Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘women’s lives’ Category

Friends,

I have written about Scott’s Staying On, the whole of the Raj Quartet, books and films, after reading through the books myself, teaching Staying On, listening to the texts from audiocassettes and watching the mini-series. So am skipping my usual telling of story, description of character or setting and incident.

I’m moved once more to write in a different briefer way about Paul Scott’s fiction, this time his Jewel in the Crown (the first novel of the Raj Quartet) because on TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io, a group of about 8 of us read it over 10 weeks slowly, posting about its issues carefully and in detail. I felt I learned so much from the book and from the postings of the others — about India, its previous history before the 20th century, the Raj in the 1940s, what has happened since (the novel is presented from a retrospective standpoint of 1970s). People involved included Diane Reynolds, Tyler Tichelaar, Nancy Gluck, Andrea Schwedler, Rory O’Farrell, myself. As to the book itself, it’s in the political analysis of the deepest rooted nuances of psychologically rooted social identities that transcends particulars that the book stands out. In this Scott is a grandson of Anthony Trollope (whom Scott much admired).

It feels so important tonight to write that Scott successfully dramatizes and persuades this reader of the major crucial truth of his idea that the means to power that one person has over another through their race (in India from the time of the Raj on, the white race has over non-whites) is more important than any other. More important than being a member of an upper class or caste, than religious differences, than your gender, and certainly more important than money. Money comes you to because you are white (are employed in a good position); you go the finest school because of your race and after that caste. Gender limits how you can spend your life’s hours, but the women’s hierarchy replicates the general one and is more important than their subordinate gender when they deal with men.

Yes he shows us a complex nexus of circumstance, individual psychology, elements shaping the characters lives from where they live, what job and/or education they have, age, biological and marital relationships with specific individuals. But what emerges from this again and again is that “race power” explains why people and movements in the novel fail to make any lasting progress towards a better, happier life for all, prevents the mingling of people such that they (we) could experience one another, get to know one another and identify.

It seems so important tonight as the US president imposes an imprisoning of enfants and children of hispanic people in horrendous conditions, because their parents were attempting to emigrate to the United States; arrests and shackles the adults in farcical versions of trials and arrests them, putting them into prisons too regardless of whether legally they have a right to ask for asylum. No reporter or elected official or anyone outside the hired military force is allowed into these places to film or question to report on how these people are being treated. Only clips of films, bits and pieces moments and a few testimonies of people who quit working for these prison companies, or reporters, or of someone not jailed who fled back to a place where he is now in danger of being killed.


Daphne (Susan Woolridge) and Hari (Art Malik)

The book and its three sequels are known as the story of a gang-rape of an English girl (Daphne Manners) which, together with an assault on an English teacher (Edwina Crane), and murder of her Indian colleague (Mr Chadhuri), and the arrest, torture, and long imprisonment of the girl’s Indian lover (Hari Kumar) and five Indian young men, his friends scapegoated by a virulently hateful (because of low status) colonialist police officer, Merrick (a closet or repressed homosexual). (Some parts of this outline resemble Trollope’s first novel set in 19th Ireland, The Macdermots of Ballycloran). To be sure we chose the book partly to re-read this tale of the repercussions and history of all the individuals involved. I’ve loved the novel because it has most female narrators talking from a subjective intelligent stance. Like other quartets (e.g., Durrell’s Alexandrian), the structural idea is to go over the same set of events again and again from different points of view.

One of our members, Nancy Gluck, described the first half of the novel this way (it has 7 parts):

In Part 1 (Miss Crane, the missionary teacher), an unnamed narrator tells us of a landscape and a rape to come and the history of Miss Crane. We are given many of Miss Crane’s thoughts, but it is all indirect discourse. We know what she feels and thinks, but she does not address the reader directly. The narrator tells us all. We do know that he (presumably he) speaks to us from a later time because he refers obliquely to events which happened later.

Part 2 (The MacGregor House) is structured differently. We begin with the narrator, this time describing a house and a girl singing. Although we do not know it at first, he speaks to us from a later time. The girl we eventually learn is Daphne’s daughter, so she must be singing 15-20 years after the events described in Part 1. Only a few pages in, we are addressed directly by Lili Chatterjee (the upper class Indian aunt of Daphne, with whom Daphne has been living) reminiscing about the earlier events. The narration swings back and forth between the narrator’s descriptions and Lili’s words and then concludes with the text of two letters form Daphne to her Aunt Ethel in 1942. So, we hear three voices: the narrator, Lili, Daphne.


Lily Chatterjee (Zohra Sehgal)

It is only in Part 3 (Sister Ludmilla, the self-appointed woman of charity) that we have some hint of who this narrator may be Again we begin with the narrator’s description, but then Sister Ludmilla speaks to him/us directly to describe both the present time (circa 1962) and the events of 1942. “You understand…? Yes you understand.” And “Your voice is that of a man to whom the word Bibighar is not an end in itself or descriptive of a case that can be opened as at such and such an hour and closed on such and such a day.” I cannot find the passage now, but at some point Sister Ludmilla says that the you she addresses has returned to India after some years and is staying with Lili.

In Part 4 (An Evening at the Club), the presence of the narrator is clearer. His observations and reactions are at the center of the story and the time is the present. We also hear the voice of lawyer Srinivasan, speaking to the narrator and pointing out what is different from 20 years ago, as well as what is the same – old ideas is slightly new clothing. There may seems little point to this. After all, we want to hear the story of what happened to Daphne. Yet how can we understand that story unless we understand that it resulted from all that came before and that all that came before and after to led us to this evening at the club. As Sister Ludmilla observed, not a case that can be opened and closed neatly on such and such a day.

I think that the narrator is Scott himself. He spent the war years in India and then went back in 1964, seeking material for a novel set in that country. In the four related novels he draws on his memories of the war years, we well as the observations he made on his return trip. A novel can only select a segment of time but Scott is doing his best to show the continuity of events

Part 5 gives us the hero-victime’s story, Hari Kumar through the eyes of his father, and then the eyes of his Indian relatives, and then himself. Part 6 is the most impersonal: we see the events of the central week of the novel through the point of view of a dense deeply narrowly prejudiced English military man, Colonel Reed, and then a perceptive humane but still pro-English establishment English gov’t official, Mr White. Here is the trial and by indirection a depiction of the Merrick, in effect novel’s cruel villain, who himself plants the evidence against Hari, because he seethes with jealous rage over Daphne’s preference for Hari and Hari’s originally privileged upper class english and middle class Indian background. Part 8 is all revelation: Daphne’s journal-letter to her English aunt, Lady Ethel Manners.

We asked, Is this a novel about the rape of Daphne Manners? Though Scott introduces the book that way, it’s obviously about much more. Miss Crane we are told died by suttee – she was widowed by the man she wouldn’t listen to and honored him that way — crazed behavior. But how central is the rape itself? Not as central as Hari’s loss of status and the good existence he might have had had his father lived and carried on providing the wherewithal to live with whites as they live.


Hari

Probably we probed the book deepest when we got the 7th part written as Daphne Manners’ diary.

Here is Diane Reynolds’s posting:

I agree with Ellen’s reading of the situation in the final section. I did find myself both appreciating Daphne’s impulse to appreciate Hari for who he is, and her ability actually, to some extent, to see him. But I did find myself also irritated with what Ellen calls her childish characteristics. Yes on that. Daphne is finally, for all her good intentions, blind like Miss Crane. She can see Hari to some extent but she can’t get to the point of seeing such aspects of him—really—as his poverty or his Indianness, which is thrust upon him. She does and doesn’t know these elements are there. She is able to live in fantasyland.

Two aspects of this section bother me. First, the Hari Daphne loves is the cultured, educated, upper class Briton he is inside. She is able to see through his dark skin and Indian clothes. But what this says is not that she wants an Indian man, but that she wants a British man of her class. It’s as racist to not see the Indian in Hari as it is not to see the Brit. Second, I find it disturbing, not just in this section, but going back to the bookend parallel of Miss Crane, that women seem to be implicitly blamed for the suffering brought to Indian men who get involved with them: in Miss Crane’s case, the Indian man who is killed because he obeys her commands and Hari, who is tortured. If they do cause these problems because they are sheltered from the realities of Indian life is this their fault? Who built this system? Is it incumbent on every English woman in India to buck the system and educate herself in a way that is roundly discouraged and made difficult, if not almost impossible? Everyone is not going to be sister Ludmilla. I think this is a great novel in the way it exposes a granular reality, but I do sense an uncomfortable undercurrent that says that women cause trouble for men when they get out of their “place:” Scott seems to be asking, why are these women allowed so much power when they don’t know how to use it?

And place leads me to Ellen’s interesting comments that the lovers had no place to go and so were forced into a dangerous space, which led to Daphne’s rape. Usually it is males who are willing to enter these spaces—in this case its a women. I just read a book in which the man talks about how, in his college days, he would repeatedly take his sleeping bag and sleep under trees and the stars in just such a space—outside the boundaries where the campus police patrolled the campus. I immediately thought, no woman would do that. He thought of it as a charming story of his free spirited younger self escaping the stifling partying of his dorm room: he not for an instant saw the privilege in that he could he do it. So the point of how much women or in our society blacks or India Indians are controlled by space is pertinent and not one we have much discussed. It is all over Scott—he makes a point of it. It’s part of his journalistic endeavor of constantly repeating information about how spaces connect and showing how the Indians are constrained to live in certain spaces and denied access to British spaces. His point is that you can’t understand the Indian pov unless you understand how they exist in the space of Raj—most British are oblivious to it—they just don’t get it, so they can’t understand the Indians. Miss Crane’s mistake is being oblivious to space—she simply doesn’t understand the danger of entering the “wrong” space because as a British she innately assumes all spaces are her spaces—and they are—but not so with her Indian companions.

While I believe there is a subtle strain of misogyny threading through the novel—Scott can’t quite get himself to like a character like Daphne; he suspects female privilege—I appreciate his sensitivity to the danger of spaces and the constraints put on less powerful group through the dynamics of space—this probably does come out of his being gay. This, of course, connects back to the #MeToo movement and the way women continually have it impressed on their bodies when they have crossed into male spaces. The trauma of Daphne’s gang rape seems to me glossed over too.

This swings the discussion in a new direction: it’s not a novel where Daphne, the heroine or the other heroines are in the center but rather a system where the female is again marginalized and women are blamed when they have not built the system, the male capitalists and males in the marketplace have.

I couldn’t address the larger issue; that takes a book, but I picked up on this:

In the main story, Hari displaces Daphne. She dies but her death is also biological – the baby was breech birth, but her life need not have been ruined; she could have returned to England to bring her daughter by Hari up. It is his life which is ruined – and how and why are the riveting themes of the book (race): he is its true tragic figure because his is the noblest soul. Scott finally does not care as much about the rape or Daphne or Parvati (who is nicely provided for) as this young man. I was struck by how Hari’s white school friend Colin Lindsey’s letter (Colin turned from Hari) is one of the last things Daphne talks about — Hari saved her photo and that letter. I believe that Lindsey applied for a transfer because he saw Hari, and (like Daphne) separated himself from Hari.

This comes out so clearly in Daphne’s diary: this is mostly about the trial, the aftermath of the rape and how she fought and failed to protect Hari. That she betrayed him out of her own racism when she refused to stand with him and admit to all she had gone to the Bibighar to meet Hari, made love and while they were in this space outside society’s protection, they were attacked. She now claims still it would have made the results worse had she told the truth because no one would believe her story that she willingly made love with Hari; they would have seen this as a cover-up. But we see and she sees that the outcome would have been better for him: there would have been no opportunity for Merrick to torture Hari to admit he was at the Bibighar since this crucial admission would be made openly with Daphne by Hari’s side. She did not have the courage to face up to what she had chosen.

For Hari is the untouchable, belonging nowhere. Only his aunt, Shalini, who also belongs nowhere as an impoverished uneducated widow, makes a place for Hari to live and she doesn’t control that space as it is dependent on her brother-in-law giving her an allowance (tiny).

While Daphne doesn’t mean to portray a picture of Hari as a noble soul with deep understanding of what’s going on around him, she does. I am especially impressed by how he sees that Sister Ludmillla is not mad and it is only after following Hari’s point of view and getting to know her that Daphne begins to see Sister Ludmilla is a rare truly decent person. Others see this: Anna Klaus for example. In a sense Daphne’s diary shows us how she was not worthy of Hari — she is not as perceptive as he or a number of those around her.

In line with this I was surprised to realize _she liked Merrick_. She says so; she says she felt for him. She makes a triangle where she is in the middle with Merrick on one side and Hari on the other. That makes them equivalent. Merrick is the kind of person who is not rescuable: he is like some maddened dog — true the society made him this way, but it is unlikely you are going to break through his savagery. She is very like a child. Merrick did some very bad things to Hari. That does fit how an upper class sheltered girl might respond to the idea that Merrick hurt Hari. She has been so sheltered she cannot imagine it.

We see how the pair of lovers could find no place to be alone – how society did do that to them. Nowadays one might have a place of their own to live — but Hari is poor and so is Daphne personally and both need others to live. So they ended up in the Bibighar a place outside the network of safety. Alan Bennett has discussed the world that exists outside the network of safety. That’s the place where police don’t have to protect you and anyone can attack. Bennett says gay people know about this space. We in the US know black people are in it when they are in the streets and are not even safe from police murdering them in their homes or yards.

So another interpretation: is what happened, this gang-rape which ignited a riot was the result of two lovers of different race wanting to be together and being given no safe space to do this in. In the south when say such a thing might happen between a couple the upper class whites tried to punish them by lynching any available black person or the male if he was black. These Brits do this too in arresting Hari and torturing him. After all years later Mr Poulson never tells Hari that he and everyone knows Hari told the truth about how he was tortured and when Hari is freed, he is never told why in any specifics. (I get this from the serial drama but know it’s in the later books). We must remember it’s not just Merrick who tortured Hari; people obey him, others refuse to look, others protect Merrick sufficiently he stays employed.

And Hari’s mistake was not that he loved Daphne. She alone respected him from among the whites. He was English and she alone was a girl then he could have companionship with. It’s natural to want respect, companionship, love, so natural you risk your life. What he hadn’t realized was a ticking bomb is that she is such a child. The two weeks estrangement that Sister Ludmilla recognizes comes when Daphne discovers that Hari was arrested by Merrick and didn’t tell Daphne about it. Why is Daphne angry at Hari for this? because has Hari told her then she would have recognized what a shit Merrick is. This is deeply unfair. She is blaming him for her own stupidity in liking Merrick and thus endangering Hari by keeping Hari in Merrick’s eye.

Thus when the two weeks was gone both lovers were desperate for one another and met at the Bibighar. Then discovered she acted her usual child-like act of not wanting to face the truth of what had happened and with Hari and thus deserted him, and destroyed his life. She never had the strength of character to openly marry Hari. We see in her diary part of her impulse was simply to rebel to disrupt. She got a kick out of that. It’s a dangerous thing to get a kick out of especially for non-whites.

Her testimony is fascinating:

In the films you cannot see her thinking: this is largely made up of her trying to keep her lie straight and trying to make sure that anything she says in her lie will not show she is lying and cannot be used against Hari. This is the first time I’ve ever been let into someone’s thinking as they try to cope with a hostile lawyer that I can recall. I never thought about how women feel when they are on trial in front of a jury and the issue is rape.

It’s awful: she is frightened continually of what Poulson’s her interrogators response will be. I think for the first time she (and Scott) make a good case that had she told the truth, it would have been held against Hari and he would have been put in prison anyway. It may be this is all in her mind, but the man’s questions as she thinks about them are attempts to get her to admit she went to the Bibighar to meet someone, i.e., Hari. The thing is they as whites do not accept Hari’s right to have a relationship with Daphne, and they do not accept her right to agree to it.

Like in the US when it was against the law for white and black people to marry one another. In the film of the Love’s case, they are harangued and harassed and beaten up individually and as a couple when they try to be together and just go out together.

She still said no to him out of a deep racism, she still didn’t truly identify and pity him, but maybe she was correct to say that had they stood together, it would have gone just as badly. Her heart did not melt at his crying, had it she would have stayed with him. What would have been the case though is they would have been together, and having declared openly she made love with this man (in effect), she might have been able to keep in touch through friends and comforted him — and if she lived through the childbirth, they could have left India for the UK together.

She knows immediately that Merrick planted the bicycle – and Lily Chatterjee knows this is truth as she says it. There she is not in court so she can speak out. she cannot speak out in court. Another insight: courts are places where one cannot speak except according to a script which will be judged not according to humane principles or truth, but how it works in the adversarial system.

She finally admits she worked out of superiority.

But even if Daphne is less than admirable in all this, why should she be? why should we ask of her anything more than the others are. She was gang-raped and cruelly and that because of the whole race and power issue of the raj. The Raj raped her because she wouldn’t obey its restrictive bigoted norms. And it broke him because he was lured to it by his own isolation and desperation, which was caused by all the people who supported the Raj, which seems to be just about everyone the two young people have to depend upon — from Hari’s cruel uncle to Lily.

Scott’s thrust has a way of making us criticize both Miss Crane and Daphne. After all why should anyone want to live the life Sister Ludmilla does: she’s a saint out of desperation herself.

Scott himself was a closet homosexual – at the core of the book is also another much less developed (except by Hari i his section in Part 5) true friendship not permitted: Hari and Colin from their school days. First put an end to when Hari’s father kills himself. Colin’s father could have moved to help Hari stay in England. He decides not to, because he decides not to trust Hari — based on his reaction to Hari’s skin color (again Part 5). Skin color. True love not permitted: Hari and Daphne. Nor true friendship: Hari and Colin.

We end with women narrators, women mopping things up: Lady Ethel Manners and how Sister Ludmilla’s place is now a decent house for helping people. Also women coming to the truth: Connie White comes to Daphne to lay before her the truth — and so other white women know it, and other non-white. This dialogue is by the way included in the film.

The idea of women coming to the truth men’s methods don’t is in Trollope’s Phineas Finn. It is Madame Max’s examination of Emilius’ landlady with no police about that gets the truth about the coat, the key, the locked room (&C&c), which were the circumstantial evidence convicting Finn of a murder he didn’t do. Who would tell a policeman anything? — said one of the novelist, a black man, writing recently in the UK says Andrew Marr interviews in his BBC documents. Of course Agatha Christie and her group think all good people would tell police all they can – that’s naive even in 1930. Trollope and Scott know better. I certainly wouldn’t. Are courts places for telling the truth? They are spaces carved out by men.

It is finally a novel by a man and male literature and discourse is crucially different from female. Diane Reynolds:

Ellen, it is true that Hari also suffers. I would not say a hundredfold if we are talking about him being beaten: Daphne too suffers from pain and humiliation, which is where Scott is arguably graphic but not graphic enough in his depiction of the rape. Throughout this passage I feel torn: I agree you, Ellen, that it is good that Scott doesn’t cut away—but does he also nevertheless make it chaste? He both shows it and glosses over it. I feel torn—as I said, Hari is in greater danger than Daphne—but let’s not forget that she’s been brutally gang raped and she dies from child birth. Scott makes it clear that the child is Hari’s, but did the injuries she sustained from repeated rape impact her ability to deliver a child, leading to—wasn’t it a C section birth? And as I noted, in the moments following the gang rape (not later—let’s not jump over the rape itself in our sympathy for Hari), it seems to me the focus should be on Daphne. So I continue to have ambivalence about Scott’s attitudes to women. I love the novel—I think it is brilliant in its granularity—but I am uneasy about Scott’s feelings about women and his allegiance to women. Is Daphne a prop developed to shine a light on Hari’s fate? I don’t, for instance, have a sense of what Daphne looks like, other than she is somewhat large and not particularly attractive. Scott does say at the beginning that this is a story about rape—but fundamentally, it’s not—it’s a story about the effect of rape on an Englishman who has black skin …

[A little later in response to another]

I agree that we look away from the reality of rape/violence and turn into something chaste, which is Vitanza’s point in a new book about sexual violence called Chaste Rape (though Vitanza would reject the idea of making a “point” as a verbal assault)—and as Ellen says, here Scott doesn’t cut the text before the rape but shows Daphne’s vulnerability and helplessness as she is raped. Nevertheless, I did feel that Scott understated the rape: Daphne has just been gang raped, and yet she is worried about Hari first and foremost. But what about her? Why is it all about the man? Of course, it’s because Daphne realizes, if imperfectly, that Hari is much more vulnerable than she is, could be blamed for this and could suffer a terrible fate. I struggle with feeling appreciation for her putting him ahead of herself and a sense that this is unrealistic because she herself has just been gang raped. How far does the nurturing mother breast go? At this moment, her gang rape is more important than whether Hari feels shamed for not being able to protect her or even what might happen to him. Something terrible has happened to her.

The mistake is that she is making decisions to protect another person when she is not in a frame of mind to make good decisions at that moment. She has just been through a physically brutalizing and psychologically traumatic experience. The focus should be on her and caring for her. Hard is trying to do this, to his credit—but is Scott? Or is the gang rape, to Scott, really all about Hari?

Also, I sympathize and feel for Daphne’s awareness of the danger Hari is in and her desire to protect him, but wonder how much is this a desire to reassert her own sense of control in a universe gone mad or, genuine love for Hair, in another interpretation, how much it is Scott’s male fantasy? It is possible that she hasn’t really absorbed what has happened to it or, more likely, wants to deflect from her own pain and vulnerability by caring for someone else. When she can’t bear him crying is it that she can’t bear what has happened to herself and is projecting this onto him? I do give her behavior, whatever motivates it, leeway because of what she has just been through. Consistently, and perhaps this is a product of her trauma, she comes across as using rationality to shield herself from emotion.

[She quoted the long crucial section of the novel and then wrote]

Or, maybe it is completely realistic in patriarchy that a woman who has just been gang raped is comforting the man who is crying because he couldn’t protect her.

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


Sister Ludmilla (Matyelok Gibbs) and Mr. Souza (Om Puri)

I don’t want to go on for too long so will end on why for me Sister Ludmilla is still the character I love best in this first book. Hari is too (rightly) angry. Sister Ludmilla is more than a little insane. She has had the most unfortunate “destabilized” (I put this in quotes because it’s such a fashionable word) background of all the characters: her mother whom it seems was something a courtesan or someone’s mistress and prostitute and descended to abysmal street level impoverishment. (In archetype she is Esmeralda from Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame whose mad mother lives in a street hovel and begs.) Safety was modesty, so to avoid men, Ludmilla dons frightening sister’s garb. She ran a free hospital where she took in dying and mortally sick people she found on the streets. She has a small allowance sent her one a month (probably the mother’s lover). She speaks from a retrospective of years after (1970s) the incidents of the novel took place (1940s). She is now blind, her sanctuary had been “normalized” into an orphanage and other charitable institution by the state — with a fourth building. Her bed in the room that was Mr de Souza’s.

Her discourse is expressive with remarkable nuance, knitting private life to public, sexual impulse (gay as well as hetero), class, status intimate moments of our lives to how the whites (Merrick, and before him the Scotsman MacGregor and his son) perceive and act out their power. She allegorizes the novel’s space by places (as does Trollope): the two places, the MacGregor House, where Indian and British have come together and everyone acts according to a veneer of social code, and the Bibighar Gardens, outside of the safety net, the only place Daphne and Kumar can meet to be together truly. As she talked on (presumably to Scott himself) I kept seeing analogies in my experience for each of the characters she mentions, and social, sexual and powerful relationships that emerge.

Several elements here draw me irresistibly: one, this is pure l’ecriture femme in its movements, how Sister Ludmilla perceives reality as nuances (it could be Virginia Woolf). A second: her insanity makes her see the meaningless of the world so well, its cold indifference as a stance, and the deeply emotional needs of the people she encounters, their considered persona as a result of their lives. I suspect when I read it in the 1980s to me it was a profound relief to find another presence which saw the world the way I was seeing it and even through I recognize all the structures today, to me they are veneer however seeming sturdy and keeping us from one another’s throats. I love how she sees the strength and defiance of Mr de Souza. Now today, three she finds meaning in life by doing for free what a small group of people value and want as long as it’s for free, and will even allow her space to do it. That’s me at these OLLIs.


Barbie gone mad (Peggy Ashcroft) at the end — as has Miss Crane

I could go on and on about these different characters: I loved Miss Crane too. In The Day of the Scorpion, Barbie Bachelor, the impoverished companion of another upper class wealthy powerful man’s wife: she is the central presence and narrator of the third volume of the Raj, The Towers of Silence.

Two strongly recommended books: for the history of the era, Nancy Gluck urged Alex von Tunzelmann’s Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of Empire. One of our members taught a course on India, and I’m about half-way through this vivid brilliant expose. tyler said that he felt an analogous volume and one he thought much better artistically is Tayeb Saleh’s Season of Migration to the North. The author was from Sudan and it’s an Arabic novel – it was named the best Arab novel of the 20th century and published in 1969. A companion piece to Jewel in the Crown.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Hamlet (Papa Essiedu), Gravedigger (Ewart James Walters) and assistant (Temi Wilkey)


Leones (Michael Tisdale) accosts Camillo (Eric Hissom)

Friends,

I have been putting off writing about the plays, concerts, lectures, and dance I’ve been to since coming back from Milan (well I did just once because Friel’s Translations was not to be missed) that they have begun to pile up. So late as it is, I’m here to urge all who read this to see the RSC’s Hamlet with a nearly all black cast. It is touring.


Hamlet with Lorna Brown as Gertrude

Allowing for exaggeration, the reviews have (rightly) said that Essiedu makes the experience what it is (Telegraph (several of the actors were superb, especially Clarence Smith as Claudius, James Cooney as Horatio, Mimi Ndiweni as Ophelia): a new star is born; Washington Post: a rogue outsider artist).


Marvelously comic: Richard Henry the old shepherd and Joshua Thomas the young one


Grace Gonglewski a strong but frightened Paulina (of this tyrant)

But I’d like to qualify that and say its strength is the same as the deeply felt Folger Winter’s Tale, which I saw two weeks ago now: The Folger WT also had some great acting: Michael Tisdale as Leontes, Melissa Graves (an understudy) a poignant dignified Hermione, Eric Hissom, any number of linked characters (Camillo, Antigonus, Storyteller Time). More important: the directors of both productions allowed the actors to do Shakespeare straight on. Both are despite some exhilarating African music and modernized songs and dancing in Bohemia traditional productions.

I can never have too much Shakespeare. By the time we got to the final scene of Hamlet, I felt the awe, the wild exhilaraton, and savage ironies Shakespeare intended me to feel. In the last scene of The Winter’s Tale, I felt a grief akin to what I nowadays feel when I see King Lear. In Lear death is the final blow of a harrowing of cruelty and madness; in The Winter’s Tale, we are awakened to a joy we cannot quite believe as “oh she’s warm” is pronounced. I wish this Winter’s Tale had gone on tour. When they are this good, I often hope to myself that they have filmed it onto a digital device.

The most intellectual and stunningly moving experience was Ivo von Hove’s After the Rehearsal and Persona at the Kennedy Center. Gijs Scholten van Aschan in the Bergman role and in the first play Marieke Heebink as his wife, contemporary partner, an aging actress (alcoholic, depressed) who needs him more than he does her (and he needs her) and Gaite Jansen as the young substitute (possibly pregnant and not sure she wants this life), taking over. In the second Heebink is a mentally shattered woman, with Anne her young nurse: after much manipulation and emotional attacks, the two see themselves in one another.


Somehow the hospital turns into a summer cottage where it seems to be raining continually — rain helps wash away tension

The plays (originally done on TV are about the destructive and therapeutic function of art in a dedicated artist’s life. Hove is superb at Bergman material (like the corrosive effect of growing old) getting his actors to release the vulnerable and angry self. The same actors played the parts in the Barbican; it was in Dutch with surtitles. The stories were not intended to comment on how men use women in the arts, but they do, prophetically.

The sets and stage business was so poignant too: the second ended in both women standing in a large pool of water, together, in simple white shifts, holding hands.

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

As to concerts, dance, our local small Metro-stage in Alexandria provided a warm delightful presence in Deb Filler, a New Zealander Canadian Jewish storyteller doing all sorts of traditional sons “her way;” in Yiddish as well as English. You haven’t fully enjoyed Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah until you’ve heard Filler sing the song in Yiddish too. Writer, actress, singer, comic, musician, hers is a one woman entertainment, stretched out with some film. She was the third of three women solos this spring at Metrostage (Catherine Flyte (scroll down), Roz White (ditto)).

And to tell the truth, more than the Folger Ovid’s Vineyard. They had a soprano singing from two operas, Phedre et Hippolyte, and Orphee, a man brilliant on the flute, a rich harpsichord and a woman who worked very hard on her violin, but still it was tame except for the unexpected beauty of the melodies of Jean Philippe Rameau’s concert songs for harpsichord. The Folger Concert has not been as inventive this year as previous. Perhaps I should start to go to the pre-performance discussions.


They used the set from the Winter’s Tale

I did go to one dud: the Scottish ensemble and Anderson Dance performing the Goldberg Variations at the Kennedy Center was an in-your-face insult to anyone with sensibility. After the Milanese Goldberg Variations at La Scala as stunning beautiful — graceful, lyrical, interestingly psychological, wonderful group patterns — this group fobbed us off with comic grotesquerie and awkward individual non-dances. If I had been on the aisle, and hadn’t gone to trouble to see it, and hadn’t kept hoping at some point there’d be dancing, I’d have left after the first ten minutes.

**************************
A Smithsonian lecture on art


Cezanne’s Boy in a Red Vest

Although I’ve not gotten to the exhibit at the National Gallery, I did go to a long full lecture (many good slides) at the Smithsonian on the Cezanne portraits. I bought the ticket and went to the Hirschorn in the hope I would be taught why I should like Cezanne’s art. I don’t: it seems so inert. Roger Fry loved it, and I’ve friends who say they do too. To me Cezanne’s paintings seem made up of empty abstract forms, even if “monumental,” and he leaves me cold; the portraits often lack faces. While curator told of interesting relationships between Cezanne and his sitters, and said there were several versions of a given portrait at this exhibit so you could study the differenes, she never answered the objections of several reviews of the show, e.g., one in the Washington Post by Sebastian Smee, and three very respectful questioners in the (crowded) audience. Madame Cezanne as painted by Cezanne has been vilified for not smiling (women are supposed to be joyfully compliant at all times). Smee omits that Cezanne was the son of a very rich man who supported Cezanne all his life, so his choice to paint peasants — and to live with one and mistreat her for many years (she was left isolated) before finally marrying her has a certain hypocrisy.


Madame Cezanne in a Red Arm Chair

The curator offered the idea these are iconoclastic portraits, modern, refusing to satisfy us or glorify the sitter. Well in the Cezanne cases (unlike the same thing seen in Vanessa Bell’s portraits) these are not rich customers buying a pre-photographic portrait to glorify themselves. I become irritated when people complain about Cassandra Austen’s second portrait of Jane Austen where Jane is not facing us. She has the right to look away; it’s a trope of reverie in the period — you can find the same pose in front of novels. But when Jane was facing Cassandra, Cassandra drew her face. A friend on my WomenWriters@groups.io list wrote she had read that the faceless portraits reflected how humans/individuals are unknowable. We can think of Woolf’s de-centered novel Jacob’s Room, where similarly, we never get a clear picture of Jacob; it was said Woolf was inspired by Vanessa’s painting at the time, in particular her faceless portraits.


A detail of one of Vanessa’s paintings of her sister, Virginia

***************************
Must not leave out new TV & Internet films

I’ve left for last and now just briefly the fascinating four part adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End by Kenneth Lonergan. Sometimes nowadays TV offers us far richer experiences in film, music and art than what is found in physical theaters. I don’t think this production was that superb but when compared to the Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala (see Samanthan Ellis’s ironic take) and it is quite different from the original book; still, it was thought-provoking with its own new genuine feeling, intelligent, meaningful.  Who would not feel for Leonard Bast after this one?.


Phillipa Coulthard as the cultured assured Helen and Joseph Quinn as the aspiring Leonard Bast

I then re-watched the 1993 film (on a DVD with two hours of features about Merchant-Ivory) and it was subtler, more nuanced, more sheer content somehow, with Margaret inexplicably actually falling in love with Mr Wilcox while the 2018 film makes this central relationship seem far more performative and self-interested,

but the more recent film is more deeply empathetic towards the failing Leonard Bast, and makes explicit how these privileged wealthy people live off the undercompensated labor of others. I hope to write separately and with more detail than I have here when this summer on TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io we read the book together. I bring the new version up here to mourn that it did not appear on PBS (which sticks to inferior mysteries and thinner contemporary books and stories) but Starz (a high tier channel and too expensive for many people). I am watching the second season of Handmaid’s Tale but will hold off any comment until I’ve reached the end.

A paradox: Izzy came with me to the Hamlet and Winter’s Tale, to the Metrostage; a friend, Panorea to the Folger but I’ve felt least alone watching Howard’s End and now Handmaid’s Tale because of my friends on my three lists at groups.io. There we had ongoing good conversation and look forward to reading Forster as our summer project. They revived the foremother poets postings on Fridays on Wom-po (a women poets list)! Reader, I am working on a woman artists blog on Vanessa Bell too: Frances Spalding’s biography and Richard Shone’s art criticism (on Duncan Grant and Roger Fry also)

I hope no one takes any of my blogs as here to give the impression I am living a good life, surrounded by friends or whatever is the going ideal norm for existence for a woman like me. It is far too late for me to come near a fulfilling existence for myself now, if it ever were in the cards. I was exhausted last night, falling asleep in front of a movie, couldn’t read Virginia Woolf’s A Sketch of the Past (her memoir printed in Moments of Being), so I reached out to others with material I thought might find acceptance and be of interest to those who come to this blog. Add something that might cheer or help others and that might prompt them to write back in a similar spirit.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Isobel looking up

Over the great windy waters, and over the clear-crested summits,
Unto the sun and the sky, and unto the perfecter earth,
Come, let us go,—to a land wherein gods of the old time wandered,
Where every breath even now changes to ether divine.
Come, let us go; though withal a voice whisper, ‘The world that we live in,
Whithersoever we turn, still is the same narrow crib;
‘Tis but to prove limitation, and measure a cord, that we travel;
Let who would ‘scape and be free go to his chamber and think;
‘Tis but to change idle fancies for memories wilfully falser;
‘Tis but to go and have been.’—Come, little bark! let us go.
— Arthur Hugh Clough, Amours de Voyage, Canto I

Dear friends and readers,

Last September I wrote three travel journals about a 10 day trip I took to the Scottish Highlands, Inverness to be precise, and approach to the Hebrides. In the same spirit I have written three travel journals on Milan and not-so-very-far environs near Zurich, Switzerland, and one about the recent World Ice-Skating Championship in Milan: in later March I went with my daughters, Izzy and Laura, so that Izzy could participate in the Ice-Skating event live, and while we were in Milan, Laura and I mostly, but Izzy with us some explore what we could of this city and a little north of Italy.

I did not place these Milan Journals here because unlike the Scottish journals, they combined life-writing (about us) with our time in Italy. My Scottish blogs included some extraordinary lectures and reading I had done about Scottish history, geography, archeaology, the battle of Culloden, not to omit bird and animal watching.


A cared-for cat in a cemetery we happened upon

This time I wrote about friends, our particular interests (fabrics, fashion, Renaissiance poetry and art, books), our time in an antiques market, and passing sights.


My Milanese friend, Luca, and I

On the other hand, Laura took far many more photos of where we went and what we saw and experienced than I did last September (of which I show on this space only a few — the others you must click for). I thought the wider audience that comes to this blog might find some of our adventures of real interest.

Here I also mingle poetry with pictures.

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


The outside of a cathedral we explored in Germany

Arduous Tourists: An Ancient Thriving City & four countries in one weekend


The Black Forest, Germany, from the car


Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Castle Sforza

Doing Milan (the cathedral and the castle, mostly)

https://austenreveries.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/doing-milan-1/


Interior


A small park in our neighborhood: Roman ruins

Milan Diaries (we go all over Milan, to La Scala and the antiques fair)


In front of a contemporary museum

From Anthony Hecht’s Proust on Skates:

He glides with a gaining confidence, inscribes
Tentative passages, thinks again, backtracks,
Comes to the minute point,
Then wheels about in widening sweeps and lobes,
Larger Palmer cursives and smooth entrelacs,
Preoccupied, intent

On a subtle, long-drawn style and pliant script
Incised with twin steel blades and qualified
Perfectly to express,
With arms flung wide or gloved hands firmly gripped
Behind his back, attentively, clear-eyed,
A glancing happiness.

It will not last, that happiness; nothing lasts;
But will reduce in time to the clear brew
Of simmering memory

World Championship Ice-Skating and I, Tonya

Isobel enjoyed most of or time away, but the skating especially


In Laura’s hat, which matched Izzy’s jacket

**************************
This series of verses come from a poem by Robert Southey “Recollections of a Day’s Journey in Spain,” not Italy, but it is delightful reading in which he captures the lifting of the spirit, the numinous moments one can feel in traveling through a land that delights the eye and mind:

The morning mist,
Well I remember, hovered o’er the heath,
When with the earliest dawn of day we left
The solitary Venta. Soon the sun
Rose in his glory; scattered by the breeze,
The thin fog rolled away, and now emerged
We saw where Oropesa’s castled hill
Towered dark, and dimly seen; and now we passed
Torvalva’s quiet huts, and on our way
Paused frequently, looked back, and gazed around,
Then journeyed on, yet turned and gazed again,
So lovely was the scene. That ducal pile
Of the Toledos now with all its towers
Shone in the sunlight. Half-way up the hill,
Embowered in olives, like the abode of Peace,
Lay Lagartina; and the cool, fresh gale,
Bending the young corn on the gradual slope,
Played o’er its varying verdure. I beheld
A convent near, and could almost have thought
The dwellers there must needs be holy men;
For, as they looked around them, all they saw
Was good.
But, when the purple eve came on,
How did the lovely landscape fill my heart!
Trees, scattered among peering rocks, adorned
The near ascent; the vale was overspread
With ilex in its wintry foliage gay,
Old cork-trees through their soft and swelling bark
Bursting, and glaucous olives, underneath …

This view from my bedroom window each day seemed to me a palimpsest of time:

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Tilda Swinton as Eve (The Only Lovers Left Alive, 2013)


Thornton burning down (a 2006 Sandy Welch Jane Eyre, with Ruth Wilson as Jane)

Friends and readers,

Much to my surprise, or I might say re-awakening to the Brontes, when over the last ten weeks I reread Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, then Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wilfell Hall, and finally Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, I found (honestly) I preferred Jane Eyre to the other two. I found I had forgotten and begun to underestimate the originality, radical visions, the (also) sober and somber experiences of these books. They are all gothics (as is the recent quintessential The Only Lovers Left Alive, which I used as the blog gravatar), with the characteristics of female gothic (see my blog after reading Anne Williams’s The Art of Darkness), which brings to the fore the real subjection of women in society then and now.


A too flattering picture of Charlotte by George Richmond

I had forgotten what a masterpiece for sentences startlingly filled with vivid images after vivid images, original thought, sheer passion, alive with an individually convincing presence is Jane Eyre. Never a dull moment as to story. Burning with indignation at large and mean injustices. The unforgettable opening scenes at Gateshead and Lowood.  Later on, the gypsy scene with Rochester. Who ever wrote a better proposal scene, or witty teasing courting scenes. The theme of refusing to allow one’s innate self to be violated or a demand for acknowledgement of having done a wrong (when there has been none) or downright cruel self-berating is no where better. And how about this to add to your touchstones, Matthew Arnold?

I can live alone, if self-respect and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure, born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld; or offered only at a price I cannot afford to pay (Chapter 19)


Gemma Jones as Mrs Fairfax, Samantha Morton as Jane Eyre


George C Scott as Rochester, Susannah York Jane

Jane Eyre is about the centrality of childhood, the need a girl has for women friends, for a mother; the power of men. I never forget the scene of Jane waking in the morning, her beloved Helen, dead next to her. All the women must win a man. About psychic disturbance: is Bertha a projection of Jane’s intense anger. Jane re-tells her story over and over, each time more in control but obsessive. Rochester is a man of conscience and he does love Jane (and is so emasculated, dependent, even losing a hand) so we rejoice in the ending for her. We hope she does know peace. the Novel has presented a lesson similar to that of Mansfield Park: the validity of endurance of suffering. Jane has won through.

Her heroine does not enjoy teaching: and we can find in her A Teacher’s Monologue her dissatisfaction with what was available to her from life:

Tis not the air I wished to play,
The strain I wished to sing;
My wilful spirit slipped away
And struck another string.
I neither wanted smile nor tear,
Bright joy nor bitter woe,
But just a song that sweet and clear,
Though haply sad, might flow.

A quiet song, to solace me
When sleep refused to come;
A strain to chase despondency
When sorrowful for home.
In vain I try; I cannot sing;
All feels so cold and dead;
No wild distress, no gushing spring
Of tears in anguish shed;

But all the impatient gloom of one
Who waits a distant day,
When, some great task of suffering done,
Repose shall toil repay.
For youth departs, and pleasure flies,
And life consumes away,
And youth’s rejoicing ardour dies
Beneath this drear delay;

And Patience, weary with her yoke,
Is yielding to despair,
And Health’s elastic spring is broke
Beneath the strain of care.
Life will be gone ere I have lived;
Where now is Life’s first prime?
I’ve worked and studied, longed and grieved,
Through all that rosy time.

I re-journeyed through some of the many Jane Eyre movies, and FWIW, among the very best is the 1972 film noir (that’s the genre the genre “classic film adaptation” cum mini-series has been blended into), Jane Eyre, directed by Delbert Mann, starring George C. Scott as Rochester as moving Rochester, a woman who has learned to value humane morality with Susannah York as Jane. Cherry-picking Samantha Morton is the finest sensitive portrayal of Jane, and the 1997 Jane Eyre, directed by Robert Young (starring Ciarhan Hinds as Rochester) captures a modern understanding of Bronte’s Jane Eyre. She craves quiet, and achieves this through self-controlled endurance. And I recommend the latest Jane Eyre, 2011, Mia Wasikowsa as Jane flees Rochester at near the opening of film, and St John Rivers is re-conceived as human.

A woman’s take with the emphasis on Jane’s escape from Rochester and hardships to near starvation, and a domesticity not found elsewhere is in Sandy Welch’s Jane Eyre. Ironically this is not true to the spirit of Jane Eyre until near the end. Jane is restless, she wants challenge, to rise in the world, excitement. This is probably the most feminist passage in all the Bronte’s writing:

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags (Chapter 12)


Ruth Wilson as Jane in flight from Rochester who wants to re-make her as she finds St John Rivers wants to

This reading of Jane Eyre was a culmination of my summer read of the powerful biography of Charlotte by Claire Harman. I learned about a manuscript I didn’t know existed before: a two chapter beginning of a novel called Emma: from wikipedia: “an apparently wealthy young girl, Matilda Fitzgibbon, at an expensive private school. It transpires that her identity is fake, and that her school fees will not be paid. The child is unable to answer any questions as to her true identity.”


Tara Fitzgerald as Helen Graham


Toby Stephens as Markham reading Helen’s diaries

I had learned a few years ago when I watched Sandy Welch’s great film of Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and again this summer when I reviewed Nick Holland’s In Search of Anne Bronte, what a compelling transgressive truly feminist book The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is. As I listened (from a cover-to-cover reading aloud of the novel) to David Case as Gilbert Markham reading aloud Markham’s two parts of the novel, I fell in love with the character. Anne Bronte wants to sweep away those norms for masculinity which encourage self- and society destructive behavior; women must be educated by experience and then they will not marry the worst of men.


Anne Bronte by Charlotte

I should mention I didn’t take upon myself to study these three books just like this, but was following an 8 week course called “The Best of the Brontes” given by a Dr Linda Freeman at the OLLI at AU. She offered an informed perspective on religion in this novel as the core for Helen Graham’s strong self-esteem, feminist stances, and behavior to Arthur Huntingdon, who if he would reform, could transform himself; Helen’s firm belief in her own value enables her to defy Huntington, tell him she wants to leave him with her child, flee him with the child (however illegally) and support herself by her art. For the first I realized there is an attempted rape scene (recalling Richardson’s Clarissa): Huntington gives Helen over to his pals and the one who has pretended to be on Helen’s side overhearing her telling Huntington she wants to leave, offers to elope with her and when she refuses, becomes livid with anger and tries to force her sexually; she pulls out a palate knife (from no-where it seems).

I read an eye-opening essay on the novel’s subjective writerly structure: it’s two sets of letters written by Markham to a friend 20 years after the novel’s main events are over; sandwiched between is Helen’s day-by-day epistolary like journal. Stewart proposes that this brings home how little orality was prized in Victorian fiction; that what we are given is an extra-territorial autobiography/biography and all readers understood this. The Victorian novel enabled them to work out what was happening in their own lives by presenting as impersonal (a manuscript), and long ago what was personal and immediate. I liked Gilbert Markham, and can see how he and Helen could flourish together: how he cares for her boy.

I love Anne Bronte for her longing for her home and love of it in this poem:

Consolation

Though bleak these woods and damp the ground
With fallen leaves so thickly strewn,
And cold the wind that wanders round
With wild and melancholy moan,
There is a friendly roof I know
Might shield me from the wintry blast;
There is a fire whose ruddy glow
Will cheer me for my wanderings past.

And so, though still where’er I roam
Cold stranger glances meet my eye,
Though when my spirit sinks in woe
Unheeded swells the unbidden sigh,

Though solitude endured too long
Bids youthful joys too soon decay,
Makes mirth a stranger to my tongue
And overclouds my noon of day,

When kindly thoughts that would have way
Flow back discouraged to my breast
I know there is, though far away
A home where heart and soul may rest.

Warm hands are there that clasped in mine
The warmer heart will not belie,
While mirth and truth and friendship shine
In smiling lip and earnest eye.

The ice that gathers round my heart
May there be thawed; and sweetly then
The joys of youth that now depart
Will come to cheer my soul again.

Though far I roam, this thought shall be
My hope, my comfort everywhere;
While such a home remains to me
My heart shall never know despair.


Kay Adshead as Cathy Earnshaw


Ken Hutchison as Heathcliff (Peter Hammond and David Snodin 1977-78 BBC Wuthering Heights)

I found I had forgotten Wuthering Heights too: crude as it sometimes is, like Jane Eyre, there is a remarkably complicated vocabulary, deeply expressive of actual human passions, poetic in its apprehension of the natural world all around the characters; like Tenant, the structure of two tellers in the present presenting two levels of story, and these from the distant, medium distant past and then in the last part immediate presents, makes for layers of anger and suffering and degradation out of the perpetual violence, at times gratuitous against helpless creatures. Now Heathcliff is the outcast victim, brought up to be without resources to support himself as a gentleman. “I am Heathcliff” can be taken as more than an enthralled love utterance.  The famous utterances about the person who revels in wildness and the one who loves calm, peace.  There are complicated love issues (do you want boundaries between you and another?), a will, Heathcliff the sadist towards Isabella Linton presented as wanting to be hurt (this is troubling). Only Hareton isn’t twisted beyond redemption by relentless scorn and the young Cathy is left to find peace with him. Almost everyone dies. There is an anti-colonialist theme in that Heathcliff might be the illegitimate son of Mr Earnshaw by an enslaved black woman (this angle recurs in Jane Eyre as Bertha Mason came from Jamaica).


Said to be Emily Bronte by her brother Branwell

Here I wanted to call attention to a great film adaptation that seems to have been forgotten because it lacks celebrity stars: the 1977-78 BBC Wuthering Heights, directed by Peter Hammond no less, with marvelous script writer, David Snodin, 5 episodes, the closest film to WH I’ve ever watched, capture the eerie vision at the core of the book, not only a desperate violence at the heart of nature, a ceaseless urge to cruelty, especially when the person has been treated unjustly, viciously, but at the same time a deep suffering and plangent grief that this is so. This feels visionary because it is presented in the book and in this film that in the landscape itself this pattern is set. There is also (no getting away from it) a belief in an omnipresent supernatural afterlife just out of our reach, but manifesting itself in the same pattern of cruelty and grief.

I’m not alone in thinking this: in Valerie Hazette’s Journey through time and Culture: Wuthering Heights: TV and Film, a book which covers all aspects of films (from technology to culture) on this one film singles out this 1977-78 film for 7 pages. What helps make the film important is it also dramatizes the whole book including fully the second half and the relationship of Isabella Linton with Heathcliffe.

Although about an inadequate film, the first, the 1939 famously with Oliver and Oberon (too romantic and only about half the book), George Bluestone’s essay in his Novels into Films is the only place I’ve seen this core aspect of Emily Bronte’s book frankly approached. (I need to read far more of the secondary criticism since the 1990s de-construction movement), where he quotes a line from an essay Emily Bronte wrote at M.Heger’s Pensionat de Demoiselles, in Brussels, in an essay she called “The Butterfly:” Nature is an inexplicable puzzle, life exists on a principle of destruction, every creature must be the relentless instrument of death to others, or himself cease to live.” Is not that an astonishing frightening thing to think or say.

Here is one of Emily’s imagined poems:

Cold in the earth—and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-severing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover
Thy noble heart forever, ever more?

Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers,
From those brown hills, have melted into spring:
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No later light has lightened up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee.

But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.

Then did I check the tears of useless passion—
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?

I’ve written a foremother poet blog for both Anne and Charlotte where you can read more of their poetry. I thought it very telling that both Charlotte and Anne’s heroines are painters.

There is so much more to be said. The books are obviously so different from Austen’s who is often coupled with them in discussions of earlier women writers. Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey while quiet, prosaic, realistic, is wholly unlike Austen in tone: she is caustic, bitter, severely critical of her employers and when she escapes relieved to find quiet romance. Barbara Tepa Lupack in her collection, Nineteenth-Century Women at the Movies: Adapting Classic Women’s Fiction to Film, includes two excellent essays on the from adapted from Jane Eyre (by Kate Ellis and E.Ann Kaplan) and Wuthering Heights (by Lin Haire-Sargeant) respectively. Linda Freeman suggested we add Jane Campion’s The Piano to our Bronte movies.  (Tara Fitzgerald is heroine in Tenant; the closely similar Holly Hunter the heroine of Piano.)

I disagreed with Linda about Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography and Patrick Bronte: see my review of Lucasta Miller’s hatchet job. She presented a far too positive and normative or normalizing picture of Patrick Bronte. She did rely a great deal on the magisterial book by Juliet Barker. There was little said about Branwell Bronte: that he turns up as Hindley in Wuthering Heights, lies behind some of the scenes of Arthur Huntingdon’s alcoholism and death scene in The Tenant. The biography by Daphne DuMaurier which brings out his gifts as a poet and thwarted painter was cited. I was relieved that he was not berated and made into an easy central punching bag as in the recent wretched movie, To Walk Invisible. There is currently at the Bronte parsonage an attempt to treat Branwell with respect and do justice to his life.


A self-portrait by Branwell, c 1840

Thus I record how I managed to keep my mind absorbed and myself active, enduring in relative calm and peace in my house and going out to be with people outside over these books for some 8 weeks. And you see me doing this in imagination — holding on — tonight

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Dear friends,

It’s not quite been like a UHaul, but it has taken a couple of weeks since I needed instruction and help and the actual transition was done by a remarkably generous digital expert at groups.io. I have been busy this last few days moving three lists from the continually deteriorating Yahoo groups social platform, to groups.io. In the last three years and accelerating when Verizon bought Yahoo, all the software on the social platform of yahoo groups has been debased and then increasingly ignored so that outages, glitches and endless individual problems go unfixed. Sometimes the whole group site vanishes for a time. And not even a boilerplate message explaining what has happened and if anything is being done. There is nowhere to ask a question or for a live individual to help. As the demise of net neutrality sinks in and brings changes based on commercial considerations of the largest profit, at any time Verizon could leave the yahoo groups vanished.

So rather than wait when it will be too late to retrieve archives, like others with communities at Yahoo who care about one another and their shared experiences, we’ve moved to groups.io. This is a new social platform run by Mark Fletcher, who invented the original ONElist, morphed it into egroups, sold it to Yahoo, come back to rescue this specific kind of experience. Among the astonishing attractions of groups.io is you can have its basic services for free, and they transferred the archives, all postings, all photos, all files (essays and whatever). A group’s identity is centered in its memory, which means its history. This the new site preserves.

Email groups are not obsolete. They still offer a kind of closed community interaction, which allows for longer messages, and encourages replies and relationships among the people posting much more frequent and much stronger than is found on blogs, face-book and other large anonymously-directed venues.

So very satisfied by what has happened, as I gather are many other Yahoo groups who moved there (I don’t have firm statistics for how many), this evening I thought I’d tell all the readers of this blog who are interested in Trollope and (a liberally defined) Nineteenth Century (1815-1914); Long Eighteenth Century studies, which I now expanded from just the terrain of the Enlightenment itself to historical fiction, romance and film (1660-1815); and women writers, artists of all kinds in all countries, all ages, and women’s issues; that the three lists I moderate have moved to this new version of the original site and have slightly new titles.

for Trollope and His Contemporaries, which now has the nifty abbreviation (I didn’t think of it) Trollope&Peers

https://groups.io/g/TrollopeAndHisContemporaries


New Banner: George Hicks, At the Post Office

Post: TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io
Subscribe: TrollopeAndHisContemporaries+subscribe@groups.io
Unsubscribe: TrollopeAndHisContemporaries+unsubscribe@groups.io
Group Owner: TrollopeAndHisContemporaries+owner@groups.io
Help: TrollopeAndHisContemporaries+help@groups.io

Mascot or Gravatar:


Donald Pleasence as Mr Harding playing his violoncello (1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater)

for WomenWriters:

https://groups.io/g/WomenWriters


New Banner: a collage of several paintings by Maud Lewis

Post: WomenWriters@groups.io
Subscribe: WomenWriters+subscribe@groups.io
Unsubscribe: WomenWriters+unsubscribe@groups.io
Group Owner: WomenWriters+owner@groups.io
Help: WomenWriters+help@groups.io

Gravatar:


Anonymous depiction of Christine de Pizan writing

for 18thCWorlds


Antonio Canaletto, Northumberland House

https://groups.io/g/18thCWorlds

Subscribe: 18thCWorlds+subscribe@groups.io
Unsubscribe: 18thCWorlds+unsubscribe@groups.io
Group Owner: 18thCWorlds+owner@groups.io
Help: 18thCWorlds+help@groups.io

Gravatar:


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Poldark, singing as she brings a basket of food to the coal mine owned and run by her husband

The first two have retained the same goal as they’ve had.

Trollope and His Contemporaries — a group of people who behave as friends and read and discuss Anthony Trollope, any 19th texts by other authors and 20th century one relevant to Trollope, by authors as supremely good as he is as a writer People are invited to discuss other books they are reading at the same time, and any movies or art seen and music heard …

Women Writers — a community of women readers. We discuss issues of interest to women as well as their art, writing, music, crafts and lives. We are much more a literary than political list, but it is assumed you are a feminist and progressive in outlook … Men are welcome but we stay with art by or (in the case of film) made with women in mind. We do sometimes have group readings and discussions

I’ve changed the last to encourage people reading historical fiction, romance and watching historical films (and adaptations) to join us and hope to start group reading and discussion of contemporary favorites. The older version only went for texts written in the 18th century (Boswell & Johnson, Fanny Burney, novels, poetry, educational treatises):

18th Century Worlds — for people who are interested in all things in the long 18th century (1660-1830): politics, history, literature, arts, music, society and culture. I also welcome readers and viewers of historical fiction and romance and films set in the 18th century … Books written in the 19th through 21st centuries about or set in the 18th century, or time-traveling tales are part of our terrain.


Sylvia Plath

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Albert Finney as Churchill (Jim Broadbent as Desmond Morton, The Gathering Storm)


Michael Gambon as Churchill (Churchill’s Secret)

Friends,

Another rather shorter blog where I depart from our usual fare, this time in content. Since this summer, without intending this (in a “fit of absence of mind”), I’ve been watching and reading about a sub-genre of movie I hadn’t realized existed: films centering on Winston Churchill as a piquantly fascinating and admirable older hero. In one he seems hardly to figure, Dunkirk; in another, he is sideshow for a season, The Crown (superb performance by John Lithgow — I hope to blog soon on this extraordinarily well-done serial drama); in a third, he is sort of warped Trump twin, The Darkest Hour (very worrying film). Then after reading Geoffrey Wheatcoft’s superb essay in the NYRB, “A Star is Born” (January 18, 2018), the most touching and insightful of biographical sketches, Rosemary Dinnage’s “Holding the Baby: Clementine Churchill” (under “Partners and Muses” in Alone! Alone! Lives of Some Outsider Women), and Joan Hardwick’s Clementine Churchill: The Private Life of a Public Figure, I consciously set out to watch two against type: 2001 The Gathering Storm, and 2016 Churchill’s Secret.


A statue on the Chartwell grounds

This is a departure because I avoid books and movies about supposedly great men, often, as Thomas More had it, the pests of humanity. I dislike and find such films dangerous most of the time (exceptions include anti-war films Danger USB, Piece of Cake, Kilo Two Bravo). I slipped into this for the reason I want to talk about two against type: we find ourselves in a culture and unacknowledged coup lurching towards war. The cult has been and continues to be heavily American, a profoundly militarist state where violence is close to the surface, and macho male norms prevail. What can attract them? What’s worth noticing is the Churchill films (until The Darkest Hour) have been anti-fascist because Churchill’s intelligence, words, behaviors help undermine the hero fantasy, and he is not himself an action-adventure icon. The list of actors playing the various parts in these films show something worth while glimpsed in the legend: Richard Burton, Robert Hardy, Robert Shaw; even the self-deprecating ever self-conscious Bob Hoskins (in World War Two: When Lions Roared, in split screens, with Michael Caine as Stalin, John Lithgow as Churchill, with much war documentary footage).

Gathering Storm and Churchill’s Secret place Clementine equally at the center


Vanessa Redgrave as Clementine who Churchill calls Mrs Pussycat and she Churchill Mr Pug (Gathering Storm)


Lindsay Duncan as Clementine, with Romola Garadi as Nurse Millie (the myth has come to include a young woman working for Churchill whose life he changes)

These two against type also feature Clementine as central, a role when written with insight offers remarkable moments for a great actress: in The Crown, when Harriet Walter as Clementine burns Graham Sutherland’s portrait of her husband because Sutherland captured his aging and dense characteristics and she cares about how she remembers him, it’s one of the finest intense sequences of the first season.

After reading Sir Almroth Wright’s able and weighty exposition of women as he knows them the question seems no longer to be ‘Should women have the vote?’ but ‘Ought women not to be abolished altogether?’… We learn from him that in their youth they are unbalanced, that from time to time they suffer from unreasonableness and hypersensitivity … and … later on in life they are subject to grave and long-continued mental disorders, and if not quite insane, many of them have to be shut up … May we not look to Sir Almroth Wright to crown his many achievements by delivering mankind from the parasitic, demented and immortal species which has infested the world for so long … Clementine Churchill, a letter to The Times, published 1912)

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


Chartwell in both films played an important role.

In both we are being let into the life of the house and watch the characters wander about the grounds. In Gathering Storm, Churchill is fixing his pond, draining it, saving ducks; in Churchill’s Secret, it is a ambiguous haven for all.

I was much moved by The Gathering Storm. I felt as a widow what I’ve lost was enacted by Redgrave and Finney’s relationship: deep companionship and support. It gave over some 2/3s perhaps to private daily life whose values are not militaristic, not aggressive (anything but), nurturing, home-making. The movie has Churchill show Clementine on behalf of what he is acting: what preserving — good quiet lives lived in liberty. The center was the same as Spielberg’s The Post: a defense of whistle-blowers.

The film’s other hero, Linus Roache as Ralph Wigam is a Deep Throat, a Daniel Ellsberg, is supplying documents and evidence to Winston so he can have ballast in his speeches that they must prepare for and fight the insanely tyrannical socio-pathic Hitler. Wigam and his wife love dearly their disabled child, a Downs Syndrome son, caring for him tenderly. The emphasis was also on how Wigam was not supported by his colleagues (as is Ellsberg in The Post). In a Laura Poitras film the hero is a victim, and in The Gathering Storm Wigam’s colleagues, e.g., Hugh Bonneville as Pettifer. threaten Wigam by saying they will place him where he and his wife cannot attend properly to their child’s needs. Wigam cracks under the pressure of doing what he has been trained not to do.

Ronnie Barker returns as an the argumentative faithful comic Butler. Vulnerability is to the fore, mutual tolerance, comradeship.

The original title for Churchill’s Secret was KBO (said to be Churchill’s motto: Keep Buggering On). Here we have a man who with the help of a working class nurse who would never have voted for him, brings himself back from near death; the courage to be is at the film’s center. He’s weak, sick, and yet aware of others. No pious family, bickering bitter snarky adult children (especially good are Tara Fitzgerald and the inimitable Matthew Macfayden as egregious snob Randolph and desperate Diana. Rachel Stirling as the daughter deprived of a man because her father despised him), yet everyone gathers together to watch a film and walk in the garden.

In Churchill’s Secret, there was a disturbing intrusion of our contemporary insanities: the way Garai was introduced. A hard-working nurse, she is commanded by silent men to “come” with no explanation, then threatened if she spills some vital secret she will regret it forever. This is appalling — it seems to be presented as part of life. Garai is about to go to Australia to live a life as a man’s wife when she really would prefer to stay in London because her job is more satisfying. She does not long to spend her life as this man’s wife. And watching Clementine crying and the family’s lack of identity outside this man gives her courage to say no. She seems to lose her labor identification and allow her father’s earnest reading to be made fun of (just a bit, as Churchill reads the same poet).

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


A photograph of Winston and Clemmie walking together when young

What is valued in these two films are relationships between people, reasonableness, strength as staying true to an inner self, kindness and real equity. No misogyny, no ritual humiliation for anyone. Touching individualizations. In Dunkirk it’s a sheer will to survive that governs the evacuation whose hero is Mark Rylance.

When you come to the quiet end of these two films, you might think as I did: how unfathomable and crazy can we be in the US to have large numbers of people supporting a manic malevolent man who promotes violence, anti-social behavior at every turn, says carelessly he’ll kill 12 million, and no one acts seriously consistently to remove him.


This is Churchill’s portrait of himself from 1920

Izzy tells me she has read Churchill’s war correspondence and it is very worth reading. The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor by Jonathan Rose is valuable. That last word is significant: he made himself into a theatrical figure in public, a possible clue to the cult. Like Martin Luther King he was a master rhetorician, but since he was not philosophically deep, we have to look elsewhere to understand. A recent book by Barry Gough extends our sense of Churchill as head of the Navy together with John Arbuthnot Fisher in World War I.

In Joan Hardwick we see the aristocratic culture of the later 19th and early 20th century: Clementine was the child by a man who was not her mother’s legal husband; the same man fathered her older sister. Her twin brothers had a different father. She was sent away to and pulled out of schools on whims, for lack of money. Maybe she clung to Winston because he was rock-like, a kind of Tolstoy’s Levin & Karenin with cigar and liquor.


As Sir Winston and Lady Churchill much older; Harriet Walter as Clementine burning the false portrait

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Vivien Leigh as Anna Karenina (from the first half of 1948 film, at home — an unfamiliar shot)


Gretta Garbo as Anna Karenina (reminiscing in front of Kitty, a fine moment from 1935 film)

Friends and readers,

Each time one watches a great movie, like each time one reads a great book, one learns more about the film, art, and to some extent the life it reflects. In these two Anne Karenina films, the visuals tell a different story from the script: in visuals, the 1935 AK is far more romantic and highly erotic, but in the dialogue it’s the conventional point of view; the 1948 AK is from its words disquieting, disturbing, but its visuals present prosaic conventional or picturesque images.

Out of eighteen film adaptations, I watched five, attempted a sixth, and read good essays on yet three more. None of my choices were Russian. The finest, in my view is the longest, not written about anywhere, the 1977-78 BBC Anna Karenina, scripted by Donald Wilson (who wrote the 1967 BBC Forsyte Saga), featuring Nicola Paget, Eric Porter, Stuart Wilson. It should be treated like the BBC 1972 War and Peace, scripted by Jack Pullman, featuring Anthony Hopkins. I’ve written about the 2012 Joe Wright-Tom Stoppard Anna, with Keira Knightley, Jude Law, and Matthew Macfayden.

For tonight I’ll cover the first (for English speakers) two famous Anna Karenina films (1935, 1948); on another night I’ll tell about two more (1985, made for TV, with Jacqueline Brisset, Paul Scofield as Karenina, Christopher Reeve as Vronsky, 1997, directed by Bernard Rose, notably greatly acted by Sophie Marceau, Phyllida Law, Sean Bean, Alfred Molina, James Fox, Fiona Shaw and in some ways the most interesting of all the AK movies I’ve seen). A third night, I’ll describe the three I wasn’t able to reach by watching but read about; and at last, a fourth and fifth blog, the culmination, we’ll do the 1977-78 BBC Anna Karenina masterpiece.

I assume my reader knows the story; if not, go back to my blog on the novel by Tolstoy for links (as read aloud by Davina Porter).

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


The 1948 film opens on the train, cold, snowy and a terrible accident quickly ensues (Anna thinks it an omen, the pragmatic Stepan says no)

I’ll go backwards because I watched the 1948 British Anna first. I was so curious to see Leigh and Richardson. This AK was scripted by no less than Jean Anouilh and Julien Duvivier (who also directed), with a little help from Guy Morgan (whoever he is), with Vivien Leigh, Ralph Richardson as Karenin, and a very weak (unconvincing as someone who’d I’d find irresistible) Kieron Moore.

With British actors, a French company, I was naively surprised to find it resembled the 1956 US War and Peace, scripted King Vidor, featuring Henry Fonda, Audrey Hepburn, Mel Ferrer, John Mills. The same kind of sentimentality and superficiality of acting or keeping emotions decorous. I noted that the women’s voices were all this same soft oozy breathless sound Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy and Billie Holiday and so many others affected. Including the Kitty. Only the older women allowed to have real voices. I was so absorbed and bonded with Leigh in Streetcar and a couple of her other films (The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone also by Tennessee Williams) that when she was at first presented as this coy sweet thing was grating. Vronsky and his friends were all these Don Ameche matinee idol stuffed male dolls.


The first meeting is at the train (as in the book and several of the AK films)

That said, Duvivier-Anouilh’s work has merit. Richardson as Karenin is its core: hard as steel and mean (not softened as in the BBC 1977-78 Eric Porter conception). This man wanted a divorce fiercely, right away. Richardson’s conception of the character and acting reminded me of him playing Dr Slope in the 1949 chilling version of Henry James’s Washington Square by William Wyler where Olivia de Haviland is Catherine. So the rigid male controlling his women. Duvivier-Anouilh begin with Hugh Dempster as Stiva and they tried for comedy — which is what Joe Wright does and what is in Tolstoy about the marriage of Stiva and Mary Kerridge as Dolly. Telling about US culture, at the same time as Stiva is socially okay he is adulterous and it’s suggested he and Anna inherited this unfortunate disposition. They included (as the 1997 AK does not, but Wright 2012 does) the race course where Anna first reveals herself. The most effective other male is Michael Gough playing Levin’s brother. The gossipy types spoiling things with their tittle tattle is effective.


A playful Karenin when he comes to pick Anne up at the train station, home from Moscow

In 1948 the film-makers were much more anti-adultery than the 1977-78 BBC, but when in the carriage after the race track where Anna’s intense love for Vronsky was on the table, the whole movie shifts into a mode capable of accommodating bitterly realistic marriage, with a shift in the last quarter of psychologically shattering tragic death. Karenina insists on taking Anna home from the races for having disgraced herself. Leigh is abject (anticipating Nicola Paget in the 1978 BBC version) when she says she won’t ask for a divorce. Leigh also says she deserves to be punished (which no other Anna I’ve seen says). The film-makers try to make the lack of a divorce understandable in Anna’s love for her boy, concern for his welfare with a harpy-housekeeper. Leigh is seen caring for the boy but it doesn’t come off in the same emphatic way when Anna turned suicidal and will approach anywhere the BBC managed.


Richardson and Leigh in the crucial quarreling scene

The flight of the young couple to the suburbs was not successful. They didn’t plan enough (as Jim and I when we were young did not). There is no real critique of society; Levin Niall McGinnis) and Kitty (Sally Anne Howes) are downplayed as ordinary people not thinking much about these things Richardson is seen as an admirable strong man doing politics. Somber, thoughtful, and prosaic too. Originally sensible.

Vronsky’s mother is cold and cruel to Anna, openly snubbing Anna in Anna’s own home but that is put down to her character (not the influence of those around her). In this film Anna self-destructs because she lacks strength from within to live on herself. She’s blamed in effect in several scenes where Vronskry is trying to compromise and increasingly irritated, grated upon, towards the end calling Anna a monster. The quarrels get worse: It’s presented as not fair but nonetheless natural. The social types who fit in surround Anna on her mistaken trip to the opera where Vronsky himself is going (Stuart Wilson was not going in 1978) and sits in his mother’s box. The quarrels get worse: It’s presented as not fair but nonetheless natural. She visits Dolly who welcomes her and finds she is not thrown out of the family but feels her position and flees.

Anouilh’s script is fine and Dudivier’s directing good; it is also a French film with European expressionist techniques in the use of lighting and performances. Despite it’s being just one movie length, it seems to have much more time for inner psychology than 2012 (comparable in time) Wright/Stoppard. Richardson is this hollow man who wants to obey conventions, not a bad man, he just didn’t understand he wasn’t satisfying his wife.


Oblivious Stiva early in the film


Kitty the innocent maiden at the ball

The depiction of the marriage is very much a depiction of a 1948 or mid-20th century marriage. The dialogue is showing us how a couple can become incompatible — it’s not a costume drama (even though it’s produced by Alexander Korda, who may have been responsible for the unbelievable sets), or film of a classic novel but a kind of semi-women’s film only with extravagant clothes. Leigh is given new kinds of lines about her needs, dissatisfactions, and her attachment to her son made more daily and prosaic. I recognized the actresses playing Dolly and Kitty from other films at the time; Kitty is more like a novel character in her illness over Vronsky but Dolly is a woman whose husband is unfaithful living with it. Levin is marginalized and made comic in the same spirit as Stiva.


Dolly’s unhappiness early in the film


Frederick March look-alike when they first flee, he is in love but brisk, sharp, assertive

The music and picturesque settings are now a problem. The music is soppy, the sudden soft focuses, the feel is of a weepy woman’s film at times to us today. She is filmed in a corridor or at these people’s stairways with this pathetic treatment. Outside picturesque house left over from Gone with the Wind or maybe some film taking place in New Orleans. Maybe this pleased and made the 1948 audience weep.


Anna losing her grip

But then everything then falls away as Anna is left alone and we get a 10 minute sequence of her mind going to pieces haunted in the house (hears footsteps). Leigh takes over and is stunning. This sequence takes a long time. It’s a specialty of Leigh’s. She is trying to follow after Vronsky on the train, and happens on and watches an incompatible couple, gradually losing it on the ground until she steps out, in front of the train. This is done slowly as the train comes at her. the camera on her face. It’s tough and while I didn’t take the down there are very Anouilh desperate lines about life before the train smashes her. A blemish is an inter-title just before this from Tolstoy reasserting how good life is or something like this — surely stuck in by the studio.

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

1935 — Anna Karenina – Greta Garbo (Anna), Frederick March (Vronsky), Basil Rathbone (Karenin), Maureen O’Sullivan (Kitty). An all-star cast. A studio product so Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer matters; the director chosen was Clarence Brown with three different writers (the script writer was not respected in earlier films).


Garbo and March

First upfront: where I’m unfair: I don’t care for little triangle mustaches all the men seem to have. Th March look-alike for Vronsky in the 1948 film had this too. To me they look absurd. The males clothes in this one make them look trussed up. I realized the film-makers were once again trying for comedy at the opening with absurd feast, but why the men should all go under the table is beyond me. I preferred the train opening in 1948 but admit the 2012 AK also begins with comedy and Stiva (as does Tolstoy). Kitty is made too innocent: she does yearn for Vronsky but she is hardly allowed near him; she is kept with Levin all the time, and Levin is marginalized, the actor a nobody, Gyles Ischam. Vronsky is thus to be seen as someone who might “pollute” a nice girl’s chastity. Like later Indian films (which eliminate Lucy Steele from Austen’s S&S as too raw material) this shows just how women were kept dolls.

I noticed something no longer with us — film-makers were willing to hire older “ugly” actresses and give them semi-comical parts. Such an actress plays Vronsky’s mother (May Robson, a character actress at the time), so we don’t take her seriously. Who would taken an ugly old woman as a serious presence? On one level, this means jobs for aging semi-fat women; on another, there can be little sympathy such as we find for example in Virginia Woolf (and films made from her books). A third: there is a kind of toleration in showing this reality, except it’s treated derisively. Such a woman type is even in Gaslight (as comic relief — now there’s a powerful film).


Gretta Garbo as Anne Karenina (from just before she meets Karernin in her way home from Moscow, after she has met Vronsky, on train)

All the acting seemed to be artificial including Garbo’s – somehow stiff, detached from their bodies, not coming from some gut area. I felt somehow the tones were off — the falling in love in this film did not convince me. Also there is no felt violence from the men. Some of this is 1935 dramaturgy but it’s hard to make the transition in this film and I have made it in others — when I was reviewing a book about pre-Hays and post-Hays code films I saw a number of 1930s films which were rooted in real emotion and a real sense of body. Was it the awareness they were doing a classic book and so naturally it cannot be quite real? or contemporary? no one believed in it — who had read it of the cast or crew, after all? On the other hand, some of the pictorial moments, the shots were striking (as in the famous one just above)


Rathbone as Karenin also reproaches Anna for her extravagant outfits …

That said, this is a still living effective film.

The crucial or climactic moment was similar to the one in the 1948: there is a fierce quarrel between Karenin and Anna on the way home from the race (where Vronsky is again thrown). Some of the language written by Behrman reappeared in the 1948 script: she is abject, she blames herself, he won’t give her a divorce, but it also takes a different direction: she blames him for caring for appearances. Rathbone is far more menacing: he looms over and accosts Anna in the bedroom: she is too open about her flirtation with Vronsky and Anna tells him she does love Vronsky. This pair argues over appearances: he cares about social appearance (he refuses to admit to jealousy) for the sake of his career; she says she cares nothing for this. It’s interesting to me that this opposition is one that is made explicit in Anouilh/Dudividier’s 1948 AK. It’s not couched that way in the 1978 BBC because in this later liberal era, they were the critiquing society full-stop.


One of Garbo’s many scenes with her boy

I was surprised by Garbo’s presentation. This shows how little I’ve seen I guess. She was not at all a vamp nor over glamorous, but framed in a downright sentimental way: she is clearly filmed as being stunningly beautiful. I had not realized how tall she is. I didn’t recognize March. I did recognize a number of the actors from other films in this company. The most convincing moments were Anna with the son (Freddie Bartholomew). I read afterwards in brief more recent commentary that the mother-wife role was the subtext given Garbo (or the role she longed for) in her films. I would not have guessed that: I thought she was a “vamp.”

It improves around this same spot: the second movie (1948) is then probably modeled as to structure on the first. Vronsky and Anna go to Venice, they are lonely and miss Russia so return, then they are ostracized, the trip to the opera is insisted on by Anna, the humiliation, with a visit to Levin and Kitty at whose house Dolly and Stiva happen to be, preceding the suicide.

But there is much difference and maybe people today could like the 1935 better. Garbo is not a distraught woman, she does not go into a tizzy of self-berating, she does not fall ill — as Anna does in the book from the childbirth. The childbirth is omitted altogether — maybe the 1935 film makers omitted it because they did not want this weakening scene. Basil Rathbone never for a moment compromises in the way Richardson and Porter do.

Garbo remains strong, her speeches show her justifying at least her outlook for sincerity and real emotional life, but then the book has to be followed so after the couple goes off to gether, we have her suddenly angrily berating Frederick March (who looks astonished) and demanding he act out love for her, declaiming doesn’t love her, and she is desperate.


Garbo as Anna in emotional pain from genuine rejection about 2/3 the way through the film


Vronsky wants out

Another change: of all the Vronskys I’ve watched thus far, March alone explode angrily very early on, says he cannot take this any longer and leaves Anna forthwith. The 1935 film has him get an invitation to rejoin his regiment for war so he has somewhere to leave to. There is no near suicide in any of them but the 1977 Stuart Wilson, but one could believe they would self-destruct, not March in this one. He is your Boghart tough man — he goes off to war purposefully after the suicide (totally unlike the book where Vronsky’s going off to fight is throwing himself away for what is senseless). US militarism glimpsed here.

So when Anna visits Dolly and Stiva this occurs after Vronsky has left her. In this 1935 movie Dolly at the visit is clearly bleak since Stiva after partly scolding Anna (yes) for her affair, is clearly going out to a mistress. (This kind of outright disdainful contempt is not seen in the 1948 or 1978 or 1985 movie.) OTOH, unlike the book and all the other movies, Dolly tells Anna she has made the right choice: we see Dolly’s children are selfish and clamoring. Not companions for Dolly. Anna was right to leave Karenin whatever Vronsky’s behavior now.


But as Dolly tells Anna that Anna is better off, we see how lost and rigid Anna has become

Then the scene at the train is very brief and we do not see her body or anything smashed. All very discreet. As I said, Garbo is not presented as transgressive or shattered. Instead this 1935 movie reverts to Frederick March Vronsky who we began with at the feast (with Stiva there too). He has this fancy painting of Anna and talks remorsefully about having left her and says he will always feel guilty.


Levin and Kitty at the ball

The weakest scenes in 1935 are the weakest in the 1948: the opening of Kitty where in 1935 she is not even allowed to dance with Vronsky is repeated; the Levin-Kitty wedding and superficial scenes of wedded content. Again, the strongest scenes are between Anna and her son. They are much longer than the 1948; the son stands up for her, mocks his father. Very good. And we have the servant (Harry Beresford) who says how good she has treated him so he will let her in (that’s in the 1978 film too).


Where we are invited to imagine she will fling herself

End of film. Taking A Streetcar Named Desire (which also lies behind the 1948 film), we might say Garbo as Anna has turned into Blanche who kills herself to escape all these men.

At the end of the 1935 film there is a list of countries where it’s said this film will not be shown, is forbidden. So the adultery was more shocking in 1935. Maybe this curious punishment of Anna (Vronsky actually leaving her, telling her he’s had it well before she kills herself) is there to satisfy the moral lesson that women who are adulterous must not have any joy.

**********************
Brief recapitulation, despite some real strengths in the 1935 film and its surprisingly contemporary revelations and resonances, its strong heroine, over all the 1948 movie seems to work better, have a stronger thrust and shape because the 1948 film-makers felt the material was more acceptable to the audience. They could thus be truer to the book in some crucial scenes where the 1935 didn’t dare. To be noted are how many of the archetypal scenes we think we remember from the book reappear in both these films (as in the 1977-78, 1985, 1997 and 2012)


Above all the train and the cold — this is from near the end of the 1935 film


Anna contemplating the above train, listening to the sounds of the working men’s tools

As it happened yesterday I read a superb essay by Hermione Lee on Virginia Woolf: Essays on Biography: “Virginia Woolf’s nose”. Woolf saw a 1920s version of Anna Karenina and commented on it; she wrote aghast at what the film medium did: instead of interior life, the emphasis is on “teeth, pearls, velvet.” Woolf mentions scenes of sensual kissing with Vronsky, absurdly well-appointed gardens (a gardener is seen mowing one) and super-luxurious rooms.

The 1935 film had pearls, velvet, and a garden — so maybe the 1935 film was influenced by, imitated the 1920s AK that Woolf saw. Anticipating my last blog on AK at the movies, I preferred the way the 1978 BBC people did it to all the other because it’s setting and clothes were the most austere. Maybe they had a lower budget so the lack of emphasis on costumes or houses was necessity; in any event it was done somberly and I liked it better for it.

In the book says Woolf “we know Anna almost entirely from her mind.” but in the film (writes Woolf) we “lurch and lumber” through this furniture. Hermione Lee suggests (rightly) the same vulgarization went on in the film adaptation of Mrs Dalloway as The Hours which presents Woolf’s suicide as at once romantic and self-indulgent (both the worst uncomprehending choices one could make). Woolf is probably unfair; she is not used to the idiom of the visual film, and writes before they developed tools for inwardness.


A later 19th century illustration towards the close of Anna Karenina

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »