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Elizabeth of York (nee Woodville), married Henry VII), also a poet (1466-1503)

The 2 blogs together also tell the story of how 1) I had failed in my first attempt at an RSA, of an abortive 2nd attempt, that I would not go when Jim wanted to go to Florence this way in 2002 or so; and how I regret I said no. And now 2) on this 4th attempt how I was finally able to participate, experienced joy, and have new books to read with innovative outlooks, and new perspectives to write more papers on Anne Finch’s poetry out of…

Friends and readers,

Nearly three weeks ago now I wrote a first report of two on some panels I listened to in the recent virtual RSA conference. I summarized and discussed papers from two panels: Women Leaders and Their Political Behavior, Reworking Literary Representations of Women’s Bodies and Voice. I ended on the lyrical poetry of Anne Finch which had been made more understandable and interesting placing it in Renaissance women’s traditions. Keeping my theme of women’s lives and fashions, women’s writing, and looks, this evening I’ll cover Virgins, Vixens, and Victims: Sexuality and the Public Image of the Tudor Queens; Women’s Fashions, looks, and lives; Dance, Gender and Sexuality. Women on the Early Modern Stage; Women involved with Politics and Literature, and end on Creative Approaches to (telling the) Lives of Early Modern Women.

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Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game (left to right, Lucia, Europa, Minerva Anguissola, 1555)

On Friday, between 10:30 and 12:00 I attended the session called Women’s Fashions, Looks and Lives. The moderator was Annett Richter, a musicologist and art historian. Cristina Vallaro, who teaches at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, whose areas are Englsh literature, early modern history, Elizabeth I’s poetry (which she appears to have translated into Italian). Her paper summarized the typical moral and religious tracts of the era which inveighed against vanity, and immoral excess, and produced rhetoric on behalf of the sumptuary laws. Homilies against over-fabulous dress for aristocratic women; only inner beauty matters &c. The serious or real point of some of this was to enable the upper class to emerge as a distinct group from everyone else. There were punishments on the books but these were never followed. There were no means to enforce these social codes. Jenny Jihyn Jeong, a graduate student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discussed how the Virgin Mary has been represented, and her talk turned out to be an examination of how whiteness was seen as central to ideal beauty in many parts of Europe. The Virgin Mark was also imagined as having pink cheeks; reading more widely and carefully you find that a “wheatish” color begins to be attributed to Mary in the 8th and 9th centuries; she is said to have golden eyes, blonde hair and be of “medium height.” The humoral theory influenced these descriptions, and patriarchal myths of how a male comes to be born as opposed to a female. When we look at mythology, at paintings that are famous (e.g., Botticelli’s La Primavera) we find the same physical characteristics.

What was interesting was the talk we had afterwards. I said struck me is how little we learn about women’s dress in any of these sermons. What they actually wore, their feelings, what they looked like hardly is written down. The women in attendance agreed and we had quite a session about actual 16th century clothing, cosmetics (some of these were poisonous). There appears to have been a back-and-forth use of costumes found in theaters and in courts: the actresses and aristocratic women borrowed one another’s things. We also talked of the Italian women painters of this era and what their self-portraits show (see above, Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game). The problem is how do you recover the real past from such a silence; even when women write, they are so careful to be guarded, and they hardly write anything at all which could hurt them. What is the middle height? Was thinness an ideal or a look of fecundity? The women don’t think to describe themselves, or how they got their clothes in ways that enable us to reach them — partly there is little opportunity to write letters secure your letter will reach its destination. One good book to turn to on clothing in the era is by Peter Stallybrass and Rosalind Jones, Renaissance Clothes and the Materials of Memory.

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From 12:30 to 2 pm, a panel organized by Emily Winerock who is part of a Shakespeare and Dance Project. The moderator was Meira Goldberg, from the Fashion Institute of Technology, CUNY. Lyndsay McCullough of the Royal Shakespeare Company described the natures of the dances, the patterns, how these were seen and understood. She suggested we (contemporaries, 20th to 21st century) see dance as movement, expressive rhythmic movements, which include skipping, turning, stepping; the early modern view was to look at dance in stillness, to judge it in terms of self-control and discipline of the body. Lessons were valued as giving women and men poise that signified class and status. People wanted to show how good was their coordination, balance. People saw the dances as showing your good memory (from learning the patterns) and showing you civility and ethics. The people participating saw themselves as statuary; they wore headdresses to increase their height, corsets to narrow their figures. The richer the group the more exaggerated their uses of gold, silver, with attempts at imitating or giving an illusion of nudity. Again static imagery was what they had to look at. No videos. In the English masques we find iconography which links royal people to classical precedents, imperialistic and heroic imagery was preferred for men. For women the steps she could take were severely limited: no soaring allowed.


Strange Footing: Poetic Form and Dance in Late Middle Ages by Seeta Chaganti was described and recommended as a central place to begin a study of dance in this era

By contrast, Melinda Gough, a profession of English Cultural Studies at McMaster University (Ontario), emphasized the kinetic nature of these dances. She spoke of a carnival atmosphere. She talked of ballets where allegory could project domestic sexuality, or voice ugly military-based threats (they will kill all slaves if they don’t get their way on this or that). She found national imageries and archetypes jostling with one another; a strong eroticism, a cross-casting. We can see in one that Louis XIII was angered at his wife’s miscarriage; that the queen in turn offered up abject sexuality to him; honeyed flattery knows no limits. Another specifically pushed Henrietta Maria forward to Charles I’s attention. People have suggested some of these ballets question absolute monarchy; the masque upholds everyone’s dignity.

Emily Winerock discussed a specific playwright, Richard Broome, and his plays; one she detailed seems to have been called The Court Beggar and the late Lancashire Witches. She discussed how a specific character is shown as marginalized; this play assumes the female characters’ guilt. The witches (seen as projecting strangeness) are accused of wanting to destroy a well ordered community; the music had an upbeat tempo, dances were merry. Brome’s plays include satires on the court where dance is seen as a form of madness. The hero notices he is dancing all alone and all hitherto around him have “vanished.” He comments: “Never was I in such a wilderness.” The text is meant as jokery but also as a grave performance.


From the earlier part of the 18th century: Elizabeth Pope Young (1735-9 – 1797), Countess Hortensia in Jephson’s Countess of Narbonne

I very briefly attended the last 20 minutes of Women on the Early Modern Stage (on at the same time as the above). I had missed the papers and was hearing general talk. From my own studies on actresses (see a review I wrote of an important book by Felicity Nussbaum; see my blogs on individuals and the topic in general) was not at all surprised to be told that in the early modern period there were attempts made to control an actress’s movements; the furniture they could use was strictly controlled; they were labelled whores while given the parts of queens, duchess and noble women to play. The attempts made to raise their status, physical attacks made on wife-and-husband pairs; a woman who played Medea was mentioned and how she was regarded. Susannah Xaver talked of murderous women characters on the stage and how they were presented with sexual slurs so as to prejudice the audience against them (even if presented somewhat sympathetically)

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The Politics and Literature in England Panel at 2:30-:400 pm was moderated by Melissa Caldwell from Eastern Illinois University. Nikolina Hatton, of Ludwig-Macmillans University in Munich, discussed the fate of two women writers and their books: Hester Polter whose wrote poetry on the side of the Stuarts; she called Hester “a frantic loyalist; and writes violent poetry; Hutchinson (as is well known, and I’ve discussed in this blog) was on the side of Parliament and wrote a life of her husband, and much poetry. Old Testament typology is found in both women’s work. Hester made use of Biblical queens (Esther); Haman is a kind of Oliver Cromwell. Hutchinson takes philosophical themes from classical learning. But she takes no satisfaction for even the the time the Protectorate lasted; she and her husband saw this regime as tyrannical too. They disliked primogeniture; saw the world as unknowable, and face defeat: they cannot see how a true victory (of their values) could come about. The task is to remain faithful despite what you see about you.

Lanier Walker of the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill gave a paper where she subtly brought out how documentary history may be ferreted out of Marlowe’s Edward II, and how history is understood in the play. It’s expressive of reality as well as literally what happened. She showed a complicated relationship between what happened and what is recorded and who has what power. Patrick Durrell of the University of Lausanne discussed Elyot’s The Governor as a humanist document using the figures of Damion and Pythias to teach boys about noble characters inside relationships. Last, Valentina Seria of the University of Pisa discussed Giordano Bruno in a paper called “A Path to Knowledge,” about how among his heterodox ideas was a concern over censorship and defense of freedom of speech. As we know, the Catholic Inquisition imprisoned, tortured and killed him.

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The last panel I can report on occurred on Saturday between 10:30 and 12:00; I could not attend and instead watched it last night between 11:30 pm and 1 am in the morning. James B. Fitzmaurice was the moderator of “Creative Approaches to the Lives of Early Modern Women.” It was moving and uplifting. Prof Fitzmaurice is Emeritus from N. Arizona University but has been living in Sheffield, England, for the last 16 years. He writes screenplays based on the lives of early modern woman. He talked about an Anne Boleyn serial on Netflix, saying they made an outrageous use of modern slang language. I found the same to be true of Starz’s The Serpent Queen about Catherine de Medici.

Naomi Miller, at Smith College, whose books and essays I’ve read so often and have been of immense help to me talked about how she turned to writing novels, fictionalized biography in order to present Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, and her niece Mary, Lady Wroth with depth and truth. She has a novel out out about Herbert (Imperfect Alchemist) and will have one soon about Wroth (Stage Labyrinth). She talked of Emilia Lanier, a poet and supposed to be Shakespeare’s Dark Lady and the fierce later 17th century Anne Clifford. With Sara Jayne Steen (who was there) she has produced Authorizing Early Modern Women – through auto-fiction as well as other non-conventional ways. Erika Gaffrey, of Amsterdam University Press, talked of her blogging! Cordelia Beattie, from the University of Edinburgh, talked of her work on Alice Thornton, the early autobiographer. Emma Whipday of Newcastle University is at work on a play about a real servant, Cicely Lee, who was found pregnant and executed. She was accused of adultery with her master. Hers appears to have been a richly documented life. Alexandra G Bennett, of Northern Illinois University, is at work on a book on Catherine of Aragon, Emma Bergman, on the poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. She is trying to address the woman’s religious feelings and her repression in ways that allow her poetry to open up more meaning about herself.


Norma West as Elizabeth of York meeting Henry VII (James Maxwell, Shadow of the Tower) — my creative approach to Renaissance women’s lives & art has always included historical romance and serial historically-based films and dramas

People who were not speakers and whose names I could not catch but who spoke of their work included Emily Whinroth, a dance historian, wanting to take (if I am not mistaken) Elizabeth of York (poet, wife of Henry VII Tudor) seriously. She was played by Norma West on a wonderful older serial on Henry VII, The Shadow of the Tower (aired on PBS in 1971) which I watched with fascination. A woman whose first name is Georgiana and whom I recognized from the Folger Shakespeare library talked about the Jane Anger by Talene Monahan about to be put before the public by the DC local Shakespeare Theater. Anger was a real woman who wrote an angry pamphlet.

The last paper I heard was one that had been presented on Thursday, on a panel on Women, Labor, and Plague, 12:30-2:00. Kathleen Miller of Queens University, Belfast, talked of how repressive constructions of reality and norms prevented printing presses from producing true statistics and stories about women’s behavior and actions and words during a time of plague.

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And so the RSA ended for me last night, alas I thought appropriately. Though the faces and tones of the women speaking today were often hopeful, and certainly many are learned and appear to be getting good jobs where they can do useful teaching and writing, such was not the typical case in the early modern period, and today in the world there are many groups of people prepared by violence and whatever else it takes to drive all or the majority of women back to imprisonment, early death, imposed wretched failed existences once again.


Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville (an earlier Elizabeth who got entangled in this brutal ruthless Plantagenet family, presented as captivating Edward IV — this is another image that suggests the way I idealize early modern women (from the BBC series, The Hollow Crown, 2012)

When I went into the next room from this where I have my computer and got into bed to go to sleep with my two cats settling down around me I thought of all the years I spent in the Library of Congress and Folger reading and studying and gathering documents to do much more further work at home on women writers from Vittoria Colonna to Margaret Oliphant I felt I had seen some of my younger sisters who share my commitment today. I fell asleep feeling so glad that I had finally gotten to see, to listen to, and to talk with them.

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This is the second of two blog reports. the first I wrote from a personal perspective telling how difficult I had found it to go to this scholar’s conference when I was a young graduate student and then (much harder yet) to return to go to a second when I had become an independent scholar, and thus did not know anyone. And how I refused to go to a third which took place in Florence about 10 years after that. I omitted in the description of the work and achievements I had had my translation of the sonnets of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, a short Life of Gambara (Under the sign of Dido, a Widow), and reviews of writings on and by early modern Italian women because I finished these and put them here on the Net shortly after that third abortive attempt. Not to omit work on the political and personal life of Anne Murray, Lady Halkett, a spy and rescuer.

So now I’ve finally gone to Renaissance Society AGM even if “just” digitally, and want to add that I was personally so moved by the content of the papers I heard last time about women’s poetry, the representations of this poetry and their bodies, and last, ditto on their political behavior. This second set will be much shorter accounts of panels and papers where the explicit content of the research is not what gladdened me in this lonely “holiday” season so. It was the at times joyous attitude of mind of the speakers towards their work and one another; the prevailing attitude was one of relief, aspiration and inspiration. In the last session on Saturday particularly I was told about writing and projects that basically have little change of getting conventionally published but the people working on them derived such satisfaction from their work and had begun to write in other genres (screenplays, bio-fiction) and were reaching other people who care about this area of research and the women we find living like many of us under constraints in this previous Eurocentric world.


Lindsay Duncan as the aging Duchess of York realizing her beloved son is at risk of execution (also The Hollow Crown)

Ellen

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Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said (directed Maria Schrader, script Rebecca Lenkiewicz), telling of what happened 20+ years later


Young Zelda Perkins (Molly Windsor) and young Rowena Chiu (Ashley Chiu) in She Said (immediately afterwards)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m writing this in a spirit of mild indignation. It’s not that no reviews have acknowledged the excellence and power of She Said: Ryan Painter in a Salt Lake City news report not too long after beginning gets round to the power and importance of this film (and accompanies the review with stills that demonstrate what is meant by “stride”), Alexis Soliski of the New York Times gives strong praise (albeit warning the reader that the film is “discreet” and “stealthy” — nothing to trigger you here, potential viewer is part of the idea), but often they are curiously truncated (Ebert’s column). Nothing like damning something with faint praise, e.g, Molly Fischer of The New Yorker. I fail to see why it is a limitation of this film that our two intrepid reporters talk with compassion and understanding neither Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) found necessary when dealing with Deep Throat. We are made to fear for them as Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor receive death threats on the phone, are followed ominously by cars, find themselves confronted by an aggressively hostile husband who finds his honor about to be besmirched.

And then there is the vehemently insulting, to me a review all the more appalling because the New Statesman is a left-of-center publication, and the review by a woman, Ann Manov who labeled it “myopic, timid and trivial”. I almost didn’t go; I felt so angry at the review when I came home I almost cancelled my subscription

Like many perhaps most women I have a #MeToo story too. In my case it’s one I’ve yet to be able to put into coherent words. The experiences occurred over a period of time, between the ages of 13 and 15 when through hysteria and retreat I managed to put a stop to it. I know this time connects it o a suicide attempt I made at age 15, years of anorexia (ages 16 to 21), and my attempt to shape my existence into a safe retreat. I tried once on my original political Sylvia I blog.  But I can no longer reach it by googling for it as I wrote it so long ago. I am cheered to see the outstanding performances of Samantha Morton (whom I have so long admired and now finally subscribed to Starz just to see her in The Serpent Queen — alas she is the only element in the serial worth watching) and Jennifer Ehle (as Laura Madden) singled out. I cannot find a still online (available to public of her telling of her experience) only this one of her as first seen with her children living in a small village in Cornwall.

Ashley Judd plays herself. We hear Gwyneth Paltrow’s voice on the phone. Patricia Clarkson is the female supervisor, with Andre Braugher as the tough male “the buck stops here” impressive deep voice on the phone and presence in group discussions

Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

Here is Angela Yeoh (as Rowena Chiu) many years later: it is this woman’s husband who stands as a threatening wall between her and Jodi Kantor

It’s not discreet — I agree we don’t have the scene where Harvey Weinstein actually bullied Laura Madden into agreeing to squalid sordid sexual activity with him, but as in Greek tragedy, a brilliant messenger conjures up the scene for us. I’d like to see the film again because I found myself remembering and reliving fragments of what happened to me so not taking everything in — as in most recent films, this one moves very quickly, with epitomizing dialogues (the lawyers for Weinstein, two of them importantly ex-lawyers, played by Zach Grenier and Peter Friedman) for many of the scenes. Not all. Not the descriptions of what these women endured. It was for me at times painful, especially when Ehle as Laura Madden confessed she had allowed Weinstein to rape her — she did not say no exactly; the anguish ever after was that she felt she had consented. She blamed herself. Much is brought forward to show why women are unwilling to go on record and what is won at the end is this team of women, and these stories eventually brought in over 80 women. There is now a law before Congress which would make illegal some of these silencing contracts employees sign before they are allowed on jobs.

As The New Yorker and New York Times reviewers state early on, the model for this film is All the King’s Men: with Twohey (who has a baby during the early phase) and Kantor (who has a family of children she must care for) we are seeking verifiable documents, women willing to be named on the record, with the difference that this time many of them have signed “settlement” agreements whereby they agreed never to tell anything and hand over all evidence upon being given a huge sum of money (the amount also kept secret). Deep Throat never was paid off, never was silenced by a court decision. There is also a bestselling book by Kantor and Towhey (She Said, available in several ways).


Megan Twohey


Jodi Kantor

So the emphasis is on the chase, and the turns are those of “thriller-mystery” formula: as in spy fiction, this kind of subgenre has come to be used for socially conscious TV serials (Sherwood) and films (Suffragette). Andrew Marr has talked in one show about how the spy thriller is a key political text for our time. The worst that can be said of it is what can be said of too many American-produced films: it’s suffused by a sentimentality at moments (particularly family scenes for our two heroines), is at moments unsubtle (again the family scenes seemingly exonerating our heroines from militant feminism), broad, with an insistence on upbeat feeling at the end.


Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison and Jonny Lee Miller as Anthony Field (“Keeper of Souls” — a sardonically ironic title)

One might compare the ending of many of the 1990s Prime Suspect episodes (Helen Mirren achieved broader fame here); I thought of episode 3 about a pedophile ring as I watched Samantha Morton and remembered a young Jonny Lee Miller in an unforgettable 10 minutes electrifying that season with his rendition of a young man remembering his years of being raped in prisons and “centers for boys”: at its end we are still not sure the key figure (played by Ciarhan Hinds) will actually be nailed down by evidence and sent to jail; all we know of the publication is that it will bring the horrible stories to the public eyes, and that is how She Said ends.

In Prime Suspect because another lower-level murderer-bully is also going to be put away for many years, we feel at least this ring of cruel ruthless males is going to be destroyed; granted Harvey Weinstein did get a sentence of 23 years. But there is nothing truly feel good about the ending, only relief that the intensely dangerous work done may be rewarded by justice (as people are exposed) and our heroine (Jane Tennison) getting promoted.

An interesting aspect about the art and plot-design of this movie is this movement back and forth between the time an assault/rape occurred and the time this investigation is taking place. In the last couple of months, I’ve seen no less than 4 serials where the film moves from past time at least 20 years ago to near now: Sherwood, Karen Pirie, Magpie Murders, and now She Said. In all of these two sets of actors do the roles, in some cases more successfully because the actors playing the younger parts really look like the older actors (the first film I saw of this type was Last Orders, with J. J. Feilds playing the Michael Caine role and Kelly Reilly the Helen Mirren role). Magpie Murders, as befits am Anthony Horowitz product adds a level of complexity and dwells also on using the same actors as characters in a novel occurring 40 years ago and characters in present time (but only some of them so our credulity is not asked too much of).

Unfortunately, in this movie some of the actors playing the younger selves do not look enough like the older actors but I can quite see that Jennifer Ehle does look much older and am glad no computer tricks were played upon her present face. And sometimes the younger actress, Lola Petticrew, is so immediately vivid in her terror, shock, and shame:


Lola Petticrew as Young Laura Madden in She Said

What more can I say? read the book, see the movie. I will be identified as an over-the-top feminist if I say I think some of these lukewarm and uncomfortable reviews derive from the reality that the patriarchy is still firmly in place (capitalism reinforced by male hegemony and male-derived values), that a female aesthetic such as is found in this thriller (the stories are cyclical with the woman repeating roles as mothers and wives they anticipated as girlfriends), with female imagery and females playing subordinate roles when it comes to some final decision as to what to print does not yield visceral consent from male critics and women primed to want male structures. Helen Mirren managed to become a central dominant presence in her series because the series had 5 years plus a 2 year reprise (1991-96, 2003, 2006) for us to see her rise to become boss, and she did play the role as (apart from her private life where we see her cry, have an abortion [very daring], lose partners stoically) as hard, unemotional, and as one of the “guys” who uses alliances with women (prostitutes to reporters) rather than becoming one of them which Mulligan and Kazan do.

But in this film our heroines are not aging mature women (like Patricia Clarkson is — about whose private life we know nothing) but presented as young women reporters themselves with a career to make — and courageously chancing it and their private lives. It is telling that this film’s norms are such that we believe they have good lives because they have supportive husbands.


Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor in She Said — chasing down people as far away as Cornwall


Carey Mulligan — filmed in Bryant Park, her career is studded (as gems) with important feminist films

Ellen

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Click to make it larger and see her face close up — look at her complex expression

Friends and readers,

Heather Cox Richardson offers immediate context and Nancy’s history in the house: very few women there when she first arrived:

And from her speech:

Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced she is stepping down from party leadership, although she will continue to serve in the House. “The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Caucus that I so deeply respect,” she told her colleagues. Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is also stepping away from a leadership position. Both of them are over 80.

Pelosi was elected to Congress in a special election in 1987, becoming one of 12 Democratic women (now there are more than 90). She was first elected speaker in 2007, the first woman ever to hold that role. She was speaker until the Democrats lost the House in 2011, then was reelected to the position in 2019, and has held it since. Jackie Calmes of the Los Angeles Times tweeted: “As an ex–Congress reporter, I can speak to the records of 8 of the 55 House speakers, 4 Dem[ocrat]s & 4 R[epublican]s back to Tip O’Neill. I’m not alone in counting Pelosi as the best of the bunch. 2 Dem[ocratic] presidents owe their leg[islati]v[e] successes to her; 2 GOP presidents were repeatedly foiled by her.”

Pelosi began her speech to her colleagues by remembering her first sight of the U.S. Capitol when her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was sworn in for his fifth congressional term representing Baltimore. She was six.

She called attention to the Capitol in which they stood: “the most beautiful building in the world—because of what it represents. The Capitol is a temple of our Democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals.”

“In this room, our colleagues across history have abolished slavery; granted women the right to vote; established Social Security and Medicare; offered a hand to the weak, care to the sick, education to the young, and hope to the many,” she reminded them, doing “the People’s work.”

“American Democracy is majestic—but it is fragile. Many of us here have witnessed its fragility firsthand—tragically, in this Chamber. And so, Democracy must be forever defended from forces that wish it harm,” she said, and she praised the voters last week who “resoundingly rejected violence and insurrection” and “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” Despite our disagreements on policy, she said, “we must remain fully committed to our shared, fundamental mission: to hold strong to our most treasured Democratic ideals, to cherish the spark of divinity in each and every one of us, and to always put our Country first.”

She said it had been her “privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people,” and noted pointedly—because she worked with four presidents—“I have enjoyed working with three Presidents, achieving: Historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush. Transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama. And forging the future—from infrastructure to health care to climate action—with President Joe Biden. Now, we must move boldly into the future….”

“A new day is dawning on the horizon,” she said, “And I look forward—always forward—to the unfolding story of our nation. A story of light and love. Of patriotism and progress. Of many becoming one. And, always, an unfinished mission to make the dreams of today the reality of tomorrow.”

The rhetoric is cliched and as such (to me) meaningless, but behind it and around it, Pelosi knew how gain (by alliances), use and keep power.

Two stories: Robin Givhan about how uniquely she dressed: yes and no, he or she was not alive in the 1950s: Pelosi was a modified 1950s style

Monica Hesse: how she held it together during the deadly insurrection instigated by Trump

She is hated by the GOP and many men because it was she who put together and passed the Affordable Care Act and many other similar umbrella pieces of legislation to help the American people do what they want and need.

And from The Intercept, Ryan Grim, the “real story” of the background, early career and first successes of Pelosi

She was active in politics well before her children grew up, and before she held office; she was the daughter of a strategic democrat, and joined forces with conservative democrats to head off the intensely aggressive threat and destruction of the New Deal (all its policies begun by Reagan. Her mentor was Phil Burton ….


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington on Dec. 11, 2018 — having bested Trump on and off TV within

Posted by Ellen

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Forough Farrokhzad (1934-1967)

“If my poems, as you say, have an aspect of femininity, it is of course quite natural. After all, fortunately, I am a woman. But if you speak of artistic merits, I think gender cannot play a role. In fact to even voice such a suggestion is unethical. It is natural that a woman, because of her physical, emotional, and spiritual inclinations, may give certain issues greater attention, issues that men may not normally address. I believe that if those who choose art to express their inner self, feel they have to do so with their gender in mind, they would never progress in their art — and that is not right. So when I write, if I keep thinking, oh I’m a woman and I must address feminine issues rather than human issues, then that is a kind of stopping and self-destruction. Because what matters, is to cultivate and nourish one’s own positive characteristics until one reaches a level worthy of being a human. What is important is the work produced by a human being and not one labelled as a man or a woman. When a poem reaches a certain level of maturation, it separates itself from its creator and connects to a world where it is valid based on its own merits.”[10][11] Emphasizing human issues, she also calls for a recognition of women’s abilities that goes beyond the traditional binary oppositions …” Forough Farrokhzad (from an interview)

I am delighted and honored to say that tonight we have a guest blogger who sent to Wompo (a list for and about women’s poetry) and now has given me permission to put here an (in effect) foremother poet posting.

By Farideh Hassanzadeh.. For her poetry and more about her: she is also a translator and freelance journalist. On Poem Hunter

Farideh began with one of Farrokhzad’s poems (in translation)

It is Only Sound That Remains

Why should I stop, why?
the birds have gone in search
of the blue direction.
the horizon is vertical, vertical
and movement, fountain-like;
and at the limits of vision
shining planets spin.
the earth in elevation reaches repetition,
and air wells
changes into tunnels of connection;
and day is a vastness,
which does not fit into narrow mind
of newspaper worms.

why should I stop?
the road passes through the capillaries of life,
the quality of the environment
in the ship of the uterus of the moon
will kill the corrupt cells.
and in the chemical space after sunrise
there is only sound,
sound that will attract the particles of time.
why should I stop?

what can a swamp be?
what can a swamp be but the spawning ground
of corrupt insects?
swollen corpses scrawl the morgue’s thoughts,
the unmanly one has hidden
his lack of manliness in blackness,
and the bug… ah,
when the bug talks,
why should I stop?
Cooperation of lead letters is futile,
it will not save the lowly thought.
I am a descendant of the house of trees.
breathing stale air depresses me.
a bird which died advised me to
commit flight to memory.
the ultimate extent of powers is union,
joining with the bright principle of the sun
and pouring into the understanding of light.
it is natural for windmills to fall apart.

why should I stop?
I clasp to my breast
the unripe bunches of wheat
and breastfeed them

sound, sound, only sound,
the sound of the limpid wishes
of water to flow,
the sound of the falling of star light
on the wall of earth’s femininity
the sound of the binding of meaning’s sperm
and the expansion of the shared mind of love.
sound, sound, sound,
only sound remains.

in the land of dwarfs,
the criteria of comparison
have always traveled in the orbit of zero.
why should I stop?
I obey the four elements;
and the job of drawing up
the constitution of my heart
is not the business
of the local government of the blind.

what is the lengthy whimpering wildness
in animals sexual organs to me?
what to me is the worm’s humble movement
In its fleshy vacuum?
the bleeding ancestry of flowers
has committed me to life.
are you familiar with the bleeding
ancestry of the flowers?

Forough Farrokhzad was born in Tehran into a middle class family of seven children. She attended public schools through the ninth grade, thereafter received some training in sewing and painting, and married when she was seventeen. Her only child, the boy addressed in “A Poem for you,” was born a year later. Within less than two years after that, her marriage failed, and Farrokhzad relinquished her son to her ex-husband’s family in order to pursue her calling in poetry and independent life style. She clearly voices her feelings in the mid-1950s about conventional marriage, the plight of women in Iran, and her own situation as a wife and mother no longer able to live a conventional life in such poems as “The Captive,” “The Wedding Band,” “Call to Arms,” and “To My Sister.”

As a divorcee poet in Tehran, Farrokhzad attracted much attention and considerable disapproval. She had several short lived relationships with men-“The Sin” describes one of them,–, found some respite in a nine-month trip to Europe, and in 1958 met Ebrahim Golestan (b. 1922), a controversial film-maker and writer with whom she established a relationship that lasted until her death in an automobile accident at thirty-two years of age in February 1967.

Iranian Culture (A Persianist View), Michael C. Hillmann (translator, editor) page. From an Interview by Farideh of Larissa Shmailo (the translator), p 149

Dear Farideh:

Forrokhzad’s imagery is strong and uncompromising. I hear this poem aloud, spoken with force: “Why should I stop?” the poet queries, when around her is sound, the capillaries and cells and sperm become music in verse. Proclaiming “the bleeding ancestry of flowers,” the poet takes on the entire natural world and the cosmos, “shining planets” and the “uterus “of the moon and the human body. We follow her invitation to the motion of the horizon and the dead bird which taught her flight. Birds, worms, and “day is a vastness.”-this poem awakens us to the splendor of the variegated universe. This is an exciting voice which should not have been stopped at such an early age. Why should it have stopped?

Thanks so much for sharing!

Love,
Larissa

Here too Wendy Varaman’s interview with of Farideh:

When I first encountered the poems of Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad, I immediately thought of Sylvia Plath.

Here, for example, are the opening lines of “Let us believe in the beginning of the cold season” (trans., Michael C. Hillmann):

And this is I
a woman alone
at the threshold of a cold season
at the beginning of understanding
the polluted existence of the earth
and the simple and sad pessimism of the sky
and the incapacity of these concrete hands.

To what extent do you think it is useful to link these two women, both of whom died tragically in their early ۳۰’s during the cold month of February, each apparently still at the mercy of love and in a white-hot fervor of writing? Are women poets in Iran and the United States today more similar to each other or more different?

Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi:

Even Death in a cold season and at the peak of Forough’s creativity is not a good reason to find much resemblance between these two women poets. Sylvia killed herself because she was suffering from the betrayal of her husband. She was a faithful wife and a mother in love with her children. Forough left her husband and her little son to find her fate and mate in poetry. Regrettably, feminists and antireligious people in Iran and overseas, try to introduce Forough as a victim of a patriarchal religious society. It is not true. They claim she was forced by her father to marry in her teens, but now everybody knows that she threatened her parents to commit suicide if they don’t let her marry the man she loved. They introduce her husband as a dogmatic man who didn’t let Forough write poetry and deprived her from her right as a mother to see her son.

Forough’s letters to her husband, published thirty years after her death by her son, prove that even after divorce she was deeply supported by her kind, generous, and loyal husband who never married again and devoted all his life to their son. He was himself a writer and painter.

As for her poetry, Forough s poems could make themselves free from personal problems and pay attention to the world around her, while Sylvia Plath’s poems speak of “self,” even when she writes about others. “Lack of love” for Forough, was a universal wound, not a personal pain:

And my wounds are all the wounds of love
I have piloted this wondering island
Through raging tempests and volcanoes
And disintegration was the secret of that unique being
Each little particle of which gave birth to the sun

I see more resemblance between Forough and Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva. Both women were more loyal to love than to the men of their life, and both of them were more devoted to the truth of poetry than to the reality of life. Yet let me admit that if Iran has one Forough Farrokhzad, America has many, many, many “Forough Farrokhzads.” As a translator of women’s poetry and world poetry, I can attest that North America and Latin America have the best women poets of the world” (Wendy Varaman)

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To which I can add:


A photograph of Farrokhzad

Thank you Farideh. I also like that photo on the cover of the DVD (her poetry read aloud).

I own another book of her poetry, Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season, introduced and chosen and translated by Elizabeth Gray, Jr (ISBN 978-0-8112-3165-7)

This slender book contains a short life of the poet who died so young: Farrokhzad had a difficult life; she was brave and took off from conventional ways and traveled and wrote and published and made films and lived intensely at the same time as she must have been strapped for money and subject to lots of abuse in the media of her country. I can understand the content better om the book I own. I am thinking the tradition of being so inexplicit comes from inhibition, a desire not to let your private life be vulnerable to ugly public arenas, especially when you are a woman

Honestly, I have trouble understanding such allusive poetry where we are given metaphoric images but they have little concrete explanation or referents. Farideh, I am wondering if there is a tradition for this kind of imagery but I can think of “middle east” (I don’t have the right word for it) poetry where the referent is obvious, e.g., Constantine Cavafy (a male Greek poet). I also understand the content in general of the book I own. I am thinking the tradition of being so inexplicit comes from inhibition, a desire not to let your private life be vulnerable to ugly public arenas, especially when you are a woman. Perhaps candor and explicitness, which would make the poetry more accessible, understandable, might lead to a prison sentence or death.

Gray tells of her own education in the US at Stanford; that in the 1970s she learned Persian. Here’s her website where you are told all her credentials

Farideh replied that most of Farrokhzad’s poems were simple [in diction]; in her final days she was more than a poet: she became a thinker and philosopher, and her poetry departed from Iranian traditions.

Here is the poem from this volume which provides the volume’s title:

Let Us Believe in the Beginning of a Cold Season

And here I am
a lonely woman
at the threshold of a cold season
coming to understand the earth’s contamination
and the elemental, sad despair of the sky
and the impotence of these concrete hands.

Time passed,
time passed and the clock chimed four times,
it chimed four times.

Today is the first day of winter,
I know the secret of the seasons
and understand the moments well.

The savior is asleep in his grave
and earth, the kind acceptor, earth,
invites me to peace.

Perhaps those two young hands were true, those two young hands
buried below ¸in the never ending snow
And next year, when spring
sleeps with the sky beyond the window
and shoots thrust from her body
the green shoots of empty branches
will blossom O my dearest one, my dearest only one

Let us believe in the beginning of a cold season

Farrokhzad also painted; this is from the wikipedia website

A brief literary biography of Forough, Michael Hillmann’s A lonely woman: Forough Farrokhzad and her poetry, was published in 1987.[5] Farzaneh Milani’s work Veils and words: the emerging voices of Iranian women writers (1992) included a chapter about her. Abdolali Dastgheib, literary critic writer, published a critical review of Forough’s poems titled ‘The Little Mermaid’ (Farsi title پری کوچک دریا) (2006) in which he describes Forugh as a pioneer in modern Farsi poetry who symbolizes feminism in her work.[16] Nasser Saffarian has directed three documentaries about her life: The Mirror of the Soul (2000), The Green Cold (2003), and Summit of the Wave (2004), and Sholeh Wolpé has written a short biography of Farrokhzad’s life in “in: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad (2007).

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Virginia, Leonard and Pinka Woolf


One of Virginia Woolf’s desks

Dear friends and readers,

Here am I to tell you about the second two days of the virtual Virginia Woolf conference held a few weeks ago now (for Thursday and Friday). Saturday, the first session I could make was “Flush: Canine Relations.” Having taught Flush twice (and read much of and by Elizabeth Barrett Browning), “Gypsey, the mongrel (short story in Woolf’s Complete Short Fiction), and myself loving animals and read a number of adult books with animal consciousness at the center (see “A literature of cats” and “Dogs: a Bloomsbury take”), I was alert to details in the papers on this panel.

Saturday. First up was Diana Royer: “A dog has a character just as we have.” Ms Royer talked about “Gypsey, the mongrel,” Flush, The Voyage Out, and Between the Acts. in the first animals are shown to be self-aware creatures, and this one gets angry at another dog, Hector. The real Flush was kidnapped and three times, and it was due to EBB’s bravery (and that of her maid) that she was able to rescue the dog the first time; thereafter she paid the ransom almost immediately. She valued the dog. Rachel Vinrace watches an old woman cut a chicken’s head off. A cow loses her calf in the pageant and bellows in grief.

How are we to regard the suffering of animals. Oliver Case, “Cross-Species Translations,” made the point others did on the panel and the people at the conference who contributed in the Q&A. Our emphasis on and reverence for our ability to speak stands in the way of our communicating with animals. In one scene Flush and another dog gaze at one another and “an intimacy beyond words is understood.” If you will imagine the animal’s thought, you can more easily love them. Accuracy of understanding precise meanings does not matter. There is a deep communal exchange of awareness was part of Sabrina Nacci’s presentation. With animals you can escape patriarchal norms. She shows that Flush gains agency outside EBB’s room. Body language and smell are ways of interacting. Ms Nacci said Woolf attends to violence and alluded to Paul Auster’s Timbuktoo.


One of the Woolfs’s cats, Sappho (there was more than one Sappho)

Everyone who spoke gave Woolf credit for a real relationship with her dogs — from the letters. I was surprised because in Woolf’s letters I have noticed her not that bothered when a dog runs off (gets lost) and too non-protective. I knew that with people about cats vocalize a lot more


A photograph of Virginia Woolf in 1926 by Ottoline Morrell

At this point I had a conflict. I had signed up and paid to participate in a zoom, one of the Virginia Woolf Cambridge lecture series — this one with Clair Nicolson, on the role of clothing and fashion in Woolf’s life and writing. Nicolson’s coming book is based on her dissertation “Woolf’s Clothing: An Exploration of Clothes and Fashion in Virginia Woolf’s Fiction.” She has curated exhibits on clothing, and pays close attention to fashion changes. Her talk was about the power of clothing, you place an exterior image in public between the world and your hidden self. Clothes can be a shield. She said that Leonard Woolf destroyed most or all Virginia’s clothing after her death – what he saved and gradually published brilliantly was the enormous body of life-writing left in manuscripts. A pair of her spectacles have survived. I was therefore not able to participate in any of the mid-day round tables (2 hours each), and have not yet viewed the video recordings. I intend to do that and perhaps add a few words about them in the comments to this blog.

On Blogging Woolf Alice Lowe provides the gist of the roundtable on Woolf and biofiction. The blogger lists a number of the biofictions discussed as well as a couple of recent brilliant biographies. I’ve gotten for myself Mark Hussey’s remarkable book on Clive Bell (and I listened to his brief talk on it during the conference) and

Peter Stansky spoke for a second time, now interestingly on the Dreadnought Hoax and (separately) Julian Bell (the third plenary, 4:00-5:30 pm). Prof Stansky wrote and revised recently a brilliant well researched biography: Julian Bell: From Bloomsbury to the Spanish Civil war: Julian, the son of Vanessa and Clive was killed very quickly upon going to Spain; he was an ambulance driver.

Horace DeVere Cole, was the organizer of the hoax: he enjoyed practical jokes that much (it’s said). Prof Stansky seemed to see the hoax as a protest against militarism. Julian Bell’s life is a tragic story. The book asks what does Julian’s life mean now. Stansky now a candid speaker (and can be very amusing), had to be discreet when writing about Julian’s love life. 40 years after the first version of the biography was published, much much new material has been gathered, sorted and published. He closed with one of William Faulkner’s sayings: “the past is continually changing. The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”


Vanessa Bell, The Bell Nursery — Vanessa Bell never recovered from, never got over her son’s death; she had not wanted him to go; Clive Bell was strongly pacifist

Saturday ended for me on that sentiment, since I did not join in on a Salon.

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The latest cover for SCUM Manifesto

Sunday I began with the “Feminist Resistance” panel at 9:00-10:30 am. Rasha Aljararwa is under the impression that silence is useful form of resistance. It provides a space for someone to exist within, she said. The merit of Loren Agaloos’s was her subject matter, Woolf’s caustic short satire, “A Society” (1921). Read it here as a pdf. Here is a coherent reasoned account of this allegorical short story. I’ve read the story and it is a passionately honest, rawly truthful, unusually direct (for Woolf) hard satire. There is an excellent account in Mark Hussey’s VW encyclopedia. Cassandra is one of the characters included (as a neutral spectator).

Kimberly Coates ““‘Daddy’s Girl’: Fathers, Daughters, and Female Resistance in Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas and Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto” was one of the best short papers in the conference. Solanos’ manifesto contrasts strongly with Woolf’s Three Guineas. Solanos writes in crude demotic English, short paragraphs, lots of large letter headings. She was once famous for having tried to kill Andy Warhol. Originally she was rich, pretty and well-connected and sexually abused by a male relative; she spent her short (1936-88) uncompromising life attacking capitalism and misogyny; she spent 3 years in prison for attempted murder, and ended on the street as a prostitute.

At 11:00-12:30 I attended “Ethics and Archives. “Joshua Phillips described his experiences working in the archives with Woolf’s fragmentary drafts, especially the Berg collection in the New York Public Library in Manhattan. He sees Woolf as interested in the ethics of writing anonymously. Such a person still cannot escape pressure from an awareness of a scrutinizing or indifferent reader (“you can escape the shadow of the reader” is what he said). Because of publishers’ impositions, authors are pushed to be less subjective. Mr Phillips thinks Walter Benjamin’s work shows he was dogged by such tensions as ethical dilemmas. He found all sorts of interesting elements in the Woolf archives: experimental writing, asides, playfulness. Drew Shannon concentrated on a line written by Virginia to Leonard the day of her suicide: “will you destroy all my papers?” If it was a command, Leonard ignored it. Mr Shannon talked about the ethics of publishing what a writer did not want published; the gatekeepers of ms’s: owners, libraries, and (I’ll add) relatives, friends, professional & business associates. Mr Shannon pointed out that sometimes a diary can ruin a writer’s reputation. In the conversation afterwards I offered the idea that the line was a question: she wanted to know if Leonard would do that, and was suggesting he should not.


Here is Duncan Grant’s depiction of Virginia Woolf

Ana Quiring talked about fan fiction on the Internet based on Virginia Woolf’s writings and life, i.e., fantasies constructed from Mrs Dalloway and a distorted idea of Woolf’s life. (To me this is what the over-rated Michael Cunningham’s The Hours is.) So it seems that the sort of thing rained down on Austen’s writings and life is rained down on Woolf’s. I agreed with the speaker that sometimes these amateur fictions can rise (I’d put it) to insightful literary criticism. She urged us to keep an open mind towards these works, remember that Woolf herself lacked professional credentials. I know my blogs are (to use Quiring’s words) “unpaid and unsponsored.”

I sat through Beth Rigel Daugherty’s long “On the Ethics of Teaching Virginia Woolf.” She went through many of Woolf’s critical essays, bringing out the strongly pedagogical thrust of many of them, their strong valuing of literature for itself as an experience of life, their aestheticism, detachment, deeply anti-worldly perspective. Ruskin can be seen as an important voice for Woolf. Her plenary lecture was rightly very well received.


This is a beautifully read aloud rendition by Nadia May (the more common name for the reader)

This wonderful conference ended for me on the penultimate offering, a panel “celebration” of editors of editions of Jacob’s RoomI love this novel: for a while after I first read it, I thought it my favorite of Woolf’s longer fictions. I’ve rearranged the order of the talks and remarks.

Vara Neverow surveyed the original reception of the book and more recent attitudes. Original reviews were mixed; only a few scathing, but the initial positive reception faded. David Daiches rejected it (years later regretted his review); James Hafley — two narrators at least one clueless; Brewster was snarky (1962). Some saw it as a freakish; another critic said the minor characters have more inner life, and the narrator is a device; Kathleen Wall (? not sure that was the name) wrote on ekphrasis and elegy in Jacob’s Room (2002), and about how women have been denied access to private aesthetic experience. Christopher James (perhaps recently) talked of its center being bisexuality. I should make explicit that Jacob is partly a surrogate for Woolf’s dead brother, Thoby Stephens. In the conversation afterward someone remarked the Cambridge Edition of Jacob’s Room by Stuart Clerke can serve as an interpretive touchstone; someone else that it can be read and should be read as an historical novel (about the near past now beginning to repeat itself in war).

Suzanne Raitt did the Norton Critical Edition, talked of the many editions. She encountered Jacob’s Room at an older age (38, 40 when the edition was published). It’s an experimental novel; Woolf had had lengthy bouts of mental illness by this time; she told us of an article by Kate Flint in The Review of English Studies, 42:167? (1991):361-72, about the elderly women and young men in the novel. Kate Flint spoke of her edition, done early in her career, and about working at the Berg.

Ted Bishop (Canadian) said there are 10 named characters in the novel who never answer one another; it has no narrative drive, not much chronology; we have flash forwards to characters when older. The time element is all time is there all at once. There is a touch of the grotesque. He also said Alberta (which he retired from) is now demolishing its humanities center; how people used to be kicked out of the Berg collection. Maria Rita Dummond Viana who translated Jacob’s Room had held a translation workshop and suggested that translation is a mode of reading, the most intimate act of reading one can do. “I cannot help but translate what I love” (I thought of Madame de Chastenay’s translation of Anne Radcliffe’s Udolpho into French and Radcliffe made French, my own of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara.)

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Though Covid has brought such devastation and grief to so many people on this earth, the capability of zoom software to bring people together visually and aurally from across the globe, when used for that purpose, especially when it is hard, almost impossible for many to reach one another so apparently intimately any other way, has been a tremendous unexpected gift.  Although this is against my own interests (as someone who finds travel such an ordeal and has limited funds and hardly any helpful connections), I hope that zoom or online conferences and lectures will not replace in person get-togethers in more local areas, as there is a untranslatable-into-words difference between getting together in person and talking every which way to one another as genuine single group when the group is made up of more or less friends of the same tribe, with the same interests and ways of life.

One solution is to offer far-away conferences in both modes: in person and on-line. JASNA is now doing that; ASECS is planning to alternate in person and on-line conferences. The problem with hybrids for meetings of people who really live within say 40 minutes of one another is too many may opt for convenience, depleting the in person experience too much, while hybrid remains an uncomfortable mix, putting too much pressure or an impossible task on the teacher or lecturer (leader of the session). This said, I cannot drive at night, and with public transportation increasingly disappearing in the US (the very conservative and reactionary domineering substantial minority does not want middling and poorer people to be able to reach where they live or even go through), for me in N.Va the online classes at the bookstore Politics and Prose this summer are a needed rejuvenating time of pleasure with others.


Vanessa Bell’s Bird in a Cage

Ellen

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Dahlia Ravikovitch 1997 photograph (1936-2005)

A tweet I read tonight on twitter: “Tonight I put the kids to sleep in our bedroom. So that when we die, we die together and no one would live to mourn the loss of one another” Eman Basher @sometimes Pooh.” This reminded me of what I was told of a cousin of my mother’s in WW2. She chose to accompany her 6 children into the gas chamber rather than let them die alone.

Dear readers and friends,

This is an unusual foremother poet blog for me: most of the time I do not choose a woman poet because of the immediate political relevancy of her work; here in this time of another slaughter of Palestinians, yet more destruction of the open air prison they are forced to endure existence in, and the apparent indifference of all those in charge of gov’ts with the power to stop this shameless horror, I put forward Dahlia Ravikovitch’s poetry where she as a native-born Israeli, Hebrew-speaking and writing, eloquently cried out against what the Israeli gov’t (and the people who voted it in) inflict on a people whose country they seized by war (1948, 1967). Unless otherwise noted all the poems are translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld:

In this poem Ravikovitch identifies as an Israeli woman watching as a young female Arab is about to be destroyed

Hovering at a low altitude

I am not here.
I am on those craggy eastern hills
streaked with ice
where grass doesn’t grow
and a sweeping shadow overruns the slope.
A little shepherd girl
with a herd of goats,
black goats,
emerges suddenly
from an unseen tent.
She won’t live out the day, that girl,
in the pasture.

I am not here.
Inside the gaping mouth of the mountain
a red globe flares,
not yet a sun.
A lesion of frost, flushed and sickly,
revolves in that maw.

And the little one rose so early
to go to the pasture.
She doesn’t walk with neck outstretched
and wanton glances.
She doesn’t paint her eyes with kohl.
She doesn’t ask, Whence cometh my help.

I am not here.
I’ve been in the mountains many days now.
The light will not scorch me. The frost cannot touch me.
Nothing can amaze me now.
I’ve seen worse things in my life.

I tuck my dress tight around my legs and hover
very close to the ground.
What ever was she thinking, that girl?
Wild to look at, unwashed.
For a moment she crouches down.
Her cheeks soft silk,
frostbite on the back of her hand.
She seems distracted, but no,
in fact she’s alert.
She still has a few hours left.
But that’s hardly the object of my meditations.
My thoughts, soft as down, cushion me comfortably.
I’ve found a very simple method,
not so much as a foot-breadth on land
and not flying, either—
hovering at a low altitude.

But as day tends toward noon,
many hours
after sunrise,
that man makes his way up the mountain.
He looks innocent enough.
The girl is right there, near him,
not another soul around.
And if she runs for cover, or cries out—
there’s no place to hide in the mountains.

I am not here.
I’m above those savage mountain ranges
in the farthest reaches of the East.
No need to elaborate.
With a single hurling thrust one can hover
and whirl about with the speed of the wind.
Can make a getaway and persuade myself:
I haven’t seen a thing.
And the little one, her eyes start from their sockets,
her palate is dry as a potsherd,
when a hard hand grasps her hair, gripping her
without a shred of pity.

This one makes explicit the aim of the Israeli gov’t and settler colonialist “ethnic cleansers”

Get out of Beirut

Take the knapsacks,
the clay jugs, the washtubs,
the Korans,
the battle fatigues,
the bravado, the broken soul,
and what’s left in the street, a little bread or meat,
and kids running around like chickens in the heat.
How many children do you have?
How many children did you have?
It’s hard to keep the children safe in times like these.
Not the way it used to be in the old country,
in the shade of the mosque, under the fig tree,
where you’d get the kids out of the house in the morning
and tuck them into bed at night.
Whatever’s not fragile, gather up in those sacks:
clothing, bedding, blankets, diapers,
some memento, perhaps,
a shiny artillery shell,
or a tool that has practical value,
and the babies with pus in their eyes
and the RPG kids.
We’d love to see you afloat in the water with no place to go
no port and no shore.
You won’t be welcome anywhere.
You’re human beings who were thrown out the door,
you’re people who don’t count anymore.
You’re human beings that nobody needs.
You’re a bunch of lice
crawling about
that pester and bite

If you are still reading, two more:

A Mother Walks Around

A mother walks around with a child dead in her belly.
This child hasn’t been born yet.
When his time is up the dead child will be born
head first, then trunk and buttocks
and he won’t wave his arms about or cry his first cry
and they won’t slap his bottom
won’t put drops in his eyes
won’t swaddle him
after washing the body.
He will not resemble a living child.
His mother will not be calm and proud after giving birth
and she won’t be troubled about his future,
won’t worry how in the world to support him
and does she have enough milk
and does she have enough clothing
and how will she ever fit one more cradle into the room.
The child is a perfect izadil« already,
unmade ere he was ever made.
And he’ll have his own little grave at the edge of the cemetery
and a little memorial day
and there won’t be much to remember him by.
These are the chronicles of the child
who was killed in his mother’s belly
in the month of January, in the year 1988,
“under circumstances relating to state security.”

The Story of the Arab who died in the Fire

When the fire grabbed his body, it didn’t happen by degrees.
There was no burst of heat before,
or giant wave of smothering smoke
and the feeling of a spare room one wants to escape to.
The fire held him at once
—there are no metaphors for this—
it peeled off his clothes
cleaved to his flesh.
The skin nerves were the first to be touched.
The hair was consumed.
“God! They are burning!” he shouted.
And that is all he could do in self-defense.
The flesh was already burning between the shack’s boards
that fed the fire in the first stage.
There was already no consciousness in him.
The fire burning his flesh
numbed his sense of future
and the memories of his family
and he had no more ties to his childhood
and he didn’t ask for revenge, salvation,
or to see the dawn of the next day.
He just wanted to stop burning.
But his body supported the conflagration
and he was as if bound and fettered,
and of that too he did not think.
And he continued to burn by the power of his body
made of hair and wax and tendons.
And he burned a long time.
And from his throat inhuman voices issued
for many of his human functions had already ceased,
except for the pain the nerves transmitted
in electric impulses
to the pain center in the brain,
and that didn’t last longer than a day.
And it was good that his soul was freed that day
because he deserved to rest.
— Translated from the original Hebrew by Karen Alkalay-Gut

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To be accurate, Dahlia Ravikovitch’s oeuvre as a whole is not dominated by poems of protest on behalf of the Palestinian people or other groups the Israelis or their allies have decided to “take out.” While she appears to have been a peace activist, and sincere political humanist from the outset of her career, much of her earlier poetry is written in styles and imitation of Biblical and archaic verse; for a secular poet and independent woman (married twice, with her son born from a lover she did not marry), her allusions and content are (to me) jarringly from patriarchal sources: her mother had been a graduate of a religious teachers college who went on to train as a teacher of Jewish studies, and Dahlia herself became a a student immersed in Hebrew, Biblical, and Jewish studies. She also wrote prototypical “women’s verse” at first (fantasy, presenting herself as overwhelmed by the world) and only gradually does feminist verse emerge. While courageously outspoken against all the forced evacuations, land and house confiscation, abuse of Arab women and children in ordinary discourse and the groups of people she demonstrated and worked with, her earlier targets were the abuse of language, power and powerlessness itself.

For myself I find her poetry direct, forceful, but, except for the personal autobiographical poems, curiously detached from modern reality until half way through her oeuvre. My feeling is it was over time that she became passionately horrified by what she saw the state she lived in did to non-Jews living on the land mass it controlled. It was as she grew older she grew angry at the norms many women obeyed. Perhaps it was after she lost custody of her son (1989, a great grief for her), that she began her moving poetry about mothers.

She was born in 1936, the daughter of a Russian born engineer who emigrated from Russia to Palestine via China. When she was six, her father was run over by a drunken Greek soldier in the British army; one of her early successful (and a characteristic) poems registers the trauma she felt when two years later her mother first told her that her father was dead:

On the Road at Night there stands the man

On the road at night there stands the man
Who once upon a time was my father
And I must go down to the place where he stands
Because I was his firstborn daughter.

Night after night he stands alone in his place
And I must go down and stand in that place.
And I wanted to ask him: Till when must I go.
And I knew as I asked: I must always go.

In the place where he stands, there is a trace of danger
Like the day he walked that road and a car ran him over.
And that’s how I knew him and marked him to remember:
This very man was once my father

The use of repetition, the simple stanzas, rhymes, monosyllables, and plain blunt sarcasm are central to her most memorable shorter lyrics and feminist poetry, as in

Clockwork Doll

I was a clockwork doll, but then
That night I turned left, right, round and around
And fell on my face, cracked on the ground,
And skillful hands tried to piece me together again.

Then once more I was a proper doll
And all my manner was demure and polite.
But I became damaged goods that night,
A fractured twig with only tendrils to prevent a fall.

And then I went invited to dance at the ball
But they cast me me with the writhing dogs and cats
Though all my steps were measured and true.

And my hair was golden, and my eyes were blue
And I had a dress printed in garden flower sprawl,
And a trim of cherries tacked to my straw hat.

She must have been a difficult (as the common adjective used) child from the first. Her mother took her and her siblings to live on a kibbutz after the father died, but at age 13 unable to cope with the collectivist conformist atmosphere of such a place, Dahlia left and moved from foster family to foster family. She was lucky to meet and be mentored by a literature teacher in high school Baruch Kurzweil who praised the way she blended archaic and contemporary modes; with high grades (a story of an intelligent reading girl) and the encouragement of Avraham Shlonsky, the leading poet of the pre-State Hebrew Moderna, and Leah Goldberg, a major woman poet of the time, her verse was published when she was 18; she went to Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was awarded a scholarship for Hebrew studies at Oxford.

For a woman whose work received so many prizes over the years, she did not do well (I am not surprised) in the academic or publishing marketplace when it comes to positions or jobs, and at the end of her life she was living in what is described as “a modest apartment in Tel Aviv, near the Mediterranean, barely ekeing out a living” as a journalist, TV & theater critic, high school teacher, writer of popular lyrics. She translated into Hebrew poems by Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Poe and others, as well as children’s classics, such as Mary Poppins. She is said to have suffered from severe depressions; when she was found dead in her apartment, it was at first assumed she killed herself.

Medically speaking it was determined she died of heart irregularities (“sudden death”) but surely her serious emotional breakdowns, lack of a secure family life, peripetatic lifestyle, several relationships, and underlying moods in her poetry (justifiable anger, bitterness, anguish and just strong passion for whatever she is feeling) and poverty (which she is said to have worried about) helped bring on a relatively early death. Not that she was spiritually alone or neglected; she collaborated with other poets, musicians, and respected public figures seeking peace, justice, and equality for all in Israel.

If the interested reader wants to know more, I list in the comments a couple of websites beyond 5 more blogs (by me), and a few reviews of Szobel’s book. For this blog I read Hovering at a Low Altitude: The Collected Poems of Dahlia Ravikovitch, translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld (where most of the poems here come from) and A Poetics of Trauma by Ilana Szobel. I find Szobel’s psychoanalytic and close reading approach to Ravikovitch’s poetry to be illuminating, useful — she will help the reader appreciate Ravokovitch’s poetry in all its layering. See The Poetry Foundation, Jewish Women’s Archive, an obituary from The Guardian.

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From a series by Martha Rosler: House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home

So here are a few of the poems I find most successful and appealing. This first one is said to have been a favorite with her; and is often reprinte

Dress of Fire (The Dress)

You know, she said, they made you
a dress of fire.
Remember how Jason’s wife burned in her dress?
It was Medea, she said, Medea did that to her.
You’ve got to be careful, she said,
they made you a dress that glows
like an ember, that burns like coals.

Are you going to wear it, she said, don’t wear it.
It’s not the wind whistling, it’s the poison
seeping in.
You’re not even a princess, what can you do to Medea?
Can’t you tell one sound from another, she said,
it’s not the wind whistling.

Remember, I told her, that time when I was six?
They shampooed my hair and I went out into the street.
The smell o shampoo trailed after me like a cloud.
Then I got sick from the wind and the rain.
I didn’t know a thing about reading Greek tragedies,
but the smell of the perfume spread
and I was very sick.
Now I can see it’s an unnatural perfume.

What will happen to you now, she said,
they made you a burning dress.
They made me a burning dress, I said. I know.
So why are you standing there, she said,
you’ve got to be careful.
You know what a burning dress is, don’t you?

I know, I said, but I don’t know
how to be careful.
The smell of that perfume confuses me.
I said to her, No one has to agree with me,
I don’t believe in Greek tragedies.

But the dress, she said, the dress is on fire.
What are you saying, I shouted,
what are you saying?
I’m not wearing a dress at all,
what’s burning is me.
— translated by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch

She can express sheer sensual delight and pleasure; here is sonnet using the same devices of repetition and simple words and natural imagery:

Delight

There did I know a delight beyond all delight,
And it came to pass upon the Sabbath day
As tree boughs reached for the sky with all their might.
Round and round like a river streamed the light,
And the wheel of the eye craved the sunwheel that day
Then did I know a delight beyond all delight.
The heads of the bushes blazed, insatiable bright
Sunlight striking the waves, igniting the spray.

It would swallow my head like a golden orange, that light.
Water lilies were gaping their yellow bright
Mouths to swallow the ripples and reeds in their way.
And indeed it came to pass on the Sabbath day
As tree boughs lusted for the sky with all their might,
And then did I know a delight beyond all delight.

There is a series of poems where she expresses raw feelings as a woman involved with men who don’t treat her that well and whom she herself accepts because there is nothing better to calm herself with. I’d reprint “Cinderella in the Kitchen” but it is long so here is a shorter one from this type or series:

At Her Own Pace

A woman is holding a small photo.
She is no longer in her prime.
Travels a lot. Airplane. Suitcase.
For months on end, she stays
with relatives of hers.
“At your pace I couldn’t,” she says.
An introverted woman,
gentle in her ways.
People give in to her. She gives in too.
She’s on the move again. Airplane. Suitcase.
Nothing was set in advance.
The phone rang. She was flooded with a joy
that could tear the heavens open. He’s a man who’s not hers
in the full sense of the word.
She walks from room to room alone. An endless calm.
In the innermost circle of her being, she’s torn to pieces.
On the outside she’s calm. Doesn’t really seek
to take possession.
A small passport photo in her hand.
He’s wearing a tie. A featureless face,
I would say. For her he’s really
the world entire.
Apart from that, outside the innermost circle
she’s calm and recoiling
at her own pace.

Her poems on mothering are intertwined with her protests against brutal war — she saw mothering in war zones:

The quieter intense lasting grief of loss (this also includes typical sarcasm):

What a Time She Had!

How did that story go?
As a rule she wouldn’t have remembered so quickly.
In that soil no vineyard would grow.
A citrus grove stood there,
sickly,
stunted.
The single walnut tree blooming there bore no fruit
as if some essential life-giving element
were lacking in that soil.
Hard green lemons.
A balding patch of lawn.
A great tranquillity.
On the western side, the hedge went wild
and there was a honeysucker, of course
(today we’d call it a sunbird)
-if he were still alive
he’d be twenty years old.
In the valley, the army was hunting down human beings.
Fire in the thicket.
Summer’s hellfire blazing as usual.
Evening mowing down shadows, merciless.

Now she is a mother: On the Attitude towards Children in Times of War

He who destroys thirty babies
it is as if he’d destroyed three hundred babies,
and toddlers too,
or even eight-and-a-half year olds;
in a year, God willing, they’d be soldiers
in the Palestine Liberation Army.

Benighted children,
at their age
they don’t even have a real world view.
And their future is shrouded, too:
refugee shacks, unwashed faces,
sewage flowing in the streets,
infected eyes,
a negative outlook on life.

And thus began the flight from city to village,
from village to burrows in the hills.
As when a man did flee from a lion,
as when he did flee from a bear,
as when he did flee from a cannon,
from an airplane, from our own troops.

He who destroys thirty babies,
it is as if he’d destroyed one thousand and thirty,
or one thousand and seventy,
thousand upon thousand.
And for that alone shall he find
no peace.

Author’s note: This is a variation on a poem by Natan Zach that deals [satirically] with the question of whether there were exaggerations in the number of children reported killed in the [1982] Lebanon War.
Lines 1-2, He who destroys: cf. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:5: “He who destroys a single human soul. . . , it is as if he had destroyed an entire world.”
Lines 16-17, As when a man: Amos 5:19, about the danger of apocalyptic yearnings.

This is the concluding poem in the volume translated by Boch and Kronfeld:

The Fruit of the Land

You asked if we’ve got enough cannons.
They laughed and said: More than enough
and we’ve got new improved antitank missiles
and bunker busters to penetrate
double-slab reinforced concrete
and we’ve got crates of napalm and crates of explosives,
unlimited quantities, cornucopias,
a feast for the soul, like some finely seasoned delicacy
and above all, that secret weapon,
the one we don’t talk about.
Calm down, man,
the intel officer and the CO
and the border police chief
who’s also a colonel in that hush-hush commando unit
are all primed for the order: Go!
and everything’s shined up like the skin of a snake
and we’ve got chocolate wafers on every base
and grape juice and Tempo soda
and that’s why we won’t give in to terror
we will not fold in the face of violence
we’ll never fold no matter what
‘cause our billy clubs are nice and hard.
God, who has chosen us from all the nations,
comforteth with apples
the fighting arm of the IDF
and the iron boxes and the crates of fresh explosives
and we’ve got cluster bombs too,
though of course that’s off the record.
Serve us bourekas and cake, O woman of the house,
for we were slaves in the land of Egypt
but never again,
and blot out the remembrance of Amalek
if you track him down,
and if you seek him without success
Blessed be the tiny match
that a soldier in some crack unit will suddenly strike
and set off the whole bloody mess

From Bloch and Kronfeld’s notes: “The Fruit of the Land” (Hebrew, zimrat ha-arets), zimra means singing; in biblical Hebrew it can also mean “produce, bounty”. Block and Kronfield capture the macho voice of the defense types we constantly hear in the media rhapsodizing about Israel’s superior firepower. But nowadays they wouldn’t acknowledge they have “more than enough” and would have answered the opening question – ” You asked if we’ve got enough cannons” – with a demand for more funds for the military. There is much allusion to the Bible.

Central to the poem is the reality that things do not have to be this way. Armaments ever worse do not have to be the fruit of the earth

I pull out separately this rare more cheerful poem: New Zealand is a colony which succeeded: not all countries founded by colonizer end in cruelty, brutality, hatred; we see in this poem her early Biblical allusions, her use of repetition, her personal voice, the irony and sarcasm, and a late turn to acceptance.

Two Isles Hath New Zealand

Africa’s not the place to go right now.
Plagues, famine — the human body can’t bear it.
Brutality. They flog human beings with bull-whips.
Asia — it would make your hair stand on end.
Trapped in the mountains, trapped in the swamps.
The human body can’t bear it,
There are limits to the life force, after all.

As for me,
He shall make me lie down in green pastures
in New Zealand.

Over there, sheep with soft wool,
the softest of wools,
graze in the meadow.
Truehearted folk herd their flocks,
on Sundays they pay a visit to church
dressed in sedate attire.

No point hiding it any longer:
We’re an experiment that went awry,
a plan that misfired,
tied up with too much murderousness.
Why should I care about this camp or that,
screaming till their throats are raw,
spitting fine hairs.
In any case, too much murderousness.
To Africa I’m not going
and not to Asia, either.
I’m not going any place.

In New Zealand
in green pastures, beside the still waters,
kindhearted folk
will share their bread with me.

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Al-shifa Hospital, 2014

Which other women have written powerful political verse, including directly about war successfully (whose work I know)? Charlotte Smith, Anna Barbauld, Simone Weil, Alice Oswald. Who have pictured it? Martha Rosler. Novels and plays and memoirs: Ann Radcliffe (in her Summer Tour), Olivia Manning, Iris Origo, Lillian Hellman, Suzy McKee Charnas, Marta Hiller, Margaret Atwood, Adhaf Soueif

Ellen

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IAlice (Keeley Hawes) and her daughter, Charlotte (Isabella Pappas) (Finding Alice, Episode 1).



1940a photograph of Japanese Americans being forced into internment camps; the basis of the film, Come See the Paradise

“Something had been done in the way of raising money by selling the property of convicted secessionists; and while I was there eight men were condemned to be shot for destroying railway bridges. ‘But will they be shot?” I asked of one of the officers. ‘Oh, yes. It will be done quietly and no one will know anything about it. We shall get used to that kind of thing presently’… It is surprising how quickly a people can reconcile themselves to altered circumstances, when the change comes upon them without the necessity of an expressed opinion of their own. Personal freedom has been considered as necessary to the American of the States as the air he breathes.” — Trollope on the civil War in North America


Portrait shot of one of several variants 1949-1957 TV versions of I Remember Mama


Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) looking up at Marianne and hearing her extravaganzas with patience (2009 BBC S&S, Andrew Davies)

Dear friends,

Tonight, I thought I’d bring together three movies which center on women or can be related to women and seem to me good and significant movies to watch relevant to us today. As an experiment, for fun, I’ve been watching the Austen movies (a subgenre, some 37 at this point) and end on a pattern others may not have noticed. As I’ve been doing, the blog will not be overlong.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been watching a 6 part ITV (British) serial story, Finding Alice. I was drawn to it because its central role, Alice, a woman at least in her later 30s, whose husband dies suddenly from a fall over a steep staircase, which he deliberately built without a bannister is played by Keeley Hawes, one of my favorite actresses. She used to garner central roles in costume dramas based on masterpiece books (Cynthia in Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, as scripted by Andrew Davies); or moving series on remarkable books (Louisa Durrell in The Durrells). Now she is more often found in mystery thrillers which are just that little bit better (more intelligent) than the usual. So this series sounded like a return back to her more thoughtful rich programs. Perhaps the problem with the series is it is too rich, takes too much on, and does not resolve enough of what is presented. This Guardian review by Lucy Mangan is unfair (and shows itself to be a little stupid) by singling out Nigel Havers and Joanna Lumley as superior actors to all the others (I wondered if that had anything to do with their race and age); they are no better or worse at acting their roles, their roles no less or more jarring or uneven than the other characters: but she does outline the story, and I can vouch for many shining moments beyond the ones Mangan allows for.

The film plays variations on how difficult it is to accept the death of a beloved person; it projects different modes of grieving and bereavement. Rashan Stone as the man who is in charge of a hospital morgue and runs bereavement groups is superb in his role; he comforts Alice as well as himself exemplifying how someone else can deal with devastation (his daughter killed herself) and a wife whom he does not get along with (one of the variations on a daughter not able to adjust to a mother who is hostile to her). The hardest hit is Charlotte, Harry and Alice’s teenage daughter, upon whom much of Alice’s earliest antics fall — she insists on burying Harry in their garden turns out not to be such a bad idea after all. But she also wants to impregnate herself with the sperm Harry froze so that she could have another child by him — since she was (rightly) refusing at the time.


Alice in Episode 6, learning to stand alone

After the 6th episode was over and nothing much had been resolved, of several emerging conflicts, except importantly Alice had taken responsibility for all those things her partner Harry had supposedly been doing just fine, only he wasn’t. The story is the sudden death by falling down a steep staircase of the heroine’s partner. We learn pretty quickly both Alice & Harry have taken no thought for the possibility he might die — he has (it emerges by the last episode where we hear him speak his last words) regarded and treated her as a child. Been false in the way he appeared to love her. His bank account does not have her name on it, she has almost nothing in hers; he left this house he and she were supposed to be so proud to live in to his parents. His business dealings he does with women, one of whom turns out to be a semi-mistress — who may have bought (?) his sperm to impregnate her female partner with. The business is near bankruptcy. An illegitimate son appears who thinks he will inherit — but that is not accurate. If she never married Harry and so can’t automatically inherit whatever is left, how does an unrecognized bastard son inherit anything? Harry’s parents are hostile to her, want to sell the house out from under her to pay their inheritance taxes; her parents (Havers & Lumley) consist of a mean-mouthed bullying mother and a weak father who finally seems to leave his wife who openly cuckolds him in the last episode). Many episodes contain such a multitude of complex emotions one cannot begin to cover the ground so richly sown.

This review by Reece Goodall falls into the very trap I suggest the movie wants to preclude: the idea that people don’t let go a lot when they grieve; that they know to be tactful and to live in and within themselves. Anything else is not adult. Sure, in public, but not in private which is where these scenes delve. I grant at the third episode I began to feel this was an attempt to present ever-so-modern patterns of living and taste in a voyeuristically morbid vein, but then in the fourth an upswing begins where we see the point is to show us Alice slowly discovering she is an individual, what kind of person she is, what are her real tastes. I don’t think the only way you can assert your independence is to give other people who are trying to cheat you a hard time, but it is one of those things a woman living alone will have to deal with alone.

At its end you get a message telling you where you can contact counselors to help you through bereavement — quite seriously — the creators just did not know how to cope with what they are presenting to a wider popular audience so they become “constructive.” I see another season is planned (or was). I hope it comes back and becomes less unsteady, giving more time to each set of characters and incidents.

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Movie poster

Coherent and beautiful is the indie, Come See the Paradise, written and directed by Alan Parker. It opens with a mother in her early 30s walking with a young adolescent girl child. They are traveling by train to re-meet the father and husband whom they have not seen for years. The mother tells the girl the history she does not understand for her father was take away when she was around 4. This flashback movie then tells from the point of view of the Japanese woman who is attached equally to her family and American husband and is herself self-sufficient, upright.

Hers is the story of them as a young couple, American young man who was involved as a non-professional (non-degreed) lawyer in a union in the 1930s who falls in love with Japanese girl whose parents are about to marry her off to a much older man. In 1942, over 100,000 Americans were interned in prison camps in the USA. Well this extraordinary complete violation of human rights (it was against the law in many states for a white American to marry a Japanese person and they were not permitted to become citizens unless they were born here) hits hard on these lives that are slowly presented. We see the young couple try to persuade her parents; they cannot so they elope. Several years go by and Jack (Dennis Quaid) has involved himself again in striking; Lily (Tamlyn Naomi Tomita) disapproves, is frightened, and when he is taken away to be arrested, flees home to her family (whom she was very attached to). When he finally gets out of jail, he comes to find her and is slowly accepted into the family by all but the father. Then the war breaks out, the internment begins. Everything is very harsh; they have to give up all their property and live in a camp in crowded impoverished conditions. Eventually the young men are coerced into fighting for the USA or accept being sent back to Japan. Jack finds he cannot stay with them and spends most of the war as a soldier. He is finally recognized as a labor agitator and re-sent to jail. So the film is pro labor too — like his Japanese brother-in-law, Jack has a no-choice: go to jail or endure military service. The two stories intertwine and reinforce one another. There is a fine use of music; some of the scenes are very moving; the use of colors is careful and effective. I do not think think it at all exaggerated or exploitative or smug or over-angry. The Karamura family slowly changes; they learn to appreciate Jack; they hang together and they also make individual choices that bring out their characters and need for usefulness, joy, respect.


One of several parting scenes

Recently there has been an increase in violence towards Asian people. Incited by the truly evil man, Trump, to blame Asian people for the coronavirus, older atavistic prejudices have come forward.  This time it was a massacre of eight people, six Asian women, in Georgia by a young white very sullen-looking man. In his recent speech before this incident Biden mentioned the way Asian-Americans have been treated since the pandemic started and said this has got to STOP! Tonight he and the Congress are working on helping Asian-Americans and doing what they can to discourage this virulent racism. So this film’s story is not at all obsolete. There is a sneer (!) in wikipedia: the movie is called “oscar bait” and I dare say it won no prizes because of its strong Asian theme. It is a bit long because it wants to get us to the qualified happy ending — retreat for this intermarried family.

Here is Ebert’s excellent review (1991): how easily it seems our assumed liberties can be taken from us; Caryn James of the New York Times: when our people were victimized right here; Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat of Spirituality.


Mr Karamura accepting Jack who tells him that this family is his family, he loves them and they love him ….

I don’t know how or why Roosevelt could have allowed this — it is a blotch on his record, very bad. I know how he (in effect) threw Black people under the bus (what an inadequate metaphor) to keep the southern democrats with him. Also how social security did not include cleaning women and other lower end self-employed people — often Black people.

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The political story of I remember Mama is told here It immediately belongs to the history of suppression of any socialistic feelings which came to a head in the early 1950s with the McCarthy hearings of the HUAC; long range it belongs to women’s studies: Gertrude Berg invented, wrote, starred in this development from an earlier genteel white stage play and made a resounding hit of it — despite studio feeling that Americans don’t want Jewish stories either. Berg had a very hard time getting the shows any sponsorship originally.

Then after the success, the show was forced off the air — in effect. The executives cared more about stamping out socialism than monetary success when it came to a Jewish ethnic show. I love Lucy wasn’t touched because it was seen as all-American (but for the unfortunate Cuban husband). The man playing the father, Philip Loeb, a professional stage actor was active in the labor movement; that was enough to get him was black-listed; the show never recovered from his departure and other changes insisted upon. It’s all lies that Americans would not tolerate a divorced person, a Jew or a person from NY on their TV shows. This shows how the channels and big media colluded absolutely with the wave and institution across the US in the fifties of anti-social democratic movements everywhere in every way. They wanted it to be that US people not tolerate Jewish people. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong does tell us that in life Gertrude Berg did not wear housedresses, but swathed herself in silk, furs and jewels.

I did not know this story. I do remember some of the earliest sit-coms, replaying on morning TV — there was one about a daughter and father with a matinee idol as the father (My Little Margie?); another about a secretary (Suzy?); of course I Love Lucy. A Jim Bakkus. Amos ‘n Andy was still playing at night in 1955/56 when we got our TV.

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Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth (1979 BBC P&P, Fay Weldon)

So to conclude, once again watching all the Austen movies (I’ve watched more than these, see my blog with more recent Austen movies, viz., P&P and Zombies, Whit Stillman’s Love and Freindship, Sanditon, &c I own or can rent: in general, just about all Austen movies made for paying cinema are versions of Screwball comedies or high erotic romance, from the 1940s P&P, to McGrath’s 1996 candied Emma, Wright’s 2005 Lawrentian P&P, to Bride and Prejudice and the recent travesty 2019 Emma, not to omit the 1995 Clueless and P&P and Zombies. Just about all the serial TV Austen movies are centrally melodramatic, presenting Austen’s material as familial drama exceptions are the occasional gothic (Maggie Wadey’s 1987 NA) and but once only a genuine ironic but gentle satire, the 1972 Constanduros Emma (it falls down today on the visuals, the way the characters are dressed just won’t do). This is true of the three short 2007 films (MP, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey; Wadey, with a spectacular performance by Sally Hawkins, and Andrew Davies) and the 2009 Emma (Sandy Welch) and Sense and Sensibility (again Davies) Many have been made by women, and even in the cinema versions, one finds that women’s aesthetics predominate: the use of letters, a voice-over female narrator, a pretend diary. The Jane Austen Book Club belongs here.


Romola Garai as Emma practicing after the assembly (2009 BBC Emma, Sandy Welch)

For my part in general I vastly prefer the TV choice of genre, though neither captures Austen’s inimitable mix. Perhaps the closest that ever came to her were a few in the “golden years” of the pre-Thatcher BBC — the 1971 Sense and Sensibility (again Constanduros), the 1979 Pride and Prejudice (Fay Weldon) with its emphatic bringing out of Elizabeth’s inner sensibility and quiet wit and also the 1995 A&E Pride & Prejudice (Andrew Davies) taken as a whole. I am a real fan of Andrew Davies (there are a large number of blogs dedicated to films by him, and one of my published papers is on his two films from Trollope (HKHWR and TWWLN)


Wonderful passing time moment: Jane (Susannah Harker) and Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) walking and talking

That’s all from me around the ides of March.

Ellen

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Mary Taylor’s Miss Miles — one of several cover illustrations, Oxford UP, introduced by Janet H. Murray

Friends and readers,

I so enjoyed this book I am in danger of over-praising it. So I will begin by conceding it’s not Middlemarch; and if I say that I first read about Mary Taylor and conceived a desire to read her book from Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney’s portrait of her, description of her novel, and story of her friendship with Charlotte Bronte, which in their A Secret Sisterhood: the Literary Friendships of Jane Austen [Anne Sharpe], Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf also includes a number of passages from Taylor’s letters to Charlotte, you must not expect the density of poetic and erudite diction found in Charlotte or Anne’s novels.

But if you are willing to come down a little in your expectation, partly because this is Taylor’s first (and alas last) novel, accept some visible struggles in the structuring and knitting together of the book’s several stories, a multi-plot pattern which accommodates four central heroines, Miss Miles is as insightful, eloquent, with cogent dramatically realized lessons that women must be allowed to become maturely independent, self-supporting when the need arises (as it often does in ordinary women’s lives even among the 19th century middling classes), self-respecting and morally brave as many of the finer still read and known 19th century English novels. My header title comes from Murray’s introduction where she writes: the novel “reflects [Mary Taylor’s] lifelong advocacy of independence for women and her lifelong experience of women’s courage and sustaining friendships.”


An old photograph of Mary Taylor on an alpine expedition taken with friends in 1874: she is on the far left, age 57

I will leave it to my reader to click on Taylor’s name (above) to read Nick Holland’s short biography of Taylor. You will discover in Murray’s introduction a full life of Taylor’s teaching, rebellions, early traveling, time in New Zealand and long life in Yorkshire after she made enough money not to have to work. Ironically for all that she argued forcefully all women must work to become independent, as soon as she was able to stop all week long hour working in a business she created she quit — not to be idle, but to devote the rest of her life to reading and good causes — and travel and enjoyment with others. There are a number of characters and events that link Bronte’s Shirley to Mary Taylor’s life; nonetheless, Taylor severely criticized Bronte for her timidity in her books, for being coopted herself, for sacrificing herself to her father, and she did scold Charlotte in life. What is most poignant is that what emerges is the father was central to Charlotte’s choices for most of her life to self-erase, abase her talent, and sacrifice herself to him. Today we have a big chorus normalizing the man, making him ever so attractive, but here is another account which proves that Gaskell had it right.


The Red House, Taylor home in Gomersal (from In Search of Anne Bronte)

For other criticism, common readers’ voices, here is a sizable thread from “good reads”, where the central posting describes the book as original in its use of a bildingsroman for four young women, feminist, about women’s friendships, and morally intense. This prompts a number of postings by people responding well to the novel (one in Italian). It was written and rewritten over the course of Taylor’s life, so while it’s set in mid-century, the feel and attitudes of mind the book speaks to are those of century’s end, and is part of a series published by Oxford for the British Library, as by “female authors who enjoyed broad, popular appeal in their day.”

In a recent Times Literary Supplement, January 8, 2021 (p. 19), in “Tales of Hopeless Husbands”, Lucy Scholes writes charmingly about this series — of the intelligence, appeal and some of the common themes across these books. Scholes cites several and describes a few novels that sound very good, one by an author brought back by today’s feminism, May Sinclair, The Tree of Heaven; a number of Sinclair’s novels are still read, and are reprinted by Virago too, e.g., The Life of Harriet Frean). Another author in this series is E.H. Young’s Chatterton Square in which the secondary heroine is a spinster wholly dependent upon a (married) friend for their shared income — the friend passes as a widow and is thus respectable but in fact she is merely bravely separated from her husband. Young is still remembered for her Miss Mole and found in Virago and Persephone books. Scholes thinks the best of the fine books she is writing about Dorothy Evelyn Smith’s O the Brave Music. In a number of the books described we discover marrying a particular man (a bad choice) ruined the narrator’s (or heroines’) hopes for a fulfilling life. A rare gay one is Elizabeth Armin’s apparently lesser known Father (rain does fall in this book).

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

Taylor’s Miss Miles fits right in with the worlds captured in this British Library series. Eventually there emerge five distinctly different women characters, one, Miss Everard, somewhat older than the others so not part of the bildingsroman in quite the same way: they differ somewhat in class, nature, probably occupation (for all but one are intended to do something towards earning the family’s living and their own within the family), less so in age. However all five prove to be on the edge of economic disaster (and two topple over for a while, with one dying), their circumstances are different psychologically and sociologically:

Two of our heroines, Sarah or Miss Miles and Maria or Miss Bell, are strongly supported emotionally, intellectually and insofar as income will go, economically by family and close friends. Sarah is the daughter of two shopkeepers who encourage her musical talent; she must struggle with them to go to school,but they support many of her choices to become a servant (only for a while), to sing in a neighborhood choir (with young men) and then in the established church (they are dissenters) — though we see how obedient she is, and how they could thwart her. Maria, a Vicar’s daughter both of whose gentle intelligent parents die, leaving her with a small legacy with which she (against much disapproval and invented obstacles from the neighborhood and an uncle, Mr Turner, supposed to help her) opens a school. Dora Woodman’s mother, a widow, marries badly for a second time, and her husband, a brutal ignorant man, is partly responsible for her mother, his wife’s decline and death, with Dora left isolated, with no opportunity to learn manners, or to improve her skills from books or training of any kind. My heart felt deeply for Dora whose bearing and character slide down until late in the story her step-father’s death rescues her in the sense she must turn to Maria, come to live with her, who luckily at that point, has just enough to share and encourage her in a plan she has to become a lecturer (again against advice, which angers Maria).

The seemingly most privileged, Amelia Turner, a property owner’s delicately brought up daughter, engaged to a wealthy young man who pretends to share her genuine literary tastes, finds when her father, the same Mr Turner’s film goes broke for a while, she is forbidden to do anything to help support them or herself lest it should shame him or bring them down in status. It is she who is worn down by hostility in her family to her desire not to sit doing nothing, starving, pretending all is well, by the turning against her and dropping her of the still wealthy in the town; in this novel the decline and death of a female character is made believable by long experience of frustration, ostracizing, and desperation. Loneliness afflicts her, Dora, and Miss Everard, genteel in the manner of Amelia, whom we discover has been readily cheated by Turner for years since she was taught nothing about money and yet to fear to ask any male she feels dependent upon about her situation. Her class bias (snobbery) at once keeps her spirits up and estranges her from others who might help her; her pride keeps her alienated and supports her.


Roe Head School where Mary Taylor, Charlotte Bronte — and Ellen Nussey met and spent some of their years growing up together — schools gone to and the experiences had therein are enormously important in Miss Miles — and if a girl or boy does not go to school that is equally crucial to his future. At the same time we see how young adults do not at first understand why this “book” learning is so important until later in life …

Miss Miles has other female characters, several of whom figure importantly in the different stories as well as male characters who variously court, are friends with, help, or hinder our heroines: of especial importance, Sam Sykes, close to Sarah from childhood, who becomes Mr Turner’s partner for a while, is also cheated by him, but manages to escape the burden of debt that would have sunk him by selling the failing business and choosing another less prestigious trade; his sister, Harriet, who marries early on; they live close to the Miles family. Sydney Winde, part of this group of people just below gentility, a fine musician; Mr Branksome whom Maria becomes involved with (they write letters to one another); Mr Thelwal, who breaks the engagement with Amelia, and is a harsh creditor to her father. Mrs Overton and other wealthier county ladies; Mrs Dodds, a Vicar’s wife. A thorougly people world is built to represent Repton, and the West Riding around the town. I found myself utterly identifying with Taylor’s heroines in many of the scenes of social satire, and thought her text remarkably nuanced in exposing how people manipulate and put one another down, discourage, encourage, hurt in a variety of experiences. How people in power cannot always make up their minds to reveal vulnerability or need and so will puzzle those dependent on them for work or as educators.

One of people in our group wrote in to say:

I am actually quite engrossed by this novel and read ahead. What I like about the book is that it feels so raw and angry (note how often the word “anger“ is mentioned in the text). Yes, the writing is often clumsy and wooden but it does feel so honest. Taylor is grappling to find the right words to express how these girls are struggling in the world, how they are trying to find their place, protect those they love but ultimately cannot help (Dora and her mother – I could really relate to Dora – her helpless rage about her mother´s wrong decision in marrying this horrible man Woodman who just needs a housekeeper and his equally horrid, unkind, cruel sons). I really like this focus on women/mothers/girls and how they interact with one another. Also, it´s such a nice change not to have a love story lurking around the corner …

One of the themes of this book is there is more to life that makes it worth living than being monetarily successful or rising in rank. Yet one does need money — to back a school, to feed yourself, to pay what’s necessary for rent or taxes or loans. In one of the book’s turns, the world the characters live in suddenly becomes poorer — they do not understand the workings of this but they are many of the characters done in for a while or permanently by a depression. The key note is “There’s summat wrong somewhere,” repeated in variations, “There’s surely summat wrong when such as he wor cannot live,” just after a recitation ending in “He’s worked all his life, and couldn’t get on, an this is t’end on it!” The novel teaches that it is not an individual’s fault if he or she goes under and that after years of effort, you may well go under at any time. Taylor puts it this way for Sarah: she was “face to face with the great problem of existence, how was she to live.” Trollope makes light of women’s choices (marry the man and have two children and all will be well), thus dismissing the idea a woman has an individual existence, and will be responsible for herself when her husband fails, or leaves her, or dies. The narrator shows us how poverty leads to anti- or asocial behaviors — in desperation in phrases like “the fierce self-assertion that poverty makes necessary” (p. 175)

Another voice from our group:

” For me what stood out in this chapter was Sarah’s realization that despite years of hard work one could still end up poor, starving and dead. It’s definitely at odds with her longstanding goal of working hard which will naturally (in her mind) bring her wealth and happiness. It still seemed a shock when she said she would go into service like her sister. This reminds me of Gaskell’s novels where the working poor are disregarded by mill owners who don’t realize the extreme circumstances they live and die under. Here it is the government who is the culprit for not providing aid to hardworking people who face dire circumstances …”

Another: “I also found this chapter very powerful and felt deeply for Sarah as she asks if this is all there is to life. The singing and sense of community in the chapter help to dispel the gloom. I can’t help thinking this life was far gloomier than ours, as gloomy as life is right now in many ways, because they had less sources of entertainment, less connection outside their immediate community, less sense of overall hope for a chance to change their situation, and yet, I suspect they drew strength from the community in a way most of us don’t anymore.”

While there are bad and stupid people in Miss Miles, who make various individuals’ lives much worse (Mr Turner, Mr Thelwall, Mrs Overton), the situation itself is not attributed to specific individuals but implicitly to the whole system of money-making and trade. Gaskell also dramatizes how a crowd of people can emerge to demand the right not to starve, the right to make their gov’t improve their lives and works into her text the larger perspective of knowledgeable people — so explanations of what a strike is, a lockout, how pressing is wrong. Taylor tries to stay within in the level of understanding of her participants and she nowhere blackens them as a mob. She shows how hunger, loss, desperation brings people out because they do know there are authorities who can help them. Not only is “summat wrong,” there are ways to make it “right.” We see how chapel brings people together. Since her POV is a girl who would be forbidden to join and does join a march anyway we are so aware of how women aren’t wanted. They are told to go away. To this day many protests and demonstrations and mob scenes in the middle east are all men. No women obviously to be seen. We are witnessing these people educating themselves by protesting. In Mary Barton John Barton returned from London bitter and disillusioned from having tried to petition parliament (the chartist movement) but we do not experience the scene. Taylor includes this line about women: “for women to earn their own livings was almost impossible.” She is thinking of unmarried or separated or divorced or widowed women — women w/o men and unless in service cannot earn their own living. Maria’s school is not doing well. Sarah’s mother while overtly against her going on this march sympathizes with her when she does.


It seems to me closest in feel and story and class level to Miss Miles is Oliphant’s Kirsteen (subtitle: a Scots Story of Seventy Years Ago)

For me the qualified happy endings for all the characters but Amelia (and her bad father, Mr Turner, and a few others who die along the way) were convincing and satisfying. For example, the penultimate chapter “in which” Maria Bell rescues Miss Everard from starving in her cold flat; Miss Everard protests a little but soon is transferred to the house Maria has rented to serve as a school; a quietly Dickensian or maybe Gaskell-like scene follows as the two sup and eat by a fire together. Maria’s tutoring goes on, her small amount makes the difference as Miss Everard (who it turns out is owed money) becomes a sort of housekeeper. The chapter closes on Dora’s visit, with 5 pounds gift from her successful lecturing.

The book does end on two expected marriages. Sarah finally returns home from her various stints as servant, music teacher, companion, to find Sam returned from having chosen a failure that frees him to start afresh. Perhaps the scenes between them move too quickly, but we have much earlier in novel understood they are a pair and embedded in their intertwined family and chapel groups. But there will be no more invitations from the Overtons or the established church types for Sam and Sarah. I was reminded of Ross Poldark being told how he will now not be invited to upper class functions since he married his kitchen maid, Demelza. Ross: “Well I think I’ll survive it.” Our letter writing suitor, Branksome did have to persist, and here it’s telling that Maria never forgives him (but agrees to stop harping on it) for telling her to desert Dora (as beneath her). One of the women in our discussion did say (rightly) “the women were at odds with their future husbands, Maria more deservedly so I think. But within a flash, both admit their love and agree to marriage. Sammy and Sarah was interestingly without romantic language while Maria did admit she couldn’t live without Branksome and he declared he couldn’t/wouldn’t live without her”

“I don’t know how Amelia could have escaped the circumstances of her life. She had ideas of personal responsibility and work, but was too tied to her family structure and perhaps hadn’t the level of courage which Dora finally mustered that would have been required to leave home and make her own way. So I don’t know how the author could have resolved Amelia’s story except by her death. But it did remind me of the highly emotional withering away of other female characters, although typically for romantic reasons rather than being unable to pursue an ethical self-fulfillment.

The two outlier women, Dora and Miss Everard, seemed to represent the progress women have been making. Miss Everard totally ignorant of business which left her to be victimized by Turner for so many years versus Dora who has become a successful and independent career woman out in the world. Never could have guessed Dora’s outcome at the beginning of the novel.”

I responded that Sarah was presented all along as a pragmatic, phlegmatic type — a chip off her mother, whom she is not separated from. If there is less romance between our Sykes couple, by the book’s end there is already a little Sarah. Amelia’s is the tragedy of the book and perhaps that’s just right for it. Its deepest message is to keep women from working out their natures and capabilites and what is that in this world but often a job is to destroy them. In a deep way, unconsciously perhaps, Mary Taylor is defying gender fault-lines for understanding male and female characters. Men need to live emotionally fulfilling lives, and women need to be alive in the worlds of societies.

Taylor lacks the artistry of Oliphant and Gaskell — we see how she strains at the opening to introduce and to knit all her character groups together. She does not endow most of her characters with the learning Oliphant, Gaskell do — and of course Eliot and the Brontes both (not Emily). Perhaps also Gaskell is at times as angry at conditions for the poor or average person as Taylor is — as in heer North and South (remember Mr Higgins whose solutions are given respect, credence).


From the 2004 BBC North and South (Sandy Welch, Brian Perceval), Mr Higgens (Brendan Coyle)

I wish Miss Miles were a book one could assign in an OLLI but it cannot be. One cannot find enough readily available affordable copies and it lacks the prestige that would persuade the ordinary reader to try it.

Ellen

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A Bridge Party by Barbara Loftus (1995?)


From A Woman in Berlin (Anonyma), Nina Hoss, Evgeniy Sidikhin, Irm Hermann (German, Max Färberböck 2008)

A Syllabus

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Ten Mondays, 11:45 to 1:15 pm,
March 1 to May 3
4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW. Washington DC, but conducted online via zoom

Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course: 20th Century Women’s Political Novels

We’ll travel across 20th century wars, politics, and social life in fiction and memoir: Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September (1929), about an Anglo-Irish household during the 1920s civil wars; Olivia Manning’s The Great Fortune (1960), on the fascist take-over of Rumania in 1939; Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time (1975), her experience paranoic McCarthy era, 1950s USA; and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), African-American experiences of life in early to mid-century America. We’ll learn of the authors; the woman’s perspective on earlier and today’s era. There are numerous excellent films which connect directly to these books; I cite a number (below) that people may profit from by watching on their own: of these, two are film adaptations of our books:  1999 Deborah Warner’s adaptation, The Last September; 1987 the first two hours of Alan Plater & Cellan Jones BBC serial film adaptation of Manning’s Balkan Trilogy titled The Fortunes of War.

Required books (in the order we’ll read them):

Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September. Anchor, 2000 978-0-386-72014-4.

Olivia Manning, The Great Fortune and The Spoilt City (the 1st & 2nd of the 3 novels called The Balkan Trilogy) available separately, but I have them in the more much more frequently printed The Balkan Trilogy. Penguin 1974. You get three for what you pay and the novels become more brilliant as they go on. The URL for this older print is 0-14-010996-X. The trilogy has been recently reprinted with the dual Title, The Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy, introd. by Rachel Cusk. Penguin, 2010. 978-1-59017331-1. Both printings have the same pagination for the text.

Lillian Hellman. Scoundrel Time, introd Garry Wills. Little, Brown 1976. This same edition is available reprinted in 2000. The old URL is 0-316-35294.

Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye. Vintage, 1970. 978-0-307-27844-9.


Bowen’s Court, now pulled down

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

March 1 Introduction: A kind of novel, historical as well as political & about war; when written by women; 4 era. Using film. Contrasting memoirs & fantasy dystopias: Marta Hiller’s A Woman in Berlin (gang-rape); Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth (nursing); Virginia Woolf, Storm Jameson, Naomi Mitchison (polemicists, home front stories). Elizabeth Bowen’s life, oeuvre. Irish War of Independence and Civil War

March 8 Elizabeth Bowen’s life and writing. Bowen’s The Last September

March 15 The Last September. The Two Bowen films. Fascism, fascist take over of Romania.

March 22 Olivia Manning’s life, oeuvre. More on women’s writing about war. Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.

March 29 The Great Fortune and The Spoilt City. Other women writers at war, at the end of the empire

April 5 1987 BBC Serial, The Fortunes of War Lillian Hellman, with something of Dashiell Hammett. Their careers.

April 12 Her memoirs, Scoundrel Time. Something of her plays. Movies available: Watch on the Rhine, The Little Foxes.

April 19 Julia? Black history in the US; Black authors; Toni Morrison’s life & career. The Bluest Eye.

April 26 The Bluest Eye. Her later novels & books. The African diaspora

May 3 The Pieces that I Am. Women’s 20th century historical & mystery/spy novels.


Guy and Harriet Pringle (Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson) with Prince Yakimov (Ronald Pickup) in the Pringle Flat (Fortunes of War, end episode)


From Julia, Lillian Hellman (Jane Fonda) and Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards) going over Autumn Garden (1977)

Suggested Films:

The Heat of the Day. Dir Christopher Morahan. Script: Harold Pinter. Perf. Michael Gambon, Patricia Hodge, Michael York &c. 1989. Available as DVD to rent, buy from Amazon, and as a whole on YouTube.
The Last September. Dir. Deborah Warren. Script: John Banville. Perf. Fiona Shaw, Keeley Hawes, David Tennant, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, &c. 1999. Available as DVD from Netflix or to buy on Amazon. Also found on YouTube in 10 minute segments.
The Little Foxes. Dr William Wyler. Script: Lillian Helmann. Perf. Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, Teresa Wright &c MGM, 1941. Amazon prime. DVD to buy.
The Fortunes of War. Dir. John Cellan Jones. Script: Alan Plater. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Ronald Pickup, Alan Bennet, Rupert Graves &c. 1987. Right now available as a DVD Region 2 to buy and on YouTube in 7 segments.
Michael Collins. Dir. Script. Neil Jordan. Perf. Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Julia Roberts. 1996. Available on Amazon Prime, as a DVD on Netflix to rent and on Amazon as a DVD to buy. As a DVD it comes with a documentary by Melvyn Bragg, very much worth the watching.
Watch on the Rhine. Dir. Herman Shulmin. Script: Hellman and Hammett. Perf. Bette Davis, Paul Lukas, Lucile Watson, Donald Woods &c 1943 Warner Bros. Amazon Prime and a DVD to buy.
Julia. Dir. Fred Zinnemann. Script: Hellman and Alvin Sergeant. Perf. Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robarts, Maximillian Schell, Meryl Strep &c 1977 20thC Fox. DVD to buy or to rent on Netflix. Also complete on YouTube
Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Dir. Jonathan Miller. Perf Benjamin Whitlow, Charles Gray, Anton Lesser, Suzanne Burden &c. BBC, 1981. DVD to rent from Netflix, available as (scarce) DVD.
The Pieces that I am. Dir. Timothy Greenfield-Saunders. Perf. Toni Morrison, Hilton Als, Ophrah Winfrey, Angela Davis, Walter Moseley &c 2019 Perfect Day Films. Amazon Prime, DVD on Netflix or to buy.


Lillian Hellman, 1947, Photograph by Irving Penn

Suggested Outside Reading:

Austenfeld, Thomas Carl. American Women Writers and the Nazis: Ethics & Politics in Boyle, Porter, Stafford and Hellman. University of Va, 2001.
Bowen, Elizabeth. Collected Impressions. NY: Knopft, 1950.
Caute, David. The Great Fear: The Anti-communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower. NY: Simon and Shuster, 1978.
David, Deirdre. Olivia Manning: A Woman at War. Oxford UP, 2012.
Foster, R.F. Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish and English History. London, Penguin, 1993.
Glendinning, Victoria. Elizabeth Bowen: A Biography. NY: Knopft, 1977.
Johnson, Diane. Dashiell Hammett: A Life. NY: Random House, 1983.
Lee, Hermione. Elizabeth Bowen: An Estimation. London: Vintage, 1999.
Kessler-Harris, Alice. Lillian Hellman: A Difficult Woman. NY: Bloomsbury Press, 2012
Lassner, Phyllis; British Women Writers of World War II. London: Palgrave, 1998; Colonial Strangers: Women Writing the End of Empire. NJ: Rutgers, 2004.
O’Reilly, Andrea. Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart. State University of NY, 2004
Martinson, Deborah. Lillian Hellman: A Life with Foxes and Scoundrels. NY: Counterpoint, Perseus Books Group, 2005.
Patten, Eve. Imperial Refugee: Olivia Manning’s Fictions of War. Cork UP, 2011.
Roymon, Tessa. The Cambridge Introduction to Toni Morrison. Cambridge UP, 2012.
Staley, Thomas. Twentieth Century Women Novelists. Barnes & Noble, 1982.
Theweleit, Klaus. Male Fantasies, trans from German by Stephen Conway. 2 volumes. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 1987. A study of fascism.


A recent photo, from The Pieces That I am

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John Opie (1761-1807)’s portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, circa 1797

Let us recall that 5% of the modern artists in the Art section of the Metropolitan museum are women, but 85% of the nudes are female … (See protest at Tate museum)

Friends,

It seems that any remembrance of Mary Wollstonecraft since her tragic early death from childbirth is  destined  to do her a disservice, e.g., how William Godwin’s loving memoir of her full reality in life became the basis of centuries of castigating disdain and rejection. But Joan Smith is spot on to say of the perhaps well-meant monument to her by Maggi Hambling, placed in Newington Green, London, it is “exceptionally obtuse:” “she was vilified for having sex outside marriage, causing her enormous anguish. The decision to portray her in an ahistorical & heavily sexualised way feels like adding insult to injury.”

Here is an enlarged photo. Click on the image and it’ll fill your screen.

It looks like a super-gilded ornament for the hood of a super-expensive automobile. Why this tiny toy-like object on top of a distorted plinth? The silver puts me in mind of the second suitor for the hand of Portia in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. It could also be a trophy, it’s the right size and feel for an Oscar given out at extravaganzas. Woman as trophy.  An action figure.  Have we not yet moved beyond an idea that the way to present a woman as woman is a sexualized body? No idealization or remoteness here: closely presented nipples  on realistic breasts (of course high ones — hanging breasts have long been a no-no in men’s imaginary) — and thick pubic hair.

Mary Wollstonecraft herself would been mortified, felt deeply humiliated. At no point did she come out for anything like promiscuous behavior. She was badly hurt by a partner, Imlay’s sexual treachery towards her. She loved the domestic life with her baby daughter, Fanny. Pride, self-esteem, dignity, education were what she was after for women. Is that no consideration? I grant many women have been renamed since the 1970s but I am among those who feel uncomfortable at the re-naming of someone who in her life was Ann Kingsmill Finch, Countess of or Lady Winchilsea to Anne Finch (the “e” was added by Myra Reynolds; Ann’s signature shows she spelt her name “Ann”). This is to change their identity.

A silver toy does not reflect Wollstonecraft’s identity. It is regrettable that Wollstonecraft should be so misremembered or misconstrued. She could have at least been granted the accoutrements of her trade: we see these generals on horses, in their uniforms complete with guns and horses. So why not a desk, pens, bronze depictions of paper? There are appealing depictions of dozens of women writers in drawings, paintings: one of my favorites is a photograph of Edith Wharton.

How unfortunate there was a campaign, and the result something so unlike the above. Now we could say the absurdity of monuments and lack of a dignified vocabulary for women is exposed, but I suggest better to pull it down, replace it or say she does not need to be Peter Panned. To my mind the tradition of turning people into statues is immediately susceptible to unexamined admiration, mockery (in this case), and use in ideological promotions.

People have spoken of mythic statues of heroes (Michelangelo’s David) but the giant David is not a real person in recent history, not a specific woman who really lived. He’s a Biblical figure about whom we know nothing for real. Mary Wollstonecraft left letters, journals, and is admired and is important for what she wrote out of her inner life and published especially her feminist tract vindicating the rights of woman. Michelangelo’s statue is also thoroughly idealized.

The context for Wollstonecraft is that of a real woman seeking to be respected as an independent person and that includes decades and hundreds of years of the kind of hypocrisy underlying Kenneth Clarke’s famous book on nudes (I’m with Mary Beard in her program about the “nude”), of the valuing of women as sex objects for men to enjoy, have babies from, be nurses for them.

I have more than once presented a statue of Jane Austen by Adam Roud found today in by Nicholas Church in the Chawton House Library grounds.

For me her love of walking, the rich vivacity of her imagination, the strength of her body, an independence of mind are all caught up in this attempt at semi-realism

By way of contrast, I add to that a recent life-size statue of Virginia Woolf by Laury Dizengremel, which was having trouble finding a place, has now received thousands of pounds, a reaction of members of the public to the Wollstonecraft monstrosity.

Dare I suggest that Hambling made a naked silver representation of a woman because it would catch attention; Dizengremel’s subdued tasteful depiction of Woolf in reverie, contemplative, relaxed, smiling (the way she is sometimes seen in photographs) was getting nowhere.

Perhaps I should file this under perverse sexual politics.

Ellen

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