Posts Tagged ‘Ironic novel’

Dear friends,

In the computer disaster I had two days ago it appears that the course proposals I had made for a summer teaching course at an Oscher Institute of Learning may have been permanently lost; as I want these documents and today (as yet) have no writing program I can put them on — the new computer with Windows 8 is hellishly cutsey, tricksey. I cannot figure out how to write on Word on this Macbook Pro without the whole screen being transformed, so that I appear unable to reach my gmail with hitting F3 which minimalizes everything and let’s me see, and get back to gmail and the row of programs I have at the bottom of Macbook Pro. So I am saving two sets of documents or writing here — I used to use this blog to work out my thoughts on books, films, teaching; well read these as 5 sketches towards a summer course for retired people.

The Gothic

This course will explore the gothic mode in fiction and film. The gothic as a mode is a vast terrain with many differnt subgenres, yet images, plot-, and character types repeat like a formula. Take one huge labyrinthine ancient or partly ruined dwelling, place inside a murderous incestuous father or mother (preferably chained), heroes and heroines (various kinds), get a tempest going at night, be sure to have plenty of blood on hand, owls, and stir in a great deal of supernatural phenomena, have the action occur in the deep past or be connected to a deep past … We’ll use short stories on-line, beginning with ghosts and terror, moving onto vampire, werewolf, and wanderer paradigms and horror, and last socially critical mystery and possession. The course culminates in two recent novellas, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, and the justly famed film, Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963, featuring Julie Harris).

Texts on-line will be chosen from among these: Wharton’s “Afterward” and/or “Kerfol,” M. R. James’s “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral;” Sheridan LeFanu’s “Green Tea” and/or “Carmilla,” Marion Crawford’s “For the Blood is the Life,” R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Suzy Charnas’s “Unicorn Tapestry; Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of Abbey Grange.” This spares students buying an expensive anthology.

Memory, Desire, and Self-fashioning: Life Writing

This course will enable students to better to understand and recognize the nature of life-writing: diaries, books of letters, journals, memoirs, travel narratives, autobiogaphies, biographies. Our three texts will be Richard Holmes’s Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer, Iris Origo’s War in Val d’Orca: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944 (or George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia) and Margaret Drabble’s The Figure in the Carpet: A Personal History, with Jigsaws. We will ask what is the nature of the truth autobiography produces and look at the relationship of a biographer to his subject. We’ll look at writing done to the moment when the writer does not know what the future holds (diaries, letters); how far is a biography the product of a biographer’s memories interacting with text by his (or her) subject. We’ll talk about the importance of childhood and play in this form, how aging, imagination and disappointment work are part of the mental materials that make up life-writing. If time permits and the DVD is available, the class will conclude with the 2013 film, The Invisible Woman, based on Claire Tomalin’s biography of a long love-relationship between Charles Dickens and Ellen Ternan (an actress), where most of the evidence for the events was destroyed, and thus be able to discuss events that happen, and are important in people’s lives and yet have left no discernible clear record.

The Political Novel

The course aims to enable the students to recognize what is political novel and how such novels can function in our society. We’ll read Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, Walter Von Tilburg Clark’s The Ox-Bow Incident, and Valerie Martin’s Property and see William Wellman’s film, The Ox-Bow Incident (1963, featuring Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn). We’ll look at the nature of political allegory: how ideas about society penetrate the consciousness of the characters and can be observed in their behavior. Why some events enter what’s called history and why political novels often lend themselves to historical treatment; why other events are not discussed as serious history, which can limit what we perceive as political behavior. Finally, how films contribute to understanding a novel or its political meanings.

The Historical and Post-Colonial Turn in modern novels

This course will examine historical and post-colonial (or global) turn that English fiction has taken in the last quarter century. We’ll read and discuss three novels: Paul Scott’s Staying On, Graham Swift’s Waterland, and Andrea Levy’s Small Island. The first poignant novel is also about two aging people now retired, who have seen the word they were part of disappear and must cope with new arrangements hostile to them. The second will enable us to discuss how some events enter political history and others don’t, and thus our past is past is something we invent through imposing choice and order based on hierarchies in our present culture. Historical romance can therefore be liberating acts of resistance, a way of redressing injustice, and creating a more humane usable past. The third novel shows the centrality of nationalistic identities in enforcing exclusions or forming imagined communities. The course will conclude by watching an excerpt from a mini-series adaptation of Small Island (2009, BBC, featuring David Oyelowo and Ruth Wilson). I hope the class will see the connection of these novels to young adult fiction, counter-factual fictions, and romantic history as well as TV costume drama.

Jane Austen: the early phase

This course focus on Austen’s first published novels: Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Love and Freindship (a short hilarious burlesque which we will read first), Austen’s Steventon years, and letter fiction provide prologue and context for reading S&S and P&P. An alternative perspective provides the last phase of the course: Austen’s Bath years, a brief mid-career epistolary novel written there, Lady Susan (with an utterly amoral heroine), and discussion of how Austen revised the novels when she settled at Chawton. Last, we’ll see Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s S&S (a 1995 Miramax product), and discuss what this film makes visible about the way film-makers think readers read these novels and how these interpretations differ from this course’s historical, autobiographical and aesthetic readings.


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The important thing is not to take it [whatever happens] as a punishment

I do like to be beside the seaside

Vince (Ray Winston), Lenny (David Hemmings), Ray (Bob Hoskins), Vic (Tim Courtney) — Jack’s son & his friends about to throw Jack’s ashes into the sea

Amy (Helen Mirren), Jack’s wife saying goodbye permanently to June (Laura Morelli), Jack’s daughter

Dear friends and readers,

Last Orders in Graham Swift’s magnificent and moving book, and in Fred Schepisi’s film of the same name refers to closing time in pubs: just before 11 when it used to be time to close, everyone drinking placed his or her last orders; it also refers to Jack Dodds’s last orders before he died: he asks that his ashes be scattered on Margate Pier where he and Amy, his wife, spent their delayed honeymoon, nearly 50 years ago.

Jim’s last orders were to cremate him, buy an urn which looked like the urn in the HD Met opera, Giulio Cesare, engraved with a witty turn on Rupert Brooke:

If I should die, think only this of me
   That there’s some corner of a foreign mantelpiece
That is for a while England.

Beyond that nothing indicated, only (implied) do as little as possible. I probably did not follow that last (implied) instruction, but then in Swift’s novel & Schepisi’s film, Amy does not herself go to Margate, but rather spends one more day visiting her and Jack’s severely retarded daughter, June, for nearly 50 years an inmate of a mental asylum (of a large type that doesn’t exist any more).

As the day begins, three men waiting for Vince to arrive with fancy car, look at Jack’s ashes

First startling flashback: Jack (Michael Caine) feels larger than life, drinking

I got through the last two nights and days and this morning by rereading Swift’s novel (which I’ve assigned to classes several times), watching the film twice (once with Schepisi’s voiced commentary) and reading in a favorite book of poems for Jim: John Betjemann’s Summoned by Bells. Both texts and movies evoke & picture worlds, milieus in England that Jim growing up participated in. And Last Orders is the story of a post-funeral rite: Jack’s four friends take a journey, drive across southern England, from London, into towns, to a war memorial, a farm (Wick’s) where Jack’s parents as young half-broke adults met and made love in, where June was conceived (so a couple of night’s love-making determined their lives as the two married), Canterbury (the cathedral), onto Margate by the sea. During the journey through (in the film) flashbacks and (in the book) intertwined subjective meditations, they each travel in memory to different stages in their shared pasts.


Inside the car

On the bus

It’s a quest into the self for each of them. A return. In the book it is towards the end that we learn it was to Margate Jack and Amy went for their honeymoon, a honeymoon taken after they married (a forced marriage) and the birth of a severely mentally retarded daughter. In the book they fail to rejuvenate their marriage; the film wants us to believe that Jack’s love for Amy and hers for him made for a solid relationship; in the book we see that though they continued to live side-by-side for 50 years, both were dissatisfied; both felt trapped. Nonetheless, Jack wanted to go back; he dreamt of returning (though it’s probable he knows he didn’t have the money), but he wants to make up to Amy what he had not in him at the time to do: to be some substitute for all she ever wanted out of life. Not having gone back in life, he asks that he be brought there in death. She refuses to accompany the men. He has not compensated her for all she has given up to comfort his hurt male ego: one way a man is said to be manly, the effective man, is to have successful children. Jack wanted more: he wanted a son Amy adopts while he is away at war, Vince, to follow him in his butcher business as he did his father though he would’ve liked to try to become a doctor. Three of the men would have preferred a career other than the one they ended up with: Lenny wanted to be a star boxer, and Ray a jockey.

Young Jack (J.J.Feilds) and Amy (Kelly Reilly) with very young Vince and Sally at the seaside

Ray and Amy reading Jack’s last orders — the Thames a continual presence in their bench scenes

Thematically it’s a return to the sea. Margate is haunted by memories in the minds of the characters, though the sea is unchanging and seems not to notice the human beings or time that passes through it; human beings can’t leave a mark on it; life comes from it and Jack returns to it. People came from it
as life did; they return to it to enjoy themselves. I do like to be beside the seaside, by the beautiful sea. Is man a noble animal? He has aspirations and we see in these aging men their disappointed aspirations.

Amy also takes a trip: a long bus trip to the asylum where weekly she goes to see (never recognized) by their daughter, June. One summer 25 years ago Ray and she went there and then for the rest of the summer they traveled about in a camper: the most fulfilling heterosexual love she has known is with Ray. It’s her words about him being a lovely man that we remember at the book’s close: “Oh Ray, you’re a lovely man, you’re a lucky man, you’re a little ray of sunshine, you’re a little ray of hope.” He is the providential figure of the book, winning great sums at races when people need it, personally unambitious. Ray thinks Jack knew (p. 284). We see in Michael Caine’s eyes in the hospital whenever the camper mentioned that he did know and he expects (ambiguously it’s hinted) Ray and Amy will now become a pair. And his sole concern is to make sure the £20,000 he owes on the shop is paid so Amy will be free of harassment and solvent. But I noticed this time how scared Amy is now on the bus; you wouldn’t think Jack no longer being alive in the world would affect her safety and security, but she feels this blank as fear. (That’s how I feel w/o Jim; it is my strongest emotion, the source of anxiety attacks.)

In the film it seems certain Ray and Amy will now travel to Australia; she’s no longer land-locked, but in the book we never know for certain. The weekly trip is partly spite, partly to get back at Jack for not wanting her. She presents it as a love gesture, a gesture of deep longing as the mentally retarded individual can’t even recognize Amy as her mother (or refuses to). Over the course of the novel Amy adopts three other children in compensation: Vince, whose family is destroyed by a bomb from a plane, who becomes their son; Sally (Lenny and Joan’s daughter) who they have to exclude from Vince’s aggressive sexuality aimed at Sally; and then Mandy, who seeks to run away from abusive parents but ends up in a new home quickly, and whom Vince marries. But Amy never does give up that weekly bus-ride — until this day of Jack’s death. She will not return again; it’s time to make a new life for herself. I find that true to life.

I noticed that in the movie flashbacks move chronologically; in book they are placed so as to give us the most emotional impact at the right moment.

Old Jack and Ray where Jack is showing Ray his debts and Amy’s photo once again

Young Jack and Ray (Anatol Yousef), where Jack is ever slightly taunting Ray

It’s a book written from a strongly masculinist point of view, more interested for example in Ray’s betrayal of Jack (who half-teased Ray cruelly about Ray’s lack of height and physical prowess) than Amy’s in this deeply happy love affair. In book and film it’s left ambiguous whether Jack knew, but it seems he did and never tried to gain any revenge. Ray manages to have these trysts by the use of a small camper he takes Amy to June with. Their times together are described as “traveling about.” Amy thinks how the bus ride is the high point of her week. “It’s where she belongs,” what she enjoys most. We see her riding on the top of a double decker looking about her. High up. I know I love a train ride for similar reasons

Camper at races, Ray and Amy making love inside

As opposed to the men of the book, the women never get a chance to wander away from their community; they are enclosed in relationships dominated by men or reaching toward men. At the close of the book Ray tells Amy he has won the money necessary to pay off a mortgage to (presumably the usual brutal debt collectors), and asks her if she’d like to go with him “down under.” “Well Ray, Australia is very far away, but I always did like traveling about.”

Most of the pub scenes do not include the women: here we see the younger actors

Women characters are important though they are seen through the perspective of men and their lives are controlled by men. A kind of archetypal femininity going on: seduction, wife, the one in the home who makes it; who is bound by it. Mandy tries to escape and ends up with a new father and mother; she doesn’t get very far — she is a good wife to Vince; both live close to parents and see each other daily. Vince may not become a butcher, but he remains close to his father, needing him and needed.

Women’s journey is landlocked; domesticity as tedious, as historyless. They are seen as inward. They lack a story of their own; but the men’s stories are pre-determined by their cultural norms of masculinity which tie them up in knots. Men cannot dismiss the unreal and illegitimate norms that they (Lenny as prize fighter and now peddler) has allowed to blight and control his real inner emotions. His earlier youthful sardonic realism is now bitter and angry as he lashes out at Lenny for having impregnanted Sally, Lenny’s daughter, and deserted her. She now makes money selling herself, her present husband a convict. But it was Lenny who insisted she have an abortion rather than shame him. Your gender determines your kind of freedom or lack of it and this book shows us unfree women. Thejourney and ceremony are a male enterprise in the film; the males go off to war. But they are bound by state and money and class they are born in.

Old Jack, dying, asking Vince to find £1000 for him

Younger Vince telling his father, Jack, you must go work for supermarket, and then giving Jack a few quid to tide him over

It’s also about parents and children: we have generational conflicts. Vince keeps his father at a distance, wants his self-interest to reign above all. We do see the emotional isolation of these people while they all yearn to connect. Mutual disloyalty binds them to one another. Like life.

They are entrapped in frailty and biology, in nature’s processes, in society where they are thrown. It’s also an excess of affection and intimacy which betrays people. You give too much; you burden the other person, and you want too much back. Fantasies of idealism lie behind slogans of family values.

Coming into present time Margate

The book is also an elegy to an England that no longer exists, several Englands (like Summoned by Bells), the film a trip through history. Pub, restaurant, meadow, great cathedral which goes back in time, but most centrally a natural place again: working class holiday in Margate. Simple language
resonates out to deeper truths contained in simple statements. “It was the luck of a summer night (p 268) why you are saddled with one person and not another.” Comical wry as well as gallows humor: Jack is now “a Jack in the box;” he’s carried around in a plastic bag one can carry a jar of coffee in. England’s continual raining: “Atrocious weather” (says Amy, p 276) “Not far to go now Jack” Says Vince craddling the box with the ashes in it as they near Margate (in November).

Walking up to the cathedral

Places: Canterbury Cathedral, an historically specific site and spiritual place, a threshold into old religion; Margate a seedy holiday resort and out of season too, yet place of oceanic timelessness, of dreams and departures. Along the way, the pub they met at all their lives, Bermondsey; the pub they eat at, the war memorial with all the names of who died; and they remember being torpedoed Wick’s farm (the wick of a candle) where the agricultural techniques go back centuries. Places become meaningful to us as they embody our memories and the history we share with others. The hospital and race-course. The phone where Amy hears of Jack’s death from heart strain. Lots of deaths are told over a phone today. The present is dwindled. I like the lack of condescension; I like his choice of working people. A vision of a modern industrialized country as average people.


In cathedral others tour and Ray remembers

the day he propositioned Amy by telling her he’d retired & can now come with her to visit June

The book reminds me of Faulkner in that chapters are named after characters, and in each character’s chapters we are in that character’s consciousness traveling through the past. Schepisi says one of the difficulties of the film was to make it appear a narrative. It jumps around in time zones. In life thogh when someone tells a story, they don’t tell it straightforwardly. You go back in time; then relate that to another past, going back and forth by association. Since the book is written in London working class dialect, this can make for hard reading. In a film you must let the period shown tell itself – not cut to furniture or prams or signs; must keep drive of emotional drama; absolute accurate detail will give the time away so the viewer does not get lost.

Jack Dodds — he’s dead when the story opens. Jack was a powerful intense presence in these people’s lives. In a sense he’s really not dead at all. In the film they alternate Michael Caine alive with scenes of the box of ashes. What is striking about the box of ashes as we look at it? We think that’s what we’ll be someday. Get used to it. In the book he remains a central figure in their minds.

Ray Johnson. It’s arguable he’s the chief character is Ray Johnson. He gets the most chapters. He is the most perceptive and articulate. His words are sheer poetry. He is tempted not to give Amy the £20,000 we watch Jack engineer for her: by asking Vince for £1000 and then asking Ray to bet on it extravagantly. Jack dies at a moment of intense happiness when on TV he watches the chosen horse win. at times. Ray does replace Jack by the end; Ray enabled Vince to open his car business; and it seems that Ray was a central supporting character in Jack’s life and Jack in Ray’s. Ray will take Jack’s place; Jack knows this. He is the single organizing consciousness; he gets the most profound lines. We are told he is intelligent; he has it “up here;” he does not come from people who would send him to university. However, he is no more of a worldly success than the others and he retires as soon as he can — reminding me of Jim. Vince wants to make big money, have fancy cars, go on fancy vacations. If you don’t, you’re nothing. Swift’s story critiques this idea as cruel and unreal demands. People can’t get much farther than they start out. Truth is we are thrown. Ray the odd fairy godfather of a book where the world is supposedly ruled by “blind chance.”

His daughter, Susie, leaves him; he gets the money for her to go to Australia with the young man she has fallen in love with. In that one moment he is a sterling human being in kindness, insight, offers her a life she wants. But as a result his wife leaves him too (!). She can’t bear to lose the daughter. We don’t own and can’t control our children to follow us in life is an important lesson of the novel. When young, he’s scared of sex, small, chubby, unprepossessing. Swift explodes false notions of males. He is in a way the strongest of the four males — emotionally. He carries weight of Vince when Jack can’t; Vince goes to live with Ray. Uncle Ray. He’s a brother to Jack too. Carol, Ray’s wife, leaves him too because the camper is the last straw — her idea of travel is far more elegant, glamorous; she would love to travel far (like Amy she wants something not in her husband),

Winston as Vince deeply moved remembering and scattering ashes of father into English farm

Vince Dodds (originally Pritchett). Given the most complicated personality. In conflict with the father yet loves him intensely. Hurt because adopted, hurt over June as his real sister. Wants to compete and come out high. He vomited in the meat van; did not like being poor or working class. He never for a moment considers that what hurts him most are values he need not believe in and in fact doesn’t really live by. He’s his parents’ son; he marries the girl they brought home to him; he lives near by. He shops for his wife. Indeed he’s got the tenderest of hearts. He has consciously taken on and believes in vicious values as in his exploitation of Lenny’s daughter’s vulnerability, he beat her too (Sally).

In the novel he’s not a nice person. A bully, a manipulator, not too honest. He desert Sally pregnant. He allows his daughter, Kath, to sell herself to a wealthy comer. He betrays his daughter, Kath just as Jack betrayed his, June — according to Amy. Lenny also betrayed Sally though in paying for her abortion (with money Ray again won at the races) though Lenny meant well. It is important to understand the terrible stigma of a child out of wedlock in the 1940s; her life would have been ruined. It was ruined anyway, but not really Lenny’s fault. Vince didn’t try to help Kath. Yet makes money for others, & must take care of them; & has a tender heart and strong passions and at moments means well. Ray Winston is wonderful in the part.

Vince is also very domestic. He is a house-husband to Mandy who in a sense was his sister. The ultimate rebel never left his father’s aegis; stayed close; is there all the time. That’s another reason he’s a success in a way. But maybe this value is a good one. Swift leaves you to think and decide. Why should men be ashamed of having feelings? This is awful to jeer at. Modern too: he moves way from the earth, from flesh, to machines. He wants to move fast in a powerful automobile.

Ironically Mandy seems luckiest in some ways. We don’t see much of her and don’t know how she feels about Vince or her daughter, Kath. Later in the book Amy thinking about the world as intense competition and failure, says to herself maybe June was better off where she was. She does not mean that fully.

Emphasis in film on four men and their view of world — here in a pub having lunch

Victor Tucker, an undertaker who took over his father’s business too. Learnt to accept his role during WW2. He tucks people away. We are asked to see him as the most content. He’s the priest of the book. He’s come to terms with himself. I find his portrayal the least satisfying of the novel. He
ought to be more conflicted. However, a brilliant actor, Tom Courtney, got the part. Courtney decided to emphasize Vic as conciliator and one who says “you can’t judge other people.” We do like that value. He did the first funeral; he brings the jar. We are seeing a much better funeral than usual. No false ceremony; no huge amounts of money. Here we find real grief and an attempt to confront real conflicts among the men. Vic is Unobtrusive, the mediator; he knows to keep secrets. Victor also suggests Victory. His beautiful descriptions of Canterbury cathedrale bring out history and rootedness.

Lenny held back from trying to fight with Vince

Lenny Tate. A disappointed man; in the book we see he will die next. Not in good health. Exboxer he now peddles fruit and vegetables. He doesn’t want to use the word death. Says the uncomfortable thing, the truth. He is bitter, resentful. He can’t help but punch out. And he points to things: Why is Amy not here? Amy ought to come. He calls Vince Big Boy to needle him. High point of drama in the movie is when Lenny attacks Vince at Wick Farm while Vince is scattering ashes where his parents first met and also told him he was adopted.

What’s Amy like? Her voice really first emerges in the second half of the novel. A beauty, a siren (Kelly Reilly is beautiful) when young attracts Jack, Lenny, Ray, but herself entrapped by her body and nature. Mandy is her replacement for Vince. Both Amy and Mandy make love in the camper (so too Sally). We see in the film and hear about in the book how Vince is comforting Amy now that Jack is dead. Some of the finest moments are hers fully remembering. She does like retreat. The world a hard harsh place, p 239. But retreat costs and were it not for the fairy tale winnings she’d have vicious thugs at her door demanding £20,000.

Narrators: Ray, Amy, Vince, Lenny, Vic, Mandy, Jack. We don’t hear from Joan, Pam, Carol, Sally or Kath. We hear Mandy only once (pp 153ff), and near the book’s close, Jack (p. 285). In the film Ray and Amy do the remembering outside the hospital a week before Jack dies, and the men in the car do the remembering as they move through the day.


Young Jack telling very young Vince he’s adopted and about June

Young Amy looking on and wishing Jack wouldn’t

I have read that much in the book reflects Swift’s own life. Fred Schepisi said that the actors he hired all connected back to this working lower middle class background in England as did he in Australia. Jack a version of his father and Amy of his mother.

I read the book and watched the movie to extend my enactment of a funeral and cremation. So as not to feel so alone. Graham’s point of view on life is one I agree with. And its Englishness brought me close to my husband no longer alive, more gone than Jack in the fiction since so few got to know him, and only I have tried to extend his consciousness into the world.

The last still of the movie

Where has Jack gone? What is death? What do we mean by it? Swift explores the body and how people feel in their bodies. When the body dies, the person dies. But the person was not just his or her body. Jim is still here in my memory and in all the things in the house he helped acquire and enjoyed. He is not yet cremated and I don’t know how I shall really feel about having Jim-in-an-urn in this house on the mantelpiece. I want to scatter the ashes — preferably in England if I can get back — he need be “only for a while” on that mantelpiece: I shall interpret that line that way. I’m not a character in an ancient drama. I’m with Amy in Last Orders who was chary of accompanying her husband as ashes to Margate.


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Kate O’Hara of An Eye for an Eye by Elisa Trimby

Dear friends and readers,

More than a week ago now a group of us on Trollope19thCStudies finished reading Trollope’s powerful Anglo-Irish novella, An Eye for an Eye. We’ve been having a sort of Anglo-Irish year and a half, having now read (in this order) just before (but not directly after one another), The Kellys and O’Kellys, Castle Richmond, The Macdermots of Ballycloran. The links I provide will taken the reader to group reads of these books a different group of us read on the same list-serv some ten years ago.

The Macdermots of Ballycloran was the first novel the first list-serv group for Trollope I ever was on read together (we chose it because it was Trollope’s first novel), and the reading and book is the subject of the first chapter of my book, where, with its second chapter on all the other Anglo-Irish books of Trollope (excluding the Phineas books) I argue this set of books is a powerful sub-genre, a series whose books share a group of characteristics and repeating motifs; Trollope maps its landscape (and thus Ireland). I wrote in my book it’s:

a place apart, filled with characters who have little hope, who encounter cruelty, hardship and indifference with a combination of pragmatic acceptance, stern heroism, mythic gestures and extravagant fantasies. It is a place ‘especially unhappy’, rural, archaic, primal in customs. When it is realistic, we explore paralysis. When it is romantic, we find ourselves in providential, picaresque or gothic worlds, in the latter of which uncanny happenings are at home. Sutherland remarks that when an English novelist turned to Ireland he evoked ‘a vein of Celtic romance and pathos’ unavailable in English novels.

Well it won over a new set of people (plus me, and any other old-timer). I’ve assigned it twice to my students, have read good student papers on it, and I again wrote about their reaction, how they identified with the young hero and heroine whose lives are destroyed by ethnic, religious, class prejudice.

The best of Trollope’s critics, Richard Holt Hutton, who identified Trollope when he tried to publish anonymously, saw the novella as one where: that two decent people are destroyed by the inhumane twisted mores of our society. Hutton writes: “Of all the strange perversions of which the moral nature of men is capable probably none is stranger than the tendency of certain socalled “social obligations” to override the simpler personal obligations in certain men’s breasts, an dyet to work there with all the force of high duty, and all the absoluteness of an admitted destiny.” Hutton goes over all the characters and how [the hero] Fred is led by them and the place in England to do what he is ashamed of [not marry Kate after he has impregnated her], to tell himself he owes more to “society” than his conscience or God; a “sacred promise” become a thing of “contempt” when what is contemptible is not making Kate is true wife. Hutton does not blame Fred but he shows how he is hardened.

This time I will quote from my book:

An Eye for Eye is a small masterpiece. Nearly all those who have read and written about it have pronounced it a stark, passionate, and poetic romance of surpassing merit. Richard Holt Hutton, Trollope’s contemporary, and still one of his best critics, thought An Eye for an Eye would ‘take a high place among Mr Trollope’s works’. He said ‘there is something in the atmosphere of Ireland which appears to rouse his imagination, and give force and simplicity to his pictures of life’. Holt analysed the novella as a ‘tragic story of mastering passion and over-mastering prejudice, — of a great sin, and a great wrong, and great revenge’ and ‘family pride’, one with a full array of subtly observed real characters’. An Eye for an Eye is a ‘story which no man without a very powerful imagination could have written’.

Lady Scroope, Fred’s adopted stepmother has prided herself on her austere Christian life, but ‘the strange perversion of which the moral nature of man is capable’ leads her for the sake of her family’s prestige first to hound Fred to break off with Kate, then to forbid him to marry her. When Kate becomes pregnant, Lady Scroope hints to him if he cannot desert Kate, he can live with her without marrying her (Eye for An Eye, pp. 156-64). The novel teaches us — most unusually says Holt — that moral justice demands that its hero, who feels contempt for the girl he has seduced, shall still not desert her.

John William North, “Requiescat in Pace,” for Jean Ingelow, Poems, 1867 — it could be Fred wandering on the Moher cliffs

What gives An Eye for an Eye the power to astonish and keeps the reader compulsively turning pages is the dilemma the book turns on — the struggle between Fred’s pragmatic and proud ambition which prevents him, a young man upon whom rank and money have been unexpectedly thrust, from offering to marry Kate, and his equally intense desire to escape reponsibility and social ties in order to lose himself in a wild landscape of dreams. There is something deeply appealing to him in the tender love of a wholly undemanding girl (pp. 62-64, 66-67, 71, 81). This is also one of Trollope’s many novels whose meaning cannot be understood apart from, and whose events could not have happened anywhere but in its particular landscape (pp. 189-94).

A suggestive photograph by Carleton Watkins (1865-66)

Trollope’s uncanny insight into Kate’s mother’s character is absorbing. Mrs O’Hara married against her family’s advice and found herself isolated and married to a betrayer, a low-life drone. When her husband deserted her, she came to live in a cottage on the Moher cliffs; her only friend is a Catholic priest, Father Marty, who encourages Fred because Father Marty thinks Fred a great prize, especially for Kate (pp. 52-60). Mrs O’Hara allows the courtship to continue because she is moved by her daughter’s silent plea that before Fred her life in isolation was no life (pp. 42-43).

Trollope presents Mrs O’Hara as a woman who has been driven to the edge of desperation by a hard cold society; Fred’s refusal to marry Kate awakens in her a latent ferocity created by her past, one of which Fred was only half-aware and which frightened him (p. 65). Fred cannot foresee this last blow to her pride will be one blow too many for Mrs O’Hara to sustain without resorting to some form of crazed behaviour.

An Eye for an Eye is structured as an explanation of how Mrs O’Hara’s mind came to disintegrate suddenly — it opens with her madness. After I read it for the first time I compared it to Elsa Morante’s 1974 La storia, a fictionalised history of Italy in the first half of the twentieth century as experienced by Ida [Iduzza] Ramundo:

An Eye for An Eye is written as a flashback. It opens with a one and one-half page ‘Foreword’ in which we met a woman in a private asylum ‘somewhere in the west of England’ [in the manuscript Trollope wrote ‘Ireland’]. She sits quietly all day, occasionally uttering the same phrases over and over, ‘An eye for an eye . . . and a tooth for a tooth. Is it not the law?’ And her attendant agrees ‘An eye for an eye, madam. Oh, certainly. That is the law. An eye for an eye, no doubt’. The book isan unraveling of this opening image, an explanation of who the woman is and how she came to be there, of the meaning of her formula repeated ‘a dozen dozen times’ a day. Morante takes 656 pages to get us to a remarkably similar page and one-half where Iduzza similarly goes mad when one day she comes home from work to find all she had left to value gone. Her beloved disabled young son lies dead on the floor. We are told she spends the rest of her life repeating and muttering a strange series of syllables no-one understands. They are the words of the child who was an epileptic and thrown out of school because he was thought an idiot. When nine years Iduzza finally dies (the last paragraph of this book), we are told she had really died the day her son died. Iduzza has been shattered and destroyed by four years of terrible war, isolation and despair.

In a book of one-quarter the length Trollope presents us with a similarly desperate woman who has severed herself from all other people because she has been scorned as well as betrayed, and when her treasure, Kate, is betrayed by Fred, we watch her gradually strained beyond endurance lose all control until on the cliff, when she is once again asked to listen to Fred refuse to marry Kate, she pushes him to his death.

In Trollope’s and Morante’s novels we are made to feel what the hierarchies of society cost the vulnerable. The epigraph of Morante’s novel is a comment by a Hiroshima survivor: ‘there is no word in any human language capable of consoling the guinea-pig who doesn’t understand why she died’. This epigraph applies to Thady in the Macdermots and the lovers in An Eye for an Eye.

The novella ends tragically; it is intense as are Trollope’s other novellas. The one closest to it for poignant ironic romance is Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite whose stories show strong resemblances, and which itself is a closely analogous story to Henry James’s Washington Square, with the daughter dying unfairly turns against her own father and her maid. Since James was so hard on Trollope, it’s not that often noticed how James reads Trollope assiduously as each Trollope novel is published and how much James owes to Trollope as a source.

A scene found in Agnieska Holland’s Washington Square which has an equivalent in James’ and Trollope’s novellas alike

I can’t recommend it too highly.


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One of earliest stills of Eric Porter as Soames in 1967 mini-series

Parallel early still of Damien Lewis as Soames in 2002 mini-series

Dear friends and readers,

Among the many things I do and books I read over the past 2 and 1/2 months, motivated by a group reading and discussion on Trollope19thCStudies by 3 people (all of us posting), I’ve managed to read another literary masterpiece, John Galsworthy’s Man of Property. I think I read it when we first came to Virginia in the 1980s — along with the two other novels, and interludes that make up the first volume of the Forsyte Saga. I had no job, no car, a child to care for and I found a copy of the first and third volumes of the Saga in a used book store and snatched them up because I remembered how brilliant had been the 1967 year long BBC/PBS Forsyte Sage. I have now bought the intermediary 2nd volume. Both films are based on the 1st and 2nd volumes (about 6 novels and some interludes).

We 3 decided to read just The Man of Property after trying Galsworthy’s slender, little-known and weaker novel, The Country House. I’d suggested this book because last year I watched the whole of the two Forsyte Saga mini-series (1967, 2002). Since then I’ve been longing to read something by Galsworthy because such mini-series are immeasurably deepened and enrichened for the viewer who has knows the author from its or some other of his or her the book(s). In the event I was gratified to find the two friends who read with me were willing to go on to at least The Man of Property.

The mode of The Man of Property and The Country House (written abound the same time, 1906 and 1907) is distanced irony; the general targets are the absurdity and cruelty of marital & divorce customs and laws in the first half of the 20th century, how these undergird a whackingly unfair, unjust private-property system, the misogyny structured into this reinforcing dual system. On the way the author reveals a tender love for animals and the countryside.

Galsworthy’s preface to the Saga confirms that The Country House belongs with the Forsyte books; in all of these he says he wants to expose and dramatize the “tribal” world of the Forsytes, what happens to beauty (be it in a woman or a picture) in their possessive world, and their inward conflicts resulting from “the claims of freedom.” In The Man of Property, using his indirect ironic distancing methods, he focused on a couple where “sex attraction is utterly and definitely lacking in one partner [Irene Heron] to a union [with Soames Forsyte], no amount of pity or reason, or duty, or what not, can overcome the repulsion.” For the whole Saga he was fascinated by the persistent effect of the past and memory in someone’s present.


One of the earliest stills of Kenneth More as Young Jolyon in the 1967 mini-series

One of earlier stills of Rupert Graves as Young Jolyon sparring with his wife, Sarah Winman as Francis in the 2002 mini-series (Francis never appears in the novel but is also importantly played by Sarah Harter in the 1967 film)

The Man of Property opens with on a gathering of the Forsytes, which enables the ironic narrator to characterize many of the individuals who will figure in his story. He then dramatized 3 scenes of the oldest brother of the clan, Old Jolyon’s loneliness 15 years after his son, Young Jolyon, left his wife, Francis, and daughter, June, to live with the family’s governess, Helene Hilmer because Young Jolyon found her deeply congenial (as he did not find his wife) and sexually compelling. Old Jolyon had adopted June, cut himself off from his son who we see in a the first meeting they’ve had after this break up has a genuine generosity of spirit. We then read of the engagement of JUne, now grown up, to an architect, Philip Bossiney. Bossiney has been hired (we learn) to build a country house for Soames Forsyte, only son of the second oldest brother of the clan, James and his much younger wife, Emily, who married him for his money and status but we see now is very affectionate to him, caters to him. Soames has a beautiful wife, Irene, whom we gather he aims to keep and to control by placing her outside London because (it’s hinted) she continually eludes him emotionally. We cannot tell whether this is for revenge or out of hope she will turn to him. At any rate he has not consulted her taste in this.

Thus the book sets forth the original situation.


Old Jolyon is brilliantly portrayed by Corin Redgrave (he steals the parts he’s in) in the 2002 mini-series

Emily Forsyte, Soames’s mother, effectively acted by Barbara Flynn, takes on a very different function from the book or 1967 series: she is close to the 2002 Soames, he’s hiddenly a mother’s boy

Like Trollope Galsworthy uses a narrator continually for ironic and panoramic effect, with the important different the steeled ironic voice does not (as in Trollope) feel like that of an author. In the 1967 Forsyte films, the film-makers daringly (for the time) used Young Jolyon (played by Kenneth More) as also a voice-over narrator as his character and values eventually emerge as consonant with that of Galsworthy. Like Trollope too, Galsworthy is adept at describing public social behaviors and gestures, words spoken publicly to signal what is going on in the inmost depths of the person. We like to think when we are in the public world we are not read intimately; Galsworthy and Trollope seem to suggest we are at least transparent to the perceptive.

For example, we see Soames’s cold repressed tenacious and bargain-driving business-man self, as well as his honesty, and loyalty, an ability (if somehow prompted) to be affectionate, even tender, who loves art for itself as well as a money investment. A complex portrait without any soliloquy or interior monologue — such as are given us for Old Jolyon who can admit to how as a businessman he is destroying workers, keeping truths from shareholders, and Young Jolyon who does not want to spend his life’s hours doing what sheerly makes the most money, performing those social rituals which support this money-making.

Rupert Graves again Young Jolyon, now Bohemian painter living with ex-governess, Helene (Amanda Ooms) and their baby (2002)

Lana Morris as Helene Hilmer fleeing the adult June’s dislike (1967 — it’s important to remember that the novel never shows us the governess, we are only told about her)

The angle of vision is strongly ironic at all turns, with the soft humanizing utterances and passages coming from using different characters as POVs, not just Old and Young Jolyon, but Montague Dartie, shallow promiscuous gambling irresponsible and amoral husband of Soames’s sister, Winifred:

Margaret Tyzack as Winifred and Terence Alexander as Dartie when she is deludedly in love (1967)

Amanda Root as Winifred much later, knowing Ben Miles as Montague Dartie to be spendthrift, useless, promiscuous, her and John Carlisle, Soames father, James (2002)

or George, an ironic implictly homosexual outsider with an unconventional compassion for others. The POVS are subtly chosen for multiple perspective utterances and controlled.

The whole presentation is very unusual in our modern culture where since Percy Lubbock novelists are taught to show not tell. There are in fact few dramatized scenes of the core electrifying matter, but rather scenes of people observing some crisis happening from afar or reacting to it long afterwards. What this meant is in both the 1967 and 2002 film adaptations most of the scenes we see — often emotional, physical, full of action, gesture, are invented by the writers from the distanced ironic narration of the book.

The book is literally masculinist: only at rare and infrequent moments do we experience a female POV, and we are never allowed inside Irene’s mind. It is only in the second volume of the novel (in a told flashback) that we learn how Soames first saw and was intensely attracted to the young Irene, then orphaned, moneyless, in a lodging house:

Nyree Dawn Porter as Irene as first seen in 1967 series (Part 2)

Parallel scene of Gina McKee as Irene first seen in 2002 series (end of Part 1)

The turns in phrase, the language, is beautifully elegant yet simple, not a vulgarism anywhere, and capturing beauty whether it be the park, or the house Soames and Irene are renting as the novel opens, or a quality of mind, kindness to an animal. Galsworthy in his novels is intensely alert to the presence of animals, and the cruelty with which many people indifferently or carelessly treat their pets and prey. Penetrating lines thrown away laden with meaning are his forte. To use one of Galsworthy’s phrases, his style is not “beyond the power of word-analysis,” but would take an Empson close reading for pages to do justice to one of Galsworthy’s. Finally, Galsworthy is far more aware sexually, or can articulate sexuality on levels Trollope couldn’t or wouldn’t or his era simply made unthinkable.

Interwoven with scenes of private life are those of business. Few people seem to know that Galsworthy was a socialist of the 1930s type and wrote many then popular plays. I just loved a scene in a boardroom where stockholders attempt to stop Old Jolyon from doing the right thing. Pippin, a middle level manager who supervised a group of miners has killed himself after two years of failing to write a letter to the board he felt had to. What’s implied is some terrible accident occurred, workers were hurt badly or killed, and it was hushed up by Pippin and his conscience smote him. Old Jolyon wants to give Pippin’s widow and children the money that Pippin would have earned had he lived out his 5 year contract; the shareholders don’t. Soames stays on the fence (like a cat? a favorite image in this book). A favorite exchange from this scene:

Hemmings [the hypocritical spokesperson for the firm): ‘What our shareholders don’t know about our affairs isn’t worth knowing. You may take that from me Mr Soames … ‘
Old Jolyon: ‘Don’t talk nonsense, Hemmings. You mean that what they do know is not worth knowing’ (vol 2, ch 5, p 145)

At the same time June’s relationship with Bossiney is developed gradually, not from within, not dramatized before us, but as seen by others pragmatically — that June is in great distress, left alone, and Irene and Bossiney seen out together in the park and at gatherings, talking, eating, dancing together with great intensity. Thus Irene and Bossiney’s liaison is first introduced. Sometimes the POV is Soames who at first does not realize what he’s observing.

In Galsworthy we never see the relationship of June and Bossiney when it’s flourishing, only when it’s destroyed and she is grieving. We get this long chapter from POV of Old Jolyon, her grandfather where he watches how June cannot make up her mind whether to go to a dance, finally decides against it, then at the last moment insists on going. Her kindly grandfather goes with her, they arrive and she sees Irene and Bossiney and flees and he then makes up his mind to take her traveling. Until then the primary interest is the man’s idealization of his profession and indifference to money-making, namely Bossiney’s “bohemianism” as it would be called through his uncle’s disapproval and his father’s love off him for it. (Neither mentioned in either film). Galsworthy wants us to see he cares about his creation of a beautiful original house, not a dull bourgeois building meant to show off status and use to keep status things or for show.

Galsworthy’s novel contrasts art for its sake, for beauty and for enhancement of life itself, which Soames is not dead to either.

Ioan Gruffurd as Bossiney and Gillian Kearney as June — as in the book at the family gathering she introduces her fiancee to uncle James

1967 John Bennett as Bossiney first seen cagily negotiating with Old Jolyon who we are told (not shown) in book demanded he make £400 before marrying June

Irene (we are told) visits Bossiney’s the country house. We may surmise she goes to see Bossiney (and this is dramatized in both film adaptations) but in the novel we are only she goes there. Dramatized is one long drive there with another older brother Forsyte, the supine swinish Swithin, fat, complacent, obtuse who thinks she may be attracted to him (big male ego). As narrator Galsworthy likens Irene sitting next to the complacent Swithin, as by

‘a man sitting on a rock, and by him, immersed in the still green water, a sea-nymph lying on her back, with her hand on her nake breast. She has a half-smile on her face …’ (Vol 2, ch 3, p 128).

Irene is smiling like this. Are we to take it she is on offer? I think not; it’s unconscious is what Galsworthy thinks. Myself I thin it a male view of a beautiful female (so we are incessantly told Irene is). At any rate, it’s deeply sexual; the gesture is the age-old one of the prostitute seen in the signs once used to declare a place a brothel: they’d have a picture of a woman with one naked breast offering it … You can see this archetype still on line now and again.

There are astute exchanges of letters between Soames and Bossiney arguing over the money, invitation letters, Old Jolyon’s notes to his son, ironically placed so well, where the characters give themselves away — this does remind me of Trollope. They don’t mean to put their hearts on their sleeve, far from it, but they do.


The first climax of the novel’s story is the death of the oldest Forsyte, POV our omniscient narrator. Aunt Ann who we have seen from afar now get a portrait of as an intelligent woman of the “old school,” utterly conventional but strong and compassionate, especially towards her weak sisters. The old family is slowly breaking apart.

1967 June Barry as June Forsyte first seen confessing her love for Bossiney to Fay Compton as her great Aunt Ann

The effect of The Man of Property can bring home to a reader how the ironic or satiric slant is strongly subjective. Surely this is a key to Austen’s success with the readers who like her point of view. But it comes out strongly in Galsworthy. Trollope fools us (or maybe himself) into thinking his moral outlook is a universal sort of one. It’s not.

Galsworthy is not objective in his presentation even if he’s not letting us inside the minds of his lovers. We are inside the minds of other characters and Galsworthy’s presence itself in inflected psychologically. That’s why Kenneth More’s over-over narrative is needed and works so well and so much is lost without it.


The second climax of the book is Soames’s apparently savage rape of Irene. Again it is not presented to us, we are only told about it the morning after.

It has a long lead-in. Many chapters leading into it. In these we hear and see various characters trying feebly to stop or control it, pretend it’s not happening, or use it for titillating gossip. We are given enough information to know they have sexually consummated their liaison.

Of course the 2002 film shows them in the studio (the 1967 film suggests this and the book sees it from afar, ambiguously)

Winifred, Soames’s sister, obtuse in this novel (she changes in the later ones), invites Irene and Bossiney to a drive and luncheon out with her as if by doing this she can get them to be just friends. It’s a deeply sensual chapter, electric with tension, made all the more so by having the POV be Monty who in the book is a moral horror. As the chapter opens, there’s this throw-away line about his latest high gambling: the owner “had secretly laid many thousands against his own horse, who hadn’t even started.” So what does Monty do: bets again with borrowed man; he thinks he’ll get out of it through the despised James (Soames’s and Winifred’s father). Then he substitutes for the male escort Winifred would have preferred by this time.

The language of the chapter has an equal acccent on the wealth of these people reminding me of Talleryand on the ancien regime just before it fell (or in our context how the enforced sequestration on the 99% by the representatives of the 1% is the the result of private-property worship. Galsworthy conveys how tasteless Monty gestures are and how insulting to Irene; how she is electrified with distaste and Bossiney under some kind of torture. It’s easy to see that Bossiney wants her to leave Soames and she’s not yet willing.

Central chapters are those where the POV is young Jolyon; he is (in effect) Galsworthy’s spokesperson. Old Jolyon writes Young Jolyon a letter asking Young Jolyon to do the conventional thing: demand of Bossiney ‘what he means by all this.’ Young Jolyon feels Irene as “magnetic energy” as he remembers his own intense desires for Helene, but when he goes to the club, and sees Bossiney’s haggard state, he cannot get himself to speak to the man this way.

Young Jolyon and Bossiney earnestly talking: they share values, norms (so it’s in the cards Irene could turn to Young Jolyon — in the 1967 film Jolyon comes to Bossiney’s studio)

It’s absurd and dependent on being blind to what’s in front of you which is how Winifred is living her life. There are here a couple of paragraphs in young Jolyon’s mind where he thinks about why he left his wife Francis: it was really sheerly out of boredom and driven by sexual desire.

Galsworthy has profited much from the naturalists of whom we read George Moore. Moore shows passion to be the driving force of nature and also how deeply unjustly the social structure dependent on it (especially to women) is; he’s typical of the whole naturalist school. Critics do keep attributing some “naturalism” to Galsworthy. This is central to how Galsworthy sees sexual and social relationships (Why to have Young Jolyon now as narrator in the 1967 film is right).

Young Jolyon goes on to think this is what the world of private property hinges itself upon

‘The core of it all … is property, but there are many people who would not like it put that way. to them it is ‘the sanctity of the marriage tie’; but the sanctity of the marriage tie is dependent on the sanctity of the family, and the sanctity of the family is dependent on the sanctity of property. And yet I imagine all these people are followers of One who never owned anything. It is curious’ (Vol 2, Ch 9, p 197)

(Later he says of a museum set up by the upper classes by well-meaning people, like say the old BBC, it’s a “Museum of Art that has given so much employment to officials and so little pleasure to those working classes for whom it was designed” Vol 3, Ch 3, p 243)

Again and again the metaphor of the dog is applied to those who are owned; the woman is like a dog; Bossiney feeling himself mastered by Irene’s sexuality is likened to a dog. This recalls Trollope’s women protesting they are not like dogs (from Alice Vavasour to Nora Rowley).

And then the first break of the surface.

1967: Irene asking him to let her go, and his refusal even to discuss this

Soon after the luncheon Irene (perhaps prompted by its mortifications and her awareness of how she now appears to others), tells Soames that she wants to leave him and asks him to let her go, as he had promised when she said she would marry him. He won’t even let her discuss it. She then locks him out of her bedroom. Tere is no rape (Chapter 11). We have a slow build-up of intense tension as this scene (it’s suggested) was repeated night after night by her locking the door. So (Chapter 14), he approaches her, she is ferocious (“don’t touch me” — how she “loathes” him) and again Soames is locked out. A typical passage:

‘The silence was broken by a faint creaking through the wall. . If she threw the door open wide he would not go in now! But his lips, that were twisted in a bitter smile, twitched; he covered his eyes with his hands ….’ Pt 2 Chap 14.

The lines say he can’t go in. He says if she threw the door wide open, he would not go in. We don’t believe him, but she does not. All he does is twitch and cover his eyes with his hands. The paragraph before has him thinking about Bossiney. The three dots suggest something happened, but we are given no reason to think he got into that room. She kept the door locked. There is no reason to think he has broken the door down.

Nonetheless, the 2002 film suggests he did get in: they don’t follow the book: first we see her fail to keep her room to herself, then we see her fail to lock the door in time; all the images of them in bed together suggest estrangement, so tension is built this way and sympathy for Irene increases multifold:


Then the slam. It’s the next afternoon he is at the window downstairs. Irene comes in and she ignores him, she is sleek and flushed. She laughs deeply emotionally (like a sob). We later learn (from Mrs MacAnders) she had been in the park and we are told this park is a place where couples do have sex in the bushes.

That night, the one Soames learns of this sexual intercourse in the park, he rapes Irene. For the conclusion of the novel and my commentary see the comments.


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