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Friends,

Carrying on the topic of Internet experiences, specifically worlds of words and digital images, I report on a talk I heard at the Library of Congress at a meeting of the Washington Area Print Group (members of Sharp, a book history society), taken from a coming book by James Farman, “Waiting for the Word: How Message Delays Have Shaped Love, History, Technology and Everything We Know.” Farman’s previous books include the The Mobile Story and he is an Associate Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Prof Farman studies the history of message exchange in (or across) time. Usually I report on talks like these on my Sylvia blog (see Harlequin Romance in Turkey), but I thought this topic had such general and immediate significance for everyone who writes on the Internet, who communicates a lot in cyberspace today. It’s really an aspect of a yet broader topic, the anthropology of social media (“why we post”) be it through digital or post office or smoke signal means.

Prof Farman began by suggesting if the time of anticipation is significant, this will transform the experience of the message once it is delivered. Waiting is the interpretive moment made up of fear, anxiety, longing, hoping, boredom. From the earliest of historical records we find people have been trying to gather knowledge of one another from a distance. Also to authenticate the message came from whom it declares it is from. Very early modern Europe sees the first development of the seal. The first and on-going continuing success or letters arriving at their destination has come through the institution of a post office. The first reliable service in Britain begins in the later 18th century; the first non-corrupt (no bribes, no opening letters for most people) begins in the middle of the 19th. That late. Literary Victorians are famous for the volumes of letters they wrote and preserved (or burnt). The first rapid communication is the pneumatic system of cylinders underground in the US. The telegram, the telegraphic (these are not intimate exchanges), and lastly the telephone (this is or can be) reigned supreme for speed until the arrival of gmail.

A good deal of Prof Farman’s talk was about his adventures doing extensive research in British archives of all kinds to find out how the early modern world’s powerful people sent messages down to the ordinary person on the Internet today. He was allowed to research into the High Court Admiralty in London, a treasure trove of thousands of messages never sent. Thwarted communications. How did you authenticate the message as really coming from you? From well before pre-early modern monarch, Henry VII, seals were used. How do you mark something with your identity? What does a face show except you are still alive, you exist. A king might send a letter and expect it will get there but there is no other sure-proof way except a faithful paid messenger. The changing of the post office to regard letters as private sacrosanct communications between particular people took 250 years. Censorship and reading of the mails only very gradually ceased. In the later 18th century, members of Parliament had a seal to frank a letter with, showing their considerable know-how — and power over others. What people want is certainty, speed, privacy. They also want a response and to be able to respond and to know they are heard.

Authentication is repeatedly the basic concern: passwords were invented on the net to authenticate who you are. Somehow seals have taken precedent over signatures, and Farman said he had done a lot of research into different seals. In early modern times a letter could have several seals attached to it, showing through whose hands it had gone. He shows us pictures of these. In later times a person who had power could frank a letter. Now all of us can buy a stamp. We begin in history where only one numinous person has a seal; nowadays in Japan most people carry seals to authenticate themselves.

Farman suggested human instinctive reality has not been totally able to accept bodily absence. Face-to-face is what’s wanted by most people still. Skype won’t do either — unless you knew the person before in the flesh, in physical actuality. People seem to have a need to be with another person; they believe they know you only after they’ve seen you. It’s true a lot of information is left out from letters and email communications, from photos (which are set up), but there is something else going on here. Farman sees this demand as coming out of that need to authenticate. Uncertainties of geography, rank, social network leaves the known and unknowable existence unauthenticated. People continue to create modes of linking our bodies to messages too — through photographs, emoticons. People try to personalize their messages. But the power of the document, of the extant document over time, in court, as a record, can become more or seem more important or make human viscerally physical contact seem irrelevant (marginalize it, especially if you are a good writer or maker of videos) so we live with and thrive upon texting and emailing.


A cat playing with an ipad

Yet there is nothing like a human hug. Or the cat on your lap.

It was at this point he moved on to waiting time — the person producing the response has the time to choose when he or she will respond — that his talk fascinated his audience most. When it’s a case of a letter or card sent through the post office, I expect if I’m lucky, I may have an answer or reciprocal card in a month. On the Internet, that week, before 6 days are gone. Electronic cards invite the receiver to respond immediately. A good deal of the talk in the audience afterwards and questions were about power relationships through withholding response. One’s relationship with someone is changed, when one is made to wait. Time is not distributed evenly; more powerful people more respected people are given more time. Who gets to define temporality (how much time a person has) is the more powerful person most of the time. Sometimes someone can prefer to wait in the hope of a better response or prefers not to know. There is software which tells someone whether the person receiving your message has read it so the person cannot pretend not to have gotten the message.


Emily Trevelyan reading a letter to which she will respond (He Knew He Was Right, scripted Andrew Davies)

As the man spoke and people asked questions, I found myself thinking about Anthony Trollope’s depiction of letters in his novels, his building up of epistolarity. As a postman or once postman he is preternaturally aware of how long it takes for a letter to get to someone, its path, how power can lead a person to get his or her letters quicker (a servant can carry it to the city) or leave someone suffering for a response (often a woman) in days of anxious misery. Trollope makes comedy out of this; irony over when a letter arrives. He may be unique in how often this kind of thing plays out in a story. He also uses forgery and shows us characters insincerely performing through their letters. The character who accepts what is written at face-value is at risk.

We know (or we ought to) everything we write here is under surveillance. In the Victorian and more recent periods if you are writing something seditious and it is found out and spreads and influences others it can cause you to be arrested. If a prospective or present employer/institutional affiliation finds out you have been writing what he or she does not approve of, you can lose a job or position or prospect of one. Prof Farman had researched into letters sent during wars, systems of communication among the powerful, in newspapers. Communications can decide whether a battle is fought, whether a war is carried on. Spies are all about discovering communications meant to be secret. Prof Farman suggested one could call this part of the study media archeaology.


Alec Guiness as George Smiley (master spy)

Ellen

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Gentle reader,

I am sure you are aware there is such a thing as an Internet Style. If you know this, I am even surer you have gone beyond the kind of academic or plain-talking, writing style I fancy I practice here (rather than the mandarin demanded by peer-edited journals) and your meditative, autobiographical and magazine blogger (not to omit fan fictioners). I imagine many readers revel in (get a great kick out of) or endure (as need dictates) that “in-group of savvy, sardonic media consumers” known as recap and commentary content-providers. Over the last couple of evenings, I’ve come across essays in traditional publications (from MLA publications to the venerable TLS and brilliant coterie left-leaning LRB) seeking to imitate and and define the style and outlook of today’s popular Internet Writing.

Tom Rachman’s “Like. Whatever” is the most fun (TLS, January 19, 2018). Reviewing Emmy J. Favella’s A World without Whom: The essential guide to language in the BuzzFeed age, and Harold Evans’s Do I make Myself Clear: Why writing well matters, Rachman is. Just. Hilarious. Not behind a pay wall. Embracing this new way of writing does not mean writing incorrectly or sloppily; the point is to be entertaining and avoid (Heaven Forbid) the pedantic. First abolish Whom. No semi-colons allowed. Talk your words, and stay cool, unfazed. Figure out how to write sarcastically without offending the reader. When to use the asterick. When “in” abbreviations (jk, Imfao). Rachman quotes Favilla deliciously: she declares the emoji “the most evolved form of punctuation we have at our disposal.”

I mean, what a time to be alive, seriously.

Evans is your gentleman from the Times, growling, irascible, the man with the impressive resume. Edited thousands of writers, the “complex thought processes” of such as Kissinger (mass murderers who consider themselves realistic, respectable, need complexity). Evans remembers typewriters and when “there was no meandering in cyberspace.” Evans does think the public is I mean seriously in trouble, confused. Someone is for health care but against the policy providing it. Induced bewilderment comes from the scuttling of credibility as a criteria altogether. Buzzfeed apparently has exposed important frauds amidst its attention-getting games.

Rachman does catch Favilla easily enough writing gibberish, gobbledygok. Citing Orwell’s irreplaceable “Politics and the English Language,” Rachman tells us Orwell was warning us against manipulative language, which Internet style is a new form of. What’s wrong with “It is what it is” or “whatever?”:  cynicism and passivity oozed together. Rachman says we must not hum loudly until the opposition has left the room. The better fairer writer will seem to take into account the other side of whatever it is. And there are still writers writing in the way Evans once did, especially for the better TV programming and films. Much of this writing is about TV and for fan communities lured by franchise-worlds of evolving film characters and story events.

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


Susan Herbert’s Dietrich: Cool cat

What I liked about Christine Photinos in her “After Cliffs: The new Literature Study Guide and the Rhetoric of the Recap,” in Modern Language Studies: Beatrice, 47:2 (Winter 2018):64-73 (probably not available online or behind a wall of some sort) is Photinos explains the attitude of mind behind the Recap style and genre, the posturing wry or snark-filled blog. What these writers are doing is creating the experience of being a member of an “in-community.” The point of all the many allusions left unexplained to the latest meme, slang, fashionable shows and characters or actors is to pull the reader into a shared discourse where he or she will feel in a crowd where everyone knows everyone else, or assumes such easy contact.

To characterize that community’s discourse, Photinos close-reads their tones, terms, conventions, and she finds at core the idea that valuing the material at hand, taking seriously whatever judgements are going on, is dismissed. The stance of arch mockery implies indifference to what is being peddled; summing up what is presented as obviously and all the time a cliche and nothing more turns serious thought or protest into something futile and childish (“take that”), or non-existent, a pretense.

A very few examples out of many cited by Photinos: Silas Marner is basically dismissed in the phrase “Time for a Montage!” For War and Peace, we read “Prince Bolkonsky has him sitting with the family as some kind of lesson about all people being equal. Or something”. “Ma Joad throws a hissy fit” sums up a chapter in Grapes of Wrath. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof summary: “[We] discover Big Daddy has been sick, however, and that he and his wife, who is known as Big Mamma (we’re not making this up), have been … ” It’s a trivializing: “Get ready for some excitement: next, Thoreau describes how he planted and cultivated his bean-field. Wow” (Walden). Lots of “in” terms from film and media art (“cut,” “pan,” “close-up”) are part of a shorthand that performs a chiding of anyone for sensitive emotion. We are not supposed to lose control, never ask for or feel sympathy. “Blanche starts rambling maniacally” (Streetcar); “Chill out, Jimmy” (Lord Jim). Lots of reassuring hedge language (“kind of”). Much of this is dressed-up cliffnotes in burlesque.

We need to attend to this insulation of the reader from vulnerability.

Photinos says this is also a an assumed male-male discourse (references to “bro” abound) presented as gender free. The recap discourages commitment to the material, any sustained inquiry into the ideologies at play that “critical reading would call into question.” So there is a pretense of evaluation. Not all recaps or commentaries are like this but enough are. She includes a list of other articles on the new writing. I recommend the whole of this issue of Modern Language Notes. Beautiful illustrations of Dante and other Beatrices, and good poems scattered across the issue.

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

Jennifer Howard brings up the important issue of pay: the gig economy underlying much of this content production “doesn’t pay the rent.”: Again for TLS, this time March 23, 2018, is a review of a book about online culture and practices: Houman Barkat, Robert Barry and David Warner, edd. The Digital Critic: Literary Culture Online (see many articles by her). Howard begins 15 years ago when she wrote for Book World, a stand-alone pull-out review section of the Washington Post,and admits that many of the litbloggers who replaced her kind have morphed into “familiar bylines with publishing deals to match their strong opinion.” In the early years of writing on the Net, an appealing worthy writer could become “known to people of power and influence” who opened doors for him, so he could skip jumping off from an MFA and slogging through different underling jobs.

But there is now “an spirally galaxy;” the old hierarchies have replicated themselves on the Net but a “snappy Twitter feed, a good pitch and some connections” can help a writer to progress to the head of the line. One problem is the demand for perpetual content: how can you provide seven good posts a day or even week? Superabundance accompanied by “quick takes” preclude genuine critical thinking. When Howard turns to writing as “pay-by-exposure,” (the payment you get is the exposure your writing attracts, she writes about writers without a steady income. Not all causes paid in the days of sheer newspapers, and still don’t. You will have to work your way up through lesser genres to the editing desktop.

Howard ends on an essay from Digital Connection where Will Self laments the loss of solitude, isolation, loneliness, and the time to compose “long-form” fiction and essays. People online are surrounded by endless input/output, making it “hard to have the quality time alone with writing as writing.” Howard’s last remarks remind me of what I used to say to students as writing teacher: “we write alone but to pursue a career as a writer you become a social animal.”

Writing I would say is a social act. So there is a deep contradiction between what goes into the act of writing and how it has to function in the worlds of others. I like her hope that “perhaps counter-intuitively, the ties enabled (by online interaction), social media, web-based publication have a reach or tenacity that match or exceed what came before.” You are after all easily in more contact.

One online writer, Esposito writes that “so many of my primary literary relationships occur primarily by screens,” and the contacts in his case have been “durable.” Still, there is the qualification,that “who pays and who reads remain open questions” (I think) much more for someone online than someone off.

I hope I have not bored you, gentle reader.


Cat circa 1904-8 by Gwen John (1876-1939) Purchased 1940 by the Tate

Ellen

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Friends,

Do you enjoy communicating with me; I do with you. We only have 10 days to fight the FCC & the repeal of #NetNeutrality! Thanks to John Oliver there’s a SUPER easy way to do this

If net neutrality goes away, our Internet bills go up and we give power to companies like Comcast and Spectrum o cut us off from whom they please.
Here’s what you can do – takes less than a minute.

1. Go to gofccyourself.com
(the shortcut John Oliver made to the hard-to-find FCC comment page)
2. Click on the 17-108 link (Restoring Internet Freedom)
2. Click on “+ express”
3. Be sure to hit “ENTER” (or tab) after you put in your name & info so it registers. (I used my SPAM email)
4. In the comment section write, “I strongly support net neutrality backed by Title 2 oversight of ISPs.”
5. Click “Continue to Review”
6. Review and then Click submit
– Make sure you hit submit at the end!
**share this** (COPY AND PASTE)

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

I hope I may be pardoned for linking in a review of my Trollope on the ‘Net. Each time (there have not been many) someone has written a review of my book where they show they enjoyed the book I feel so gratified. I especially like the emphasis on the 50% of the book on the experience of reading and discussing books with others on the Internet (via a listserv). The book is set up as pairs of chapters so that one is on a novel the group of people elected to read and discuss together, and how they read it; and other other a researched context, e.g., a Trollope sub-genre, or the original illustrations, or his Autobiography. She chose to display what is my favorite illustration in my book too:

farmjudge
From Orley Farm: ‘”Tell me, Madeleine, are you happy now?”‘ (John Everett Millais)

For my scholarly chapters I’m proudest of my original research into the illustrations of Victorian novels in the era; Mark Turner singled out my chapte on these as singularly valuable for my analysis of the pictures too

ClaveringsMaryEllenEdwardsMrSaulProposes
Another revealing one, not in the idyllic style of Millais above — it’s by Mary Ellen Edwards for The Claverings; “Mr Saul Proposes.”

Ellen

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PaulCriticalofRogerblog
TWWLN (Pt 2, Ep 12): fierce quarrel between Paul Montague (Cillian Murphy) and Roger Carbury (Douglas Hodge)

Dear friends and readers,

I am happy to be able to say the paper on “Masculinity and Epistolarity in Andrew Davies’s Trollope films” is finished, and accepted as excellent and fitting in very well with a projected volume on British costume and popular serial drama as a whole. (There are four essays on Downton Abbey, two on the Poldark series, one on The Forsyte Saga in it.) In order to keep the paper to 6700 words, I had to omit a bibliography and cut some parts of my argument; the parts chosen were about how Davies alludes to, critiques and even seeks to replace previous films adapted from the same book or another book by the same author. Davies extends his influence beyond how to read a particular book or author by alluding to and replacing earlier ones by a given author; he likes to comment on earlier films and mini-series too.

Davies has often described his approach to an author’s text he has adapted into a screenplay for a film or mini-series as “having a little quarrel” with “mine author.” He means playfully to refer to the way he will reverse, qualify and critique some of his author’s points of view and the characters’ acts and personalities. Most of the time Davies seeks to present a far more humane, and sometimes socialistic vision than his verbal sources.

His way of extending his readings’ influence in many of his films is to allude to and replace precursor films; for Trollope these include Alan Plater’s 1982 BBC six-hour Barchester Chronicles and Simon Raven’s 1974-75 BBC 26 hour Pallisers. In He Knew He Was Right Davies replaces Trollope’s Exeter and East End London with the décor, church ambiance and costume designs of Plater’s Barchester Chronicles to provide a note of needed cheer. The sets also bring home to us this idyllic matter of the 1980s was not shot through, as this film adaptation is, with gender and class betrayals, and exploitations of women. Something that never comes up in Trollope and Plater’s Barchester Chronicles and is made much of here is the need of a clergyman to be seen to be respectable, maintain a standard of life style and please his parishioners to survive.

DorothyBrookeblog
HKHWR (Pt 3, Ep 4); Dorothy Stanbury (Caroline Martin) reasoning with Brooke Burgess (Matthew Goode)

In Davies’s and Trollope’s HKHWR, the intelligent and candid Dorothy Stanbury (Caroline Walker dressed in a costume whose cut and design harks back to the previous film) tells her suitor who prefers to ignore this motive for her acceptance of him: “The world is filled with people whom nobody cares for, people that nobody thinks about, nobody talks about as if they’re not there … If a man is a nobody, he can make himself into somebody or at any rate, he can try, but a woman has no means of trying. She does not earn anything or do any good in the world.”

An analogous bleak awareness about why women marry, and the consequent “tyranny of husbands” is uttered by the Signori Neroni in Trollope’s Barchester Towers, although given a wistful turn by Plater and Susan Hampshire (the actress). Susan Hampshire playing the crippled Signora Neroni has been listening to her sister, Charlotte Stanhope, urge their penniless brother, Bertie, to court the widowed Eleanor Bold, to marry her for her money if he can. Obstacles include the heavy mourning Eleanor wears. Madeleine speaks a series of utterances which have undergone no change from Barsetshire Chronicles: “I hate such shallow pretenses. I’d let the world say what it pleased and show no grief [for a dead husband] if I felt none – perhaps not show it if I did,” and (when they in effect say nothing) “you both know in what way husbands and wive generally live together. You know what freedom a man claims for himself and what slavery he would exact from a wife and you know how wives generally obey. Marriage means tyranny on one side, and deceit on the other, and a man is a fool to sacrifice his interests to such a bargain. The tragedy is a woman generally has no other way of living” (Cf 1:4, Episode 5; BT 125-26).

BTPt5Madeleineblog
Barchester Chronicles (Pt 5, Ep 4): Signora Neroni (Susan Hampshire), disillusioned

This disillusioned awareness about marriage, as found in Trollope’s Barchester Towers and uttered by Susan Hampshire is central to Emily Trevelyan’s dilemma and the two other heroines who have no way of supporting themselves in the book, Nora Rowley and Dorothea Stanbury. Through these heroines Trollope utters and Davies repeats bleak versions of Madeleine’s comment. But Trollope shies away, offers no words which shed light on the novel’s sexual and emotional anxiety, distress, on jealousy, both the male and female’s desire to have unshared physical possession (the latter enshrined in marriage), their need for reassurance and respect, and urge to dominate. All that Trollope’s text contains (repeated many times) are Louis’s religious castigations (which Emily rejects as ugly name-calling) and demands for instant obedience. Davies makes us see that in fact Emily did flirt with Osborne, they talked disingenuously when they justified their implicitly erotic correspondence with one another, and Davies does what he can to reinforce and bring out versions of feminist self-assertion in his films.

One example: Lady Rowley (Geraldine James) trying to persuade Emily to own a fault and submit to her husband at least part way.

Emily: and offer him my humble penitence for sins I’d never committed
Lady R: but to have your home again dear and your little boy
Emily: by telling lies and living a lie
Lady R: you wouldn’t be the first women to do so

Emily stares, her father, Sir Marmaduke rustles his newspaper in discomfort resentful as if about to protest. Then Davies gives Emily a soliloquy by curtained window & flower arrangement to us:

EmilyRefusingblog
HKHWR (Pt 3, Ep 7): Emily (Laura Fraser) reasoning with us

if I simply said the words to him might they work like a spell would he change back to the Louie I first knew I could pretend pretend to be the humble penitent wife he wants (intense resentment understandable) and wait and take my chance and escape with little Louie … but where could we go that he couldn’t find us … then still looking at us

In The Way We Live Now Davies includes scenes which allude to the kind of behavior we find among males in both Barchester Chronicles and The Pallisers: Davies’s younger contemporary males attuned to the contemporary worlds of business and more liberated women expose the older men’s supposed sheerly chivalrous motives in wanting to marry a much younger woman as a mask for carnal appetites and control over everyone within the reach of their patronage; this achieved by treating women as children and presenting themselves as exemplary in all behaviors.

Confrontationblog
TWWLN (Pt 2, Ep 7): again Paul Montague and Roger Carbury confront one another

Four scenes invented by Davies between Sir Roger Carbury (Douglas Hodge) and his cousin-nephew, Paul Montague (Cillian Murphy) are intended as commentary on the supposed chivalrous but actually possessive and repressive behavior of Plantagenet Palliser (Philip Latham) over Lady Glencora McClusky Palliser (Susan Hampshire). Davies’s TWWLN: Part 2, Episode 7: Paul: “For God’s sake, man, she’s not a piece of property for one man to take or another to keep. She has a will of her own and a heart of her own. In the end she will decide. She may not choose either of us”; Part 2, Episode 12: Paul: “You think and you speak of her as a child, Roger, all your intercourse with her has been as a grown man with a child and you offer yourself to her as a lover. How can you regard your advances to her with anything but embarrassment and disgust.”

Palliser’s father-like concern in participating in the forcing of a frustrated thwarted Lady Glencora to marry him forms another common typology in Trollope’s work, one shown to be justified by Trollope and Raven. In a striking scene which set alongside Trollope’s clearly is intended to critique this paradigm, Davies has his less than scrupulous young male hero, Paul Montague turn on Roger Carbury, Paul’s older guardian-uncle when (as in Trollope) Roger disdains Montague for spending a weekend with the married Winifred Hurtle, and accuse Roger of far worse behavior, of distasteful appetites and seeking exploitative control when Roger pursues the much younger and dowry-less Hetta. Roger’s response to this demonstrates how central Davies understands Paul’s direct thrust against Victorian male paternalism (and Trollope’s alter-egos) to be: “I don’t see how our relationship can survive this” (Cf. HKHWR (film), 2:2, Episodes 7, 12 and HKHWR 374-77)

04HKHWREmilyandOsbourne2blog
HKHWR (Pt 1, Ep 3): Emily with Osborne (Bill Nighy), a vision or daily happening?

In interviews Davies has said both The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right are about “strong, confident [‘modern’] women.” He sees Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right as “about a strong woman who is seeking to make her own decisions and lead her own life, and a rather fragile man who can’t stand up to her” (Walsh), an astonishing stance when placed in relationship to most essays about the book, which Davies clearly has read (e.g., Nardin 203-11).

LouisEmilyblog
HKHWR (Pt 1,Ep 3): Emily overmastering Louis (Oliver Dimsdale)

Although Davies eliminates some of the worst explicit violence against women in Trollope’s novel, it’s Trollope’s dramatization of women’s subjection, caged delusions, sense of self, fierce materialism in conflict with their need for love, and tendency (as he sees it) to submit and sacrifice themselves to others that Davies turns to mildly subversive advantage in the stories of the partly re-characterized unchaste as well as chaste young heroines. The character Trollope meant to be one of the corrupt and deluded focuses of the book, Lady Carbury (in Trollope’s scathing view, a marketplace “female literary charlatan” if ever there was one, [Kincaid 173-74; McMaster 69, 76]), becomes an often sympathized-with vulnerable and sensual career woman.

LadyCarburyMrBrounblog
TWWLN (Pt 1, Ep 9), Lady Carbury (Cheryl Campbell) making up to Mr Broun (David Bradley) at her salon

Davies was attracted to The Way We Live Now by two male characters: “Sir Felix Carbury, so pathetic, yet very attractive to women. He’s utterly contemptible really, and is my favorite character”; “my character of Sir Roger [Carbury] is Trollope writing in a great fire of indignation about every aspect of English society” (PSB Website). Integrity as an element in male emotional weakness, and empathy with mean, vicious male characters have long been found in Davies’ filmic oeuvre (Cardwell, Davies 159-66, 84-94, 148-57), but the conventions and characterizations in Davies’s Trollope represents show Davies unsympathetic to Trollope’s moralisms, staid realism and specific characters in the 1974 Pallisers (which Davies sought to replace).

JauntyWalkblog
TWWLN (Pt 1, Ep 6): Felix’s jaunty walk (Matthew Macfayden)

Felix Carbury is a type found throughout Trollope’s fiction: the ne’er-do-well drone attractive to women because he can be brutal to them, e.g., Burgo Fitzgerald whom Barry Justice plays (Pallisers 1:1–3:6) as a poignant tragic hero, a view consonant with Trollope’s text: Raven’s pathetic scene of Burgo as genuinely grief-stricken and abused, wounded in a justified pride (Pallisers 3:6, Episode 28) includes dramatic language taken directly from Can You Forgive Her? (690-700). Matthew MacFayden as Felix ends complacently playing cards, drinking whiskey, and is last seen chasing a flirtatious woman around a door, apparently content with life on a remittance in small European town (at least behaving no differently than he ever did). Neither Raven nor or Alan Plater (scriptwriter for the Barsetshire Chronicles) ever question the supposedly admirable motives of Trollope’s alter egos.

Davies’s particular brand of mild feminism within a masculinist perspective calls out for study since he has been so influential on how people respond to the books he’s adapted. He feels for weaker woman, e.g., in TWWLN Madame Melmotte’s nervousness is contrasted to Hetta (Paloma Baeza) and Mrs. Hurtle (Mirando Otto) as strong women: Madame Melmotte (Helen Schlesinger) clutches her hands in a characteristic gesture signaling a helpless woman listening to Melmotte’s last pragmatic advice: “You’d better pack up your jewels . . . pack ’em up small, ready to hand . . . you might have to …”

MadameMelmotteblog
TWWLN (Pt 4, Ep 11): she wrings her hands

Not all is sombre; strength in woman can make gay scenes too. A mark of Davies’s real talent for play-writing (scripts for TV too) is the ability to convey a story through dialogue and make the dialogue itself of interest in different ways and at the same time create human sympathy for the characters. I was struck by this sparkling dialogue written by Davies for Caroline Spalding and Mr Glascock to speak to one another in their flirtatious phase at Florence; there is no such dialogue in Trollope, but it articulates the conflict of values between the two, and presents as sharp a critique of the US as the UK — which self-critique the American Senator Gotobed (American Senator) fudges:

Reparteeblolg
HKHWR (Pt 2 Ep 9): Miss Caroline Spalding (Anna Louise Plowman) holds her own; they begin their witty flirtatious debate with Caroline suggesting to Glascock (the name is deliberately parodically allegorical) he would not enjoy a visit or life in the US:

Repartee2blog
Mr Glascock (Raymond Coulthard)

Caroline: You wouldn’t like it [the states]
Glascock: Why not?
Caroline: Because you’re an aristocrat
Glascock: And why should that prevent me from liking it
Caroline: One half of the people would run after you and the other half would run away from you on principle
Glascock: Revolutionary principle?
Caroline: Democratic principle
Glascock: And may I ask which half you’d be in [– gets sly and sharp look now]
Caroline: The second half of course
Glascock: You’re not running away from me now
Caroline: No I’m not, am I? but I think I shall have to before too long
Glascock: Oh that would make me sad
Caroline: It would make me sad too but there we are I think it has to be done the old world and the new are like oil and vinegar you see we may be polite to each other in society but deep down you believe we’re an inferior race and
Glascock: mouths oh
Caroline: Deep down we’d like to smash your outdated snobbish institutions and make you like us free and equal
Glascock; Well, all Englishmen are free and we’re all equal in the eyes of god
Caroline: Oh and doesn’t that excuse a great deal of iniquity we freed our slaves Mr Glascock
Glascock: We never had slaves Miss Spalding
Caroline: No you just traded in them
Glascock: Well not me personally and my father was very active in the abolition movement (getting insulted now)
Caroline: None of this is personal, Mr Glascock
Glascock: I’m relieved to hear it.

The juxtapositon of this fresh love of Caroline and Glascock is cast odd light on by previous utterances about love and courtship by the 5 or 6 other couples of the novel (dependent on how you count them) and also Emily and Louis’s love: What will this couple be in a few years, we are led to ask. A deep scepticism about erotic love in this film is part of Davies’s presentation of male sexual anxiety too — she says this will end in tears. Then we get this witty half -challenging dialogue about old world and new aristocracy and democracy. Davies probably thinks of himself as outdoing his predecessor even in the area of naturalistic dialogue where Trollope is a past master too.

Ellen

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Louis Gaines (David Oyelowo set upon by dogs during demonstration (2013 The Butler)

Dear friends and readers,

Mr Carson likes being a butler (Downton Abbey); in the poignant Merchant-Ivory movie, The Remains of the Day, Anthony Hopkins is a tragic butler; Hudson (Gordon Jackson) of Upstairs Downstairs fame, loved it; so why shouldn’t Cecil thrive too, except that Cecil isn’t in charge but subject to a white staff manager and, as a black man, makes much less money than white people do in analogous staff roles. I write just in case you’re like me and have not yet gone to The Butler (the hit in our area of the summer) to say don’t miss Danny Strong’s historical bio-pic, The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels.

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Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) and Carter Wilson (Cuba Gooding Jr), his peer — kitchen talk

Yes it has flaws. It’s yet another of these pious semi-historical biopics (Lincoln, The Queen, even Hyde Park on the Hudson), where the concluding scene tells us if all is not yet well with respect to the particular injustice the movie is on about, it soon may be, due to the heroism, courage of an elect group and the underlying rightness of our social order no matter how skewed now and again by a few rotten individuals, or, as in this movie, a rotten group of thugs and bigots, half-crazy. (The sort of quiet truth Ang Lee told of the civil war in his genuinely interesting non-cliched, non-stereotyped melancholy Ride with the Devil is rare; what’s more the studios trashed the movie so it never got anywhere.) The Butler also features the usual virtuoso performances of an actor exquisitely impersonating some world historical figure, especially ironic is Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan and on point, Alan Rickman as Reagan. They seemed to be getting a kick out of their roles:

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Five presidents, several wives, some famous staff people, well-known (I had almost said stars) politicians and outsiders at the turns of history.

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Iconic Kennedys

I might as well tell the worst. The Black Panthers are misrepresented: they were not murderous but genuinely bent on defending blacks from being killed so armed themselves; they were ferociously targeted, smeared, and killed by the FBI; too much slack or leeway is given Reagan: while we are shown how adamantly he worked against civil rights for blacks, he is made very kindly, an easy employer (maybe he was), comically afraid of Nancy. And if for black people the election of Barack Obama signifies limitless possibility for individual blacks lucky enough to find themselves in places where they can try for advancement, in 2 terms the average black person has lost a lot of ground (more impoverished, just an under and unemployed, or harassed, more at risk, draconian prison sentences, abrogation of voting rights, subject to be killed on the streets for being black). I admit I never was an “in” person in any social group during the 60s or 70s so if this or that portrait of someone is awry I might not notice this unless I read about the person and recognize the impersonation.

This is also another upstairs/downstairs movie, and we are with the lowest paid and esteemed of the downstairs. The point is made how much staff there is in the white house.

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An over-voice narrator (Cecil) is used: here he tells us look behind those smiles:

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But within these paradigms supposed the way one gets a popular success, and what in the films is adhered to for propaganda by its money-producers and distributors, it’s an effective, centrally accurate (okay the story of Eugene Allen is fictionalized to make it more dramatic) film whose strong purpose seems to be to remind and teach audiences about the terrifying savagery of the whites and their complicit agents and armed forces of the 1960s towards black people seeking a much better life, liberation, not to be humiliated, to a good education, voting rights. The opening sequence about what life was like for black people in the US before WW2 — you had to accept whatever vicious murderous whites imposed on you, for if you didn’t, you found yourself lynched, simply shot (to death), raped (if a woman on a plantation), if you tried to free yourself of plantation life, you found no niches, no connections, no place awaiting you and police everywhere seeking to put you away or out of it. People watching TV today about the sit-ins, freedom rides on buses, marches, demonstrations, see a clip or two of vicious whites beating up, hosing blacks, and then we switch to the big man who brings an end to this. This movie shows that these few minutes of film are thin as melting icefloes; it shows us the long incidents of townspeople acting out cruelty, brutality, killing day in and day out. Black people watching this today will not be fooled that they have full permanent voting rights; this movie tells us at what cost what progress has been made was done. Until near the end the occasional intertwining of real footage (from TV) and voices and photographs (Carter, Jesse Jackson) worked very well.

And until near the end, the tone is (paradoxically) light; most of the time the characters are in domestic situations or quiet social events.

The plot-structure once Cecil gets his job at the white house, follows the drama of the conflicts between Cecil (marvelous delicate performance by Forest Whitaker), his wife, Gloria, a just perfect performance by Oprah Winfrey: I was taken by every facet of it, from her outfits (she does remove her wig at one point), to her anger, to her devotion,

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Sending a son to a traditional black college in Tennessee (Cecil would have preferred Howard University)

to her sense of humor, drinking, smoking, having an affair at one point.

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I’m now awaiting a star role for her in another movie and the obligatory Oscar. Then their oldest son, Louis: once again David Oyelowo delivers a deeply felt convincing in-depth presence (I’ve now seen him in Small Island, Five Full Days, Lincoln). Central to the film is Louis’s idealistic rebellion which his father cannot understand as he sees Louis’s behavior as risky and useless:

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The father and older son

A younger son, Charlies (Isaac White) identifies as American and volunteers to go to Vietnam and dies.

I felt passionately for Louis, exhilarated by Oprah-Gloria and really identified with Cecil during his endurance of invisibility, stigma, low pay (and insults saying to go away if you don’t like it or want decent pay), no promotion and whatever you do (until near the end of the movie) you can trust no one to respect you for your years of work, as a nobody nothing you do counts. What is this but the adjunct’s life I endured for decades. This is not the first time I’ve identified as a black person. Whitaker as Cecil is continually snubbed. He is told early on by Vanessa Redgrave (as the mother of the crazed man who rapes Cecil’s mother and murders his father) as “house nigger” behave as if the space you are in is empty. Every once in a while he breaks code: he attempts to say something consoling to Jackie Kennedy after the assassination of Kennedy: she cries on and then gets up and goes out as if Cecil were not there.

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Long hours

If you saw Lincoln, make this film its companion in your memory.

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Worthwhile reviews: David Denby in the New Yorker; A. O. Scott of the New York Times (yes it’s exuberant; marvelous dancing sequences in black American style); Ben Sachs on it as anti-Gump; Steve Boon for Roger Ebert.

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At a family celebration which ends in passionate quarreling

No women critics reviewed this film. So: I cried all the way home because I identified with Oprah as the butler’s wife and so envied her her kind protective hard-working long-lived (!) butler husband who she thanks near the end for taking care of her all these years. Oprah I can see appeals to a certain segment of black women and yet can make a direct appeal to lower middle whites too.

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The point of view on home life, its emergence as central to the story is a woman’s point of view. Not for nothing was Oprah one of the film’s producers.

Ellen

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Society is no comfort/To one not sociable — Shakespeare, Imogen, Cymbeline, IV:2, 12-13

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The Walking Stick: Deborah (Samantha Eggar) badly lamed leaning on Leigh (David Hemmings) (1970, Eric Till, Winston Graham, George Bluestone)

Dear friends and readers,

Disabled characters have increased in numbers in popular fiction & film in the last quarter century. Has there been a genuine increase in sympathetic empathy and understanding, any real help offered such people or acceptance as a result. It would seem not. I link these two phenomena to the growth of fandoms in cyberspace and elsewhere and how they effect the development of programs and series of fictions. Why there are there. I exemplify briefly with the way disabled characters from Sondheim’s Passion to Winston Graham’s mystery and Poldark novels are treated, and more at length in Downton Abbey, from Fellowes’s himself to the indifferent to hostile commentary on him & Anna, the head housemaid who loves him.

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A spin-off from both the APA/ACA and ASECS conferences: in both there were roundtable panels on “disability studies: I feared not enough would be said in the more casual talks these roundtables offer to take up enough time and the audience would be called upon to talk, and then feared I’d reveal myself too much or get too involved. I have seen academic people present themselves as interested in isabilities and found that they were not, except as an abstract topic; worse, if I probed I discovered the people were just as strong for enforcing “normalcy” (on behalf of “success”), just as prejudiced (not taking a whole personality into account, not being willing to critique their definitions of success), fearful and/or nervous in their reactions. I worried I’d feel angry or know intense dismay.

So I didn’t go, and now regret this because what I did do was take down names of journals, books and periodicals with disability studies for today. First off I learned that in the last quarter century there’s been a huge increase in the number of disabled characters in popular fiction. It might be the disabled characters were always there in mystery-crime fiction, though not acknowledged, as villains or victims, but not being acknowledged, presented as freaks, or evil, or reprehensible in some way. But this is a big change to presenting people with disabilities in a sympathetic or seeming sympathetic way. Nowadays disability is also popular in historical fiction and romance. So that I noticed so many disabled characters in Winston Graham does not show originality on his part, but rather a following of a zeitgeist.

I won’t cite the names of the articles or journals separately unless someone asks for these (in the comments) which is most unlikely, just describe generally. Most were studies of texts or art in the close reading humanities way today (looking sociologically, how they function in society). Basically there were two schools of thought: one argues that the new wave of appearances of disabled characters is not increasing any real understanding or sympathy for people with disabilities because 1) at the end the disabled person is forcibly or seemingly willingly co-opted into the “normal” world, made to seem “normal” and the point is to defuse the person as a threat, on the way the emphasis in portrayal is the disability itself with full utterly varied richness of people ignored; it’s voyeurism; and 2) we see very little progress in the outer world for funding, real acceptance, or even understanding in wider circles of people. The other argues that the spread of such depictions does help; little by little the stories make people no longer ignore the disabled, no longer erase them altogether, and does gradually work up sympathy and we may hope for change.

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When Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) wants to visit the crippled Mrs Smith (Helen Schlesinger), her father rages at her with open disgust for her “queer” tastes (from the 1995 BBC Persuasion, Roger Michell, Nick Dear)

Then there are essays on particular works or authors or sub-genres: how disabled people are presented in romance; how presented in mystery-crime stories (where they’ve long been an unacknowledged central type, either as villain or victim); in later Victorian gothic. The way they are discussed in non-fiction case histories, which sometimes turn out to be obtuse fictions which promulgate single-minded freakish stereotyped views, e.g., Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night which invites voyeurism. Once in a while a particular writer or work is found which increases understanding and sympathy. The value of these is if you want to do such studies they show you how to do and what’s said, and give you insights.

Two good books are worth noting: Women with Disabilities, ed. Michelle Fine (and others). Fine’s the one who’s done intelligent candid studies of how women who have been raped are treated, women’s studies. The kind of character includes is Fosca in Tarchetti’s book (now called Passion from Sondheim): I’ve noticed again and again women who are presented as disabled are eroticized, made beautiful but for the disability which then adds to their alluringness (and the kick of having sex with them in the imagination apparently). Another is more historical and crosses gender, class, ethnicity: Rosemarie Garland Thomson: Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring disability in American literature. The truth is many people still believe in disabilities only if they are physical.

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Fosca from Passion, made plain not crippled (yet this came from a website mocking the addictive love affair)

From what I’ve read thus far I think the those who say this increase in visibility has not led to a gain in empathy or understanding are right. Even when the novel does not enforce normalcy, readerships insist on misreading the fiction to emphasize a happy ending at the close — happy being equivalent to assimilation and erasure. From what I’ve seen in real life — the cutting off of funding, the cutting out of Aspergers from the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Physicians Manuel), and the increase in coercive techniques & drugs among psychologists again those who say more visibility has not helped are right. No one really has a mechanism for helping such people gain self-sustaining employment for or proposes helping older adults socially for real at all.

Misreading in terms of the readers’ own identity needs, to throw off a threat of anything unknown or new leads me to the other related topic I heard discussed at the conference and want to consider again. Next time (if there is one for me at either conference), and if I have a chance to go on panels about fandoms, fanzines, I will. The book here is Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins.

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Fandoms are one aspect of different ways of life in the Net that are reactions the increasing anonymity and loss of community in US life, the impoverishment of individuals and high unemployment rate so that people come onto the Net to find community, meaning when there is nothing where they live. These groups replace religious communities too, can be a religious community, and they are real. It’s another instance where the idea that what happens on the Net is not real is false. In the 1950s Richard Hoggart wrote a book called The Uses of Literacy where he argued that TV was being used to create “imagined communities” which through propaganda and loyalty to shows inculcated in people Tory reactionary values; again people at a loss, people left out, communities devastated by global capitalism; the book was re-issued during the 1980s Thatcher years.

But it’s not true that these are imagined and unreal communities. These groups of people active and aggressive; authors ignore them at their peril. They meet outside the Net when they can and influence where they can. They will punish, ostracize, exclude the person who takes a different view and attack that. I have found it very painful to deal with such people; actually I can’t, don’t know how to. They can be group bloggers. They can be seen whirling to some extent around mini-series programs, Games of Thrones say or Downton Abbey.

How do you recognize a fandom. It’ll be a message board where anonymity is enforced, and thus no one held accountable. No personal relationships can develop easily. In the case of films or TV, the re-doing of bits of films in YouTube videos to change the original meanings of scenes to fit what the fans want and posting of these. They can be embarrassing. Fierce conversations which a given aggressive individual will not give up. I’d say worse than some of what happens on Austen-l only it’s moderated so the two or three people moderating immediately shut up whoever has said what they don’t agree with (they were particularly fierce over sex), “community” activities centered on the actors and stars of the films and a whole range of sociological or psychological phenomena having to do with inventing a fictional identity. They do meet outside the Net when they can. A pre-screening of the new Sherlock in a New York movie-house brought fans from around the country to meet in the movie-house, see their movie, eat and talk together afterward.

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A deeply sexual shot: Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees about to go to bed together as Ross and Demelza Poldark (1975 Part 7)

Examples include Harry Potter, Batman, Dr Who, Star Wars, long-running TV programs. My experience has been with the Winston Graham Society webpage, really a message board dedicated to discussing two of the famous stars from the first mini-series: Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees (although she’s dead now). I had read in Graham’s autobiography this group succeeded in damning a 1996 film and making it impossible to go on; a paper I heard at ACA showed that the group influenced the second season of the films. I was told by one woman my discussion of disability, violence and sex in Graham’s fiction “deeply upset” her so how dare I? No one should write about this series what could upset her, no details allowed. I had notice how many disabled (often autistic) characters Graham has in his Poldark and mystery novels; how he studies alienation (Marni) and individual loss sympathetically and wanted to discuss this. The shattering of one of the heroines from continual marital rape; the reality the hero rapes one of the chief heroines and the son they have, neglected and over-indulged (anything but taken care of) after her death grows up disturbed and lonely enough to reach out for an orangutan as a companion. Forget it.

Facebook pages dedicated to famous stars or authors identified as conservative and classic, or with some ethnicity or doctrine. The audience for Austen’s books is leavened because it includes different types of people, academics and heritage industry and there’s a lot of money to be made on sequels and conferences and tourism so the fandom cannot invent this world of its own and control the material. Austen has prestige, her texts are not considered trivial and worthless in the way of say Star Trek and other texts around which fandoms whirl. These groups dislike any criticism of their author; they will justify or excuse or explain away the smallest unfavorable remark. Their identities have become involved, their egos, their self-image. They build whole worlds around their texts & shows.

Tellingly, for people interested to see if popular fiction that has a wide enthusiastic audience can function to increase the sympathetic imagination, the fiercest hostile responses come from any assertion that the fetishized material explores sexuality or gender in unconventional ways, has an ambiguous or sad ending, shows the hero to be less than admirable (violent for example, politically radical).

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I’ll end on the treatment of disability in Downton Abbey, the first season. Since I think I do not misread, I cannot tell what the misreading would be precisely, probably in the direction of scorn or dismissal or somehow turning the disability into what’s normal if “unwanted,” as Sir Anthony Strallon was treated in the third season, or silence, as the man with the heinously disfigured face was in the second — both given over to the program-scapegoat, Edith.

In the first part of Downton Abbey, the lamed Mr Bates is almost fired because few will accept his disability: most take it as a blemish on community, insist he will not be able to do his job, a few ridicule him, a couple (that’s enough) tell false tales; Lord Grantham almost fires him but his decency and better self seeing the cruelty and injustice of the act, keeps him on at the close of the hour.

In the third part, Mr Bates still driven by fear he’ll be fired, tormented by cruel jeering or physical gestures (as when Miss Obrien trips and humiliates him) buys an instrument of torture to make himself walk more straight. As the hour wears on we see Bates in pain, leaning over in agony, having a sour expression, indeed not be able to do his job. (In the context of the hour’s juxtaposition, the parallel is the ejection of Pamuk’s corpse from Lady Mary’s room after he half-rapes her; both are trash which ruin the body and probably spirit of the character.) Finally Mrs Hughes, the housekeeper insists on seeing what is wrong with Mr Bates, and he shows her his leg, now covered with blood and sores from the contraption on it.

As ever Fellowes is on the side of the mainstream: we next see the pair by the side of a river on the property. Mr Bates has agreed to throw the thing away. The lesson Mrs Hughes instructs Mr Bates to remember is: “I promise I will never again try to cure myself, I will spend my life happily as the butt of others’ jokes and I will never mind them.” Mrs Hughes: “We all carry scars Mr Bates, inside or out, you’re no different than the rest of us, remember that.” Mr Bates: “I will try to that I do promise.” And then he hurls it off, and she cries “good riddance.’

The part about not trying to cure oneself is good — autism month should be called autism acceptance month. The group of articles I have include two arguing the higher ends of autism include people who are in many ways more gifted than the average and would not have to consider themselves disabled if others didn’t ostracize and punish them. And Mr Bates is doing his job fine. But the second part half-blaming Mr Bates and saying it was he who considered himself different is the narrow cold-shouldering mind of the establishment speaking, demanding in effect (were he autistic) that he be neurotypical and leads to people purchasing such contraptions or having painful useful dangerous operations. Stiff upper lip. Never admit to anything.

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Mr Bates and Anna (Joanna Froggart) end of Part 5: he getting into cart

As far as I could tell from reading the fan’s responses to the hour, they were sympathetic to the obtuse and mean Lady Mary; in his notes to the script Fellowes exclaimed against letters to him decrying a supposed buggery — the people couldn’t endure that Lady Mary should lose her virginity (hymen) so they jumped to the conclusion buggery had occurred and this was why the man had a heart-attack (!). (How revealing of silent suppositions this is.) And on-line people quickly tired of Mr Bates — by the second season as homely and a “sob-story” (“passive-aggressive” was a favorite phrase)and felt excruciated when (they felt) asked to identify with Anna, for they would not have fallen in love with Mr Bates as she slowly does for his intelligence, integrity, good nature, refusal to kowtow or forsake his dignity, good heart (of which we see instances).

A friend wrote:

Mrs. Hughes’s comment that ‘we all carry scars’ nags me, however. Who is the “we?” On the first glance, I’d take it to be a universal statement–the series shows that everyone, upstairs or downstairs, has their problems, but I’m not convinced it is a universal “we.” (I’m sure Fellowes meant it to be.) Is the “we” the servants? However, whether or not Mrs. Hughes “we” is universal, this leads me to think that disability plays out differently between servants and masters — Matthew’s Hemingwayesque war wound, leaving him “crippled” and impotent, is a parallel to Mr. Bates’ disability — both
are physical and both call into the question each man’s ability to do his primary “job” — in Matthew’s case of course, to “make the heir,” but one has a miraculous cure and the other not …

Yes. Who is the we? In the case of the servants, they have no buffer or support to help them if they are rejected, so they must conform and if they cannot, must not complain.

I was told again and again how my blogs on Downton Abbey took “a different view,” and at times (especially around the character of Edith whose scapegoating I exposed) attacked. Twenty years from now attitudes will have frozen and it will be hard to talk freely to those still remembering (many will no longer but move on). I never did discuss disability in Downton Abbey. I should have. So have made up for that now.

Ellen

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