Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘mystery-murder book’


Michael Kitchen, The French Drop (aired 2004)

Evils that befall the world are not nearly so often caused by bad men as they are by good men who are silent when an opinion must be voiced —

Dear Friends and readers,

Our second of a proposed 4 blogs on Foyle’s War: two years have passed since the first season was aired, and 10 months in the series or war chronology since the series began (May 1940). Eight episodes have gone by and with our ninth (February 1941), a new tone sets in, darker, more tired, and Foyle becomes more involved with a Secret Intelligence Agency whose ways of dealing with war are potentially deadly for all involved, and Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington) not only returns for the second time, she has a large role in the stories.


Hilda Pierce and James Wintringham (Samuel West) conferring, spy-like, apart …

This first disk of the third set (or season) has a half-hour film on how they worked hard to show us a spitfire shot to the ground, a man pulled out while on fire, and as he is dragged away, the plane explode. It took several stunt men, strongly controlled fire but there, somehow the plane is not blown up. We learn how few spitfires are left and also how proud the people are to be working with them as the left-overs of how Britain managed to keep Hitler from invading. The Companion book by Rod Green (described in my previous blog) has much information on other particulars of this episode. Horowitz tells of how his scripts are really done justice to, partly because the director is his wife. We watch two different scenes, one of Foyle and his son, the other of Sam and the son bidding adieu – done a couple of times. This material also comes from later episodes in the third set, Enemy Fire set in a hospital where they are caring for badly burnt and later when Andrew has become PTSD and also exhausted and wants to stop the spitfire business because he knows he will lose his life and does get to leave. My sense in watching this is that the third season reached a real height in the series because everyone working together for a valued set of stories.

A comparison of the first two with these second two seasons shows the stories growing darker, more pessimistic, mostly because the ways of winning the war are making the people behave in atrocious (increasingly amoral and immoral) ways. Actors on behalf of the military (with some exceptions) especially are losing their sense of what values they are fighting for. The stories show the first signs of shifting from detective to spy stories (which often show a slide into nationalism, superfluous violence, and fascism).

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

Season 3, Episode 1: The French Drop, February 1941. Each time we begin with a strong dramatic incident: here it is a young man, seemingly French, dropped into enemy territory (Germany) so as to spy, blown up immediately. Usual paratext of intriguing music and turning away face.

Again Foyle is trying to be transferred from policing (absurd to be catching murderers) and goes to Sir Giles Messenger (Ronald Pickup) for help. It seems it may be possible; as Sam drives him away, she protests she and Milner need him. Messenger angry at Col James Wintringham (Samuel West) about this loss of life Winringham’s agency sustaining – the implication is the agency is incompetence – and wants to take from Wintringham’s unit the (mysterious) war work sent him at Hill House, where he and a special executive operations woman, Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington who first appeared in War Games), have a team. Meanwhile in a bookshop their son, William Messenger seems to have blown himself up. Boy’s mother grief-stricken. Chasing down this son’s background, they find he was estranged from Sir Giles, living seedy lodgings with a caricature of a landlady who supplies a suicide note and watch –- he died because of a thwarted love affair (ah yes). They meet the girl – all melancholy – story she tells is inconsistent, Milner discovers. Trail leads them back to Hill House where nearby Sam’s uncle, Aubrey Stewart, a vicar lives and works. Foyle not only gains entry into the Hill House, but Wintringham invites him to stay: Wintringham seems to be showing off. Sam lives nearby, maybe with uncle.

Paul Milner (Anthony Howell), becoming more desperate having to deal with cynical black market crooks, tells Samantha (Sam) Stewart (Honeysuckle Weekes) he is thinking of transferring

and now Sam supplies the lighter, more affecionate-heart hopeful notes by way of her relationship with a local vicar, her uncle Aubrey Stewart (Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch)

Foyle uncovers absurd and ridiculous sabotage training, as well as attitudes countenancing murder, teaching them how to endure (and perform) torture. Interesting group of men (Raymond Coulthard among them), one an ex-criminal Foyle had put in prison we see trying to sniper shoot Foyle. Colorful characters everywhere, intelligent witty dialogue. It emerges the vicar has seen an unnamed bald man who is connected to bombing murder; Sam spots this bald man and follows him, and finds he and other go to a phone booth where phone not working. Eventually she discovers it’s a place to leave notes which uncover the truth of the bombing. Another young man died recently and was buried (air raid?). Bombing going on, including glimpses of delayed action bombs, people with gas masks.

Foyle discovers that the landlady is Wintringham’s secretary; the whole story of Messenger made up: he was homosexual (in the closet). It was he who was dumped in Germany and died (with which the program began). The body found in the bombing was the recently dead young man’s corpse replanted there –- no corpse in the tomb. There’s a moleat Hill House telling Giles Messenger about what’s happening: he pretends to be French. Foyle re-arrests the sniper-happy ex-criminal (after he has tried to kill both Foyle and Sam by ruining the wheel of her car). Foyle could tell Sir Giles the truth about his son –- he might be more proud of him, but Hilda Pierce convinces Foyle not to tell so that these operations he himself disapproves of morally can go on as they aide the war effort. He loses his chance at joining naval security because Messenger takes out frustration on him.

I’ve unraveled the experience of the plot – it’s more interesting in the criss-cross way things emerge. There is a depiction of the culture of this more rural area and these young men.


In the hospital staff put on funny skits where they make fun of themselves

Episode 2: Enemy Fire, February 1941. This is a wonderful episode. Much that happens is sad and several threads (characters’ ultimate fates) remain very much unresolved, but all that just made it richer because we also saw how many of the characters meant so well and are good and doing good insofar as they can. It’s an uplifting episode — as if we needed this at this point.

The story is centered on a hospital for burnt people, severely wounded that way, and as it begins we see a very fancy castle-like structure, Digby Manor, is requisitioned and the Sir Michael (Michael Wood) who owns the castle, has been put into a cottage (big building really) on his own estate. We see him adjusting with difficulty and his housekeeper, Mrs Roecastle (Alexandra Moen). All this is based on real strides made in medicine at the time which were experimentally and humanely used in such hospitals. Bill Paterson plays the dedicated original doctor-surgeon Patrick Jamieson. We see saved men wretchedly deformed.


Andrew Foyle’s (Julian Ovenden)’s very great upset as he finds he was nearly severely burnt because of a man’s seeming carelessness

A wife-beating thug, Gordon Drake, works at the airfield nearby and is lazy and doesn’t do all the safety measures you must to keep the man in the spitfires alive enough to keep the Germans on the other side of the channel. We see Andrew Foyle berate him and his great anger because he is in danger — could be badly burnt. Drake visits a young wife who is bored with her surgeon husband, Dr Wren (whom we learn saved Paul Milner); the wife attracted to this lout. It’s apparent she is not the only woman –- this kind of thing has more than a tinge of misogyny. We are back to the pattern of the first series: vile men (at the heart of fascism and evil) and good men with such potential being hurt. A strange man tells Wren about these visits; his name is Preston and he also tells Foyle and Milner.

The hospital is being sabotaged – it’s thought by Sir Michael at a distance – perhaps paying Drake, perhaps the housekeeper.

What happens is Andrew is not given the next mission(his superior officer sees that he is exhausted) and Andrew’s friend, Greville Woods, goes, and (has been built up for) the spitfire blows up and he is almost burnt to death because Drake again did not make sure the glass to open the cockpit worked –- Drake also probably make the plane go on fire, meaning to burn Andrew to death. Greville taken to the hospital (after the spectacular stunt we are told about on one of the features) and his girlfriend needs to be shamed into seeing him and staying with him. He turns out not to be blinded.

Entertainments are put on and a couple of nights later one is done – music hall stuff which is thematically relevant and piquant – we and Foyle see Wren sneak out for a few moments.

Next we learn Drake is dead; his wife relieved but she did not do it. Wren blamed even though his wife and Milner think he couldn’t murder someone. Turns out Wren did hit Drake’s head hard but it was Preston who came by and drowned the man in a nearby street fountain. Preston turns out to be Mrs Drake’s brother, Pip, trying to protect her.

Foyle has also figured out who did the sabotage: the housekeeper; he gets her to confess by accusing Sir Michael – who then tells Foyle how bitterly he feels about himself since when he was exhausted (like Andrew) he shot himself in the leg. His batman, Drake’s father saw, in later years told his son and now Gordon Drake was blackmailing Sir Michael, demanding hush money.

It’s an episode about mental disability as well as physical. Mental for which the men are not blamed and yet the episode maintains Sir Michael has been a hollow man. The parallel here is Foyle’s son who cannot any longer bear risking his life in a spitfire and watching others die

The real ending is penultimate and then the last; Andrew has fled to Sam’s house, and Sam is hiding him there over night; when the commanding officer comes to tell Foyle his son is in danger of deserting, Sam (offstage) confesses to Foyle where Andrew is. Foyle retrieves Andrew, takes him to a pub and Andrew resolves to return. There are other scenes between them – over chess for example.

Closing touching adieus between Andrew and his father and then Andrew and Sam. Quietly acted. Beautifully. We see the spitfire with Andrew in it flying off. The commanding officer transferred him. There is deep feeling over this spitfire for it was such planes with men giving up their lives that helped prevent Hitler invading England.

Episode 3: They fought in the fields, April 1941. I had to watch this twice and the second time very slowly, and now I don’t know why I found it so hard to understand. There are two parallel stories going on, and they are intertwined. In the one Germans are coming over-head in airplanes bombing people. This way of conducting war is primary today (witness Ukraine). Soldiers murdering civilians, destroying their worlds. The episode as usual begins with a sort of “hook:” a man lands and dies. As we go through this story we discover that nearby is a place for interrogating spies, they are taken there, and it’s run by a Major Cornwall (James Wilby) who resents any interference and will not cooperate with Foyle — whom Cornwall insults

Nearby there is a farm or farms on which are working Land Army girls, Rose Henshall and Joan Dillon — very dirty hard work for little pay, but important for Britain to feed itself. There another death occurs, a murder of what seemed to me an old man, the farmer, Hugh Jackson. Of course it’s called suicide but soon it’s clear it’s a murder (this is another repeated motif in the series). The episode reminded me of the previous (Enemy Fire) where it’s the human interest of the story and situation (there bad burns, a hospital opened to deal with these) that holds us, not so much about corrupt people making money off the war.


The girls very hard at work — we do see they get ample food

I found it somewhat problematic. It opens with land-girls understandably resentful of the more middle class Foyle, Milner and Sam — I am supposed to believe they and the farmer’s son, Tom (Joe Armstrong) are won over by the goodness of Sam and generosity of Foyle. Lifelong marginalization (especially one of the girls committed some crime) doesn’t go away like that. How the farmer very old now became the lover of the other girl who is now pregnant didn’t persuade me and I was even less persuaded by how happy she is at the end to live on that farm with the farmer’s son and his bride (the other girl).

In the background is Hugh Jackson’s wife who was tired of Jackson and tried to run off — but he murdered her first and put her in a grave he drinks liquor over every night. Jackson was killed because he saw some of the shenanigan’s the Germans were up to as they tried to kill their own pilots who were imprisoned and could tell about German radar.

The murdered wife has her parallel in Barbara Hicks, a woman there to investigate wood (?), who is also bitter when Foyle first met her — she hates men because of bad experience but is also supposed won over by Foyle’s goodness. It’s too quick again, but there are some touching scenes where they refer delicately to their different pasts — and Foyle’s loss of his wife (one of the episodes begins with his annual visit to her grave).


They are so courteous to one another ….

Suddenly too Major Cornwall is sorry; he had meant well, it seems, his interrogation techniques do not include torture but also don’t protect his prisoners from one another. The Germans as a culture or group are represented as not paying fair essentially. So some unusual hostile nationalism, not surprising were we to regard these characters as in 1941 February. Well done, good performances, but it does not hold together because of this desire for an upbeat ending and rewards for the land-girls as well romance for Foyle.

Episode 4: A War of Nerves, June 1941. This one does not strain for anything — no need — it goes into the terrible increased and ever more complicated ways of bombing, the use of delayed bombs especially. And it returns to central characters cheating and making money off the war. June 1941 — the Blitz eased, but the delayed bombing tactic has spread; at the end of the episode we hear that Germany has invaded Russia and that (a coming slaughter we know) is cause to feel hope as the English gov’t is now allied with Russia. At the same time other places are starting to fall like Crete. The comment (hope) it’ll be over by next Christmas by Sam is made ironic by Foyle


Peter Capaldi unfairly treated

Two threads: one interesting, a kind of back-handed defense of communism, socialism, workers — Foyle is told he must investigate Raymond Carter (Peter Capaldi), a communist and socialist leader, find out things about him so the gov’t can arrest him. Foyle quickly finds nothing and does nothing. By the end of the hour we discover Foyle’s superior, Commissioner Rose (Colin Redgrave) ordering this is not only deeply anti-labor but angry because his daughter is planning to marry the the man — he can’t stand the idea.

The stronger thorough content is about a pair of men running a factory where they embezzle gov’t money by pretending their work force is much bigger than it is. They treat their workers badly and we see an attempt at (an illegal it’s pointed out) strike. Into this come the squad of bomb disposers, with the truth emphasized how little trained such people were, how dangerous and nerve-wracking the task. One of them “loses” it in a bar and starts a fight with his gun; he turns out to be moral, in fact balks at keeping the huge amount of money they find stashed near where a delayed bomb landed. His girlfriend is a welder in a factory whom Sam befriends. And we have another more thuggish crook and his wife who is also a welder.

The best parts are this attention to what life was like during the war …. and Foyle as moral center with Sam as the good heart center ….

******************************************************
To read about Season 4, Episodes 1-4, see comments, Episode 1, Invasion, April 1942; Episode 2, Bad Blood, August 1942; Episode 3, Bleak Midwinter, December 1942; and Episode 4, Casualties of War, March 1943.


A passing moment from The Bleak Midwinter

Of great interest in all these disks, starting with the 2nd through the fourth are the various features telling the literal ways the film-makers made the episodes, about the costumes, the attitudes of mind of the people acting, the historical background. There is also much written information to click on.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Michael Kitchen as Christopher Foyle

Friends and readers,

I began watching Foyle’s War around my birthday this past November by renting DVDs from Netflix. I had been told how “wonderful” it is time and again, and stubbornly had resisted — why I don’t quite know. I did not realize how these are in structures and basic tropes formulaic (including comic helper-maid, and endings where the villains often just confess when confronted by the truth) murder mystery stories. Good thing for I might never have tried them. Well, it took only the first three episodes to persuade me here was a series that transcended this popular genre, not just superbly well done, but having a complicated moral center in them individually and as a group that offered insights and warnings into the politics of our own time, especially the growth of fascism and uncontrolled capitalism. I loved the character of Foyle, what a relief as he held onto his moral compass (as good as E.M. Forster in What I Believe); this group of traits in the hero has often been cited as the programs’ highest important achievement. The core beauty. I became so fond of Sam and respectful of Milner. I could see they could solace me in my lonely evenings (the way other of my favorite British serials seen over and over).

So I had to have the whole series, be able to watch more than one episode at a time, be able to see features about how it was made, and bought the 8 season set, complete (I was promised) with features and a pamphlets. When the tall box came, and I re-began, I also began to see that I needed these features and more to understand what I was seeing: the pamphlet that came with the 8 sets (=seasons) was a help, all the various wikipedia articles I could click on, and Rod Green’s The Real History Behind Foyle’s War. What this box is is a vast film-novel of moral stories conveying the extraordinary true history of World War Two as it was experienced in Britain.

More than reading and watching, to try to grasp each episode I needed to write notes on them one at a time to appreciate all that was interwoven in. There are often four stories or threads in an episode, not counting the development of the personalities and conveying of the history of our three very sympathetic protagonists: you see Michael Kitchen as Detective Chief Inspector Foyle above in an unusually softly smiling moment:  I just love the way he swings his body and his head and then asks, “Why is that?”  Just below is Honeysuckle Weeks, Foyle’s improbable driver, as she appears appealingly as a young women (not much older than 20 to start with, if that old) in the earliest seasons — why Foyle never learned to drive we are not told:

Her heart shows her the morally right thing to do and to feel. A bit further down, Anthony Howell as Paul Milner, Foyle’s Deputy Sergeant, this photo giving us a glimpse below the usually guarded stern face to see a kindly wholesome sensitive man who cannot fathom himself killing anyone.

With each of them, less is more as a style of acting.

I’ve been wondering to myself what I can add to all that has already been said without going on too long — for what I am best at is explanatory details with moralizing inferences as framework. It can be fun to be reminded of what we so enjoyed, to, as it were, relive what’s in our memories, but in the case of complicated mystery stories, with never an empty moment, it would be easy to fall into too much of a good thing. Better just to watch the TV episodes? Well, there are some ideas or patterns that one might miss, strikingly repeated stances that hold the hours together as we watch the behavior of our three protagonists interact against ever-worsening counter war techniques and protect or aid the human behavior that makes life worth living. The question is repeatedly asked: what are we fighting this war for if we consent to behave as badly as our fascist hate-filled or ruthless enemies are doing. Again and again Foyle, together with Sam and Paul as his two team-members, resist the amoral and the immoral – it is, though, he alone who articulates the actuating ideas behind the decisions and actions we see the three make. We learn about their “private” lives too. Throughout the first through fourth seasons in most of the episodes Foyle dominates almost every scene, he seems to make things happen, knit them together. This is not true across the later seasons.

This blog presents you with few notes for the 1st season and 2nd season (looking at patterns especially), and then building on what we find, I’ll write another similar blog for the 3rd and 4th. The episodes move month by month until we get to season five where we fast forward a whole year. So we get a feeling for the different phases of the war, the different emotional temperature of everyone involved.

But first an overview: at season 5, the series changes. It is said that the series was suddenly cancelled after Season 5 because Simon Shaps felt like it (that’s about as much reason for this as one is given), “causing” Anthony Horowitz to discard a series of scripts going in the same pace for Season 6. This makes no sense, and feels like hurt angry spite: I imagine Shaps complaining about some aspect of the series: maybe it’s anti-capitalist stance? (Businessmen are generally very badly behaved in this series.) So I will write separately about Season 5 and 6, which are also cut back to 3 episodes each.

Then because it was so liked, so respected, it was given yet another two series, again with only 3 episodes (it might have been the expense) — but now our characters are in a different, and actually (it turns out) deadlier era when it comes to police and gov’t spy agency behavior (the problems themselves infected by knee-jerk anti-communism and an implicit nationalism it eschewed until Season 7). That is, we shift from the subgenre type of mystery which Andrew Marr describes as sleuths, to the subgenre, spy stories. And so I will again write a separate blog for these last two (where we lose Milner).

I will try to avoid concrete retellings of stories as these are amply covered in wikipedia. And not name all the superb actors across the years as they too are usually named, unless something or someone seems to me so outstanding

***************************************
Season 1: Episode 1: The German Woman, May 1940. In this episode we are watching the formation of the team: Foyle cannot convince his superiors to let him switch from domestic policing to being a member of the war effort, and partly to keep him comfortable, he is given a driver, Sam Stewart; a young man he knew previously has been very badly wounded, lost his leg, Paul Milner, and Foyle manipulates Milner out of an angry depression and despair about having but one leg by showing how he can make his talents useful. We meet Foyle’s son, Andrew (to my ears a very British name), see their close relationship and Foyle fish.


Julian Overdone as Andrew fishing with his face: look carefully and you’ll see a look of impatience on the young man’s face

Julian Overdone is a recurring important character, but not as central to the story structures of solving the mystery (sometimes he is part of the problem that led to the murder). He is growing up, with a little help from his Dad. We learn of Foyle’s wife’s death from lovely watercolor landscapes on his wall. Kitchen dominated the 100 minutes in ways he stops doing by the 6th season and I found the episode more satisfying because of this: his firm strong morality. The murderer (a sexual cad, predator after women’s money) is despicable, especially, but at least one of the victims (the rich German woman whose fortune the murderer was seeking) and their families are humanly flawed too. The episode is against knee-jerk hatred of Germans as Germans. A scholarly German man is thrown in prison with his wife; she dies of a heart attack before Foyle can put an eend to this injustice. An innocent girl is bombed to death, and then her reputation made to suffer until Foyle discovers and exposes what happened. Here the murderer himself asserts that his important war work makes it absurd to accuse, jail and then possibly execute him. This first iteration of this idea is as unconvincing to Foyle as it will be in the 8th year, 27th episode. Here he is in charge and has the power to make his accusation stick.

Not only how young is Sam but how uneager Foyle for having her around and begins teaching her not to pick up cant; how much he is responsible for bringing Paul Milner back to effective useful life … The episode is notable for having performances by Robert Hardy, Edward Fox, James McAvoy

Episode 2: The White Feather, May 1940 still. A pattern: In most of the episodes of these four seasons, after the initial setting forth and some interludes to feed us information Foyle does not see, he is brought forward. In these first four, Foyle shows himself very emotionally engaged even if the evidence is limited to bodily gestures, facial expressions, and the very occasional outburst of stern moral truth. At one point thinking of his son, he puts his head down.

The White Feather combines the reality of nazism and fascism, juxtaposing a particularly foul kind of anti-semitism in the UK, with Dunkirk. So the whole emotional temperature of that happening as felt on the coast where small boats are setting off to rescue people is felt. There is a trio of concerned fathers: the weak man with the domineering nasty (and willing to terrify others to her will) upper class anti-semitic wife and his (in effect) neglected and angry son (a young Tobias Menzies – stealing the scenes he’s in); the old fashioned working class fisherman and his son who is involved with a young girl, an ex-servant in the anti-semitic hotel, who finds himself arrested.


Tobias Menzies as Stanley Ellis

Another pattern: in both episodes is once Foyle knows for sure the person arrested for the crime didn’t do something that resulted in serious injury or death to someone else, or didn’t have malign motives, was bullied, tricked, deluded, he frees that person. That’s important. He is a cop and I find myself thinking were this a Black man (and I believe there is a episode about race prejudice), Foyle would not be casually putting such a person away for life.

The ending at Dunkirk, and arresting the lead Nazi (Charles Dance knows how to do evil): you are made to feel why this war is worth it. Both have beautiful photography of this semi-rural part of England.

Episode 3: A Lesson in Murder. June 1940. An total snob, cruel upper class judge at the center. He coolly murders, blows to bits an 11 year old evacuee whom his daughter (not understanding quite the amount of evil her father could do) volunteered to take in a evacuee. The poor boy has terrible time all the while desperately missed by his father. Foyle’s long time friend, an Italian man (Alan Corduner), a good person, dies at the end because when Italy declares war on England, because a mob comes and set fire to, blows up his restaurant. His son, very like the young man who became involved with the servant in The White Feather, is being pressured by a bad young man, a semi-crook type — whom Sam is rude to. A scene of coffin making (a hidden factory) has its effect.


The Italian man’s restaurant set on fire because the mob has heard Italy has entered the war: he dies upstairs (this is the episode’s penultimate scene)

There is a theme of good young men thrown away or hurt badly in these episodes. This includes Foyle’s son (flying spitfires); the twisted young man that Menzies plays (capable of being so much better). James McAvoy played the role in episode 1: he was engaged to the young girl whom the murderer smeared to cover his tracks. This is part of the fathers and sons, for a familiar actor (John Shrapnel, played Creon, Achilles) is a high class man who bribed the ugly murderer to give his son a conscientious objector status. The episode opens with another young man, genuinely ant-war, being denied status and then in prison mocked, beat up, humiliated, hanging himself. David Tennant is his best friend, who turns up to be with the wife and is suspected of murdering the ugly judge. His wife did it — she was right to she says. Of course Paul Milner is such another, with a wife who has no loyalty towards him, is in fact turned off because he has lost his leg; thus he was tempted by the fascist Charles Dance; at the end of The White Feather, Foyle scolds him intensely for disloyalty — and stupidity.

Episode 4: Eagle Day, August to September 1940. Eagle Day is about sexual harassment of women. It’s not called that but the story at the center is of a Miss Lucy Smith who throws herself under a train because an intelligence agency boss (a bully, amoral, horrible man) seduces, impregnates and then rejects her. Unknown to him, Foyle’s son is assigned to the place and once her friend tells him ever so little the boss and his accomplice are determined to get rid of Andrew – this is slightly improbable but it enables Horowitz to show how easy it was/is to get up a case against an innocent man who say once was part of the communist party, how easy to stash incriminating papers in his locker and under “secrecy” orders of war (deeply anti-democrat) ruin his life – put him in prison.

Instead of now where the girl would have to sue, we see parents who want to protect the daughter’s virginity. No sign of her having any right to an independent life or sexual liberation, but they are indignant or worried. This leads to Lucy’s father murdering two men –- and as with the ugly bully in A Lesson in Murder, the murderer shows no regret and says he did the right thing. Sam’s father come to fetch her home is the ultimate embodiment of such an attitude. He decides she’s safe and doing useful work not that she has the right to an independent life. Another pattern: the first and third episode show young women badly bullied by their fathers — having no agency — my feeling is this is criticized as the result of individuals; the pattern itself accepted, no subtext against it. Sam’s father turns up because he and her mother have become convinced she should return to their village. Being in Hastings was too dangerous and what was she really contributing to the war effort anyway? Despite her being a grown woman, because she wasn’t married, her parents assumed they could still control her life and she felt she had abide by their decision. Her only chance was if Foyle would intercede for her. So it takes a man’s help for her to live the life she has chosen.

Woven in is a story of theft from a museum where the thief (Anton Lesser playing this role) uses the export of art objects to places where they will be hidden to fetch some off for himself. Paul Milner is important in discovering this as is Sam’s father who before he became a vicar studied art.

The opening sequence of this episode shows a woman coming home from work a little later than usual to find her house bombed, her husband nowhere to be seen:


Woman whose house has been bombed — there are countless such tiny episodes which are usually linked to the central threads but also there to show how people experiencing this war

Why August 1940? a month later the bombs begin to drop on civilians. This is presented a sort of sardonic comedy where Foyle’s son tries to save him and his father from these by hiding in a bunch of bundles which turn out to have highly inflammable stuff in them. Young Foyle is a young man who is daredevil in a plane but not too good at protecting himself. This last one ends up with all four in the car Sam has driven up with Milner just in time to fetch the two Foyles away to safety.

To read about Season 2, Episodes 1-4, see comments: Episode 1, Fifty Ships: September 1940; Episode 2: Among the few: September 1940; Episode 3, War Games: October 1940; Episode 4, The Funk Hole: October 1940.


From The Funk Hole, Caroline Harker as Jane Hardiman protecting a beloved dog, whom Phoebe Nicholls as Amanda Reese, novelist, disdains: a tiny thread referring to how many thousands of pets were killed by their owners at the beginning of the war; Mrs Hardiman’s crime is to buy adequate dog food on the black market

To read about Seasons 3-4, see companion blog to this (perhaps next week because another syllabus blog must come inbetween).

Ellen

Read Full Post »


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

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

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).

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

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

Read Full Post »


Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett, 1980s BBC) — detection genius


George Smiley (Alec Guiness, Tinker, Tailor … 1970s BBC) — spymaster extraordinaire


Melissandra (Carice Van Houten), prophetess (Games of Thrones) — Cassandra-witch

Friends and readers,

This blog is a bit of departure from my usual modes. I usually zero in on a particular work or works; here I remain in general, and just cite examples briefly. What is left out (alas) are the moral inferences that Marr makes so precisely when he cites and goes over particular books and talks to particular authors.  (I no longer have the facility or strength of fingers or speed to get down accurately what he said.)  These inferences are mostly pessimistic, dark, unsettling utterances, often half-ironic.  So, again, in general, here is what he inferred: Detective stories today reveal an abyss of personal hatred, treacherous crime, fierce anger, resentment, not always associated with deprivation, sometimes the motive is revenge; spy  stories, a fearful terrain of ruthless totalitarian and fascist states; sorcery sagas, the return of atavistic amorality as part of uncanny superstitions. I add that we see in the latest of these kinds of works that women are made to behave in ways directly as violent and treacherous as men (this is not credible as at least studies of women who commit violence show); and men in the last 30 years are shown to be as sexually vulnerable and ambiguous in their sexuality.

You may recall I wrote about Andrew Marr a few weeks, calling attention to his wonderfully insightful literary documentaries (for lack of a better term — they are highly entertaining, witty, amusing). One series was on popular “thrillers,” the action-adventure type, at one time usually male-centered (Miss Marple and Harriet Vane were the exceptions who proved the rule), which he divided into “detective, mysteries;” “spy, surveillance;” and “sorcerer, fantasies.” On first impression as I listened to him offer the “rules” (formulas) for each, play clips, talks to authors, the types seemed to blend, but when I conquered my recent laziness, and at least tried to force my hands to write stenography once again, and read over what he had said, I realized he had made distinct and explanatory distinctions. I was surprised to think about how his formula linked on the surface such different seeming detective stories, showed how different they are from spy and surveillance action, and finally picked up on the fantasy elements of historical romance, so this usually woman-centered genre shares terrain with say (and this makes sense) the stories of Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin. I’m especially intrigued with the element of time-traveling in this last.

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


Lord Wimsey (Edward Petherbridge) facing Harriet Vane (Harriet Walter) — the amateurs?


Sam Spade (Humphry Boghard, Hammett’s Maltese Falcon) – hired private detective


Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren, Prime Suspect): DCI

So here are the the characteristics of detective mysteries (they cross into police procedurals as you’ll see): 1: there must be a mystery, a pattern to find, a puzzle element, ingenious; 2) the writer must play fair, and not deliberately lead astray, no supernatural agencies; 3) the detective must not have committed the crime, corpses about, not an idyllic place at all; 4) there must be locked rooms, impossible terms, keys are clues, multi-layer to unravel; 5) the detective is a kind of super-hero, we must watch him so as not to be fooled by a sleight-of-hand, do hard work, find what actuates motivates people; 6) crime must be believable, painful, almost doing it in front of us, with a pervasive sense of evil all around it; 7) the detective must get his (or) her hands dirty and must set the world to rights, then retreat, escape back to his lair; 8) he must follow recognized procedures; incremental tedious work, under social pressure, moving into rotten hearts; 9) we have the comfort of knowing the truth at the end; we adapt, recent ones are complex; 10) the detective must be flawed, must be difficult to get along with, withdrawn, not likable (Inspector Morse).

I am struck by how the murder mystery in the second half of Phineas Redux corresponds to the above

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


Alec Leamas (Richard Burton, The Spy who Came in from the Cold) — set-up betrayed spy


Gunther (Philip Seymour Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man — today’s fascist totalitarian states) — another set-up betrayed spy


The Americans, Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) — without identities

Then we have the espionage story (and movie): 1) they reflect the particular social conditions of their time, people with insider knowledge, about betrayal; the question of who is the real enemy comes up early, foreign people, a creeping paranoia; 2) you must create a climate of fear, ominous atmosphere; 2) spies’ loyalties are always up for question (The 39 Steps, The Americans, Greene’s Human Factor), a popular version of an existential nightmare; 3: the spy contacts his nemesis; 3) they can end up cast out of humanity (as in The Spy who came in from the Cold); 4: they are ever trying to adapt to changing times. I add the vast perspective and explicit political propaganda, often anti-communist still. They feed into fascism as they are nationalistic.

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


Claire (Caitriona Balfe) amid the ancient neolithic stones, Craig Na Dun, Mrs Graham her sorceress (Outlander, 1:1) — healer & white witch


Gandolf (Ian McKellen (Fellowship of the Ring) — wizard

The fantasy, science fiction, allegorical: 1) you must build a whole world, consistent in itself as to details too; the depth of detail compels us; weave real with fantastical, keep it coherent with a map; 2) there is a portal to this other world; 3)these are anti-enlightenment stories, matter from the atavistic, where the “easy” laws of science do not necessarily apply; it’s a spectrum of extremes; 4) fantasy nowadays uses the method of distilled wonder (a metaphor); a parallel to the feeling we let ourselves be comforted by, making a parallel to faery; uses folklore that does not in itself seriously frighten — think of The Hobbit; 5) there is a hero’s story, sometimes told by the heroine, a dropped down trunk, papers telling the story; 6) someone to help us cross the threshold; you move into unknown, there are ordeals, supreme tests, sometimes an elixir helps you return through to “reality” or today’s world; 6) we come upon counter culture (not necessarily a good world); Le Guin shows us a fascist take-over, with a wizard; barbarism, bitchery; 7) there are rites of passage or rites tht bridge generations and new Gods created; 8) winter is always coming, deep poignant melancholy for what’s just over the horizon, a kind of existential threat; and 9) some explore the deepest world of author (so an inward form), and/or are philosophic.

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

There you have it. Or do you or we? there are thrillers which don’t fit these paradigms, or slide over. So Daphne DuMaurier’s Scapegoat belongs to fantasy but remains in here and now — it’s not quite gothic either, as gothic’s sine qua non is supernatural and she would have us believed in her doubles, her twin men. Marr did not work in the gothic which has lent itself to formulas (some of which make fun of its furniture), nor ghost stories, the vampire and wanderer, nor specifically the female gothic. These would take several blogs … I have written of separate gothic stories and once in a while the gothic as such. I’ve a whole section in my website devoted to the kind: Gothics and ghosts, vampires, witches, and l’écriture-femme


M. R James, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral — core evil presence


Illustration by John A. Williams for Mary Heaton Vorse, “The Second Wife” (1912) — this is the type Jane Austen made fun of and parodied in her Northanger Abbey, it is a type Nancy Drew draws some of its power from (girl as snoop into wild and weird territories)


Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) arrives (NA, scripted Andrews Davies, 2007) — female reader of gothics.


A 1970 version of a Nancy Drew — girl sleuth

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Phineas (Donal McCann) returns to London, is welcomed back into the Reform Club by Monk (Byran Pringle) and Barrrington Erle (Moray Watson) (1974 BBC Pallisers, scripted Simon Raven, 7:14)


Lady Laura (Anna Massey) greets Phineas, Christmas time, Dresden (Pallisers, 8:15)

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Days: Tuesday afternoons, 2:15 to 3:40 pm,
Sept 22 to Nov 10
8 sessions online (location of building: 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Virginia) 22032
Dr Ellen Moody

On line at: https://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2020/09/14/an-autumn-syllabus-phineas-redux-at-olli-at-mason/


Lady Glencora Palliser (Susan Hampshire) becoming Duchess (Pallisers 8:15)

Description of Course:

The 4th Palliser novel (Phineas Redux) brings us back to one of the two central heroes of the Parliamentary or Palliser series of Anthony Trollope’s novels, the major characters, political matters and themes of the 2nd Palliser novel (Phineas Finn) with a more complicated plot-design, a bleaker & questioning tone. We experience dramatizations of how party, ethnic, religious & colonialist politics shape & how money corrupts campaigns & political life. Competition between individuals gets mixed up with how sexual customs; marital, separation, divorce laws & male violence are working out in our characters’ more private lives. The novel dramatizes issues of fairness and investigative reporting in the criminal justice system in England over a murder case. There is a murder mystery, sleuthing; it is famous for the presence of recurring disillusioned lawyer Chaffanbrass. Although a sequel, supposed Part 2 of a very long book, it is one of Trollope’s masterpieces, and may be read on its own.

Required Text:

Trollope, Anthony. Phineas Redux, ed., introd, notes. Gregg A Hechimovich. NY: Penguin Classics, 2003. Or
—————————————–, ed., notes John Whale, introd. F.S.L. Lyons. NY: Oxford Classics, 1983.
There are readily available relatively inexpensive MP3CD sets of the novel read by Simon Vance (Blackstone) or Timothy West (Audiobook). Both are superb.

Suggested supplementary reading:

Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography and Other Writings, ed, introd., notes Nicholas Shrimpton. NY: Oxford Classics, 2014


Both paperback editions cited have the original dark picturesque illustrations by Francis Holt: here we have Lady Laura grieving with Lady Chiltern looking over her, both fearful that Phineas will be executed for the murder of Mr Bonteen, his rival and enemy.

I will bring into the discussion the 1974 BBC Palliser series, which covers all 6 Palliser novels, and is more or less faithful. They may be found in older and recent digitalized form on Amazon, also available to rent as DVDs from Netflix. Phineas Redux begins at 7:14 and ends at 10:20 (6 episodes). These are splendid experiences and can add considerably to your enjoyment of Trollope’s texts.


The Duchess cons Mr Bonteen (Peter Sallis) into making an arrogant fool of himself at dinner (Pallisers, 8:16)


The Maule story in the film series, scenes in the park, Adelaide Palliser (Jo Kendall), Gerald Maule (Jeremy Clyde) and Lord Fawn (Derek Jacobi) (Pallisers 8:16)

If you can find the time to read An Autobiography, I will be bringing in Trollope’s life as a novelist as he saw it, as we go along and end on his book about him: his art, the roots of the politics in the Anglo-Irish novels, the literary marketplace and magazines & periodicals of the day.

Format: The class will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Sept 22: 1st week: Introduction: Trollope’s life and career; male and female careers. Read for coming week, Phineas Redux, Chapters 1-12, An Autobiography, Chs 1-3

Sept 29: 2nd week: Transition & Political Context; Marital & sexual norms. Hunting. Read for coming week, PR, Chs 13-25; An Autobiography, Chs 4-6

Oct 6: 3rd week: Inheritance, hierarchy, death, the press. Read for coming week, PR, Chs 26-38; An Autobiography, Chs 7-9

Oct 13: 4th week: Unscrupulous politics. Trollope’s depiction of Daubeny (Disraeli lies behind the character). Read for the coming week, PR, Chs 38-50; An Autobiography, Chs 10-12

Oct 20: 5th week: A murder mystery. How differently Trollope handles the genre. Middle section of book. PR, Chs 51-63; An Autobiography, Chs 13-15

Oct 27: 6th week: Half of the class devoted to the film adaptation, The Pallisers; we will go into the trial scenes, lawyers, law, sleuthing. Read for the coming week, PR, Chs 64-76; An Autobiography, Chs 16-18

Nov 3: 7th week: Book illustrations prison, trial presentation of women, love, identities. How the book concludes somewhat realistically. Read for the following week, PF, Chs 76-80; An Autobiography, “Other Writings,” from Thackeray, from “A Walk in the Woods.”

Nov 10: 8th week: Phineas’ depression, Lady Laura’s case, the political ending. Anticipating The Prime Minister, if the class would like to go on; anyone want to go back to Barsetshire for The Last Chronicle of Barset. Trollope’s Autobiography as about the artist, the novelist, one of the inventors of the political novel.


Madame Max Goesler (Barbara Murray) commiserating with Mrs Meager (Sheila Fay) while eliciting information (Pallisers 9:18)

Significant articles and books on or including Phineas Redux:

Epperly, Elizabeth. Patterns of Repetition in Trollope. Washington, D.C. Catholic University, 1989.
Frank, Cathrine. “Divorce, Disestablishment and Home Rule” in Phineas Redux, College Literature, 35:3 (2008):35-56.
Halperin, John. Trollope & Politics: A Study of the Pallisers & Others. Macmillan Press, 1977.                                                                                     Harvie, Christopher. The Centre of Things: Political Fiction in Britain from Disraeli to the Present.  London: Unwin, 1991.
Lindner, Christoph. “Sexual Commerce in Trollope’s Phineas Novels, ” Philological Quarterly, 79:3 (2000 Summer), pp. 343-63. (Very dull, but the only essays to accurately describe the depiction of women sexually and in relationship to any power in the Phineas books).
McCourt, John. Writing the Frontier: Anthony Trollope between Britain and Ireland. Oxford UP, 2015.
McMaster, Juliet. Trollope’s Palliser Novels: Theme and Pattern London: Macmillan, 1978
Mill, John Stuart, The Subjection of Women. Broadview Press, 2000. Online at: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/mill/john_stuart/m645s/
Moody, Ellen: Trollope on Television: Intertextuality in Simon Raven’s The Pallisers Online at: https://www.academia.edu/6438191/Trollope_on_TV_Simon_Ravens_adaptation_of_Anthony_Trollopes_Parliamentary_novels_as_the_Pallisers
See also my blog series: http://www.jimandellen.org/ellen/Pallisers.html
Steinbach, Susie. Understanding The Victorians: Culture and Society in 19th century Britain. London: Routledge, 2012.
Vicinus, Martha Independent women: Work & Community for Single Women, 1850-1930. Virago, 1985. See my summary analysis: https://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2019/01/11/martha-vicinuss-independent-women-work-community-for-single-women-1850-1930/


Mr Chaffanbrass (Peter Vaughn) explaining some of his attitudes before the trial (Pallisers: 9:18)


The two friends, Lady Glen and Madame Max (Pallisers, 9:19)

Read Full Post »


Sophie Rundle as Eva Smith/Daisy Renton/Mrs Birling/Alice Grey (from Walsh’s 2015 An Inspector Calls)


Ruth Wilson as Alison Wilson, a fictionalization of the deceit of a male “patriot” of four women and the families he biologically fathered

Dear friends,

Over the past week I’ve been lucky enough to watch the kind of “thriller & suspense or crime and/or detective novel,” which turns on its head the older hero-centered often misogynistic genre into a satisfying dramatization and examination of disquieting destructive values and norms in many societies. One example, I just loved two weeks ago now, was In a Better World.

Billed as a “thriller,” this Danish film, written and directed by Suzanne Bier, tells the story of a sensitive dedicated Swedish physician, Anton, whose wife has left him after he had an affair with another woman, and whose son is the type of boy who is susceptible to cruel bullying in schools. Elias is rescued not by the school authorities (who like those in real life I’ve encountered) refuse to recognize and stop the cruelty but another boy, Christian, angry at his father because his father was unable to save his mother from dying of cancer and was even relieved when she did die after a long period of mutual suffering. It’s an exploration of sadism in adult political life in Africa. It is when such stories are discussed in this way that we realize the formula for carrying along a mass audience is there merely as a vehicle.


Mikael Persbrandt trying to explain to his son why not to respond to bigoted violence with more violence is an act of desperately needed courage

The film struck me because I am just now reading and studying a group of these formulaic books by Winston Graham, which keep to the misogynistic outward plot-design so that the vulnerable woman is seen as the evil person whom the other characters have to root out (Take My Life) or the self-destructive bewildered victim of a crook who used the resistance movement in France for his own profitable exploitation and sexual predatory habits, and whom an essentially good hero (in this version, crippled himself by war) is right to stalk and pressure until she sees that giving herself over to him will bring her protection (Night Without Stars). Both were made into film noir movies. I am looking for a way to discuss them that brings out this hidden backstory. And sometimes I despair when I see how the generic surface is still presented as valid and tedious as the puzzle-unraveling is when speeded up, made terrifyingly violent sells widely.

So I am gratified when I see “all is not lost,” and the books and films which win worthy prizes, a better and/or female audience (not the same thing) are becoming as common. I am not saying anything many people have not observed before me.

In 1997 Marion Frank wrote a good essay called “The Transformation of a Genre — the Feminist Mystery Novel (printed in Feminist Contributions to the Literary Canon, Setting Standards of Taste, ed. Susan Faulkner [NY: Edwin Meller Press, 1997]) where she traces not just the feminization of the central hero but a transformation of the values and the kinds of stories such material uses: Frank moves from Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy Night, woman-centered and mildly feminist while upholding the hierarchical and patriarchal establishment to Joan Smith’s genuine feminist, then radical (not just liberal) humanist detective novels (A Masculine Ending to What Men Say).


Joan Smith

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

For tonight I want to compare Aisling’s Walsh’s 2015 adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s “classic” everyone-did-it play, An Inspector Calls to the 1954 adaptation, famously starring Alistair Sim, so pitch perfect as the sinister and menacing Inspector Goole (in Priestley’s the name resonates as ghoul) that the 1954 film still has a following, and can be bought as a blu-ray:

and a re-boot has been successful


Pray forgive the conventional frozen promotional shot from the 2015 re-boot

I was reminded of J. B. Priestley early last week when someone on one of my listservs asked if anyone had seen the Walsh TV movie (now streaming on Amazon Prime)? A wonderful humanistic man of letters, novelist, radio host and commentator, playwright, erased by the media after World War Two because he would not give up his membership in the communist party and remained overtly a committed socialist. He was probably actually much better liked than Churchill during the war (Orwell just about says):

But he has been disappeared (like Mike Leigh’s recent movie, Peterloo) lest we have any encouragement for social decency in our media. A few years ago I went to a book history conference where a man gave a paper demonstrating that no communist after the mid-1930s was ever given a prestigious European prize. If you were not a communist openly, but were a socialist and known to be so, your book was suspect from the start. You’d be lucky to be in the short list and don’t expect a movie.

As an 18 year old girl I cherished two novels by him, The Good Companions and Angel Pavement. I sill have the old-fashioned hardbacks in my library which I read nearly half a century ago. At the time I was contemplating returning to college full-time and remember reading a history of English literature by Priestley, which I took out of the library. It stirred and spurred me on; his novels gave me courage and cheer – now I realize how the picaro novel is not one where compassion is the key note, but irony (Sarah Fielding’s David Simple never does find a friend). In later years (when I got to college) I realized Priestley was sneered at, called middle brow, and if I persisted in citing this allegiance of mine I’d be seen as showing I was not part of the knowing cultural world. A little far more candid and non-snobbish talk that day led me to watch Walsh’s rendition on my laptop that night and a kind friend sent me a copy of Helen Edmundson’s adaptation in 1954 and I watched that. I also remembered Walsh was centrally the creator of Maudie, a film about a disabled uneducated man and equally vulnerable woman artist.

So what is made central in the Walsh re-boot:

The conventional barely glimpsed back-story of a dubious unchaste working class girl becomes the central meat of the dish — the reason for having so many identities is she is trying to protect herself again and again, as each time she tries to conform and yet ask for decent usage (wages, respect, courtesy, kindness, a place to stay, companionship) she is used, dropped and sinks lower.

You can find a bit of the storyline in the wikipedia article on the 1954 version. Basically each member of the Birling family was responsible for ostracizing, firing, using and erasing Eva Smith; the worst moment is her humiliation before the smug mother supposedly running a charitable organization.

And in the 1954 film, much closer to Priestley (by Guy Hamilton as director and Edmundson as writer), we do see our heroine Eva Smith/Daisy Renton/Mrs Birling/Alice Grey but only in swift short takes and the focus of the scenes is not on her. Indeed in some of them she emerges as stereotypically a “tramp” or loose woman. But there is little going outside the room so we rely mostly on words to learn of the outside world. The kinds of arguments made are in cliches about responsibility. I feel that it is less believable these people would be guilty — their interactions are far less lethal, the family structure presented as far more conventionally okay.

Watch the 2015 immediately afterwards, and you see there were many more scenes with Sophie Rundle as central presence, scenes of her alone, scenes of her interacting with others, many giving her real gravitas, intelligence, and depth of feeling. What’s more the family is now made bitterly internecine and due to the inspector’s prompting presence are led to truly enter intimately into and expose their corrosive relationships. I’d call Walsh’s film feminist, Marxist, egalitarian, coming down to a human level in its demands, and really turning the “crime” genre inside out, while the 1954 one is Marxist and sentimental, still respecting the hierarchy and pious family “healing” at the end.


Grim

In 1954 Sims as the inspector vanishes and it really does seem as if he’s a ghost of Christmas whatever come to be therapeutic for this family. In 2015 David Thewlis as the inspector is not a ghost; as in Priestley’s he is lead in by the maid, and then let out. In the film we then see him watch (from afar Sophie) walking by the sea, then writing in her diary, and finally drinking the detergent; she is then seen whisked along a hospital corridor to an emergency room with a tube is put down her mouth and stomach (painful) as they try to save her. At the last he is sitting by her dead body at the end. IN both the family is then phoned and then told a girl has died and an inspector is coming.

The question in the 2015 is who is Goole? he is not ghoul as in 1954. Are we to take him as possibly some relative? some spirit conjured up against the capitalist male hegemonic order — almost magical realism rather than the female gothic.


Promotional shot of Soller and Pirrie as the Birlings still cheerful

I was much moved by the second film and not at all for real by the first. I do find Kyle Soller as great actor, and am drawn to Chloe Pirrie in all the roles I’ve ever seen her in.

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

I encourage my readers also to watch, not to miss, Mrs Wilson on PBS, one of the more recent of these modern feminist humane “thrillers” — two hours last night (Sunday, 3/31/19) and another hour next week. There are of course the exegeses which try to stay on the surface, but the content so clearly calls out for the “backstory” to be told since the “thriller’s structure is now the emotional exposure by the women or the man’s grown children step-by-step of the male liar at the center. As Mike Hale of the NYTimes writes:

Alexander Wilson lived an improbable, deceitful, destructive but undeniably intriguing life. An author of popular spy novels and a British secret agent himself in World War II, he married four women from the 1920s through the 50s without bothering to divorce any of them. He managed to keep his four families mostly secret from each other during his lifetime, and his children (and many grandchildren) only got to know one another more than 40 years after he died …

Ruth Wilson of “Luther” and “The Affair” is the granddaughter of Alec’s third wife, Alison, and she plays her victimized, mystified grandmother in “Mrs. Wilson,” of which she’s also an executive producer.

So rather than the historical adventure or romance it might have been in an earlier era, “Mrs. Wilson” is an interrogation of history, a feminist critique of mid-20th-century British society, a mystery and, least satisfyingly, a character study. The strangeness of the story, and Ruth Wilson’s characteristic intensity, pull us along. But Alison and Alec, and their motivations, never seem to come completely into focus. The series feels caught between fiction and real life, as if the writers (Anna Symon and Tim Crook) and the director (Richard Laxton) were unwilling to fully dramatize a history that’s still murky, partly hidden in the files of the British Foreign Office.


Iain Glen

It could be said that perhaps the new feminist turn as gone too far in making the male an utter shit — I’m only 2/3s through though. One of the intriguing aspects is how the program makes mince meat of all this talk of patriotism and how keeping secrets for the gov’t is a noble patriotic occupation. Iain Glen the male lead often plays this sort of on the surface enigmatic male in female gothics — he was this kind of character in a recent re-do of a LeFanu novel, Wyvern Mysteries, which partly imitate the plot-design of Jane Eyre, except now there is real empathy for the mad wife chained in the attic. Keeley Hawes is getting old, alas, and Fiona Shaw even older … but are very good in their parts.


Keeley Hawes as Mary, drawn to be Wilson’s second wife


Fiona Shaw as Coleman (a sort of M)

Ruth Wilson ever since I saw her in Small Island, and then Jane Eyre, and now recently in an HD screening of an Ibsen play (Hedda Gabler, with Kyle Soller as the husband) remains one of my favorite actresses. I have never seen her in a film or a role where I didn’t bond with her.

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

How to conclude? Don’t give up. Hang in there. Ripeness is all. Despite the horrors being perpetrated in the US by the heads of the federal gov’t, and sustained by its reactionary minority senate and judges in the public realm, there are still a large percentage of people from whom good can come, and who can make effective socially critical art from what Julian Symons (in Bloody Murder) rightly calls an inferior genre-game, which is still frequently obtuse to its own potentials.


A photo taken yesterday (3/31/19), the height of the flowering tree April bloom by my daughter, Izzy, as she walked along the tidal basin — we had the day before (3/30/19) endured more than 3 hours of driving on highways and DC streets to see and hear the Folger spring concert, an oasis of lovely, moving, fun, intelligently and passionately lovingly performed Elizabethan music and song

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Bossiney Cove — the central sections of Strangers Meeting takes place in Trembeth Cove, Cornwall

Since coming abroad something of the subterranean disquiet which existed everywhere had affected his imagination and he quite often awoke from dreaming … No Exit, Chapter Two, p 27)
… in the midst of a police raid, a crowd gathers and “an old woman, her head wrapped in a black shaw, drove a derelict donkey-cart across the cobbles and disappeared down an alley … Chapter Six, p 75)

Friends and readers,

This is a coda to my survey of Graham’s pre-Poldark suspense novels: I’ve read two more, and, as I suspected, one can group this man’s novels by chronology rather than genre. Here I relate a group of them to the immediate lead-up to and early phase of World War Two. Beginning in 1939, his books dramatize stories of political murdering where the senselessness, serendipity, and sadistic enjoyment of allowed non-personal (unmotivated) killing becomes the thing the books glimpse or deliberately fully uncover. The protagonist now has to work at keeping him or herself from being murdered as a bye-blow of events. The earlier atmospheric regional books, with their legacies from Agatha Christie, Anne Radcliffe, large country houses or hotels, gothic stories with their autobiographical roots give way to stories which anticipate or resemble Graham Greene or LeCarre: Keys of Chance (1939), No Exit (1940), Night Journey (1941, revised 1966), My Turn Next (1942, reworked as Cameo 1988); later books of this type include Night without Stars (1950), Greek Fire (1957).

The private stories gain in depth of feeling and open melancholy and despair: Ross Poldark (begun 1940, published 1945), The Forgotten Story and Demelza (1946), Take My Life (1947) and thereafter, especially say After the Act (1965). there’s also the kind of book I’d call morally earnest as if he is trying to conjure up some individual morality specific individuals might heroically hold to: I saw this in the first (and maybe only) book he won an award for, The Little Walls (1955). Another turn or transformation comes with Marnie (1960), where ironized alienated and psychologically pathological characters enter his stage, especially true of The Angry Tide (1978 — Mark Adderley), The Walking Stick and Angell, Pearl and Little God (1970). All of this latter group except the historically past ones lend themselves to film noir.

It’s then for me understandable that Graham might be embarrassed by the earlier books and discount them as juvenilia, child-like, perhaps effeminate, giving himself away too and his own inner world, and work to suppress or re-write them, but he was wrong. Again, seeing these as belonging to regional Cornish books rooted in marginalized places helps bring out their thematic and psychological-social themes. The two I read were one of the early type, Strangers Meeting (1939), and one of the World War II type, No Exit (1940). I quite liked both; both are all the stronger for not having been revised or reworked, so there is no distraction.


Original cover for Strangers Meeting

Strangers Meetings is one of thesse revealing or telling pre-World War Two books, just. It has a intricate story-line with lots of intimate details very like the 1930s British murder mysteries or Daphne DuMaurier novels (for the plot go to Profiles One or Discard in the online Winston Graham Reader, and falls into three distinct acts, perhaps the result of its having originally been written as play the year before (Forsaking All Others). As with The Dangerous Pawn (1937), The Giant’s Chair (1938, ruined as Woman in the Mirror, 1975) and The Merciless Ladies (1944, revised 1979), and the first seven Poldark novels, several of the central characters of Strangers Meeting and fleeting characters we get to know less well but are there and count are likable, appealing. We have three couples who come to Cornwall to get away from their ordinary environments; a kindly disabled and ill young man and a factory girl fall in love; a married couple is in effect attacked at their core when the wife’s sister turns up with a amoral corrupt and cold fiance who was the wife’s lover (perhaps even her second husband) years ago and has come to grab the sister’s legacy and blackmail the wife for sex (or money). The atmosphere, the descriptions of the places, the working out of a personally fulfilling ethical outlook by the characters is absorbing, offering a piquant comfort. Piquant because the solution for the married couple is to accidentally kill the fiance (he falls or more probably is pushed off a cliff during an altercation with the husband). The artistic arrangement of the slowly developing relationships and revelations for the reader, the uncovering of the vicious intentions of one character and the anguished past of another, and for me, and how three of the characters (disabled young man, factory girl, husband) emerge as genuinely thoughtful individuals was part of the pleasure of the text.


Jane Wymark as Morwenna escaping (1977 Poldark)


Keven McNally as Drake upon seeing her come to him, finally, suitcase in hand

The value of these books (Dangerous Pawn, Giant’s Chair are two others) is they attempt to present the inward trauma of the isolated person directly — we have mentally retreating and disabled characters; characters whose unconventional conduct their society would reject — sympathized with. One can grasp this when one reads the later revision or re-working which silences or erases these earlier characters, marginalizes them, puts them at a distance. In the Poldarks the one character where this kind of thing is put fully before us is Morwenna (especially Four Swans and Angry Tide); Drake attempts to and finally succeeds in rescuing her; unfortunately after that (their marriage and retreat) she and he are both kept from our view.


Original cover for No Exit

No Exit is a book that anticipates recent crime novels like LeCarre’s A Most Wanted Man (2008) and Our Kind of Traitor (2010). Night Journey, which I outlined in my previous blog, is more like Tinker Tailor (1974): a whole world of amoral spies, politicians and just desperate people swirl around the quiet, plain hero who has expertise, insight, some sense of ethics. No Exit is set right around the time of Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia and the central action takes place the day the Nazis invaded Prague. Our English bridge engineer hero, John Carr, first come to Budapest; he becomes involved when he realizes someone has been murdered in his hotel and has asked him to take a message to someone else. This is the trope of the innocent bystander who takes responsibility and becomes almost against his will a detective, and then a rescuer and finally a co-conspirator with other people become revolutionaries in flight or resistance movements. He moves to Prague where much to his immediate surprise he finds himself in the midst of an invasion, one he becomes aware is happening as he observes the reactions of people all around him to some deeply frightening development say a few streets away.


Nazi Invasion — by the Charles Bridge — Graham’s hero walks by the bridge several times

The word “terror” is appropriate, except that here it’s a matter of people doing the bidding of different Nazi gov’ts and agents of aspiring gov’ts to terrify the vast majority of people by wantonly rounding up and snatching, disappearing (the verb “to disappear” is used in this book), torturing, killing and imprisoning all sorts of people at will. It evokes a justified paranoia. The characters discuss how what is happening is suppression of all individual rights by ruthless minority setting up an aggrandizing state backed up by militarization and a “demented” world. A “dictatorship” in “the modern sense” using “concentration camps” as one tool, religious institutions another. It’s the first of Graham’s books to use the method of the Poldark books: thorough extensive research so Graham recreates for the reader effortlessly — you never feel a card index is thrown at you but what the characters are experiencing as several levels of action coming together by different people and forces in closely related places. You walk the streets of Prague with Carr as the hours go by. One man is murdered; with the unexpected help of two women (one a journalist) he is able to flee with three people and we then get this ordeal of escape by train, car, foot as they move through checkpoints and finally an “eerie snow filled silent forest” (rather like the closing scenes of Grand Illusion they come up a cottage with friendly people who harbor them).

This one is also given a detailed plot exposition at Profiles One or Discard. I disagree with the verdict of the writer: for me the unheroic nature of the protagonist makes the book more powerful (think of Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener) and love the Demelza-like heroine and ordinary mother he returns to at the novel’s close. I find the hero resembles Dwight Enys. The point is he is lucky to live where sanity still has a hold. Richard Morant would have been a perfect John Carr; either Norma Streader or Ruby Bentall, both of whom played Verity Poldark would be fine for Marjorie.


Richard Morant as Dwight Enys — he was pitch perfect in the part; here he is telling Clive Francis as Francis Poldark he has really come to care for his patients and not grow rich off the poor; Francis is all ironic surprise (1975 Poldark,scripted Paul Wheeler)

I can quite see my way to writing about these corpus of work against a backdrop of political as well as aesthetic developments between 1934 and 2003 (the span of Graham’s career). I’d love to know as much about him as I can and will try for a library, but if I lack private letters, there is much autobiography in all his journalism and two-life writing books. I’ve bought a copy of the 1945 original text of Ross Poldark and have a copy of the 1947 original text of Demelza. I’ll be reading them soon.

A second point I want to make about Graham here is he seems never to cease revising his work. He didn’t just rewrite and/or revise some of the early books; he may be said to have abridged the original Ross Poldark, he cut down the original Demelza, and made changes in Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan. All his writing life, he was more or less continually tinkering with already printed works, revising this or that sentences or sentences for a new publication. One can disagree on how “private” a man he was. He socialized far more probably than he needed to do to publish, promote and see his books distributed, filmed, and create opportunities and stimulation for himself to write more, but he was not pretending when he presented himself as living long stretches in the solitude of writing and research — and rewriting.

And his texts are beautifully written. The style of conversations and thought are direct, naturalistic, flowing. He loves animals and his favored characters are kind to, fond of, surround themselves with animals. At the close of Strangers Meeting, Peter Crane, our disabled young man, and Sheila, the factory girl from London who will now spend her life in Cornwall rescue a rabbit from a trap, bind its leg and set it free. Sheila is another Demelza-like heroine. This kind of depiction is a symbol or site for expression of vulnerability in the earlier novels and passages in the Poldarks.

It was a small fluffy brown rabbit with a tuft of white tail. It was caught only by one black leg. A nasty wriggling squeamishness grew up inside Sheila, and she wanted to turn and run. Instead she knelt down and looked at the gin.
It was one of those what you press down at one end to open up the other. There was a large spot of blood on the curling front of brakcn underneath it.
The rabbit now stopped screaming and concentrated on giving horrible forward jerks in an attempt to get free. She put a hand on its head, and after a momentary wriggle it lay still with its ears back. She could feel the hard skull under the soft brown fur.
She stroked it a moment, and put her other hand awkwardly round its neck. Then she brought forward her foot and trod upon the far end of the gin. A second later she was standing up with the rabbit wriggling in her arms. It was a most peculiar feeling.
She waited until it went tolerably quiet again, and then lifted to see the damage … Strangers Meeting, Part Three, Chapter Six, pp 307-8)

Graham seems particularly fond of cats, but all animals are treated with sensitivity by his good characters. It’s a mark of Demelza’s intelligence when early on in her relationship with Ross she tells him (in effect) the torturing of roosters for entertainment is deeply perverse, ignores the animals’ true body (they come without the irons) and impulses; very cruel.

Well that’s all for tonight. I’ve had several deeply satisfying days in the Library of Congress working on Winston Graham’s oeuvre and hope to continue and return if I can to this library and others. I’ve a few crime novels to read and have picked out Cornish authors and books Graham cites and clearly knew about as colleagues and aligned works. A work in progress.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison (Prime Suspect series)

I, too, dislike it — Marianne Moore

Friends,

I’ve embarked on a reading journey through an area mostly unfamiliar to me, and Polonius-like, can come up with only the clumsiest of labels: the mystery, detective, suspense, gothic, spy thriller, crime, murder novel. Most of the time even with the most generally admired, about half-way through I grow tired of the formulas, and either give the story up altogether, or skim-read to the end. That’s what happened yesterday when I read for the first time Dashell Hammett’s much-bepraised The Maltese Falcon. Or I get to the end, and think what a good book this has been, until three minutes thought assails me, and I see it for the claptrap anti-feminist thing it is and become seriously annoyed. That’s what happened the other day when I finished Winston Graham’s Merciless Ladies.

I admit I can be hooked by a film serial; especially late-at-night, with a female hero, be drawn intensely in by its mix of ingredients blended into my more favored fare: that’s what happened with the film adaptation of P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley. I can like the “Golden Age-1930s mold” even with a wholesome male at the center and a sermon at close: my favorite time for watching James Norton in Grantchester was 1 in the morning.


Typical cheap paperback cover illustration for the era …, now published by the New York Review of Books as a worthy book, became a remarkable 1950s movie by Nicholas Ray

But I’m no more fooled than Raymond Chandler in his debunking “The Simple Art of Murder,” or Julian Symons in his truly brilliant and entertaining Bloody Murder: “it is an inferior thing, but a thing with its own particular and unique merits. Nobody condemns Restoration comedy outright because it lacks the profoundity of Jacobean drama” (20), as with most film noir and ghost fiction.

I’ve embarked on this because I’ve embarked on a book on Winston Graham, his Poldark novels and Cornwall (working title). I don’t intend to read every work he ever wrote, or study every film made from said work (some in each kind are dreadful). To understand the man and his genuinely creative books, one cannot ignore 30 odd volumes of suspense set in our contemporary era, a few of which have been much admired, with one famous title (even had an opera made of it last year, i.e., Marnie, and some time ago a very good play by Sean O’Connor). One chapter I’ve told myself.

I’ve been reading these desultorily, out of order for a few years now, depending on what I thought I could stand: The Forgotten Story, written the same year as Ross Poldark, historical Cornish, deeply reflective of the trauma of WW2, Angharad Rees starred in the now wiped out serial; The Walking Stick, with its fine movie with David Hemmings; The Little Walls, won prestigious prize; Angell, Pearl and Little God, despite its godawful title, said to have been considered for a movie with Brando in a leading role. Graham has a number of novels with (to me) unappetizing titles, many first published with embarrassing covers.


I like this 1960s Bodley Head cover illustration of Demelza used on all four of the Bodley Head publications of the first four Poldark books

But now it will be my project, give me some kind of goal for a biographical book of my own, one I think I can do for real, and which is called out for — there is no book on this man whose work is so well known, liked, has made a great deal of money for so many. And I’ve corresponded with his son who for now has no objection. All the reading and love I’ve put into my study of biography and continual reading of literary ones (now there is a genre or book type that when done right I don’t tire of but read on however slowly to the end) — could just emerge in one of my own.

So I’ve begun steadily working through Graham’s early ones in the order they were written, and when revised, cut down, rewritten (several were) even comparing the two texts. And I’ve found myself engaged, e.g., The Giant’s Chair, 1938, became Woman in the Mirror, 1975. Alas (for Graham’s mature judgement of his own work), the earlier version is much better. I’ve heard this said of the first 12% longer version of Ross Poldark. The Giant’s Chair set in 1920s Cornwall, with attention paid to geology, geography, local feel, has an idiosyncratic charm, a traumatized secondary hero, disabled son, unjust death (not by murder), with believable heroine who has Radcliffian adventures, lesbian sexuality, becomes a weak hard-boiled thin bloody murder read, albeit with some stronger lines and passages — and more coherent clarity.

Tomorrow if I can get through the byzantine “security” procedures of the Library of Congress (whose real effect is to curb research, lest the cowardly congress be at risk as they place their iron heels on 90% of us), I shall read the relatively rare 1937 The Dangerous Pawn. It fetches $2000+ on the open market.


Jeremy Brett — the 1980s Sherlock Holmes

For tonight I thought I’d introduce one aspect of this fantastically successful genre, which the reader may not know or not mind being reminded about. (Beyond how necessary it is to find delight and solace in its central detective figure0. How flexible it is all the while keeping its recognizable furniture. It can accommodate so many kinds of stories & materials because one can tell anything to Sherlock. Two weeks ago I watched a remarkable modern-type BBC film adaptation of Wilkie Collins’s real novel of quality, The Woman in White (1860), arguably one of the pattern forms. I remember reading it in two days when I lay sick with flu — 1973 that was, we lived at the top of Manhattan with our dog, Llyr. The Italian Fosco was the origin invention that gave rise to the book of Marion Halcombe, the spinster who I defy anyone not to like. About the subjugation of women. The lady gone mad is not in the attic but wanders from her asylum across moors.

I had thought a genre I am familiar with, have long loved in the dyptich, historical romance, historical fiction, was very far from suspense novels. I was wrong. As in Graham’s oeuvre, characteristics, motifs, character types slide across one another co-terminously. It is not that uncommon to alternate between them. Police procedures can combine with women’s subjective novels, which historical romances are a version of in disguise. The great Breaking Bad belongs to this genre.

And today LeCarre is one of those who have made of them philosophical politically engaged books. I suppose the road was opened for this first by Hammett (1931, The Glass Key is not far off his rewrite-collaboration with Lilian Hellman from stage to film, Watch on the Rhine, 1941). I remember first reading LeCarre’s early, A Small Town in Germany (1968) which I thought was a fable about integrity very like Trollope’s The Warden (a similar retiring male at the center).

Trollope by the way knows the drill. In his parodic dark The Eustace Diamonds he has the de rigueur fuss about key, locked room, weapon (depends for working on some mechanical device), not to omit the importance of the exit/entrance and mappable space. By reverse logic, it stands to reason Trollope had no feel or urge to write historical fiction. He didn’t care what happened at “exactly half-past two o’clock on Tuesday morning” fifteen yards beyond the fourth milestone.


A Nancy Drew introspective cover, as Umberto Eco says at the opening of Il nome della rosa,

Naturalmente, un manoscritto

I have almost written myself into admiring this stuff. As I write myself into wakefulness and a feeling of cheer. Now if only I could find real pleasure in reading it. It can be fun to read about it on the train and watch it obsessively at 1 in the morning.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


From Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957)

In terms of sexual politics, however, to borrow Lee’s own phrasing, women are also getting kind of funny about other people telling their stories — Thomas Chatterton Williams, a NYTimes Magazine semi-fluff piece on Spike Lee

Dear friends and readers,

My last was about this past year’s life in reading; this is about this year’s life in and through films and stage-plays, except I doubt I can remember all the films I saw this year. I watch late at night and into the morning hours (that’s how I saw the first season of Grantchester — fascinating for what it mirrors of our culture just now). I probably can’t distinguish those I saw this past year (2017) from last (2016). While books are surely also dream matter, for myself I have to admit no matter how absorbed and intensely engaged I can get, the experience of a movie (especially large screen, in color, up close, with strong appropriate music) is just ontologically visceral. Two of the first books I read when I began to study and write about film were Parker Tyler’s The Hollywood Hallucination, and Magic and Myth of the Movies.


Nicholas and Smike on the road of life (Nicholas Nickleby 2002)

At the same time one must keep hold of the understanding these are unreal ratcheted up works of art which are not imitations of life, but emotion-creating, emotional sharing technological concoctions. I try during daylight waking hours; I don’t vouch for what I let my mind do when I’m in bed falling asleep, nor here tell my movie dreams. Sometimes waking I am coming out of a dream world made up of one of the TV serial dramas I’ve watched; they can make a bigger impact because I live with them over weeks of watching. I wrote about only a few of these: Poldark, The Handmaid’s Tale, Outlander (1st season; 2nd & 3rd seasons). I’ve yet to write about the Anna Karenina films (I’m just finishing the book) and The Crown. I was glad when I saw that Elisabeth Moss, Caitriona Balfe and Claire Foy were all nominated for Golden Globes for the best actress in a TV drama series. A 2002 BBC adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby (Charles Hunnam; Juliet Stevenson, Jim Broadbent, Romola Garai, Anna Hathaway, Christopher Plummer, Timothy Squall, Tim Courtney — oh it had everyone). How important these star presences are. I do (fingers crossed) mean to write on The Crown and Anna Karenina.


Pamola Baeza as Bathseeba (we read Hardy’s Far from the madding Crowd this summer — no it was not one of my favorites)

Favorite individual films this year (excluding HD opera screenings) seen for the first time, in no particular order:

Baldwin: I am not your Negro
Ashgar Farhadi’s Salesman and A Separation
Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse (older movies seen on DVDs)
Wadja’s Afterimage
Two Far from the Madding Crowd movies: the 1998 BBC with Nathaniel Parker, Paloma Baeza and Jonathan firth, Natasha Little; 2013 with Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen (the famed 1967 with Julie Christie and Alan Bate is over-rated)
Kedi — the street cats of Istanbul
Lucky
Neruda (post-modern political film, superb)

Favorite Re-seen movies: Last Orders, Barchester Chronicles (perfection), North and South.

This excludes this year’s about eight HD operas, which included a few which were I admit superb precisely because they were films, permitting subtitles, close-ups, great acting. The finest and moving Eugene Onegin; astonishingly intelligent Exterminating Angel

I also took my first course in film, “The History and Aesthetics of” (at the OLLI at AU) a deeply grating experience since every single film we saw (10) and every single one the teacher (retired from teaching in a private high school) mentioned were by a man and about men. There was not one which even focused on a woman. I did tell the professor about this, but it took 2 emails, one of which was a comments on the course type, and weeks before he brought this up. Five men and over ten women in the class and only then did a few women clap and say “hurrah, Ellen.” These women were all aware of this then but none would have spoke up for me; nonetheless, all his lists of famous films carried on being by and about men even after that, no matter what type (French new wave, African-American). Talk about erasure and marginalization, for of course these films had women in them — as sex objects, mothers, nurses, nuisances, victims, not one all term long had any ambition but to be wife or mother. The teacher’s talk about these was very educational, context, close reading of techniques, biographies, remarkably intelligent conversation in the class. My guess is he never watches films by women — though he’s seen some made by men about women and knew of Jeanine Basinger’s great book, A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-60 (he was able to cite her high position at a university, which I could not have done, would not have thought of), which I read with a group of women on Women Writer through the Ages @ Yahoo several years ago.


Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman (1942, Talk of the Town, never got near being mentioned, one of my favorite films of all times; as the wordpress search engine does not go back before 2012 I see I shall have to rewrite that blog)

The teacher’s choices were Modern Times (Chaplin and Paulette Goddard towards the end), Fritz Lang’s M (Peter Lorre, a troubling film made during the Nazi era because its content readily confirms the pathological paranoia towards anyone but white “upright” males), Welles’s Citizen Kane (fascinating but in the experience too jocular, and thus pandering too often), the Hitchcock Rear Window (artistically remarkable but the usual mean voyeurism, also paranoia from the point of view of white males), The Graduate (moronic), Casablanca (at times hilarious and yet at times the intensity of Boghart’s performance carries it), Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Stawberries, and Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows (all phases of men’s lives). It was a course in male classic films; the male canon of films.

It was a sort of shocking experience. To be amidst a group of people where the existence, outlook, experiences of some 2/3s of them were ignored, distorted, marginalized. It was like being in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Not that I have not had this experience. I taught for 23 years at George Mason University: in no catalogue was my name ever cited, when I left there was nothing recorded about it. But that was long range, done ever so cleverly, indirectly. However it’s such experiences that make African-American films and their political outlook undersandable to me; often there I can guess how they will vote. The highest ratings I ever had as a teacher occurred when my classes were predominantly African-American. One summer, the summer Barack Obama was running to be nominated for president for the Democratic party for the first time I had a class of 11 students for Advanced Composition in the Natural Sciences. I had two European-American (white) students in it. I got a 5.10 out of 6, and my only letter of commendation in all the years I was there signed by Rick Davis, then dean of humanities (or some such title).


Tracy Camilla Jones in She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

So a little, however inadequate, and here too women were secondary, basically chorus or scolds, on Do the Right Thing. First the full context I’d give it is bell hooks’s take on She’s Gotta Have It: “Whose Pussy Is This: A Feminist Comment, Hooks described Lee’s protagonist as “ ‘pure pussy,’ that is to say that her ability to perform sexually is the central, defining aspect of her identity.” The film, in Hooks’s view, was contaminated by “the pervasive sense that we have witnessed a woman being disempowered and not a woman coming to power.” See Chatterton’s paragraphs describing this film which is about a promiscuous female who finds herself by finding the right male partner. His great film, said the teacher, is Malcolm X, who in Haley’s rerwrite in acceptable English (readable) of Malcolm’s autobiographical diary notes frequently uses bitch as a synonym for women, though it is reserved especially for white women. It was the English freshman community text for adjuncts to use one term I was teaching at American University (as an adjunct); need I say, I didn’t assign it? You could find a substitute: mine was James Baldwin’s The Price of the Ticket; now I’d use Ta Nehesi-Coates Between Me and the World.


Closing moments of Do the Right Thing (1989)

Of the group the most contemporary alive films still seemed to me Lee and Bergman’s. Lee’s Do the Right Thing is a depiction of the lives of black people seen angrily and harshly (the women berate all the men continually), also allegorical (with Ossie Davies and Ruby Dee as allegorical figures of compassion. Like the others, it’s been written about so much, I can hardy add to the great criticism and studies, my take is Mookie (played by Spike) destroys Sal (Danyl Aiello) the decent white owner’s pizzeria because it’s the only way he can get himself to stop working there. All film long his girlfriend berates him castigatingly for having such a demeaning job (that’s her one function beyond being the mother of his son), but as far as we can see it is all he has been able to persuade anyone to offer him. And the title is ironic as in this situation these people have been coerced into and kept no one can do any right thing at all. So fundamental and sweeping and decades long must be the changes done across the whole country-society to educate everyone together, to allow African-Americans to build self-esteem, make good incomes as a group, be free from incarceration and/death as daily risk.

Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, also analyzed and described in so many places, gives me a chance to talk about the second of two good plays I saw this year, one by a woman: Private Confessions, Liv Ullmann’s directed play out of Bergman’s script from his movie. The film, Wild Strawberries, is about a tough old physician’s inward journey (depressed, angry, isolated, unaccepting) to face up to the central mistakes he’s made all his life through a series of dreams he has on the way to get a life-time achievement award with his daughter-in-law driving him. It put me in mind of the (by contrast) child-like A Christmas Carol where the old man faced with death and visited by three spirits who show him his past suddenly reforms and retrieves what has gone before. Borg feels his life has been a failure no matter what others see or think. What we see is the almost near impossibility of retrieval. So many he hurt or who hurt him centrally have died or turned away so finally and unforgivingly. We see his son has become a hard mean detached man to protect himself (ironically mirroring his father). Like Do the Right Thing and so many great films (and books) Wild Stawberries is highly autobiographical. Bergman had a harsh cruel hypocritical pastor for a father; he himself had affairs (as did Borg in the film — one of his mistresses functions like the benign ghosts in Dickens’s tale). Bergman is searching to make a meaning in life now that we know there is no god, and the ethical values you once thought could hold sway you now find are a veneer for giving a pretended order to the chaos of reality. My father took me to see this movie when I was about 11; he had identified with the man.


Private Confessions (from the production I saw last week, 2017)

The play, Private Confessions, is not listed in the wikipedia entry for Liv Ullmann, probably because she didn’t write it. I saw the play Friday night week last at the Kennedy Center: it was as if Ullmann had plucked out the deep core center of Bergman’s films and we watched in an almost bare stage the sheer internal memories and life, this time, of a woman who found she had married a man she didn’t love; she has an affair with a much younger man, almost leaves the husband (a pastor who is cold in nature), but decides not to. The cast includes her mother and her friend. It was acted with subtlety at the same time conveying hard intense passions. It was superb if filled with much suffering — I can see why Bergman is made fun of. This one without the film apparatus did not come across as allegorical in the way other of his films do. The film’s cast list is the same, though the description on IMDB emphasizes the roles of the priest, husband and lover. As the play the character on stage all the time whose point of view we are is the woman, Anna. The actress was Marte Engebrigtsen. Like other of Bergman’s films it is a transposition of his own autobiography: this time (or again) about his parents Like other of Bergman’s films it is a transposition of his own autobiography: this time (or again) about his parents.

The other great play I saw this year took three nights, it came in three parts (like the Norman Conquests), The Gabriels, which I began the year with, last January. (I did see a few stage plays done by N.Va repertoire companies when the friend who has now dropped me drove us to the Fairfax and Arlington community centers they played in.)

So all these are this year’s memories. They help me though my days — dream matter given structures (designs of visions) to experience and and significance contemplate by how they are made and put together in their media. The very best steady me through a kind of perspectival moral compass. Like The Roofmen of this Patricia Fargnoli’s poem:

Over my head, the roofmen are banging shingles into place
and over them the sky shines with a light that is
almost past autumn, and bright as copper foil.

In the end, I will have something to show for their hard labor –
unflappable shingles, dry ceilings, one more measure of things
held safely in a world where safety is impossible.

In another state, a friend tries to keep on living
though his arteries are clogged,
though the operation left a ten-inch scar

and, near his intestines, an aneurysm blossoms
like a deformed flower. His knees and feet
burn with constant pain.

We go on. I don’t know how sometimes.
For a living, I listen eight hours a day to the voices
of the anxious and the sad. I watch their beautiful faces

for some sign that life is more than disaster –
it is always there, the spirit behind the suffering,
the small light that gathers the soul and holds it

beyond the sacrifices of the body. Necessary light.
I bend toward it and blow gently.
And those hammerers above me bend into the dailiness

of their labor, beneath concentric circles: a roof of sky,
beneath the roof of the universe,
beneath what vaults over it.

And don’t those journeymen
hold a piece of the answer – the way they go on
laying one gray speckled square after another,

nailing each down, firmly, securely.

As I say I know this is illusion and underneath these structures, all around them, shut out sufficiently so as to maintain control in my journey’s spaces are abysses …

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Publicity shot for Marnie (Tippi Hedron, Sean Connery)

Friends and readers,

I’ve embarked on a study of Graham’s writing beyond his Poldark and Cornish historical fiction, with a view to perhaps writing a literary biography of this author. While my emphasis will be on the Poldark series (12 novels and a couple of short stories) and Graham’s deep drawing on his 30 years of life in Cornwall, I feel that since the man wrote 27 other books, including stage and screen-plays, a non-fiction history of the Armada as it hit Cornwall in the 16th century, travel writing (about Cornwall), life writing, not to omit scattered pieces in magazines (about gardening, poetry on a cat, about Cornwall from a historical point of view), I ought to look at some of this. I’ve read the travel- and life-writing, a few of the historical novels (set in Manchester where he grew up, Cordelia; Grove of Eagles, Elizabethan Cornwall; The Forgotten Story, set in Cornwall on the sea, 1898; on his art and craft), but am woefully lacking on the mystery-thriller-suspense books. He not only wrote 27 such books, but several were seen as good material for a movie, and two made into films today highly respected: The Walking Stick and Marnie.


Publicity shot for Walking Stick (Samantha Eggar and David Hemmings)

I chose books from his mid-career which won prizes or he has been especially commended for, or I’ve come across essays praising them: The Little Walls (1955); Greek Fire (1957, in the opening recalling Greene’s The Third Man); The Tumbled House (1959, very revealing of Graham for its attack on how privacy of authors is not respected, the son seeking to vindicate his father who turns out to have been plagiarizing); Marnie (1961, in its use of sexual sickness in the character at the center resembling Nabokov’s Lolita and because of those who’ve studied it with subtlety worth reading so one can read these studies); The Walking Stick (1967, deeply about disability). I remember read/skimming Take My Life (1967, novelization of a playscript). I’ve just begun After the Act (1965) because it’s about a man who murders his older wife and then lives intensely to feel guilt for his actions and then find that after all he loves his wife far more truly thad the young woman who has tried to take her place. My last will be Angel, Pearl and Little God (1970, Marlon Brando was among those approached when a movie was in the planning). I probably should push myself to read Strangers Meeting and Night Journey (for the sake of the titles, and what I’ve read about them, but have no copy of the first); and know Graham spent a lot of time on The Green Flash (1986). There are a few interesting looking stories in The Japanese Girl (1971) .

These are not cheerful books. They often end implicitly or explicitly bleakly. Yes unlike today’s blood thrillers, there in attempt in several (The Little Walls, The Tumbled House) to reason an excuse for why the characters take their lives, self-destruct, and to look for a stoic acceptance philosophically, but in final scene after final scene, doubt as to what happened is sown, our chief character is about to be arrested. I can see thoughtful police procedurals made from some of those I’ve now read, with their repeated uses of treachery, or film noir. I’ve watched a couple of embarrassingly dated movies made from his earlier books: Night Without Stars (1950); Fortune is a Woman (1953), mildly film noir


Take My life (the earliest movie made from his books, 1947)

There is a truly excellent study of Marnie by Tony Lee Moral: The Making of Marnie (2005). Moral argues that Hitchcock’s film may be watched as a feminist expose of the way sexuality was then and is today conducted. I can see the film could be interpreted this way much more if the original screenplay (by Evan Hunter) had been used: Hunter wrote a rape scene (the husband rapes the wife — a not uncommon motif in Graham’s books) which condemned Sean Connery’s character in no uncertain terms, but Jay Presson Allen (a woman) professed herself wholly unbothered and also (as is done by some readers of Graham’s novels) said she did not consider what happened a rape! Marnie is terrified, angry, resists, and the curtain is pulled down — these are books meant for middle brow readers – but when the next chapter opens there is no doubt that Marnie hated every minute of what had happened (there is doubt about Elizabeth Poldark and as with the rape scene of the princess daughter in Downton Abbey in the first season’s suggestions that after all Mary wanted this though she said no …)

The fascination of the material is that Evan Hunter, an intelligent sensitive writer of screenplay objected strenuously to the rape and said if Mark rapes Marnie, his character will be so debased and the act so ugly, he can’t come back from it. Given Marnie’s vulnerability to this powerful rich man who can put her in jail and her terror, if Mark loved hre he would abstain. As (my allusion) Randolph Henry Ashe does for Ellen for years in the backstory of A. S. Byatt’s Possession. Evan Hunter wrote a screenplay in which Mark is patient, does not rape Marnie but they begin to understand one another — at least he does her (a father figure is the most charitable interpretation as Mr Knightley is for Emma, Rhett Butler is for Scarlett). It’s a very plausible humane reaction and could be used to justify describe the objections to Ross raping Elizabeth — which are ceaseless even now. Hitchcock wouldn’t listen and simply fired Hunter. Hitchcock justified his use of rape off-tape: he kept all tapes off when he directed some of the scenes And there is this horrifying statement someone remembered: he wanted a close up of the actresses face as “Mark sticks it in her” (in the fiction). This is not the only such statement from Hitchcock.

I cannot say I like this material however I may get caught up in the psychological conflicts of the characters, and suspenseful scenes (he seems to favor robbery of antiques, archaic jewelry and furniture): the style is “hard-boiled,” totally without poetry (beauty, leisure) of language. As a rule I usually couldn’t care less about working out clues, or who killed whom for what. How can anyone can regard some of the more recent entries which unlike LeCarre do not have a serious political critique? Graham differs in managing to make us care for his characters. but beyond that the whole genres endorses hierarchy, punitive responses to people in desperate trouble with no opportunity to rise and take others with them, admire glamor, celebrity, luxurious hide-away places. Graham uses these but in his finest fictions these fall away.

As Wayne Booth in his Rhetoric of Fiction also argued (long ago), the genre is more than implicitly misogynist: women are unfaithful, deceitful, men exist to conquer them and anything else that gets in their way. Graham (and LeCarre and others) modify this, but when you see a full-blown version of this in Marnie and her terrible sick mother (who either had men just like this when her husband is out fighting a war, or supports herself as a prostitute and gets her own child out of bed to do it, and also strangles a newborn who is born out of wedlock), I am surprised any woman can read this aggressive male material. In the last couple of decades women have been writing it by putting females in the male roles and exposing ugly crimes against women, but the underlying endorsement and even sympathy for the present competitive cruel order remains.

From Lyn Gardner on Sean O’Connor’s close adaptation as a staged play of Marnie: But for all his stylistic flourishes, O’Connor – like Hitchcock before him – never really gets inside either Marnie’s frozen heart or her strange, forced marriage to Mark Rutland, the boss from whom she steals and who then traps her like a wounded animal [as Warleggan traps Elizabeth]. Just as most of the attempts to explain Marnie’s behaviour look ludicrously simplistic to a modern audience — the workings of the subconscious are infinitely more understood than they were 40 years ago – so the failure to explore Rutland’s equally bizarre behaviour and motives in marrying Marnie create a hollow centre … Gardner says Sean O’Connor belongs to kitchen-sink angry young man school

What can I say about this mass of writing. Their strength is in Graham’s gift for psychological complexity of some of the characters; his evocation of a place or milieu; his and the reader’s occasional deep bonding with the vulnerable, powerless, disabled, economically distressed. I have been noting some similarities of themes, character types, uses of a triangular love, with the Poldark books; most can be explained away as a trope of formulaic of generic fiction except for this kind of thing: at the core of several or a crucial incident is marital rape.

Robin Wood made the most interesting remarks (he wrote a book on Hitchcock’s films): Wood says Hitchcock ignores much else in the book and concentrates on sexual and emotional problems of men and women. Marnie’s rape scene, for Wood, offered “one of the purest treatments of sexual intercourse the cinema has given us; pure in its feeling for sexual tenderness. Yet what we see is virtually a rape. To the man it is an expression of tenderness, solicitude, responsibility; to the woman, an experience so desolating that after it she attempts suicide. Our response depends on our being made to share the responses of both characters at once.” A gender faultline all right.

This is not a common theme — the first cited is usually Galsworthy’s Man of Property (Solmes rapes his wife). What to make of it, I’m not sure: the feel in Graham is not voyeuristic misogyny (except in the case of Hitchcock’s famous film of 1965), but an awareness of women’s powerlessness, compassion for some of the raped women (though none submit more than once, and certainly not night after night as with Morwenna in The Four Swans); lack of class status and gender leads characters to be treated or behave in Graham’s books at times like hunted animals.

I also find in Graham an almost obsessive depiction of a husband or wife drawn to love for someone outside their marriage and this might have personal resonances, especially when the deserted character is disabled (he has numbers of disabled characters). In Marnie, the woman who played the crazed (sick) mother, Louise Latham said it was a challenge for her to act because (seeing the “terrible mother” sympathetically which no one else may have) “’it made you wonder why this terrible relationship occurred [between mother and daughter] and what was the cause of all this pain and anger.’ Latham began investigating the role by the coldness, fear and isolation and defensiveness that existed inside Bernice Edgar” (p. 62). Well this coldness, isolation, defensiveness is found in Valentine of the Poldark books, who grows up to become a psychologically cruel man who exploits a sexually vulnerable mentally disabled girl (Bella), but we learn (eventually) is a deeply lonely man who buys himself an orangutan for company, to have as a loving friend:


Photo of an orangutan (empathy for non-human animals seen throughout Graham’s writing)

How has this happened? during Valentine’s childhood his legal father George had been so suspicious Valentine is Ross’s biological son that he withdrew all love (from The Four Swans on) , Elizabeth his mother dies in The Angry Tide. In the 2015 films of the new Poldark, Elizabeth is cold to her baby, Valentine; not so in Graham’s book or first 1977 series — she favors Geoffrey Charles but she does not neglect her baby (script by Alexander Baron). But for years Ross refuses any acknowledgement and this comes to a disastrous final scene in Bella (Poldark 12, the last) where Ross is made to realize his profound error. The hero in Walking Stick is a similarly perverted man taking advantage of a lame girl. Perhaps all this is material comes from an underside of dark thought and feeling of the author’s encouraged by the misogynistic spy-thriller/mystery suspense genre?


This is a touching still from the film

Conversely and in quite a different spirit, some of Graham’s later short stories are touching and sweet: as when in one of his last Graham meets Demelza, or her spirit, and she is still grieving for the loss of Julia and Jeremy.

I blinked. In spite of the moon it was becoming very dark. I looked back, and in place of the house there was only some may trees, a pond, and the bubbling stream.
“It is very dark,” I said to her. “We’ll have to go careful because of the rough ground.”
She did not reply. I looked round and she was not there. Where she had been were waving grasses and some bracken and hart’s-tongue fern.
I was suddenly very lonely. But the pressure of her hand in mine, the pressure of her fingers, was still warm.

On the gathering night
From the faint harmony of an errant dream
I woke and found the moon’s quiet light
Quiet in the gathering night
Echoing its theme.

Then in the early dawn
Sadness was mine and the desire to stay
Lest the rich theme so young new born
Fading in early dawn
Wither away.

Now in the clamorous noon
Nothing is left me but an empty husk
Yet do I wait and hope for soon
Gone is the clamorous noon
Welcome the dusk
— from “Demelza”

An opera might seem a stretch in another direction: Nico Muly’s world premiere of Marnie, as an opera. The talk about the opera does not broach its central issues, only the symptoms and circumstances surrounding them. And the emphasis again on the deceitful woman. Let us remember that it was okay for Trump to be a fraud, but Hillary Clinton could not get past the accusation she is dishonest.


Sasha Cook, said to be the mezzo-soprano for the role at the Metrpolitan opera (2017)

I’m glad I have only two left on my list and will then return to the 12 comparatively sunny Poldark books. However, one must remember that the same man wrote in these two different genres and all the cross-overs in the two kinds of fiction there are to be found.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »