Posts Tagged ‘Edwardian’

Angela Down at center as Sylvia Pankhurst (Episode 6 of 1974 BBC Shoulder to Shoulder)

Anne-Marie Duff, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter as Violet Miller, Maud Watts, Edith Ellyn (2015 BFI Suffragette)

Dear friends and readers,

You have two tremendous treats to avail yourself of this November where we are enjoying a spate of significant politic films. It’s another one of these re-creations of an excellent, original and effective mini-series of the 1970s 40 plus years on (e.g., Upstairs and Downstairs, Poldark). It’s also another riveting new woman’s film, the kind scripted, directed on some woman’s issue (e.g., Bletchley Circle to The Crimson Field, scripted Sarah Phelps).

On-line at YouTube you can watch six 75 minute episodes of Shoulder to Shoulder, (without commercials), and hear the theme song Ethel Smyth’s grand March of the Women:

Episode 1: Emmeline Pankhurst (Sian Phillips); Episode 2: Annie Kenney (Georgia Brown); Episode 3: Lady Constance Lytton (Judy Parfitt); Episode 4: Christabel Pankhurst (Patricia Quinn); Episode 5: Outrage! (it ends on Emily Davison’s suicide by throwing herself under a group of race-horses, Sheila Ballantine as Davison and Bob Hoskins as Jack Dunn); Episode 6: Sylvia Pankhurst (Angela Down).

And in cinemas, there’s Suffragette, screenplay Abi Morgan (who wrote Truth), directed by Sarah Gavron with a cameo peformance as Mrs Pankhurst by Meryl Streep. It also has the theme song, but it only comes in towards the film’s close (as uplift).

I have no reviews of Shoulder to Shoulder to offer; I knew of it by word-of-mouth from other women, especially anyone who has written or read about the suffragettes. I suspect it’s not available as a DVD for the same reason as the Bletchley Circle was cancelled after a second successful year.

Suffragette has been reviewed, not altogether favorably (see Variety). Perhaps since it is a woman’s film, and also about the woman’s movement, the critics have been very hard on it (see the New Yorker especially). A. O. Scott of The New York Times Suffragette justice.

This one has an argument to make, or rather a series of arguments about the workings of patriarchal power, the complexities of political resistance and the economic implications of the right to vote. You might come for the feminism, stay for the class consciousness and arrive at the conclusion that they’re not so distinct after all.

Probably the re-booting (as in the case of the others this year) of Shoulder to Shoulder into Suffragette will please modern audiences more than Shoulder to Shoulder, with its 1970s staged dramaturgy, slower movement, longer scenes and speeches, less closely graphic violence (though Shoulder to Shoulder is as unbearable in its force-feedings and it has several not just one), and I hope people will be drawn to Suffragette. Both movies show how vulnerable and frail are individual revolutionaries and movements against the power of a gov’t with military and legal powers to control, punish, silence, and kill people. Still over-praising something (I believe) in the end is seen through by people and distrusted so upfront I’d like to say that good as Suffragette is, Shoulder to Shoulder is finally superior art.


Police breaking up the women’s demonstration and starting to beat them up

Suffragette‘s central problem is it’s too short and it has been influenced by the use of gimmick and juiced-up plots in mystery-spy thrillers common in mainstream films. So the focus in Suffragette comes from a little climax-ridden plot-design where we are supposed to care intensely if a police officer, Steed (Brendan Gleeson) turns our heroine into a mole on behalf of a gov’t bent on surveillance headed by the heartless monster, a fictionalized side-kick of Asquith (Samuel West) and his henchmen. Scenario familiar? Here is Steed trying to secude, frighten, & bribe our heroine:


We then enter into thriller-like story arcs where our heroines outwit the police in planting bombs, breaking windows, and finally managing to reach the newspapers when unexpectedly Emily Davison (Natalie Press, the daughter in Bletchley Circle) throws herself under the horses in a race course watched by the king.

Emily Davison contemplating what to do to reach the king, or attract attention (Maud is unaware of the lengths Emily is prepared to go to)

This is not to say that Suffragette doesn’t do ample justice deeply even (partly due to superb performances) to the human feelings among the women and in delineating the break-up of the marriage of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) — though it chickened out in showing us the scenes of harsh domestic violence clearly visited on Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff) off-stage. Since a punch-shock element was what the film partly relied on, this was a loss.

In fact though Suffragette also delivers a kind of history lesson. It may be said to be equally organized as moral paradigm. Maud is a factory worker doing hard labor ironing in a laundry for years, during much of it in her earliest molested by her employer continually as a condition of remaining employed.

Given an extra job to deliver a package at the end if the day, Maud rushes for a bus

Maud is therefore naturally attracted to a hope of some better life she intuits the women’s movement offers; when she agrees to go along to listen to Mrs Miller’s speech, she finds herself persuaded by one of the MP’s wives (Romola Garai) to read a prepared speech. Instead she ends up answering questions put to her by the prime minister, Asquith (Adrian Schiller). He asks her what does she think the vote can do for her. She can come up with nothing; she does not know how it could improve her life. The film’s story then proceeds to teach Maud and us why the vote influences women’s lives. Why votes matter.

Maud is slowly radicalized for the same reasons the women in Shoulder to Shoulder are (see just below), and becomes a suffragette. She demonstrates and is beaten and punished. At this her husband, Sonny (Ben Whislaw) becomes humiliated, shamed, and his manhood so threatened, that he throws her out of their apartment. He has the undoubted right by custom. He clearly also despised her when he married her because he knew she had been molested for years and so he regarded himself as “saving her,” putting her on the “right path.” His attitudes are all screwed up by his society’s norms. They lead him to destroy her and the marriage. Worse, he has the legal right to refuse her any access to her child and the right to give the boy up for adoption, which he proceeds to do when he finds he cannot care for the child himself.

Had women had the vote, laws would not give him such a complete right over her and his child. Could she get the vote now, she could vote against such laws and customs. At the film’s close a series of intertitles tell us that five years after a portion of women were given the vote, the custody laws were changed and women had a right to keep their children. Sonny could no longer punish her, himself and their child like this.

Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) works as a doctor, and apothecary in her husband’s druggist shop: we learn she was not allowed to go on to professional school as women were not allowed; the story at the close implies that with the vote, such schools would have to open their doors to women.


Mrs Miller has nowhere to turn from an abusive husband; she will if she can change parliament. There is no help against the employer-molester; there are not enough jobs and those available to women are mostly dreadful hard work. We see a motif in other women’s films, like Water where an older woman saves a young widow who is being coerced into prostitution: Maud rescues a girl from sex harassment and degradation: she knows Mrs Miller’s daughter is submitting to sexual aggression by the boss, so daring arrest, she shows up at the laundry, takes the girl to the house of the MP wife (Garai) and the wife hires her. She is now protected insofar as the system allows: based on a decent kind individual. The movie-viewer can think to her or himself the equivalent of what legislation can provide today: women’s shelters from domestic violence and abuse.

These stories of the fictionalized characters are said to be partly based on real women, but they are enunciated in such a way as to show the viewer why the vote matters.

The only historical women we see are (briefly) Emily Davison and Meryl Streep as Mrs Pankhurst, posed to recall Sian Phillips in the same role:



There are no explicit paradigms or lessons taught in Shoulder to Shoulder, the cast for Shoulder to Shoulder are not working class women (the “foot soldiers” of the movement, as the policeman tells Maud who her “masters” will dump when they don’t need them, after their lives have been ruined), but the elite types who ran the movement. Except — and it’s a big except — the lesson in the grinding nature of the experience of proselytizing, punishment, political in-fighting and finally prison which we are given a full brunt of, and our heroines (except Mrs Pankhurst the highest ranking) are force-feed repeatedly, humiliated by the clothing they must wear, put into solitary confinement.

Christabel starting out (her first speech)

In comparison to Suffragette our heroines’ sufferings are intangible. Respectability, loss of society (but they don’t want that), companionships, acceptance of a much harder life where they do strain to support themselves by teaching, working in shops (or owning them). As in the other 1970s mini-series, our central characters are drawn from the elite, while in 2015 they are drawn from working people. So it takes a little imagination to enter into what is presented.

OTOH, just about all the characters in Shoulder to Shoulder represent real historical people, much of what is presented is accurate (if much must be left out).

The real Annie Kenney

Georgia Brown exuberant as Annie

There is therefore much less false melodrama, and because of its length, we get a long arc of the whole movement from the later 1890s to when Mrs Pankhurst and Christabel supported WW1, and the aftermath of that war.


The most moving episode in Shoulder to Shoulder focuses on the real Constance Lytton (described in my previous blog this week, Victorian into Edwardian, scroll down) who takes on a working class persona and the treatment meted out to working women in prison is inflicted on Lytton.

A photo of Lytton dressed as Jane Warton: remarkably Judy Parfitt comes close to looking just like this

This is the only still I could find on the Net of Parfitt — she is to the left, feeling utterly wretched after having been beaten and force-fed and is now forced to wait for a judicial hearing

The focus in Shoulder to Shoulder is on the human relationships among the characters, and the drama comes out of ideological, political, psychological clashes, its power on how the characters are transformed, variously destroyed, shattered, turned into ruthless political machines who show no gratitude towards those who helped them, especially in the case of Christabel Pankhurst

Christabel fiercely waving her flag

towards the Pethick-Lawrences, a couple who gave up their fortune, respectability, good and moderately useful lives to the movement only to be thrown away, and towards her sister, Sylvia who persisted in wanting equally to fight for social justice for all people, including working class men, immigrants, issues like civil liberty.

Sylvia setting up a shop in a working class neighborhood

Both movies make the point strongly that the prison experience is the second reality the women’s movement contended with that radicalized them, and I now realize this is a central theme of Lytton’s book. Lytton’s book is as much about prisons as it is about the suffragette movement. She makes the point that one way you can gauge your success as a political movement is if the establishment puts its leaders in jail.

The police have kept an eye on and take Maud away

Lytton’s book appears in both Shoulder to Shoulder and Suffragette as Dreams; the title today is Prisons and Prisoners (Broadview Press, edited by Jason Haslam). (I am now in the middle of Constance Lytton’s memoir of her life from the angle of her conversion to the womens’ movement and radicalization through her experience dressed as a working class woman, Jane Warton, in prisons.)

Lytton opens with showing the reader that the votes-for-women movement emerged as a possibly effective force when 1) the upper middle and middle class women enacting leading, and making connections for it realized after 3 decades they would never get the vote unless they severely disrupted the workings of everyday society; and 2)the women were radicalized into real empathy with working and lower class women by their experience of the harsh indifference, cruelty, even torture of the prison system with its principle mechanisms of violent punishment (including force-feeding which led to further pain in vomiting), humiliation, brutalization, and destruction of personalities through alienation. This is what Lytton shows the reader; as a person with a bad heart, she died not long after after her release from the treatment she had received.

Lytton may not appear as one of the characters in Suffragette but her words provide a voice-over as Maud Watts reads her book; and she is the central character of the crucially effective episode of the mini-series.


The group early on in Suffragette

The group towards the end of Shoulder to Shoulder

The sense of life as on-going, a cycle, so characteristic of women’s art ends both films, in this case politically appropriate. Lytton really emerges only in one episode (3), and Davison in another (5), and of the on-going characters my favorite was finally Sylvia, partly because I’ve loved other characters Angela Down played at the time (she was Jo March in a 1970 Little Women) A long talk with the inimitable Bob Hoskins (very young) precedes Sylvia’s final walk off onto the street with her latest ally, Flora Drummond (Sally Miles). When I get the book (I’ve bought it from a used bookstore site, I’ll blog again). We are made to feel we have gone through so much (6 times 75 minutes is a lot of experience time), and the photography of the two inside the crowd makes the point they are just two women inside a larger group.

In Suffragette after Emily has thrown herself under the horses, we see Maud, shaken, but walking off. She must live on; she has shown she will find her son and communicate with him; Edith’s husband locked her in the bathroom to prevent her from joining lest she be arrested again (she has a bad heart we are told); we see the police officer, Steed, his employers; Maud, Violet Miller and Edith get together again in the WSPC office.

The writers for the 1970s series are among the best of the era: Ken Taylor, Hugh Whittemore, Alan Plater, Douglas Livingstone (originally they wanted women scriptwriters but the era just didn’t have enough of these); its creators were Georgia Brown, Verity Lambert, Midge Mackenzie, directors Waris Hussein and Moira Armstrong. If their characters are too harmonious and well-bred to begin with, by the end they are strongly pressured, conflicted, angry. Suffragette has a woman script writer, Abi Morgan, woman director, Sarah Phelps, three women producers Alison Owen, Faye Ward.

The title Margaret Mitchell wanted to give her famous historical novel, Gone with the Wind, was Tomorrow is another day. It’s a saying that captures the underlying structural idea of many a woman’s art work


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John Everett Millais’s depiction of Mary, Lady Mason deep in thought (she is guilty of forgery on behalf of an ungrateful son, has to hide this or she will be put in prison, from Orley Farm)

In an early part of this story I have endeavoured to describe how this woman sat alone, with deep sorrow in her heart and deep thought on her mind, when she first learned what terrible things were coming on her. The idea, however, which the reader will have conceived of her as she sat there will have come to him from the skill of the artist, and not from the words of the writer. If that drawing is now near him, let him go back to it. Lady Mason was again sitting in the same room — that pleasant room, looking out through the veranda on to the sloping lawn, and in the same chair; one hand again rested open on the arm of the chair, while the other supported her face as she leaned upon her elbow; and the sorrow was still in her heart and the deep thought in her mind. But the lines of her face were altered, and the spirit expressed by it was changed. There was less of beauty, less of charm, less of softness; but in spite of all that she had gone through there was more of strength, — more of the power to resist all that this world could do to her. Trollope, Orley Farm

Next to Sugar’s bed is a stack of books and periodicals. Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right, collected in book form, is topmost, but she won’t read any more of that: she can see where it’s heading. It wasn’t so bad at the start, but now he’s put a strong-minded woman into it, whom he clearly detests, so he’ll probably humiliate her or kill her before the story’s finished. And she’s fed up with Trollope’s latest serial, The Way We Live Now – she won’t buy any more instalments, it’s threatening to go on forever, and she’s wasted enough money on it already. Really, she doesn’t know why she persists with Trollope; he may be refreshingly unsentimental, but he always pretends he’s on the woman’s side, then lets the men win. (Michel Faber, ‘The Apple’, in The Apple. New Crimson Petal Stories, 2006, one of the six contemporary texts, a historical novel set in the 19th century, quoted and discussed, see below)

Dear friends and readers,

The second day, Friday, September 18th, was as long and rich a day as Thursday (1, 2), and it included some unexpected collocations (e.g., Trollope’s North America with a double sonnet by Elizabeth Bishop, which sonnet I mean to quote), panels with four to six presentations, and my own paper (linked in). Intriguing unexpected perspectives were broached.

Elizabeth Adela Armstrong Forbes (1859-1912), School is Out (1889)

Panel 6: Teaching Trollope. Deborah Denenholz Morse chaired the panel and spoke first. Her perspective was her perception of Trollope, which she offers to her classes as a foundation for understanding his works. She presented Barsetshire as a modern place by looking at all the darker, cynical, failed and plangent stories and characters that the structuring of these series allowed Trollope to weave in. Her students had responded to Trollope seen at this angle. She then detailed a couple of students’ responses to these stories. Prof Morse sees Trollope’s novels as recuperative and she ended her talk on those characters in Trollope who are saved morally. Margaret Markwick has never taught so she told us about changing attitudes towards Trollope that she experienced as a graduate student in England, who wanted to write a graduate thesis on Trollope. She met with bemusement, Trollope as a subject with ridicule, and people would say, “Whose Trollope? or “which?” In Britain Trollope is identified as a spokesperson for the establishment and the adaptations on radio and TV mostly reflect this. V.S. Pritchett recorded the first return of liking and respect generally for Trollope during WW2: people read Trollope in the air-raid shelter’s (it’s said). There has been a resurgence in respect for Trollope, two film adaptations since 2000 (for The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right, both scripted by Andrew Davies). One can find people writing with real interest on Trollope’s presentation of how one achieves a successful career, of his self-reflexivity, as an artist, but much stonewalling remains.

Suzanne Raitt teaches He Knew He Was Right as a one of several key texts of the 1850s through 60s (others are Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Ann Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Arnold Bennett novels) in her exploration of Victorian patterns of ambivalent support of various civil and social rights bill for women over the era. She suggested most couples in Victorian novels are in hellish miserable marriages, and this set of novels of the 1860s are particularly: they cover the deserted sexualized masters and mistresses; also the governess stories, stories of mothers-in-law, wronged wives, husbands, lawyers. Raitt’s students researched the bills at the time of these novels, and the laws passed or operative during the period giving women limited custody over their children, allowing women the right to move about freely, to own property, to get a divorce. Novels often have an inconveniently sexualized woman, tropes on mothering a child, on children used as weapons, as ignored; the books are heavy on grief. Students see the benefit of exploring the novel as part of an interdiscipinary study of an era or set of issues.

Mark Turner teaches a course which takes advantage of and discusses and explores the effects of serial publication on literature of the 19th century. Prof Turner works with Linda Hughes and they find themselves practicing serial pedagogy where you are forced to live in, pay attention to what is presently happening. He felt this is a different kind of encounter with texts: people have experienced texts serially, but here they must move from work to work, bits of them at a time on a screen with several windows of texts. Young adults watch movies and present day TV programs in this way too. The notion of progress and progression is structured into these experiences, but but there is no sense that one must finish something, or the book itself manifest completion. He felt seriality has become crucial in our culture.

“It’s Dogged as Does It”: the frontispiece by Francis Arthur Fraser, drawn for the second volume of the 1878 set of Barsetshire books published by Chapman and Hall

Mary Jean Corbett began by saying she felt she had read fewer Trollope novels than many in the conference: she has read his Autobiography, The Way We Live Now, the Palliser novels. She taught a course on the Barsetshire series as a whole, where she divided the students up into groups and asked each group to deliver a presentation on one of the six novels and each of them separately choose a novel by Trollope and read it on their own. Students talked seriously about the persistence of women’s inferior status in Trollope’s books.

Emily Carr (Canadian artist, 1871-1945, her visionary art inspired by the indigenous peoples of Pacific Northwest coast), Walk at Sitka

Panel 7: Australian Trollope. Nicholas Birns chaired and talked generally of “Trollope and the New World.” He felt the delayed building of the Panama Canal helped define Australia as so far away, the Antipodes, and this British attitude affected the Australian view of themselves. He discussed the view of Australia taken by 20th century fiction by Chinese immigrants. Nigel Starck’s “Antony Trollope’s Australasian Odyssey” was a semi-comically delivered summary of his book, The First Celebrity: how Fred, Trollope’s son, came to Australia, married (Rose did not attend the wedding because “she had had enough”), had children, his hardships and how Trollope helped him; how Trollope and Rose’s cook came with them, stayed, married and prospered there, and the present Trollopes; how Trollope was greeted (as the “first” celebrity), and (later) how Trollope’s book criticized (adversely). Steven Armanick showed how Trollope’s Christmas story, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, may be read fruitfully alongside Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Many have regarded Trollope’s art as not in the same league as Dickens’s; while Trollope said he had to acknowledge Dickens’s power over readers, he attacked Dickens’s art more than once, and himself wrote for the Christmas market reluctantly. Prof Armanick saw Trollope as giving his hero, Harry, a character comparable to Scrooge’s, very hard to get along with, even paranoid (an urgent watchfulness, suspecting everyone as an enemy), except importantly while Harry may reconcile himself to his circumstances and the people he must be friends with to live, he does not fundamentally change his nature at all.

From Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock

I came last and was glad I had cut mine down to 18 minutes for that was all the time left. The general description of my paper gives the impression I dwelt on Trollope’s two travel books, North America and Australia and New Zealand, and talked of how in his colonialist fiction and non-fiction alike Trollope is “concerned to show how the memories and norms of people from an “old country” interact with the geographical, new economic, and evolving cultural and social circumstances the settlers find themselves in to make a new environment.” I ended up writing as much about some of Trollope’s great and lesser known or read colonialist short stories (e.g., “Journey to Panama,” “Aaron Trowe”), talked briefly about colonialist sections in his non-colonialist fiction (e.g., Framley Parsonage and the closing epistolary section from the characters emigrated to Australia in The Three Clerks). I compared two of the stories to some famous 20th century stories and films (Picnic at Hanging Rock (film and book), Margaret Atwood’s “Death by Landscape,” and the film The Proposition). I critiqued Trollope’s justification of some of the central behaviors of settler colonialists towards the natives of the country they are taking over at the same time as I argued against the tendency to separate Trollope’s fiction from his non-fiction as distinctively different and showed that if you read them as indivisible and in terms of one another and both as also highly autobiographical, there is much humane and predictive insight to be gained into the results of settler colonialist practices then and now. I’ve made my paper
available on academia.edu, and invite all to read it: “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depictions of Settler Colonialism.”

It was at this point the sessions came to an end for everyone to have lunch.


U.S.S. Cairo, one of “Pook’s turtles,” which fought on the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers until sunk by a Confederate “torpedo” in the Yazoo River near Vicksburg, December 1862

Panel 8: Modern Trollope. I was very taken with John Bowen’s paper, “Bishop’s Trollope: Not Proudie but Elizabeth.” He argued that Elizabeth Bishop’s double sonnet gives us an epitome, the core quintessence of Trollope’s North America: Trollope’s mood, central attitudes to the war. Unfortunately Trollope’s book has not been respected, but Bishop saw the same city many years later and had the same take on it. It is not a cynical perspective but an accurate response to aggressive militarist people, an unpretentious disquieting vision. She took words from Trollope’s letters and wove them into her verse.

From Trollope’s Journal

As far as statues go, so far there’s not
much choice: they’re either Washingtons
or Indians, a whitewashed, stubby lot,
His country’s Father or His foster sons.
The White House in a sad, unhealthy spot
just higher than Potomac’s swampy brim,
— they say the present President has got
ague or fever in each backwoods limb.
On Sunday afternoon I wandered, – rather,
I floundered, – out alone. The air was raw
and dark; the marsh half-ice, half-mud. This weather
is normal now: a frost, and then a thaw,
and then a frost. A hunting man, I found
the Pennsylvania Avenue heavy ground …
There all around me in the ugly mud,
— hoof-pocked, uncultivated, — herds of cattle,
numberless, wond’ring steers and oxen, stood:
beef for the Army, after the next battle.
Their legs were caked the color of dried blood;
their horns were wreathed with fog. Poor, starving, dumb
or lowing creatures, never to chew the cud
or fill their maws again! Th’effluvium
made that damned anthrax on my forehead throb.
I called a surgeon in, a young man, but,
with a sore throat himself, he did his job.
We talked about the War, and as he cut
away, he croaked out, “Sir, I do declare
everyone’s sick! The soldiers poison the air.”

I admit I was so taken by Bowen’s argument because in my paper I had had a long section on Trollope’s depressed time in Washington D.C., how it was in part from his personal life at the time, but also in reaction to what he saw going on in the city at the time. I have now restored the section to my paper in an abbreviated form in a footnote but include it here as one of the comments on this blog report.

An appropriate cover illustration, a photo of Broadway, circa 1860 to an abridged edition of North America (Penguin)

It is hard to convey James Kincaid’s brilliant satire on both much Trollope criticism as well as the academic world and its practices at conferences (lots of fun made of how people praise one another, the conventions of panels and so on) since if I was to write down the words he literally said they might come out sheerly as insults rather than the double-edged irony, mild burlesque and invectives he used. So rather than that I’ll offer some of the implied arguments (as I understand them), which was that literary criticism of Trollope is a controlled set of practices and conventions of speaking (by cultural agreement). We could talk about Trollope’s texts in very different ways than we do; when students first enter college that is how some of them talk about texts very often. Prof Kincaid also sent up the conventional moralizing way people still read Trollope (academics as well as non-academics), using Northrup Frye’s archetypal criticism and Barchester Towers (he has written essays on BT). He asked if Trollope is really assaulting conservative values (what a way to talk), if Slope is not a force for progress? Mr Harding a parasite? The Signora Neroni, a parody of absurd hierarchical pretenses? Charlotte Stanhope a deeply responsible young woman, and Bertie a marvelous anarchist. He seemed to suggest we read all of Trollope out of Bertie’s perspective.

Charlotte supervising the Signora Neroni’s entrance into Mrs Proudie’s converzatione, POV Bertie (1983 Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater)

The last paper I can include here before ending (lest the report go on too long) was Luca Caddia’s “The Way We Counterlive Now: Trollope as a Character’s Writer.” This was a third remarkable paper where Mr Caddia, a translator of Trollope into Italian presented six passages from 20th century novels and found in them references to Trollope as well as analogues of attitudes of mind that we find in Trollope or his characters. When in characters, Trollope’s insights can be similiar to those of the more sophisticated of literary critics. Among his many remarks, Mr Caddia found parallels in attitudes in Philip Roth and The Way We Live Now (he felt Roth had TWWLN in mind, especially perhaps Breghert).

Read The Way We Live Now. It may help to explode those myths that fuel the pathetic Jewish Anglophilia Maria’s cashing in on. The book is rather like a soap opera, but the main meat of it from your point of view is a little subplot, an account of Miss Longestaffe, an English young lady from an upper-class home, sort of country gentry, a bit over the hill, and she’s furious that nobody ‘s married her, [. . .] and because she’s determined to have a rich social life in London, she’s going to demean herself by marrying a middle-aged Jew. ‘ [. . .] ‘How does the family take on the Jew?’ ‘[. . .] They’re thunderstruck. [. . .] She’s so upset by their reaction that her defiance turns to doubt, and she has a correspondence with him. [. . .] What will be particularly instructive to you is their correspondence, what it reveals about the attitudes of a large number of people to Jews, attitudes that only appear to be one hundred years old.’ (Philip Roth, The Counter/lie. 19R6)

I was particularly drawn to the idea (which I agree with) that Trollope’s central characters typically will only accept change if he or she is not asked to give up his or her integrity; he expresses or sees this paradigm as a struggle of the individual against the world, and finds that the world’s demands for change are an attack on one’s character. Mr Caddia quoted Jacques Roubaud, The Great Fire of London (1989) where the writer takes on the anti-social attitudes of Trollope’s central characters, and Mr Caddia suggested that say in Can You Forgive Her? the issue is an adjustment to social conditions which the characters spend all novel long refusing, and some of them never give in for real at all. Henry James valued Trollope for his recalcitrant psychology. Proust gives meaning to life by memory instead of the actual experience, is an underlying them of Alan Hollinghurst,and he offers the idea that the way Trollope is discussed (as say about money) obscures what are the real themes of his books as after all it is the world’s voice which makes such pronouncements.

Mr Caddia talked more length about The Duke’s Children (newly out in a complete copy): a central meditation in the book: what do you do when deprived of someone who has acted as your beloved person for much of your life? He argued the Duke of Omnium on his own is then not so much about integrity as the demand he change his character and he holds out. In the Duke’s dialogue to Silverbridge we find that happiness is having too much to do, with a self-deprecating joke: “a great grind, isn’t it sir, replies Silverbridge. Mr Caddia suggested what Trollope’s characters offer us and his books too are ways of keeping life’s terrors at bay.

In short, during breakfast, I turned this cafe into my club. And like a character from Trollope in his own club (and no doubt Trollope himself, when he was elected to the Garrick, after his pre-morning work (he wrote as I do in the last hours of night) also arrived in the same way), I would walk over mechanically, always take a seat at the same table, utter the same words of greetings to the waiter or owner (a fan of the Dax rugby team), leave on my table the same, always exactly calculated sum, and absorb myself again as quickly as possible into my book, the almost twenty-four hours having elapsed since the day before instantly abolished in thought. But, as a true Trollopian, I didn’t realize that changing urban customs and passing time [. . .] were gradually going to turn my innocent habit into an anachronism. For, one by one, the cafes of the square shifted their opening times ever later into the day. And, one morning, the owner of the establishment I patronized came to me and explained [. . .] that for a month I had been their only customer, [. . .] [so J they really couldn’t keep this any longer, and to please accept his apology. I had reached the end of Orley Farm. I had been oblivious to everything. All Trollopians will understand me.” (Jacques Roubaud, The Great Fire of London, 1989)

In these last papers it was a relief to hear accurate views on Trollope’s texts, perspectives and comments which brought out what is truly of value in him today still. One can see how hard it is to bring this out against reams of distortions, turnings away. I wished the panel on teaching Trollope had offered more individual instances of how students themselves wrote about Trollope, but found Mark Turner’s assessment of the experience of reading and trying to teach Trollope and education itself in a modern classroom as making structures which go against the grain of Trollope’s knitted together texts at the same time as they mimic the installment procedure he himself had to follow in his time and so many writers and readers find themselves having to experience today stimulating: is it life’s patterns themselves, the way we experience life, time in the world that is therefore brought into our understanding or does it just undermine attempts to understand a text in a classroom?

One more blog report to come.

Recent illustration for a Folio society edition of Uncle Silas: the symbolic house (Charles Stewart)


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‘What the deuce is it to me?”‘ he interrupted impatiently: ‘you say that we go round the sun. if we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.’– Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet


Dear friends and readers,

Mr Holmes has a couple of obstacles or problems to wide-spread acclaim. It is melancholy. Its themes include how to cope with aging and its losses, death, stigmatized class status (a no-no). For those brought up on the action-adventure of Robert Downey, Jude Law, Michael Strong and Rachel McAdams, it will not answer your expectations; for those still wedded to Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (to say too little of the justified paranoia of WW2), it will make fun of the 1943 fanatical adherence to the deerstalker hunting cap and pipe (Holmes goes to a black-and-white simulacrum of such a movie and just cannot sit through it); it lacks the giddy pace and surrealism of the first 2 seasons of the BBC Cumberbatch and Freeman Sherlock concoctions; but to say it’s not Holmesian (as the New Yorker guru critic in residence, Anthony Lane means to insinuate) is just not so.

I concede fully that the perspective is post-modern (conventional thought and cant, especially about death and grief be damned), that there is something deliciously Jamesian (Henry) about it. Characters have deeply traumatic encounters on park benches while wearing impeccable hats.


Close-up of hat

They fail to understand one another, cannot bear one another’s emotions. It moves slowly, with shots that capture a poetry of stillness and costume drama in its green landscapes, seascapes, the sina qua non steam train rushing serpentine and noisily through. More than twice, though in one climactic instance it matters as someone is (reminding me of a Trollope scene in The Prime Minister) voluntarily smashed to smithereens.

But that it’s not Holmesian is unfair. Once you try to drill down to what could be the psychological or thematic or even political motive or moral explanation of at least two of its flashback and front story plots, you end up with ideas that will not bear any scrutiny. Convention defeats me here: I do not claim to be writing a consistently post-modern blog so allow me to explicate and show at least miminal story consistency.

There are three time frames: the present, 1947, Mr Holmes, aged 93, losing the last vestiges of memory from the past, living on the south coast of England, cared for by a housekeeper (natch) Mrs Munroe (Laura Linney) and her son, Roger (Milo Parker) who turns to Mr Holmes as father figure because his own father died in WW2: a bitter moment of memory has Linney as Mrs Munroe remembering how, like herself, her husband, was corroded by the stigmas of lower class status, and for his efforts to become a pilot in WW2, was blown to bits immediately (his mates, content to be menial mechanics all survived the war).



A story from thirty years ago is painstakingly put together (& dramatized as flashbacks) by Mr Holmes about Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan) who had two miscarriages or stillborn children, cannot accept this and whose grief is only moderated by lessons she eventually finds for the glass harp (Frances la Tour, the crook teacher), whose intensity bothers her husband to the point he cuts off her money-supply and refuses to set up stone monuments for the never-developed nor born children. It is not giving away the story to say she plots to kill her husband.

Holmes (McKellen) remembering (a difficult feat in the this story) Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan)

It’s not true though that there is no sense to this story. The moral is the husband was wrong; he should have allowed his wife to be deluded by the crook teacher — this reminded me of Woody Allen’s frequent defenses of fortune-tellers in many of his movies and there is a fortune-telling scene here.

The glass harp medium (Frances de la Tour, aka Mrs Western in the 1997 Tom Jones)

Another backstory told through interwoven flashbacks is set in Japan: Holmes has gone to Hiroshima (1946?) to obtain a promised solution of which is said to restore the memory, only to find himself confronted by a Japanese man who accuses Holmes of seducing his father away from him and his mother through the stories of Dr Watson (The Study in Scarlet is the culprit), all the while we know that Holmes now deplores Watson’s fictions a providing false gratifying endings and heroism, with many details so wrong they are embarrassing. Of course this story “falls to pieces in your hands” (as Lane says). Worse, the explanation is reactionary defense of “national” and family secrets, of absurd honor which one sacrifices one’s life for? What Conan Doyle story does not do something like this?


It is Holmes’s self-imposed mission in the film to retrieve: to retrieve the memory of who his Japanese man was (until near the end Holmes believes the man a liar, coward, and that he never met him — the man just deserted his family); to compensate for how inadequate, insensitive, absurd, selfish was his Jeremy Brett-like behavior to Anne Kelmot (the way this Kelmot thread is dramatized is closely reminiscent of the 1980s BBC Holmes movies), something which depends on memory and rewriting Watson’s story.

Much of this is done through the techniques of filmic epistolarity: voice-over with Holmes writing out new texts to replace Watson’s. Part of the fun of this is withholding. We do not see Mycroft (who explicates the Japanese story) until near the end of the film and it’s John Sessions (for me memorable as Henry Fielding, also in the 1997 Tom Jones); we do not see the bumbling inspector (played by Phil Davis, great in sinister, threatening roles in Dickensian film adaptations, now Jud in Poldark), until near the end. There is fun in recognizing these character actors from other costume dramas quietly semi-parodying the roles.


Indeed the uplift at the close is the same fantasy Dickens plays upon in A Christmas Carol. We are asked to believe that people can make up for what they did wrong in the past, find a new person like the one you so hurt now to do better by. We do come near searing calamity in the present, brought on by both Mrs Munroe and Mr Holmes. I can’t deny that sometimes people (as characters) are lucky. The film is as Dickensian as it is Jamesian.

Hattie Morahan was once again “emotionally aflame” — Lane talks of her in A Doll’s House in BAM, but she was astonishing in Duchess of Malfi and I still watch her as Elinor refusing solace. I felt bad for Laura Linney(unbeatable in Love Actually, unforgettable in Hyde Park on the Hudson) that she was given the howling role. I found myself crying at the close because I couldn’t believe in the self-reproach and better behavior of our principal trio: Mr Holmes and Mrs Munroe, to say nothing of the maturation of Roger.

If I had anything to object to in this film it was that both Ian McKellen (too many great films and plays to begin to cite) and Laura Linney could have been given much more deeply nuanced moments. She is literally kept behind bars, looking out from windows:


The film-makers were chary about releasing stills of McKellen showing the ravages of old age in the film, as he falls, eats, puts down stones for those who have gone before him. There was a pandering to the sub-genre of old man-and-hopeful worshipping-boy

OTOH, the beautiful loving feeling at the close of the film was authentic. Doyle’s ever-cool, ever witty, impatient Sherlock is now taking the risk of giving of himself; entering into loving relationships directly. Mr Holmes will leave the property to Mrs Monro and her boy when he dies. We see Mrs Munro and Roger in the garden working together and we see them walk off hand-in-hand too. The boy is now respectful of his mother under an eye of approval by Mr Holmes. He is 94, and we last seem him putting down stones (as Ann Kelmot did) for each of his friends now gone to the earth. He bows before them murmuring a lullaby. McKellen himself is very old now. It is a summer movie because through Jeffrey Hatcher’s marvelous screenplay McKellan as Mr Holmes is believable and comforts you.


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Olivia de Haviland as Catherine driven wild by the implacable Ralph Richardson as Dr Sloper (Wm Wyler’s The Heiress, 1949)

As Dr Sloper, Albert Finney grim, determined to put a stop to Townsend’s courtship of his daughter, with Jennifer Leigh as a seeming sullen puzzled Catherine (Agnieska Holland’s Washington Square, 1997)

Dear friends and readers,

Over the past 10 weeks or so, a few of us on Trollope19thCStudies read and discussed Henry James’s Washington Square (1881) and then Anthony Trollope’s Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblewaite (1871) as remarkably parallel texts. While what proof there exists for a source for James’s chilling novella suggests he drew upon an anecdote he heard over dinner, people who have read both texts (and know how James faithfully followed Trollope’s career, reading novel after novel as they came out) have repeatedly drawn such useful insights from the comparison, it’s hard to give up the intuition that James remembered and rewrote Trollope. At least three of us also watched one or both of the admired film adaptations of James’s novella, and suggested readings of one or both of the novels out of these films. I can in the space available for a readable blog only suggest some of what we wrote.


As Catherine Morland, Olivia de Havilland climbs the stairs to her room (a hard equivalent of Catherine “picking up her morsel of fancy-work, had seated herself with it again — for life, as it were” — ending of book & film)

We began with Washington Square. James’s story may be read as a parody and exposure of the way heterosexual romance and marriage are conducted in upper class society of his era, but the power of the paradigm emerges from his breaking all taboos by giving us a father who hates his daughter for not being wittily clever when she’d replaced her mother (we are not sure she was these things) because her mother died in giving birth to her. She makes him cringe that she’s his. In the way of families at the time Sloper has taken his penniless widowed sister, Mrs Pennimman in, but sees her simply as an idiot, not someone who can do Catherine harm because of her own selfish exploitation of everyone around her. Both women are naive but Catherine’s comes from her goodness of character and innocence. Morris Townsend is capable of appreciating Catherine’s sensitivity and intelligence, but he also wants her money. Among the many disquieting elements in the book is how James mocks Catherine too; she is an intensely poignant figure, cowed by her father’s long derision of her, unable to actively fight him.

The metaphor of drowning kittens is what the doctor is doing to Catherine at the same time as we are given enough ironies and flat statements in the rough scene between Dr Sloper and Morris Townsend to get the point that Townsend does want to marry Catherine for her money. For the reader who persists in believing in companionate marriage and that Townsend who appears to recognize how vulnerable and soft Catherine is will be kind to her, Mrs Almond’s comment, which embedded in these ironies, is to be taken straight (it takes a great deal of tact to read James even at this early stage) that she feels sorry for Catherine pings back to Townsend’s, don’t you care that she will be miserable for life. At the close of Chapter 11 he says he likes to inspire “a salutary terror” in her.

We have the problem of separating the narrator from Dr Sloper: the free indirect discourse does not make clear all the time whether it’s Dr Sloper’s thoughts that show such contempt of women or the narrator’s. When I go over it, I find again and again the nasty reflections are Dr Sloper’s. The narrator will say “poor Catherine” at least. The narrator says that Mrs Penniman is “perfectly unprepared to play” the part of explaining what’s happening. We might say Dr Slope is doing the right thing to check out Townsend by interviewing his sister, Mrs Montgomery, but the whole feel of the chapter is insinuating: he wants bad news; he does not want to hear anything good, and anything he hears he turns it to the worst. Why is Mrs Montgomery so reluctant to speak. She could have defended her brother at the assaulting words and does not. Why not? The words “salutary terror” the Dr uses of his relationship with his daughter lingered in my mind. He sees Catherine from the worst side. Whatever she does, he turns it to her discredit. She is patient and seems obedient, so he reflects “his daughter was not a woman of great spirit.” “Paternity is not an exciting vocation.” One feels he wanted scenes, wanted her to flee – -and thus be hurt. He’s an expert at rejection. He makes her feel terrible. Ironically in Morris’s dialogue with Mrs Penniman he resembles the doctor – curt, skeptical, and (for the reader caring for Catherine) singularly unsentimental. He is as grated upon by her as Dr Slope.

Maggie Smith as Mrs Penniman interfering destructively in Catherine’s thoughts, and relationship with Townsend (Holland’s film)

While in Europe, the Doctor lets his rage come out. Catherine is justly frightened of him. She cannot quite believe he would kill her, but he could and lie about it. He does admit just a little that he is prepared to hurt her badly; “I am not a good man.” He is warning her. When they get home, we see her reaction was to move another step. When he derided her desire to be honest and not stay under his roof while seeing Townsend, she grew angry and knew he was abusing her and that gave her strength to distance herself from him. She tells her aunt this year has changed her “feelings about her father.” She feels she owes him nothing now because of how he has treated her.

Dr Sloper’s sister, Mrs Almond, sees Sloper’s continued enjoyment of Catherine’s misery. He’s a very intelligent subtle Mrs Norris (from Austen’s MP), subtly abusive. He gets a kick out of saying things like; “We must try and polish up Catherine.” He thinks her a dense dullard not capable of polishing — he’s sneering. The savage irony of the book is Townsend resembles Sloper in his scorn of people. Catherine is a tragic heroine. There is no one around worth her, no one around who could reciprocate on his level of love or strength — for we shall see she is strong. Not to act, but to hold out. Holding out counts. Anger becomes a healthy emotion here, and it carries Catherine through.

Then the doctor pulls it out to the nth degree: he accuses her of waiting for his death. She is going to wait and ask Townsend to wait in the hope her father will change his views. This makes him accuse her of wanting his death. She goes sick and faint with this. There is nothing in Catherine or Townsend’s behavior for that matter to substantiate this accusation. It’s not done to stop her marrying Townsend; it’s done to hurt her – to accuse her of the foul feelings he has. And he keeps this accusation up. What is a girl like her who we’ve seen is so moral to say in reply? she finally sees he despises her.

When she finally leaves the room – after he mocks her for saying that she ought not to have a farthing of his money by echoing that with “you won’t,” we are told “he was sorry for her … but he was so sure he was right.” He does not admit to himself he hates her. Of course not: he is amused; “By jove. .. I believe she will stick … I believe she will stick.” Is this a way to talk about her intense and complete abject anguish? He is looking at her as if she was some horse he was betting on and enjoying its suffering.

After Catherine spends a “dreadful night” (and it is dreadful even if she can get up and control herself in front of her father), Mrs Penniman meets with the doctor and he tells her not to do as she had been doing, which is not to practically help but and not to give any emotional support. If she does either, he reminds her of “the penalty” for “high treason.” I don’t think she is the quite the fool the doctor thinks: she says that her brother is “killing” Catherine. Sloper though is into control and possession.

How will Catherine fare if she does marry Townsend. We worry for her — he does not inspire enough confidence. Both her aunts say she is strong, but what if he is a total liar, and once married would betray and hurt her

Ben Chaplin as Townsend irritated by Mrs Penniman’s hypocritical sentimental pretenses — to him she is a jackass (Holland film)

We begin to see Townsend is not worthy Catherine. The chapters at this point leave me shaking. When Catherine tells her father she should not live under his roof (very pious and James as narrator finds her absurd (I see this in my edition in Chapter 22, p 118, the paragraph beginning “These reflexions,” especially the line: “this was close reasoning — James finds her hilarious …); when Catherine tells her father this, he accuses her of bad taste. He disbelieves she really thinks that.

Catherine does not end in an invisible prison; she ends seeing what’s in front of her for real. And then (my view) she does like Millie at the close of the Wings of the Dove — for those who’ve read it. I don’t mean she dies — she does not die (her father has told her she won’t die of this …. ). ? It’s like watching a specimen in a fish bowl writhing. It’s as dark as Daisy Miller (written around the same time, also a novella) whose actual death is caused by the careless sinister minds of those around her.

I see the ending as Catherine ending up in a unlived life, turning her face to the wall because she cannot bear what she has been made to see. This is Milly in The Wings of the Dove, the hero in The Ambassadors, in The American, in “The Beast in the Jungle.” She will do a little good with the money she has. Death has at least freed of the corrosive father and she may live without someone near her who despises her. I had hoped for that for her and she got it without having to leave her home and cope with Townsend for the rest of her life instead.

The two film adaptations

The Heiress

Rare moment of pleasure in one another (Montgomery Cliff as Townsend)

There are great actors here in this film. Wyler directed both Ralph Richardson and Olivia de Havilland to act or become as half-mad people. Richardson’s eyes are half-wild once he is told that Catherine has engaged herself to Townsend. The only way Wyler could understand such a flash of anger and years of hatred and punishment is that the man was not right — and like the other movie, much is made of the death of the wife in childbed and his bitter disappointment at the difference. Miriam Hopkins is Mrs Penniman (and as with Holland with Maggie Smith playing the part), Mrs Penniman has intelligence (James’s character doesn’t). Maybe it’s unreal to make her so gratingly fatuous — except that Bogdanovich pulled that for for similar character in Daisy Miller and Chloris Leachman did that black comedy to a “T.” Catherine begins in such innocence and vulnerabilty I felt intense pain as I waited for her father to come down hard. Haviland plays the part as an adoring sweet girl. It’s was heart-breaking. And then she seems to crack, also goes mad, more obviously.

Wyler couldn’t face that Catherine just caves in — the audience might think her weak (I suggest above I don’t and I hope explained why). Wyler knew we should not have a semi-happy ending, so he has Catherine become deeply angry after Townsend does not show up to take her away to marry him. She goes into a cold rage of hatred for her father herself. And the ending is her refusing to show the father any affection after the scene where she says he despises and dislikes me.” She stays outside the house when he dies — the scene of his demanding her promise again is there, and fuels this hatred. When Townsend returns she plays a trick on him: says she will be ready at midnight; he comes and she won’t let him in. She goes upstairs in grim triumph of cold hatred and anger. The mood is grim for the last ten minutes, dreadfully grim. Haviland pulls it off — she was in Snake Pit around that time where she played a woman put in asylum and gone mad because of this.

Wyler does not get the humor or mockery of the text (neither does Holland)– Bogdanovich did make Daisy Miller as a pathetic heroine also ditzy and we laugh at her at least in the first half of the movie.

This is a remarkable and bold movie for the time — the black-and-white is used to make a nightmare of the house in the second half, not gothic, realistic. One of these Victorian mansions that is a prison — rather like Cukor managed in Gaslight. The angles are remarkable. At the first half of the movie we see Catherine full face, soft focus; in the second half Haviland hard nose is caught again and again; she looks bigger and stronger in the cased-in dresses she wears. She is on guard the way I saw it — but to say she is angry and getting back is to lose the tragedy. A beautiful soul is still there is the poignancy of the piece.

Holland’s Washington Square

An interlude of quiet understanding between Townsend and Catherine

A disappointment. It’s more than that both the father and Townsend were softened, and Mrs Penniman made smarter and more decent (so the portrait softened too), and that the essential attacks and mockery of the original were lost. It might be asserted, How can movies do this? It’s very much against the grain to present characters from an ironic point of view in the film media: it somehow invites intense identifications, strong emotionalism, and is realistic, but it can be done. I’ve seen in the 1972 Emma and in a 1972 Golden Bowl where it was achieved through the use of a brilliantly ironic narrator (Cyril Cusak as also the husband of Fanny Assingham). Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller shows how the characters contrive to destroy Daisy — but then the ending is tragic and as long as you keep to it the point is made; Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady is not ironic, but she exposes James’s fallacies (like it’s good to have all these suitors persecuting you), and is truer to the instincts of James’s story — with Isabel ending with a sadist she is subject to, and Touchett a closet gay or someone unwilling to risk sex but wanting to himself control Isabel, vicariously live thorugh her which is a form of preying. I’ve seen two Turn of the Screws, one by Nick Dear which seemed to me absolutely true to James’s text, and he other by Sandy Welch showed up James’s text as lending itself to misogyny at least.

Dr Sloper (Albert Finney) is still a bully and cruel egoist, but he does not hate Catherine nor is he scornful or derisive; rather he’s possessive; his idea is for her years from now to mary an older man (like himself you see), and sit by him and knit or read — because she is too ugly and stupid to attract an attractive one. What’s wrong is Holland could not get herself to realize the ugly emotions involved. In both movies (as in the book) Townsend is sexually attracted enough and at first finds Catharine’s goodness sweet. We do see Townsend’s frustration at being caught between the father-daughter struggle in this movie, but the emphasis in the movie is on her obstinacy which is not made central to her strength. Holland is no sympathetic to Catharine and in an opening scene makes fun of Leigh as awkward. Holland does make the scene between father and daughter on the mountain scary and you really do feel and she does too Dr Sloper tempted to throw Catharine off.

Townsend simply both wants Catherine and her money. He says, Is that so bad? He does have a business; he is not preying on his sister (in James it’s not clear he’s doing that), and like the James story, basically he grows tired of waiting, feels he can’t take this relationship between the father and daughter and wants out. Maggie Smith is Mrs Penniman and while she does spoil the relationship of Townsend and Catherine while the two are away for a year, she has a lot of Mrs Almond in her.

Catherine (Jennifer Leigh) does have the devastating moment where she realizes her father despises her. When he suggests she will do best to marry years from now an older man, she pushes back and describes how she sees the years of his coming home to her all eager and love — that he was destroying her bit by bit by the way he’d greet her and live with her sarcastically. They do have the dialogue where she says she should not stay with him as she is disobedient and he lashes out with strong sarcasm that this is the final bad taste. She as a creature seems to him altogether in bad taste at that moment — here the movie does edge towards the text.

Courtship and marriage are validated. Catherine has a cousin who marries and is ever so happy, endlessly pregnant and towards the end of the movie Catherine is gaining satisfactin from caring for them too. Courtship and marriage as such are fine – as Townsend shouts, what is so wrong with wanting sex and money? is not that what all want? The framing of the movie is Sloper’s loss of his wife at the birth of Catherine so obviously he has been made so mean (this is implied) because he didn’t have this happy marriage. In the text we really are not told what the marriage was like, only that it grated on Sloper to have his abilities as a doctor shown up.

Apparently the studio was still unhappy about the ending which shows Catharine making do with having a school and bringing love to other children’s lives and finding fulfillment in her cousin’s children. They wanted Catherine and Townsend to marry and be seen as happy. Holland does not do that; it would be to make no sense of the story at all. Not that the ending of James’s story does not imply that social life is what a person must have and enter into to be happy, but James’s story shows it to be hell because of typical human nature’s selfishness, stupidity, predatory aspects — and Catherine needed something better to cope and survive for real. She’s not a saint but she far finer than all around her.


The wealthy father and daughter walking in a park (Holland film)

We then went on to read Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite and discovered it has the same paradigm and some of the same themes and outcomes. Sir Harry himself is imagined as a chivalric ideal male: there is irony as Trollope as narrator tells us Sir Harry spent his life as a grand seigneur in his great house spending money in order to be a central linchpin for the good of his community and by extension England. A respectable moral man, and married an obedient (conventional) wife 20 years younger than him. As the novel begins, a great tragedy: his only son, the heir dies, and the next heir is this — right away we are told — ne’er do well, Sir George Hotspur. Sir Harry has a daughter now 20.

Sir Harry then discovers “too late” what a bad prospect for heir, for the community, for his daughter, Sir George is: gambler, wastrel, idler, but even worse things …. When I read it first I did imagine a mistress, maybe illegitimate children (which is what Gwendolen discovers Grandcourt has). Why too late? he invited him to stay and he is immensely likeable as company, witty, handsome, plausible and it seems perhaps Emily has fallen for this. Not clear — she denies this to her mother and a new candidate, 10 years older than her is to come for Christmas. It’s made clear Sir Harry loves Emily: “he respected his daughter …” He is really concerned over the property as he has made her complete heiress of the property but Sir George will be legitimate head of the family. Her mother is in the position of Aunt Penniman, but very well meaning, not vain jackass

Chapter 3 ended Part 2 in the original instalment publication and it’s a deeply picturesque description of Humblethwaite. It reminds me of Ullathorne only much more so and not at all mocked. It’s Trollope’s adherence to this dream of an ancient seigneurial contented hierarchical world, rooted in Tudor times. Lord Alfred comes to court Emily and there’s nothing wrong with him — he fits in perfectly; he would have made a good husband. The point is made he wants her money and estate, but he would have taken her to London, given her a good life. We are told he did not somehow set her on fire — no erotic enthrallment

(Cont’d in comments). Chapters 7-11; Chapters 16-20; Chapters 22-finis.


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Anton Lesser as Thomas More (Peter Straughan defying a fear a wider swathe of viewers will declare a series boring or slow-moving returns to some of the techniques he used in Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy … ) The Washington Post featured a editorial column by Charles Krauthammer inveighing against the distorted portrait of More, showing how seriously these films are taken …

Dear friends and readers,

My concluding blog review of this unusually rich volume of essays on the often neglected and casually dissed costume drama from the BBC, for several decades a leading and influential creator of fine TV drama. The first part covered different ways of dicussing these serial films ; the second the history and evolution of historical films, and this last on the power of these drama’s audiences (especially in the age of fandoms on the Internet with their instant commentary) and how they can influence how a given mini-series might develop and frame how the series is discussed in public media.


All we are permitted to see in the 1970s is the morning after (Ellis as Ross, Jill Townsend as Elizabeth)

Chapter 16: Julie Anne Taddeo’s “Why don’t you take her?”” Rape in the Poldark Narrative.” I liked this one — it coheres with my point of view on gender politics in the Poldark series (though I differ in how I see Graham’s stance). Where she differs from the approach I would take is she organizes her findings around the fan groups which protest regularly, where misreadings are a result of mainstream cultural values. It offended many viewers of the 1970s mini-series that Ross rapes Elizabeth, and they are given ammunition in this view by the relatively chaste presentation of the 1970s depiction, and by later qualified backtracking in the novels, to be noted in Ross Poldark’s memory — but not sufficient to turn away the reality that Elizabeth manifests intense bitterness towards Ross in The Black Moon and is in The Angry Tide given a very “rough deal” indeed (Graham’s terms for the realities of women’s lives in our culture): she dies of miscarriage she pays a doctor to bring in by causing early parturition, using some herbs known to lead to gangrene. why? the intolerable life she finds herself having to endure when George Warleggan, her aroused jealous husband begins to believe that her second son, he thought his, and born prematurely, is Ross Poldark’s.

Taddeo begins with the enormous popularity of the Poldark mini-series as well as the unacknowledged (by elite groups) extent of Graham’s readership for years of his Poldark and mystery-thrillers-psychologically complex books. Her point will be to show how the fan groups managed to influence how the film-makers changed Graham’s books when they filmed them. The central dilemma of the 12 books is that Ross Poldark loves two women, Elizabeth Chynoweth, aristocratic, upper class, who chooses to marry Ross’s cousin, Francis, partly because she fears marriage to Ross (as a man of renegade risky outcast behavior), and thought he was dead and promised Francis; partly because Francis is the oldest son’s older son, and thus the heir and she hopes can provide her with a high culture social life. Ross takes in a pathetic abject working class (beaten up or abused) young girl, Demelza Carne, to be a servant in his house. Demelza grows up and eventually they have sex (almost inevitably and this carries on) but he marries her quickly — as someone he really likes and feels comfortable with, as a good sex partner. As to defy his class; it is an act of rebellion.  He falls in love with her gradually and deeply. In the 1970s series this altered so that Ross and Demelza have sex for just one night (the film-makers feared the audience would think Demelza unchaste if there were many nights, and that even today would not condone breaking the taboo of marrying far beneath him); Demelza becomes pregnant, even tries to an abortion, but Ross finds out, stops her and “gives” and their child “his name.” When Francis Poldark dies, and Elizabeth finds herself impoverished, alone, insecure, lonely, she marries George Warleggan, even though Ross has made intense efforts to help her (like giving her a lump sum he and Demelza needed badly for his mining business).  Incensed, enraged, he goes to Trenwith and forces himself sexually upon her.  To take her back, to assert his right to own her.  Fans resent bitterly the idea that Ross could have raped anyone. Just the other day I debated this issue off-blog and off-facebook with a long-time ardent reader of Graham’s books and about his life.

So fans of the mini-series argue over this triangle, wanting to absolve Ross and turning to hating Elizabeth. Taddeo shows that Graham is seriously interested in the question of rape, presents women as subject to men; in the second mini-series (out of Books 6-8), we have a young woman, Eliizabeth’s cousin, Morwenna, forced into marriage and Graham dramatizes her experience of married life as continued sadistic marital rape — happily her husband dies, and she remarries a brother of Demelza, but she never recovers from her two years of such experiences.

A scene related to the one focused on above: another rape scene written by a man, and this time we are encouraged to see coerced sex as aggresive seduction (Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary, forced down by a Turkish friend of one of her suitors, Downton Abbey, the first season, 2010)

Chapter 16: Andrea Schmidt dilates on “Imaginative power” of the fan fiction and postings on the Net about Downton Abbey. She demonstrates how these fans — often disdained — expose the absurdities and perversities of Fellowes. He hires a “historian” as a reinforcement of his claim that he refuses to develop his characters in more sophisticated adult ways and deal openly with complex politics because is he keeps to “historical accuracy” no anachronisms in his characters. “Historical accuracy” is his mantra (like the US uses “national security”) behind which he wants to control the depiction of the characters to suit his defense of this super-rich order of people. At the same time he can write dialogue and invent presences with the power of suggestivity. He is usually real enough, and registers the depths and amorality of people sufficiently to open up suggestions we can play with — such as my argument last year that Mr Bates murdered his first wife and Mr Green through the clever ruse of accident.

Schmidt suggests that Downton Abbey fan fiction develops his characters from hints and behaviors Fellowes refuses to make clear or explicit — he cannot sue them as they are making no money and are not acknowledged as legitimate or serious by those in charge of literature and art. These fan fictions and postings and blogs too expose the nasty undercurrents of his portrayals, his fatuity. They complicate his stories in more “interesting, self-aware and sensitive areas” that he (in effect) refuses to. One I noticed is a fan fiction that postulates a love affair between Miss Obrien and “arguably the most underdeveloped character in the series, Cora, Lady Grantham.” A pair of lesbians. In another “poor Edith” is given a sarcastic and funny voice and describes the passive-aggressive relationship of Matthew (his sycophancy and making up to her) and Lady Mary (her cold indifference and potentially needling tongue) one New Year’s Day. They allow Robert (Lord Grantham to have his affair with Jane (the widowed housemaid?).


From Mr Selfridge: the opening episode, Miss Agnes Towler gazing yearningly at the dress in the department store window

Chapter 17: Andrea Wright’s “This Wonderful Commercial Machine” defends and analyses “Gender, Class, and the Pleasures of Spectacle in The Paradise and Mr Selfridge compared to the 1970s House of Elliot. The 1970s is incomparably more genuinely feminist in outlook — for a start, the owners are women. These costume dramas have lots of “good girl messages” I’d call them — stay home, be obedient, don’t rock the values that sustain you supposedly and you’ll be safe and maybe unhappy critics who complain about the spectacle and shopping should realize that’s the point of these series; women go there for pleasure. The older program had 2 ambitious women now we have ambitious men.


Like The Bletchley Circle, The 1970s House of Elliot featured women in charge, dealing, negotating

Wright finds that conservative ideologies have taken over; we espape the present. In The Paradise something less authentic is taking over – modern retail is characterized by cavernous hypermarkets that lack all individiduality. The Paradise maintains its French origin in feel and tone. She carefully goes over the décor of the two series and what is projected – -an opportunity to revel. Respectability and reputation are central to women of all classes. Agnes the desperate girl of Mr Selfridge is matched with Denise of Paradise, a prey to men, clerks on display like the goods, women as a consumable pleasure. Wright compares the kinds and fates of the female characrers in the two series. They fail to offer progressive roles for women and reiterate rigid class structures. A French business women Clemence is a threat sexually as she seeks to win through sexual enticement; she is cast as a dangerous other. Normalcy restored. Agnes has little opportunity, she gets paternistilc support, a sexual education rather than emancipation. We have also another Miss Bunting, desperate over debt, who steals is not pardoned and kills herself.

The upbeat 1940s Cherry Ames/Sue Barton feel to the series can be seen in this kind of stylized cheerful promotional shot — connected to the above still, women going to work

Chapter 18: Louise Fitzgerald’s “Taking a pregnant pause: Interrogating the feminist potential of Call the Midwife.” It’s the story of a newly qualified midwife who arrives in Post WW2 London to take a position alongside other novice midwives and Anglican order of nuns – Jenny Lee, a middle class woman who once loved classical music. The midwife can be seen as a feminist figure because she has been cloaked in misogynies – female strength not liked, a scapegoat. Birth and reproductive rights continue to be a central feminist subject; the show breaks this aesthetic taboo. Abortion becomes a flash point in the series – a story of a backstreet abortion at a time abortion not legal; Nora Harding almost dies – we witness her screaming. Neither woman (a story of Trixie who is first seen painting her nails with blood red varnish) is judged by her community, but both women are in effect punished and abortion and sexual assault are seen as the result of sexual desire. After success of first season Heidi Thomas (the writer who is a centrally important person in costume dramas, especially British) began to try for feminist content. Midwives are a much more visible presence in the UK; US media did not like its bleak ideologies and socialist Health care system. It is feminocentric and about women – none of women defined by relationship to a man – it suggests a communitarian spirit and that domestic history is valuable history.

Another promotional still which does show the ambiance of at least the first season

The main concern of the series is the relationship of poverty and social welfare even if topics – domestic violence, abortion, rape, birth, prostitution are feminist issues – there are so very few programs with women at the center is one reason for its success. Channel 4’s reality TV show One Born Every Minute has a high prioritization of birth stories – central in popular culture today and does reinforce “fact’ of women’s biological difference from men – Call the Midwife is a ghettoizing of what it means to be feminist because midwifery childbirth and motherhood seen as female space. No new points of identification. There is a nostalgia in the way class identity and hierarchies are used (reinforced too). It is white – one nun makes an “unintentional racist” remarks does not provoke disquiet that working class women’s behavior does. A story about a black child is told without referring to the child’s race; the story about the man as a father and man. Call the Midwife does not offer new paradigms for identification nor systematically challenge sstems of oppression and inequity. The larger problem in feminist of racism is here.


As general constant across the three parts of the book and different subgenres of costume drama and mini-series is the gender fault-line: there are men’s films and women’s films from the point of view of the characters and stories and from the point of view of how the screenplay writer, director and producer treat this content. And even if they are apparently feminist, written by women, feminocentric, sympathetic to women, they do not escape the hegemonic male dominance of our culture.

Chapter 20: Elke Weissmann’s “Transnational Complexity and the Critique of Masculinity in Ripper Street.

Ripper Street
Promotional: Matthew Macfayden to the fore, the women ghostly

Elke Weissmann writes on a mini-series Ripper Street (2010-) produced by BBC and BBC America. She feels the mini-series “emphasizes the problem that is constituted by traditional patriarchal masculinities.” This drama exposes while it attempts to critique the results of these behaviors and especially a nostalgic view of them. It offers an intense emotional engagement with its characters — part of serial drama. A central character played by Matthew Macfayden is at first presented as a traumatized and admirable male; he’s a versatile actor and apparently unlike Walter White in Breaking Bad where (according to Weissmann) we see a good man gradually corrupted, Reid was corrupt to start out with. A large theme is the problem of policing: who is to police such a society when the police are part of the problem. Along the way she describes similar min-series which she aligns or contrasts with this one: none of them have I ever seen; Dixon of Dock Street (British 1955-76), Wire (HBO – -I know this one is much admired), Hill Street Blues (I know it was popular.

BBC America
It’s telling how easy it is to find stills on the Net of profoundly wounded women with supposedly protective standing over them (from Ripper Street)

She thinks Deadwood the best of these, but it too makes an exaggerated use of violence, which is shown to be “deeply troubling”. Ripper Street manifests deep unhappiness and does allow for other concepts of masculinity. Violence is shown by the storylines to be a “key element of traditional, hegemonic masculinities,” is traumatizing and central to the problems men face too.

I’ve probably seen so little of this type of thing because I avoid high raw and continuing violence that I know is typical of a lot of filsm — Breaking Bad was an unusual program for me to watch


Rob James-Cellier as Thomas Barrow, a homosexual footman who attempts to blackmail Charlie Cox, the Duke of Crowborough but finds the Duke has far more power than he (Downton Abbey, 2010, the first season)

I’ve omitted Chapter 12, Giselle Bastin’s treatment of the two Upstairs/Downstairs series and keep Chapter 19: Lucy Brown’s “Homosexual Lives: Representation and Reinterpretation in Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey to a minimum. As I remarked in the second of these blogs, I watched the two seasons of the 2012 Upstairs Downstairs and want to deal with the changes from the older to the new series separately, but here I would like to record the central insight of this essay. Lucy Brown shows that paradoxically the depiction of a gay footman in the 1970s, Alfred Harris, much more hostilely than that of Thomas Barrow, which actually ends on Harris’ execution as a spy is in a way far more truthful to the suffering and reality of life of homosexual men until the mid-1970s (Stonewall anyone?) than the sentimental way that Thomas is on the one hand sympathized with when it comes to his love relationships but otherwise stigmatized as a spiteful angry desperately snobbish man (in cohoots with that witch, Miss Obrien).

A single collection of essays has to leave some topics out. I was glad to see the emphasis in two of the essays on the importance and central function and dominance of the screenplay writer in the way the BBC does its actual film-making, but wished that there had been more about the business side of things. For example, a British friend told me:

it no longer produces drama itself. It commissions it from private companies — many of them (originally at least) comprising people who used to work at the Beeb. This new system has been in place for about twenty years, and certainly applies to Wolf Hall. Commissioning seems to work both ways — the idea may come from the Beeb, or the independent companies may pitch to them.

There are reasons to dislike this way of going about things, but it has resulted in many cases in higher production values — contrasting Wolf Hall with the 1970s Wives of Henry VIII shows the difference. It has also led to dumbing down, but Wolf Hall is not guilty of that.

Some the aspects of these dramas beyond dumbing down (short scenes, much less dialogue, itself much less complicated and thoughtful) which the essayists in the last part attribute to the power of audiences could be the effect of profit-making companies who want values that uphold their company and executives to be enacted.

I am a lover of historical fiction, biography, narrative history, historic fiction (older fiction) and think all these literary forms directly connected to, give rise to serial costume drama. I will be writing soon about Peter Weir’s Master and Commander (adapted from an amalgam of several of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, directed and written by Peter Weir, featuring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany).

Bettany as Stephen Maturin on the Galapagos islands, writing up his notes)


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Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn at her wedding to Henry VIII — of course Wolf Hall is not covered in this volume, but it fits into the insights into historical film and fiction (it is Winston’s Graham’s first type, where all major character once existed for real) (2015, from Hilary Mantel, scripted Peter Straughan)

Dear Friends and readers,

After an unavoidable 2-week hiatus I continue my review of this rich volume. The first section was devoted to different approaches to costume drama; this one places the films and mini-series into their place in a history of historical films and fiction, in the heritage industry, among national identifications, and finally recent developments in historical films. I have treated and referred to Katherine Byrne’s “New Developments in Heritage: The Recent Dark Side of Downton Abbey” (Chapter 32); I’ve devoted a separate blog to Giselle Basin’s high praise for “Upstairs, Downstairs (2010-2012) and Narratives of Domestic and Foreign Appeasement” (Chapter 12) as I’ve watched the first season and am into the second of this mini-series.


From Robin of Sherwood Forest (HTV/Goldcrest)

Chapter 8, Andrew B. R. Elliot’s “British Historical Drama and the Middles Ages” packs an enormous amount of information and insight plus good bibliography (they all have that) in remarkably few pages. He begins with the common perception that there are few costume dramas set in the middle ages (most are later 19th century, Edwardian, early 20th century), with the occasional leap into another era other than the middle ages (I, Claudius; Poldark). It’s thought the era is not one easily to recreate from these artefacts, literal epitomizing and also itself not “a usable past,” its chaos does not lend itself to mirroring. His essay is an attempt to demonstrate there have been many many historical dramas and loose adaptations set in an imagined European middle ages (from Scott, from 1930s Erol Flynn style movies, from various modern Arthurian and crusade stories).  Some are minimally historical and connect more readily in the way of other costume dramas and mini-series to fantasy and action-adventure or romance or parody today. So his essay is filled with brief descriptions of many series in which he really manages to say a lot about the very occasional (rare) superb one and describe much fantasy, stories of male hegemonic power and sheer dreck or smooth unexamined costume-y stuff (Men in Tights as the Mel Brooks parody has it).

First there are 3 typologies (why does everyone divide their subject into threes?): one Robin Hood-centered, one Crusades, and one Arthur matter. These intermix but they have different emphases. Elliot attempts to show which mini-series and films made a serious effort to make a statement about the period in which the films were made (the 1970s again comes out as a time of better films and mini-series) and those films which are (he would not use this word) drivel. A celebration of male power is seen across them all — the few good men saving the world. The early 1950s on TV (where there was an endless Robin series on popular and commercial TV) had a naive image of heroism and chivalry with lots of nostalgia, but also an image of unchecked male hegemony linked to physical and political power. Then Elliot goes through each subset from 1960 on. I single out a few he thinks worth re-seeing and study.

Robin Hood: Again the 1970s in general has better ones. He names as fine and interesting: Goldcrest’s Robin of Sherwood Forest and Richard Lester’s Robin and Marion (I resaw it this summer and loved it all over again). An inward melancholy piece about a deep sense of hopelessness for good goals. He says the 2006-9 Robin Hood series is about Robin as “an enlightened post-colonal leader suffering from PTSD; the sheriff now lends himself to a Bush-Blair analogy.

The Crusades: the third is the favorite as richest in anomalies and he singles out a 1961 Danziger Richard the Lionhearted with “gritty social realism” and “shabby style locations”. He goes at length into Derek Jarman’s Edward II 1991 movie) where identity issues, race (Ciarhan Hinds as Bois-de-Gilbert from Scott is particularly effective). The film has Ivanhoe choosing Rowena over Rebecca so reinforces English identity. There was a 1997 mini-series where the the heroes fought over an empowered Rebecca. He likes Cadfael: it was a mystery thriller detective with everyone in tights, but Elliot finds in it real examinations of modern ideologies plus good writing, good scripts, tension, well done.

King Arthur: Elliot says there is much less of Arthur nowadays in films than one would expect (given books where there is a lot, given Victorian background, given the Net and fan groups). He says of one 1956-57 Arthur hardly appears; it’s called The Adventures of Sir Lancelot. Again of what there is the finest is a 1970s Arthur of the Britons (ITV< 192-73, 24 episodes). Arthur redresses many modern nationalist misdeeds. I add that perhaps we don’t like an ideal hero as much as the Victorians did. Merlin is favored as a fantasy figure according to Elliott.

Recently the demand for high production values leads to a reliance on co-production and with the US in there you cannot have the same exploration of nationalisms, international casts become bland and cannot critique the present the way Arthur of the Britons and Robin of Sherwood once did. So there is a prioritizing of multiculturalism with some criticism of imperial power as such.

Elliot suggests that historical drama a process of selection and reassembly from traditional materials. W should not give up on historical drama set in the middle ages: it may be the reality of the Middle Ages was so dreadful in so many ways a long tradition of fantasy from the 1930s picturesque popular costume dramas got it off to a bad start (I left out Stewart Grainger kind of films in Gainsborough films), but we should not give up on it at all — consider for example, Games of Thrones.


Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I (1971)

Chapter 9: Sabrina Baron: “Desacralizing the icon: Elizabeth I on Television.” This was a grim account. There have indeed been a large number of films featuring the character or figure of Elizabeth I, but after a thorough review of these from 1938 on, Baron concludes, with a few parts of some series as exceptions (most notably the six-part Elizabeth I in 1971), the depiction of Elizabeth, a woman who was a powerful and effective leader in her day (lived long, stayed in power, overcame a number of attempts to when she was young kill her and older overturn her throne), she is repeatedly shown as a frigid jealous or humiliated sex object. Her icon in her era was manipulated to present an transcendant female figure effectively doing what men did; in the 20th century she was at first a sexualized female stereotype who failed at love and motherhood and did little of consequence. Recently she has taken over Mary Stuart’s role as an enthralled woman (by Leicester, Essex) deeply unhappy because of this. Says Baron, quite a revenge and erasure by a male hegemonic point of view and from women compensatory victimhood for them to cling to.

The essay is so chock-a-block with films and details I just offer a few: If you look at contemporary records, you see to many Elizabeth was a mystery, a curiosity, an anomaly, but not an abomination. What she proceeded to do gradually was showcase her virginity, insist on it as what wedded her to England. In 1596 an order was issued that all unflattering portraits of the queen should be destroyed. As a consequence a very few depictions of Elizabeth for real in her later years have survived. What was one to do with this unmarrying, unreproducting, later undesirable woman? Her relationships with Leicester and Essex (and others) so romanticized were about their desire for financial favor and political preferment (I add though evidence suggests that Leicester was responsible for the death of his wife). Baron briefly covers US films (e.g., especially the influential Bette Davis and Errol Flynn), particularly how they influenced or were the same as the UK. The Cate Blanchett movie is one of those transforming Elizabeth into the vulnerable yearning woman (I remember her dancing most of all) and Mary Stuart (Barbara Flynn) into the thwarted politician.


I was startled to discover the second BBC film about this queen was an adaptation of Scott’s Kenilworth and starred a very young Jeremy Irons as Leicester and Gemma Jones as Elizabeth. first done in 1956 and then 1967. This is one of those costume dramas wiped out. Irons returned in the same role on HBO in 2005 in a wildly popular version with Helen Mirren (Hugh Dancy, the Essex). (A sad fall away from Jane Tennison.) Alessandra Stanley (who wrote a sequel to GWTW) was a rare critic to dare to write of how this film wallowed in painful pity for this aging woman — none of her public successes made much of, hardly mentioned.


James Onedin (Peter Gilmore) and his first wife, companion, partner, Anne

Chapter 10: Mark Fryer’s “‘It’s not the navy — we don’t stand back to stand upwards’: The Onedin Line adn the Changing Waters of British Maritime Identity.” To me as reader it was telling to have an essay on Elizabeth I where all her real achievements were erased juxtaposed to two essays on depictions of men who are seen as heroes at sea (whether businessmen or at war) where the figures are celebrated: Baron’s essay is grim because the public image is one of intense resentment and dislike of a worthy historical woman; Fryer’s essays is slightly uplifting because the series allowed (as it went on) for a real exploration of at least these characters’ experience of an empire built by the harshness and vagaries of mercantile endeavor. At first it was simply a dramatization of symbols of national identity, as it went on it questioned these.

It’s still okay males to be at the center of an outward story where we see a lot of courage, stoicism, discipline, dignity (remember the brilliant expensive Master and Commander from Patrick O’Brian’s books, by Peter Weir). Fryer goes over a couple of the several seasons and in detail a couple of episodes. We are apparently allowed to see “the harshness of Victorian life” Fryer thinks the departure from conventional unexamined stories might come from its being merchant mariners rather then characters in the Royal Navy. He suggests how the series “did not shy away from depicting the atrocities of establishing capitalist spaces abroad.” He hardly discusses the women but they seem to be in totally conventional roles inflected by making them assertive (within bounds doubtless). So where the gender aspect of reality remains conventional and undisturbed we can have a pleasant history of a film … Since I’m just now reading Poldark and the new mini-series (scripted by Debbie Horsfield) is now airing I thought about the parallels here: Graham does go into the women characters at length and shows us marriage as coerced rape, and as marginalized people and what that does to them.

Promotional shot for Onedin Line

Fryer’s essay is also about the image of the sea in British films and books — central to Poldark because the sea is central to the area of Cornwall it takes place in; Fryer points out how the film adaptations of Austen’s Persuasion bring the sea in continually; how even Downton Abbey does not neglect it in opening on the Titanic. The sea is central to British mythology even now when it seems to be superceded by other technologies. The sea has and continues to provide sites of collective identity including all sorts of hard labor and experience.


Anthony Andrews takes on realistic role (he was an Ivanhoe) in Danger UXB

Chapter 11: Bowdoin Van Riper, “Goodbye to All That: Piece of Cake, Danger UXB, and the second world war.” The title alludes to Graves’s famous book of course. Van Riper talks of how British costume dramas have embraced the interwar years (“the long weekend”) between WW! and 2, with settings that isolate them from modernity – Gosford Park, by Altman was such a film. Two extraordinary series: Danger USX (ITV, 1979: what a decade that was) and Piece of Cake (ITV, 1988). Characters heavily male focusing on work, centering on public life: tales of men defined by their knowledge and skills rather than wealth and social position. Inattentive, incompetent and inflexible characters fall and die. Individuals are framed as heroes or villains in accordance with whether they can get a job done, so characters marginalized or banished usually in costume dramas move to the center. Forget innocence, wit, virtue, charm, social graces.

These differ from previous films in their focus on combat and precise historical accuracy. Danger UXB focuses on the blitz, 9 out of 13 episodes. Piece of Cake is about the RAF Hornet Squadron transferred to France in 1939; the “phony war” comes to an end in 1939 and the Battle of Britain is the focus; few of the characters are left by the end and they do not see themselves as heroes. These mini-series then challenge aspects of the mythologies of the era. These groups of mend did not save the Old Britain but symbolize a new cultural order. Danger UBX shows characters continually pulled away from leisure time. One man goes AWOL in one episode to persuade his family to leave their bombed out house in Manchester and go live I the countryside; minutes after his arrival this house and his wife are destroyed, indistinguishable in the rubble.

Chris Hart and “Fanny” Barton treat war as a serious business (the others persist in apparent joking), something to be studied, worked at, practiced with clinical efficiency Hart is a wealthy American who flew for the loyalists in Spain; Barton mistakenly shot down a British aircraft; Hart teaches Barton how not to miss; he sneers at the self-congratulations of one kill and wreck which he claims was so easy. Hart instructs a mechanic in defiance of RAF practice to install a steel plate behind the seat of his aircraft to protect himself; someone without it comes out with shrapnel wounds in his back. Hart, Barton, “Flash” Gordon and Moggy are deeply dissatisfied with their leader’s adherence to RAF rules; it’s not important to have tight formations and the rest of the heroic claptrap as it is to look out for one another. Change comes from attrition rather than enlightenment. What matters is adapting; we see this in an Australian character; the language used is ruthless; “hammer the buggers hard;” after one inciden they are called “real killers” approvingly.

Enlisted soldiers in UXB are outsiders because they are the manual laborers and manual labor is deemed menial and despised. But they have to uncover the bombs (very dangerous) and their weapons/tools are spades, pickaxes, wheelbarrows; they have to shift hundreds of pounds of earth. Most of the time they are in working class and ordinary settings; when they do have to go to the stately country house where one of the few females in the series lives, Susan Mount (Judy Geeson yes she was the restoration lady wit who married Enys in Poldark), and her father, Gillespie, they are uncomfortable. Gillespie a man who earned his money, explosives expert, background in engineering and applied science. We see a vast network of people behind the heroes who are engaged with complexes of machines. So Susan assists her father; her husband is a cryptomanalyst and elsewhere (thus enabling her affair with Ash)

Anthony Andrews had a major role in Danger UXB; as Brian Ash, he is there to learn; it’s a story of his education. There is a guilt of comprehension between pre and post war worlds, junior from senior officers, English soldiers from people who have gone further abroad. People are lost and befuddle emotionally: Captain Francais, an executive officer incites a near mutiny by insisting his men follow a time-consuming polishing and social rituals.

Neil Dudgeon in Piece of Cake

In Piece of Cake after a while Hart is no longer so formidable. ”Skull” Skelton uses gun camera footage to see what has happened in each case (numbers of enemy destroyed, what damaged). Here it’s the senior officers who are out of touch with realities of modern warfare. Want to preserve gentility; Rex offers fine food and wine and must pay for it;he requisitions a country estate as barracks in France. Skelton the intelligence officer describes his leadership style as “feudal” – he dispenses largesse but demands absolute loyalty. Another older man, Kellaway insists using gun camera footage is an insult: people ought to be taken at their word as gentlemen. Bletchley too (so there’s that name) wants to deny war realities, describe the war as a football match. When the men go to the country house, they say this is one kind of war for one class of people and another for another. Moggy Cattermole the most effective as he casts aside rules (sho down unarmed German rescue planes, berates a squeamish man for not doing the same), Bletchley commends him for initiation but says never mention how he did what he did. Moggy bailed out of his Spitfire regardless of civilians and says he does not intend to get himself killed. Women and children cannot fly spitfires, can they? He says – he is seen as a callous self-centered bully but (says Van Riper) he is the character who speaks” the most unvarnished truth”. But there is a deeply poignant scene where Barton murders a dog who stands waiting for its dead master because there is no room on the plane.

Britain, emerged, says Van Riper, determined to hold power by developing high technologies and using them.Early warning radar, jet engines, digital computers. Pursuit of that dream seen in “Boffin” films (Sound Barrier,1947, Dambusters`1954) and novels like Shute’s No Highway (1948) and Clarke’s Prelude to space (1951). Reality far more complicated and Britain emerges in the shadow of the US, and global influence (ironically?) rests on its culture, new and old. Leading cultural figures who made Britain’s influence felt outside Britain were these technologically expert outsiders (is this so?)

Van Riper sees these films as products of Thatcher’s era, she grocer’s daughter and university trained scientist who became a politician. The men of these series embody Thatcherite virtues, Iron people because uncompromising. I remember Jim mocking a speech of Prime Minister Wilson’s which was famous at one time; it was in praise of technology as the great savior for everyone.


Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens’s towards the end of the last novel (by Ford Madox Ford, adapted by Tom Stoppard)

Chapter 14: Stella Hockenhull’s “Experimentation and Postheritage in Contemporary TV Drama: Parade’s End.” This mini-series (scripted by Tom Stoppard) failed with the public, which Hockenhull attributes to its departures from traditional heritage aesthetic techniques. I watched and read some of the screenplay (like his Anna Karenina screenplay published by Stoppard), and would counter that despite the increase in sexual scenes, the filmic techniques of this series are not unconventional; fancy camera work does not make this a post-heritage drama. The problem with the mini-series is Stoppard is (unlike Ford) not interested in the politics of the war and destruction of old England except as fodder for ironies; the characters are not enough developed believably (as in Fellowes’s thematically inferior Downton Abbey); the departures from Heritage drama that matter are found much earlier in mini-series e.g, The Jewel in the Crown (for politics, ethnicity, exposure of the realities of heterosexual romance) or Tipping the Velvet (focusing on lesbian sexuality). What the mini-series seemed to me was an exposure of the falseness in characters’ miseries, motives, lives, of the world of Downton Abbey — the real ugly behavior of the people upstairs and their variously desperate existences under the pressure of the break-up of the old aristocratic order (or so it seemed in WW1; it has returned in a new form since 1970). It was (as opposed to DA), often deeply hostile to its women characters — as was Ford as far as I can tell — the central heroine is utterly treacherous, disloyal, other women characters are weak, go mad, turn inward and walk away — and this is not sympathized with.

Rebecca Hall as the frivolous adn treacherous Sylvia

This hostility could account for the mini-series’ failure.  As with Stoppard’s Anna Karenina, you have to have read the book to enjoy the film adaptation, itself a response to other film adaptations of this kind of novel. But Hockenhull’s perspective teaches the reader much about film and mini-series on TV today.


Viewers, critics and scholars of historical film and historical fiction have a feast before them in this part of the book, as each essay itself has a rich bibliography in the form of footnotes.


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In prison, telling of how her stepfather abused her and her mother ignored her distress: Anna (Joanne Froggart) and Bates (Brendan Coyle)

The Dowager in her mind bidding adieu to any idea of time regained: Violet (Maggie Smith) remembering

Dear friends and readers,

I cannot deny for anyone still emotionally involved with any of these wrenched backward and forward manipulated-for-climax characters, there were still some stirring and/or genuine moments. There is some uncertainty about when and if it will ever end. So to this season’s finale:

For me intense distress over Anna (Joanne Froggart) in prison, humiliated, blamed, her own abused past used against her; some admiration for Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) defying all convention and rank-based demands to visit Anna; the improbable angelic quest of Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) and Mr Moseley to find witnesses to show that Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle) was in York the day his confession claimed he was in London pushing Mr Green (Nigel Harman) in front of a bus (if he went so far as to say that — we don’t know); however unlikely that such a confession would be cast aside, Anna’s release and continued abjection when she returns “home” (she will not go into Downton Abbey by the front door), and, not for the first time, her bleak presence in black during the Christmas festivities, only to be gladdened and rejoiced and taken away to a quiet private space with her beloved at last.

Rapturous escape

Punishment of servants and largesse on the part of masters and mistresses defined several of the stories brought to a temporary close. In the last two seasons Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith’s) adherence to duty and not exploiting those beneath her any more than her position demands was continued. She did not permit Spratt (Jeremy Swift) to triumph over Denker (Sue Johnston)’s inability to make a fine soup:

Delicious soup

Violet was sorely tempted by Prince Kuragin many years ago, actually fled with him, but was pulled from the carriage, by his wife, the princess, and allowed herself to be dragged back not only to duty, but comfort and wealth, and social acceptability. She has reciprocated by paying for the princess to be rescued, giving the princess acceptable clothes and her reluctant husband back. She rises above the princess’s bitter understandable ingratitude.


It’s an interesting topic: the Dowager’s attempt to do the right thing. I suggest the Dowager has changed over the course of five years — or better aspects of her character have gradually been brought forth. At first she appeared as a kind of dragon lady witch — remember her first appearance, striking in all glittering black.


She does try to do the right thing, and we have now been given enough of her past to understand her marriage was not super-happy at all; she stayed because it was the right thing to do. Sometimes though these moral “right thing to do” can mislead. When she persuaded the older man to desert Edith at the altar, that was wrong even if it seemed conventional wisdom. She was with Rosamund in trying to remove Marigold from Edith. The “right thing” often violates our deeper emotions and needs — that’s a theme in Anthony Trollope by the way (whom Fellowes claimes to be much influenced by). The perversion of our deepest emotions by being required to follow social rightness — In Trollope’s novel, Lady Anna, the heroine, Lady or Anna Murray refuses to marry the Earl and does the “wrong” thing from everyone else’s point of view; she wins because she’s heir. But other Trollope characters walk away without the big money — in The Warden, Mr Harding for example. The Duchess would have been on Archdeacon Grantly’s side. Phineas Finn walks away to a small salary; he is not made happy and in Raven’s version he does it only because Mary is pregnant. But Trollope does fit in with Fellowes and here (as is not uncommon) if you examine Trollope for real, you find his inferences go another way.

It was certainly a season for older women to be proposed to (a Trollopian theme): Mrs Hughes’s (Phyllis Logan) reply to Mr Carson’s (Jim Carter) is a nearly exact repeat of Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton) to Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) and Violet to Prince Kuragin:


Mrs Hughes: ‘We’re celebrating the fact that I can still get a proposal at my age.’
Mr Carson: ‘And that’s it?’
Mrs Hughes: ‘Of course I’ll marry you, you old booby. I thought you’d never ask.

Where did he get the money? In the original Upstairs Downstairs, Mr Hudson and Mrs Bridges have been saving for their lodging house almost the full five years of the show.

And there were the intelligent conversations between the Dowager and Mrs Crawley once again:



Otherwise you were invited to enjoy the perversion of natural good feeling, or asked to rejoice in spite, coming comeuppances, abjection, and confronted yet more women who suddenly could put two and two together. The most dismaying was Lady Sinderby (Penny Downie). It was not that she was hiding deep pain; she seemed genuinely puzzled who Diane Clark and little Daniel (HELLO, DANIEL, HIS NAME!) could be?


I just wish there had been a flicker of recognition and anger in her eyes. I didn’t look but in the script it may say by Diana (Diana or Diane?) Clarke that she expected to be alone with him? I thought she did say that in fleeting passing. The actress the same age as Michelle Dockery, the younger set

(If so, absurd. Jim and I rented a hunting lodge in Sussex one summer. It was once a tryst place for a super rich Duke to have mistress and horses available. We had a large bed with a mirror over it. I kid you not. The building a sort of overgrown hut. I suddenly realize downstairs where younger daughter slept were once servants quarters. This is not marked at all by Landmark Trust who rents such places to people going on holiday in the UK. It was very large down there so lots of servants and grooms as across a yard were old stables — very much marked for our perusal. It was not that easy to get to — as the road is still not marked obviously from a pub, and the bus didn’t go there anymore. Nor were we told which more recent Dukes owned it.)

Rose (Lily James) to the rescue by a series of insistent hypocrisies with all joining in. We were to enjoy Lord Sinderby’s (Aldritch) shame. But what then? everyone conspires together not to help the woman whom he has obviously had a long time affair with, shows no concern for real for or her boy (we don’t learn his name though we do hers, Diana Clark). Meanwhile Lady Sinderby is suddenly unaware of what’s happening, and looks all surprise and bemusement and as ever Atticus (Marcus Bale) notices nothing. There is his half-brother. The character would be great on a slave plantation, surrounded by half-brothers and sisters who were his slaves too; Atticus showed perfect unconcern Beyond yet another women unaware of what’s happening around her (Lady Sinderby); beyond that it’s grating to see how the woman and her child apparently don’t matter, what matters is nothing shall be upset, nor Lord Sinderby embarrassed. Sickening. Yes she looked just fine – but all abasement towards everyone. In a series ostensibly so focused on women, women are dispensable and all children without rich men to keep them.

The worst grating thing was Fellowes’ tendency to when he run out of invented faux obstacles to create tension and climaxes on the back of, he returns to bad servants and we are to rejoice in their comeuppance or downright humiliation. Stowell (Alun Armstrong in the thankless role) was the snobbish butler more willing to hurt others to keep his ego up than his master the arrogant Lord Sinderby needs to:


Fellowes made it acceptable by having Stowell mortify our favorite working class turned sop-aristocrat Tom (Allen Leech) and those under him (including Thomas [Rob James-Collier] who got back Big Time with the encouragement of Lady Mary) but who is he? he probably has no money money than Mrs Hughes — in the first season she originally said she was socking it away; now she has a disabled sister she supports (the Tories will like that). We were supposed to enjoy him cringing before others. I have to have been personally hurt directly before I can enjoy that sort of thing. We were also supposed to enjoy how the Dowager finally best Spratt. His spite against Denker is disconnected from her bad behavior in London. These servants are despicable lot, no? both Spratt and Denker are subject to the Dowager — was that supposed to provide our enjoyment?

Despite what we keep hearing about staff cutbacks since the glory days before the war, the Downtown staff never seems overworked (lots of time for self-improvement, museum visiting), except perhaps in the case of Moseley as first footman — and that is treated as comedy–and Moseley’s fault, of course, for trying to get above himself. Who wouldn’t want to be a servant in a great house? My mother-in-law told me it was servitude and discipline from getting up to going to sleep, little money, hardly any time off.

It has been lacklustre season, filled with phony climaxes or dismissals. Mrs Drewe (Emma Lowndes) can’t be fired but she can be erased. This season was at its best when it tried to return to the tone and mood of the first season, but it did not work as in just the way years had gone by, so much pain and melodrama had been put before us. Also its structuring to move to climax after climax this year and not have one-hour long self-enclosed stories destroyed any of the first season’s quietude.

Canaletto, Alnwick Castle (18th century landscape)

I felt in the last phrase of returning to the Abbey for a singalong at Christmas, they were trying for the quiet naturalness of the first season again. But as is seen from 3/4s of the 90 minutes they cannot — too much water under the bridge and too much expected. So first they have to go away to a super-glamorous place once again. I had thought Alnwick Castle was a testament to Canaletto’s many paintings, the fame of this country house from the Renaissance, deep in Northumberland, but it was apparently Hogwarts they were thinking of — Harry Potter. Whence a very silly YouTube over the preceding week where the characters tried to decide which house each of them would belong to in the school for magic.

Like parents dropping children off to school

Anibundel remarked that it felt like the cast were hanging around a museum. I noticed only a small segment of the show was filmed in the house. We did see them go into it, through the door, so it was not as with Chatworth in the 1995 P&P where the film-makers were allowed to use only the outside of the house, but only a few rooms were requisitioned. Anibundel said most of the rooms from the Harry Potter films were not there and noted the huge fireplaces (in centuries past to keep the occupants warm). The result was a film experience as absurd as someone wearing an extravagantly overdone dress for a short moment of a day at great expense and trouble. This to impress people fooled by glamour and fame and money. I found the inside of the house gross. As fake as overdone luxury hotels. All gilt, ludicrously over-decorated every inch each wall. Must be awful to sit in — but maybe no one ever really sits in those rooms, much less lie and read a book


With all this falseness to see this reassertion of how happy everyone is, not just must be, at Christmas, I was gain reminded of what Trollope said he felt like when he was commanded to make a rejoicing Christmas tale.

While I was writing The Way We Live Now, I was called upon by the proprietors of the *Graphic* for a Christmas story. I feel, with regard to literature, somewhat as I suppose an upholsterer and undertaker feels when he is called upon to supply a funeral. He has to supply it, however distasteful it may be. It is his business, and he will starve if he neglect it. So have I felt that, when anything in the shape of a novel was required, I was bound to produce it. Nothing can be more distasteful to me than to have to give a relish of Christmas to what I write. I feel the humbug implied by the nature of the order. A Christmas story, in the proper sense, should be the ebullition of some mind anxious to instil others with a desire for Christmas religious thought or Christmas festivities –, better yet, with Christmas charity. Such was the case with Dickens when he wrote his two first Christmas stories. But since that the things written annually — all of which have been fixed to Christmas like children’s toys to a Christmas tree, have no real savour of Christmas about them. I had done two or three before. Alas! at this very moment I have one to write [said by Julian Thompson to have been “Christmas at Thompson Hall”], which I have promised to supply within three weeks of this time — the picture-makers always required a long interval,–as to which I have in vain been cudgelling my brain for the last month. I can’t send away the order to another shop, but I do not know how I shall ever get the coffin made.

Yes Mr and Mrs Bates hurry off into that dark bare corridor away from the strained singing; there were moments throughout the hour (as I started with) worth the contemplating.



As for future predictions once again:

Here is a reasonably intelligent review

I have noticed no one has aged much — except naturally. They are all five years older, the daughters dress older; the dress of the servants reflects their changed occupations. I have been glad some of the women are not forced into anorexia: Elizabeth McGovern became that long before this mini-series to make herself viable as a comely older woman. The interviewer said it was to go on until 2010 – I had thought next year would be the last but Fellowes gave another interview which suggested it would drag its coffin on.

So he doesn’t “own” DA anymore and is not the only one to dictate the ending so perhaps it will get worse than ever (more fatuously cheerful with made-up crises easily resolved) or it will darken in ways that Fellowes wouldn’t allow. There’s a general strike coming … My sense is Fellowes made this years’ episodes follow closely on the last because he did not want to show the 1930s in England, the real destruction of some of these enclaves, the proto-nazism and fascism, the growth of socialism for real.

One woman on a Downton fan page called this a “fun” interview. Some people have odd ideas about fun.


So, out my crystal ball: We have two plot lines: Lord Sinderby has a bastard son and now it’s been brought out into the open the sudden bitterness of Lady Sinderby may actuate her into at least a separation for a while. (Maybe just maybe Atticus will notice his half-brother?) Anna and Bates are not home free. Mary will end up with the insouciant cool racing car driver whom she deserves and if he cannot make her miserable, little George will at least grow up to be a twisted ex-aristocrat; Edith (let us hope) return to London and get a nanny. Daisy and Mrs Patmore and Mr and Mrs Carson are provided for; Baxter and Moseley go off into the sunset for other positions in the same great house, or break free, he goes to teach and she to open a millinery and dress shop. We have been told the ending: Lord Grantham dies of a massive heart attack — it was angina and we see how breathless he is when drunk. Other age away, four widows left with another (Lady Rosamund) coming for visits. They have money to travel, at least Cora is young enough, except perhaps Lady Shackleton not far off in her cold cottage. Lady Anstruthers will not be welcome. But Thomas may stay on as butler at last.


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