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Archive for the ‘children’s-girls’ books’ Category


Wynona Ryder as Jo coming with accepted manuscript to Gabriel Bryne as Prof Bauer (1996 LW, directed Gillian Armstrong, my favorite of all the LW movies


A thumbnail of the pair (hurt badly by the ugly insistence on ownership by a website)

Friends and readers,

Day 6/10 of books that influenced me, had a discernible impact. Yet again problematic. Maybe because books have meant so much to me, that even when younger I had several “going” at a time. I was a reading girl. So from when I was around 10 or 11 reading as an adolescent, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Good Wives was my truly central book. It was sturdy. Below is the cover of the book I cherished for years.

I still remember chapters, the moral lessons of several, lines and incidents come floating up, details, Meg learns it’s better not to dress up to the point you make yourself uncomfortable, Meg and Jo each wear one soiled glove and one clean; Amy’s birthday party to which no one came, the newspaper (like Pickwick); Jo’s cutting her hair; Jo and Laurie as friends; the trip to Europe Jo didn’t get to go on; Beth’s death; I loved that Jo married Prof Bauer and like those film adaptations where the relationship is made deep, understandable, the male character appealing (1970 with Angela Down as Jo, 1995 with Wynona Ryder as Jo, even the 2018, where the best role was given to Marmee and actress was Emily Watson). My edition had picturesque black-and-white illustrations (in the style of the above) and I colored the lines with colored inks, tracing over the black lines. I encouraged my daughters to read the book and both did, with Laura going on to lovie Little Men better (it might be the better book, her depressive state of mind, about an outcast).

Recently I embarked on watching a series of these Little Women film adaptations (170-2018) back-to-back and writing about them. I lost my DVDs of them when my computer broke down, but now a kind friend is replacing them for me, and I hope this year to do justice to this set of films — though it is the book that influenced me. Kindness, courtesy, compassion, how all people should be treated with dignity, on the side of reading and writing girls, Jo’s long choice of spinsterhood rather than marry where there was no deep congeniality and sharing of true innate values and gifts. It was not the female community so much for me.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Drew#Ghostwriters

I have vowed to myself the value of these blogs is I tell as accurately as I can what comprises the truth. So, at the same time I was reading and rereading the Mary Poppins books still, I had started the four at age 8 while I lived in the southeast Bronx and vegetation was not something we a lot of. I loved how the character was on the surface hard and not giving, but when all adults were gone, one escaped into a magical happier beautiful world. The Park was my favorite, though years later Margaret Drabble’s Seven Sisters picked up on the story of the Pleiade in another of the Poppins books (so I loved the Drabble). At first I did not like Disney movie (I saw it when I was age 18) as destroying what was so crucial to the character (Julia Andrews was all sweetness), but after a while adjusted to its projection of a similar message through dance – great dancing by her and Dick Van Dyke, especially the chimney sweep piece.  A new faux realistic and sociological take on Travers’s life see Saving Mr Banks.


Bert and Mary

I’m torn because the other meaningful seemingly English book was Burnett’s Secret Garden which I so loved as an escape into a garden (I was with Mary Lennox all the way); I was very fond of Colin and wanted to name a son after him. When I found myself on a boat sailing up the English channel and saw the white cliffs of Dover I ws so foolish as to be nostalgic and glad to see these cliffs “at last.” Don’t reread Secret Garden if you don’t ant to be dismayed by its racism, snobbery towards Dickin and his sister Susan and their gratitude to be talked to at all is insufferable: they are very poor and the book is okay with that.


These books go so deep one doesn’t need to back them up by the more widely disseminated movies

Much less because I can’t quote many lines, specific scenes don’t come up and I can’t remember any character I could identify with but Nancy Drew, but I know I was reading many of these at the same time as Little Women and The Secret Garden.  L, and they and Poppins (or a foolish ignorant naive young girl) created an Anglophilia in me, marrying a gentleman, preferably English or Anglo in origin, is urged on the reader. At any rate I married an Englishman.

Like GWTW, the old Nancy Drews (they are rewritten each decade) is ugly in its denigration of “criminals” as always non-white, non-American, coarse, lower class and I would never recommend these books to any girl now. Carolyn Keene is a pseudo-nym for a stable of complicit authors, the first Margaret Wirt Benson. I did like how she would get into her “blue coupe” and drive into the horizon, a symbol of liberty. Years later my first truly chosen car was a blue Chevy Cavalier, now I too had a blue car to drive about in. On my own behalf I stopped reading these books when I began to root for the “villain” girl of the Dana books, Lettie Briggs. I began to detest Nancy Drew for her self-satisfaction and just about everything about her that made her think her better than other people. I tried Judy Bolton and the books felt realer (they had a single author I learned in later life and were never rewritten) but she marries half-way through an FBI agent and the books become as reactionary as Nancy Drew while much duller: Peter is endlessly rescuing her. Nancy Drew is today a global figure: I’ve had students who came from Nigeria cite a Nancy Drew as her favorite book from childhood.

Ellen

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Vanessa Bell, the artist, the theme this time a woman drawing

Dear friends,

Some more thoughts on women as autobiographers and biographers. I’ve been reading yet another autobiographical novel by a woman, Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw. It’s another that conforms to the characteristics of women biographers and autobiographers as outlined by Suzanne Raitt and Gale Bell Chevigny. Again one must collapse distinctions between autobiography and biography and fiction and non-fiction. This brings us back to Max Saunders’ Self-Impression with its argument that in our century the central genre has been “autobiografiction.” In Stauffer’s book on the Art of Biography in the 18th century he suggests that autobiographers to be listened to and good must have the capacity to see themselves from the outside, almost as if the writer were another person. Conversely the biographer often prides him or herself on the autobiographical element in their quest and they use autobiographical documents. Anyway the history of all three forms cannot be understood apart from one another. without the history of the other.

Jigsaw is centered on Bedford’s fractured relationship with her mother and what she is doing is restoring their lives together, imagining them as more one unit than they were because so often her mother was absent from her. The mother was with a lover, with her husband (Bedford’s father), leaves to live with another lover. From afar the mother tries to dictate or show interest in her daughter’s schooling, reading, what worlds she belongs to, but the effort is largely imaginary. The mother’s first loyalty is to the man she is living with, dependent upon.

How many absent mothers do we find in women’s novels. This paradigm is usually explained as allowing the daughter-heroine liberty but from this new perspective it is a mirror of how daughters experience their mothers in a patriarchal society

Then yesterday and today I read two essays that felt very old because they were printed in pre-Internet days and are not on-line. The first, Patricia Meyer Spacks’s “Reflecting Women,” in a 1974 Yale Review (Vol 63, pp 26-42) offers yet more analogous marvelous insights into women’s life-writing and fiction which anticipate and indeed say more graphically, less abstractly what Raitt, Chivegny and others on women’s life writing from the Renaissance to today put forth as a new findings. Demoralizingly I thought to myself what I’ve read other unearthers of a women’s tradition in this or that art:  how can make progress made when each generation has to re-fight the same battle. Yes women were great artists and here are their names and history. Yes this is the genres they paint or write in and the latest critics proceed to re-invent what was said before and has been forgotten because what was published was so rare and then it was forgotten — like this one by Spacks.

Spacks is more penetrating and ranges across classes and eras and conditions in ways none of those I’ve read recently do. She discusses the rich society woman, Hester Thrale Piozzi’s continuing re-telling of her life story in most of Piozzi’s writing and compares what is found there to the deprivation and racial punishments known by the young African-American woman, Anne Moody in Coming of Age in Mississippi; and yet more appalling for what was done to her, Mattie Griffith’s Autobiography of a Female Slave (first published 1857; first published in an affordable paperback in 1974). In one scene Mattie is tied to a post, stripped naked and whipped and violated sexually, then laughed at and denigrated and then compared to an non-human animal. I wonder she did not become deranged or kill herself. Emily Kugler on Mary Prince’s autobiography rejoices that she has found Mary Prince as an almost unique autobiography by an enslaved woman in the US; Kugler has not heard of Griffith it seems. Spacks moves to Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (17th century writer during the civil war in the UK). I never forgot the pathos of the final paragraphs of the Duchess’s brief autobiography where she says she writes for “my own sake, not theirs” (others) so it does not matter that her readers assume what she writes does not matter, and has only written so she will not be mistaken in history as another of the Duke’s wives now that she has written his biography. to Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa to Ellen Willis’s Up from Radicalism: A Feminist Journal (1969).  Ellis fears her arguments with her partner and his disapproval of the ways she lives will lead to their parting: she needs the comfort of his presence, his money. In later years well after Spacks wrote, Ellis married her partner to have his access to good health care when Willis developed and then died of cancer.

Spacks uncovers that the underlying perspective of all these is that of women who are dependents. Hester Piozzi Thrale was forced to marry Thrale, a man much older than she, vulgar, cold, a bully, by her mother who proceeded to dominate Hester for decades during which Hester was continually impregnated by this man. Thrale bought attention and respect by her salons filled with prestigious people; that was one of Samuel Johnson’s functions at Streatham. What view can a woman have of herself who is a bondswoman, whether to other women, a selfish domineering mother, or a man however professional and rich. Hester’s salons were to entertain him and pass the time. I remembered that when Hester married Piozzi, Johnson cursed her and she was utterly ostracized by her daughters, friends, family; deserted by Frances Burney for whom Hester had done so much (as she did for Johnson): that’s why she went to Italy. I have had to give up on writing my half of a Woolf-Johnson paper partly because I knew what I now have to say about Johnson will be so utterly out of kilter with my partner would and will pay as well as everyone in that volume. It’s conceived as demonstration of Johnson’s modernity. Modernity? A feminist avante la lettre is what is partly implied no matter how qualified the assertion

Mattie Griffiths escapes because her white mistress left her a legacy and her freedom. She still had to flee to realize it (with money hidden away), and went to live in Massachusetts where she taught “African children.” She then wrote her autobiography using the style, language, tropes of European tradition. Her book is written in a stilted style so as to gain respect, an identity and tell of the intolerable conditions under which she had lived. She is safe by assimilating herself in a book. Spacks compares her to the 20th century Brazilian prostitute, Carolina Maria de Jesus who lived in one of the unimaginable slums of that land, writing on scraps of paper picked up in the street, using for money what the father of one of her three children gives her for serving him sexually when he visits. She loathes him, is disgusted by herself because she is a woman. Like many another woman at the bottom she lives in fear of arrest. Readers Digest rejected her manuscript. Arrest, illness and then death is the fate of a major character in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 19th century protest industrial novel, Mary Barton: for vagrancy, she is given 3 months hard labor, and then ejected with nothing on offer to help her. What matter if this is nominally fiction.

Women become mirrors of their men; they avoid reality by fantasizing in print, in their writing, says Spacks. They write not only to create an identity (that I have known since reading Paula Backscheider and Margaret Anne Doody on women’s poetry) but to assert themselves at all. They justify themselves by claiming exactitude in truth. They are safer because their bodies are not immediately involved; yet they don’t have to claim anything for themselves beyond the recognition of the literary effectiveness. No political action need be taken. Sexuality is a trap. Men look at sexuality as a challenge, the woman is a pleasure to acquire as a subordinary part of their lives.  For women it becomes an agent of her defeat (as she has children and begins to live apart from the larger social world). I used to write in the interstices of time when my children were young. The classic mode is that of translation or the sharp perceptive observer, both of which I did.

Do I dominate my own experience by writing about it? I know I don’t. My rational for this tonight is to make sure that Spacks’s essay is not forgotten. But I am creating an identity as a (I hope) respected writer, scholar, teacher, blogger online.


Isak Dinesen’s hard-won house in Africa

Amelie Oksenberg Rorty’s “Dependents: The Trials of Success” is a companion essay to Spacks. It caught my eye as next (pp 43-59) and because in my last Sylvia II blog I wrote of false imposed definitions of success. This is a remarkable analytical essay, much longer than Spacks, which I cannot do justice to. Rorty begins by saying the US nation began with an assertion of independence based on war. Autonomy and power are what we focus on; self-respect comes through self-reliance. Of course we know independence is a myth for anyone; as a criteria it’s a killer for women who are automatically failures when they don’t define their lives by themselves. As an ideal it makes women resent men and men resent the dependence of women on them. Mobility is demanded — individual assertiveness comes first. The arts of self-expression cannot be valued. In trouble and need where can people turn? They hide their families; put children into schools that socialize according to to these norms, and women become even more beside the point, functioning as “consumers.” But productivity is the mark of worth.

When she comes to women married to professional men who are intellectuals, she moves into details close to my own experience and heart. She says to create you need to be in a world working with like-minded others, in a special environment where intellectual work is a full-time job. Juggling very differrent other demands makes for half-hearted half-time scholarship, perhaps competent. Slowly the “shadow of self-contempt” moves in. She thinks this is not a specifically female problem, but the problem of a “harried and torn person.”

An interesting side question is her idea that only when people work together do we come to know one another’s strengths and virtues and she thinks it’s taking on responsibility that offers fulfillment far more than any leaning on love. Mutual reliance among equals, and now her essay turns desperate as she returns to US values of domination which results in one group of people giving up so much (and it’s not natural) for another. We are back to the bondsman and master. It’s in this light Rorty questions the reality of “liberty,” “satisfaction,” “success;” the last is experienced as trial, ordeal in a juggernaut of power. There is thus a high cost or price paid for what is called “progress.”

She then goes on to say we must revise our conceptions of human worth, respect a whole range of talents, temperaments, redefine our grounds for mutual esteem. We need to get back to shared social planning for all. Utopian? She ends with recent travels where she became convinced the conditions of women in different countries are too different for any general solution that is gender-based. General solutions across cultures are economic and ideological. She thinks the “mechanisms” of “social vindictiveness” against “social explorers” in the US are paradoxically stronger than ever. Do not let yourself be unprotected against the rage the whole system engenders and then what you need to do undermines any social transformation.

I have gone a long way it would seem from women as autobiographers and biographers. But the content of what women write about has brought me here.

From “Biography from Seventy-Four” by Patricia Fargnoli

She is not who she was.
Last week, she dreamt
she could still run.
She ran and ran a long way.
She sleeps uneasily now,
waking and turning,
waking and turning.
If she could be anywhere
she’d be on the windjammer
sailing to Martinique,
the one she remembers
that comes back in dreams,
the sea dark blue and rolling,
that paradise, green mountain
and white sand in the distance …
Grace: what is given
without being asked,
what makes one able to rise.
The last time she felt joy
so long ago she can’t remember.
She is afraid
of thunder that comes too close,
war and the threat of war.
She tries to protect herself
from the wind of no good …. (from Winter)

Ellen

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EnchantedCornwall
From Enchanted Cornwall — Cornish beach — to them this recalls Andrew Davies’s 2009 Sense and Sensibility

Dear friends and readers,

Since tomorrow I’m going to try to travel to Cornwall where I will spend a week with a beloved friend, I thought I’d orient myself by reading an overview of the place, and found myself again reading DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall and Vanishing Cornwall. Though I’ve long loved a number of her books (basically the historical romances with female narrators, Rebecca, her biographies, life-writing, travel writing) my yearning to see Cornwall does not come from them, as what drew me were the atypical romance stories; it comes from the Poldark novels where the life experience, landscape, kinds of employment offered, society of Cornwall is central. Thus (with little trouble) I’ve picked photos from DuMaurier’s book which relate directly to the Poldark world:

cornishBeach

I remember Demelza frolicking on such a beach with her lover, Hugh Armitage (The Four Swans)

season1Part8Episode6
19677-78 Poldark: Part 8, Episode 8: Demelza (Angharad Rees) and Armitage (Brian Stirner) cavorting along the beach —

and DuMaurier tells a tale of haunted vicar living a desolate life after he alienated the few parishioners he had in Warleggan church:

WarlegganChurch — From Vanishing Cornwall — Warleggan church

I’ve read all sorts of books on Cornwall since my love of these Poldark novels began, from mining to Philip Marsden’s archeaological reveries, Rising Ground, Ella Westland: Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, to Wilkie Collin’s ode to solitude and deep past in his Rambles beyond Railways); to smuggling, politics beginning in Elizabethan times, poetry (its authors include Thomas Hardy, John Betjeman’s Summoned by Bells), to women artists (Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes, Dame Laura Knight), corrupt politics in this patronage-run Duchy. If I were to go back to count in the books on Arthur and the legends surrounding his figure, and literature, I have conquered whole shelves. Bryychan Carey’s website will lead you to much from a modern abolitionist left point of view, plainly set out. So much from one corner of a country.

TruroCornwalllookingdownfromcliff
A photograph my friend took today, near Truro

DuMaurier’s lyrical prose carries so much information so lightly, one is in danger of not realizing how much is there. There is a film adaptation of Vanishing Cornwall (half an hour); it accompanies the movie, Daphne with Geraldine Somerville and Janet McTeer as the leading lovers) developed from her letters, memoirs, and Margaret Forster’s biography. Her stance is less subjective than Graham’s, legend, myth, than Graham does in his Poldark’s Cornwall, which dwells on his life, his career, the place of Cornwall in his fiction right now. Appropriate to Graham’s fiction so concerned with law, justice, in his travel book, we have a photo of Launceston jail gate today:

LauncestonGaol

The DuMaurier’s may be regarded as instances of l’ecriture-femme too: in Enchanted whole parts of her novels emerge from this or that landscape memory as well as the sea. I had forgotten how many of her novels are situated there, from the one I think her finest, The King’s General (set in the later 17th century, the heroine in a wheelchair almost from the beginning) to the later one, Outlander takes off from, Hungry Hill. Her historical novels are historical romances: at core they are gothic, erotic fantasies. Vanishing is circular in structure, at the core her retelling of legend is minimized so she can do justice to the geography, archaeaological history, various industry. There is a paragraph on the coming of pilchards every spring which owes a lot to Graham’s lyrical miracle in the third book of Ross Poldark (there used to be a podcast on-line from the BBC, now wiped away, alas). Legend blends into history; history becomes poetical writing. She is not much on politics, dwelling on the upper classes as they’d like to be seen (mostly the later 17th into later 18th century and again the 20th).

For now here a piece from Vanishing Ground read aloud, evocative.

As qualifiers:

A poem by Betjeman: Cornish Cliffs

Those moments, tasted once and never done,
Of long surf breaking in the mid-day sun.
A far-off blow-hole booming like a gun-

The seagulls plane and circle out of sight
Below this thirsty, thrift-encrusted height,
The veined sea-campion buds burst into white

And gorse turns tawny orange, seen beside
Pale drifts of primroses cascading wide
To where the slate falls sheer into the tide.

More than in gardened Surrey, nature spills
A wealth of heather, kidney-vetch and squills
Over these long-defended Cornish hills.

A gun-emplacement of the latest war
Looks older than the hill fort built before
Saxon or Norman headed for the shore.

And in the shadowless, unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air.

Nut-smell of gorse and honey-smell of ling
Waft out to sea the freshness of the spring
On sunny shallows, green and whispering.

The wideness which the lark-song gives the sky
Shrinks at the clang of sea-birds sailing by
Whose notes are tuned to days when seas are high.

From today’s calm, the lane’s enclosing green
Leads inland to a usual Cornish scene-
Slate cottages with sycamore between,

Small fields and tellymasts and wires and poles
With, as the everlasting ocean rolls,
Two chapels built for half a hundred souls.

Laura Knight paints the contemporary world’s hopes.

LKnightChinaClayPitDetail
Laura Knight’s rendition of a China Clay Pit (a detail, painting from early in the 20th century)

Ellen

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forbesringroses
Ring-a-Ring-o’Roses (charcoal, watercolor, click to enlarge)

forbesarthurian
Woodland scene (1886, click to enlarge)

Dear friends and readers,

Forbes is the third woman I’ve chosen from this later Victorian into Edwardian/modern period (the other too Paula Modersohn-Becker and Helen Allingham) from out of eight thus far.

This is the first era of the impressionists, and Forbes came under the influence of James McNeill Whistler.

forbeslaseinepresdelacaumont
From her earlier French period: La Seine pres de la Caumont

Like his her landscapes are psychological projections. In her case her landscapes represent them as a child would see them, or suggestive of a particular story (Great Women Masters of Art, Vigue, 299). The use of children has another origin: like Allingham Forbes was an illustrator and had to come up with a solution to the repressive mores of the era which demanded she have a chaperon: she painted children.

I first came across her work at the National Museum of Women’s Art in DC where she seemed to fit into the Pre-Raphaelite mode: at the time her mural, Will-o’-the Wisp, was on a balcony, next to an ascending stairway:

forbesmural
(click to enlarge)

The painting connects her to Helen Allingham as Forbes is illustrating his symbolic poem, The Faeries, and

depicts the story of Bridget, who was stolen by the ‘wee’ folk and bought up to the mountain for seven years. When Bridget returned to her village, she found that her friends were all gone.
Set in autumn with bare trees silhouetted against a moonlit sky, the triptych’s dark rocks, swirling mist, and eerie glow in the sky convey a mystical quality to this scene featuring Bridge, the ‘stolen child … dead with sorrow … on a bed of flat leaves.’ In the left panel of the painting, little forest denizens, who in Irish legends often entice young girls with sensory pleasures, troop through the forest.
Will-o-the-Wisp displays the tenets of the Newlyn Art School in its meticulous portrayal of natural detail … the elaborately hand-wrought oak frame that incorporates sheets of copper embossed with intertwined branches imitat[e] the painted tree limbs … Lines from Allingham’s poem inscribed along the sides and bottom of the frame allude to the centuries old philosophical dialogue between the relative artistic merits of painting versus poetry (JP, Women Artists, Works from the National Museum, p 66)

Like Modersohn-Becker she was influenced by the avante-garde; for Forbes it was the work of Walter Sickert, a print-maker, that struck her.

BrightonPierrotsWalterSickert
Brighton Pierrots by Sickert (click to enlarge)

Julian Treuherz (Victorian Painting, pp 187-96) valuably reprints a number of late Victorian landscape and country painters unfamiliar to many people today, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Frank Bramley, Elizabeth’s husband, Stanhope Forbes, Clausen, Wm McTaggart, Atkinson Grimshaw), but she assimilates to these only in the naturalistic and seeming social-criticism phases of her work.

lepage
Jules Bastien-Lepage, Pauvre Fauvette (1881)

mctaggart
William McTaggart, The Storm (1890)

And of course her husband’s work influenced hers as hers did his:

StanhopeForbes
A characteristic fisherman’s wife scene (click to enlarge)

Martin Hopkinson’s review of a recent biography of Forbes, Singing from the Walls: The Life and Art of Elizabeth Forbes by Judith Cook, Melissa Hardie and Christina Paine, suggests the wide range of influences and center of art Forbes attended (see The British Art Journal 2:3 (Spring/Summer 2001):108. It’s true that what’s depicted may seem insular English as in The Edge of the Wood (1894), a “love tryst” (Christopher Wood’s term, from Paradise Lost: Paintings of English Country Life and Landscape, 1850-1914, p 199) something from a Hardy novel

sforbesedgeofwood

or ideas for a new BBC film adaptation of elegant rich Edwardians

forbesballroom
The Minuet (1892)

but note the rich coloration of her Forbes’s art, her use of animals, the leaves, the wood; the second picture’s center is the child’s yellow dress, with triangular shades of light and three women watching over her while a fourth works near a window.

She is included in a few of my surveys of women painters, mentioned in others. Greer places her alongside Mary Cassatt and Laura Knight because she worked in “the fragile” (and demanding) “medium of watercolor, leaving grander genre and history compositions in oils to her better-known husband. Often the simplicity of her work seems slack and spurious, but occasionally, as in her pastel, The Kiss, some greater intensity swells the small statement” (Obstacle Race, p 113). What a put-down.

Those women who write about her art sympathetically say forget the fashionable masculine schools of the era (impressionism, Pre-Raphaelitism); to align Forbes with these or the anecdotal Victorian naturalistic depictions gets you nowhere. You have to stake out a terrain of femininity for her as much as her you do for Allingham and Modersohn-Becker. This seems to me right: like the woman authors of the 1930s who are marginalized (see Alison Light, Forever England) in favor of say Graham Greene or George Orwell because these women don’t fit in the political movements of the day, the marginalization of Allingham and Forbes is the result of looking for what the women don’t want to be there.

Her art is so varied: suggestive, wonderful use of space and line, decorative bright colors, the picturesque and the plain and real, movement within a picture and stylization, so many influences too, from book illustrators and Millet to costumes and Art Nouveau. For myself I am deeply attracted to women artists of this era, and in Forbes’s case the melancholy and in her illustrations overt poetic feel. As a girl I learned to love Arthurian stories because of the illustrations that accompanied them in Edwardian books.

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

forbesselportrait
Elizabeth in 1882 by her husband, Stanhope Forbes

Born December 29, 1859, in Kingston, a suburb of Ottawa, Canada, daughter of a government official. At age 16, 1875, she went to the South Kensington School of Art to study; she returned home when her father died (presumably she lack funds to stay on). Two years later we find her in NYC under American influence while studying at the Art Students League, and then going on Munich (encouraged by William Merrit Chase). In 1882 she moved to Pont Aven (France) where she met leading “plein-air” painters, people working in smocks out-of-doors. Decisive, though. was the autumn she spent in Newlyn, Cornwall, with her mother, both for choice of subject and execution:

forbesfishergirl
A Zandvoort Fishergirl (1884) (click to enlarge)

and because she met her husband, Stanford Alexander Forbes there. A yet stronger luminous quality and use color and light, respect for a humble occupation, and expressiveness has lead to critics regarding her Boy with the Hoe as one of her outstanding paintings:

Elizabeth Adela Forbes - Boy with a Hoe
(click to enlarge)

The couple married in 1891; she had a son in 1892. She wrote and illustrated a children’s book, King Arthur’s Wood, and edited a magazine called The Paper Chase. She had been doing etchings from a time in St Ives, but gave this form up. She also could no longer keep up the French connections directly. To support themselves she and her husband opened a school of art in Newlyn (1899), but her predilection for presenting her modernity as the working teacher began before that, as seen in her fine School is Out(1889):

Elizabeth+Armstrong+Forbes+-+School+is+Out
(click to enlarge)

Deborah Cherry (Painting Women, pp 183-6) argues that Forbes’s images take issue with masculine definitions of what is modern art, she (in effect) refuses to imitate paintings focusing on “the commodification of [sexually available] women’s bodies.”

BlackberryGatherersEAForbes
Blackberry gatherers

Pleasure has other sources too, like in this Christmas Scene

Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes (Canadian artist, 1859–1912) Christmas Tree

Here is her husband reading a very thick book:

Stanhope_Alexander_Forbes_by_Elizabeth_Adèla_Forbes_(née_Armstrong)
Stanhope Alexander Forbes

Using just lines and shades an umbrella:

forbesstanhopewithumbrella

Her first individual exhibit was held in 1900 at the Fine Arts Society of London; she was elected a member of the watercolor society; 1904 she had another individual exhibit at Leicester Gallery in London. She died at the relatively young age of 53 in 1912.

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

EForbesGoodnight
Goodnight

She is known for her depiction of children. Alone:

sforbesstreetinbrittany
A street in Brittany

Eforbesmignon
Mignon

Elizabeth_Forbes_The_Half_Holiday
The Half-Holiday

Grouped in scenes:

EForbesChildrenLookingoverwall
Looking over a wall

EForbeschildreninwood
In a wood

But there is equal adept depth and individual use of different painting techniques for adults:

EAForbesFisherman
A Fisherman (she seems usually to avoid the stereotype Cornish fishing and fishing equipment scenes

EForbesOldMan
An Old Man

She did many and varied illustrations: Another Arthurian:

EForbesArthurian2

Some consciously sexy:

From-King-Arthurs-Wood-by-Elizabeth-A-Forbes

forbestakeohtakeawaythoselips
Take oh take those lips away (!)

She did sheer fairy tale:

EForbesPiedPiper
The Pied Piper

Probably today she would be more admired for landscapes and simpler expressionism:

EForbesAcrossMountbay
Across Mount Bay

forbesholland
A Holland scene: Volendam, from the Zuicende

[A] balanced, typically Dutch landscape … The spatial conceptions lends he work a homogeneous image constructed around the strong verticality of the canal and its banks… striking for its sense of depth, and the harmony of light and color, with a strong colorist atmosphere far removed from somber English landscapes. The force of light increases through the use of color, with luminous effects concentrated on the water in he canal, represented as a mirror reflecting the sky .. Vigue, p 304)

But she could be very Henry-Jamesian:

ForbesNotsure

And some of her compositions defy allegoresis or ready comparisons as this of a country girl stroking a goat who is eating wildflowers from her flower-laden wheel barrow

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Jean, Jeanne, Jeannette (1880) (click to enlarge)

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She seems to love water-imagery and when not painting working women and children at play, she is a poet of painterly reverie.

Two self-portraits

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In her studio, from the early phase of her career with her husband

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Later in life

Ellen

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Wybrand Hendriks (Dutch painter, 1744-1831) Old Woman Reading
Wybrand Hendriks, Old Woman Reading (Dutch, 1744-1831)

Dear friends and readers,

I almost made a Freudian slip and typed as the the title of Goodman’s bok, Becoming a Woman of Letters in the 18th century, for that is what this book is about. It’s just the book I needed to put together a paper on Anne Grant, Elizabeth Grant Smith and if not Anne Home Hunter, Anne Radcliffe — who also wrote a journal book and left a journal-diary whose entries are letter-like. I may substitute Radcliffe for Anne Home Hunter if my emphasis moves from Scots women to women forging connections as such. Naturally,I recommend it.

The cover picture of Goodman’s book is the same tired image I’ve seen on so many 18th century books about French women, Adelaide Labille-Guiard‘s Portrait of a Woman, so despite its appropriateness and lovely colors,

PortraitofaWoman

I led with a much less familiar image of a woman avidly reading — as if her life depended upon this.

A review of Goodman’s book appeared in the latest issue of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 48:4 (546-47). I want to emphasize from Aurora Wolfgang’s brief account, that writing was for women of the 18th into 19th century “a transformational practice,” where they both developed a consciousness for themselves (an identity we might say) and spoke to both private and public worlds out of their own private world (writing self) and public knowledge. Goodman debunks the stereotype of women as reading and writing love letters primarily; she developed her role as a teacher, mother and legitimized active participation and autonomy. The writing desk, her closet, the learning what are one’s innermost thoughts through the use of language, using reason, knowledge (her reading), and sensibility. Sensibility is only one part of this even if this is a “gendered sense of subjectivity.”

Goodman covers the manufacture of supply too: pens, paper, furniture for the modern person (like a desk), books of illustrations to study.

The writer and reader reached out to embed themselves in social networks of friends and family and book illustrations too.

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Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954) — and woman illustrator

Goodman analyzes over a 100 such illustrations; her central women writers are Genevieve de Malboissiére, Manon Phlipon, Catherine de Saint-Pierre, and Sophie Silvestre.

Other reviews: Maire Fedelma Cross, French History 24:2 (2010):292-93; from Cornell’s website.

A small connection which may seem foolish but is a defense of good historical. In Graham’s Poldark novels when Demelza learns to write and uses her skill to connect Verity to Blamey, to communicate with others, to be herself, she is enacting what Goodman claims for women of this era. I regret to say I’ve not been able to locate any snaps or stills of Eleanor Tomlinson teaching herself to read (they are probably fleeting). These are taken from Graham’s book. What is emphasized in both historical films is Demelza teaching herself to play the piano. Reading is still a suspect activity?

I’ve bought the book used from Amazon, and await its arrival eagerly.

Ellen

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Sylviareading

Dear friends and readers,

What differentiates Robin Swicord’s Jane Austen Book Club screenplay and resulting movie from the other sequels and appropriation texts to Jane Austen’s novels that I’ve read, is the content-rich nature, intelligence and coherent working out of ideas in the film’s conversations about the books, of which there are many. In this blog I cite the conversations by Swicord and compare them briefly and generally to those in Fowler’s novel.

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Jocelyneading

Wendy Wax’s While We Were Watching Downton Abbey where characters similarly get together to discuss this mini-series may stand as more typical: a great fuss is made about what the characters are feeling and thinking about the fictional characters, but when it comes to telling, the author via her characters says out hardly anything at all, or utters the kind of statement where specific content or comments on any themes or characters is avoided (like some plague, it’s a conscious avoidance). Such books make me wonder what kinds of conversations book clubs have: I’ve seen on-line communities where real analysis of the book hardly happens hardly at all, and the one book club talk I attended, after the briefest introduction of a few issues the book brought up (already outlined as what would be discussed), commonplace notions were said generally, a quiz was worked out, and then it was time for food.

Swicord’s characters not only offer specific comments on specific content, they come up with unusual perceptive ideas (such as maybe Charlotte Lucas is a closet lesbian) and they make what is happening in the Austen novels relevant to their lives in the book and by extension our contemporary lives reading them.

I wondered if there was a general stance in the novel across these discussions, anything linking them together thematically which related to the novel or a way of reading Austen’s novels so gathered together the conversations I took down in the process of taking down the screenplay.

Online2 (2)

Online2 (1)

Standing on line waiting to see Rozema’s 1999 Mansfield Park

I really like Edmund in this movie. Have you seen it?
We see an upset Trudie on line. Man and woman to her right.
Woman taking something out of her bag I love this movie.
Bernadette: Oh, I like it, but it’s not Mansfield Park. It’s more of an interpretation. We see Bernadette with her knitting and glasses on line
We see Prudie look so looming somehow in front ….
Bernadette: – Do you know the book?
Woman: – Yes. And I happen to teach film.
Bernadette – Oh … (speaking out to space in general: – Do you like this movie? –
Prudie turns round with crying lament voice: No. Do you know it mixes up Fanny Price with the author of the book? (her arms crossed) Makes Sir Bertram some kind of slave owner.
Woman looks irritated, pulling on bag
Bernie: Well, it means well. And a little Jane Austen’s better than none at all.
Prudie: No. No. No. That is how I talk myself into everything. I’m married to a man who would cancel our trip to Paris for a basketball game, which is making me a fraud in front of my students. A French teacher who’s never been to France?
Husband of couple getting impatient, goes to get tickets, women begins to feel for Prudie as she listen to above, so makes an effort …
Woman online: The screenplay is outstanding (The thrust of this dialogue and some of it literally comes from opening phase of Fowler’s characters discussion of Mansfield Park in March, pp. 82-83.).

Bernadette (2)

Bernadette (1)

At coffee meeting place, deciding on how to read all six Austen books, the order especially

Six novels, six people. We’ll each be responsible for one book. Bernie walks away reveling in her scarf: All Jane Austen, all the time! It’s the perfect antidote.
Prudie: – To what?
Bernie: – To life. … (comes back and whispers conspiratorially) I get Pride and Prejudice.
Bernie: So Prudie (she’s sitting to the side in a comfortable chair, knitting), you haven’t said which book you wanna be responsible for.
Prudie: Maybe Persuasion. ‘Cause I’m increasingly drawn to its elegiac tone. (there is a posturing here)
Allegra (feels and sees this and slams down coffee cup) – Don’t think I’m doing the book club.
Jocleyn (picks up hers): – You’re doing it. You lead one discussion. Pick a book.
Allegra: Well, I just saw Sense and Sensibility, and I think, since I’m back living with my mom, I really get that whole two-women, tight-relationship, living-together- but-really-opposites thing. POV Jocelyn eating donut
Jocelyn: Is it weird living back at home again?
Prudie (interrupting teacher-like): I think what Austen is actually writing about is two sisters, moving separately toward what they each believe to be a perfect love.
Allegra: Okay, but the point is Marianne and Elinor’s relationship…
Prudie: Maybe if you’d read the book instead of watching the movie…
Allegra: No, don’t make her do Northanger. I mean, first you’re going off to all these dances, and then suddenly it’s sort of like Nightmare on Northanger Abbey Street. Prudie making faces
Prudie: I’m afraid this isn’t the book club that I had in mind. (Clash of tone of mind) I mean, I find when someone in the group feels superior to the author, it just… It sets the wrong tone.
Never read anything by Jane Austen before. (Dumps huge book on table)
Jocelyn looks, Allegra,
Bernie (horrified) What is it? (Prudie to the side)
Grigg: Well, I went to the bookstore to buy a copy of each one of the novels, and I saw this. And I thought, “Well, maybe they’re all sequels.” So, I figured it might be a good idea to keep them all together in one book, in case I needed to refer back. (holding book up to show binder and row of titles, points) Is this the order that we read them in?
Grigg: Great. All right. – Emma. Starting in the middle. (he is far more enthusiastic than they … ) (This scene in the Swicord’s script and movie is a sum up and transference of scattered explanatory passages throughout Fowler’s book.)

Emmadiscussion

 

JocleynGrigg

The group is on porch, discussing Emma, with Allegra having begun, talking from the swing seat:

Allegra: Where’s the heat between Emma and Mr. Knightley? There’s no animal passion.
Beautiful far shot of group around book on porch fall
Allegra: Look at Frank Churchill and Miss Fairfax.
Back to close view of Allegra:You can tell they’re really in love because they behave so badly.
Sylvia uncorking bottle, looks dubious: And that’s good? (Jocelyn next to her)
Allegra shrugs slightly: Emma and Mr. Knightley, you just never feel the sex.
Camera on Grigg looking startled ….
Bernie first voice-over and then with knitting needles: Still, I think Mr. Knightley’s very yummy. Don’t you? He may be my favorite of all the Austen men.
Prudie next to Bernie: (italics for foreign language): Sans passion I’amour n’est rien.
Sylvia turns to smile at Jocelyn:
Camera back on Prudie: — That’s not Jane’s theme, is it?
Jocelyn in camera to Sylvia mouthing: – Jane?
Allegra: That’s cozy.
Bernie looks admonitory
Camera back to undercertain and then firmly squarish Prudie:
What … what we’re meant to see is not the lack of passion so much as the control of it, and the not giving in.
Camera on Bernie knitting at an angle: Apres moi, le deluge.
All giggle and camera on Sylvia and Jocelyn
Bernie leaning conciliatory: But Prudie’s right, it is in all the novels.
Camera on Grigg beginning to say something when Bernie interjects:
Bernie: Sense and Sensibility, obviously. (far shot with Pruide) Oh, and then there’s Maria’s infidelity in Mansfield Park.
Camera on Sylvia looking up:
Sylvia upset voice: I forgot there’s infidelity in Mansfield Park. (same wine glass from previous scene
Jocelyn (camera on her: Austen’s all about keeping it zipped.
Grigg at last has something to say: Yeah, but isn’t physical attraction one of the ungovernable forces? (quick shots of Bernie and Prudie from far; we see Jocelyn on other side of Grigg). You know, like gravity. That’s what we like about it. You know, downhill, release the brakes, loosen your grip, and… (whooofff …)
Partial shots of all of them there.
Allegra: Yeah. Love makes people crazy.
Sylvia (hesitating) camera on her – It does not excuse bad behavior.
Bernie nodding wisely (shot captures them all again) – I agree. And Mr. Knightley is violently in love. “Violently!” His word. And yet, he’s never anything but a gentleman.
Allegra: – Yeah, a gentleman who scolds people.
Grigg getting up and walking away: Well, not everyone. You know, just Emma, just the woman that he loves.
Prudie caught as monumental: C’est vrai. C’est typique.
By mistake as Grigg backs off we see him almost fall into Jocelyn’s lap and come off
Prudie: A man can do whatever he likes to the woman he loves.
Jocelyn close up (with glasses): I don’t think that’s what Austen’s saying.
Far shot showing them all with Sylvia doing something for Grigg
Jocelyn close up: Actually, Emma stops being crazy when she falls for Mr. Knightley. It’s the event of the book. Love is an act of sanity.
Bernie knitting away
Grigg begins as voice-over: One thing that I noticed about Emma is the sense of menace.
Camera then captures Sylvia sitting by Grigg’s side:
Grigg: The gypsies, Jane Fairfax’s boating accident, Mr. Woodhouse’s worries.
Prudie intervenes with condescension: Austen’s entire thesis is that none of these things are real, Grigg.
Photograph of Grigg and Sylvia listening
Prudie: I mean, Emma, she acts on the basis of her fantasies (her hand over her neck)
Allegra making fun: Yes, Grigg, I’m afraid you’ve just entirely missed the point.
Prudie looks a little disconcerted:
Jocelyn: You know, I’ve read that the Emma plot, the humbling of the pretty, know-it-all girl is the most popular plot of all time.
Allegra looks alert.
Bernie (wry and knitting): Yes, universally satisfying.
Allegra: Okay. Well, what bothered me was how Emma kept forcing her friend Harriet on Mr. Elton. And then she finds out who Harriet’s father is, and suddenly, “Ew!” She’s lucky to get the farmer. (back and forth for shots from far
Prudie (square one shot): I think Jane was being ironic there. I think some readers might miss that.
Allegra: – Emma’s a snob.
Jocelyn: – Please. (Now Grigg near Jocelyn who is higher up in frame) People are instinctively drawn to partners who are their near equal in looks. The pretty marry the pretty, the ugly the ugly. To the detriment of the breed, in my opinion.
Grigg laughing
Bernie looking up God, you’re such an Emma. Isn’t she? You’d love to pair up the whole world, from dogs to people.
Sylvia looking down. Put me together with Daniel
Sylvia: Austen has a way of making you forget that most marriages end in divorce.
Bernie: Well, she’s all about the weddings, Jane.
Jocelyn: Yeah, “Jane.” Did you catch that?
Sylvia: Oh, Prudie?
Jocelyn (mocking deep voice): “Jane and I, we know our themes.”
Allegra: And why did she have to speak in French?
Jocleyn: And if so, couldn’t she do it in France, where it’s less noticeable?
Bernie I feel for Prudie. She’s married to a complete Neanderthal. (In Fowler’s novel Emma is the first novel discussed, in March, and this dialogue is found across several conversation pieces, pp 14-15, 20-21, 28-29, 32-33, with some direct transferences and some differences in what is said & emphasized, very clear in the book how what is said comes of out a character too; all 3 interspersed with pasts of the characters and the present story lines, plus a feminist consciousness raising group where girls discussed experiences of rape.)

Continued in comments:

Mansfield Park: Sylvia passionately defends Fanny Price:

SylviadefendsFannyPrice 

The play rehearsed in Prudie’s school is a mirror of Mansfield Park and Lovers Vows; and Prudie and Trey rehearse love scenes together; but Prudie going for Trey a twisted mirror of Persuasion (she’s looking for another mate, a false second chance). She almost goes to bed with Trey, so she stands in as modern instances of both Fanny Price and Maria Bertram. 

Northanger Abbey: Provoking anxiety disquiets Sylvia

Sylviadoesnotlike

 

Mysteries of Udolpho in effect defended

Pride and Prejudice: again Grigg and Sylvia

GriggandSylvia

Sense and Sensibility, The whole group, intense subtext between Grigg and Jocelyn, as they argue over their relationship through the book:

WholeGroups

Persuasion: on the beach, Grigg’s sister first thought his girlfriend, an analogy for Eleanor Tilney and reader of Jane Austen; Sylvia’s husband wants to return and talks with Bernadette

Griggsister

Husband

Most moving is the reconciliation of Dean and Prudie in bed — he simply reading the whole of the novel all night.

As movie moves to final gathering in elegant clothes at dinner, no surprise Patrick O’Brien novels will be coming next, all 20 of them.

I omit the characterization of the characters as comments on the books and themes as that is done in all the appropriations. The interwined general stance of the conversations in book and film seems to be how much in the books can be transferred to readers’ lives and how readers use them to think about their lives.

But the emphasis in the book is on the characters and their stories and the comments on Austen are more general, not tied to the stories in the way of the movie. Further in the book there is a considerable difference about what’s said about Mansfield Park; Fowler does not care for Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey and this is disguised in the film by having the conversations so rooted in the characters’ personalities or lives. She also has little overt discussion of P&P and Persuasion — they are paralleled by events. The script has far more direct commentary on Austen’s novels than Fowler’s novel, which is more indirect and you are allowed far more complicated story and switches back and forth in time. But both move back and forth: the script moves forward with occasional flashbacks to time that is not so long ago, but there is a constant intertwining of juxtapositions and montage — reminiscent of Howtidi’s Death Comes to Pemberley; the novel is an multi-level intertwining of different times and kinds of texts.

I found also that both the movie and book presented contemporary and insightful readings of Austen’s books indirectly. Some of these reveal how far we’ve come today from Austen’s point of view, and how much we can see in her books she does not appear to have been conscious of. Many of the readings and commentaries are far more satisfying than academic literary criticism because less disingenuous.

Ellen

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Out of the sky she had come, back to the sky she had gone …

When she was child, Lyndon [Helen Lyndon Goff]’s mother would say to her ‘Better be careful or the wind will change and you will look crabby forever …

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Frontispiece to Mary Poppins in the Park, “Sitting bolt upright against the tree” (Mary Shepard)

Dear friends and readers,

Some weeks ago I finished reading Valerie Lawson’s marvelous literary biography of Helen Lyndon Goff who insofar as she is known to the world became known as P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books (1952). The latest title is Mary Poppins, She Wrote. Her life and work belongs on Austen reveries: she was another unconventional spinster writer, part lesbian, with a witty withdrawing mind. I have no proof, but assume she read Austen’s novels. She was a great reader of books of the romantic period.

Lawson’s is a quietly poignant book of about woman who created an idyllic inner world for herself through writing wry children’s books, with a prickly apparently saturnine governess who turns out to be a cynosure of fantasy and good feeling. What is so good about Lawson’s book is the subtlety and details with which her peripetatic life-story is told (from Australia to London, to Ireland, place to place in the UK itself, on the continent at times, to all over the US), from the point of view of her career as journalist, poet, briefly an actress, author of children’s books and continuing journalist, and that of her life, her childhood retold somewhat melodramatically in Saving Mr Banks. Most of her adult associations came from Australians who moved to England and then colonial British living in London, including Irish — there she made her connections and relationships. She lived in Ireland and become a close follower and friend of George William Russell known as AE (part of the turn-of-the-century Celtic Renaissance), who was especially genuinely important to her as a journalist, poet, writer and person (she loved him):

RussellandTravers
1934: Travers and George William Russell at Pound Cottage, Mayfield

A poem written while under his influence:

I would find by the edge of that water
The collar bone of a hare
Worn thin by the lapping of the water,
And pierce it through with a gimlet and stare
At the bitter old world where they marry in churches
And laugh over the untroubled water
At all who marry in churches,
Through the white thin bone of a hare.

George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff was the first of a series of unscrupulous gurus who she followed in her aspirations to find some better spiritual world. She was bisexual, living for many years with Madge Burnand, close friend-lover (?) with Jesse Orage too who had children of her own.

MadgeBurnand
Madge Burnand

There was rivalry between the three and sometimes bitter in-fighting (so to speak). She also adopted a child (from an impecunious couple who were members of her Irish circle), one of a pair of twins, Camillus, who became an important person in her later years and lived in her London house in his later years.

TraversCamillus1947
Travers and Camillus at Gstaad, 1947

She was conventional enough continually to send the boy away to boarding schools that he hated; she misses him terribly and yet she persisted in sending him away to make him part of an upper class male group. It rather had the unfortunate affect of making him angry, rebellious in ways that got him in trouble with the law during his later teens and early 20s. Her son became an alcoholic but he and his wife managed – with considerable help from Pamela. There were two granddaughters who seem to have meant a lot to the grandmother. Her was an independent woman writer’s life of her era: her luck was she inherited her aunt, Ellie Morehead’s money and she could get along on that and what freelance writing she got, plus the sales of the two books — until the Disney movie.

On Disney and her relationship: Disney did already own the rights when Pamela went to Hollywood; she needed the money and understood that her book would probably be much changed — not as much as it was. Disney did not only not charm Travers, he could and did behave ferociously to her when he thought it would cow her and it did. He was never any kind of benign boss and Disneyland today is one of the worst places to work in the control it exerts over employees (to smile, to behave a certain way, yuk). No she never danced. She did cry during the premiere but not from happiness, a kind of sudden hysteria and Disney and his people found this very embarrassing. The split was not amicable but what is important to know is that at first Travers wrote positively about the movie because she did hope for a sequel. A sequel was never in the works; Disney was against them. Once there was clearly not going to be a sequel Travers begin to say how she hated the film and would not sell rights any more from her book, but then it was unlikely she was going to get anything.

She did become comfortably rich in her older age because of the royalties and money she received. She also got more publications which made her happier. She was not alone in the world: she had friends and yes an adopted son but after the movie her relationship with her son worsened for a while, and this did make her very sad. No she was not prim and proper though she had old fashioned manners. Her character is prim and proper. She had lived an unconventional life — with other women, with male lovers, chasing after gurus in effect. And late in life she was still an aspiring lonely woman looking for meaning in life and to leave art that had integrity of vision. Her home remained her older British house in London but she did try traveling and living in the US, but could not make the adjustment to behaving in an class-free open way and when she managed herself invited to be a writer in residence at two girls’ colleges (one Smith), she behaved in intolerable ways: all prickly, difficult (for real), snobbish, as if she wanted to make people go away. She sought again for a guru type and found one and hung around him; after he died (she was long lived) she became herself a central figure.  Much mysticism — she wrote two more books which were savaged by the US press; the second by the UK (About Sleeping Beauty) treated more kindly. She worked to get her papers into great Australian research libraries; she was active and lively to the end — very admirable and stubborn.

What lifted the book beyond telling his unusual life were me Lawson’s chapters where she analyses the Mary Poppins books engagingly and astutely; she supplies context by telling of Travers’s own favorite children’s authors (Beatrice Potter, Blake’s poems) and her love of romantic and Yeatsian poetry, her readings in books of reverie. It’s good that the books have a left-liberal outlook politically (at least the first two do), but that’s not what is unique and alive about them. Lawson then retells the stories in ways that bring out their peculiar quality and recalled to my mind the original stories, picking the ones I recall as the most important or memorable — and (whatever Disney asserted in either of his movies) these are not the stories about Mr. or Mrs. Banks — they are about Jane and Michael taken from some vexed or unhappy time (when they are misbehaving or something has disappointed them) to a realm Mary suddenly creates around her with magical people associated with the zodiac, stars, archetypal stories and English types (an Admiral, Miss Lark. For example, Lawson writes of the first two books:

The first two books mirror one another, even to chapter titles — “Bad Tuesday” and “Bad Wednesday,” “Miss Lark’s Andrew” and “Miss Andrew’s Lark,” “The Day Out” and “The Evening Out.” Mrs. Corry and the Bird Woman of the first book relate to the Balloon Woman of the second, and the Dancing Cow in the first book and Robertson Ay’s story of the second both tell nursery rhyme tales mixed with parable.
    In Mary Poppins, the most eerie and fantastic story concerns Mrs. Corry and her two big daughters Annie and Fannie. In Mary Poppins Comes Back, an equally frightening adventure, “Bad Wednesday,” is a ‘cautionary tale; Jane in one of her rare naughty moods gets trapped in time, inside the lives of boys who live on a Royal Doulton bowl. She might have been there forever if Mary had not dragged her back home. The most charming adventure in Mary Poppins is “John and Barbara’s Story,” the tale of the baby Banks twins who know the language of the universe but only for a year or so, until they become fully human. The most wistful adventure concerns the visit of Maia, the second-eldest of the Pleiades, who has come to earth to do some Christmas shopping for her six sisters.

Maia
Maia (Mary Poppins)

    Both Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Comes Back include chapters in which Mary guides the children to the secrets of the universe. In “The Evening Out” (Mary Poppins Comes Back), Mary is the honored guest at a huge circus in the sky. The Sun is the ringmaster while Pegasus, Orion, Pollux and Castor, Saturn and Venus are among the entertainers whose finale is the Dance of the Wheeling Sky.
    This great cosmic dance, with its literary and mythological connections, touches on Yeats’s theory, explained in his book A Vision, of wheels and gyres, and on the dance of the spheres in Dante’s Paradiso. 1, “The Evening Out” reveals how much faith Pamela put in astrology and has its precursor in the Grand Chain dance of the animals in “Full Moon,” in Mary Poppins. One night — the night of Mary Poppins’s birthday — there is a full moon. The Banks children and Mary visit the zoo where the animals strut around outside, laughing and pointing at the antics of the humans inside the cages.
    In both “Full Moon” and “The Evening Out,” the children appear to encounter God in the shape of the Hamadryad and the Sun. In “The Evening Out,” Mary Poppins dances with the Sun who plants a kiss on her cheek. Next day, back at Cherry Tree Lane, the Sun’s lip marks can be clearly seen by the children, burnt into the flesh of her cheek.
    Mary Poppins Comes Back contains one chapter that takes the reader beyond the fantastic, to the realm of myth, religious symbolism and poetry. Called “The New One,” it is inspired by Wordsworth, and by AE’s favorite poet, William Blake whom Pamela also revered. The “new one” is Annabel, the Banks’s new baby, who has traveled on a long journey through the universe to arrive in the Banks household. She is not just a time traveler, but part of the universe itself, every part, from the sea, to the sky, to the stars, to the sun.

MerryGoRound
Mary leaves by getting into an ordinary carousel which proceeds to become a cosmic merry-go-round (Mary Poppins Comes Back)

Eventually, she for gets her origins, just as her older siblings, John and Barbara, have forgotten their journey and how they could talk to the sun and wind. Pamela wrote “The New One” with no experience of staring in awe at a newborn baby of her own, with that instinctive feeling that a child has come from God.

The illustrations for these sorts of stories are most the most piquant and strange of the books and are not the ones Disney imitated or what is mostly found on the Net. I did and still do love them. The mysterious Malkin to whom Michael kneels is typical:

LuckyThursday (Mary Poppins in the Park)

Cats as decorative vignettes grace this last book.

Mary Poppins in the Park was my favorite book of the four when I was 8, perhaps because I lived in the Southeast Bronx which was hard city, a slum, though we had a big (and to me) beautiful park, Crotona Park, 3 blocks up from the apartment house we lived in: I’d sit and read it, look at the map of the park on the end papers, draw over the lines of my favorite illustrations, read and reread it. I had loved Mary Poppins (1934), Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935) and (not as much really) Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943), not realizing the first time reflected the depression in London among the upper middle classes, the third, a war-time atmosphere, and this last 6 years after I was born, post-war England. I must’ve been one of the few people who went to see the 1964 movie, Mary Poppins, famously starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke and felt dismayed to see the books I had loved erased, even if I loved the song-and-dance numbers so much.

Opensthedoor (2)
The original balloon woman (Mary Poppins Comes Back) from whom the old woman feeding the birds derived:

Travers became somewhat known despite the disparate nature of the books — people did buy them for their children or themselves. Disney clearly saw in them an opportunity for Disneyification, and as far as I can see from this new bout of commentary, most people seeing the movie never read the books, and many when they did did not at all enter into their original spirit or meaning. So without Disney what would there be for Travers to sell? she therefore simply accepted the continual big checks for the rest of her life. Disney replaced the books with matter really highly disparate from the original, and Saving Mr Banks does not bring out the quality of those books at all but again turns to a family story this time tragic instead of comic — except we are given a moral by the great and good Mr Disney (oops — Walt): “we should hope on, see how hard and individual effort lead to success, and how he and now Pam have made it.”
Sheer Ayn Rand.

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Age66
At age 66

She was a woman writer and on my WWTTA listserv at Yahoo was compared to J.K. Rowling who similarly tried to disguise her gender by using two initials. But Rowling’s disguise is the more thorough: Rowling’s books centered on boy heroes in a boy school, with active boy adventures, with the girl as grating hanger-on at first. To my mind Travers is the far more faithful woman writer than Rowling. And one can see influences of Travers here and there on other women writers. There’s a longish essay on Drabble in a recent NYRB (I mean to read it first and then send on a recommendation) by April Bernard: one of the books by Drabble I picked up and read had a cover that reminded me of Mary Poppins books: The Seven Sisters and I remember while reading I was touched by Maia as something there in the Pleiade was similar.

Yes the film did lead more people to read Travers and, especially if young enough (and usually) girls did go on to read all four and appreciate them – and the later couple of short stories, but this I fear was not common. It seems most readers coming to the books with a wrong set of expectations, turned away from them. So the movie did Travers’s reputation a disservice as well as her books if it also supported her and now her son and grandchildren in comfort.

Opensthedoor (1)
Happy Ever After (from Mary Poppins Opens the Door)

Ellen

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