script was in the way while in A Delicate Balance Glenn Close played Agnes with such balance, discretion, strength that one was almost as fooled as she pretended half to be so that I didn’t quite realize their topic was the same thing: deep betrayals and treacheries (only one aspect of which is adultery).

A DELICATE BALANCE
Agnes (Glenn Close) with Tobias, apparently all serenity if you don’t listen to her words: she opens and closes the play with how she’s about to go mad

Similarconfidentialmoment
A similar confidential moment between Henry and Annie (The Real Thing)

Happily the plot-summaries and character sketches for both plays are on-line so I need not retell the matter. Both are plays you should read before you go.

I had unexpected experiences in both theaters. I never expected to find Albee Jamesian (all I had seen before was the film of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with Burton, Taylor and Sandy ) but Glenn Close or her director brought this out and a strong unexpected unusual form of feminism: an ambivalent portrayal of the woman who keeps it all in, who will not openly admit to the pain, adultery, betrayal, so she becomes “luminous.” James often emits such solemn and vague or not explicit terms for something some character does we are to admire — at the cost of everything real in her; that darkness is stronger in James than it felt in this production-play. Until now just about all the plays by Stoppard I’ve seen, have had as their central focus, play-acting itself and the theater, or there is a great poet or literary person whose life he is exploring; I’ve also seen farces and he does like to avail himself of a previous work which he rewrites from another angle (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is no aberration).

The Real Thing is directly about the emotional life of a marriage, of two marriages or three depending on how you reconfigure the characters (Henry and Charlotte, Max and Charlotte, Max and Annie, Henry and Annie), and it was done through intellectual battles of wits — it’s hard to see how it becomes popular, but the theater was full and I expect some of that was the name of the playwright and the stellar cast (all young stars, and I heard people recite where they had seen the actor/actress before). People were listening and laughed at the right spots; perhaps it was a more intelligent audience than usual who could see themselves in these characters. I read half-way through the text last night and it is singularly bare of any indication of how the actor should play the part or stage setting. At any rate the characters were continually half-discussing their adulteries, acting them out, judging them, singing about them through 50s pop songs (said to be Henry-as-Stoppard’s favorite music)

RealThingCynthiaNixonEwan
Charlotte (Cynthia Nixon), Henry’s wife at the opening of the play (Real Thing)

RealThingJoshHamilton
Max (Josh Hamilton), sometimes a “real” betrayed husband and sometimes a character in a play by Henry who is a betrayed husband (Real Thing)

The Real Thing had fine actors: you had to be to convey the complexities of language of the material. Ewan McGregor had the lead role, a surrogate for Stoppard. At first I was thinking as I watched and left the theater, the problem with this The Real Thing about the intense pain one can know in marriage or through the dependencies of love is what is shown is not common, at least among those few people whose marriages I have known something for real about while A Delicate Balance is the more universal.

But then I realized A Delicate Balance also had at its center adulteries casual and long-term and emotional disloyalties about other thing as important (one’s writing and politics in Stoppard’s play, one’s life career and friendships hard to sustain in A Delicate Balance). And I thought about how many couples I know and my own experience of sexual and other unfaithfulness. The real difference is Stoppard treats adultery and bitterness so frankly while Albee keeps them contained (that balance Close maintains — like a Henry James character). I dare say the commoner thing is to pretend in the way of Albee’s characters, not to look or act upon hurt.

At first I had a hard time in Stoppard’s play figuring out what was happening: sometimes the characters were characters in a Stoppard play, sometimes a bad play (of course not by Stoppard); sometimes characters in the reality of the play. But in a tiny first break in the first act I whipped out my trusty cell phone (a handheld computer) and read wikipedia’s summary just as I had in the first full intermission of A Delicate Balance: then for both I could get immersed. Many are the uses of our World Wide Web with its shared worlds. Oh how the loss of net neutrality threatens us in “small” and large ways.

glenn-close-returns-to-broadway-for-the-first-time-in-twoyears.jpog

What was remarkable about A Delicate Balance and made it a comment on The Real Thing is how Glenn Close played the lead heroine deeply sympathetically — as in a Henry James story, we were to admire her as “beautiful” and “tremendous” without being explicitly told that she was holding the whole household together by her magnficient hypocrisy, her act. Agnes as Maggie Verver (I hope my reader has read The Golden Bowl) whose father, Adam, marries Maggie’s prince-husband’s lover, Charlotte (the same name as Stoppard’s heroine) in order to remove Charlotte from Maggie’s prince husband though he likes neither Charlotte nor that prince.

If you read the criticism of the play (and wikipedia) you get a diatribe on Agnes as all repression, and (surely a sign something is seriously wrong) the moralistic rigid Edna who with her husband, Harry has fled her apparent in fear and shows up in Close’s apartment and proceeds to blame and carp and blurt out corrosive rebarbative descriptions of the others (especially Julia, Tobias and Agnes’s many-times divorced daughter, come home once again and wanting her room in which Edna and Harry have taken up temporary residence). Close’s clothes were of peaceful colors (as the guy, majoring in theater who sat next to me and talked to me said), signalling how she was holding the best emotions to the fore in all the scenes luminously (as James might have said), with intense bravery and pain.

glenn-close-and-lindsay-duncan-play-sisters
Agnes (Glenn Close) in a rare moment showing how betrayed and bitter and hurt she is, her sister, Claire, having fallen down (she drinks heavily, but maintains she is not an alcoholic, or no more than the others)

Were it not for her fake act, her sister, Claire would be out on the streets, Tobias incapacitated by fear and his own need to support others he calls his friends in order to believe in some good emotion somewhere.

I had chosen to see A Delicate Balance because I so admire Lindsay Duncan in all the roles I’ve seen her in, and I gather she played Claire utterly differently from Elaine Stritch (who did it caustically, a hard caricature of a drunk) and Maggie Smith who was wry, insouciant, amoral. This Claire was warm, witty, appealing, the only one in the room who could comfort Julia.

Julia
Julia (Martha Plimpton), on her fourth break-up (A Delicate Balance)

The “thing” is that it doesn’t help to tell the truth, it doesn’t help to verbalize or articulate in The Real Thing. Similarly there is (seemingly mysteriously) Tobias and Agnes don’t demand that Edna and Harry tell them what has so terrified Edna and Harry that they must retreat to one of Tobias’ and Agnes’s bedrooms, namely Julia’s:

Frigthened
Harry (Bob Balaban) and Edna (Clare Higgins) (A Delicate Balance)

The characters in The Real Thing achieve their best relief when they put records on of familiar 50s songs — creating a kind of nostalgia in the audience for a comfort that never was. I did find the performance too brittle and the transitions into song awkward. The play is of course about Stoppard (his marriages, his “low” tastes in music, his playwriting) and Henry had the funniest undercutting lines. The characters in A Delicate Balance do once in a while lose it, and we get this great emotional outpouring, but it does not seem to provide much release. The funniest moments were Clare’s (playing an accordion) and Harry’s (Bob Balaban is a remarkable actor, he was inimitable in Gosford Park)

It has been for me a deep treat to go to the theater and really have a deep or thoughtful or exhilarating or grief-striken or funny experience — it was with Jim I first went and he who taught me to go, and where. London has great theater too (and we went when we were there to the National Theater, Old Vic, and RSC especially) — both London and NYC attract the best as best paid and respected; in other cities English speaking you can have greatness too — here in DC sometimes, in London often. (There is a lot of junk in NYC too). Jim would have enjoyed both plays; had he been alive, both are the sort of play we’d have seen together and talked about over drinks afterward.

Groupscenedelicatebalance

RealThingallfour
Group scenes

I’m aware that readers coming to this blog have wondered why I write the way I do, why I often go on at length, why so many. It’s always been out of loneliness, even with Jim, but when he was here, my blog was prompted by our talk, and after I’d write it, we’d talk about what I’d written. Now I write out to try not to feel so alone in the silence. I trust I am talking to someone who comes here and reads these even if mine are imagined sounds and more than 99% of the time I’ve no idea what the reader is thinking or how responding.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 221 other followers