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Harriet: “And all this is Mr Knightley’s?”
Emma: “Of course. There is Donwell Abbey — and all these farms belong to the Donwell Estate, and everyone who lives here is a tenant of Mr Knightley’s or his servant.”
Harriet: “I should never have thought one man could own so much.”
[The birds are twittering over head, and Harriet comes as near as she ever will to making a joke]
Harriet: “The sparrows and the skylarks don’t belong to Mr Knightley, do they?”
Emma: “Perhaps not, but the woodcock and the pheasant certainly do.”
— from Andrew Davies’s screenplay for the 1996 BBC Emma)

partridge
Partridge, Jacobite, schoolmaster, brought before Allworthy as Tom’s father (Jack MacGowran)

blackgeorge
Black George, gamekeeper, defending himself to Allworthy as magistrate (Wilfrid Lawson, 1963 Tom Jones)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve decided to devote this third blog on teaching Fielding’s Tom Jones at the OLLI at AU to a third linked group of topics I find the class and I spent time on: first, how poaching was practiced and regarded, as well as the role of gamekeepers who were there to stop poaching but could and did make a good deal of money off the trade; the criminal justice system. How class and where you lived (country or London) enters into this and (in the novel) religion (I think satirized by Fielding) and stoicism embodied in Thwackum and Square. Second, the immediate political history the novel is embedded in, e.g., the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and conflicts between those somewhat supporting the Hanoverians and those somewhat supporting the Stuarts, contemporary acceptance and castigation of corruption and bribery by all, scorn for superstitions (especially those which upheld the Stuart claim).

In this blog I go into the early and last parts of the book and essays related on poaching, gamekeepers, the court system (class war, gaming the system); then Jacobitism and the 1745 civil wars as they relate to superstition and ghosts in the middle and last part of novel. I link in the stunning film Culloden by Peter Watkins (an enactment of the 1745 battle done as a modern documentary, complete with interviews of participants); I suggest Culloden should be part of one teaches for Tom Jones. Fielding’s narrator’s comments are hard-hitting subversive scepticism through the metaphor of the world as a theater.

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To begin with we discussed the incidents of Tom’s “innocent” poaching (so it’s presented in the novel as a young boy’s high spirits), Black George’s trade in birds, Mr Allworthy’s wrath at Black George for allowing Tom to lie on his behalf and firing of him after Tom is mercilessly whipped (as a powerless bastard by Thwackum with Square doing nothing) — when it is Mr Allworthy who allows these men full reign over the two boys under their care. As plot-design and for central themes, one of the uses or purposes of Thwackum and Square is to contrast the characters of Blifil and Tom and to show how unfairly Tom is treated again and again – each time Tom does an act of kindness it must be justified and he is blamed and beaten. (No good deed goes unpunished in this book.) Tom protects Black George and is selling horse, bible, all he has to get food to the man and his family, and Blifil snitches. As they are children, so they become adults.

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Sweetly mischievous Tom as boy (Stuart Neal, 1997 Tom Jones)

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Cagey, hard-eyed Blifil as young man (David Warner, 1963 Tom Jones)

I suggested if it looks like a sharp hard hitting satire on a cleric and the way religion works, then it’s a hard-hitting satire; Fielding detests the hypocrisies of religion, the repressions and bigotry; he wrote deeply secular plays, in his arguments he argues from experience and nature. He’s tired of offending and wants people to buy his book. He has Square as the pagan of the book, cannot say he’s atheistic but comes close. He is satirizing the stoic point of view especially: Samuel Johnson also had no use for the stoics; life is too much of a complicated emotional agony. (Allworthy, the narrator says, hired Blifil because a friend/connection who owed something to Thwackum’s family recommended him; Square, the narrator insinuates, has some sexual relationship with Mrs Blifil, so at first assumes she would want the bastard whipped, then when he sees she favors Tom, is jealous so allows whipping to proceed.) Who does Fielding as narrator quote: Epictetus. Claudian was among Fielding’s favorite reading.

We read J. A. Stevenson’s “Black Acts” in his Real History of Tom Jones; I also drew on Albion’s Fatal Tree and Munsche’s Gentlemen and Poachers. It was a subsistence world where huge numbers of people lived on a level not that far from starvation if their income fell at all: their ability to grow food or work for others. When Partridge is driven from the community, he turns vagabond, and must sell himself as best he can. So it was natural to poach, and it could be, and often was ignored, but it was allowed to make examples of powerless people to shore up private property. In the Poldark novels poaching is presented in ways similar to Jean Valjean stealing a piece of bread so as not to starve and being put to hard labor for 20 years. Fielding brings out how the gamekeeper could function like someone put in charge of chicken coop who proceeds to make money off chickens. So George eeks out a precarious living, cruelly wires hares and sells them on “the black market.” It’s worth noting that elsewhere Fielding doesn’t seem particularly exercised on behalf of being kind to animals. Fielding’s identification with the upper class comes out here.

The poaching and gaming laws were egregiously unfair and like many or even most laws in the UK at the time administered unfairly, unevenly; defendants were not allowed to take the stand in their own defense; as the century wore on, it became practice and then custom to hire lawyers to defend people, and in lieu of immediate punishment in the form of “judicial violence” (flogging, hanging, burning people to death in the case of treason), punishments like prison sentences and/or transportation. J. M. Beattie’s Crime and the Courts of England describes a system of private prosecution; individuals initiated cases. Very important was the indictment: before someone could be tried, there was a pre-trial where it was asserted that “true bill” was rendered – sufficient evidence to go to trial. Much that is known about trials comes from these cases and depositions later in the century. Beattie says that “men of all condition” are to be found “going to a great deal of trouble to pursue thieves and bring them to justice, ” and for murder people did bring private prosecutions too. Of course you needed to be a respected man of a middle to upper class family. Partridge is treated egregiously unfairly and linked to Black George as Tom’s surrogate fathers.

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Our first sight of Patridge when accused by his wife (Ron Cook)

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Partridge before Mr Allworthy hearing his sentence

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Partridge driven out, ejected, exiled with the narrator looking on (John Sessions, 1997 Tom Jones

The magistrates and other officers had a custodial function where they brought the case to court and in the case of murder, if body was found. Even murder was still regarded partly as a private offense and if people seem to care more about property than life, and people were executed for what we think trivial offenses, they were not indifferent to murder. In the last part of the novel Blifil is working hard to bring charges against Tom as either a murderer or someone who attempted to murder Mr Fitzgerald, having Dowling suborn people to lie.

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Tom attacked by Fitzgerald (Albert Finney, George A Cooper)

To return to poaching, propertied people wanted the exclusive right to hunt game in England because they wanted to own all the animals on their property. That’s reductive but that’s it. People in a subsistence world, corn prices artificially high; of course they poach. It’s also fun to poach. They are not protecting the animal but their ownership of it, particularly tenacious over pheasants and deer. What could happen was poaching gangs arose – a kind of class war over property rights under the guise of food.

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Black George fleeing the scene where Tom is caught poaching

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Fired

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Biting on a coin to test its value (actor playing George no longer cited in imdb, 1997 Tom Jones)

Now in response to these gangs and also fear of revolution the Black Act was enacted; no combinations of people allowed. It’s like anti-union legislation before the 1930s, because everyone knew this was egregious, the administration of the law was sometimes harsh and sometimes you could be let off. People today might say, who cares about poaching and game laws? We don’t have a problem about such issues any more: but we do have centrally class wars and who controls and owns property; and the conflicts in the 18th century over gaming (smuggling too – which was ubiquitous all over the coasts of the UK until the middle 19th century when armed forces began to be larger and more effective) and the poaching laws express the class war over property at the time in (to the period itself) transparent disguise. Partridge is named after partridges. He is a helpless kind of individual: good heart but likely to be wired if he does not watch out.

Stevenson argues we are to see Black George as site of complex attitudes and feelings (I added Partridge is too). Does Black George steals the 500 when he “finds” and doesn’t return it? He’s certainly ungrateful. He almost keeps the guineas Sophia sends to Tom but he decides this could get back to Tom. Fielding does not work up our indignation over the question, which Stevenson is inclined to do, until he offers the idea that Black George’s poaching, finding and attempts to invest are just another form of business or commerce in the novel. At the end of the whole novel Allworthy himself becomes incensed at George again, but finds that he would have a difficult time prosecuting Black George. And has he not been as guilty towards Tom when he listened to Blifil present Tom’s courting of Sophia as egregiously breaking rank. Partridge interrupts the man on the hill’s history to tell the story of a man hung by a judge who laughed at him after the man tried to argue he did not steal a horse but merely found it; the person who brought the prosecution was ever after haunted by this man’s ghost. Partridge takes the judge’s behavior to be egregiously cruel and the judgement grossly harsh. Black George’s poaching is another form of business in the novel.

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Hogarth’s depiction of a laughing audience

Fielding (who alludes to Hogarth at key points in the book) has his narrator present a picture of the the world as a theater, (Book 7:1, pp. 289-92) in the Penguin, ed Keymer & Wakely) and calls the audience who would castigate George hypocrites, in reality utterly indifferent to, laughing at the scene they pretend to care about:

But as Nature often exhibits some of her best Performances to a very full House; so will the behaviour of her Spectators no less admit the above mentioned Comparison than that of her Actors. In this vast Theatre of Time are seated the Friend and the Critic; here are Claps and Shouts, Hisses and Groans; in short, every Thing which was ever seen or heard at the Theatre-Royal.
Let us examine this in one Example: For Instance, in the Behaviour of the great Audience on that Scene which Nature was pleased to exhibit in the 12th Chapter of the preceding Book, where she introduced Black George running away with the 500£ from his Friend and Benefactor.
    Those who sat in the World’s upper Gallery, treated that Incident, I am well convinced, with their usual Vociferation; and every Term of scurrilous Reproach was most probably vented on that Occasion.
    If we had descended to the next Order of Spectators, we should have found an equal Degree of Abhorrence, tho’ less of Noise and Scurrility; yet here the good Women gave Black George to the Devil, and many of them expected every Minute that the cloven footed Gentleman would fetch his own.
    The Pit, as usual, was no doubt divided: Those who delight in heroic Virtue and perfect Character, objected to the producing such Instances of Villainy, without punishing them very severely for the Sake of Example. Some of the Author’s Friends cry’d ‘Look’e, Gentlemen, the Man is a Villain; but it is Nature for all that.’ And all the young Critics of the Age, the Clerks, Apprentices, &c. called it low, and fell a groaning.
    As for the Boxes, they behaved with their accustomed Politeness. Most of them were attending to something else. Some of those few who regarded the Scene at all, declared he was a bad Kind of Man; while others refused to give their Opinion, ’till they had heard that of the best Judges.
    Now we, who are admitted behind the Scenes of this great Theatre of Nature, (and no Author ought to write any Thing besides Dictionaries and Spelling Books who hath not this Privilege) can censure the Action, without conceiving any absolute Detestation of the Person, whom perhaps Nature may not have designed to act an ill Part in all her Dramas: For in this Instance, Life most exactly resembles the Stage, since it is often the same Person who represents the Villain and the Heroe; and he who engages your admiration today, will probably attract your Contempt To-morrow. As Garrick, whom I regard in Tragedy to be the greatest Genius the World hath ever produced, sometimes condescends to play the Fool; so did Scipio the Great and Laelius the Wise, according to Horace, many Years ago: nay, Cicero reports them to have been ‘incredibly childish.’– These, it is true, played the Fool, like my Friend Garrick, in Jest only; but several eminent Characters have, in numberless Instances of their Lives, played the Fool egregiously in Earnest; so far as to render it a Matter of some Doubt, whether their Wisdom or Folly was predominant; or whether they were better intitled to the Applause or Censure, the Admiration or Contempt, the Love or Hatred of Mankind.
    Those Persons, indeed, who have passed any Time behind the Scenes of this great Theatre, and are thoroughly acquainted not only with the several Disguises which are there put on, but also with the fantastic and capricious Behaviour of the Passions, who are the Managers and Directors of this Theatre, (for as to Reason the Patentee/ he is known to be a very idle Fellow, and seldom to exert himself) may most probably have learned to understand the famous Nil admirari of Horace, or in the English Phrase, To stare at nothing.’
    A single bad act no more constitutes a Villain in Life, than a single bad Part on the Stage. The Passions, like the Managers of a Playhouse, often force Men upon Parts, without consulting their Judgment, and sometimes without any Regard to their Talents. Thus the Man, as well as the Player, may condemn what he himself acts.nay, it is common to see Vice sit as awkwardly on some Men, as the Character of Jago would on the honest Face of Mr. William Mills.
    Upon the whole, then, the Man of Candour and of true Understanding is never hasty to condemn. He can censure an Imperfection, or even a Vice, without Rage against the guilty Party. In a Word, they are the same Folly, the same Childishness, the same Ill-breeding, and the same Ill-nature, which raise all the Clamours and Uproars both in Life and on the Stage. The worst of Men generally have the Words Rogue and Villain most in their Mouths, as the lowest of all Wretches are the aptest to cry out low in the Pit.

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Lady Bellaston as we first see her, enacting a one-on-one orgy in classical painting style

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At the masquerade, linked to the theatre metaphors of the novel (Lindsay Duncan, 1997 Tom Jones)

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I agreed with John Allen Stevenson’s “Stuart Ghosts” that Jacobitism is important in the novel, and we went over the middle part of the book, the road journey and looked at how the readings he offers help us understand the man on the hill, the political heated arguments between Squire Western and his sister (though these also include women’s rights which, stigmatized as she is for her egoism, tyranny over niece, her own mercenary and rank-ridden vanity, and a number of ugly stereotypes associated with spinters, she is a bad defender for). I linked Jacobitism in the novel to Fielding’s dramatizations of superstition, his satire on military men and their lives (though he sympathizes with half-pay officers as well as those unfairly not promoted because they won’t sell their wives). I disagreed on an association of Tom with Bonnie Prince Charlie. Fielding knew what this man was, understood the clan system as part of the rent-tax-subordination system as another tyranny, might have seen Charles Stuart for an egregious ancien regime drone. (I’ll in a separate blog go over the gypsy sequence where some of Fielding’s sympathy for waifs, and for Jacobitite kind of thought versus “common sense” Hanoverism, arguments above tyranny, monarchy, and who was Jennie Cameron connect. I don’t want this blog to be overlong.)

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From Tom’s military career: the amoral fierce Northerton, Tom as terrified ghost, Mrs Walters as frightened naked woman, aka Jenny Jones, Tom’s mother (Albert Finny, Julian Glover, Joyce Redman, 1963 Tom Jones)

I used Peter Watkins’s ironically instructive Culloden, and urge my reader to take the time to watch it. I did my best to convey to the people in my class what Culloden was. If you teach Tom Jones, I recommend showing at least parts of this film. Watkins enacts a simulacrum of what mid-18th century battle was; the slaughter; the narrator will say “this is grapeshot” (bags of nails and deadly projectiles hit through a cannon); this is what it does.” The battle is enacted as if 20th century reporters were on the scene, making a documentary: they interview the actors, a biographer comes forth. The tone is utterly prosaic, everyone speaks as they might have done, the effect is chilling and unforgettable

Culloden 1964 BBC docudrama (written and directed by Peter Watkins)

The rebellion of the Scots under Bonnie Prince Charlie was the third attempt of the Stuarts to disrupt the Anglican and Hanoverian order, and this time when the English put the rebellion down, they behaved ferociously to all the Scots during and after Culloden: a great diaspora occurred. In summer 1685 – Monmouth’s rebellion (which comes up in the story of the Man on the Hill) produced savage reprisals and executions. It was a serious attempt to overthrow the gov’t but like Essex’s rebellion against Elizabeth in 1601 it was swiftly (though not so easily) put down. In the 1690s there was a rebellion in Ireland whose spearhead was James II; in 1715 another headed by James III. Walter Scott has novels about these Scots wars. Indeed the English civil war is now called the war of the Three Kingdoms (England, Scotland, Ireland). These were dynasty wars, ethnic and religious, and they were civil wars, and they were finally suppressed after 1745 by ruthless action on the part of the English in Scotland. Within the Scots world, the clans were themselves subject to harsh master chiefs; there was in effect a civil war in Scotland itself, with the lowland Scots siding with England and some of the clans of lower Scotland fighting with the Highlanders.

I offered a potted brief history:

Jacobitism and Jacobites – not to be confused with Jacobins. Jacobins take their name from Jacques: working men, men sans culottes, not wearing elegant fancy breeches and wigs but trousers down to the floor because they worked all day and needed protection . Jacobitism or Jacobites take their name from James II, the brother of Charles II, both of them sons of Charles I who went down in history as having been beheaded by the parliamentarians in 1649 after he lost the civil war and (like Louis XVI) kept fomenting rebellion. I recommended Frank McLynn’s The Jacobites. There’s an international or European wide dimension too, by the later 18th century it moves into the Western hemisphere as the English and British become settler colonlialists, as the Scots themselves travel abroad to exploit and destroy the native peoples there. The religious dimension: Jacobites are Catholics and they attract to them Catholics suffering under the penal laws; Hanoverians are Germans and Walpole’s corrupt bribery system alienates people.
    There is no hard and fast easy formula for saying this sort of person will be for the Hanover family (Germans) and this for the Stuart family. It all begins with Elizabeth I had no son and her heir was James VI of Scotland who became James I. Many Scottish people came down to London with him. He was sufficiently intelligent to practice politics sanely; was brought up Protestant and superintended the first and still classic translation of the Bible: King James bible. His son, Charles I, not so wise; marries a Catholic French princess, takes up his father’s idea of an absolute monarch. Tries not only to rule without parliament, but move the church towards Catholicism. He imposes taxes which were by then Parliament’s perogative. The rallying cry for the war was Ship Money (taxes) and Bishops (high church). Class, ethnicity, religion, personal family politics played a role but generally the new merchant and banking class joined with more egalitarian thinking and formed the Parliamentarian party; they won and beheaded Charles. Oliver Cromwell their army head.
    In the 17th century Scotland was a bad place to be: repression by the English again and again, after the return of Charles II (a Stuart) to England, violent civil conflicts between Scots’ groups, religious fanaticism, poverty. A group of Scots did crown Charles II King of Great Britain; Montrose’s rebellion against Cromwell savagely put down; General Monck no better. Religious fantaticism agai of “God’s covenanted people.” Scott dramatizes some of this history in Old Mortality. Charles is able to take power in England 1660 and he is cunning enough not “to go on his travels again,” and dies in his bed, but his brother, James had become Catholic. He tried the same kind of tricks, more mild as Charles I but liberty had been experienced and the interregnum was a tremendously fertile time for new ideas (communists called Levellers emerged). When he tried self-rule and to override laws against Catholics claiming this was toleration, rebellion emerged – in Scotland too where they were Presbyterians. He has a nervous breakdown, flees, throne said to be empty and he is replaced by his daughter, Mary, and her husband William – a Stadholder from the Netherlands. They die childless, and Anne, brought up Protestant takes over. Poor woman gives birth 15 times, no one survives. She was a Stuart and Protestant.
    Parliament used to picking its kings asks the ruler of Brunswick-Luneburg to come and be king – but with many hedges. Here begins Parliament’s power. Incomparably richer more powerful position. The present Windsors are descendents of these Hanovers even if not directly. As long as James II was alive none of these people were seen as legitimate by Catholics – that is your international dimension. The Catholic countries harbored the Stuarts. Under Louis XIV they set up an alternate king. I worked long and hard on a laer 17th and early 18th century poet, Anne Finch, who was a maid of honor to Mary of Modena, James II’s Spanish catholic wife. Her husband, Heneage, fled with James II, and until the mid 1690s refused to take the oath of allegiance when what happened was everyone in the family had died and he was to be heir. He must be a protestant, they must get positions from court. I know as a reality that in the 1690s through 1710s there was a lot of Jacobite feeling – even among high church anglicans. There are those who argue Samuel Johnson who detested Whigs and was a radical thinking Tory had feeling for the Jacobite cause or nexus. He went to Scotland. Wrote a remarkable travel book about Scots Hebrides. Boswell would be one of the lowland pro-British capitalist Scots.
     Economic interests of the powerful among the English at odds with economic interests of Scots capitalists. Some famous disasters. The Union forced on the Scots. The Hanovers are protestant, they are the creatures to some extent of Parliament, they are supported by thinking which is sceptical about divine right. Locke is their great philosopher. They are supported by merchants, moneyed people, city people – and Mrs Western who fancies herself the sophisticate. These are not good guys: whigs are pro-war; they are ferocious colonialists; they are gangs and coteries of upper class individuals where much money is also made in trade.
    Stuarts are Catholic, they believe in divine right, they are often found among the landowners because the landowners don’t gain much from war; they are far high corn, artificially high bread prices. It fits that Squire Western might be a quiet Jacobite – you didn’t admit it openly. Strong penal laws against Catholics, treason to be a Jacobite.
    There were a number of complex complicated rebellions at this point. The first does not quite fit my paradigm – because it’s too simple – in 1688 Monmouth, an illegitimate son of Charles II, rebelled on behalf of Protestantism (and himself) against James II. He was savagely put down. Scots came to his aid, more rural people, those disaffected for all sorts of reasons. At the same time there was a rebellion up in Scotland in the 1679-1680s ferociously put down – Walter Scott has novels on this ;a great place to learn this history is his Old Mortality; I recommend the novel for itself too. Scots fighting Scots: Presbyters versus high church. Cavalier versus puritan. A couple of DuMaurier’s novels use this material: King’s General, Jamaica Inn which takes place in the southwest in the 18th to 19th century.
    1715 James III invades and it takes an effort to put it down.
    Final crash in 1745 with Bonny Prince Charly, James III’s son at the head of an army. They never got close to London at all. Watch Watkins’s Culloden. The question that people argue over until today is how much strength had these Jacobites in England? It used to be denied but then the regime that ruled had it in its interest to make everyone think there were few Jacobites. In fact it felt to be a present and real danger, a site where discontent could rally round to the point that after England won they went into Scotland practices ethnic cleansing in all its varieties, started a wide diaspora of the Scots out of the Highlands especially. It was the clan system which had given the Stuarts wha chance they had to return.

Battestin maintains Henry Fielding was unalterably opposed to Jacobitism; Stevenson disagrees. What in the novel supports Battestin’s view? Tom. The narrator at times who links belief in the Jacobite cause with tyranny and superstition (worshipping objects). Outside Fielding in some strident downright statements by Fielding. But wait? The novel is filled with Jacobites – because Fielding wanted to mirror the reality or because he sympathized. Everyone in the novel but Tom seems to believe in ghosts, and Tom turns into one after he is almost killed by Norterton. Sophia is mistaken for Jenny Cameron. Our man on the hill originally rebelled. Mrs Western, Lady Bellaston and the whole London crew are no advertisement for the Hanoverian regime. It’s important if you are trying to understand the vision of this book – trying to understand what it’s about and where Fielding is. Is Tom’s story an analogy for Monmouth and after him Bonny Prince Charlie? Was Fielding seduced or repelled by Charles Stuart’s story and personality?

If we look at one dialogue between the Westerns (Bk 6. Ch 2, pp 246-347), we find that Western associates the Hanoverian regime as filled with bribery and corruption. But not much else – it is true that the way gov’t was run then was wholly patronage and what is that but bribery and corruption?. Mrs Western’s ridiculous vanity makes her want to think she is part of this world.

Another (Bk 6, Ch 14, p 287): Mrs Western associates Hanoverians with liberty of the subject and it was in the 1690s that a bill of rights was passed which the French knew of in 1789 and influenced our own bills of rights (p 287). Tom associates King George with liberty. Bottom of the page he is angry because he suspects the Hanovers are not for keeping the price of bread artificially high: he’d make less money and wars would be cheaper. Hanovers are rats eating his stores. It was the Tories who were strongest for the Black Act – keep people down in the country, but the Hanovers who were strongest against smuggling (free trade going on everywhere)

What we see of the soldiers shows us they know little of what they are fighting about – much like soldiers today perhaps.

Outside of Tom Jones can be found trains of thought and ironies that could show Fielding to be antagonistic at least to present regime. Ronald Paulson offers a nuanced reading of Fielding’s ironic Jacobites Journal. In A Jacobites Journal Fielding writes “what is loyalty in one reign, is treason in another” Turncoat an utter hypocrite, not to be trusted nor trimmers. To be a character named John Trott-Plaid is very plausible –- is Fielding ironic or not exaggerating enough? He published it in 1748; by calling himself a Jacobite he gets readership, by being ironic he is safe from accusation –- plus he is so strident in public about how pro-Hanoverian he is. He shows much of the two side’s propaganda is so much slander. Paulson says that Fielding exposes bogus history and bogus myth (again watch the BBC docudrama). The chronic fabrications that surround Allworthy could be called the equivalent of the Stuarts mythologizing, all piety. Blifil an ultimate Jacobite. He does allude to some Jacobite historians in Tom Jones.

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A boy caught up in the system at Culloden

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The actors playing Charles Stuart — the actual man had had 10 days experience of fighting as a boy from afar; Stuart left the field and did nothing for those he had brought there

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The Hanoverian side

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Far shot of battle

To ask these questions and look into what Culloden was, what Jacobitism, makes the book more interesting, and fits a perspective on it as deeply sceptical, pessimistic, with a cynical understanding of what makes the world tick and how so many wander about. Battestin talks about the people who came to Fielding’s court as a bunch of low life unworthy people – from the height of his tenured privileged environment he castigates these idle disorderly desperate thieves, prostitutes, smugglers, gamblers, domestic violence – but Fielding didn’t. He set up a surveillance office in guise of an employment agency perhaps but he did help people to jobs if they had “characters.”

In Book 16, Chapter 5, when Tom is nearing his nadir, Fielding takes time out to show Jones, the youngest female Miller, Mrs Miller and Partridge watching Hamlet. People did go to the theater a lot; in all ranks that could. It was a popular art form. So off go Jones, the youngest female Miller, Mrs Miller and Partridge.

What’s really strange or wants explanation here is that Fielding goes through the whole play step by step. He really touches upon each of the phases of Hamlet. If you ‘ve read and remember it, it’s uncanny. Even Hamlet with his mother. Critics have expended much ink on this one. On one level obviously it’s making fun of the belief in ghosts we see in Partridge. Partridge is also the naïve audience member who believes the people in front of him are real and gets intensely excited. Don’t knock this as not done anymore: actors have to be careful who they enact, viewers treat repeating characters as real people.

Stevenson sees a political application, and that the political application links up with the other politics of the book – that is that Partridge is a Jacobite Hamlet is a revenge play about a usurper – Claudius is usurping the throne having killed Hamlet’s father. Cause of George is cause of common sense? Great play not about common sense. I wonder if it’s meant to fill out Partridge. Make us like him. Does Fielding really mind superstition? He looks kindly at people’s foibles which do no harm, though belief in ghosts does harm and elsewhere he observes this. If Fielding not so anti-Jacobite, then maybe he feels affection for this man. He loves how Partridge is totally involved with the characters from moment to moment. Partridge is a truer father to Tom than Mr Allworthy.

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1963 Tom clutches Partridge to him and kisses him

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1997 Partridge kisses Jones (Max Beasley is Jones)

(A link to Black George here who carries letters back and forth between Sophia and Tom in London, which letters form an epistolary kind of story.)

We could say the chapter on Hamlet is a tribute to the actors and Garrick as Hamlet, to the theater itself which is part of the skein of metaphor in the book

And the idea we are actors and audience both takes us back to the narrator’s disquisition (quoted at end of section 1 of the blog). Another response of the audience is utter delusion, self-identification, misreading — this coheres with some of what David Hume thought. These people, the audience Fielding knows are his customers, us his readers; he was their/our playwright is now the host of a tavern in which they and we cavort.

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Fielding as narrator (John Sessions, 1997 Tom Jones)

Ellen

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Italian Recreation by Antoine Watteau

Dear friends and readers,

Last night The Folger Consort, put on a truly enjoyable concert of 18th century music appropriate for the winter season, “The Season Bids Us.” It consisted of four pictorial (in the 19th century way of music) Four Seasons (Scherzi Armonici sopra le Quattro Stagioni dell’Anno) by an early 18th century French composer variously called Antonio or Mr Antonio at the time. The Folger gave his name as Giovanni Antonio Guido; born 1675, from Genoa, studied violin in Naples from 1683; was employed at the city’s Conservatory, paid as a copyist, a violinist in the Royal Chapel and moved to Paris in 1702. There he became successful enough to end the head of the Duke of Orleans’s musical establishment. He was painted by Watteau.

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Antonio by Watteau

The four movements of Four Seasons, each have subheadings which suggests a story, and the Folger Consort group printed four French poems (with facing English translations) which correspond to the changes of story line in the music. You can follow along from mood descriptions of the season, to events occurring in the natural world among animals and people (including a fierce hunt where the poor stag is destroyed no matter how hard he tries to escape).

The consort used to consist just of four older (white) men; it’s now about 10-12 people, some young, women, African American. The older men are still playing their harpsichords, recorders, older violins, cellos, and period instruments I can’t name; the new people have older instruments too, but also modern violins, cellos, horns.

For this concert and I can see those coming next year each time a “star” instrument performer is hired. This time it was the stunningly good Julien Chauvin. He can play that instrument wildly and it becomes alive with feeling. They also had a soprano with a beautiful voice, Rosa Lamoreaux. Between the first two seasons she sung carols using the Christian mythic story by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, a French composer active in Paris in the middle to later 17th century.

Born in 1643, Charpentier’s father was a scribe, and he spent time studying in Italy under the composer, Carissimi. He too ended patronized by the French aristocracy, given an apartment by Marie of Lorraine in the Hotel de Guise. As wikipedia says, “prolific, versatile,” he is said to have “produced compositions of the highest quality” in many genres, among these oratorios, motets — and Christmas pastorals. He is best known for music composed for Moliere’s plays and company of actors. He kept his autographs and they are now in the Bibliotheque National so his work is known. He was music director at a Gothic style chapel Sainte-Chapelle for six years where he is said to be buried, but there is no marker. The program notes quoted him from near the end of his life:

I was a musician, considered good by the good ones, scorned as ignorant by the ignorant … since those who scorned me were more numerous than those who lauded me, music became to me a small honor and a heavy burden. and just as at my birth I took nothing into this world, I took nothing from it at my death.

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Charpentier

The consort matched traditional carol words to some of his melodies, with deft dance rhythms, folk tunes. The songs are playful; one ruefully feels sorry for the apparently cuckolded Joseph. Another is universal in spirit about the new year. Some of the translations were very Baroque in imagery and feel; others influenced by William Cowper-style verse:

From Spring: there was a shepherd and shepherdess song:

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The Shepherds by Watteau

From Summer

The air sets fire to itself: Phoebus in his brilliant course
Has already met Leo in wrath.
Zephyr disappears, the burning countryside
Leaves no birds to sing excepts the cuckoos …

The stag, horrified, sees no escape.
He flies, attempting in vain to escape death.
His power leaves him, he cries of his defeat,
He surrenders to the conquerors who deny him mercy

From Winter

The season of freezing fog saddens Nature,
The weakened sun escapes before our eyes
To the animals, the soil offers in place of grass
Only snow and icicles that are found in every place.

You can find read the program and all the songs on line here:

The whole thing was done so unprentiously, without pomposity, people coming in, setting themselves up, playing and singing, and taking a few bows after that I wish my one on-line YouTube about it didn’t have the bit too much hype (or ad stuff here and assertions about this ritual time) but since I am not good at describing muisc, you do see the group, hear a bit of it, the soprano and the main violinist:

Pericles is still on at the Folger theater and the audience was probably too large for the Folger Theater, so it was held in a church across the street, the American Lutheran Church of the Reformation. The main nave is beautiful: simple, very Renaissance in the use of wood decoration, the forms across the ceiling reminded me of women’s headdresses. Four Christmas tree with white lights, wreaths without any ornaments.

Most of the time Jim and I did not go to the consort because (he said rightly) they were dull about 10 years ago or so, the four men just using religiously the instruments of the time, sticking to the way a song might have been done. Once in a while though they would break out. I remember seeing a delightful rendition in the small Folger theater itself of Milton’s apparently stern Comus: it’s a play meant to be done in an aristocratic house by children. For that they did hire actors, and had extra more modern instruments — after all it was mid-17th century, 100 years after the “official” Renaissance.

I see coming up in spring, “Playing with Fire,” a consort similarly inventingly combining different kinds of instruments and players: made up of fanstasias, dances and and tunes from Shakespeare’s plays; and in late Spring, Shakespeare and Purcell; music from the Fairy Queen and surely other works will include Dido’s song, “Rememember me but forget my fate,” and settings of Shakespeare by Purcell.

My neighbor-friend, Sybille, was with me. She is also a widow, her husband also taken by the cancer epidemic (in his case a devouring pancreatic cancer). Downstairs they had had mulled wine and various sweetbreads. We’d had some, and since she brought her car, it was an easy drive home. I would not have gone but for her.

I was much moved because this is the first time since Jim died I found myself having the kind of theater and music experience Jim used to find out for us regularly. I came home near tears and write this morning to record this renewal of dear memories through an experience. Also to tell of what this Consort has now become.

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Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750, Netherlands — to represent the later 17th century)

Ellen

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Wordsworth Classics edition of Tom Jones

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Penguin edition of Tom Jones, ed. Keymer and Wakeley

Dear friends and readers,

There are many editions available of Fielding’s Tom Jones, including translations (I know about the Italian and French). The film by Richardson and especially the scene where Tom eats at Mrs Walters and she eats back remains famous. And in this institute famous respected older masterpieces are what’s wanted. So when I offered a course in this book at American University’s Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning, a full room of people showed up, and most stayed on I was not surprised. I think many of the students were surprised at my approach to the text, and was told later by several the whole thing began to make sense say 6 weeks into the semester (so that’s some 600 pages in). I was surprised by my approach too.

You see in the summer I had been genuinely worried whether they would like it. After more than 25 years rereading it, I wasn’t sure I liked it. In an effort to help myself along I listened to a different dramatic reading aloud of the text than the one I had listened to years before by David Case (a great favorite with me). In this new one, by Ken Danziger, a reader who I had hitherto real respect for (as I had enjoyed listening to his renditions of other books), he enacted Fielding’s narrator as if he were slow-speaking (foolish) comic character in an eighteenth-century play — and as a consequence made the book excruciatingly tedious. I tried a couple others, including one by Edward Fox (a fine actor) but none worked so well as Case’s where he just moved through the text with a continual changing tonal irony, sort of opportunistically and unemphatically yet dramatic when doing the characters enabling the narrator then to vanish for a bit.

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Well the 11 weeks turned out to be a journey of discovery for myself as I tried to help a group of adults truly understand and appreciate what this book had to say to its contemporaries and could say to us today. As an undergraduate I did realize that the Battestin neo-Protestant hagiographic account of Fielding and reading of Tom Jones as consistently Hanoverian-ethical and conservative was fundamentally unreal and obtuse, and when I watched the films, that it was neither an innocent sexual romp (that is how Richardson’s film is commonly misunderstood) or ethical sermon (the Reithian BBC people, meaning to educate, inform, and entertain us), but had not before tried myself to work out some other framing, some way to close read the text that took into account all its inconsistencies, sexual misogyny, and different kinds of discourses and details. Now I began to feel the way I had read the book and understood it was wholly inadequate. Each paragraph seems to require a close reading as if it were a poem.

I began therefore by talking about all the obstacles in the way of understanding the narrator, and those aspects of Fielding’s early life and life in the theater and private life apart from his remunerative activities after the Licensing Act which are clearly reflected in the book. I began to chose essays to share with the class as week by week I found we needed different lenses to close read the text together, each one providing slightly different framings by which to understand that part of the book and by extension the whole text in front of us. I used very recent ones starting with more historical background topics, say (from Stevenson’s book), to sociology and law (Simpson on rape cases and attitudes towards sex and women in the courts), and others reading the novel thematically, psychoanalytically, or as an attempt to put together from a new genre that conformed to the evolving conventions of naturalistic probability. Or just essays disagreeing on what was alluded to in an inset history or story or encounter and why.

Nonetheless, I’ve come to think the book when read adequately transcends its eighteenth-century features and to treat of its issues and problems comparably to our own can make us question or have to re-think our own norms today. I’m going to use this blog to tell some of this here. If you need reminding about Fielding’s story or characters, you can find other sites on the Net for this. I suggest anyone who does not know book, and wants to read on, set aside enough time for 100 pages a week, or watch the 1997 5 hour mini-series and then find time to read the book. I’m not sure I can tell about reading together over 11 weeks, turning pages of the novel. But I can tell about a few of the essays that helped me and the class understand the content of the book. So to begin with, three very different essays from across the term.

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Wm Hogarth, Morning (alluded to by Fielding, as suggestive of what Mrs Bridget Allworthy looks like)

I’ll go backwards, beginning with the one that I read in the 10th week which gave a holistic account of the book through a history of what has been written and said about Fielding and his writing in the last 300 years by Robert Hume (Fielding at 300: Elusive, Confusing, Misappropriated, or (Perhaps) Obvious?”, Modern Philology). It took me the best part of a day to read (and I’ve no idea how many others in the class read it); I’d never read it before and think the sense it makes can be appreciated only after a hard slog through the book’s details. This essay made me feel better because Hume can be summed up as telling the reader how difficult it is to reach Fielding in Tom Jones. He feels that only recently have people been willing to describe the text frankly; a work of genius, one said to be so popular at one time, and as widely-read as the state of literacy and the ability of any group of people to pay for or reach a copy of the text, and called immoral, amoral, felt to be disquieting at the time and yet a serious book, is not supposed to be inconsistent, at core evasive, one which works by association, and was written spontaneously as it came to Fielding within the confines or discipline of this carefully-plotted story line.

Despite all Fielding’s efforts at construction (chapters within books, neatly set off inset histories), at calendared time, keeping to announcing probable space covered on foot, by horse, coach, with all characters mostly accounted for against probable diurnal fates, is chaotic, autobiographical (an author blind to himself), obsessive (all these carping critics attacking him), endlessly repetitive (how many times does he go over the arguments against and cruelties of coerced marriage?). The narrator is by turns deeply sceptical, subversive in all sorts of ways (as his contemporaries, among them Arthur Murphy who wrote a “Life and Genius” saw) — and then again sexually really so conventional. Hume says rather than see him as a swaggering frat boy we should recognize he’s an sexually insecure male hitting out at supposedly powerful women –- as when Lady Bellaston keeps Tom as a sexual plaything. Hume talks of how the character of Amelia is an attempt to get beyond the Sophia emblematic presentations. He even mentions the attribution problem where still texts by Sarah Fielding are in part or whole attributed to her brother (Ophelia is by some given to him) or text by him attributed to her (the Anna Boleyn narrative). Hume ends on the idea that we might regard Fielding’s most common impulse that the teacher; Fielding is teaching us, his mask teacherlyness.

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So that’s for the book as a whole. Two other topics will do for tonight. Sex and money. Money first. We read James Thompson’s essay on how money worked in the 18th century, how it was created, its basis, how what was considered money (a medium of exchange) was changing (Patterns of Property and Possession,” Eighteenth Century Fiction). In this era there was a transition and jockeying between bullion, actual coins, gold and silver and paper money as well as paper credit. What he shows is that Fielding is a social and economic conservative when it comes to money: a bill of money is worth so much at the opening of the novel and it is still worth that at the end; objects do not lose and gain their value by circumstances. Black George does not grew rich on the funds after he gave found and secreted away the £500 Mr Allworthy meant for Tom; he gives the bill to Mr Nightingale (Tom’s friend’s father) who has not yet invested it when Mr Allworthy comes to visit him and sees it.

Thompson also shows how attitudes toward property, personal property and money reveals Fielding’s attitudes towards fundamental issues of all sorts. We see that money is a kind of instrument people use against one another and we do see how life itself, bodies, much else are subject to money. Thompson takes Battestin’s traditional view that at the close of the novel all is well as we return to Paradise Hall; a providential pattern is asserted, but in the notes he quotes other critics’ view that Fortune (or chance) is what rules this world, and there is much in the novel to critique what property has become: I read aloud Pope’s great lines:

Blest paper-credit! last and best supply!
That lends Corruption lighter wings to fly!
Gold imp’d by thee, can compass hardest things,
Can pocket States, can fetch or carry Kings;
A single leaf shall waft an Army o’er,
Or ship off Senates to a distant Shore;
A leaf, like Sibyl’s, scattered to and fro
Our fates and fortunes, as the winds shall blow, (lines 69-76)

We then zeroed in on one aspect of this early history of money: bank bills and the bill of exchange. A bank bill is a note which can be traded and exchanged. In the case of a bill of exchange there is a co-signer and the person it'[s made out to gets money from a bank. The co-signer is the person responsible for paying a bill. Why? since the money goes to the person who made up the bill. Bills of exchange were a way of borrowing money personally when you had no security, nothing the bank could take in lieu of the money borrowed – before credit cards. (it’s not good to think of it as a check because when we write a check we are supposed to have money in our bank to back it up). It’s a piece of paper, a note to a money-lender and get the specified amount of money from that lender minus that man’s profit, called a discounted. The phrase is the bill is discounted. The borrower without security has to get someone to ”accept” the bill before the money-lender will give him the money; it’s understood that accepter acts as collateral (something pledged as security, a car, a house, an expensive object worth money).

When Mr Allworthy signs the bank bill that he has agreed to supply the money for Mr Jones. Why did third co-signers do that? In a world where patronage, coteries, family networks supplied all jobs and promotion, pressure could be put on people outside these magic circles. You as acceptor – signer – have no control over who has it unless you have the money to buy it back. Mr Allworthy does. There was a business in buying such bills by people prepared to send in bailiffs and have the household and goods of the person who accepted the bill sold. By the 19th century. You may have co-signed for a son or daughter? So as the bill exchanges hands it is signed and Mr Allworthy can trace where it’s been and who is it comes from.

Thompson suggests Fielding distrusts and detests the way money had begun to be used. He uses the example of Jonathan Wild (an earlier novel) and what happens in Amelia — after Tom Jones. Wild is a successful exploiter: as the narrator puts it, “a prig [thief to steal with the hands of other people” (p. 168). Fielding also plays with the increasing dimensions of capital, its capacity to make money from money, so that Wild cheats a whole series of people one after another, profiting from each of them. Theft serves Fielding as a kind of laboratory economy, a miniaturization of an exchange system. It also serves as the ironic frustration of capitalist exchange, for theft is a zero-sum game, one in which money moves around, through various forms of thieving, cheating, and pick-pocketing, but the value remains constant (as in the card-sharking scenes in the man on the hill’s history). In microeconomic system, thieves prey upon one another in daisy-chain fashion, all cheating one another and negating each other’s effects. In Tom Jones we watch the movement of bills, but in Amelia we trace the journey of debts.

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Lady Bellaston (Joan Greenwood) and Lord Fellamar (David Tomlinson) (1963 Tom Jones)

Then sex. Over half the articles I sent to the people in the class were about some aspect of sex so this will be the first of a few. We read a chapter from Laura Rosenthal’s Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in 18th century Literature and Culture on Tom as a prostitute (or kept man). Most of Rosenthal’s chapters concern female prostitution; she asks the question why does prostitution figure so centrally in restoration through 18th century literature, either literally or as metaphor? She says we can answer that question by substituting looking at prostitutes simply from the sexual degradation and status perspective to as figures of commerce; as people employed in one of those businesses you didn’t need patronage to enter into. They formed part of the changeover from a feudal hierarchical society to a commercial one. The body was a commodity, as something to be sold. Since marriage was coerced for money, it could be gathered up into this perspective: Mr Nightingale wants his son to sell himself to gain aggrandizement for the family.

She writes on Richardson’s Clarissa in Chapter 5; her piece on Tom Jones comes from chapter 6. She uses the word rogue in the 18th century sense (low born scoundrel), and says if we compare Tom’s stories to what we find in realities and in other stories, he is not at all a rake (usually elegant) but a paid stallion, and in the exchange with Lady Bellaston once he takes her money he is honor bound to have sex with her –- because she paid for it. Neither his gender nor privileged upbringing can protect his most intimate person from becoming a commodity, up for sale.

Key chapter and passages are several places, but most strongly in Book 13, chapter 9 where Tom is at Lady Bellaston’s beck and call. We watch Tom carrying on having sex with Lady Bellaston: she commands him to perform. Salient points I found valuable is the comparison between Molly, who is as low and smelly as they come; she wants sex with him for what she can get out of it, and in the end she gets a good deal of the £500 Black George tried to steal. Tom’s interaction with Mrs Walters is a woman who has come to survive by becoming a kept woman herself – we see its danger in her total lack of a safety net from Northerton. She enjoys sex with Tom as an interlude. In his third relationship Tom is supported by Lady Bellaston and his gorge really rises at it when it’s Nightingale who looks at him while he’s preaching and points out to him he’s fucking for wages himself. Who is he to talk? Nightingale’s solution is Tom should present himself as a fortune-hunter – in the book we have that type in Mr Fitzpatrick. Not very comforting. Tom writes her a letter asking her to marry him and she drops him.

Looking at the book from the standpoint of sex, commerce and power – Tom Jones is about sex, no doubt about it, but sex intelligently seen. The city may harbor Lady Bellaston but it gives Mrs Miller her opportunity to support herself; Mrs. Fitzpatrick escapes imprisonment and spousal abuse through cosmopolitan keeping. She is desperate for her aunt and uncle to forgive and take her in and give her respectability and safety but when they will not she finds an alternative. While Mrs Walters appears to be downwardly mobile, Mrs Fitzpatrick and Mrs Miller are going up – as long as Nancy remains off the market. Mrs Miller is intensely concerned lest her house be known as a “house of ill repute:” there is a fine line between boarding houses and brothels. And the way Tom is behaving with Lady Bellaston is allowing her house to be used as a brothel.

But before we dismiss Mrs Walters the one contract that holds in the book is between her and the spinster Mrs Bridget Allworthy. The outcome of the book depended on their promise and contract whereby a woman offers to present herself as having become pregnant outside marriage to enable the other to keep her illegitimate baby under her blind and rigid brother’s nose. Mr Allworthy continually scolds lower class people (Partridge) and women for having sex outside marriage: he predicts dire things; he says it dehumanizes them, they become animals. Only through having sex secretly or for money can they survive. Blifil is able to get Mr Allworthy to throw Tom out because one of the accusations is he is after Sophia; it’s okay for Tom, the foundling, to be after Molly, but not Sophia. (We see farcical sympathetic versions of stallionhood.) Rosenthal suggests a close correspondence between a novella of the period called The Matchless Rogue and Tom Jones. Tom works his way out and up because he is the bastard nephew of Mr Allworthy; the result of a fragile sexual contract kept by Mrs Walters and Mrs Allworthy. Rosenthal makes sense of Mrs Miller too. Sexual contracts are the basis of this society just as much as money and property but you have to be on the right side of the sexual contract if you are low in class.

Marx analyzed the relationships of people for the first time to show how it’s dependent on property, who owns what controls who can do what; well there are equally important books about the sexual contract: until 1870s or so men related directly to the cash and property nexus, women only through their relationship with men; the core of their lives is still a sexual contract with the man having a great advantage.

I added that Carole Pateman’s way of seeing society’s basis as a sexual contract with men connecting directly to the state and one another and society and women connecting only through men can enable us to see women’s position in all this. Fielding’s text shows us men do not have the big advantage they may think not even sexually.

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John Sessions as Henry Fielding, counting his characters off on his fingers (1997 Tom Jones)

I’ll end this second blog on Tom Jones by saying I told this group of people I took a post-modern approach to Tom Jones – as I try to do to most of what I reach or teach. Post-modern may be defined as a set of ideas or practices that reject conventional mainstream values as having much effect on what happens in the world or what people do; that also eschew conventional means of presenting stories and films, any kind of art. An important facet is a questioning, sometimes disavowal of Enlightenment assertions about what is progress and the rightness of European ideas of civilization. These mainstream values are to stand here and preach about say vanity or pride or whatever is the lesson supposedly taught. What’s the reality of the way the world operates and how does this author or his art work relate to it.

Accordingly, here is one of the great moral lessons of the book. The narrator enunciates it directly upon Tom’s ejection from his (adopted) father’s house

    Wisdom, in short, whose Lessons have been represented as so hard to learn by those who never were at her School, only teaches us to extend a simple Maxim universally known and followed even in the lowest Life, a little farther than that Life carries it. And this not to buy at too dear a price.
    Now, whoever takes this Maxim abroad with him into the grand Market of the World, and constantly applies it to Honours, to Riches, to Pleasures, and to every other Commodity which that Market affords, is, I will venture to affirm, a wise Man; and must be .so acknowledged in the worldly Sense of the Word: For he makes the best of Bargains; since in Reality he purchases every Thing at the Price only of a little Trouble, and carries home all the good Things I have mentioned, while he keeps his Health, his Innocence, and his Reputation, the common Prices which are paid for them by others, entire and to himself.
    From this Moderation, likewise, he learns two other Lessons, which complete his Character. First, never to be intoxicated when he hath made the best Bargain, nor dejected when the Market is empty, or when its Commodities are too dear for his Purchase (Penguin TJ, ed Keymer, Bk 6, Ch 3, pp 251-52.

Don’t pay more than you can afford for that ticket; when negotiating do not come near collapse from drink, and don’t get depressed because you will often be powerless.

Ellen

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

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

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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tragic and funny moments from the play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The white male gang

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

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

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

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

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A balancing act on a swing

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

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No lack of women in widow’s scarves today

Ellen

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

Ty Burr of The Boston Globe:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Helen Mirren as the vicious Hedda Hopper (she was)

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

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Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toad as in toadies

Ellen

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Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand

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Helen Mirren as Victoria (1979 The Long Good Friday, directed by John Mackenzie, written by Barrie Keefe, produced by Barry Hansen)

Dear friends and readers,

No one can re-boot this.

I try not to use hyped terms but am driven to one to convey the experience of this film even today: astonishing; this is an astonishing film. Made in 1979, released Nov 1980, even before the Thatcher era got underway, a gangster film (it was felt) was the appropriate vehicle for capturing how Margaret Thatcher saw the UK, what she wanted to turn the UK into, her own aggressive menacing role. Shand is Thatcher too.

The Long Good Friday is as edgy as Breaking Bad; I’d call it all edge:

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Just before letting the assault weapons and bombs off

Its violence is as viscerally shocking

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Slaughtering by accident, Jeff (Derek Thompson) whom Shand loves like a son

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Shand orders all his franchise owners beaten up, hung like meat from hooks in a garage

Other older films that have transcended their time that come to mind: Robert Wise’s 1960 The Haunting. Both have perceptive voice-over commentary worth taking the time to listen. I mention this one because its means are so original and for the time the story. The Long Good Friday is utterly conventional in outline, including Mirren’s part as the gun-moll, mannered trophy wife.

What makes the experience on this level is Bob Hoskins. He transformed himself into this half-crazed deeply emotional man — a member of instance of the type Marlon Brando played. Also James Cagney who felt less controlled, more wild. Hoskins played with real subtlety or projecting power and also thought so that his face seemed to exude rage, anguish, retribution, indignation that he, this businessman, this patriot, he who was going to put Britain on the map was to be fleeced, cowed, forced to pay money to the IRA as a terrorist organization supporting itself by a protection racket. I have seen him as effective as Florio in the TV film made of Middleton’s Changeling.

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About to be told he has to knuckle under

The music for its time daring: it’s a rolling, whirling pop rock, hard, percussive, lots of horns, with a band whose teams included John Williams. Raucous fun. For fun these people like to drink, live luxuriously, have beautiful sex partners, and blow one another up in cars on the race track. We’ve grown used to these equations. The film’s open attitude towards sex was not seen until a decade after the 21st century: of those murdered one of most sympathized with is a homosexual man.

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the partner picking up an innocent (a young Kevin McNally) who will be murdered and carelessly thrown out of a car

What catapults the film into 2015, gives it a gravitas and political complexion is it turns out the “enemy” trying to destroy our protagonist-hero’s empire is the IRA here a terrorist Irish gang trying to extort large sums off this empire to fund itself. Our hero is usually successful in stamping out (literally) all opposition, but here he meets his match. He is told at one point, just give in, these people are “not interested in money, they are political” [whispered in a hysterical hushed kind of way), “fanatics” (equated, with a screech).

They are matched or behave just as the characters in the film who are members of the US gov’t, British politicians, other businessmen, Irish men too, all gangsters, all of them inside a competitive circle of violence. (As contrasted to Breaking Bad where the police are good guys.)

The role of women as mourning, weeping in graveyards, fiercely in white rages themselves, spitting at men’s faces so familiar from the Godfather begins here

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On first watching it last week, I suspected it was part fable, but no it was true that in the IRA funded itself by terror tactics. Here is Helen Mirren in an interview about the film on the occasion of the film’s 35th anniversary. My friend Fran remarked:

Glad you enjoyed the film, Ellen. It made a big impression on me at the time and not only because of the great, nuanced character acting by Bob Hoskins in particular and its intelligent, mulit-layered and sometimes darkly humorous script. As you say, it’s a very edgy, very atmospheric film.

Up till then I hadn’t been aware that one of the reasons the IRA was so resistant to peace talks was neither religious not political, but rather the fact that they were in on a lot of the local crime and protection rackets and didn’t want things to change and lose all that. I wasn’t sure how much was fact or fiction, so asked a client of mine at the time, a young, non-violent, Catholic separatist from Belfast and he said this aspect was very true. If you had a local business or pub and paid them off, for example, you were safe from attacks.

The background to the making of the film also fits in with a few recent threads we’ve had like censorship. Its release date was delayed because the man whose company financed it, Lew Grade, a commercial TV magnate, wanted it heavily censored, massively cut and Hoskins‘ Cockney accent dubbed over (!). After a lot of wrangling, the film rights were eventually bought back and the film was fortunately released in its intended form.

You mention Mirren’s role being conventional for the most part, but she had to fight every inch of the way for it to be developed and given more weight, which fits in with the piece Diane linked on the marginalisation of women in film.

I’m just now reading an excellent book on the history of British Television Drama by Lez Cooke, which goes far to explain how this kind of explosive, socially conscious and nuanced art emerged on British TV and films in the 1980s; an area also covered in depth using specific (other) films, in Fires Were Started: British Cinema and Thatcherism (the title of a powerful documentary), an anthology edited by Lester Friedman. There are 6 substantial essays on Thatcher-era and ideology films: most of them critical-evaluative of her.

The feature on the DVD — a full hour – is worth watching, a paratext in itself about how they made the film, the techniques. Macenkie said he had James Cagney in mind when he thought of the core character of the film: the conception of Harold Shand. A man whose inner self and world is attacked and how he will not bend, yield, thniks he can beat out the terrorist group, persuade the businessmen and politicians. He finds he is wrong on all counts. Helen Mirren is truthful that she did not change her role that much, and had to fight for what she got; but she is active in the film — yes as hostess, smoothing Shand’s way, enabling him to be middle class, but an extraordinary moment is probably one that was created while shooting: after Shand has (see the still above) traumatically for himself murdered by accident his young son-like partner (rather like Rafe Sadler to Cromwell inn Wolf Hall more than Jesse to Mr White), Shand is in such a rage he rushes out to kill another man, and she comes out of the car where she has driven up, stands before him, runs after, pulls at him and he drags her on the grounds, up she gets and inserts her body in the way of his killing another friend, and all four physically intensely with two men on either side.

It’s an unforgettable sequence which I snapped because I thought it showed another aspect of this film: the spontaneous free-floating use of the camera, the director’s confidence to let people act out, and its ensemble nature:

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She holds tight until he calms down

She vindicated herself in the role of the cop in Prime Suspect many years later. I don’t know what was her greatest role; she attempted so many parts, but I’d opt for her most memorable role as the abused beautiful wife in Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and her Lover, a shocking taboo-horror breaker.

In the feature Mackenzie makes it explicit the film is meant to embody Thatcher like ideas, especially in Shand, and they do go over the IRA part of the plot. A terrorist organization they say opposed to a capitalist thug. That’s the “two sides.” They don’t assert explicitly that the IRA was a protection racket was. Are content to imply this. I don’t have an idealization of the IRA but did not know they made money as thugs and gangsters. They do talk about the black humor of the action, motives of people, and desperate ending where Shand is driven off by an IRA assault-gun toting hit man. Pierce Brosnan who went on to have a commercially successful career remarks the ensemble nature of what they did: he didn’t have to learn any lines.

The title refers to the day the story takes place. Good Friday. Shand’s mother goes to church, and we see her there inbetween shots of the first two murders: the young man, the homosexual partner. London is beautifully filmed in color, without cliched icons. Mackenzie projects an opulence on the docks for Shand and his wife, and he says he looked forward to the coming buildup. The shots are some of them picturesque and glittering:

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The feature also tells the story of the cowardice of the BBC as well as the American attempt to utterly emasculate (wretched connotations, but what can one do) the text. Hoskins brought suit; it was Hoskins whose career was on the line — it was also sheer snobbery on the part of the BBC and American TV company who were embarrassed by his accent. Hoskins could have destroyed himself utterly by suing. Ronald Colman’s career never recovered when he sued, though it’s true the studios were all powerful in the 1940s. Hoskins just was found and discovered and became a know great actor sheerly on the strength of his talent — and of course social abilities too. Mirren came the trained upper middle crowd even if she likes to try to connect herself to gangsters … She wouldn’t had she really been part of such a family.

Here’s Roger Ebert:

Shand is an evil, cruel, sadistic man. But he’s a mass of contradictions, and there are times when we understand him so completely we almost feel affectionate. He’s such a character, such an overcompensating Cockney, sensitive to the slightest affront, able to strike fear in the hearts of killers, but a pushover when his mistress raises her voice to him … He’s an operator. He’s a con man who has muscled his way to the top by knowing exactly how things work and what buttons to push, and now here he is, impotent before this faceless enemy. “The Long Good Friday” tells his story in a rather indirect way, opening with a montage of seemingly unrelated events, held together by a hypnotic music theme.

And Screen Online

For while Hoskins’ Harold Shand’s gangland empire is recognisably in the mould of the notorious Kray brothers’ 1960s reign, his brand of ruthless, thrusting capitalism makes him an archetype, albeit an exaggerated one, for the Thatcher government’s enthusiastic sponsorship of individual enterprise (in a bid for legitimacy, Shand calls his domain the Corporation). This parallel is reinforced by Harold’s choice of London’s then still largely derelict Docklands area for his ambitious business project – anticipating the massive investment that transformed that region during the 1980s.

Like Berg’s Lulu, this is contemporary art, speaking to us today. What then was the difference? Mackenzie and Keefe’s film has a felt moral perspective; the characters display affection, loyalty, tenderness towards those they are bonded with (admittedly only a few); so too Breaking Bad. And neither is misogynistic.

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The famous ending of White Heat (1951) where cornered at last, Cagney sets fire to an explosive tank and goes out crying “Top of the world, Ma!”

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While his fierce mother’s view of him is a driving force within the character, the most memorable gendered moments are the menacing tensed fights between Cagney and his wife-moll, Virginia Mayo, who seeks to escape him when in his downfall his behavior terrifies her

Ellen

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Opening scenario to Berg’s Lulu (designed by William Kendrick, directors Luc De Wit & Matthew Diamond

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve put off writing about this opera for a few days in order to hear what others who saw or heard it might say, to read reviews and find out about its sources because I had such a mixed reaction to it. First the story, which should be told (because it’s meant to be) crude/ly:

Lulu is a highly paid prostitute, actress, dancer, model kept by Dr Schon a physician who also supports a painter painting her continually. In comes Schigolch, her once abusive beggar father and she gives him money. She is aggressively “in love” with Dr Schon who says he wants to marry a rich socialite.

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Lulu (Marlis Petersen) and Dr Schon (Johan Reuter who also plays Jack the Ripper)

Alwa, the physician’s son enters, enthralled by Lulu, who in the next scene has married the painter who kills himself when told of her past.

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Lulu and painter (Paul Groves)

In the next act, in a ballet Lulu has danced in off-stage, she has exposed her relationship to Dr Schon to his fiancée; and faute de mieux he marries her. A boy scout or schoolboy (who I feared for) comes in admiring them all. An older countess-patroness Geschwitz, a lesbian, also loves Lulu who exploits her. Quarrels ensue, Dr Schon wants Lulu to kill herself so he will be rid of her, and in a fight, she shoots him several times. Son, countess, beggar father, boy scout try to cover up, but she goes to prison. She emerges shattered, thin, in a catatonic state. Son loses all his money in a scene with a crooked banker and investors. She ends up a ragged street prostitute in her efforts to support them all:

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Again, Lulu and Alwa (Daniel Brenna)

She brings men in and out, haggling with them for money; one attacks and kills the son, Alwa, but another turns out to be Jack the Ripper who (after she argues with him for more money) offstage murders her. Ripper returns to knife to death the despairing countess who cries out for Lulu.

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The countess Gerschwitz near the end (Susan Graham)

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As it began, I disliked it because of the grotesqueries, and repellent imagery of a woman’s private parts garishly drawn on allegorical costumes and in flashing shows of light across the stage:

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Lulu as we first see her costumed

But as the whole experience sunk in, or by the third act, while I continued to be distressed by the images of women’s private parts and breasts, I was shaken by the what was happening to the characters especially after the murder of the doctor as a farcical tragedy about the restless misery of personality-less individuals caught up in some maddened nightmare. I could find little to like in the music, hardly any melody, continual noise like hip-hop spoken rock, only the voices were singing and deeply resonant, plangent.

In this desperate crass bleak environment now and again a few yearn for happiness, peace, seem even to have an inkling of what this is: the painter who kills himself; Schigolch, the beggar dependent on Lulu for money sung here by Franz Grundheber; Alwa, Schon’s son; a naive schoolboy; the lesbian Countess. Most spend their hours vaunting themselves, behaving arrogantly or guardedly, coolly, seeking to marry or have sex with the richest most powerful person in the room, mocking other people, lying, cheating: Lulu; Dr Schon also tellingly the serial killer, Jack the Ripper; also an Animal Tamer, an Acrobat, an African Prince, a crooked banker, nameless investors and party-goers, not to omit two allegorical characters, a creepy man and sullen woman dressed in elegant evening clothes:

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By the world’s chances (the play was begun just before and during the early Nazi period when the mark had lost most of its value) and their own venal stupidity in following a Banker who is a stock market crook, they become destitute, whereupon they grimly hang on to anyone who will prostitute herself, in this case, Lulu. The norm throughout is sadomasochistic sex.

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Lulu with a male who is after her — the norm is sadomasochistic sex

Sometimes one person was the bully and the other abject, and then they’d change places. No one ever looked content; cheerfulness is out of the question: dark, intent, intense.

It may be the designers did not have the courage to flash up male private parts (as more shocking and less acceptable than female?), but if this omission was cowardice, the effect was sexist and eerily women-body-hating. But by the time the opera was over I was persuaded the wild use of lights, computer pictures in black and white of anguished, naked, violent, raging figures, sexism, and screens all over the stage, over-the-top theatrical imagery was justified effective expressionist projection of passions kept hidden, coming out only subtly but what drive the world’s overriding social structures.

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The stage

My friend, Fran, supplies the sources, background, artistic milieu: “It is based on, Frank Wedekind’s Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box. Wedekind later conflated both works to the five act tragedy Lulu, which I have seen performed and which once seen is not easily forgotten. Apparently it was his original intention to write a single play all along, but his publisher initially got cold feet.

Wedekind was a German who grew up in what was the equivalent of Victorian England, and he would satirize and attack bourgeois capitalism, pseudo-morality, artistic philistinism, prudery and double standards etc. Stylistically he was influenced by Georg Büchner and was, like him, very much ahead of his time, being a precursor of the Expressionism you mention, but also the Theatre of the Absurd and Brecht’s epic theatre, for example. The latter cited both Büchner and Wedekind as direct inspirations and wrote the latter a laudatory obituary when he died in 1918. (Berg’s other famous opera happens to be Wozzeck, originally a Büchner play itself.)

Berg himself first became acquainted with Wedekind’s Pandora’s Box when he saw a private performance of it in Vienna in 1905. Wedekind himself played Jack the Ripper and his later wife Tilly Newes was Lulu. Only closed, private performances were allowed by the censors Wedekind’s work was always falling foul of. There is an available picture of Wedekind playing Dr Schön to Tilly’s Lulu in performances of the Earth Spirit. Berg has a singer doubling the roles in his opera, too.

Berg started writing his own piece in 1927. It was originally to have been performed under Erich Kleiber at the Berlin opera, but shortly after an orchestral piece culled from the existing parts of the opera had been performed there in 1934, the Nazis forced Kleiber to resign and Berg postponed finishing the opera in favour of a violin concerto. His death in 1935 meant the opera remained unfinished until Berg’s music publisher commissioned the Austrian composer, Friedrich Cerha to use Berg’s surviving notes to complete the third act in the 1960s. This version wasn’t presented to the public until 1977 and thus 2 yearsafter Berg’s widow’s death, since she had always opposed the procedure. This three act version had its premiere at the Paris Opera in 1979, directed by Patrice Chéreau and conducted by Pierre Boulez.”

Izzy, my daughter who came with me, said there are few atonal operas; atonal music was written in the middle 20th century, admired by academics, but never gained a wide audience.

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Lulu with her beggar father, Schigolch (Franz Grundheber)

Fran sent along URLs to two excellent essays: “danger and desire” in the Huffington Post; “modernism in Lulu” from Yale.

I found a couple of favorable and sympathetic reviews of this production: “desperadoes” in the New Yorker; and “the question that stops the opera” in the New York Times.

The talk in the intermissions was not as stupid or hyped as usual which was interesting in itself; Grundheber was intelligent about the opera; others spoke of the difficulty singing it; others were uncomfortable about their characters (Susan Graham). But the question Deborah Voigt (following a script) posed and the New York Times repeats was misleading though it’s what the audience is thought to be left asking: is Lulu victim or victimized? Suggesting some of the actor-singers did not see any larger picture, but instinctively wanted to defend themselves against the idea the opera is unfair to women: Reuter (Dr Schon and then Jack the Ripper) pointed out in reply how Dr Schon was a bad man, guilty and was punished (!).

This makes us look at the female to find punishment or rewards, so erases one of the opera’s strengths: here is no Traviata, no Wagnerian self-sacrificing utterly devoted woman who dies for her men, or seethingly evil femme fatale or witch. Our heroine who began as mechanically aggressive and cold becomes mechanically withdrawn.

Asprositutewithson

Rather all the characters are remnants of a terrible world outside the claustrophobic spaces we see them in, thrown out of some whirlpool of imbecility just outside the door. They come in staggering. Were it not for the screens, the acted areas would be small dark bare places. The one scene where we see the crowd, at the close of Act 2 in this production, is when the investors follow the banker about; just like the investors of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, they are greedy, indifferent to what their money was put in, ignorant of the workings of money and deluded. The opera is important: produced on such a scale for prestigious place says something: the content that is here pointed to is the extraordinary frankness with which sexuality is dramatized, how this prefigures other relationships. If you have not had anything like these experiences as a viewer you might be put off. What was implied about sex was the most troubling aspect of this production.

Finally, it’s remarkable to realize how modern we think this opera is and yet it’s 80 years old. That suggests modernity hasn’t penetrated the mainstream arts very much. Among the women in the class at American University I teach, two women said they had gone to the opera: one (like Izzy) left after the first act, and (like Izzy) thought the production misogynistic: the woman pointed out that we saw Lulu jump on the doctor, Lulu wrap herself around him, Lulu as animal and not the doctor. The second woman in my class left after the second act, and complained (like me) of the drawings of woman’s private parts thrown up on the screens as “repellent,” and said she did ask herself, why there were no men’s private parts? When Izzy left, I got up to sit elsewhere as a couple behind me had been quarreling with someone else over their seats. Three women behind me asked if I was leaving like my daughter. I said no, just moving away from the quarreling people. They looked relieved and asked me what I thought of it. I said, well I want to stay to the end to see how Lulu is treated when a prostitute. One of these women then said she found it compelling; the second said it was relief not to have these self-sacrificing virtuous heroine; another (echoing my silent thought) that she was tired of Traviatas. On face-book when I briefly described the opera, one woman said it “sounds pretty dreadful.” Another that she was glad she would have no chance whatsoever to see it.

The one male I did talk to about it commented: “A shame nobody does Jeffers’ version of Medea anymore. He turns Medea into a hero.” He was referring to the great American poet, Robinson Jeffers. A woman poet friend just said she liked the opera.

So, did I enjoy it? no. Would I go again? no. But I’ll remember it. When I’ve read Euripides’ Medea, I’m with her until she insanely kills her children.

Ellen

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