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A fall syllabus for reading Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset and Joanna Trollope’s sequels online at OLLI at AU: Barsetshire Then and Now.

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Tuesday afternoons, 1:45 to 2:15 pm,
SG 690: Two Trollopes: Anthony and Joanna: The Last Chronicle of Barset and The Rector’s Wife
10 sessions online (location of building: 4801 Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20016)
Dr Ellen Moody

To begin the process of registration go to:  https://www.olli-dc.org/

Description of Course:

We’ll read Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset, the last or 6th Barsetshire novel, one of his many masterpieces, once seen as his signature book. I’ve read with OLLI classes the first four; there is no need to read these, but we’ll discuss them to start with (the one just before is The Small House at Allington). His indirect descendent, Joanna Trollope, has recreated the central story or pair of characters, the Rev Josiah and Mary Crawley of the Last Chronicle in her Anna and Peter Bouverie in The Rector’s Wife in contemporary terms, which we’ll read and discuss in the last two weeks, together with her The Choir, a contemporary re-creation of the church politics and whole mise-en-scene of the Barsetshire series in general.

Required & Suggested Books:

Trollope, Anthony. The Last Chronicle of Barset, ed., introd, notes. Helen Small. NY: OxfordUP, 20011. Or
—————————————–——————————–, ed., introd, notes Sophie Gilmartin. NY: Penguin Classics, 2002. The Oxford edition is better because it has 2 appendices; one has Trollope’s Introduction to the Barsetshire series, written after he finished all six of them; and the other very readable about church, class, religious politics in the era.
There is a readily available relatively inexpensive audio-recording of the novel read by Timothy West reproduced by audiobook as 2 MP3s; an earlier one by Simon Vance, produced by Blackstone’s, also 2 MP3s. West’s more genial ironic voice is the one many people say they prefer.
Trollope, Joanna. The Rector’s Wife. 1991: rpt London: Bloomsbury, Black Swan book, 1997. Any edition of this book will do.
—————-. The Choir. NY: Random House, 1988. Any edition of this book will do too. We may not read this as a group, but I will discuss it.
There are also readily available relatively inexpensive audio-recordings of The Rector’s Wife and The Choir as single disk MP3s, read aloud by Nadia May for Audiobook. They are both novels well under 300 pages.


Trollope’s own mapping of Barsetshire

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion. You don’t have to follow the specific chapters as I’ve laid them out; I divide the books to help you read them, and so we can in class be more or less in the same section of the book. This part of the syllabus depends on our class discussions and we can adjust it.

Sept 20: 1st week: Introduction: Trollope’s life and career. The Barchester novels. LCB, Chs 1-9

Sept 27: 2nd week: LCB, Chs 10-19
Oct 4: 3rd week: LCB, Chs 20-28

Oct 11: 4th week: LCB, Chs 29-39
Oct 18: 5th week: LCB, Chs 40-49
Oct 25: 6th week: LCB, Chs 50-58
Nov 1: 7th week: LCB, Chs 59-67
Nov 8: 8th week: LCB, Chs 68-76

Nov 15: 9th week: LCB, Chs 77-84. Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife, if you can, 3/4s of it, or the equivalent of Parts 1-3 of the film.

Nov 22: 10th week: Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife and The Choir. Trollope and the equivalent of Barsetshire today.

Suggested supplementary reading & film adaptations aka the best life-writing, a marvelous handbook & remarkable serials:

Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography and Other Writings, ed, introd., notes Nicholas Shrimpton. NY: Oxford Classics, 2014
—————-. “A Walk in the Woods,” online on my website: http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/nonfiction.WalkWood.html
Gerould, Winifred Gregory and James Thayer Gerould. A Guide to Trollope: An Index to the Characters and Places, and Digests of the Plots, in All of Trollope’s Works. 1948: rpt Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987 (a paperback)
Joanna Trollope: Her official website
The Rector’s Wife, 4 part 1994 British serial (Masterpiece Theatre, with Lindsay Duncan, Jonathan Coy); The Choir, 5 part 1996 British serial (also Masterpiece Theater, with Jane Ascher, James Fox) — the first available as a DVD to be rented at Netflix, the second listed but in fact hard to find in the US


Lindsay Duncan as Anna Bouverie, the Mary Crawford character, first seen trying to make money by translating German texts (Rector’s Wife)


Boys’ choir taught by organ-master Nicholas Farrell as Leo Beckford (The Choir)

Recommended outside reading and viewing:

Barchester Towers. Dir Giles Forster. Scripted Alan Plater. Perf. Donald Pleasance, Nigel Hawthorne, Alan Rickman, Geraldine McEwan, Susan Hampshire, Clive Swift, Janet Maw, Barbara Flynn, Angela Pleasance (among others). BBC 1983.
Bareham, Tony, ed. Trollope: The Barsetshire Novels: A Casebook. London: Macmillan Press, 1983.
Barnet, Victoria, “A review a The Rector’s Wife,” Christian Century, 112:2 (1995):60-63.
Doctor Thorne. Dir. Naill McCormick. Scripted Jerome Fellowes. Perf. Tom Hollander, Stephanie Martini, Ian McShane, Harry Richardson, Richard McCabe, Phoebe Nicholls, Rebecca Front, Edward Franklin, Janine Duvitsky (among others) ITV, 2015
Gates, Barbara. Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes & Sad Histories. Princeton UP, 1998. Very readable.
Hennedy, Hugh L. Unity in Barsetshire. The Hague: Mouton, 1971. I recommend this readable, sensible and subtle book
Mill, John Stuart, The Subjection of Women. Broadview Press, 2000. Online at: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/mill/john_stuart/m645s/
Rigby, Sarah. “Making Lemonade,” London Review of Books, 17:11 (8 June 1995): 31-32. A defense of Joanna Trollope’s novels.
Steinbach, Susie. Understanding The Victorians: Culture and Society in 19th century Britain. London: Routledge, 2012.
Robbins, Frank E. “Chronology and History in Trollope’s Barset and Parliamentary Novels,” Nineteenth Century Fiction, 5:4 (March 1951):303-16.
Snow, C. P. Trollope: An Illustrated Biography NY: New Amsterdam Books, 1975. A fairly short well written biography, profuse with illustrations and a concise description of Trollope’s centrally appealing artistic techniques.
Vicinus, Martha. Independent women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850-1930. Virago, 1985. See my summary and analysis: https://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2019/01/11/martha-vicinuss-independent-women-work-community-for-single-women-1850-1930/


Arthur Arthur Frazer, “It’s Dogged as Does It” (early illustration for Last Chronicle of Barset)

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Ramu Sood (Alyy Khan) being brought out to be hanged (he is absolutely innocent of any crime and everyone knows this)

Dear Friends and readers,

A few days ago I provided a framework, perspective, synopsis and then summaries and commentary for the first half of the first season of the superlative Indian Summers. Now we turn to the second half of the first season, dominated by the mysterious murder of Jaya (Hasina Haque) from having been stabbed and drowned (by whom we are not quite sure even at the end of the season). The accusation is imposed on Ramu Sood; we watch how this comes about, the trial, and its conclusion in the British power murdering Sood.  They have colluded to exclude from evidence that Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) was Adam, her boy’s father and stood to lose everything if Jaya persisted in following him about with the son. It’s not that the idea that the parentage of Adam is the key to the murder simply does not surface.  This truth is repressed by those who know and lies about Sood are provided as a distraction from Ralph.

It’s shocking even today as it is made plain the British are doing this to rid themselves of a wealthy, proud “trouble-making” landlord.  We listen to several characters tell Sood’s one full supporter, Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb), it does not matter if Sood is guilty or innocent. Sood is the kind of person the British want dead. They resent — Cynthia had already thrown Ian out of the club for working for Sood — and fear him. Sood tells McCleod the moral of his story is “keep your head down” if you are not a white and powerful male.


Jaya and Adam – she persistently abducts Adam from the missionary school where he was taken after rescue in the first episode so as to bring Adam before Ralph

Within this over-arching story, we watch Aafrin Dalal (Nikesh Patel) become bitterly disillusioned with Ralph. At the end of the season Aafrin realizes that Ralph will do nothing to prevent the gov’t from hanging Sood. Aafrin had assumed that Ralph would recommend mercy in the form of a prison sentence and then leniency in later years to cut down the sentence. Ralph at first writes a letter to that effect, but Ralph, after letting it stay publicly on his desk, destroys it and instead lets the death penalty take its course immediately. We also see the full criminality and viciousness of Cynthia’s (Julie Walters) character, who beyond lying on the stand to convict Sood, is responsible for the death of Eugene (Edward Hogg) Mathers, Madeleine’s (Olivia Grant) beloved brother and plots to persuade Olivia to return to the US and never return (despite Ralph’s determination to marry Olivia in order to give some moral pattern to his existence). Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb) emerges as a hero risking all to try to save Sood, and when he does not, siding with the Indians to rally viscerally against the injustice in a funeral.

I admit I had not realized that WETA has placed online recaps of all the episodes of the first and second seasons, and left them available (here is one place you can reach these), but as these are not easy to click on in chronological order and are told neutrally (though concisely, concretely, accurately) I will carry on providing summaries and evaluations of the series.

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Episode 6 brings together all the threads we had come to understand in a violent open near murder by Ralph of a Irish soldier-hunter, Captain Billie Farquhar (Jamie McLaughlin), a character out of Kipling, because Farquhar is threatening Alice (Jemima West) with blackmail (she can pay him off with sex). We also see in a memory flashback the death of Jaya — who dies screaming, screaming. Her body shows multiple stabs (plus much abuse from earlier years as an outcast beggar).

Jaya had started to show herself, to come to Ralph’s house and with Adam, their son; he goes to her and proposes that if she agrees to go somewhere else, he would support her, but he appears to do nothing about this.  Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah) as the missionary teacher who loves Adam repeatedly wrests Adam back from this half-mad mother: Java threatens the boy, puts him at risk; she confides to Ralph that beyond her life in the streets, all she has known from men since Ralph abandoned her has been abuse. At the end of Episode 6 Jaya is apparently waiting for Ralph by the river (it seems like an appointment was made) and looks eager and then (apparently it’s not Ralph) because this person is doing something which horrifically frightens her, and next thing we see her drowning and screaming.

A second thread is that of McCleod’s relationship to Ramu Sood. Jaya has strayed into Sood’s house and finding a woman’s beautiful wedding clothes in a closet, takes them and puts them on.  These turn out to be Sood’s dead wife’s dress, and he becomes very angry. Sood is a lonely man who sits on his porch, half asleep with a gun across his knees — we learn in the trial his wife had died in childbirth. The gun shows he feels that his life is continually under threat. Now it was McCleod who, sorry for Jaya, let her work in what were McCleod’s uncle’s and are now Sood’s tea fields. McCleod’s good nature and naivete contribute to the tragedy.  Sood had looked at her impersonally and thought she would not be an effective worker and felt she might bring trouble. By this time Sood is training McCleod and they are working together.

In David Gilmore’s The British in India (cited in my first blog on Indian Summers) Gilmore says that a disproportionate number of Scots people came to India for work and became successful businessmen working closely with the Indians. We see the two men forming a friendship, Sood training McCleod: a mentor-father relationship forms. They sit and drink and Sood tells of the beggar woman and wedding dress.  Sood invites McCleod to stay, but McCleod insists on going home alone and hears the screaming nearby at the river — having seen Sood on the porch waving to him a few minutes before.


Farquhar’s first appearance: he is showing the ladies the head of the snake which he just killed

A separate thread is the discomfort and on again off again relationship of Alice and Aafrin. The absence-presence of her husband, Charlie, looms again. Irish Captain Billie Farquhar (James Maclachlan) comes out of nowhere to shoot and kill a snake who terrifies Madeleine, Ronnie Keane (Rick Warden) and maybe frightens Alice (Jemima West), all taking a sort of stroll in the bush (as it were). He is Irish, and presents himself as a mountain climber needing permission to climb the Himalayas. We are told this climb is extremely dangerous physically, and it quickly emerges that in fact Farquhar is not there to climb these mountains: when Ralph gives permission, Farquhar suggests Ralph wants to get rid of him. He reveals he is a friend of Alice’s husband, Charlie, and soon Alice is again in a abject position. She is susceptible to bullying; is bullied continually by Sarah Raworth (Fiona Glascott) who also knows of the marriage and her flight, and threatens to reveal she is not a widow but has (in law) kidnapped her son.


Sarah and Alice — this frenemy relationship is continuous — Alice is actually the friend of Leena, and tries to help at the missionary school

Ralph watches from afar, at first thinking Alice is “leading Farquhar on,” and when she denies this, Ralph literally throws Farquhar down the stairs, bashing Farquhar’s head on a wall in such a way as possibly to cause a serious concussion. Farquhar leaves in haste, but not before he has threatened to tell Charlie what actually is the condition of Alice and reminded her the boy belongs to the father.

A lighter note: Dougie Raworth’s (Craig Parkinson) keeping to his wife, puts her in a better temper and we see her for once on a roof accepting drink from her son and husband (playfully) instead of enacting incessant bitterness, aggression and pride and snobbery, envy, and spite.

That Ralph can risk murder of Farquhar shows his violence. We see him remove Madeleine from tea at one point and he forcibly in effect rapes her from the back (buggers) her and we see her submit to the pain (no pregnancy would happen). Then Ralph’s close servant, Bhupinder (Ash Nair) goes after his wife, Sumitra (Anitha Abdul Hamid?) who is Alice’s servant and nanny to Alice’s baby son, Percy — from the back, but she has the courage to refuse him and run away. We do see Ralph grieve over Jaya’s body in the morgue, but continue the lies he does not know who she is.

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Complicity would be a perfect title for S1, Episode 7. We see how Superintendent Rowntree (Guy Williams) leaps on McCleod’s naive bringing forth of information about a link between Jaya and Ramu Sood — specifically her taking his wife’s wedding dress and his anger over this — to accuse Sood of premeditated murder. Then the complicities slowly emerge:


Ian (Alexander Cobb) in his flat realizing he has been badly used

It takes time for Leena to realizes Raworth is holding back information which might help Sood: Raworth and she both know that Jaya was Adam’s mother, but more importantly that Ralph is the father. Raworth keeps saying he is not telling to protect Adam; but the reality is he is afraid to expose the Private Secretary for fear of reprisals. Ralph has sent him a huge check for the school (soon after Jaya began to be seen around the compound). Our respect for Raworth ought to go way down: his abjection before his wife is matched by his cowardice before British authorities.

Cynthia keeps up the drumbeat of false stories, including that Sood killed Armitage, when it was Armitage who attacked Sood. But then (like Leena slowly about Raworth) I realized Cynthia suspected Ralph did it and he suspects her. So Sood is a screen for both of them. (What do they care about him?) Aafrin seems as yet indifferent to what is happening in the trial, caring only that the Muslim girl (Sati) he found himself engaged to (through his father’s behavior) lied to him and endangered his position as a trusted Parsi among the whites.

Sood cries after being beaten into confession — as he says his crime was to behave as if he were equal; he should have kept his head down and not taken over the tea plantation. It ends on Ralph also (yet another person) telling McCleod it’s no use to offer any alibi, you will not be thanked. I did not realize that the whites and the passive obedient Indian community really meant to hang Sood when they knew it was a false charge probably because such a program as this would have poetic justice (so I thought).


The players — one of the more savagely ironic stills in the series

There is a play within the play going on: the British are putting on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with Cynthia as Lady Bracknell. Events happening within the play and the behavior of the players to one another reveal their characters and parallel events leading up to the trial. Cynthia tries to win McCleod back by welcoming him into the club and giving him a major part in the play (one she removes from Eugene Mathers out of spite), but he gradually sees through this and returns to the police to tell what he saw and insist he is Sood’s alibi. The large analogy (not obvious and thus probably lost to an American audience) is that Cynthia is Lady Bracknell and cares intensely about Ernest, who in this paradigm would be an allusion to the orphaned Ralph.

The larger event referred as happening off stage is Ghandi’s threat to go on a hunger strike and Ralph objects to staging the play as bad politics (the British will look bad); but the Viceroy (Patrick Malahide) who has a major role, and is much flattered throughout, insists the play go on (in effect he threatens Ralph with loss of his position). Ralph fears this ignoring the suffering of thousands and Ghandi’s symbolic recognition will cost them the parliamentary votes they need. Viceroy laughs at him.

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Episode 8: The Trial. The first time I watched the framing (very weak) and then trial and conviction of Ramu Sood, I didn’t realize quite how “guilty” was a foregone conclusion. The Indian judge had never for a moment considered coming up with a “not guilty” verdict. I admit that still I couldn’t take in that in the next episode this innocent man would be killed before our very eyes.


Raworth suddenly standing up at the trial, stopping Leena (whose POV we are in) from giving evidence that Ralph Whelan is Adam’s father

Some striking moments: Raworth protected Ralph Whelan so closely and then sent back Ralph’s check. Raworth cannot face his own lack of integrity, but to send the money back is as useless (one might say) as both Ian and Leena’s evidence on behalf of Sood in the trial. When Raworth signals to Leena on the stand that she should not utter Whelan’s name that made her evidence no evidence. She has come courageously to the Indian lawyer to tell him that Adam is Jaya’s son and that an important part of the evidence is who the father is. But on the stand she does not identify Ralph. She also made the mistake of criticizing Jaya (ironic that this is used against her). The Indian lawyer on behalf of Sood, suggests that she herself might have murdered the boy because she so yearned to be Adam’s mother, and then the unscrupulous British lawyer repeats the idea. So she is triply betrayed: by both lawyers and in effect by Raworth. Raworth fails Leena as McCleod does not fail Sood. Now whether telling the truth would not harm Leena, we cannot know ….

The worst villainess of the piece is Cynthia Coffin — ruthless, supposedly for Whelan, she ceaselessly blackens Sood. When it’s insinuated that Raworth might be Adam’s father, she says oh no, it was Armitage — no sleaze is beneath her. She (we realize wrongly) fears that Raworth might tell the truth were he accused – and the accusation is obvious when he stands up in the trial to stop Leena’s evidence. I probably should reread The Importance of Being Earnest to understand Lady Bracknell’s full relationship with Ernest; it is parallel with Cynthia’s with Ralph. She has now consigned Eugene to an early death by putting him in her club basement because she wants to get rid of both Mathers people and find for Ralph a much wealthier wife.

I did begin to feel there is misogyny in the way Cynthia is continually fingered as so powerful and so cruel. Sarah Raworth’s behavior reinforces this misogyny. She seems to vomit during the trial when Raworth stands up to defend Leena – all she cares for is is she acceptable by these racist imperialists. She comes home after the trial exposes Raworth and Leena has having some relationship to Jaya and Adam, and she rages at Raworth on the grounds she will now be stigmatized and excluded again. She tells him how boring, boring are his sermons. Against this is that when Aafrin breaks with Sati and tries to reach Alice, we are to feel for Sati who now will have her reputation utterly compromised — so not a misogynous script.


Sooni seated by the Indian lawyer; the snide insinuating English lawyer badgering Sood to confess …

Also the character of Sooni (Aysha Kala) shows us a feminist paradigm  — as does the story of Alice who has no rights or power or ability to earn an income it seems.  Sooni supports Sood, helps the Indian lawyer, gets McCleod to the court sober to give his evidence on behalf of Sood. Sood tries to persuade Ian not to give evidence; Sood pretends hostility to Ian, and insults him, and in Ian’s emotional hurt, Ian runs off to get drunk. Sood is the unselfish good man — who understands the way the Raj works but (as he said) assumed he could be an exception. We see him on the stand treated disrespectfully and played with by the lawyer — and realize the full extent of his personal tragedy: a man who lose a beloved wife and child only a few months ago.

It’s not an overtly violent, over dramatic ratcheted up drama — it is utterly believable.  At the end the last shot of the episode is of Ralph’s feet. The British lawyer used as evidence incriminating Sood that a filthy old sandal was found near the river. The lawyer scoffed at the idea a British man could wear sandals. But could this be Ralph’s sandal? We are given a clue here: the sandal was in too bad a shape to be Ralph’s. So who could the murderer have been if not Ralph, and an Indian man? Stay tuned.

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Cynthia justifying herself to Ralph …


As Sood is taken to his death, Ian jumps up and attempts to hug Sood, and stop this killing — very moving moment

See the comments for Episodes 9 or “Secrets Out”, and 10: Temporary Resolutions and the Hanging of Sood.

In another week or so I’ll write about the second season. For now Indian Summers might be considered an answer to the critiques of The Jewel in the Crown. Here we genuinely see the Raj from several different Indian POVs, and its power and cruelty are before us. It also much to its credit gives us a deeper sense of the permeations between England and Indian culture — no matter how hard the English tried to insulate themselves, they cannot. The little instruments are here too: it’s also the first one I’ve seen showing how ostracizing someone from the club could be used. Without the club, Ian has no friends, no where to go. These ever so civil upper class types, high cultured, are a bunch of ruthless murderers. But all are equally capable of evil and harm. An Indian man comes up to Aafrin and lets him know he knows about how Aafrin stole the document — he is demanding money to stay silent. I became intensely involved with all the characters; part of my grief at the cancelling of the series was to lose their presences and their full stories over the projected 50 episodes.

Ellen

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Julie Walters playing Cynthia Coffin, mistress of Ceremonies, hypocritically welcoming everyone to the club, her right-hand man, Kaiser (Indi Nadarajah) by her side

Noticeably: the kind of motifs, themes, and some character types you see in 19th century Anglo-Indian books and still in EM Forster and Paul Scott are not here (rape of white woman not central, but rather badly mistreated Indian women – murdered, imprisoned, no sneaky sly non-white characters but rather relentless white corrupt officials …) — a modern Anglo-Indian set of stories

Dear Friends,

Six years too late. How typical of me. I first watched the first Poldark series twenty years after it aired (1995 when I began to read Winston Graham’s books). Indian Summers aired for two years (or two seasons), ten episodes each from 2015-2016 when it was unfortunately cancelled, supposedly for not high enough ratings. Indian Summers is astonishingly even-handed: it is the first Anglo-Indian film to dramatize centrally the stories and characters of as many Indian characters (Parsi, Muslim, Hindu) as it dramatizes Anglo white (English, Scottish, American, some Australian, one Irish) characters. It candidly shows the cruelly unjust behavior of the white characters in front of us to the Indian ones. Jewel in the Crown, fine as it was, does not come near this. It’s superbly acted, fully realized production values (as this is put), beautifully written complex dialogue, on location (or near enough).

I’ve been watching and re-watching it for several months – I bought it when I began to prepare for the Anglo-Indian novels course I gave in two places this past spring 2022. I felt so sad when it came to an end and I realize that several threads were developing towards the second season, and (from the second feature at the end of that season before the series was cancelled), the series was supposed to be fifty episodes or five seasons, covering the period from 1932 to 1947: the first season was set in 1932, the second 1935, the third was going to show us the characters another three years later.

If it has a fault, it was that it introduced the character too slowly, allowing them only gradually to present their full selves and predicaments, the way we meet characters in complex novels, requiring that you re-watch to get the full and ironic significance of earlier episodes in the first season. Several of the Netflix commentaries include complaints and puzzlements because viewers did not understand what was happening until they reached later episodes and one must remember that at the time streaming, and having available all episodes at once to watch and re-watch as we do today was not common then.


Paul Rutman speaking of the Parsi family in the show

There are other problems in trying to write about it. Since it was cancelled after two years, and there are no books for a fan base to rally around, I have had a hard time finding out anything substantial about it. For example, I suspect it’s based on a novel sketched out by Rutman or several found by him (a kind of composite), but cannot prove it without some evidence. Here is a rare column on it: The thematic aim of the series is to lay bare the repressive policies and laws of the British gov’t that ruled India before Independence. This idea shapes and holds the several story lines together. Paul Rutman’s wife is from the sub-continent; he taught there in 1993; later he visited and lived there; after the topic was suggested to him, he read many many books (he cites histories and memoirs). He became convinced the relationship between the two umbrella cultures (there are more cultures in Indian than the upper class English/Scots and Parsi families the series centers on) is of vital importance for understanding Indian history and India and later 19th century UK and the UK until recently. He was drawn to the mood of nostalgia he found in these writings, and stories of people fighting for individual and group survival.

Too many years have gone by to retrieve it (sometimes the producers relent and a series is revived within 2-3 years), the only hope would be to do it again with different actors, and TV and film techniques and dramaturgies have moved on again. As with the Poldark seasons, and Foyle’s War (and other series I’ve written about here and on Austen reveries), I thought perhaps the best thing I could do to draw attention to it once again, for its own sake (watch for enjoyment and what you can learn about India) and to encourage other films of this type, is to retell the stories. The full complex depth, and empathy one can feel for the flawed central character of Cynthia Coffin, played magnificently by Julie Walters, takes two seasons to develop …

One becomes intensely involved with most of the characters, whether you love, identify, laugh at, cry for or hate them: a friend told me he hated the chief white male, Ralph Whelan (played by Henry Lloyd Hughes). I felt his Parsi counterpart, and subordinate, by the end brother-in-law, Aafrin Dalal (played by Nikesh Patel) was the series’ true hero.


The two men shaking hands when Whelan first hires and promotes Dalal to be his chief clerk and secretary (a general dogsbody for Whelan who is private secretary to the viceroy)

I can’t do it episode by episode since they are not self-contained (like the Foyle’s War ones and many of the Outlander episodes) and you only understand what you were watching in the first when you get to say the fourth (the second season this is no longer a problem and when new characters are introduced, they are somehow explained as much as they need to be right away).

The first season, Episodes 1-4. The first opens with a group of people seen on a train, all on their way to an Indian station near or in Simla, the summer retreat of the upper class British leaders. We see a half-caste child (part Indian, part white) whom other Indian children are throwing stones at, who seems homeless and ends up putting himself on the train track (thus inviting death). The train stops in time, and the child is rescued by a white missionary, Dougie Raworth (Craig Parkinson) and an Indian woman we later learn works for him in a school as a teacher, Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Reevah). They take him into the missionary school and think up a name for him: Lazarus is too obvious, and they chose Adam. What we learn by the fourth episode is this child is Ralph Whelan’s illegitimate son by a village girl whom he loved but never married, Jaya (Hasina Haque), now a homeless beggar, thrown out of her birth-place. On the train we meet Dougie’s racist wife, Sarah, a mean petty coarse nasty woman (Fiona Glascott), whose son rides next to her.

We also meet Alice Whelan (Jemima West) on her way “home” from England with her young baby son; we learn quickly she is fleeing a British husband, and seeking the love and protection of her brother: another key moment to this episode is when she climbs the stairs of the family mansion, Chotipool, and the two embrace. We are introduced to the racially segregated society of the club, with our first impression of Cynthia as the crude amoral, if hard-working, manager of the summer activities centered in the club building called the Royal Simla Club (“no Indians or dogs allowed,” says the sign).


The reasonable intelligent Dalal father (Roshan Seth), too much a compromiser though) and the mother (Lillette Dubey) whose world-view is narrow but passionate, a woman of integrity

This first episode also introduces us to the Dalal family before us — Parsi, pro-British, the most family-like conventional (warm) group of people for the first few episodes. Aafrin is shown as still under parents’ control and yet supports them. Aafrin thinks that he is in love with a Hindu girl, Sati (Elllora Torchia). He has a sister, Sooni Dalal (Aysha Kala) who in the series is the Indian romantic heroine, a sort of counterpart to Alice whose life has taken a bad turn by the time we meet her. Several of the young men in the series will fall in love with Sooni. Two older brilliant actors are the parents (see just above). An assassin following Whelan confronts him, with a gun, and in a scuffle shoots Aafrin in the chest; Aafrin would have died but that Ralph gets Cynthia to organize an ambulance and take Aafrin to the hospital. Aafrin and Alice’s love affair begins when she comes to the hospital to visit this man who saved her brother.


Sooni with Ian McCleod (Alexander Cobb), a Scotsman who gradually emerges as humane just man fighting for vindication of Ramu Sood (Alyy Khan), literally murdered by the British because he gets in their way as a landowner who thinks he has rights ….

The episode ends with Ralph having dinner on a porch at Chotipool, and carelessly, ruthlessly fucking Madeline Mathers (Olivia Grant), an American woman there to find a husband. Cynthia has enabled this relationship under the wrong impression the Matthews are rich, and when Cynthia finds out she relegates Madeleine’s crippled desperate and beloved brother, Eugene (Edward Hogg) to a room where he contracts typhus and dies (at the end of the first season). Madeleine’s character develops relative to Ralph and Cynthia’s story the way Sarah’s does Dougie and Leena’s (who share outlooks, goals, and love one another) so they remain secondary if complex important characters.

Of Episodes 2 through 4, it’s enough to say the action and scenes develop the characters we have been introduced to, with new ones adding on. The political realities and some of the characters’ secrets are gradually revealed; the literal circumstances of their lives and nuances in characters thickened. For example, we meet Ian’s maternal uncle, Armitage (I can’t find a first name), played by Richard McCabe, a drunken, overtly bigoted owner of a tea plantation, whom Ian has come out to help; the plantation is doing so badly and so much in debt to Sood that we see Sood take it over in the season, much to the uncle’s rage; the uncle attacks Sood when Sood asks him for money owed, and Armitage dies of a heart attack brought on by his own alcoholism and violence. Eventually Ian is excluded from the club when he protests the hideous treatment of Sood (who is even accused of attacking Armitage when it was the other way around), and, together with Sooni, joins protest demonstrations on Sood’s behalf after Sood is hung. In the second episode there are climaxes in the hospital and over Adam running away; we see Jaya and realize she is following Ralph and, from his POV and that of loyal Indian servant, Bhupi (Ash Nair), endangering Ralph’s reputation and career, his standing.

In the third episode, Sooni involves herself in a radical, revolutionary demonstration supporting an Indian woman’s speech (Nalini Ayer) and ends up in prison; the theme of the speech is that the idea that something is better than nothing is worse than no enfranchisement at all. Sergeant Rowntree recommends beating the people taken into prison. Alice visits the Raworth school which lacks all sorts of essentials and becomes friendly with Leena. Aafrin learns to ride horse so as to join in on the British way of life (what Ralph wants); Indians in suits watching are intimidated by Ralph standing next them; Ralph invites Aafrin into the club (!) for drinks. Raworth is all abjection in front of the endlessly gardening obnoxious Sarah who does not want the son, Matthew, to go to her husband’s school or a “ghastly” fair at the club (because they are low ranked people); she takes advantage of her husband by put-on crying about how she lives so far away from everything (I realize some viewers would sympathize with her).


The Viceroy is the center of all parties, with Cynthia the endless jolly entertainment (it’s an act)

In the fourth episode, we meet the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon (Patrick Malahide) who is not in himself a bad man, but goes along with all that the UK gov’t deems necessary to dominate and extract as much profit as possible from India and the Indians. He has a sour sense of humor: Am I the only one here without a martyr complex left over from 1857 (he asks)? There’s a mixed race (but all upper class) dinner party with everyone all dressed up: Aafrin explains his family came from Persia centuries ago; Eugene claims the Mathers family got out of the stock market before the crash.


Ralph as Louis XIV and Madeleine as Marie Antoinette — it is not uncommon among the super-rich for people to dress themselves extravagantly as royals of the past (in NYC at the turn of the century robber barons and their families did this)

Episode 5: Ralph’s engagement party to Madeleine where they dress up as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. A number of threads are now also developing minor characters and side stories, some of them epitomizing, some interesting in themselves. I emphasize how Cynthia in this episode emerges as a basically murderer — she is spreading as truth the idea that Ramu Sood killed Armitage; she is threatening McCleod with banishment from the club if he works for Sood (who tells McCleod he wants him for his name and as a decent manager); she has discovered the Mathers are broke (she will steathily attempt to undermine and destroy Ralph’s engagement); Ralph says he is not sure he loves Madeleine. We see he has a mother-son relationship with Cynthia; in the second season we learn both are badly in debt, with Ralph much more deeply in.


Ralph (Henry Lloyd Hughes) and Cynthia (Julie Walters) in an unguarded moment, confiding …

Leena is a Cinderella who finally puts on a dress to go to the ball (a party at the club to which she as a teacher at Raworth’s school can come) but retreats because she truly loves Raworth and does not want to distress him. His awful wife, Sarah, has discovered Alice is married, and by threatening to expose her bullies Alice continually: we see how susceptible Alice is to cruelty. The club secretary, Ronnie Keene (Rick Warden) is a sycophant who has shown that nothing is beneath him is in the later episodes of this season attracted to Sarah and she to him.


Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah) at the school — in season 2, she is sent to prison for 9 years after a proposed new viceroy sexually harasses her and Ralph’s son, Adam, fiercely loyal to her set him on fire ….

Ralph manages to get an untouchable accepted into the club assembly — Ralph is a complicated ambiguous character whose larger political vision includes an aim of integration with the Indians since he personally regards India as his home (his family has been there for generations — this did happen) and does not want the British to give up central power over India. He is trying for a India bill which he thinks might lead to unification through nationalism (not to divide the religious groups); what stands in his way among other things are the 600 princely states (and the story of these will be embodied in the second season).


Alice and Aafrin later in the first season, very much drawn to one another

Dalal’s father suddenly seems to allow Aafrin to love Sati — he is far more reasonable than the Dalal wife-mother whom Sooni has not yet broken from — I am wondering how much he suspects Aafrin is attracted to Alice and this is a ploy to stave the Alice affair off — and an open English and non-Indian connection. The episode ends with Aafrin and Alice kissing in the gardens (party going wild now), while Bhupi kicks out the nervy Jaya and Adam (trailing around after Ralph). Sati we know destroyed a letter which Aafrin gave her to give to Sooni to get rid of evidence in the Dalal home that Aafrin sometimes works with Indian rebels in ways that undermine Ralph.


This summer house in Penang, Malaysia was filmed as the British Hill station in Simla (see a slideshow of all the houses & places used)

To be continued …

Ellen

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Marion Halcombe (Jessie Buckley) and Laura Fairlie (Olivia Vinall) hugging for dear life (2018 Woman in White) — a double self

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve written a blog on the difficulty of adapting Wilkie Collins’s novel, The Woman in White, into a modern movie, and shared my syllabus for this just past summer course on Sensation and Gothic Novels, Then and Now, to wit, Collins’s The Woman in White, and Valerie Martin’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I’ve taught myself an enormous amount (compared to what I knew say when I wrote my last blog about the difficulty of filming Collins’s novels), and was exhilarated, riveted, and fascinated by Collins’s book. The people in my class seemed very interested, all who came were doing the reading (plus they all read Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde) and liked the two movies I screened (2018 Woman in White, Fiona Seres, 1996 Mary Reilly, Stephen Frears [and Roman Polanski’s script altered]), and I told them about the revealing updating in the 1997 Woman in White, Pirie and Fywell).

Now often when I finish reading and teaching a brilliant book, I write an essay-blog on it here (or Austen reveries); in this case I decided, the better contribution to an understanding of this book would be to share the calendar I constructed for the book while I was reading it I will also share the Table of Contents I made, which we used to anchor class discussions.

One of the books I read in for the course is Jenny Bourne Taylor’s In the Secret Theater of the Home: Wilkie Collins, Sensation Narrative, and Nineteenth Century Psychology where Taylor argued that the striking sense of many-layered personalities impinging on one another that the novel conveys derives from its subjective narrative devices, of which they are many. Woman in White is very like Richardson’s Clarissa, an epistolary narrative: what Taylor implies is the deeply subjective, violent, nightmarish, and whatever other dreams erupt from our reading these juxtaposed journals. Taylor is anxious to show us how psychologically and socially insightful are these patterns of human behavior.

At the same time I became aware that Anthony Trollope’s famous mockery of Collins’s method in Trollope’s Autobiography was not an exaggeration. Trollope had been correct to say that Collins “constructed” everything in his novel “down to the minutest detail” so that different parts of the story adhere consistently to a calendar and can be plotted or dovetailed consistently across the book. And it does really matter if something “happened at exactly half-past two o’clock on Tuesday morning; or that a woman disappeared from the road just fifteen miles before the fourth milestone.” If Laura Fairlie was seen alive in London after she was declared dead, then there’s proof she still exists, and the tombstone lies.

But while both recent editors and an editor from the 1970s discuss the dating of the characters’ journals in the novel, none of them actually sketched the calendar out itself. That’s what I’ve done. It is, alas, too long for a single or even double blog, and since Jim’s death, I can no longer add documents to my website, so I put the calendar itself on academia.edu, and am writing this blog to alert the fan-lover-reader of Wilkie Collins’s book (and any scholar who may find it of use) that it’s up there. My hope is people wanting to understand the book will find uses for this calendar the way many readers have my calendars for Jane Austen’s novels.

A Calendar for Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White

Although I was forced to label this analysis of the underlying patterns of the novel a “draft,” it is not. Nor is it a published paper, nor a paper for an academic conference, but a working document, a document to work with as you read and study and write about Wilkie Collins

Curiouser and curiouser, I noticed that all three of my editions of The Woman in White, the 1999 Oxford, ed John Sutherland, the 1999 Penguin, ed Matthew Sweet, and an older 1974 Penguin, ed Julian Symons lacked a table of contents! Well I can supply that in this blog too:

An outline of The Woman in White, using the Oxford World Classics, ed Sutherland 1998/9; and then Penguin, ed Matthew Sweet 1999 (in parentheses)

Preface to present edition p 3-4 (p 6) (Sweet edition has 1860 preface, pp 3-5 too)

1 Walter Hartright, pp 5-127 (pp 9-126)

Subdivisions

Anne Catherick’s warning letter, pp 78-79 (pp 79-80)
Mr Fairlie’s letter of dismissal, pp 110-11 (pp 110-11)

2 Vincent Gilmore, lawyer, pp 127-62 (pp 127-62)
3 Marion Halcombe, pp 163-97 (pp 163-95)

Subdivision

Hartright’s farewell letter, on way to Central America, burnt by Marion pp 185-86 (p 183)

Second Epoch, p 198

1 Marion Halcombe (Cont’d), June 11,1850, pp 198-343 (pp 196-335)

Subdivision

William Kylie’s letter, which Marion destroys, Oxford pp 273-74 (Penguin pp 268-69)
Visions of Walter Hartright – 4, ruined temple, forest, stranded ship, a tomb & veiled woman Oxford Sutherland pp 278-79 (Penguin pp 273-74)
AC’s letter: she has been seen AC’s letter: she has been seen Oxford Sutherland 303 Penguin p 297

2 Count Fosco, pp 343-44 (pp 336-38) – Postscript to Marion
3 Frederick Fairlie, pp 345-64 (pp 338-56)
4 Eliza Michelson, Housekeeper at Blackwater Park, pp 364-407 (pp 357-98)

Subdivision: Fairlie’s note now produced Sutherland p 392 (Penguin 383)

Several Sort of Narratives

5 Hester Pinhorn, Fosco’s cook, pp 407-13 (Ann Catherick’s death as Lady Glyde’s) (pp 399-404)
6 Doctor’s certificate, p 413 (p 404)
7 Jane Gould (prepared corpse), p 414 (p 405)
8 The Tombstone, p 414 (p 405)

9 Walter Hartright (Cont’d), pp 414-19 (406-11)

Third Epoch

1 Walter Hartright (Cont’d), pp 420-540 (pp 412-528)

Subdivisions
Marion Halcombe’s story, pp 422-39 (pp 417-30)
From Count Fosco’s letter telling of how Anne Catherick in asylum claims to be Lady Glyde p 425 (416-17)
Mrs Vesey’s letter p 445 ( p 436)
Fosco’s threatening letter, pp 457-58 (447-48)

2 Mrs Catherick’s letter, pp 540-53 (pp 528-40)
3 Walter Hartright (Cont’d), pp 553-614 (pp 540-597)

Subdivision
Note to Pesca, from Walter, open by 9 am tomorrow, then act p 594 (p 580)

4 Count Fosco’s narrative, pp 614-29 (pp 598-616)
5 Hartright concludes, pp 629-43 (pp 613-626)

On my TrollopeandHisContemporaries listserv at groups.io, we are planning to read Collins’s No Name this coming winter; I am now listening to The Moonstone read aloud by Peter Jeffreys (brilliant) and have added Collins to my list of authors to be read, and reread and studied, and read about. I did love his Rambles Beyond Railways the first time I read it: he goes round about and meditating what he sees and hears in Cornwall. I recommend Catherine Peter’s biography of Collins (see review by Jim Kincaid) and Taylor’s Cambridge Companion

Ellen

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John-Alexander Sakelos as Peter Quince, Jacob Ming-Trent as Bottom, John Floyd as Flute, Sabrina Lynn Sawyer as Snug

Friends and readers,

The summer is more than half over and I’ve not recommended any summer movies. I have urged as a perfect summer book the treat of an ironic romance, shadowing the gothic at its edges off-stage of Valerie Martin’s Italian Fever, and tonight add (in haste, lest you miss it) the unmeaning (in the best sense) broad farcical fun at the National Building Museum of a Folger production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. A high compliment I can pay it is I felt at moments like I was back in New York City in the Central Park theater watching a Shakespeare play, for this MND like to many Central Park Shakespeare plays was doused in a feeling of local culture (African-American city style) and sentiment (here DC).  How happy those nights were for me in the 1970s in NYC under the stars.  This one had a little of that wondrous starlight at moments, and was also (not unrelated) a community event:


Danaya Esperanza as Puck at the top; Rotimi Aghablaka and Nubia M Monks as Oberon/Theseus and Titania/Hippolyta on top; the four lovers on either side

I agree with Peter Marks it’s another savagely cut-down Shakespeare, and was done very broadly (precious little nuance was felt, so no sense of intimacy). Still, those central moments for the lovers in the forest, the players’ practicing and production, with the frame of Theseus/Hippolyta as Oberon/Titania(only it is he who falls in love with an ass) was enough. The best lines survived and then some.

Peter Marks omitted what was the fun: filled in was a lot of African-American and recent rock music, Jacob Ming-Trent mimicked a lot of African-American slang phrases and pop culture allusion as well as the culture itself (this Bottom rode an invisible motorcycle) as did the players to some extent and the framing of the noble and squabbling faery lover. Our Athenian pairs were left to be their usual selves. The dance and music performed by everyone immersed us. The faeries’ outfits were magical fantastical:


The same actors played the players as the faeries

I liked some of the costumes as outlandish bizzare: for example, Snug as Thisbe in the play


The red wigged braided hair is Thisbe; the other extravagant lady is Helena (Renea S. Brown)

I suggest that you do not expect a lot of serious philosophic feeling about dreams and/or love despite what is interestingly (in the program notes for the production) claimed by Michele Osterow; what we are given rather is elusiveness and self-conscious self-reflexive ironic highjinks, e.g., Lilli Hokama as Hermia may be little but she is fierce, and tosses Hunter Ringsmith up to the sky.  My favorite moments came with Kathryn Zoerb as Moon and Brit Herring as Wall (for whom, alas, I can find no photos). The director was Victor Malana Maog; Alexandra Beller, choreographer; and Tony Cisek (long time Folger person) did the production design.

When I could still see to drive at night and could come to night-time productions, pre-pandemic at the Folger itself, they had another of these Midsummer Night’s Dreams, this one a movie with more sweet sadness and melancholy, elements missing here. But we are (I am) aging and in this at-risk-world of ours, don’t miss out on this gaiety (however vigorous — think robust).

The stage and auditorium as a whole set up in a playhouse space:


Behind the scenes pre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream stage play.

Ellen

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The translator, like the original poet, is a Narcissa, who chooses to contemplate [reality, herself] not in the spring of nature, but in the pool of art — Renato Poggioli, On Translation

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I heard a conversation (sort of) between Jhumpa Lahiri and Nicoletta Pereddu on Lahiri’s latest book — so it was about translation. It came from a building once a synagogue, now a community center for the arts, via zoom, under the auspices of Politics and Prose bookstore. Despite my being irresistibly drawn to her, I didn’t expect much since the last talk I heard her give was so evasive and stilted (so it seems to me because I find the compelling nature of her texts for me inexplicable). She is a very guarded presence in her books too, more than ever in her new identity as an writer in Italian, writing in the tradition of intensely subjective women’s novellas and mostly concise memoirs.

This latest book, according to John Self of The Guardian, is another with holes in it: like Dove Mi Trovo and In Altre Parole she does not explain why she threw off English, her previous post-colonial and diasporic content, moved to Italy, became (as far as she can) Italian. They reminded me of Joan Didion in her Blue Nights: why write about something if you’ve no intention of writing about it (her daughter’s death from alcoholism, a condition she partly picked from Joan as mother and the father, both of whom drank heavily).

I’m writing this blog because I was very pleasantly surprised. She attempted to be candid, and when offered questions whose assumptions were unexamined reactionary-isms, she went to the trouble to undermine them and produce a humane reason for writing and reading good books. She was tactful and kind: it was a marvelous talk.

She said that for her translation is an origin story, an art that brings the writer back to her origins. The point of origin for her was once and still is Bengali/American. The book is a collection of essays of what she was thinking about translation while translating and writing originally in Italian. She feels you engage most deeply with an author when you translate him or her. She has been drawn by what Italo Calvino wrote of translation, Gramschi, and Ovid (strangely I thought to myself in this context — these are ceaseless stories of rape). Translators are transforming texts, says she. Echo and Narcissus provide central metaphors Narcissus is the first self, self-centered, and Eco the stronger re-producer. She quoted Borges on the idea that it’s the original that’s unfaithful to the translation — he’s giving translation priority and treating it as an original imaginative work.


Daffodils are narcissus flowers — from my very own garden on the front lawn

By moving onto Italian, it seemed she was re-alienating herself because in writing in Italian she is said to be using someone else’s language, as people claim ownership of a language if they grow up speaking it. Only if it’s your mother tongue (note the metaphor) are you free and deep with it automatically. So by doing this she made her identity an open question. In the case of the language she chose (for love of it, she says in In Altre Parole, from sound to world view), the reality is Italian is so diverse. Even now there are many dialects beyond the Tuscan, which has become standard Italian. In any case she never felt she owned English (or Bengali) — these are questions that belong to discourses in nationalism (imagined delusions in part I’d add).

She was naturally asked the question about whether she had the right to translate another language with one that was not her own. Of course the person had fallen into the trap Lahiri said she denied or was avoiding. She answered that by saying, when you ask the question, Who has the right, you are flying in the face of all she believes as a writer, reader, teacher. A text (when incandescent? — that’s Woolf’s term) transcends such categories; they are irrelevant, we are all human beings together, it seems.


A recent photo

Here I would have liked to challenge her: she insisted that when she translates a man, say Domenico Starnone whose Ties (Englished version) she has translated, it does not matter that she is a woman. Implied here is there is no gender fault-line in texts. This argument is why I am putting this talk on this blog rather than my Austen Reveries one. She is wrong, and having myself read her translation of Ties, I know she’s turned it into a feelingful woman’s book despite the story being one about a man who easily drops one wife and picks up another. (His book is in dialogue with his wife, Elena Ferrante’s, or a kind of refutation of them.) By making this claim, she escapes the accusation (at the time) that when in her first book she made the center of it a traditional older woman and then a young man, she avoided delving into herself at the time, for in The Namesake we now see she was Moushumi whose identity in the end is French through the language she studied, and country and culture she went to live in. Self is probably correct to say her latest book shows curious self-blindnesses. I have bought it (from ebay) and await it eagerly.

Then as a translator, she said, face with your text you are translating: you are always just arriving, upon arrival. I thought of Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival, a beautiful book about his time spent near Stonehenge in a cottage, deeply burying himself in the English world he wants to be part of. So the act of translating is an enactment of the diasporic condition after all. For her in the act of two languages coming together in her head, there is an intensely compelling experience, a crucible. She re-enacting the intensely passionate stories of her Bengali-American career by acting out language in a different way. It emerged that she has also been studying Latin, and she is not just reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but translating the text — presumably into Italian! What she finds, even in two tongues so close in linguistic forms, is the text resists her, it resists her modern substitution. Getting inside a new language challenges your/her reality. She cannot learn to talk it as she has Italian, for there is no world where people are talking Latin any more.

There was a modesty and humility in some of her comments and tone. She said each translation is an attempt and so an original text can be re-attempted, and it is is as ages pass — the mystery of how an original text remains itself but when you are translating it, somehow you need to put it in contemporary target language or it’s pastiche. This line of thought of course would seem to move in direct opposition to Borges’s claim. Still translation remains transformation and what happens is the previous text (the original) disappears, or at best, lies behind the translated text and only someone who knows the original language can see the previous peeping out as it strains against the translated language.


I’m reading Christa Wolf’s No Place on Earth in the Italian version/translation for the sake of Anita Raja’s (Elena Ferrante) postscript …

But Borges was there again in her idea that translations erode the idea of authorship, especially when they are masterpieces in their own right or occasionally better than the original text — I saw that in the Italian translation I read of Goncharov’s Oblonsky. To this day I don’t know the name of that Italian translator but dolce vita values of Italian itself made the Russian book lyrical. She offered the idea that the translator is liberating the original text from its first author. (For myself I think some literary critics do that for primary imaginative texts and great movies for great books.) She came out with this idea in response to someone who in her question has talked about how a translator must “honor” the original author (reminding me of the demand people sometimes make of movies that they be “faithful” to the original source book).

Lahiri’s idea is that there are a range of ways of translating — of course there are. This brings us back to Dryden with his distinguishing the metaphrase (very close, nearly word for word, the danger here is the translator can fall into translationese), the paraphrase (free enough to write in the target language in a creative way appropriate to the genius of that language) and the imitation (or freer adaptation we might say, the appropriations of modern transposed into other times movies and 18th century satires called Imitations). The writer-translator is paying attention to the original text for the sake of the readers who want to reach that original insofar as it’s possible. The translator has to allow the text to read the reader or the reader to find in the text what he or she can read.

She did talk in abstract ways and showed that she has led a privileged life — there was an austerity and idealism about her approach which suggested someone who has not had to bend to the commercial world or the limits of understanding in undergraduates, or average readers. But I suppose that was refreshing in itself — the professor questioning her produced these roundabout self-grandiose commentaries filled with flattery of her. I thought it admirable that Lahiri could pick out of Pereddu’s gobbledyguk a clear point or points and questions. Pereddu’s hair (so I’m catty) was a vast mop of overdone curls obscuring her face; her clothes ever-so-elegant. The present style for tenured women faculty who want to look young is sexy-fashionableness. So here was a European version.

At one point Lahiri compared the translator’s encounter with a new or other language to an encounter with a landscape: as you learn the language through translating into it, and deeply study, become your text through translating faithfully. I liked that idea very much you see. I translated 600 of Vittoria Colonna’s sonnets and poems into English, 90 of Veronica Gambara’s (see my essay from many years ago), some twenty years of my life in study — using French as an intermediary sometimes.


A reimagined land- and seascape of the island Procida, Italy

I’ll never actually meet this woman (Lahiri) nor would she offer me the respect I’d like, but I have myself followed a similar path (even to ending in the same language) to create an identity of sorts for myself.

Ellen

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Millais’s Good Samaritan (one of the illustrations by Millais for work other than Trollope’s I showed and discussed)

Dear friends and readers,

I am again very gratified to be able to say I gave a online talk to the London Trollope Society on-line reading group (a fourth), and it went over very well. People were interested by the pictures themselves (remember Alice in Wonderland on pictures and conversations in books), and asked questions about book illustrations in Trollope and other Victorian writers (“did people really like these?”). I was asked if I’d do another, and came up with two (!).

I’m not sure how much I’ve sufficiently emphasized the motive for all four has been more than partly personal. I just love Cornish films, film adaptations, and “Malachi’s Cove” overturns so many stereotypes about Trollope’s fiction that bother me; Dr Thorne was really the book that started me on this long journey into reading, writing, sharing something of what I’ve known and felt for Trollope (original title: On rereading Dr Thorne a half century later); I am a strong defender of Josiah Crawley, one of the many solitary semi-outcasts of Trollope’s fiction,


Frances Arthur Fraser’s “Dogged as Does It” (for a later edition of The Last Chronicle of Barset) — one of the illustrations I discuss in my talk

and was felt so moved by Lindsay Duncan’s performance as an updated version of Crawley’s long-suffering wife (The Modernity of the Last Chronicle of Barset — and The Rector’s Wife).


Lindsay Duncan as Anna Bouverie

“The Original Illustrations to Trollope’s Novels” have been dear to my heart since I wrote my long chapter in my book, Trollope on the Net on them (1999). I spent long weeks and hours in the rare book room of the Library of Congress starting at few hundred of them, and was chuffed when in Mark Turner’s review of my book he singled out this chapter to discuss as peculiarly excellent. As you know if you visit this blog with any regularity, I love pictures, studying art history (and on my other blog, women artists), and writing about film adaptations (moving pictures). And the only chance I’ve had since my book to share any of the visual art and realization in the original illustrations was in paper I gave at a Sharp-l conference some years ago now I called “Mapping Trollope; or, Georgraphies of Power. When we were a larger group on my Trollope and his Contemporaries list, we’d have people describe the original illustrations as part of what we volunteered to do — especially when the pictures are good, people showed curiosity and were comfortable talking about what they see — in the way people are about movies.

So without further ado, here it is:

Here’s the transcript on the Trollope Society website. And the page itself

Last, a brief synopsis: I present why Trollope said he so valued Millais’s pictures, described some of the obstacles in the way of understanding or appreciating them and the other central style of illustrations in the period (idyllic naturalistic versus caricature emblematic), then talk about the nature of Millais’s basic thrust (expressionistic), how far more daring than one realizes, and stunning some of them are outside the characteristic novels of the era (e.g., defying taboos) and finally describe and discuss the series on Lady Mason: as a group they create sympathy for her and reveal the cost to her of attempting to provide her son with a gentleman’s education and income, and herself with the respect and dignity and space for herself of a lady’s life: a life alone, a life apart. Mary Lady Mason is another of Trollope’s solitaries inside a fiction with radical implications about society and the nature of justice and law in court cases.


“Farewell:” the penultimate Millais illustration for Orley Farm: there is no literal basis for this scene in the novel

Ellen

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From a BBC Ghost Stories series: opening still from M.R. James, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” (1971)

Gentle readers and friends,

I got the idea to read for Christmas a few non-traditional sequels to Anthony Trollope’s work one day at a Trollope Zoom meeting when Christopher Briscoe presented his imaginary history of Barchester (scroll down, it’s there). I had heard that Joanna Trollope’s The Choir was another early Trollopian original story (using her legal, not the pseudonym, Caroline Harvey), where the cathedral itself was central.

I had so enjoyed Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife a sympathetic modern version of the story of Mrs Crawley from The Last Chronicle of Barset, and the film adaptation with a favorite actress, Lindsay Duncan, well I didn’t quite rush out, but went to my computer to buy the book, and soon I was acquiring the DVDs to the serial (Region 2) and an audio reading of the complete book by Nadia May. I now vow to read some later books by J. Trollope, not sequels to a 19th century vision, but about 21s century social and other issues (her Other People’s Children, for example, about adoption)

I also pulled out from its shelf with Henry James books, a book Jim used to read aloud to me from: a beautifully produced (art paper) and illustrated (by Rosalind Caldecott) Ghost Stories of M.R. James, and read a few. All intended for Christmas, to evoke the time and the unknowable natural world through the uncanny. One alluded to Anthony Trollope.

And I’ve now seen two versions of The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, one done as a group of actors listening to one man playing James reading aloud to them and/or telling the whole story in a setting that looks like James’s rooms in Cambridge at Christmas, and one acted quietly well with Clive Swift as Rev Haynes (Swift was Bishop Proudie in the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles).


Rev Haynes confiding his tale to his friend played by Peter Vaughn


Sally Ashworth (our heroine, Cathryn Harrison) eating companionably with her friend & father-in-law, Frank (again Peter Vaughn) from the BBC The Choir, Episode 1.

As you can see a cathedral and its atmosphere (stone gargoyles) are never far from overt consciousness in these books & films

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As with The Rectors’ Wife, The Choir is an original novel in its own right, which at the same time creates characters and events reminiscent, even closely of Anthony Trollope, especially the church politics of the Barsetshire series. What makes it inimitably Trollopian in feel and art is an intertwined cast of closely-associated characters who when they should be working together, compete against one another to achieve intensely desired private goals (of love, friendship, personal fulfillment of talents and tastes), which will create a social world they must all share (they cannot escape) and each would love to dominate or control in some way.

It fits Elaine Showalter’s study of academic politics, Faculty Towers, which she claims got their start in Barchester Towers, just as Mr Slope interviews Mr Harding for a job he already has. In the case of The Choir, it is the cathedral which is discovered to be crumbling (from damp and neglect) when, out of vanity, Dean Hugh Cavendish (played by Edward Fox), decides to install modern aesthetic lighting arrangements for atmosphere. A great deal of money is needed.


Choir practice

Just then, Frank Ashworth (Peter Vaughn), a long-time labor activist, a socialist, decides the gardens of the cathedral close are going to waste because they intimidate the average citizen, and proposed to buy a beautiful 18th century house the head master, and a canon of the cathedral, Alexander Troy (David Walker) has lived with his wife, Felicity (Jane Asher), just now run away. Frank also wants to reorganize the boys’ choir his own grandson, Henry (Anthony Way) sings in, as he says it is as presently recruited for elitist. And as part of his personal life, he has a good friendship with his daughter-in-law; his wife long ago left him, and his son, Alan, Sally Ashworth (Cathryn Harrison)’s husband is unable to establish or keep up genuine relationships with other people. Alan works in Saudi Arabia. He has been in flight since his mother left his father; the book suggests some empathy is needed, but not the film. In the serial, he is your philandering hypocrite.

From the BBC film serial adaptation of Joanna Trollope’s The Choir: opening still where through the tops of the Cathedral (it’s Gloucester) we glimpse Nicholas Elliot returning to the sanctuary of his choir years (1995)

I will not be party to a scheme that wears an altruistic mask to cover a heart of envy (JTrollope’s The Choir p 69; repeated in Episode 2 of Ian Curteis’ film script) — remember John Bold in ATrollope’s The Warden, gentle reader

The kindly bishop, Robert Young (John Standing) accuses Frank of concocting these reformist schemes because Frank envies the people who get to dwell in such beautiful places and make such rarefied beauty; his scheme will end up destroying what he says he wants others to share. In the event, when city council takes over the headmaster’s house, it does not become the beautiful community center Frank said he was envisioning. As with Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, where the break-up of the church’s unjust use of a 14th century will does not lead to the old men getting a just allowance, so the Dean’s house becomes a hollow shell of offices for people doing supposedly socially-good jobs they have no belief in for real. The beauty of the house now obscured.

Out of obscure envies and resentments of his own, and an absolute determination to be in charge, Dean Cavendish (the Archbishop Grantley character) decides the church can do without its much admired choir of boys singing sublimely, something which means a great deal to Troy. So too another group of characters, beyond Henry:  the organist, Leo Beckford (played particularly well by Nicholas Farrell), Sally (Cathryn Harrison), Henry’s mother whose husband (Alan, see above) lives thousands of miles away from her so he can be free and unfaithful. Sally seeks solace in her son’s achievements and a bookstore she works in. A central storyline dramatizes how Sally and Leo fall in love.

Alexander Troy, the headmaster and canon’s wife, Felicity, has “gone off again” as the novel opens: like Anna Bouverie (yes Flaubert’s heroine alluded to), the rector’s wife, Felicity had much to bear, and finds herself thwarted of usefulness she can value.


Felicity Troy (Jane Asher) spreading posters about (later in the novel, see below)

Reader, there are other complications. Nicholas Farrell (Oliver Milburn), an old boy grown up and now homeless, has returned to the cathedral world, and is given employment by Ianthe Cavendish (Claire Cox), lusting after Leo (who is cold to her).  Ianthe has invested in a record company, run by Mike (Peter de Jersey, the only black person in the cast) who is capable of making money out of music.

It’s worth saying (and important to this depiction of modern British middle class people) that for a number of the characters their love of music, and working at their roles in it is sincere: Leo Beckford, the most striking; Alexander Troy (who defends the choir at the cost of losing his house), Nicholas Farrell (once upon a time and still), Henry, the young boy, and Mike too.

The Cavendish family (parents and children) are the most directly Trollopian elements in the book: Joanna has in mind Archbishop Grantley as the archetype under Dean Cavendish: the same strong materialism, ability to dominate, strong self-esteem, ruthlessness; his wife, Bridget (Richenda Carey) is a Mrs Proudie softened; their children as obnoxious as most of the Grantley children. Joanna has a less than favorable take on the male Grantley figure whom many Trollope fans profess to like (they identify!).

Our sweet Bishop Young harks back to the Bishop in The Warden, only here we see the cowardliness, or reluctance to fight where he should. As in The Rector’s Wife, to me surprisingly, The Choir is seriously examining the place of Christian (meaning unselfish, charitable, pro-community and mystic) beliefs and acts among the characters.


Henry with a cardboard cat, after Sally has left him temporarily, taking with her Mozart, their cat (Joanna Trollope is delightful the way she describes pets’ behavior in her books)

I found myself following intensely how everything played out, with favorite characters experiencing hard blows, really felt and on-going losses, and yet or also support, kindness and courtesy, and help so that they gradually carve or find out a niche in which they can make some happiness for themselves. This sentiment: we have to make our happiness is stated explicitly.  It represents a way of viewing what the characters are doing at the close of The Rector’s Wife.   The idea enables Joanna Trollope to dramatize a modern version of a typically qualified Anthony Trollope ending.

Joanna Trollope is a deft writer who can include so much action and thought in her tightly interwoven threads. She gets a lot in for 261 page book. This one has many allusions to quite a number of my favorite and less well known or not particularly popular or super-respected books that I just like, e.g., Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, the Merchant-Ivory films from E.M. Forster, and much beautiful music cited and then in the film heard (Bach, Britten, Vaughn Williams)

The film is faithful in its realization of Trollope’s characters, and it makes superb use of Gloucester and Worcester Cathedral (the two churches filmed), and Cheltenham (for the town).  Curteis dialogue is superb (often taken straight from the book).  The serial is particularly strong in the final episode where we experience a temporary resolution and movement for a hopeful time to come, carrying forward love and burdens.

Those who present themselves as hurting worse are the Dean and his wife, though he got his way in everything he said he wanted (including firing those who bucked him); she is only momentarily crushed as we see a bitterness underneath her part of her nature. This is not a feminist tale in the way The Rector’s Wife is, and Bridget’s thwarted ambition with no high rank is part of what makes her so eager to vex others.

The reunion and touching coming together of Alexander and Felicity and then their shared fight the Dean for their house appealed deeply to me. I value my house. He was lost without her:

A traditional sequel you see fills out a story that Trollope told (like John Wirenius’s Phineas at Bay, which picks up the Palliser novels from the end of The Duke’s Children; M. R. James did not do this for Barchester Towers, but tells dark tale of a man whose ambition took him into realm where he was out of his depth. I linked in the story-line and an interpretation, this too of church politics, spinster sisters and servants (above) so here let me just provide you with the movie itself — no longer available to buy or to see on Netflix or Amazon prime.

M.R. James is a much darker writer than A or J Trollope, and at his best disquieting (that link takes you to “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook,” after reading which I had to find Jim and sit near him for a while).

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I meant to have written this for “Twelfth Night,” but did not meet my goal by a day. No matter, January 6th will for some time to come not be connected by most in the US to the solstice holidays, but to a criminally-led attempt to take over the US through violence as country via some fragile pretense of legality in order to set in place a White supremacist and fascist dictator state, with all the horrors we’ve seen attached to that in its wake.  Remember 1943 ought to be a rallying cry.


Dean Cavendish (Edward Fox) making a deal with an unscrupulous politician in order to get his way

Ellen

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Donal McCann as Phineas Finn defending the Duke of Omnium in Parliament (1974 BBC Pallisers, scripted Simon Raven, Episode 23)


Dillsborough as drawn by the Geroulds; an alternative title for The American Senator (written 1875, serialized 1876) is A Chronicle of a Winter at Dillsborough

Dear Friends and readers,

Tempus fugit. It was mid-November when I finished teaching The Prime Minister (written 1874, serialized 1875) to two OLLIs classes; in both the book taught later in the day had proved a hard sell as I lost half the class, but with those who stayed, it was a resounding success. I don’t recall classes as involved, quoting passages at me, coming up with interesting interpretations, so engaged. It is one of several outstanding masterpieces by Trollope. A week or so later the London Society Trollope zoom group finished its reading and discussion of The American Senator.

As in the original publication of these two books written in close temporal proximity, The American Senator held far more people (once we got over the initial complicatedly laid-out place and geneaologies), was far more popular than The Prime Minister (well over 100 people stuck it out to the end of The American Senator), but by the end it was not clear that the mix of caricature, philosophical-political analysis, and ironic domestic story in AS had been as seriously probing, and ended as having the same large philosophical and anthropological (as a study of how politics works) application as PM. AS could still command a review in the 1940s Scrutiny, as a political fable well worth the perusal, but PM withstood (so to speak) the imaginative attention to transformed detail, psychologically complex characters, and politics (from angles like newspaper humiliation) we see in Raven’s adaptation. Taken together, both give the reader a sense of a realistic depiction the life of the average middle class to fabulously wealthy people in the UK at the time.

I here compare the two books here concisely with the aim of encouraging readers to read them, about them, and watch the film adaptation (Episodes 20 to 23 of the BBC 1974 Pallisers).


The two friends, Susan Hamilton as the Duchess and Barbara Murray, as Mrs Flynn plotting the coming ministry (Pallisers Episode 20)

The Prime Minister is the fifth Palliser, the final culminating story of the couple Lady Glen and Plantangenet Palliser that began in The Small House of Allington (the fifth Barsetshire book) and comes to the end on the first page of The Duke’s Children (Palliser 6) with the death of the Duchess in the novel’s first sentence. Arguably it’s the 11th novel in a vast roman fleuve comprised of 12 books (the 6 Pallisers coming out of the 6 Barsetshires’ landscape imaginary). A new angle of scrutiny is dramatized before us: what is meant by political work? where is it done? how do people go about it? how does this activity connect to what happens in Parliament? and how does what’s decided in Parliament impinge upon, shape, the lives of the people governed.

The American Senator is a singleton, a free standing book, but some of the characters and a place near Dillsborough recur in Ayala’s Angel (1880).

I’d like to focus on what seems original in Trollope, and peculiar to him, and then what is peculiar to each of these two novels. For both: An underlying paradigm of the Self versus Society once again holds Trollope’s multiplot patterns together in both novels. Long passages of interiority, interior views of characters show characters in search of their heart desires (or pocketbook’s needs). Characters are fiercely independent, guard their inner autonomy. They obstinately hold on and hold out.

As in Phineas Redux, in PM Trollope alludes to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s meditative poem, “A Musical Instrument” the high cost to individuals of succeeding in life; how it is important to resist while conforming insofar as you need to, must, or want. In both books we have some panoramic sweep combined with precise detail. Never mind whether the character feels he or she is doing good, it’s the priority of their self’s conditions or terms of existence we see the working out, while all the while they know they cannot thrive unless they are embedded in their communities.


Barsetshire, East and West, with the railway to London at Silverbridge, and Matching Priory and Gatherum in the west (by Michael Sadleir, based on Trollope’s own map)

The Prime Minister has (like many of the twelve books) a second plot-pattern which in various ways contrasts to, parallels, ironically undermines and crucially intersects with the political matter. The story of the failure of the marriage of Ferdinand Lopez to Emily Wharton, of his attempt at a political career using the Duchess as patroness, and using egregious astonishing lying, a story of a rise to high respectability from nothing at all, and near momentary triumph, in corrupt stockbroking, familial, marital and sexual conflicts & violence. It includes a segment which brings in colonialist imperialism, in Latin American (Guatemala).

Trollope comes as close as he dares to portraying how a young woman beginning life as firm in herself, of high self-esteem, and under the strains of emotional manipulation, isolation, abuse, ending a shattered hammered-at easily distressed wife, then widow: it will take her a long while to come back to self-acceptance and a fate she perhaps mistook as one she didn’t want.  Lopez is the dark Hamlet of the book, the most fascinating and least (or perhaps most) knowable character of the book, given the most powerful scene in all Trollope. He is perhaps derived from a Jacobean play.


Sheila Ruskin as Emily, rueful, realizing how mistaken she was in the nature of the man she has married (Episode 22)


Stuart Wilson as Ferdinand Lopez, pained and humiliated before lashing out furiously (Episode 22)

Arguably each of the Palliser or Parliamentary novels deals with political behavior in different ways. In Can You Forgive Her? has a man without money try to stay in Parliament in a London district – finds he cannot afford it, even begin. It’s a book against the kind of patronage and bribery that were prevalent before the 1867 and 1872 acts. In the two Phineas books Trollope dramatizes issues fought out (important ones like the franchise, group representative, secret ballot) and we see Trollope’s hero trying to keep to his conscience, so vote against the gov’t which has given him a paid job because of what he promised and how he wants to serve his constituency.

In The Prime Minister we learn that politics is socializing, partying with people, that’s the way you build coalitions and get bills passed, but if you become indifferent to what is passed, lose all sense of boundaries or have no genuine political beliefs, meaningful action is erased away. Selling yourself, being willing to bend and tolerate all sorts of POVs not your own to the point that you become indifferent to what precisely you are voting for is to be there sheerly for power, money and high rank. In all four books the way these themes are worked out is through large groups of characters over long stretches of prose, many incidents coming to climaxes I for one am often riveted by. Glencora is on the side of looking at politics as a power game, as socializing as central to an individual triumph; Plantagenet wants to do useful things for his constituencies, and finds the triumphs a burden.

Here is but one scene faithfully transposed by Raven from a typical high conflict between Lady Glen (the Duchess) and Plantagenet (the Duke): From Trollope’s Prime Minister, II, Chapter 32.


The Duchess unpinning her elegant hat as the scene begins

Duke: “Cora!”
Duchess: “Yes” (looking in the mirror at herself). Mastershot shows us the configuration of the room, where they are in relation to one another, the maid. She is still humming.
He closes the door. Irritated dark look in his face.
Duke: “Why is it hard to kill an established evil?”
Duchess: “What evil have you failed to kill, Duke?”
He is standing looking at cork soled boots, picks one up, looks at soles. (We are to recall that when Lady Rosina talked about cork soled boots she meant nothing else, no subtext; the Duchess is endlesss subtext.)
Duke: “The people in Silverbridge (the maid comes over to where he is and he begins to help her pick up the basket by handing it to her), they’re still saying I want to return a candidate for ’em.”
Duchess: “Oh! (looks hesitant and smiles placatingly). So that’s the evil. It seems to me to be an admirable (maid quietly walks out the door, new mastershot of room from another angle) institution which for some reason you wish to murder.”
Duke (soft voice): “Well, I must do what I think is right. I’m sorry I don’t carry you with me in this matter, Cora.” (He turns round to face her). “But I think you’ll agree on this (piercing look at her, she looks down though not facing him, but us) that when I say a thing should be done, then it should be done.”
She sighs and with a wry expression on her face she puts on gloves.
He looks grim.
Duchess: “Any more suicidal thing than throwing away that borough was never done in all history.
Who will thank you? How will it help you? It is like King Lear throwing off his clothes in the storm because his daughters threw him out.”
Duke (deep voice) “Glencora. Cora.” (Bridling and he walks to the wide door and closes both sides of one facing us. He means to endure a scene.)
She sits, now gloveless and begins to take off her hat.
Duke turns round. “Now I have chosen that I shall know nothing about this election in Silverbridge because I think that that is right.”
Duchess. “Yes, Uncle Lear.”
Duke: “And I’ve chosen that you should know nothing about it. (Walks behind her and sits to her side, but nearby), and yet they’re saying at Silverbridge that you are canvassing for Mr Lopez.”
Glencora (turns round, close up, concerned face). “Who says that?”
Duke: “I don’t think that it matters who said it so long as it is untrue. Now I trust that it is untrue.”
Duchess (look perturbed and worried). (Gulps.) “Of course I haven’t been canvassing for Mr Lopez.”
Camera on his dark face listening.
Duchess: “But I did just happen to mention to Mr Sprout the cork-sole man that I rather approve of Mr Lopez in a general social way.”
Duke (low voice): “Well, Mr Sprout is a very prominent citizen in Silverbridge. Well, I particularly asked you not to speak on this matter to anyone at all.”
Duchess: “But I only said that I thought .. think that he … ”
Duke (interrupts fiercely) “What business had you to say anything” (loud, emphatic, the feel of him hitting something without doing it).
She looks up at him. “Well, I suppose I may have my sympathies as well as another. You’ve become so autocratic (she gets up and walks over to the door, looks like she is about to open it) I shall have to go in for women’s rights.”
Duke (other side of the room). “Cora. Cora. Don’t separate yourself from me. Don’t disjoin yourself from me in all these troubles” (crying sound in his voice).
Duchess (high pitched and turns round) “What am I to do when you consistently scold me. ‘What right had you to say anything?’ No woman likes that sort of thing, and I do not know of any who like it less than Glencora (comes over to sofa and curtsies) Duchess of Omnium.”


The Duke’s listening face

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By contrast, in AS, you have a single figure, Senator Go-to-bed, who castigates with direct invective and rhetoric and subjects through sarcasm, his own acts, and continually irony all the characters of Dillsborough to an often hostile critical analysis of what they are doing. He is often literally accurate, if you take away the local culture (hunting), unfortunately offensive (even to those whose unfair circumstances he supposedly is aiming to ameliorate), and is himself the target of fleecing corruption by those he’s trying to help.

Gotobed is embedded, provides a sort of link for several intertwined stories. The mirror he holds up reflects multiple directions and perspectives within these groups of characters and stories, and on topics like the woman question (the problems of women finding a suitable partner whom she wants to marry and who wants to marry her in a world where the alternative seems destitution or humbling dependency), church incomes, the class-biased court system. The other characters are psychologically believable but are allowed to behave in (to contemporaries) bizarrely-taboo breaking ways to expose cracking systems (the aristocratic way of courtship and enforced marriage).

The concentration on “way out” behavior is meant to startle and sometimes sympathize with a character in desperation (Arabella Trefoil) even if they bring the destruction nearly down on themselves. It’s important that the highest titled person, the man the aristocratic women are panting to marry (especially Arabella Trefoil), Lord Rufford, is a weak cad, a drone, and eventually becomes the henpecked husband of a petty spiteful aristocratic woman.

To me it seems another quietly ironic attack on the British hierarchical systems; but Gotobed offers a problematic depiction of the US at the time. 1876, the year AS was published saw the bargain election of Rutherford Hayes and the abandonment of reconstruction by the US congress so that a reign of racial terror began to spread across the south; in an article Trollope himself wrote for St Paul’s Magazine, he shows himself against a universal equal franchise and especially against giving previously enslaved or any Negro the vote.  Gotobed holds the US up as an egalitarian and just world, one man one vote, and it’s not.

There is much comedy in The American Senator, so I’ll give an example of Trollope at his most tactful good-natured best in in Chapter 27, “Wonderful [or talkative] Bird!”:

An unnamed old lady and her parrot impinge on the semi-courting of one of the two heroines, Mary Masters, by my favorite among the gentlemen Mortons, Reginald (he prefers to read) as they travel by train from Dillsborough (not yet identified) to Cheltenham (a real place). It is a comic piece filled with good feeling, tactfully presented.

Reginald Morton has offered to accompany Mary Masters to his aunt, Lady Ushant’s house. It would seem it was still strongly preferable for a middle class girl to be accompanied on a long journey. He and she find themselves in a compartment for a journey of thirty miles — except for an old lady ‘who has a parrot in a cage, for which she had taken a first-class ticket’. The old lady is slightly anxious because as the couple come in, she says: ‘”I can’t offer you this seat . . . because it has been booked and paid for for my bird”‘. Our narrator assures us our young friends had no desire to separate themselves one from the other to sit near the old lady.

The idea is to undercut sentiment by the pragmatic presence of a wisely indifferent animal. Our parrot is, however, as indifferent to his mistress as he is to our romantic couple. Our old lady is also less obtrusive than the careless reader might think. Since Reginald and Mary regard the old lady sheerly in the light of an obstacle, her words are bathed in their sense of her; read more carefully, she emerges as somewhat more vulnerable and in need of her bird than one might think. Her bird is, however, like some force of nature. Sometimes his noise goes with her, and sometimes it goes against her. For example, she asks Mary, ‘”don’t you think you’d be less liable to cold with that window closed?” the old lady said, to Mary. ‘Cosed, — cosed, — cosed, ‘ said the bird, and Morton was of course constrained to shut the window.’ So the old lady gets her way. Towards the end of the chapter we discover that the old lady and her bird did not do so well when they went into another carriage:

Her bird had been ill-treated by some scurrilous, ill- conditioned travelers and she had therefore returned to the comparative kindness of her former companions. ‘They threatened to put him out of the window, sir’, said the old woman to Morton, as she was forcing her way in. ‘Windersir, — windersir’, said the parrot.
‘I hope he’ll behave himself here, ma’am’, said Morton.

‘Heremam, — hereman, — heremam’, said the parrot.

‘Now go to bed like a good bird’, said the old lady, putting her shawl over the cage, — whereupon the parrot made a more diabolical noise than ever under the curtain’.

In Gilbert and Sullivan songs the fun is sometimes in irrational mockery of nonsense syllables. Reginald apologizes for his behavior at Bragton, ‘”I always am a bear when I am not pleased’, “Peas, — peas, — peas”, said the parrot.’ Reginald is himself not keen on the parrot’s presence, ‘”I shall be a bear to that brute of a bird before long . . . He is a public nuisance”‘. Then he tries to speak of when he and Mary ‘were always together’, and the bird says, ‘”Gedder, — gedder, — gedder”‘. Morton gets angry and thinks to speak to the guard, and this wakes the apparently sleeping old lady. She is alive to the threat although she has paid for the first- class ticket, and says, ‘”Polly mustn’t talk”‘, to which the bird replies, ‘”Tok, — tok, — tok”‘ (p. 184). Ungrateful bird.

The scene is not wholly undercut in this manner. Reginald does manage to apologize for something he did, and Mary does manage to tell Reginald she is not engaged to Larry Twentyman. Reginald manages to tell Mary that he ‘”is glad to hear it”‘ and fill her mind once again with the sense that she is above Larry Twentyman, or ought to think herself so. In this scene Trollope conveys a deep sense of sincere loving emotions going on between this couple of which they themselves are not wholly aware. They are eager, anxious, at moments uncomfortable, but trying to reach one another somehow.

We might look upon the old lady and her bird as another pair of far more incongruous but equally unconscious potential partners for life.


Fred Walker, a novel illustrator, painter of the era: Spring: this could be Mary Masters as a younger girl or one of her sisters, say Kate who marries Larry Twentyman

I have written on both books elsewhere. Happily, on my website I gathered together a good deal that I wrote with a group of people who read The American Senator together and refer my reader there. You can also see what Trollope thought about American society in his travel book, North America. Here on the Net there is more on The Prime Minister as dramatized in Raven’s Pallisers than the book itself. See Phineas Finn into The Prime Minister and The Prime Minister into The Duke’s children here

Ellen

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Dear Friends and readers,

Proving the as yet unrecognized centrality of Anthony Trollope’s novels: I don’t know if people will be amused, but all Trollopians upon learning about the new possibly dangerous, probably highly contagious variant of COVID must have instantly recalled Trollope’s omnipotent super-respected and expensive London Dr Omicron Pie.


David Brisset in the role of Sir Omicron Pie gravely advising (1974 BBC Pallisers Episode 26, scene 1)

Dr Omicron is called in when other doctors fail or are not thought to be powerful enough, or just when the patient is thought or thinks himself (herself) important or the matter seems grave indeed.

In Simon Raven’s The Pallisers upon being told that Lady Glen is pregnant (Can You Forgive Her?), Plantagenet Palliser immediately thinks to contact Drs Thorne and Omicron Pie.


Philip Latham as Plantagenet and Susan Hampshire as Lady Glen, she having told him, he is about to scurry off to contact the doctors (Pallisers 6)

The Geroulds tell us Sir Omicron first appears in Barchester Towers as a consultant in the illness of Bishop Grantley and Dean Trefoil, then for Sir Roger Scatcherd and Lady Arabella in Doctor Thorne; George Bertram in The Bertrams. Lady de Courcy wants him to send her husband to a German Spa in Small House of Allington.  He is called in for rich, gravely ill, nervous or manipulative patients or patients’ relatives.

His name reveals him as a comical figure: at one point Doctor Thorne refers to him as Sir Simon Omicron.


Barbara Murray, once Madame Max, now Mrs Finn looking down, without her usual nourishing soup (Pallisers 26)

But he is not always a comical. He is there at a crucial death in the closing of the BBC film series Pallisers. The lead-in as it were for final Parliamentary novel, The Duke’s Children. He can diagnose pneumonia but can do nothing for the patient.


Philip Latham as Duke and Susan Hampshire as Duchess, who has other things on her mind, just now (Pallisers 26)

We can think of the powers of allegory in language, of intuitive assonance: Omnicron makes us think of ominous. Utter this sentence: When Dr Fillgrave fails, characters call in Sir Omicron Pie: the language suggests Omicron is going to fill graves instead. Not so funny after all.

Ellen

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