The Studio, Vanessa Bell’s Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex

Dear friends and readers,

I know I told of how on one of my listservs, we are reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a group with each of us reading different other related works or watching films; on the other, WWta (Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo) we’ve started a similar project (far few people alas) around Virginia Woolf. Our central focus is a slow read through another massive volume: Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, and have talked at length about the art of biography, Woolf’s own life writings and writing about biography (her Memoirs of a Novelist, her “Sketch of the Past” in Moments of Being). One of us read To the Lighthouse; we’ve discussed Gaston Bachelard’s perhaps now-dated Poetics of Space; I’ve watched the remarkably complex )(novel-like? biography-like) Carrington and am now determined to make Dora Carrington my next woman artist in that blog series.

First impression:

From Christopher Hampton’s Carrington: this is based on an actual photo of the house (Emma Thompson who is made to look like Carrington as Jonathan Pryce looks like Strachey in the photos of him)

Strachey asked Woolf to marry him at one point; they were close. Strachey was much older than Carrington and I was thinking about the extraordinary convoluted tortured sexual and marital relationships in this wider group. Leonard and Virginia look conventional from the outside, but look in and you see her several deep lesbian relationships.

Jonathan Pryce who was such a wonderful Wolsey, is perfect for Strachey, and Emma Thompson takes on her stout boyish persona to play Carrington. I’ve only got half-way through: it’s a very long movie. What I wanted to say is that in a way it’s lacking:  Hampton wrote and directed it, and he is following Holroyd’s book and therein is the problem. Carrington is such a painful spectacle. The whole menagerie at her and Lytton’s home are wholly outside the mainstream. She loved Strachey because his homosexuality took the form of no sexual intercourse with a woman, so he was not aggressive at all. For someone who wants safety I am now puzzled (not rereading Holroyd) why she ever went to Mark Gertler (played by the then spectacularly handsome Rufus Sewell) who demanded rough sex as central to the relationship (not painful but agressive) and Sewell plays him as a man driven wild by her. The audience is allowed to see this clearly and Gertler’s attack on Lytton when it becomes obvious Carrington loves Lytton. But to keep Lytton she had to allow this reactionary hulk, Reginald Patridge (renamed Rafe by Strachey) to live with them and to keep him she had to have sex with him; in turn he’d have sex with Strachey.  This is not shown clearly in the film. Gerald Brennan (the young excellent actor Samuel West) who left for Spain and wrote two wonderful travel-memoirs of his life in Spain is brought in; but as I’ve not read Holroyd in a while I forget the bargain, but think Carrington was also required to have sex with Brennan to please someone.

Thompson says over and over this is an abject love. Hampton together with these remarkable actors conveyed something different than I’ve read before. Hitherto it was see how abject this woman was, what a mystery but it was Lytton’s kindness, gentleness and their shared love of art that made her invest her very life in his life.

This film shows him a cool egoist who uses her; he may not admit it to himself but he does. All the sex scenes after Mark are her degenerating, allowing her body to be used by man after man to get them for Strachey. That is what the film shows. She goes so far even to marry Partridge who in the film she sees as a macho male reactionary horror though fun as a man to dance with, handsome to draw. She endures his ugly jealousy and infidelities. She leads Gerald Brennan to lie in ways that violate his character — all for this Lytton. It gets to the point she wants to validate her body and gets involved with a man (Jeremy Northam turns up to do it) who just takes her cruelly for sex, getting pregnant by him she gets an abortion. Thee’s a dialogue where Lytton says why not have the baby.I think the film suggests had she, she might have had something else to live for. But she only wants his baby and he never fucks her it seems.

Pryce plays Strachey as realizing how he is using her, but being unable to resist it and enjoying her company, now and again guilty — as when he will advise her to leave off a man, or have a baby, or makes his will to leave her a pension. A very young Alex Kingston as Patridge’s partner after he tires of Carrington plus Strachey. A younger Penelope Wilton does Ottoline so well. The men in the film do seem attached to Carrington and enduring Strachey for the sake of Carrington except the stud last played by Northam. Thompson and Pryce impeccably involving. I grieved over Carrington’s death yet understood. It ends with a series of images of those of her paintings she did not destroy.

It’s a deeply searing portrait of a on the surface beautiful love but just below deeply destructive of her. We are told nothing of her family or childhood. She turns up sui generis and all film long she is without any group but this Bloomsbury one attached to Strachey and her art school. She goes off to London where she finds characters like Patridge and brings him back as a trophy or fodder for Lytton. Was she promiscuous in London somewhere. Patridge’s questioning of her in fact is understandable.

I want to read the screenplay, watch again and have now bought a book (natch) recent, Gerzina’s Carrington (who wrote on FrancesHodgson Burnett if I’m not mistaken).

As a result of the debate on the art of biography and novels (peel them off and you have an autobiography), we debated (a bit) Tim Parks’s iconoclastic theses about novel writing and reading in yet another thinking book from him, The Novel: A Survival Skill on both listservs.

Bondarchuk’s War and Peace: Kutusov after defying everyone and ordering a retreat so as to save as many men and as much of Moscow as he can (1966)

Let me say upfront there is no woman author in Parks’s universe in this book who counts, who he discusses at length. He might mention a woman now and again. He focuses on five males and when he has any examples they are all males. He has a history of Italian literature organized by great authors. Apparently in Italy since the Renaissance there has been but one woman writer of note. Something like 25 authors, one is a woman.

I wonder what women do with themselves when I read Parks. It’s important to the man’s outlook, tells us what he reads, how he reads. So by no means is he a guru when he leaves out half the human race; women do write differently, they make art differently — from social life and from innate elements.

Parks’s idea that novels threaten us has some powerful explanatory force; this is why people talk (and perhaps) think consciously about novels so moralistically. They inveigh against characters who do not obey social norms because they don’t want to articulate why those who don’t don’t, nor admit to identification. He follows this up with the iconoclastic idea we love books which are substitutes for the presence and sense of real person they contain, stand for. This a complete refutation of the “biographical fallacy.” Kraggsby says she becomes so emotional when she has to write or feel about Woolf after a bout with a book. This helps explain that. I so agree with it.

With Parks I really feel a mind thinking, not just putting together the platitudes and nouns referring to theoretical positions which the author then aligns him or herself with. He offers this possible description of what’s meant by creativity: “the ability to produce …. The emotional tone and the play of forces in whch the narrator lives, the particular mental world in which he moves …. “ Parks doesn’t need to have Coetzee in front of him, in fact the Coetzee we meet (as Proust would say) is the partial social man, not the man who counts. The greatness of such works, the triumph “we find their work drenched with their personalities, supreme expressionof theirmanner and character and behavior, each absolutely recognizable, triumphantly unmistakable … He does cite Woolf a little way down; her understanding is just so to the point, and what she does. Paradoxically l’ecriture-femme (women’s texts) exemplify much more centrally than men’s what he begins with.

When you say that a novel threatens the reader, and that therefore we need to learn actually how to survive them (really taken into consciousness what they can show) and that the author’s identity (I’ll call it) is everywhere there in different ways, you are set on a very different road than most books on the novel. I just love how he does not repeat cant and situate himself next to it or with it — not that a great books don’t do this: Jerome de Troot’s two books on historical fiction do it, but he examines these theories often to show their fallacies, not always.

Tim Parks is consistent with his view that the great writer conveys an authentic specific self across his or her work, asks about the writer’s tension when he or she thinks of who is reading this text. Parks says the novel is “officially addressed to everyone,but in reality they are not thinking of today’s Ph D student in say Korea addressing scholarly conversations in 2016; the actual circumstances the writer writes in frames his or her perception of what is being written; relatives do often complain and are hurt, as well as friends; t often he or she is thinking of some subgroup of readers alive at the time, “the implicit reader”. He proposes we think of ourselves as overhearing the author’s address to his or her audience at the time. Park then goes over specific details in a Becket text and they come so much more alive when you nail who specific savage ironies are aimed at. Lee quotes Woolf’s life-writing a lot and Woolf assumes her readership knows what the life of the upper class at the time was; her tales of childhood assume familiarity.

Parks says it is not a retreat from the text to be interested in the author’s patterns of behavior, relationships at the time of a text writtten, but rather it can increase our engagement. He then goes on to Gregory Bateson who argues that personality differentation ,how we establish our identities to ourselves are in relation to others aroud us which often are binaries and are reactions against. he is not talking about one-on-one equivalencies but a general presence surrounded by particulars then transposed but often more transparently than we like to allow.

helen mirren the last station
Helen Mirren as Sonya in Jay Parini’s The Last Station (which is part of our Tolstoy matter)

Now to apply Parks’s thesis to The Last Station, for example, you have to know about Hoffman and his life and relationship to the film (which he does bring in in the feature to the film, also Parini, not to forget Tolstoy, Cherthov, the various actors who inhabit the roles.

It is a complex film and now I’ve got to find time to read the book. A good performance can make a character come alive: In the screenplay Hoffman worked to condense, make a coherent POV (Valentine, the most invented of the characters) and in general sort of gave more meaning to what’s in the book and made me wonder if a movie because of its form often does simplify. It’s hard to fight it as successful as Bergman did. He didn’t care if his films made money when he started out. I thought I’d mention that the train was to be much much more important: it was to open with Valentine on the train; the deleted scenes are of Tolstoy fleeing on the train, Sofya following. It now only ends with the train. Hoffman says he wanted it to be a symbol but as he proceeded he decided the characters and their relationships were what he should spend time on. More practically I have watched enough honest features to have heard directors say you have to cut and you have to choose, and many he saw this skein or thread one he could eliminate neatly — to make the movie marketable. This was to be an allusion to Anna Karenina, with Sofya as our Anna who survives. I suspect so.

Also from our Tolstoy group: I am finding A. N. Wilson’s biography on Tolstoy without bothering to argue this in effect bases his biography and assessment of Tolstoy’s novels on a perspective like Parks; Lee is more reticent but then we’ve hardly gotten Virginia born. Wilson thinks Tolstoy is addressing other Russian writers, how he conceives of the cultural and political situation in Russia, but deeply by the time of Anna Karenina moved inward and dealing with his own many layered psyche through her.

Lastly (since I’m going away for a week — to Cornwall, where Woolf spent summer holidays for years on end — and have little time) I thought I’d just briefly call attention to an excellent review essay in TLS by Francesca Wade on the rebuilding of all sorts of house space the various Bloomsbury people had in different sites and museusm: “Interior Designs, Interior Desires: examing the inside of Bloomsbury homes as a guide to their owners’ artistry and personality.”

Wade begins with Bachelard and then goes on to show how the Bloomsbury group utterly defied conventions not just in painting happy pictures of what they were doing on their walls, and but in scattering all the things they used over a day freely around the house, making rooms serve real and different functions peculiar to the people living there all at once. In the movie Carrington we see the house Strachey (Jonathan Pryce) and Carrington (Emma Thompson) live in have her paintings on the wall, and a couple of the rooms are clearly shown to be reflective of how they live. Outsiders thought the decorations were lascivious or salacious because of the unconventional sexual relationships people who came and lived there had, but not at all. Nudes were not sexy nudes — as in the film. They were gay (old use of word), defying the colors, atmosphere of the homes these people had been brought up in.

Most houses today and apartments too are set up in conventional ways with several rooms sometimes given over “to making a show.” More time and energy making the room a symbol of the expected social life and status than the comfort of people living in it. The purpose of the US family room is to have a place where people can do their own thing but even there I’ve seen status and money the criteria for decorations — how many Xs you did of this or that.

Jim and my house was and today mine alone with his presence as memory and filling the objects is not like that. There is no room for show, the rooms have — or had (he’s gone now) several functions. I have been told if I wanted to sell it and/or sell it for a high priceI would have to empty it out and make it a soulless display. So that’s what the average person wants: plus and a soulless display. No thank you I said. Either it’s sold the way it looks or not sold. So Bloomsbury space is still iconoclastic.

Ellen off for a week on holiday in Cornwall

Charles Camoin, Cat before the Open Window — from Sixtine, one of the lights of my existence

Hugh Grant as St Clair Bayfield when we first see him, cavalierly, knowingly, giving an inadequate rendition of one of Hamlet’s speeches before his wife comes on stage

Meryl Streep as Florence singing ecstatically (2016, Florence Foster Jenkins, directed by Stephen Frears, scripted by Nicolas Martin)

Dear friends and readers,

Just as I began to give up hoping for a truly good absorbing film for cinemas this summer, along came three: in July Shemi Zarhin’s The Kind Words urging us to give over unreal ethnicities; in early August Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople in rural impoverished worlds, and now the extraordinary Stephen Frears and Nicolas Turner’s Florence Foster Jenkins, with a little help from Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep.

At first the film seems to be about an over-dressed, naively happy, fatuously absurd Florence, a wealthy woman kept apart from most other people by her somewhat younger, carefully preserved coolly impossibly husband: since she is a philanthropist most institutions are prepared to indulge her in whatever she wants in the way of concerts, no matter how corny, creaking or badly done. St Clair has hired a voice coach and we watch him hire Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) a piano-player musician to play and give her voice lessons. When Florence is not around, St Clair’s face goes hard and asks brief cynical questions about what we’ve seen him smile pleasantly and coo over. We begin to suspect a pervasive underlying studied hypocrisy when at night St Clair wishes Florence a good night’s rest, and himself goes to a Greenwich village or lower Manhattan slum block where he finds his mistress a young beautiful Kathleen (Rebecca Fergusson) waiting for him. He lives another different life with this mistress: wild modern dancing, late night parties, strong drinking promiscuous sex going on around him. He is then just so sweetly affectionate to her, so controlled, hiding from her life’s unpleasant truths that it feels like a performance. Then we discover Florence cannot sing, her voice is reedy, awful, she can’t hold a tune.


As the movie progresses we begin to see that this steely-performance of St Clair where he protects this wife of his from every adverse criticism made of her is not hollow. It cannot be as he gives over his whole being to it: he has to work very hard to prevent anyone who would laugh at or heckle her from coming to any of her performances. He does not have to do any of this to remain rich; she need not perform to be worshipped. Her singing lessons do keep the two of them busy, and her pre-occupied, seeing herself as endlessly working at something beautiful. To silence or get people to cooperate, he hand white envelopes stuffed with cash to people. Those who will not cooperate are excluded from performances and their drawing-room.

Their back story emerges as he, and then she, confide in McMoon: as a 19 year old she married a cad who had syphilus, the cad de-camped, died, and one day in an audience she spotted St Clair who she says had the kindest most generous smile she’d ever seen on a face. They abstained from sex lest he become diseased or she have a diseased child. There’s an intense pathos to the story as she tells it to Cosme whom she has visited on one of St Clair’s golf weekends (we know he has gone to the Hamptons with Kathleen). Cosme is continually on the edge of quitting lest he lose all respect as a serious musician, and when Florence comes up with the idea of playing at Carnegie Hall to thousands, balks; in response St Clair tells Cosme he must not obey the tyranny of ambition to be great, or respected as wonderful, or his art even understood — all egoistic delusions in probability: he found himself a failed stage actor when he met St Clair, and when she married him, he liberated himself from ambition to live this comfortable life.

But is it? is it comfortable? is he in a prison of performances to get his hands on her will (which she carries about her in a briefcase). The movie asks, how far is all life a performance? what are worthy goals?

If the mark of a summer movie is non-seriousness underlying the performance, Frears has never in all the films I’ve seen by him resorted to such obvious broad caricatures: the sexy blonde vulgar noisy young wife is just one. OTOH: when St Claire reads aloud to Florence Shakespeare’s cliched 116th sonnet (“Let me to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”), the joke is Shakespeare was ironic (most readers seem not to know this), making fun. Anyhow Florence falls asleep before he’s finished the first eight lines. Late in the movie he reads aloud Keat’s “Bright Star” sonnet: same response from Florence, pathetically grateful but in actuality bored so falls asleep.

Streep and Grant deliver as exquisitely perfect performances as I remember Grant doing as a young man in Remains of the Day (where Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins were the pitch perfect people who missed out). Grant is underrated as an actor since he made his place in Hollywood films as a fine comic actor in Four Weddings and A Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, and in beloved costume dramas like Sense and Sensibility or Maurice. I first saw him and Bob Hoskins in a filmed version of Thomas Middleton’s brilliant Jacobean play, The Changeling. Grant was corrupt weakling duke who nonetheless becomes a relentless murder out of sexual jealousy; Hoskins the hired thug killer who himself lives out seething resentments. I felt Grant saw some of his own choices in his role. He left the serious stage for Hollywood and has not looked back.

Streep’s role was harder to play” as Grant melts into tenderness, opens his face up to recognize “Bunny’s” dependency on him to her, she has to seem mostly obtuse and yet capable of the finest feeling, at once ridiculous and courageous. She is our American version of the British grand-dame actresses (e.g., Lindsay Duncan, Emma Thompson).


Reviews have been generous, noting the sentimentality at the close: far too forgiving and benign, sliding over after pointing to the cruelty of crowds, the stupidity of audience mob-like reactions, how no one really cares what this music is. The New York Times reminds us these were a real couple in the 1940s and that Helberg stole the show with his shock, distress, and at the end sparkling identification with his two bosses. We are left in two minds about the principals: how far was she fooled? she has a wise desperate look on her worn face as she lies dying in her closing moments. Did or how far did St Clair Bayfield love her and his life as her tender protector? he seems never to hurt her which is way beyond probable if it was just the money. The credits afterward included photos of the real original people. Cosme never became a great musician; his reached his heights in venues at Carnegie hall with Florence. St Claire late in life looks utterly non-pretentious; after that last performance and her illness killed her, he never remarried.

To return to my first paragraph: there is something delightful in all three, Kind Words, Wilderpeople, Florence, and we are badly in need of delight this August.


Claire Randall (Catriona Balfe) looking into Farrell’s shop window in a highland village


(Outlander 1, scripted Ronald Moore)

People disappear all the time. Young girls run away from home. Children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives take the grocery money, and a taxi to the train station. Most are found eventually. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually. Strange, the things you remember. Single images and feelings that stay with you down through the years. Like the moment I realized I’d never owned a vase. That I’d never lived any place long enough to justify having such a simple thing. And how at that moment, I wanted nothing so much in all the world as to have a vase of my very own. It was a Tuesday afternoon. Six months after the end of the war (taken direct from Gabaldon’s Outlander, opening.


It’s time. Overdue. It may be my readers think I am above Outlander. I am not. I love it. I have now watched all sixteen episodes of the first season three times. I’ve read Gabaldon’s novel, I’ve read her Outlandish Companion. It connects to so much I’m deeply engaged by: it’s Daphne DuMaurier in the high romance mode, elegant, controlled wildness. Outlander is a cross between DuMaurier’s The House on the Strand where the hero travels back and forth between the mid-20th and 14th century:


This older cover for and BBC Radio 7 image for a reading aloud of The House on the Strand capture the strangeness of a book moving back and forth from mid-20th to 14th century Cornwall

Also her historical romances, say King’s General (set in the 17th century civil war), Frenchman’s Creek, or Jamaica Inn (smugglers as misunderstood free-trader outlaws set in the very early 19th). Claire is the many times great-grandaughter of Sophia Lee’s Elinor and Matilda, the twin daughters of Mary Queen of Scots in her The Recess. I’ve been reading about Scotland and its civil wars, diaspora (to among other places, Canada), poetry and fiction by its writers (from Anne Murray Halkett to RLS Stevenson and Margaret Oliphant and onto Margaret Atwood) for years and years.

The immediate inspiration though is the new Poldark. Outlander reflects mores of the last few years far more frankly explored, and unlike the new Poldark thus far is a woman’s mini-series, a proto-feminist series of films. I’ve learned the second season of Poldark is going to depart so radically from Graham’s books as to change a crucial thread across all twelve novels and one of my favorite characters (though like Jane Austen over Emma it seems no one but me will much like), Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan. So I thought I might sustain a comparison of the two similar mini-series: Poldark drawn from historical novels, Outlander from historical romance, both obeying naturalism and verisimilitude once the terms of the fiction are set up). I don’t say I won’t compare the 1970s Poldark nor the two books, Jeremy Poldark (1950) and Warleggan (1953), but I will keep in mind and bring in this contemporary comparable series. Run them on this blog in tandem.

The Outlander resembles the new (2015) Poldark in its grimness, brutal violence, grimyness, the POV from below, the peasants and outlaws, not the elegant and fringe people of the older (1975) Poldark, Oneddin Line. But this is Claire’s story, make no mistake about that. The central consciousness, the voice-over in this season in all but one episode (when it is Jamie’s [Sam Heughan] and that very unusual, as “real” men don’t do over-voice). By keeping the central consciousness a woman’s, the narrator a heroine, Gabaldon kept all the intense ambiguity about a woman’s helplessness in pre-19th century eras against males, who then in reaction to the heroine manifest unashamed or shall I say unhidden attitudes towards her sexuality (the film is written, directed and produced mostly by men): upon meeting Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) the film’s 18th century men, British soldiers and aristocrats, Irish thugs and clansmen alike promptly think her or ask if she is a whore because she is alone. Jonathan Wolverton Randall aka Black Jack (Tobias Menzies, also Frank, Claire’s gentle husband in the mid-20th century, a descendant of Black Jack, whom he has been researching) proceeds to try to rape her. But she is a 20th century woman, pro-active on her own and others’ behalf, not inclined to regard herself as secondary person or take punishment, self-confident, with a sense of what she is entitled to.



As our story begins, Claire Randall has been a nurse in WW2 and presided over and helped in horrifying operations, and the war now over, she and her her academic archaeologist husband, Frank (set for a professorship in Oxford), meet again after a near 5 year absence. They visit Scotland for its ruins, look at neolithic sites. They are trying hard to recreate what they once had, but it’s not quite working. The whole section, the way the bed-sit room looked, reminded me of women’s films of the 1940s, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard stuff. The two actors convey the strain the couple is trying to overcome:



I thought of V. S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival

All photographed with soft brown lights too, stark dark and bleak blacks for the houses, yet in gentle light grey light. He explores genealogy, ruins of ancient fortresses, clans, primitive neolithic stone sites; she half ironically goes along.



Frank has made friends with a local scholarly vicar, genealogist a Reverend Wakefield, as in Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, played exquisitely fine, with subtle humor and gravity by James Fleet. Our honeymooning (in effect) couple take to visiting this gentle vicar and Mrs Graham (Tracy Wilkinson), his wry housekeeper. Again I was so reminded of say Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers material before the murder occurs. The men discuss Scots and English aristocracy, Scots clans, the injustices of the 18th century, the patronage system, speculate that perhaps Jonathon Wolverton Randall could act with inpunity because his patron was the Earl of Sandringham. Claire goes off for women’s gossip and tea; Mrs Graham asks to read her palm and finds odd marks on Claire’s hand, and tells of rituals she participates in by Crag na Dunn, a circle of standing stones.


They are allured by these woman’s midnight rituals.


Here I was not only reminded of Dorothy in Oz, but the language in the book and series alludes to Frank L. Baum, especially later when Claire-Dorothy wants to get back to the stones as gateway to Kansas, but there is something new here: this is a tale of national identity, of seeking who one is by asking what group one belongs to, and it’s done from a post-colonial perspective, highly critical of the British. Whence the title: Claire is an outsider, a Brit, from elsewhere we know. A Scottish film company is a major producer, Scots actors, venerable (Bill Paterson as the lawyer, Ned Gowan) and new (Duncan Lacroix as the faithful Murtagh, so we are not far from Scott after all) are everywhere. Geography, landscape, blended time frames, intense interiority, mix with lessons in clans, Jacobitism, and the medicine and witchcraft of the era.

What I hope to do is apply to Outlander, several studies of DuMaurier, the gothic, women’s films and Scottish studies, and then by transference see how what is said today about films and books like Outlander relates to the new Poldark mini-series and what is being done to Graham’s Poldark books in them. So this is film, historical fiction, historical romance and delvings into time-traveling fantasies research in progress. It fits into post-colonial patterns too.

We begin for real and earnest when we move into the time-traveling sequence. Gabaldon knows that women in the 18th century went in for botany, studying herbs and so does our Claire so while Frank is buried in papers, she goes back to the stones and touching one she melts into another realm, coming out somehow into the year 1743.

She leaves her car

She has to come close to the stones of Crag Na Dunn to reach the flowers and herbs she wants

She hears something, music, looks up, and moves to touch the wondrous tall neolithic stone

The transported moment


An empty world, different older trees, no city in the distance (this is straight from Hungry Hill)

At first Claire thinks she has stumbled onto the set of costume drama (wonderful self-reflexity here) but no the bullets are real and she finds herself having to account for herself. So a re-naming, using her birth name, Beauchamp, she has to deal with everyone looking at her as stray whore: who else wanders in the wood in just her shift. This is an extraordinary moment that can only be done by a film: having the same actor, Tobias Menzies, play the hard mean ancester, Black Jack. Claire does a double take: he is but he is not Frank

So it’s a re-encounter

He now the 18th century educated man

she still the mid-20th century educated woman

The drums of sudden movement, excitement, she flees, he after and so her adventure begins. A snarling redcoat, upholder of a vicious colonialist order, and she finds herself shot at, nearly raped (this will repeat and repeat) by Randall, is taken up by one of the Scotsmen (Murtagh we later realize), rescued (or herself takes up, saved) by the Scots clansmen, and is paired with the wounded Jamie Fraser, whose arm she correctly sets (and thus saves), and soon she is riding in front of him (anticipating Turner and Tomlinson as Ross and Demelza), warning the clan from her memories of what Frank told her of ambushes, becomes one of them. She resists at first and we get the most old-fashioned of gentle abductions:

Claire: [having fled during the ambush, Jamie having gone back to retrieve her] I hope you haven’t been misusing that shoulder. You’re hurt.
Jamie: This lot isna my blood.
She: Not much of it, anyway.
He: Dougal and the others will be waiting further up the stream. We should go.
She: – I’m not going with you.
He: – Yes, you are.
She: What, are you going to cut my throat if I don’t?
He: Why not? But You don’t look that heavy. Now if you won’t walk, I shall pick you up and throw you over my shoulder. Do you want me to do that?
She: No.
He: Well, then I suppose that means your coming with me.
She – [Climbing, he Grunting] – Serves you right. Probably torn your muscles as well as bruising.
He: Well, wasna much of a choice. If I dinna move my shoulder, I’d never have moved anything else ever again. I can handle a single redcoat with one hand. Maybe even two. Not three. Besides, you can fix it for me again when we get to where we’re going.
She: That’s what you think.
He: Here’s to you, lass. For tipping us to the villains in the rocks and giving us a wee bit o’ fun! [All speak Gaelic] [Speaks Gaelic] Have a wee nip.It willna fill your belly, but will make you forget you’re hungry.


One blanket, one whiskey pouch

The band comes to a stone castle that she and her 20th century husband explored now become fully inhabited. I thought I was back with Frank Yerby’s The Border Lord, Book-of-the-Month club special (from the early 1950s like the Poldark series. I though of Radcliffe’s Emily coming up to Udolpho:

they lookuphesitant


Only the voice again is wry, prosaic, slightly comical:

The rest of the journey passed uneventfully, if you consider it uneventful to ride fifteen miles on horseback through country at night, frequently without benefit of roads, in company with kilted men armed to the teeth, and sharing a horse with a wounded man. At least we were not set upon by highwaymen, we encountered no wild beasts, and it didn’t rain.

When they get inside we are not in a gloomy, grand place, but a busy courtyard where everyone is going about her or his daily business. From the next episode:

Mrs Fitzgibbon [Annette Badland]: Mwah! Ye’ll all be needing breakfast, I reckon. Plenty in the kitchen. Away in, and feed yerselves. [chuckles] Murtagh, you look and smell like a rat that’s been dragged through sheep dung.
Murtagh: Gi’ us a kiss, then.
Mrs Fitzgibbon: Oh, no! A kiss, then! [laughing] And what do we have here?
Jamie: Claire Beauchamp, Mistress Fitzgibbons. Murtagh found her, and Dougal said we must bring her along with us, so So.

Mrs Fitzgibbon looks at Claire in ways the men do not, sees what the men do not see

Mrs F: Well Claire. Come with me. We shall find you something to eat, something to wear that’s a bit more Well, a bit more

It’s the voice-over that held me especially in this first episode, compellingly, Catrionia Balfe’s voice perfect for a DuMaurier Rebecca too. A sophisticated use of old-fashioned realism smashed together with fantasy gothic and superb cinematography, a richly colored Scotland complete, with the themed music part minor key bagpipes, make for an undercurrent of thrill. I will be concentrating on the women in the series.

As for the book, the source, this first episode is lifted directly from the novel. Many of the lines are taken from Gabaldon; it’s as if she wrote the book with a film in mind. She began in earnestness from an online experience, a Literary Forum in the Net’s earliest days. In her Outlandish Companion her language gives away hat when she started, Gabaldon had Now Voyageur, the old Bette Davis trope in mind but was also thinking of “the Age of Enlightenment,” i.e., the realities of the 18th century.

I love her illustration are soft-focus photographs or line-drawing illustrations, evoking imagination on the part of the reader: emblems, herbs, older symbolic pictures (the zodaic for example). Much richness for us to explore for quite a number of weeks to come.

From the site of Castle Leogh in Scotland today


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (the first season)

Aidan Turner as Ross

As all those who have been waiting for the second season of Poldark to air know, there has been an unexpected delay in the airing of the second season of Poldark. Usually when a series is a real hit, the producers, channel, film-maker strike while the iron is still hot. The second season of Outlander came before the end of another year, and a third and possibly fourth season have already been announced.

I am among those eager to see the new second season. So late last spring I noticed a column by Debbie Horsfield containing a carefully worded statement (around the time a second season might have ended) that they had decided to present the sexual events of the coming season discreetly. They were going to be suggestive, not graphic. All who have read the books knew a rape was coming and I took this to mean that as in the 1975 Poldark, we would only see the prologue to rape, and then the screen would go dark. She was saying that modern film-making customs would not be followed, and explicit sex scenes would not be developed.

Not that Ross’s rape of Elizabeth would be obliterated altogether.

Robin Ellis as Ross in the scenes prologue to the rape

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth in the same scenes (1975-76 Poldark)

That is what has been done. A suddenly timid BBC has perhaps pressured the film-makers of the new Poldark series to destroy a central event that makes for a meaningful plot design with a first climax at the end of the 7th book (The Angry Tide) and the final denouement of the whole cycle, at the close of the 12th book (Bella):

The BBC and film-makers say they feel that the modern audience could not accept a rape from a hero. It’s too shocking, rape. Have they not been watching other TV series of late? read any recent contemporary novels?

I wonder how much or if they fought over this. Robin Ellis tells us that in Making Poldark the script-writers and director were in conflict with some of the actors over the way in the 1970s mini-series Ross’s marriage to Demelza was presented as a shot-gun wedding, the result of a pregnancy which she first tried to abort, none of which is in Graham’s books.

Anghared Rees as Demelza protesting the morning after sex, declaring she wants to leave

With Ellis as Ross, she struggles to free herself so as to go for her abortion (again 1975 Poldark, wholly invented and unlike the book)

In Graham’s books Ross rebels against hierarchy, rank, status norms to marry a servant in his house because he and she have started to go to bed together, and he feels he is destroying her future unless he stops this before she gets pregnant or marries her. He finds himself comfortable with her, does not want to give her up as a servant, companion, and bed-mate, and is deeply angry against the social order. So defies it. Was this an important change? thereafter the script-makers and director kept faithfully to the books until near the end of Warleggan (Episodoes 14 to 15 in the first season, 1975-76) when they again departed radically, causing problems for the second season two years later (1977-78).

How important is the rape? I’d argue it’s far more important than the initial precipitating cause for Ross and Demelza’s marriage, as nothing else hinged on it. Not so the rape. To put it abstractly, in what ways can a film adaptation depart from a novel in order to erase or betray it? well, it can expunge a crucial plot-event that gives rise to a succession of climactic and centrally thematic fraught consequences in this or later novels, in other words further crucial plot-events. A series of consequences that make for the very ending of novels that are turning points in the novel series. You might say, this would not be easy to do. If A (so we’ll call the final moment in a novel) is the result of B, C, D, and E, and they came as a direct result of F, and F is missing (the rape), what happens to B, C, D, and E? Especially if they are particularly moving and tragic and give the characters acting these events depth and intense interest?

True. events A, B, C, and D will not come until the 3rd season. The results of Ross’s rape of Elizabeth about 2/3s the way through Warleggan (Poldark Novel 4) do not emerge until the birth of Valentine, Ross and Elizabeth’s son in The Black Moon (Poldark Novel 5), i.e, Season 3. The intense jealousy of Warleggan, and his abuse of Elizabeth, and her misery and wretchedness begin only when Warleggan has reason to suspect Valentine is Ross’s much later in The Four Swans (Poldark Novel 6). Indeed the script writer, Debbie Horsfield will not have to trouble herself over the final tragedy in say Episode 8 or 10 since it is only at the close of The Angry Tide (Poldark Novel 7) that desperate to make Warleggan think her present pregnancy is by him and accept Valentine’s his, Elizabeth decides she will make Warleggan believe she tends to give birth early and goes to a doctor for a dangerous concoction of herbs to precipitate early parturition and her own death. Never can tell, there might not be a Season 3.

But if there is (and I hope there will be), how will all this be handled? In Graham’s books Elizabeth was left to deal with it on her own. In the older Poldark mini-series ditto.

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth, this time pregnant by Warleggan, ashamed as she visits a doctor

The unsympathetic suspicious doctor who supplies the needed abortifacient

If there is a third season, and say, we actually reach a last season, and the 12th and final book of the series, Bella, what will they do with the plangent meaningful tragic close (our hypothetical E)? What guilt could Ross have over how Valentine became twisted and isolated if he did not for all these books and all these years evade his responsibility, refuse to admit to anyone that the boy was his, he was the father who left the boy fatherless? The gut-wrenching nightmares, Valentine’s turn to a pet orangutan (don’t laugh, the last books do justice to characters with disability, and develop an animal rights point of view implicit in the early books), Valentine’s own choice of death or self-destruction?

A very young David Hemmings and Samantha Egg in the 1970 Walking Stick

Graham has been credited with being an instinctive feminist, and with presenting women in transgressive and iconoclastic roles. Not just in his historical novels, but also his spy thrillers and modern mysteries and a few remarkable novels centering on mental disorder and disability (i.e., Marni (1964, Hitchcock film), The Walking Stick, both of which were filmed, the second brilliantly). I knew much of this was erased in the new first season, including any undermining of male gender stereotypes, but the protest level of feminism had been at least embodied to some extent in Verity’s story as well as Demelza’s. The first season saw the character of Elizabeth, in the original books and series, an insecure and ambitious woman, who found more joy in motherhood than she did understanding or support in her husband Francis; who didn’t care for sex particularly, turned into a pious moral exemplar, whose every thought was to make her husband a good entrepreneur and imitator of his father, Charles and every waking act to nurture her baby.

Heida Reed as Elizabeth near tears because Francis is not coming up to masculine norms (2015 Poldark)

Kyle Soller as a moving Francis Poldark in considerable distress because he’s come down in the world as he can’t manage the work ethic (wholly unlike the aristocratic Francis of the books and 1970s series)

Henry James said what a character does is central to how we know a character’s psychology and ethical character. I am wondering now how they will change this character so that she falls into adultery with Ross? If they have an affair, that means sex with some frequency, no? If we are to see a succession of days and nights of sex between Ross and Elizabeth, what does that do to his character? his relationship with Demelza? In the original books and mini-series, the Scots Captain McNeill almost succeeds in seducing Demelza; she backs away at the last moment. Will she “have an affair in turn.” I hope not because she does have a real love romance in The Four Swans that is meaningful: as a young girl she never had a romantic courtship nor a man near her age, respect and courtesy and poetry she yearned for comes her way. No one is expecting Graham’s hero to be as believable as Tolstoy’s Pierre (from War and Peace) I suppose, but the books do contain a real man as protagonist, a complex enough character to interest us. Real men who are not utter villains rape women — this even happens the statistics tell us often. This is an issue that should not be swept under a rug.

In the first season Horsfield boasted that she was closer to the original books than the 1970s mini-series. She’s given that up — or was forced to. Could it be that the BBC read fan sites where people have argued fiercely that Ross could not have raped Elizabeth; or, that Elizabeth is to blame for the night of sex; or anything rather than Graham’s disquieting novel for mature adults. No longer do fans have nowhere to voice their displeasure. They were worried lest sticking to the original books mar their ratings. Recent film studies have shown that further seasons of a series will alter intentions and characters to please on-line fan groups or at least exert considerable pressure (Andrea Schmidt, “The Imaginative Power of Downton Abbey Fan Fiction” in Julie Taddeo and James Leggott’s collection, Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume TV Drama: The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey). So perhaps the BBC was willing to mar their matter and pressured Horsfield to change her stance towards faithfulness. Whether the result will deprive the central heros and heroines of a complexly develping consistent personalities over a long series of books or (if it should come to pass) series of films remains to be seen.

I had been planning to write about the second season without referring to the 1970s mini-series. Now I will compare the two series with the books as I did last year (see my blog and an essay, Poldark Rebooted, 40 Years On). I may even teach the second trilogy of Graham’s books (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide, 1973-77) as last and two years ago I taught the first quartet (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, Warleggan, 1945-53)

From the cover illustration of the first paperback edition of Graham’s Black Moon


Emma Thompson, a study of her as Carrington in the film of that name — for me a suggestive 20th century image of Lily Dale as conceived by Trollope

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve not followed up on the first lecture for this summer’s course on Trollope’s Small House at Allington because for much of the sessions that followed I offered only introductory perspectives, after which for an hour or so we worked our way through the text for the day, in other words, the give-and-take of discussion. This does not lend itself to the blog form, although it is he way this novel yields its rich insights and pleasures. Although hardly ever out of print, and by all impressionistic accounts, a memorable favorite among Trollope readers, the novel has not garnered much recent published writing, I surmise because it is rare among Trollope novels not to have an election, to remain steadily and (even) fiercely within an erotic (and marital) purview. All the more reason to offer up some thoughts out of the perspectives and close readings I and my class (mostly older retired adults) reveled in for some five weeks.

Lady Julia and Johnny Eames near close of novel (Millais illustrations)

For summaries of the story and plot design, consult these records of an on-line reading and discussion of the novel in 2000.

From the second and third session:

Ellen Gosse, Torcos, Devonshire — I have only a black-and-white image of this painting but it seems to be suggestive of what Trollope wants to convey about the small house, that it is cut off from the corrupting worlds attached to London

I began with a summary of Juliet McMasters’ essay on his novel (and by extension other novels of romance and marriage in Trollope), “The Unfortunate Moth: The Unifying Theme of The Small House at Allington, Nineteenth Century Fiction, 26:2 (1962):127-44

What McMasters takes to be the unifying theme of the book explicitly stated in a long passage thtat you might think it about Lily Dale, or Adolphus when he goes to Courcy Castle, or Johnny Eames, but it’s about Cradell who we are told “never found of happiness” from the “intimacy” (that’s the word and to Victorians “intimacy” suggested sex, actions like petting and the like at least) he had with Mrs Lupex.

When the unfortunate moth in his semi-blindness whisks himself and his wings within the flame of the candle, and finds himself mutilated and tortured, he even then will not take the lesson, but returns again and again till he is destroyed. Such a moth was poor Cradell. There was no warmth to be got by him from that flame. There was no beauty in the light,—not even the false brilliance of unhallowed love. Injury might come to him,—a pernicious clipping of the wings, which might destroy all power of future flight; injury, and not improbably destruction, if he should persevere. But one may say that no single hour of happiness could accrue to him from his intimacy with Mrs. Lupex. He felt for her no love. He was afraid of her, and, in many respects, disliked her. But to him, in his moth-like weakness, ignorance, and blindness, it seemed to be a great thing that he should be allowed to fly near the candle. Oh! my friends, if you will but think of it, how many of you have been moths, and are now going about ungracefully with wings more or less burnt off, and with bodies sadly scorched!

People don’t tend to identity Trollope with Dostoevsky; but a unifying motif is the perversity of our desires, how we go after what will poison us, especially in erotic entanglements. We are told Craddell cannot have “another dip into the flame of the candle” because Miss Spruce is in the room. If you want you can pay attention to when Craddell is said to be “in the room” with Mrs Lupex and no one else there. Whose room? What room? McMasters makes a convincing case and writes beautifully clearly.

The chapter on the Widow Dale a very moving one: she has given up any chance to have a life of her own – not that she had much, by after her husband died, leaving the city, putting herself in a place where she does not meet anyone but those who come to this great estate. It’s been infinitely easier financially, and as we shall see when the Dale family prepares to leave the Small House and go to Guestwick it’s a big step down. Third person indirect discourse allows Trollope to go in an out of her mind as well as comment: she has been made to feel if she were out of the way the Squire would be more generous. He did not approve of who his brother married; she did not bring anything with her, money or connections.

The theory of her life one may say was this—that she should bury herself in order that her daughters might live well above ground. And in order to carry out this theory, it was necessary that she should abstain from all complaint or show of uneasiness before her girls. Their life above ground would not be well if they understood that their mother, in this underground life of hers, was enduring any sacrifice on their behalf. It was needful that they should think that the picking of peas in a sun-bonnet, or long readings by her own fire-side, and solitary hours spent in thinking, were specially to her mind. “Mamma doesn’t like going out.” “I don’t think mamma is happy anywhere out of her own drawing-room.” I do not say that the girls were taught to say such words, but they were taught to have thoughts which led to such words, and in the early days of their going out into the world used so to speak of their mother. But a time came to them before long,—to one first and then to the other, in which they knew that it was not so, and knew also all that their mother had suffered for their sakes.

Trollope does all he can to indicate that once engaged to Crosbie Lily gives herself utterly to him (i.e., they have full sexual intercourse). Lily and Crosbie are allowed to go roaming at night by themselves. The most striking passage is the height of the party by which point Crosbie has begun to regret his proposal, to think he’s doing Lily a great favor, and alas, she reinforces this

They were standing in the narrow pathway of the gate leading from the bridge into the gardens of the Great House, and the shadow of the thick-spreading laurels was around them. But the moonlight still pierced brightly through the little avenue, and she, as she looked up to him, could see the form of his face and the loving softness of his eye.
    “Because- —,” said he; and then he stooped over her and pressed her closely, while she put up her lips to his, standing on tip-toe that she might reach to his face.
    “Oh, my love!” she said. “My love! my love!”
    As Crosbie walked back to the Great House that night, he made a firm resolution that no consideration of worldly welfare should ever induce him to break his engagement with Lily Dale. He went somewhat further also, and determined that he would not put off the marriage for more than six or eight months, or, at the most, ten, if he could possibly get his affairs arranged in that time. To be sure, he must give up everything, —- all the aspirations and ambition of his life; but then, as he declared to himself somewhat mournfully, he was prepared to do that. Such were his resolutions, and, as he thought of them in bed, he came to the conclusion that few men were less selfish than he was.

That break or gap between “My love, my love” – what literally happened is the equivalent of a chapter in a 1950s novel where the couple go into a bedroom and the chapter ends; or a TV show where they are passionately kissing and the camera focuses on a nearby fire. Note also Crosbie’s thoughts directly after: firmly he will marry and soon, 6 to 8, at the most 10 months. It takes 9 months. Now had he kept coming but as we all know (and Trollope is writing for adults) it takes a little time. Markwick compares other heroines: Alice Grey of Can You Forgive her? Shudders and others, but we have to be content with what we have. Lily is referred to as “the impassioned girl” during a walk. Lily finally wins her mother to acquiesce in Lily’s decision not to marry when she explains

I gave myself to him, and loved him, and rejoiced in his love. When he kissed me I kissed him again, and I longed for his kisses. I seemed to live only that he might caress me. All that time I never felt myself to be wrong,—because he was all in all to me. I was his own. … I cannot be the girl I was before he came here.

Trollope is exploring variations on sex life and marriage in different classes of people, types, situations. He means us to see the boarding house as sordid and squalid; that’s really the tone. In this era young women who worked as milliners went to bars after work and were seen as promiscuous, fair game especially to gentlemen. Now I hope you’ll agree that with all its riches and luxuries, the tone of mind, thoughts everything about Courcy castle is sordid and ultimately squalid too but they can keep up a front, Amelia can’t. Trollope has some sympathy for her, none for Mrs Lupex (a kind of wolf, lupus means wolf), and he doesn’t respect Cradell. We are to suppose Cradell doesn’t get very far: he is so fatuous as to want the credit for what he doesn’t quite do and not want to take the consequences (but then Crosbie doesn’t either). More than once we are told Mrs Lupex’s nose is no straight, it has an odd curve: her husband has hit her

Nonetheless, there are parallels between Cradell and say the young Courcy men, and interestingly between Johnny and Lily more than Johnny and Crosbie. They refer to an incident where he went up to her room and she looked at him through a chink (repeated over the over) in the door, and then there’s a break, and after he keeps referring to her long black hair. It makes him write the note (p 41) where he tells her he loves her and this is her handle for her threatening letter. She implies he promised to marry her, and he says he never did. She never does say he did. For the Victorian reader does it make the incident any less reprehensible, probably not. If it does, it’s because the reader might look down on Amelia. The notes Skilton provides in his edition of SHA explicating some of Trollope’s references to places and use of phrases whose hum and buzz he expects us to know (but we can’t living so much after him) turn Amelia Roper into someone who has given sex for money, jobs, or simply had it for fun casually.

McMaster mentions A.O. Cockshut who wrote what is still one of the best books on Trollope; he studies Trollope’s books as about delusion, self-destruction, obsession, but he also has a chapter where he says a central them in Trollope’s novels is loneliness. For novels where the characters are so embedded in groups, he offers us dramas of loneliness. Who lonelier than Mr Harding? Does anyone understand? Who lonelier than Mary Thorne? Even the Rev Mr Slope is cut off from others. What Crosbie throws away when he gets to Courcy Castle is something rare and precious which we feel alive in his letter to Lily. If Alexandrina could have provided sexual passion and satisfaction the way Lily did or seemed to, he still would have been miserable: she provides no companionship, nothing congenial, no thoughts and feelings that count to share. We are made to feel that Dr Crofts and Bell will eventually have that.

The irony of Lily’s antagonism to Lady Julia (“hard on the poor old spinster”) is Lady Julia who does all she can for Lily at Courcy Castle but fails. There’s an old optimistic tale by Hans Christian Anderson. The emperor’s new clothes: you may recall it’s about how this emperor is deluded by two crooks into thinking they are making him a super-rich garment which is invisible to stupid people. No one in tale will see they can’t see anything; then he parades down the street and a young boy comes up and shouts Oh he’s wearing nothing. And all the people suddenly admit he’s wearing nothing. Great fable in many ways about using a naif in a story. People often refer to this as having great truth. But what if the stakes are too high. What if shouting the truth at the top of your voice gets you nowhere and that is what happens to Lady Julia: she gets no respect as a spinster. She is put there so Trollope can show us the fallacy of the emperor’s new clothes.


From the fourth session:

ElizabethShippenGreen (Medium)
Elizabeth Shippen Green (later 19th century American illustrator)

We had read Mark Turner’s. “Gendered Issues: Intertextuality and The Small House at Allington in Cornhill Magazine, Victorian Periodicals Review, 26:4 (1993):228-34. If you read what is produced in a given issue of a magazine you will find revealing thematic parallels among the articles which have a great deal to tell you about how the magazine editors envision their audience, and if the magazine is popular or long-lasting probably rightly. On top of that if you know what is the context elsewhere for each of the articles, you understand how they are intervening in some hot topic of the day.

SHA lacks overt politics, or any parliamentary elections. What Thackeray, the editor explicitly said, and statistical analysis shows, is that the Cornhill also avoided politics and parliamentary subjects. Thackeray said this was inappropriate for women. After all they were not elected, couldn’t hold office, what would they want to know about such things? What did Trollope think of this policy: in 1867 when he quit the post office and a group of friends and funders started St Paul’s whose remit was specifically politics and for it he wrote one of his masterpiece Palliser or Parliamentary books, Phineas Finn, a great hit.

Instalment No 3, November 1862 contains Chapters 7, 8, and 9 and anti-feminist, maybe misogynistic articles. Now you might think, how odd, a magazine for women who promulgates anti-feminist ideas. But maybe you would not. By feminist I mean something very fundamental: they assume women are inferior in understanding and moral strength, belong in the home; magazines and TV shows can function as forms of social policing. In Trollope’s chapters we find Crosbie’s deep reluctance to marry at all; he longs to escape. A couple of the articles in the Cornhill around that time either take on board W.W. Gregg’s discernment of a problem in society written about elsewhere and talked much about in the period and especially the Cornhill: Greg presents himself as showing us “sound common sense:” there were all these “redundant” (i.e., unmarried) women who had no income or means; his solution, more women need to work at getting married, and men are not doing their duty: they are shirking. The reality was the problem for middle class women is there were no jobs for them to support themselves as middle class unless they married. The Cornhill for that number also includes “Professional Thieves,” something middle class people worry about: not only are women alone a standing target, but the article talks about women who vicious thieves and sneaky and get away with it, and that they the ones who train children to become thieves. Forget Fagin. It’s not Jews, it’s women. Last article about the first women to have been executed in 40 years. Makes her an absolute sinister horror, says it’s only because she was a woman that she was able to “penetrate” the home. There is this idea that home is this sacred place where people are happy, a haven, that is unreal and reinforced.

So this is the local context for SHA. Were there many unmarried women and men in the Victorian era? yes, as there always have been. It’s very hard to get at firm figures because the rate of death and when someone dies is what is measured and it was different for different classes. I did a paper on widowhood in England between the 18th and 19th century and how this was reflected in Jane Austen’s novels. Those who read them may not be aware of how many widows and widowers she had: quite a number of widows, less widowers as Trollope has quite a number of widows, tends to have unmarried men rather than widowers. Widowhood was not associated with old age as people died like flies at all ages, women in childbirth regularly. Statistically it may be shown that in general women do not remarry after 50 because it’s said men are not willing to marry an older woman, while men remarry in large numbers until 70. What we are talking about is women living alone – like Miss Spruce. There is little material on men living alone until very recently in comparison with women. They are embarrassed about living alone; until recently there was this suspicion of homosexuality, so a man could be blackmailed – laws against buggery were draconian. It’s so much easier for them to find a partner; both sexes. but especially women if they had children wanted a partner. Widows come with children: witness Mrs Rope, Mrs Eames, Mrs Dale. The first study of suicide from a secular statistic humane scientific-speak point of view – is by Emile Durkhiem a long chapter on why single old men living alone are most susceptible to suicide (according to him).  To cut to the chase, the problem is women at the time couldn’t get a good job, they were excluded from professional training to start with.

Lily is on her way to being a redundant woman. This is a sort of introduction to next week’s story, “Journey to Panama.” It is the background to Small House at Allington, to its deeper sexual politics. In later life Trollope wrote sympathetic articles about women getting jobs (The Telegraph Girls which I put online), he wrote stories for Emily Faithful. Why do the De Courcys overlook Lady Julia’s telling everyone Adolphus is engaged: the stakes are too high, they want an acceptable willing men for their daughters, someone who will fit in. And this week we found Lady Amelia and Gazebee policing Adolphus lest he get away.

What’s Trollope’s position? Later in life he grew very irritated with all the sympathy extended Lily as well as the complaints: he felt readers were sentimentalizing and called her a prig in his Autobiography. But in this text we he embeds lots of references to the sex that had happened between them, how this affected her, how everyone knew. She could litigate, this would only shame her more. Women were without a weapon. A coward and as Johnny keeps shouting “scoundrel”. The exchange of letters no matter how brief: he to her “I know that you will hate me and will never forgive me,” to which her pride will not listen, Trollope’s narrator as the mother “he left her maimed and mutilated for life” (Ch 30), and this last to me the most strong, “Who can describe the thoughts that were passing through Lily’s mind as she remembered the hours she had passed with Crosbie, of his warm assurance of love, of his accepted caresses, of her uncontrolled and acknowledged joy in his affection” (Ch 30) Johnny who assumes Crosbie will no litigate tells Cradell Lily would never because already “all this will about kill her” (Ch 32). Now I’m not so sure everyone would have been so disapproving of Crosbie as is presented.

We discussed how Trollope just takes this flying leap into making the human psyche, how it works inwardly and where people most often don’t like to look and haven’t got meaningful concise words for even now: he makes that continually the upfront subject whether through letters, through meditation, or through comic scenes. Scenes like the one in the railway car, and when Johnny Eames attacks Crosbie are especially remarkable for their further inclusion of depictions of how people often actually behave in social life, what we respect (like the superintendant on the train station whose prestige and therefore power reminds me of General Kutusov in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, only Tolstoy does not also make a joke of it. I think Trollope is as acute as Tolstoy even if his perspective is narrower, he is also more continually ironic about the way we behave outwardly.

Marvelously well written chapters, “The combat, “Woe to the conquered,” and “See, the conquering hero comes.” They are a trio: they all three appeared in the same issue. Instalment No 12, August 1863. I made an effort to download the November 1863 issue of the magazine in several places and failed utterly.
    The topic of whether someone should punish Crosbie and how has been introduced several times, and Trollope seems to feel it is part of Bernard Dale’s selfishness that he does nothing because it’s no longer socially required. And if we think Squire Dale has changed, note his immediate response to De Guest’s suggestion, he contribute regularly to Johnny and Lily’s household (Ch 32). Any comments about how you feel about this resort to violence? It stems from the idea of honor killing: the idea is the family honor is besmirched. By the 18th century Europe had gone beyond murdering the woman, but macho maleness had not gone beyond the duel and by the 19th century the fight. It’s inward, outwardly accurate and funny. The chapter opens with the Earl telling Johnny this is not his affair: he is not related and was not the person concerned.
    Both young men are getting on at the Barchester station (not yet named Silverbridge). Very vividly described. Johnny’s class is signaled by for the first time going first class. He does so because he has a servant, a groom. So it’s not fitting for him to sit in a second class carriage. Adolphus sat there before he involved himself with the De Courcys.
    Trollope comically accosts us if we affect to despise Johnny for wanting to come up in the world: “My friend … [to]… foolish thing.”
    Then we get this real scene of people entering such a carriage. They still have these separate carriages with a corridor in English and European trains – you see them in English films. Old lady and old man who is irritable.
    Adolphus has not been having a good time – and yet he is part of this noble family.
    Then the marvelous inward qualities continually attended to: Adolphus opens his book and we are told: “I will not say his mind … “
    We are are made privy to Johnny’s ‘wretched thoughts” as he sits there with his book: very intense. He does not strike out then because there is a lady in the car.
    But when it’s time to leave, Johnny cannot let go and leaps on Crosbie. He has the advantage of surprise: “you confounded scroundrel”
    Trollope takes the time to describe a real stand at the time, complete with yellow shilling number novel instalments. Just like the one the reader might be reading.
Crosbie falls among the wares, clumsy and Johnny lands a real blow at his eye. He’s already distinguished     himself over bulls.
    And then the Victorian middle class world – these are people taking the train so that means money, traveling, and they side with the police officer. Trollope is very sympathetic to police officers but also uses them for comedy – which still happens on TV today. Johnny is too determined and too strong in his feeling of rightness to care. The dialogue is believable enough.
    Crosbie has lost in the encounter: he is disgraced. Blackness signifies inward bleeding around his eye, plus red streaks. So it’s not innocent – in Dr Thorne Frank Gresham whips Moffat and Moffat is put out of public view for weeks. The police are on his side because of who he is too, but he wants to escape and have no publicity. They won’t listen to that because it’s their job to take this pair of men in unless no one presses charges. Which is what happens.
    We seem to go through layers of Crosbie’s mind: not on the surface but deep in some inward thoughts he curses himself.
    The aftermath: much worse than the physical experience is the social response. People who are disabled often say (rightly) it’s not their disability that hurts them so badly so much as the society’s way of reacting to a disabled person and a disability they don’t understand. It”s in this one Crosbie realizes he has lost points in the world’s respect for him. Maybe they would not have been so condemning as I suggest but perhaps there is a sense of what is just and right in people.
    The scene of Butterwell, Optimist, Major Fiasco; each character acts in character; they couldn’t care less really about Crosbie but are reacting as they see themselves. Fiasco gives everyone a hard time.
    The Gazebees: De Courcy is beginning to have had it. Gazebee I’m afraid deserves Amelia. Crosbie’s story mocks them. False etymologies still popular, so false stories about family’s origins. Will he stick it? We see a hope come into his mind that they will throw him out if he is insolent enough and he can return to Lily. There will be no return to her – for a long time to come.
    For the rest of the novel Trollope will not tire of punishing Crosbie though his ending may be what he wanted if only he could have seen this without the intervening engagements and marriage. He could not get beyond the hegemonic demand he marry. He found himself in situations where erotic feeling was the whole point of the exercise. What’s a guy to do?
    Johnny’s great triumph: a Handel rousing song. Eames is rising in the world because like Crosbie he can do the work and well. Trollope take out time to tell another story: this one of the bags. It’s intermixed with the Amelia matter: she too has been misused in effect. Raffle Buffle cannot punish Johnny because custom is not against it. So he flails away.
    And we end where we began: the earl and Johnny’s correspondence and Johnny knows he has not hurt himself with the earl.

Lily Going Mad Counting the Figures in the Wallpaper:

“(Lily speaking to her mother, about getting out of her sickbed, which is in her mother’s room) ‘I am so tired of looking always at the same paper. It is such a tiresome paper. It makes one count the pattern over and over again. I wonder how you ever can live here.’
‘I’ve got used to it, you see.’
‘I can never get used to that sort of thing; but go on counting, and counting, and counting.'”

Bruce reminds us of how Lily feels herself going mad when she is prostrate in bed, having retreated from a world which in the person of Adolphus Crosbie has betrayed, abused and would now, she fears, either quietly ridicule or look down on her. She has no options beyond living out the bourgeois myth. There’s a famous later 19th century American short story, the Yellow Wallpaper about a deeply repressed woman, who has been having babies endlessly. Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Finally the direct roman a clef here: Sir Raffle Buffle, also called Huffle Scuffle who Trollope cannot resist portraying so he has him transferred from the General Committee Office in Whitehall as the ultimate boss of Adolphus Crosbie to a supposedly much lower rank office, Taxes where he presides over Johnny Eames, without bothering for an explanation of this demotion. It’s a remariable coincidence, no? He is Trollope’s irritated portrait of a person much admired at one time: Sir Rowland Hill, who executed important reforms in the post office, some with Trollope’s help. He is said to have been “a brilliant but difficult man,” and I’ve read that “Huffle Scuffle” was actually a derisory nickname for him. When in 1867 Trollope was overlooked for a deserved promotion and took retirement in order to devote himself to his writing career fully – he was angry and surprised. Did he not think Hill knew of Huffle Scuffle? Trollope’s books are roman a cles (books where people are recognizable) and he tells aspects of his own life directly and indirectly. Apparently once as a young postal clerk he misdirected a bag of mail. Not only is Johnny him, but aspects of Dr Crofts with Crosbie a release valve for himself.

One of my papers I called Trollope’s Comfort Romances for Men; this is a romance novel written from a male point of view tempered by insight into and compassion for women.


From the fifth and last sessions:

Donald Pleasence as Mr Harding walking away from the hospital and his position as Warden (final shots of The Warden from BBC 1983 Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater)

Like The Warden, The Small House at Allington has a strong underlying tragic pattern. It presents itself as comedy, and the whole realistic stance of the narrator, the structure, and the presence of this ironic narrator whose importance in this and other of Trollope’s novels cannot be underestimated deflects us from seeing the nadir, the loss of aspiration, hope, dreams just about all of our major characters end up with – or without. Pair of chapters to end on: showing how Mr Crosbie again became a happy man deeply ironic: so quiet and so intense; we hear of quarrels; how she did break down asking for a carriage. She does not break down now. He is glad to make do with little money to get rid of the burden of her existence. Lily vanquishes her mother. Johnny moves out of the boarding house, lives alone, takes to eating mutton chops at a public house. Soon Johnny will get into a better place with Earl’s help.

And then very like a Mozart’s Don Giovanni especially, onto the stage come the ordinary prosaic characters to carry on: here Mrs Dale chooses to Remain not Leave; we get a miniature re-prise of Hopkins’ coming near to utter destruction but the Squire who has now learn to give in, gives in. The squire tells Lily the pain is that Hopkins did it before everyone, so this incident also refers to the Earl’s advice that if you live with a fox gnawing at your entrails, you stand there and smile. In the Spartan story the boy allows the fox to gnaw him to death under his undergarments rather than show his pain to anyone. The story thus undermines itself. The great joke of the concluding incident (let’s say before the curtain) is about a pile of shit: don’t underestimate the importance of shit in making beautiful gardens.

A central subject matter of this set of chapters is our deep usual disappointments in how we end up on the social spectrum in life, whether it be at our remunerative jobs and in this week’s chapters this includes characters from Mr Lupex with his yearning to be a painter of canvasses and sense he had talent, better at color with a truer eye for drawing than people who make thousands to Mr Butterwell who doesn’t want Crosbie over-reaching himself to dominate the board, to people like Dr Crofts who presumably acts out of some altruistic motives yet wants to live not in debt, with pride of face before others. We discover a bunch of characters living out their lives – at least some of them, those with the capacity for dreams of something beyond the pragmatic, who reject in part what are the common goals and norms of ordinary life – in quiet desperation.

The depiction of careers in this novel is more subtle than the analysis of the results of ambition in Framley Parsonage: the way Mark Robarts is treated may be read as “learning a lesson not to overreach beyond his income; Mr Sowerby is more complicated but he is made a semi-sinister kind of villain and he loses all. Crosbie doesn’t lose all; he gains what he thought he was after; maybe Mr Lupex is right and the kind of success he feels he had it in him was not in the cards he was handed from birth. I’d say we cannot attribute to Johnny’s wonderful qualities his success: there he is sexually jealous of Cradell because Cradell is now having sex with Amelia, Cradell in a remarkable scene of social insight is shown not to understand how pride should control his language before the man he envies and wants to butter up and fears is dropping him. He does not realize if someone is determined to drop you, you must endure it and work very slowly to counter that, silently.

The inkstand missing for three years (Millais’s illustration)

There are seemingly irretrievable decisions or words you can’t recall the other person is not going to forget as they seared some part of their mind and feeling. There is a whole sub-motiv or secondary set of stories about the pains and disillusionments and fear of moving. For women alone in this book it’s traumatic, whether done comically or not. Mrs Roper is likely to lose her livelihood (and a friend, Miss Spruce). Moving depictions. A central one for plot-design: the dramatic confrontations of Squire Dale and Mrs Dale. She is rightly very hurt and angry at his bullying and accusations and says she cannot live in that house on these terms any more. So off she goes to tell him she’s moving (Ch 37). Does she get to say what she wants? Why not? He refuses to recognize she has any justice in moving; he refuses to agree to her priorities: her feelings not her pocketbook and status.

The Squire feels he should be obeyed, should have some say in who Bell marries, against Mrs Dale’s resentment of his attempt to interfere with her role. He accuses her of teaching the girls to look at him with suspicion; she accuses him of trying to take her place and come in-between her and her daughters. The emotions here are real enough, hard. The Squire tries unconsciously to needle his sister-in-law into doing what he wants by insinuating she’s afraid to tell her daughter to marry Bernard:

“‘You mean that you are afraid to tell her so?’
    ‘I am afraid to do what I think wrong, if you mean that.
    ‘I don’t think it would be wrong, and therefore I shall speak to her myself’
    ‘You must do as you like about that, Mr Dale; I can’t prevent you. I shall think you wrong to harass her on such a matter’

Each puts his or her spin on what’s happening. The dialogue turns and twists as they accuse, counter-accuse, reinterpret, at each point ending up in the stasis or positions from which they started. She goes home very unsatisfied because she left without making it clear she means it; she does not need to think about it – as Bell does not need to think about saying no to Bernard. She is recharged by Bell and Lily and returns to the battlefield (Ch 38). Each of them tries to take advantage of the other. All right she is giving rent-free house, status, luxuries. He gets her on the axiom of duty: somehow it’s her duty yet again to mortify her own feelings so as to keep others behaving towards her girls as if they were the daughters of the squire. She loses ground for a moment when he says “‘your duty is to think of them.” Since she buys into his conservative values, she has no grounds from which to fight him on the score of violated individual feelings.

Lily’s insistence they are not to say anything adverse about Crosbie is a form of punishing her sister and mother because she can’t punish Crosbie. There’s a line where she remembers being in the field with him and responding to his caresses (as Crosbie remembers those days or early evenings as he sits across the way from Lady Alexandrina) which may be intended to excuse her (ch 40): during preparations he remembers her passion as he caressed her. She gave up so much and was just thrown away. It’s a form of self-tormenting too.
Some might find it hard to believe that Lily Dale does not show more anger toward Crosbie. Her remarking that she would like to be the godmother of Crosbie’s child is especially difficult to believe. The chapter is saved only by her breaking down an crying at the end, revealing how brave she is trying to be but still how much she is hurting.

One could get very Freudian and admire Trollope for suggesting that Lily feels that the child she would have had with Crosbie is going to emerge from the wrong womb, and her desire to be the godmother is Trollope’s way of hinting to us that her deepest pain is she is replaced as a sex partner and the woman who will therefore bear Crosbie’s children. Trollope saw himself as interested in perversities of behavior. People often quote his comment in He Knew He Was Right on the jealous Louis Trevelyan’s desire to gather proof his wife has betrayed him sexually: anyone who is surprised or incredulous “do not understand that a man may be brought to hope that which of all things is the most grievous to him;” they “have not observed with sufficient closeness the perversity of the human mind.” In this sequence Crosbie has chosen a self-tormenting path, Johnny, Mr Lupex, Mr Cradell. We have comic analogues for the grave anguish of Lily and Crosbie.

Adolphus’s actual experience of marriage: the preparations for the wedding. Money has to be arranged, a flat rented or house bought. At the last moment we see maybe Alexandrina is not so sure when she says she will not marry if not given the right clothes for the day, the right trousseau. The carpet, the correct locality – status, status, status. Lady Alexandrina will not go for a walk lest it be seen as a come-down. She would not enjoy walking because of this. She gives as much trouble to the store clerks as she can. Adolphus’s brilliantly mocking fable of the cook: mock on how rich like to present themselves, a home-y source of income; in fact it was often hard exploitation, Henry VIII making followers out of taking over church’s property and rents. Alexandrina knows she’s cold-shouldering Crosbie: she doesn’t want babies; her sister did. I’ll give it to Lady Amelia when she took Gazebee from Augusta Gresham she wanted him – or she wanted the marriage she could turn life with him into. He’s learning to hate them all. Gazebee and Amelia have long seen that Crosbie is bitter in heart now and has repented of his bargain. Crosbie meant to make his life a success we are told. That’s what seems to hurt most of all. Lily wanted love; he wanted to be successful in the world’s eyes and his own.

Trollope’s depiction of men in this novel: taking into account Johnny Eames, Cradell, Lupex, the De Courcy males. They are seen as people under pressure: to support others, to be seen to do well and they may not have the resources (skill or connections) for this. He undermines stereotypes for male experience.

Mary Lady Mason and Mrs Orme part at the close of Orley Farm (Millais)

Our last essay was Sarah Gilead’s “Trollope’s Orphans and ‘the Power of Adequate Performance,” Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 27:1 (1985):86-105.

It is very common in 19th century novels to have this long-suffering pathetic orphan children, or half-crazed beggars. Trollope has very few children in his novels and not one presents a child’s subjective mind as the nexus of the book. The typical Dickens character sweeping the streets is not here. But repeatedly in his novels characters come close to disaster or they walk right into calamity (as Juliet McMasters says moths to the flame, or Trollope himself about how we don’t sufficiently study the perversity of the human mind or pay attention to what is going on around us), but most of the they are left appearing to cope. Some do throw themselves under on-coming trains, or take some agonizing poison, but it’s not common. I would have preferred Phineas Finn as an example because all novel long he is a political compromiser in order to rise, putting aside his conscience which only comes to the fore unexpectedly in the denouement of his book.

I like Gilead’s explanation: they are made to feel culturally abandoned or betrayed as a result of the norms of the society they live in. They are expected to accept the story of their lives that the public listens to and carry on. So Mr Harding is supposed to accept that he is this corrupt man who devours incomes belonging to others and carry on regardless. Lady Mason that she’s a crook (not that in her case after having accepted an arranged marriage with a hard old man he refused to leave even a small farm to their son, all of it to go to his eldest to make this big splash). Lily that she lost this toy and ought to give over. The people in this novel are hypocrites about women’s sexuality – which by the way makes Johnny Eames’s behavior to Amelia explicable: he couldn’t give a shit who she fucks not really. Not when more important things like class, standing in the world, promotion at his job are at stake: maybe they do matter more.

What they do – Mr Harding, Lily, Mary Lady Mason is they invent a different story, a different identity, one which indicts the society, and live it out. To do this they must retreat or they will endlessly be bothered by the story society wants to impose on them. Lily does not want to risk her psyche again. They are not parentless and not without small resources – -which people often do have or they’d have vanished well before the crisis. They strike bargains with a hostile reality. In Phineas’s case, light is shone on the deplorable condition of the Irish which the English fed off of. They make a bargain; they will keep quiet if they are left alone. To achieve this safety they have to give up society’s prizes including society’s approval

Mr Harding retreats to the smallest possible parish; he does end up living with his daughter. As Gilead remarks he throws overboard the 12 old men he was supposed to care about. Most are dead by the time Barchester Towers begins. Lily has 3000 pounds so a small income, the Small House and her mother. She rejects time, she rejects change. Funeral formality to it; in Last Chronicle Trollope has her quote a latin saying: who goes softly, goes safely. Gilead misrepresents how Lady Mason ends up because she and her son part; she ends up alone writing letters to her one friend, Mrs Orme.

This is not the only essays that tries to account for this depth in Trollope – for this is part of what makes rereading his books worth while. There’s a another point of view I more inclined to – it’s more autobiographical or personal to Trollope. Many of Trollope’s central figures do vacillate, are paralysed and never make up their minds, go off a deep end or allow others to make up their minds for them. Once Mr Harding sticks to his guns, or decision, it’s curious how the other characters’ power over him seems to fade. Alas that’s not true for Lily or Mary Lady Mason. Women are not as respected; people think they are obliged to give themselves over (to children for example)

Why does he do this continually, have his most sympathetic characters perform an escape maneuver, sometimes while winning, act out a reluctant withdrawal? I see in the process self-flagellation on Trollope’s part. The person, Mr Harding, Lily, Mary Lady Mason, Phineas, is under “joint attack.” Everyone around the characters agrees to insist our hero or heroine act out what the world admires and wants (marry the lord not the tailor in Lady Anna), no matter what the personal cost or gyrations this demands. They nag the person, and we are treated to these scenes as when Johnny comes to ask Lily to marry him. She can’t get rid of him.

Trollope is persuading himself he is doing the right thing to compromise in life, stay with his wife no matter if restless, write novels that sell and release himself through irony; through Mr Harding, Phineas, Mary Lady Mason he lives out vicariously the act of integrity and the escape. He’s Miss Viner, Patience Woolsworthy. One of his greatest fictions is “The Spotted Dog” — he said it was his finest story. It’s a later short story; and online. The “spotted dog” is the name of a an inn where a gifted man has sabotaged his life; he has married the wrong woman and become a drunkard. Now that he must find some employments, presents himself openly as a shameful creature no one in their right mind would interview, much less hire to deal with fragile paper indexes and scholarship. Julius Mackenzie unable to cope ends up drunk rolling in the streets, his talents utterly thrown away. We see him struggle hard to emerge and fail. Trollope is teaching himself; there but for compromise go I.

His characters who are punished often make their strongest arguments on the side of utter integrity, of refusal, they get to walk away and display courage doing it. It’s the others’ joint attacks which speak the world’s cant wisdom, prudence and the like. Mr Harding is not supposed to be a saint, but has the courage to walk away. It’s a great release for most – not so much in the case of Lily Dale because the crux issue is a woman’s sexuality, her sexual awakening (the issue in Sense and Sensibility, one of the novel’s probable “sources”) and Trollope is not deeply empathetic with her refusal to compromise the way he is with Mr Harding, Mary Lady Mason, Phineas.

And so the sessions ended.


Norwegian Wood

Friends and readers,

I braved or endured a 7 hour trip (counting to and fro from my house in Alexandria, Va, on July 16th, to the Ripley Center of the Smithsonian buildings on the National Mall) to enjoy the (as I discovered) privilege of listen to Saul Lilienstein for some 6 hours and 45 minutes. A tough travel experience (it was one of these supremely super-hot days in DC with humidity making the experience of difficulty breathing) amid crowds not decently serviced (not the fault of the Metro staff who actually drive and are on the stations of the Metro). See what goes unreported: mass prayer meeting in DC July 16th. But all this seemed no trouble at all in comparison to what this unusual man was able to say, convey, teach a small group of people willing to sit and learn.

He talked of the original and continuing British sources of Beatles’s music, its then immersion in American white and black music), accompanied by videos and sound tracks that moved me deeply for themselves and taught me generally how the Beatles came to have power over vast general audience, not only of young people.


Lilienstein’s ostensible plot-design was not chronological and throughout he used tapes, videos, UTubes made since the 1990s technological revolution to exemplify themes. But there was an ever-inching forward in time across a life-story in time, which seems to be inevitable when one tries to account for works of signally high genius.

For the first half of the day, morning before lunch (at 12:30) he covered the sources of the Beatles’ deep early appeal, what was original and yet so utterly British and traditional in their music, and how they began to break away musically and thematically.

It’s easiest to tell something of their joint career. Music comes from 1957/68 when Lennon and MacCartney first met and started to play. They brought into their pair, Harrison at age 14 late in 1958. They played everywhere in Liverpool and back and forth in Hamburg. They had trouble finding a drummer once they wanted someone for a commercial style recording, and it was 1962 when Ringo Starr joined them

Photo from early phase: Ringo Starr, John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul MacCartney

For the first hour he showed us how the earliest Beatles music in Liverpool and Hamburg was rooted in Irish, Scottish and music hall English aesthetic traditions and ethical-class outlooks. This hour-long part of Lilienstein's talk was the least accompanied by vocal tapes, and visual videos and at the same time the most startling. The cheerful music of acceptance of one's lot in the mainstream working class culture of later 19th and early 20th century entertainment is conveyed, but also how one belonged to this milieu captured once for all by Richard Hoggart in his famous The Uses of Literacy. Lilienstein would play a rendition of familiar early Beatles hits (before they came to the US), then an Irish/Scottish ballad or musical hall song. Lilienstein pointed out that “It was 20 years ago today/Sergeant Pepper taught the bland to play”constitutes an innovative reprieve of the deeply male upper class suave dominated music of the the later half of the 20th and into the 21st century by working class, soft shoe (American black) and effeminate plangent elements.

Lilienstein put a large image of a poster of a circus coming to a local music hall pre-WW1 and showed us how lines of the song “For the benefit of Mr Kite” are all taken from this poster. “The Long winding road” is another startlingly innovative harking back. The tune of “It was 20 years ago today” is from an earlier time utterly re-orchestrated. If we would listen to the lyrics of their songs, these tell us these truths: “I read in the news today, oh boy ..” If you begin to trace these lines, you find a genuine radical critique of history. One song about 40,000 holes takes us back to WW1 and horizontally to the number of seats in the Royal Albert Music Hall. Lilienstein played an early parody by Paul of this kind of music in a song my notes tell me ran “She was just a working class girl from the north.” I cannot over-estimate how startling and unknown to me all this was.

The second phase (another hour) was to trace the American roots of their songs. Americans had no trouble connecting with the Beatles as their songs imitated, were re-creations in a urban idiom of famous songs by Buddy Holly and his Crickets (whence the name Beatles), Little Richard, Chuck Berry. He would play an originally deeply American black song popular on black stations in the 1950s, then a semi-white rendition for a more widely-popular rendition on mainstream white radio, and then the Beatles, re-injecting black American words and rhythms. “Peggy Sue” became “P.S. I love You”. Mo-Town Smoky Robinson songs were re-injected into Beatles “This boy wants you back again.” They loved Chuck Berry, and combined his song with Blue Grass from white country music, giving it an urban edge either by imagery or quick pace. He played for us the Beatles’ rendition of “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Mr Postman.”

They had an ear to pick up the most remarkable of American songs: Barnett’s “Give me Money, that’s what I want,” adding to that their own personal intensities (Lennon screamed at a wild moment the lines about “give me money”), using darker chords. Wilbur Harrison trying to make some money re-made his “Kansas city,” rubbing out all black and Detroit references; the Beatles put these back in with lines about a “black beat” which referred to their imitation of music coming out of Detroit and Negro Spirituals. Lilienstein ended this section of his talk with “A Ticket to Ride” and “Day Tripper.”

Lilienstein’s talk was not just a matter of showing likeness and repetition of lyrics and tunes. He also showed transformation of blues structure quite early on in their music. 12 bars, each subdivided into 4, from C major into subdominant F and back to major C. They broke this up, turning to minor keys, bringing in sudden other unexpected chords (Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” became “You’re gonna lose that girl”). They never tried to hide what they were doing so you can use names and titles and lines to discover affinities and transformations. An early name for Lennon, MacCartney and Harrison was “Johnny and the Moondogs,” a term which has reference to performers of blues in the US. He discussed “She’s a woman” and “Help!” — for the first time I noticed the plangent nature of the words

Then a much shorter phase was “In a rebellious generation.” While towards the end Lilienstein played some of the music the Beatles recorded specifically against the Vietnam War, his subject was their rebellion against the musical forms they had been tinkering with, imitating, urbanizing. They began genuinely to expand what was meant by the term “rock’n’roll”. Norwegian Wood (which my daughter, Izzy, recorded a version of) was among these; also “Tomorrow never Knows” where they begin to bring in the drug culture through a psychedelic sound.

They imitate the sounds of technological machines, include lots of extraneous sounds, the point was to be haphazard. The song about the LSD experience was called Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds in order not to be too much in your face.

At this point Paul MacCartney began to pull back, and we see him returning to Western modes, and in Victorian stories like “She’s leaving home,” about grief and loss with the music leaving traditional cadences in a way expressive of descending sorrow. “All you need is love” is memorable because it’s rhythms are off-kilter. By contrast, experiment for John Lennon meant embodying his troubled spirit, his angst in quick moving rhythms, modern songs whose lyrics showed a deep critique of the society they were living in as in “Revolution.”

Asked whether “Revolution” was an anti-war song, Lennon replied all their songs are anti-war.

In the first half, the long morning, Lilienstein brought in how their career as a group developed, telling of their first successes with a British audience, the coming to the US, the first TV appearances and concerts (Shea Stadium). The second half, he moved into showing us the inward musicians: the composition process as recorded on pirated tapes of sessions where we see them move from a first version of a song (mostly brought in either by Paul or John, sometimes as a lyric and sometimes as a song without words), and how they hammered at these to develop a full sound with all four playing, altered the lyrics and often the very character or mood they began with. This reminded me of how Jane Austen’s few ms’s show she often began with something very coarse and conventional (in her case burlesque) and gradually revising, turned the passage to something with an almost diametrically opposed mood and character, though some core in the original idea is brought out memorably.

It’s not true that they didn’t know musical notation; MacCartney and Lennon both studied music in college. Lilienstein showed them bringing in a line from Hal Arlen’s “Somewhere over the rainbow” in one of their songs, and how they began to softly linger at a song’s end. George Martin had taught them much: how to use a recording studio; he brought in discipline and “cleaned” up songs, but Lilienstein maintained that someone else could have contributed what Martin did, and by the end (1966-69) he was just standing there recording expertly.

In this hour and one half about process we listened to at least 3-4 versions of each song. A first and last, and two intermediary. “Get Back” started out (possibly dismayingly) as an anti-immigrant song with Pakistani people told to “get back to where they once belonged: we heard them free-wheeling with chords sounds, and that Jo-Jo was originally aimed at “Yoko Ono” whom John had begun to bring to recording sessions

At the same time, Lilienstein began to show us the distinct differences in the type of music each of the two major creators, Lennon and MacCartney did, and the growing conflicts and clashes of outlook, how they wanted the group to develop, attitudes towards life (Paul was the more upbeat person, adjusted to realities, imagining stories of families, while John projected anger and despair, and self-doubt). They were fighting over who would dominant, over “ownership” of themselves and the group. In the Abbey Road album we have a group breaking apart: they can make joyful music while they are at one another’s throats. Songs combine the wild despair with the story element as in “She came through the bathroom window.”

Some of their best work came out of this period of raucous interaction. Lennon had become increasingly dependent on drugs; at least he used them to the point he’d come in stoned; he protested against the bowing to commercial demands; MacCartney was more controlled and began to write astonishingly beautiful ballads: “Yesterday,” “All the Lonely People,” “Eleanor Rigby.” “You think she needs you” could be by Brahms. We listened to the evolution of “Let it Be” (one of my favorites) which began with the essential familiar lines but it took a long while for the three who had not made the lyric to accept it, and develop it into a kind of hymn. In their earlier phases.

Lilienstein said single were often the two opposing points of view: one one you had Paul’s “Penny Lane” on the one side (pictorial, surreal reality, memories of happiness as a child, nostalgia for the past, hopeful)

On the other John’s “Strawberry Fields” where he doesn’t want to get out of bed, where life is hopeless and to be avoided, nothing to get “hung about,” easy to live with eyes closed, “It doesn’t matter much to me,”as in his song “Nowhere:”

Sometimes an album would end with a song by Lennon and characteristic of his depression, to be contradicted by the first song on the other side by MacCartney. Lennon’s “I am The walrus” (see below) makes no literal sense, an ode to personal doubt and lack of identity, and is followed by MacCarthney’s “Yes no stop go goodbye hello,” making fun of Lennon as posturing. They were not only increasingly disenchanted with one another, but their careers. George Harrison had up until this point followed these two as a guitarist; as they withdrew he began to fill the gap with a few remarkably great songs (“My guitar gently weeps”). He began with ABA structures, but soon we hear unusual things brought in: Spanish or flamingo music (“I me mine”). He wrote much less than these two, but a couple are among the best songs of the 20th century, like “Something:”


I am aware I may not have conveyed the excitement, and cannot begin to get down the passing remarks Lilienstein made about the music as we went along. Remarkably the four went from “I wanna hold your hand” and “Love love me do” to “Hey, Jude” and “Here comes the sun” in 7 short years. It’s about what happened during these 7 years in the music that Lilienstein accounted for, went into deeply. He has all sorts of tapes, among the more moving was a beautiful tape of “Love is all you need” as surreal; the song not one of those I’ve favored as until now all the renditions I’ve heard were so sentimentalized.

As literary and art so musical creation comes of the author’s lives — how could it be otherwise? Lilienstein told of how individual songs were events in these four people’s lives — he did discuss Ringo Starr less, saying Starr said of himself, he had been so lucky to come along for the ride because he was a very good drummer and worked well with the other three. He told mainly of Lennon and MacCartney’s personalities.

Here Lilienstein seemed to me to be too critical of Lennon’s outlook as if it were wrong but as he talked I realized for the first time that Lennon abused his first wife and other women. Lilienstein played a song, rarely heard, by Lennon about his male jealousy where he says remorselessly he’d rather murder the woman he is with than see her with another man, and he was (I had not known this) violent, ruthless towards people, and domineering over women until he met Yoko Ono. (This is not necessarily a tribute to her moral nature;she was part of the reason for the break-up of the quartet.) I saw Lilienstein meant to register that Lennon never fulfilled his gifts; he was still finding himself when he was gunned down (as so many are in the US). I was after all glad of the condemnation however brief.

He then showed Lennon’s work was the more continually interesting and troubling. His description of “I am The Walrus” as filled with nonsense phrases, unreal words, and just sounds thrown in that Lennon heard as he was composing made the song into a kind of small Finnegan’s Wake:

Almost inevitably then MacCartney came in for the highest praise: he sustained himself, lived longer, as far as we know lived more ethically with regard to other people, kept writing and singing, and a few of his songs are among many people never tire of hearing: Lilienstein seemed to feel Hey Jude was a favorite for re-hearing for most people.

Lilienstein did not go into this but implicit in his talk was the idea the Beatles utterly transformed what rock-n-roll was thought to be, its potentials, its possibilities. At the time there were other highly original groups — who I’d say came out of the ferment of new ideas, radical, and liberating of the 60s: folk (Peter, Paul and Mary), more soft versions of rock-n-roll (Simon and Garfunckel), new kinds of country (Willie Nelson and the groups pf Austin, Texas), music coming from Nashville. So like Shakespeare in the Elizabethan theater, they came out of and were part of a movement, but they were a leading force. Their records sold tremendously, they topped all charts continually. Popular music has not been the same since. The only successful parody I know is from Love Actually: Bill Nighy’s inimitable, irreverent, mock-on-the-sexism, “Christmas is All Around Us” (it’s telling the original YouTube was pulled and there is now a much tamer one, minus the electrifyingly stupifyingly-sexualized girls and salacious gestures of Nighy).

Left out by Lilienstein except at split second moments, was the band’s sexism. They’d never have a woman singing with them one of them said. It’s a strongly masculinist point of view; the stories of young girls fleeing parents are done from the parental point of view. What the girl might have been feeling in her escape beyond a desire to “have fun,” and how she would feel years later when she was thoroughly punished by her society there are no songs about. As I listen to these I feel such sorrow over what I was as a teenager at age 16. My parents had no idea how to help me, nor did I how to help myself.


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Having thus become a passive instrument, the fool will be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Friends and readers,

While Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45) has occupied a paradoxically at once hagiographic and controversial position in studies of Hitler’s Third Reich, which suggests an audience familiar with his name, life and writing; he is not well-known to people outside Germany, the religiously inclined, pacifists, and those who’ve studied the elite German milieus who supported Hitler as a bulwark against socialism. The reasons for the peculiarity of the way he’s been heroicized and marginalized come from the unwillingness of people to confront painful realities of the past or overturn the continuing male hegemonic structuring of much human experience and stigmatizing of people who don’t conform to simplistic sexual norms. Bonhoeffer’s is one of the (when we are telling truths) ambivalent stories of those who resisted Nazism.

His life history has been kept muted and/or distorted to erase his homosexuality (an important source for aspects of his thought), especially his relationship with Eberhardt Bethge, who, as the man Bonhoeffer was ineradically in love with, built books intended to mount a difficult barrier to get past. The widely-popular (a surprise best seller of 1953) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers from Prison, edited by Bethge from unpublished manuscripts, fits squarely into the kind of first edition Donald Reiman (The Study of Modern Manuscripts: Private, Confidential, and Public) describes as a “family book” where the editor acts as an advocate of the writer’s family’s view of this writer, the family itself (Deirdre LeFaye’s edition of Jane Austen’s letters is such a book), in Bethge’s case also to obscure his actual relationship with Bonhoeffer and his own ambitious political and personal choices during Hitler’s regime.

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A photograph of Bethge and Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer has not been forgotten because his extensive original writing (very ethical in bent), the rich, powerful elite group he belonged to (which survived the Hitler era), the positions he achieved in the powerful church structures, and his imprisonment and murder for conspiring against Hitler. He has been useful as a martyr, as a conservative religious hero, an ethical thinker, and a corpus of far from disinterested books and essays continue to be written about him.

Tubingen University Library (where Bonhoeffer studied as a young man)

Diane Reynolds has studied this secondary material, and the extensive primary documents; she interviewed people who knew those who knew Bonhoeffer, visited the places he lived in, and has produced a candid, lucidly written biographical account of the man’s life and his behavior, drawing especially on his letters (the life-blood of biography). She has been preceded by Charles Marsh’s flamboyant biography, which hers is an improvement on because of her scrupulous care not to claim anything for which there is no consistent substantial evidence. Some LGBTQ people may object to her reluctance to concede the probable where the nature of the case cannot provide evidence, such as Bonhoeffer’s sexual activity:  there is evidence for more than one close male relationship and several revealing portraits of male supporters and friends, e.g., Franz Hildebrandt with whom he lived for a time. True acceptance, respect and fulfillment, not to omit safety, for LGBTQ people in society requires adult understanding and acceptance of their active sexual lives, but nothing else is elided over, and she is critical of her subject where criticism is called for. We see a root cause for his reluctant betrayal of his sister and her Jewish husband, and on the other at the same time as he remained loyal to an upper class luxurious community who had supported Hitler: he gave up while in the US an opportunity to escape Germany, the offer of a good position because he couldn’t bear to live apart from Bethge (241-45) or lose his sense of some meaning through belonging with numinous privileged people who shaped important social structures and beliefs in Germany.

Women readers will see how he was willing to support as his patroness the domineering reactionary Ruth von Kleist-Retzlow, who was ceaselessly coercive over her daughters’s lives and engineered the pretense of an affair with her granddaughter, Maria von Wedermeyer. Maria was herself unable to throw off the Nazi training in submissiveness and self-sacrifice until years later. We learn of Bertha Schultz, a brilliant scholar who could only get work as his housekeeper and personal assistant, translated for free for him, and then is dismissed (79-81). He had a friendship with Elizabeth Van Thadden who opened the genuinely anti-Nazi progressive school for girls (Maria attended), had her school taken from her, re-Nazified, and was later imprisoned and beheaded (228-29, 22, 396). He was himself deeply attachment to a number of female relatives: his grandmother, his mother, a life-long close congenial relationship with his sister, Sabine: they go on a walking tour together which may reminded readers of English poetry of William and Dorothy Wordsworth.

This is an excellent biography of a man placed in the context of his time and directed to our world today.

Family summer vacation house in Freidrichsbrunn

Reynolds’s book’s historical significance is its irrefutability and portrait of a fallible and quietly courageous highly intelligent man who was pro-active in creating moral schools (for men), who displayed far more integrity than most, and expanded his horizons: a telling time was his sojourn in New York city where he attended a black Abyssian church and experienced a religious rejuvenation and saw “a view [of life] from the bottom looking up” (66). Just about all he did was in the face of discomfort in others (he was not a manly boy). Sometimes it’s mild (from his family) pressure; he had excellent connections and was chosen for high positions, but in these he encountered outright hostility from his own church and the Nazi state it complied with. And at the last imprisonment, interrogation, and towards the end (when his part in a failed plot to kill Hitler was discovered) vicious abuse leading up to his execution.

A clavichord Bonhoeffer and Bethge played on together

A summary with paraphrased and quoted vignettes: Her book is a narrative of Bonhoeffer’s life.

Part One situates the reader in the Bonhoeffer family background, telling of events and people who influenced Bonhoeffer’s grandparents, parents, moves through Bonhoeffer’s siblings and their childhood during World War One and its aftermath. . A characteristic chapter is called “Life Amid the Ruins:” Reynolds shows the family continuing its privileged life against the backdrop of the growing power of the Nazis, all around them desperation, Berlin crumbling, half starved Berliners, and soldiers posted everywhere in the streets, children with rickets. Hitler ominously blaming Jews, and father and uncle saying that the best types of people were killed off, glimpsing the possibility of a sociopath coming to power. But everything they read, the music they played has nothing to do with what’s happening outside; they lived within an idyllic strain in the European culture, divorced from politics. Bonhoeffer refuses to pursue a career in music (the family’s preference), and moves to theological studies. His sister and friends all marry while he evades a proposed bride for him, a third cousin, Elizabeth Zinn. Reynolds makes an astute use of Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies, where he constructs the image of maleness and femaleness the Nazis projected, one troublingly close to what may be seen today in popular US miliarist movies today. Against this all his life Bonhoeffer had to contend.

Part Two (“Seeking Ground”) while the Nazis begin to seize control (burn books publicly), become violent against Jews (he writes, “literally no one in Germany … can grasp it … major turning point in history:” 7 million unemployed 15 to 20 hungry), he travels (Barcelona, Manhattan, Forest Hills even, Cuba) seeking some meaning, work, relationships, to ground his existence on: he writes a second dissertation, is ordained. Vignettes from this section: “Dietrich [was] vehemently opposed compromise by his church,” sermonized to this effect, but did not go to his sister’s husband’s father’s funeral … here Bonhoeffer writes that Jews are “a problem; they needed to convert;” yet he “writes against persecution of Jews, one must help victims.” May 10, 1933 book burning night. Max Reinhardt fled to LA; Bonhoeffer’s “brother-in-law Rudiger Schleicher, lawyer, joins party, says keeping job helps undermine the state. Nazis imposed level of regimentation that surprised and made fear grow; 50 concentration camps by 1933 … Hans von Dohnanyi, a friend and relative by marriage [later executed] liked by Hitler so original Jewishness forgiven. German Lutheran church yields to become vitriolically anti-semitic; Catholic Youth Leagues are outlawed, Nazi or nothing. In 1933 Bonhoeffer is turned down for pastorate and in October goes to London, shaken to discover himself in radical opposition to all his friends.

Part Three is called the “Incomparable Year” (1933) and Part Four “Reconfigurations” (taking the reader up to 1938 and Bonhoeffer’s first arrest). In ’33 he met and his relationships with Bethge and Ruth von Kleist-Retzlow flowered. While the Nazis are toting machine guns and beginning their imperial conquests, he opens Finkenwalde, a “confessing” school offering an idyllic community for (male) students by the North Sea. While fighter planes are taking off, he teaches pacificism and joins the world of country landed estates. Until the concentration camps begin to open, he, his friends, associates, his sister seem to think somehow they will be insulated, and carry on their lives. Vignettes: these elite families moves to small houses in Charlottenburg (Marienbad), as good for conspiracy; musical evenings are a cover for politics, people from all walks of life, a refuge too. Karl, his brother, stays on with Nazis as psychiatrist saying he is moderating worst aspects. Bonhoeffer’s grandmother is horrified to see a cousin emigrating – having to take his chances like everyone else in this world. Ruth comes across with money for seminary in Sweden (which Bonhoeffer described as “wonderful years”). Dietrich’s prison writing includes letters to his grandmother – of how he felt for defenseless epileptics. By 1935 his sister Sabine (married to a Jew) begins to understand the terror of Nazism (they come to her door for information), but her brother “would be alive now than 30 years ago.” Bonhoeffer shows a problematic disposition to spend his sister’s money on holidays for himself.

Finkelwalde by the sea: now a Bonhoeffer memorial

Parts Five through Seven (“Cornered”) bring us to the heart of the book (1937/8-43): Reynolds weaves the unfolding of the Nazi barbaric world inside Germany with the lives, work and reaction of Bonhoeffer and many of his friends and associates. The great value of this part of the book are these individual stories and the depiction of intimate life of the semi-protected elite, what emerged in public social life in Nazi Germany at the time, and the punitive patriotic culture of Nazism easily sliding into cruelty to the weak, vulnerable, despised, anyone who dissented. Bonhoeffer seems to have joined the “underground” resistance about 1938; some of his associates compromise, some try to ignore what was happening all around them; others looked simply to survival (insofar as one could as food shortages and bombing had begun). Vignettes: November 1937 27 Finkenwalde seminarians imprisoned; 1938 Dietrich arrested, interrogated, banned from Berlin. He has underground collective pastorates, apprentices in a remote village (with Bethge there, later doing “quite well”) … Dietrich living a nomadic life working on ms’s. Neimoller released and then swept up, disappears; Confessing church fools take an oath of allegiance that Hitler treats with [the] contempt [it deserved].

A revealing element about Bonhoeffer is he continues to write optimistically, perhaps conceiving himself as supporting the spirits of others; a close friend said it was pride that kept him from revealing his anguish, but the letters have a jarring disconnect. His theological writings “encode” (that’s the word Reynolds uses) justifications for homosexual love; his bitterness against Bethge; his misery at the harsh isolated conditions of the prison (he does use the word “horrible” once). But the letters keep his hidden life in a closet.

Reynolds shows how average Germans appear to have felt about the war at this time: we have to remember Germans supported the war, and Bonhoeffer’s activity would have been seen as that of a traitor: So more vignettes: June 17, 1940 France caves. German newsreels exulted. Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy quoted. Fair haired young men: “what does it matter if we destroy the world? When it is ours, we’ll build it up again” … Germans are ecstatic at victory over France; foresee short war; Germans torpedo 600 prisoners headed for Canada; meanwhile Bonhoeffer’s sister, Sabine, now in Oxford moves with her husband to one room with 14 trunks. Bethge’s behavior reminds me of the enigmatic amoral characters in LeCarre’s novels: he decides to marry a Bonhoeffer niece, Renate, many years younger than he since he finds himself in “untenable” position. The long sections on the reality of Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Maria are important to read: we see her mother tried to protect her, regards Ruth’s tactics as a nuisance; for Bonhoeffer Maria is cover and unreal wish fulfillment dreams (of what neither he or she wanted). After Stalingrad, Bethge sends Bonhoeffer a picture of Napoleon; a letter remembering a year ago they were together when they shared a hotel room. Reynolds brings in the male couple in another surprising best seller of the era: Santayana’s The last Puritan.

Parts Eight (“Locked in”) through Ten (“Saints”) take us through Bonhoeffer’s years of imprisonment, his murder and the first build-up of hagiography. This was for me the most moving part of the biography. The conditions in which Bonhoeffer lived and eventually (he managed to make friends, his prestige and connections and his family’s money brought him food) even wrote were utterly wretched and dangerous. Reynolds maintains her cool stance towards the letters, pointing out repeatedly the undercurrents of bitterness (towards Bethge), egoism (in his approach to Maria), leaving the reader to feel uncomfortable, askance, compassion or astonishment. Just one vignette from many: Hitler carried a whip, beat his dogs and took disproportionate revenge on those within his reach after the bomb (detonated under a table) failed to kill him. Newspapers presented this as a coup of officers power-hungry … he writes suffering a way to freedom. He looked ill on his daily walk. There seems to have been opportunities for him to escape, but he withdrew with the excuse he didn’t want to endanger others: throughout his life he had what (I’d call) bad dreams of having a devout death which he yearned for, and one explanation for his persistent refusal to escape is a probably half-conscious death-wish.

One can fill out this section with some of the material Bethge published in 1953 (now available in an expanded edition): the book as constructed by Bethge presents a striking contrast to Primo Levi’s If this be Man and The Truce. Readers are not shown which letters were meant to be passed around by his relatives, which private (very few): Bonhoeffer persists in hoping, presenting himself as looking forward to release (his mother was fooled for a long time), comfortable. But there are striking breaks: for example, the narrative of Lance Corporal Berg, where suddenly Bonhoeffer reveals a gift for narrative, powerful drama: we first witness an interrogation which shows us how one need not resort openly to violence, torture, emotional bullying to subdue a prisoner. He shows how prison itself is an excruciating experience because those running it are implicitly bullying all prisoners all the time. A man with his face blown away shows up, and everyone is horrified by the ugliness of the man and they are mostly very kind to him, they feel sorry for him, they respect him for having allowed this to happen to him, but when for a moment he loses it and began to cry and complain, immediately they are hostile. Another man they deride, berate, kick, just shit on because he ‘deserted” — would not obey orders. It includes poems (e.g, Night Voices in Tegel) about his experience of the night in these prisons.

Reynolds shows how Marie distanced herself from the Bonhoeffer society, and tried to tell some truths, but her silence (as well as his sister Sabine’s) implied consent to Bethge and other interested witnesses’ stories. Her upper class strong sense of herself and understanding of how to get along in higher echelons served her well, and she somewhat recovered, even married, became a highly successful businesswomen.

Maria von Wedermeyer

If I have some criticism, it’s that I missed a sense of deep inwardness, which might have come from more analysis and quotation of Bonhoeffer’s ethical and religious treatises. Take the “Prologue: A Reckoning made at New Year 1943, also called “After Ten Years.”

He opens up with a (Samuel) Johnsonian meditation about time. “Time is the most valuable thing that we have, because it is the most irrevocable.” He writes of people “with no ground under their feet.” Here he recognizes that obedience to others to erase the self comes from cowardice and Germans have been deluded to think they kept their liberty by service to the community. An extraordinary passage about folly: folly is far more dangerous than anger; it’s worse than evil. Again folly there is no defense. No matter what you see the fool carries on. (This reminds me of Trump supporters.) The fool is self-satisfied, it’s easy for him to become aggressive, he’s harder to cope with than a scoundrel. Folly is capable of any evil. He reminded me here of Erasmus’s profound ironic (sardonic) In Praise of Folly. The worst blaspheme is contempt for others. (Again I thought of Trump, his insistent derision of others.) Bonhoeffer insists we must regard others not in terms of what they can do or do do but in the light of what they suffer. That in social life there are laws that cannot be eradicated and are powerful than anything that may claim to dominate them. How reprehensible to sow mistrust, how dangerous, when we should strengthen confidence in the self and others. (I thought of training programs in the US gov’t today where employers are taught to suspect and turn others in.) I liked his definition of quality. To have an experience of nobility, of quality you have to renounce all place-hunting, break with the cult of stars, must look to pleasure in private life as well as have courage to enter public life. Most people only learn wisdom (at all?) from personal experience. This explain insensibility to suffering. Death has become what people live with daily. We must not romanticize it; we do still know too much about the good things in life and that helps. But prolonged insecurity, and destructiveness of prolonged anxiety dissolves attachment to life. Which leads to him asking if people individually or as a group are of any use? He insists an experience of incomparable value is to experience life from below, and if you can’t at least try to see and empathize with those from below: history from below, the outcasts, suspects, maltreated, powerless, oppressed, reviled.

I want to emphasize that Diane Reynolds’s book is an enjoyable book to read. She recreates places, times, idyllic and nightmare experience. The reader who is familiar with 19th century novels will find parallels between characters in Tolstoy and this German milieu (Ruth as kind of Prussian cross between Countess Rostov and Anna Mikhailovna). It belongs to our conversations today about how what happened in Germany between the 1920s and well after the end of WW2 parallels the increase we see today of violence, racial, ethnic, and religious hatreds and intolerance and the complicity of our present (ever self-regarding, enrichening, luxurious) establishment as found in books like Volker Ulrich’s Hitler’s Ascent, 1889-1939. Reading it ought to worry readers right now.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in LeCarre’s A Most Wanted Man: about extraordinary rendition in the context of an exaggerated “war on terror” which has led to stark erosions of civil and social liberty — I can see Hoffman playing Bonhoeffer