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Archive for the ‘women’s memoirs’ Category


Amelia Workman as Jane Anger


Talene Monahan as Anne Hathaway

Gentle friends and readers,

Talene Monahan’s Jane Anger is not a great play; after an initial superbly delivered monologue by Workman as Anger in front of a stage-size title page (Jane Anger), we (or I) was puzzled to be confronted by a farcical and static treatment of an apparently arrogant callow Shakespeare (Michael Urie) and his newly hired servant, Francis (Ryan Spahn) acting out a (to me) senseless comic routine worthy Jack Benny and his valet, Rochester (Eddie Anderson).  Remember him? Rochester was superb in his way and so too in this same raunchy sycophantic yet self-assertive way Spahn.  We learn that poor Will is experiencing writer’s block over an apparently plagiarized King Lear, that there is a previous version of this Celtic legend in a book Will is copying from. Perhaps we were to surmise Francis is gay.  This play makes great visual hay with Shakespeare’s sonnets which are addressed to a young man Will is in love with and a dark lady.

This took a lot of time, but somehow I felt this play wasn’t going anywhere and couldn’t figure out what we the audience were there for, even if (as we were reminded) below the room through a window we were made to feel a mob in the streets experiencing plague, and remember many doors were X’d.  Then suddenly climbs up and over the window sill, Jane. She is dressed wholly in black with a Venetian style bird mask.

The character, Jane Anger (her pseudonym) is modelled on a woman who lived and wrote one of the earliest feminist defenses of women. Monahan wrote the play during time of plague, our own, Covid-19, in 2020 (see Thomas Floyd’s story of the origins of the play).  The central life of the play is provided by the extraordinary performance of Amelia Workman who presents herself as a survivor in the “soft power” working class mode, laundress, prostitute, barmaid, whatever fell to hand (cook?), and has come to Will to ask him to sign her pamphlet, for without his signature she will never be able to persuade any printer to print her polemic. It quickly emerges she and Will have been sexual partners; she has a kind of rival in Francis (so my speculation about the sonnets has some evidence), and these three proceed to squabble until interrupted by drama’s fourth player, Anne Hathaway, also seemingly climbing up and over the window sill. Monahan plays the part in a stylized “bright comic” mode.

Colleen Kennedy has done justice to the tone and quality of the dialogue. Though it’s not quite as hilarious as Kennedy makes out, the characters discuss the plague (with obviously modern allusions thrown out), play-making, and become physically aggressive.  It is in the mode of other more brilliant crude riffs on masterpieces, history (as told seriously), and issues of the day. We witness how the men treat the women with contempt, and how they and Francis take out an almost embarrassing revenge on a thoroughly dislikable Will: he shows himself to be idle, lazy, a plagiarist who sneers at his long-suffering wife (left at home to cope with the children, one of whom died at age 11 or so). There was hearty spontaneous laughter at the slapstick, of which there is a good deal more; the use of sprayed blood all over a supposed painting of Shakespeare as backdrop especially.  Both Will’s arms are hacked off, as his penis (mockingly), which is thrown about. So the old banana routine really works. The language was as demotic as I have seen it in crude costume dramas on Starz (lots of reiterations of the word “fucking”) but this did not seem to bother the audience. Of course all the old rumors and printed words are rehearsed, including how Will left Anne the second best bed. Early on we had heard a lot about the dark lady; now the question is, was she Anne?  Anne claims this.  Spahn managed to dominate the stage and for that matter the whole theater when the actors turn to include the audience in their conscious antics. Spahn gave out photos of himself and told us that he was looking for an agent.

I admit to feeling disconcerted by this utterly irreverent emasculating of someone all of whose plays I have read, as well as the poetry (the sonnets form part of what is quoted from Shakespeare’s works) – and loved and respected very much.


The pair of men as morons

I like to remember John Heminge and Henry Condell, the friends who worked so magnificently to produce the astonishing first folio and professed themselves worried lest we not understand and appreciate their beloved noble-hearted colleague. So this was a low point in the proceedings for me.

But the play picked up when Will leaves the room in order to work for real on his coming play (I don’t remember what happened to Francis), and we were left with Hathaway and Anger. Why it took so long and was in comparison with the rest of the play so short I know not but the last twenty or so moments of this play had these two women telling each other of their lives. The death of Hamnet brought in earlier to point out how Shakespeare has not come home to see them die was now recounted. The friend whom I was with told me some of the lines were taken from Maggie O’Farrell’s sequel historical novel, Hamnet.  So now maybe I should buy that and read it.  And finally Anne reads aloud Jane’s pamphlet and (I was once, still am, an early modern literature scholar) it seemed to a real Elizabethan text was being read:

This was (I felt) the high point in the proceedings; the men did return, inexplicably chastened, and a quiet mood of respect for the previously silent and dismissed women ended the play.

It has been played elsewhere and I gather there is hope for other stage productions. This one is directed by Jess Chaynes. Other people could choose to do it differently. So I’d say if you are living near this or another production, or there is a video made of the play and it is eventually streamed on the Internet, Monahan’s play is very much worth sitting through.

Ellen

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Ghazaleh Hedayat (2008)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m honored today to have as a guest blogger M. Mansur Hashemi’s essay, “‘Do you hear their hair?’: About a piece of conceptual art” as translated by Fatemeh Minaei

Three months ago, a protest movement began in Iran. It was instigated by the tragic death of a young girl (Mahsa-Zhina Amini) while detained by the “morality police” who arrested her for not dressing according to the rules of compulsory hijab. The media echoed the event that moved the nation in the name of “woman, life, freedom”.

The following is a translation of a Persian writing that reflects some debates over hijab. It was written about nine years ago highlighting the problem through an interpretation of a work created by an Iranian female artist. The author has written other detailed articles criticizing the mandatory hijab, in which he has predicted the present situation in Iran. But this short poetic writing on an artwork (created by Ghazaleh Hedayat) extracts the essence of the matter. Naturally, the discussed conceptual art can be interpreted in various ways. The author has put it in the context of two bans in Iran, trying to emphasize the complexities of a social conflict. A conflict manifested now in the violent confrontations between the government and persevering teens and youth who fight for their freedom.­ Fatemeh Minaei, 2022 December.

***

Imagine the broad plane of a wall. From a distance, you might miss it. But if you look closely, you will see nails. Eight nails, to be exact. Getting closer, you will see the eight iron nails connected by four strands of hair. You feel a tension between the stiffness of the nails against the tender strands of hair. It looks as if the strands are chained to the wall. You hear the daunting sound of a hammer that heightens that feeling. But, with all their fragility, the strands of hair are there. They are not destroyed, despite the collusion between the hammer and nails. They are stretched on the hard surface and this tautness on the broad area, this being tied to the iron nails, enhances their presence.

The strings on a musical instrument are stretched on it and tied to its body, just as those hair strands are tied to the wall. Nevertheless, the very tied-up strings make the unrestricted sound of the music. Those four strands of hair are like strings on the wall. We do not even need to hear any sound those imaginary strings would make. We’ll hear them as soon as we take a look. Apparently, the strands of hair are not supposed to be visible. But they are. Just as for a while, under the new Islamic regime in Iran, musical instruments were not supposed to be seen. Showcases got cleared from any musical instrument. Yet the sound kept on coming out from behind the veils the government ordered. Music survived. It survived until one day the musical instruments came back to the windows and now the only place the musical instruments are not seen is on the Islamic regime’s TV. However, musical instruments are not for watching; they are to be heard. And their sound, the music they create, is now filling up even the official broadcastings of the regime. So seems to be the state for the sound of the locks that were supposed to not be heard. Now the sound that sneaks out from under the slipping scarves can no longer be ignored. The sound of the objecting strands of hair that display themselves despite the morality police, despite the violent surroundings. The veil is no longer working.

A piece of conceptual art sometimes represents a situation not easy to express otherwise. “The Sound of My Hair” by Ghazaleh Hedayat (pictured below) can be interpreted as a representation of a situation. A metaphorical visual translation of a conflict.

I grew up in a pious family and spent my childhood mostly in mosques and Islamic schools. So, I understand how much symbolic that ‘sound’ can become. I feel the taboos and their dreadful power. The imposed patriarchal mentality puts unbearable pressure on a religious man. His mind gets overwhelmed by obsessions that are extremely hard to overcome.

People raised outside the religious stratum of Islamic societies would never comprehend the Hijab issue. Just like the issue of music being impermissible (Haram), sounds being sinful, or musical instruments being devices of ‘libidinous pleasure’, makes no sense to them. The hair of Iranian girls and women not raised in religious families is covered by the force of the regime rules. Just as decades ago, a patriarchal government (ruled by Reza Shah) unveiled the hair of religious Iranian women by force because of a shallow understanding of modernity. The value of individual freedom is missed in both cases. And since the logic of force is not convincing, it was and is doomed to fail.

Now the times are changing. Besides women forced to have hijab or those who chose hijab for a while under the influence of the Zeitgeist, nowadays, even many Iranian girls from religious families prefer not to cover their hair. In an ironic turn of events that can be called, in the words of Hegel, “die List der Vernunft” (the cunning of reason), those girls participated in civic life because the Islamic regime prepared the circumstances their families required, and now they do not see the need for veils.

When you wander in the streets of Iranian cities now, it will be strange if you don’t hear the sound of the strands of hair that want to get free. To get their voice heard despite the repressive surroundings. That reminds me of the interpretable work of Ghazaleh Hedayat. She has visualized a situation that I am sure will continue to cause a stir in our society for a long time. The issue is as complicated and intricate as that work of art: The Sound of My Hair.

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

Women’s Rights Activist on Protests Sweeping Iran, the Intensifying Gov’t Crackdown & Executions:

https://www.democracynow.org/2022/12/15/iran_protests_sussan_tahmasebi

Sussan Tahmahsebi:

Over nearly 500 people have been killed — 480, I think, is the last figure that the Human Rights Activists Network reported. Sixty-eight of them are children who have been killed. And the majority of those who have been killed — I mean, at least 50% of those who have been killed are from ethnic minority regions, Kurdish areas and Balochi areas. In Balochistan, just in one day, on Black Friday, which was September 30th, 103 people were shot dead. These were peaceful protesters leaving Friday prayers. And most of them were shot in the back, running away from bullets that the police were shooting at them.

Now, as you mentioned, the violence has reached a new level, where protesters are being sentenced to death. They’re being charged with enmity with God or waging war against God, and they’re being sentenced to death in these sham trials that, you know, don’t take very long, where people are not afforded — allowed to have access to their lawyers. And it’s extremely concerning …

On the women’s reproductive rights front: “How quickly anti-abortion activists abandon plans never to be punitive: demand jail time for “pill trafficking:”

https://tinyurl.com/2fzsvd6a

But it is true that the democrats’ solid wins in many states and for many offices, and putting into state constitutions women’s rights to autonomy, care, and choices over their bodies show who in the US are also in the majority

Posted by 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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Amanda Vickery expatiating on a group of 18th century letters and what they reveal

Dear Friends and Readers,

Last May I announced that I would be going (once again) to the East Central region meeting of the American 18th century Society and that a proposal for a paper I was going to write over the summer had been accepted. Well I did write said paper this past August, but as bad luck would have it — and my own inabilities in the area of driving and traveling — I was prevented from going. This is not the first time this has happened since Jim died. See my Jane Austen and the Arts blog, the paper Ekphrastic Patterns in Austen

So this evening I’m going to share the paper that came to be called Jane Austen and Anne Finch in Manuscript and Manuscript Culture Today.

It’s on academia.edu under Conference Presentations as too long to put into a blog.

I know that central to the fun of delivering a paper is conveying to living people one’s work, seeing their responses on their faces and the conversation afterwards. I’ve had a sort of substitute. A good friend, Rory O’Farrell, read the paper and this is part of the conversation we had via email letters:

Your Anne Finch paper was interesting. I quite agree with the necessity of reverting to the original documents wherever possible. In the case of the Calendar of medieval documents I was recently using, I examined some of the online images of specific documents in the calendar, and noted minor occasional omissions on the part of the preparer of the calendar (done pre 1950), often on partially legible or earlier erased entries. It occurs to me that, with modern lighting (ultra-violet and or infra red) and modern high resolution cameras, that document should be re-assessed, as some of the 1950 indecipherable comments/entries might easily resolve using such modern equipment and add a little to the story therein set out.

Thank you on the Anne Finch paper. I don’t know what people might have discussed; but one is the distance between the electronic facsimile and the actual manuscript. I’m willing to say little is lost because it’s so hard to reach real manuscripts, but modern publications or editions of these ms’s (like the one published by Cambridge of AF, or these new Cambridge volumes of Austen ms’s) won’t do — for the reasons I outline. Thank you for this.

Then the other day in one of my classes on Anthony Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset and Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife and The Choir (Barsetshire Then and Now), I brought into class my very ancient-looking and battered 1867 pirated American copy of The Last Chronicle, which contains almost all George Housman Thomas’s original illustrations. They asked me had I ever seen a manuscript of Trollope’s and what did it look like? did he make many corrections? I said I had never seen any of Trollope’s manuscripts, only read descriptions of them, and it would seem that we mostly have fair copies his wife created from his working papers; those more immediate copies we have show he did change his plans as to who would be central or a secondary character, and the manuscript of the 4 volume version of The Duke’s Children (now at Yale) showed many revisions as he cut it down. But in general from what we can see, it would seem that Trollope trained himself to write quickly a copy that would not be all that changed the next day and then add on to that at the rate of 250 new words a day.

But over my life I had seen many manuscripts from early modern women (Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara), and worked specifically with Anne Murray, Lady Halkett (17th century Scots royalist spy), editions of the journals and letters of Fanny Burney (I wrote reviews) and seen the manuscripts or manuscript facsimiles of all the work of Anne Finch and much of Jane Austen. I told them about some of what is in this paper, and much to my surprise they asked questions about manuscripts authors left. I told them the story of Walter Scott’s manuscripts and how around the time of the Regency period, attitudes towards manuscripts changed: before then, writers tended to destroy them. They were in effect devoured in the printing process. After, they were documents whereby you could trace the original intentions of the author, get near to the author in the most close way possible.

Thinking about this, the people’s interest in manuscripts should not have surprised me. It’s part of this change of attitude begun in the 19th century and going stronger than ever so that we have exhibits in museums of artists’ first and continuing sketches, stages in the process, leading towards the final great item seen as the finished work.


A later 20th century edition of the Wellesley manuscript


The Sanditon manuscript

It was great fun doing this paper as it was many of the others I’ve done over the years, most recently, A Woman and Her Box: Space and Identity in Austen. While the early ones are on my website, since Jim’s death I’ve put a number of those on academia.edu and all since his death there (conference papers; reviews).

It is sad not to have gone as these were people whom I’ve regarded as genuine friends, but I know my ability to drive continues to diminish:  I cannot drive in the night was part of the reason I decided not to go. The aggressive and dictatorial social and political world of the US grows more restrictive and punitive: I don’t know that I could get through the computer machines in airports where there are so few hired employees to help people and customs is overtly hostile: I have actually been pulled over 3 times by TSA people who act as silent tyrants. So I will have to go less and less. With inflation, the cost begins to bite into my income and savings more.

It is an ill wind that does nobody any good: I am looking forward to more sheerly pleasurable reading, projects where I would not produce a paper (Italian studies, Anglo-Indian studies) and eventually a book-length study (at long last) of the Poldark and Outlander romance fiction and films.


Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) walking back from vase gazing in Inverness, Halloween time (Outlander S1, E1)


Our first look at Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis) as by coach he rides towards Nampara, Cornwall (Poldark 1:1)

Ellen

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This photo is dated 2000 — Barbara Ehrenreich


Hilary Mantel, Weekend Oxford Literary Festival, April 1, 2017, Oxford, England.

Friends and readers,

I want to record the passing of two more important women in our era (Elizabeth Windsor was important for what she was), these two important for themselves as individuals:  Mantel for her masterly writing (fiction, non-fiction, life-writing), her accurate understanding of the nature of history, of social-psychological life, her polemics (especially when she exposed the inhumanity of many medical establishments), her feminism; she was a humane and truthful poet, thinker, creator; Ehrenreich for her political vision, her many books and political activity on behalf of the impoverished, vulnerable, her forays into historical realities, as writer and also as thinker. Both were strong feminists.

I first became aware of Mantel as writer of columns and diary entries for London Review of Books when she told of her agony and mistreatment at the hand of the British National Health, then the most insightful piece of writing I’ve ever come across about anorexia, “Girls Want Out.” These led me to her contemporary novels: I’ve still not forgotten Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, and I was so taken by her autobiography, I wrote my first blog about her, on Giving Up the Ghost. I’ve loved historical fiction since I was in my earliest teens and was bowled over by her Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

Mantel was able to write such brilliant historical fiction because she had thought hard and deeply about history: see her The Reith Lectures. She delved the gothic, seances, mediums (Beyond Black). Her Catholic background (and breaking away from it altogether) lies behind some of the themes of her work and also her “take” on Sir Thomas More. She took unusual angles on life (from most people) and made us see earlier eras and movements from the point of view of people central to but before her ignored or misunderstood (e.g. A Place of Greater Safety). I admit that her work can be uneven; she can go over the top in comic highjinks and miss her target; she could write woodenly. But part of this was she dared to ignore conventions, norms of writing and what we are supposed to feel. She was original. I taught Wolf Hall twice. I like Larissa MacFarquar’s essay on her Life with Ghosts. Mary Robertson is the important early modern scholar who began the change in attitudes towards Cromwell; to Robertson Mantel dedicated Wolf Hall; here are her memories of Mantel.

I found Mantel’s tone of mind deeply appealing. I feel sad when I think how young she was and how much more she could have written.

Barbara Ehrenreich I read for the first time as a crucial voice in 2nd wave feminism, I saw her as a socialist feminist. She was active as a journalist in projects to encourage working women to tell their own stories. I found her Nickel and Dimed electrifying — really — and taught it twice.

Her Witches, Midwives and Nurses is an important book about misogynistic exploitative attitudes towards women. Like Mantel was consistently, when Ehrenpreis was interested, she was profound scholar. In her obituary essay on her, Katha Pollitt (The Nation) quotes Rebecca Solnit’s choice of a quotation from Nickel and Dimed, In Memoriam.

As a response to Pollitt’s obituary (published under her name), I confide today every other week at 7:10am in the morning pay for 3 Hispanic women to come to my house and industriously clean for 75 minutes.  Cards on the table.  Right now also I teach for free, and most of my life I worked for a wage (as an adjunct lecturer) that I could not have lived on.  I lived on my husband’s salary and mine made our lives together more comfortable, helped put my daughters through college and (for Izzy) graduate school.  I don’t think of myself as “an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else;” rather most of my life I was badly exploited, angry, and maimed in my self-esteem. I remember being put off now and again wonder if Ehrenpreis was a little too optimistic and assumed other women could be as strong as she was in some of her political rhetoric.

Nevertheless, Ehrenpreis wrote books like Bait and Switch, how the delusions of an American Dream as if this idyllically wealthy way of life were available to all destroyed people; Blood Rites is about (as the subtitle tells you) the origins and history of the passions of war She too (like Mantel) early on exposed the hypocrisy of the medical establishment. I remember somewhere she wrote about the hatred men and some women have towards allowing women access to contraception. There are numerous areas where she and Mantel write from the same perspective.

I find this wikipedia article very good. Here is a tribute from Amy Goodman at DemocracyNow.org/. Listen to Ehrenreich speak. The world needs people like her fighting for other people.

I’ve listed my blogs on Mantel in the comments.

Ellen

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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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Summer Syllabus

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Tuesdays, 1:45 to 3:15 am,
June 7 – June 28
4 sessions In person, 4801 Massachusetts Ave, NW, DC
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course: 1610: Retelling Traditional History & Tales from an Alternative POV

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in the Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Irish Origo (a British-Italian biographer and memoir-writer, and literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking charge of her estates in Tuscany during the war. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author who won numerous German literary-political prizes) tells the story of Troy from Cassandra’s point of view, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet. The second book was written after the war was over and after a trip the author took to Greece. The immediate context for both books is World War Two; long range, they are anti-war (a particular aim in Cassandra is nuclear disarmament): they tell history from a woman’s standpoint; one grandular life-writing, autobiography; the other myth in novel form.

During the time covered by Origo’s diary, she takes in and creates a school for 23 refugee children; she and her husband hide partisans, and protect various disconnected endangered people; a real problem is the German disproportionate and terrifying reprisals & their dropping of landmines everywhere across Italy. So one BBC serial (1979), Danger UXB, we will discuss is made up of a story of a bomb disposal unit and I may suggest watching a couple of episodes (TBA); among other parts of her life, Christa Wolf was coerced into becoming an informant for the Stasi, so I will suggest people to see the powerful film, The Lives of Others directed and written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck by the fourth week of term; the heroine’s story is said to be partly based on Christa Wolf.

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

Origo, Iris. War in the Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, introd. Virginia Nicholson. NY: NY Review of Books Classics, 2017.
Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays, trans. from German Jan Van Heurck. NY: Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1984.

Note: War in the Val D’Orcia has not been out of print since it was first published in 1947; there are a couple of other editions, which could cost less, but this one has an introduction, notes and photos. Cassandra also has not been out of print since first published (1983, German) but this is the only edition; what’s happened is there are editions of just Cassandra available (same translator) but you miss a lot about the book if you don’t read the four afterpieces, two travelogues, one diary, and some thoughts on the book and other 20th century European women writers.


Iris Origo in later life


Christa Wolf, 2007 (Berlin)

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

June 7: Introduction: Iris Origo (life & writing); the diary in context of WW2. The first half or 1943. Reprisals and landmines.

June 14: The second half or 1944. The “round-up” of Jews. We’ll end session on her earlier diary, A Chill in the Air, an Italian War Diary, 1939-40; her essays on fascism (build-up in Italy); other people’s diaries of this era, e.g, Norman Lewis, Naples ’44; Eva Figes, Little Eden, A Child at War.

June 21: Christa Wolf (life & work). Cassandra and Four Essays, in context of the Aeneid story, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Euripides’ Trojan Women, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. The novel, Cassandra.

June 28: The four essays, especially two travel books and diary. We’ll end session on The Lives of Others: what is life like in an autocratic society (Wolf’s Patterns of Childhood), under fascism. How historical novels set in other eras retell WW2.


An actress playing Cassandra from recent translation of Aeschylus’s The Oresteia, as translated by Robert Fagles

A bibliography: books on and by the two women; other WW2 diaries; sources for classical history; other alternative tellings of history & myth

Barker, Pat. The Silence of the Girls. NY:  Doubleday, 2018.
Du Maurier, Daphne. The King’s General, introd. Julie Picardie. 1946; rpt. London, Virago, 2006. Historical fiction retells history of seige of Menabilly and war in Cornwall 17th century.
Duras, Marguerite. The War: A Memoir, trans. Barbara Bray. NY: Pantheon, 1986.
Feder, Lillian. A Handbook of Classical Literature. 1964; rpt NY: Da Capo, 1998. Very accessible.
Figes, Eva. Little Eden: A Child at War. NY: Persea, 1978.
———–. The Seven Ages [of Women]. NY: Pantheon, 1986. Fantasy retelling of all history in England, from Neolithic to 20th century by unfamous central women types (e.g. midwives, one is an aristocratic woman, Lady Brilliana Harvey who really held out in 17th century siege of her castle-like manor house)
Finley, M. I The World of Odysseus. Middlesex, Eng: Penguin, 1954; rpt 1984; and Ancient History: Evidence and Models. NY: Viking Penguin, 1987.
Finney, Gail. Christa Wolf. Boston: Twayne, 2010. Short biography and survey of her writings.
Holden, Inez. Blitz Writing: Night Shift and It was Different at the Time, ed Kristin Bluemel. 1941; rpt. London: Handheld, 2017.
Lewis, Norman. Naples ’44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy. NY: Carroll & Graf, 1978
Lochhead, Liz. Medea: After Euripides. London: Nick Hern, 2000; rpt. Glasgow: Theater Babel, 2007.
Moorehead, Caroline. Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val d’Orcia: A Biography. Boston: Godine, 2002.
Nightingale, Florence. Cassandra, introd. Myra Stark, epilogue Cynthia Macdonald. NY: Feminist Press, 1979.
Origo, Iris. A Chill in the Air, An Italian War Diary, 1939-40. introd. Lucy Hughes-Hallett. NY: NY Review of Books classic, 2017.
———–. Images and Shadows: an autobiography. Boston: Godine, 1970.
———–. A Need to Testify, foreword Ted Morgan. NY: Books & Co, 1984. On history of biography, and portraits of people she knew in the 1930s, who worked as anti-fascists
Smith, Denis Mack Mazzini. Yale 1994. Indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the fragmentation of Italy & rise of fascism
Weil, Simone, trans, ed. James P Holoka The Iliad or the Poem of Force: A Critical Edition. Peter Lang, 2003.
Wolf, Christa. Medea: A Modern Retelling, trans. John Cullen, introd. Margaret Atwood. 1998; rpt. NY: Doubleday, 2005.
————-. Quest for Christa T, trans Christopher Middleton. NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1970. Semi-autobiographical.
————-. Parting with Phantoms: Selected Writings, 1990-93, trans, notes Jan Van Heurck. Univ. Chicago, 1997.
————-. Patterns of Childhood (sometimes titled A Model Childhood), trans. Ursule Molinaro and Hedwig Rappolt. NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1980.

Relevant movies:

Danger UXB. Developed John Hawkesworth and John Whitney. Various writers and directors, based on diary by Maj A.B. Hartley. Perf. include Antony Andrews, Judy Geeson. Available on Amazon Prime.
A French Village. Developed by Frederic Krivine, Phillipe Triboit. Various writers & directors. 7 year French serial set in occupied Vichy France, 1941-1946, with fast forward to 1975; 2002. Amazon prime, also to buy as DVD sets.
The Lives of Others. Dir. Script. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Perf. include Ulrich Mulne, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch. Independent. Available at Amazon Prime, as DVD on Netflix, to buy as DVD
Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Dir. Jonathan Miller. Perf. include Benjamin Whitlow, Anton Lesser, Suzanne Burden. BBC 1981 movie. Available on Amazon Prime.


Montepulciano, town, commune (history begins in the medieval and Renaissance eras) close to Origo estates, to which everyone who can flees & takes refuge during a particularly dangerous period

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Christa Wolf, Frankfurt, Germany, October 1999

A life, review-analyses of Patterns of Childhood and Cassandra and 4 essays. Patterns of Childhood is about growing up in a fascist state (what she saw), WW2, then the years of the East Germany, finally 1970s and global imperialism — in narratives of childhood, memories, meditations, and travelogue. The 4 essays are travel memoirs of Greece, meditations on literature, her Cassandra, & women’s writing.

Dear Friends and readers,

I’m delighted to able to say the curriculum committee at OLLI at AU has approved my course for 4 weeks this summer:

Retelling Traditional History & Myth from an Alternative POV

The course aim is to explore books which retell stories and history from unexpected and often unvoiced POVs. In War in Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Irish Origo retells the story of World War Two as a woman in charge of Tuscan estates who hides partisans, POWs & runs a school for evacuated children. Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf tells the story of Troy from her POV, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet. It is profoundly anti-war & emerges from Germany’s history 1930s – 70s.

For weeks before giving this course I devoted myself to reading both the set books and several others by and about both Origo and Wolf. I’ve written on Origo on this blog before (however inadequately I now feel), but I’ve never written on Christa Wolf’s magnificent books or said anything about her. One of the great and important woman authors of the 20th century — as well as absorbing, moving, an original thinker, a candid truth-teller who led a life where she became involved with harrowing and intendedly humanely productive events of our time. Of those I read, I found the most riveting and continually interesting and will speak of here were some of her books of life-writing, her historical fiction, and her essays: the misleadingly titled, Patterns of Childhood (it was originally ironically A Model Childhood), The Quest for Christa T (disguised autobiography), Cassandra and Four Essays, No Place on Earth, and Parting with Phantoms, 1990-94.

I only began her Medea (she completely transforms the tale), and read it compulsively but must reread — it reminds me tonight of Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment and Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, in her One Day a Year, 1960-2000 (it’s September 27th) and Eulogy for the Living. But this course will give me the impetus and reason/opportunity for these (as well as more Origo) and I will write two more blogs on both women. I cannot speak too highly of them in life and as writers.

First a little life:


Answering questions

She was born in to lower to middling middle class Germans who lived in a province that had been fought over by Poland and Germany for centuries, and it was just then German; her father was a grocer assisted by her mother. As happens to gifted children, even in a girl in a fascist country, her gifts were early on recognized and she was sent to good schools. What she thinks important in her Patterns of Childhood is that she was subjected to Nazi education and was for a while an enthusiastic member of Hitler’s Youth Camps. Patterns of Childhood (like Cassandra) is written from the vantage point of her older years, traveling with her husband, and growing daughter in 1974 back to places she grew up in or experienced the terrors of war and refugee life, when her mind moves into different streams of flashbacks, sometimes from very early in her life, then again her adolescence, and more than one severe disillusionment: there is her re-education as the horrors of Nazism became apparent, from the terrifying destruction of Jewish life and then Jewish people — to the disappearance of people into extermination-slave labor camps (including socialists, gay people, disabled). She saw her father bullied and threatened into obeying Nazism. The war came and she flees with her mother – father already a POW – and brother.

The dates that matter are of her publications and three more: 1951 she married to a like-minded journalist and it was a long happy and collaborative marriage: they wrote and traveled and lived together. There were two children

After the war she had a period as a socialist and journalist-editor where she rose to respect and prominence in the early and middle literary culture of East Germany. First novels are social realism; they are readable novels, but she wanted to break away and she found imposed on her communist dogma, gradually sees that the life supposed to be wonderful is not turning out that way. Yes people have jobs, houses, but those rising to power are increasingly corrupt, and this middle area of consumer goods does not emerge. She begins to write very modernist books and writing – more like Virginia Woolf and modernists, without herself having much access to them. She joins the campaign for nuclear disarmament. Many writers left – but she and her husband did not (reminding me of Anna Akmatova). She broke with the leaders of East Germany, and the second level of people who controlled who got good positions.

There was a 2-3 year period where she was an informer for the Stasi — a period, which when it came out after the two Germanies merged (after 1989), did her reputation so much harm, it never recovered — I see much misogyny in the continual attacks and demands for an apology. There are a series of what I’ll call wild unreal fantasy long short stories: These are not much mentioned in what is written about her in English: the political position overshadows all, unhappily. I’ll mention two: “The life and opinions of Tomcat”, and let me tell you Tom is one sophisticated tomcat whose references to philosophy and Marxism left me bewilderes, but she is clearly arguing comic style against all sorts of economic and metaphysical ideas. It’s not that common to write an animal tale with cat as consciousness; AN Wilson has a poignant one called Stray. “What Remains” is another comic paranoid fantasy, dramatizing what it feels like to be in a constant state of surveillance where your things are taken from you – you can’t go by a window, go out to your garage and pick up your car; hone calls are nerve-wracking. She wasn’t that keen on capitalism In Parting with Phantoms she tells of what it feels like to watch a socially cooperative business turn capitalist — how quickly attitudes seems to change. There are interviews where she is treated very hostilely. I find it like the way Hilary Clinton was treated, and Wolf (while she didn’t kill herself) was not that good at stonewalling. She went to live in LA – California where it was sunny but she didn’t stay

Then around 2000 there is what I’ll call a period of relative silencing (what often happens to women). She continues to writes seriously but seems to have been much less in the public eye. Most of the famous respected works come before 2000. She was made very ill on and off in later life. See also this moving synopsis of the hard time she had inflicted on her in later life and how much she did achieve.

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The narrator, Nelly Jordan, tells of her 1971 trip to her hometown–the former Landsberg, now part of Poland–with her husband, her brother, and her daughter Lenka; of her childhood during the Nazi period; of the three years she has spent writing the present book; and of her efforts to explain to Lenka how Nelly and her parents could have failed to oppose the Nazis. Daily middle-class life under fascism is described in detail, often by inserting authentic materials such as newspaper clippings. Such events as the limitation of the freedom of the press and the establishment of concentration camps do not really affect the family; they continue to operate their store and remain largely apolitical, as did so many Germans, not realizing that their disinterest is making possible the consolidation of Nazism. As a young teenager, a group leader in the “Young Maiden” section of the Hitler Youth, she idealizes a female teacher dedicated to Hitler. The memoir is presented as a novel and so is daring in suggesting–contrary to the official dogma of the GDR — that East Germans as well as West Germans share in the guilt of the Nazi past. The problems of the 1970s, such as Vietnam, Chile, Greece, and the Middle East, are referred as part of the contemporary context. The last part of the book is an escape narrative, as Nellie and her relatives flee across the Elbe, then are forced even farther west, and end up living half starved with several other families (28 people total) in a farmhouse in what eventually becomes a Soviet zone. They exhibit a full sense of German suffering and a deep sense of outrage at historic houses bulldozed, bombings, civilians being shot wholesale and other atrocities.

I was taken by the narrative immediately. Strong passionate prose intensely written. Ursule Molinaro and Hedwig Rappoli’s translation is gripping: it seems as if Wolf deliberately cultivates a distanced style while sweeping in to show us the ravaged emotional and complicated stories and social realities of the adults and children surrounding her as a child. The pictures of her dolls reminded me of mine. Of her relationships with cousins. chapter delves how her father was driven to allow himself to be drafted into World War 2. She also depicts the mother’s sudden half-hysterical protests and the use of the term or name Cassandra emerges. Her mother’s behavior is Cassandra behavior.

In the chapters there are are narrativs in the present, remembered narratives of the past, and meditations. She also uses epigrams to signal the change of theme. Two later chapters registering the full horror of this “final solution.” When she first heard the term, long after when she came fully to understand what these people were doing — IG Faben, a hideous company which I hope is historically remembered for a behavior so heinous it’s unspeakable without strong nerves as one writes. Also from POV of that time and now, 1970s when Allende is being overthrown and another monstrous conflagration going on. What must be grasped about fascists. Again her mother a Cassandra, to protect her daughter, is mean to others. And we met or see an original of Christa T.

When they have to flee: it seems that at the last moment irrationally Charlotte, Nelly’s mother, cannot bear to leave her home. She feels she is guarding. But when the truck sets off without her, she realizes she has nothing to do, she can guard nothing. She sent off most of the “precious stuff.” And what we see is her join forces with another person (a relative) to chase down the truck and re-find her children. I found I couldn’t face the idea of what was going to happen if it was that mother and daughter would never see one another again so I peeped forward until I managed to ascertain that after a long ordeal they are reunited. As Charlotte goes forward (on foot, there is nothing else) she hears of the truck and thinks she will find them quickly, but our narrator warns us not. So Nelly (young Christa) is to endured on her own with her younger siblings and an uncle — in the piece I found ascertaining that they are reunited, I gathered Nelly was for a time in a concentration camp.

In the summing up chapters of what we’ve learnt — she’s on about how much needs to be forgotten in order to continue in life, but also that “time is running out” somehow on humanity. I’m thinking it ought to have been called The Testament of a [1930s & WW2] Survivor. She ends in the remembered sections, on the time just after WW2: her father brought home in terrible state, his death, her mother’s mortal illness, and she is with people who have TB — who died, who didn’t expected and unexpected. Done to make it fitting. Modern time is 1975 and latest brutal coup engineered by US recorded. Then we are back on this trip of 1970s, with her husband, brother (her daughter’s uncle) and a daughter’s views.

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The story begins: She has arrived before Mycenae (gates of town Agamemnon is returning to) in a sort of cage, a basket and with her is her maid-companion, Marpesa and her children -– twins. In this version they are not Ajax’s after all, they are the children of another thug-rapist, Eurypylos, whom she was given as wife to by Priam in return for Euryplos fighting on the side of the Trojans; she is taken out of the cage. It does not matter whether they are Agamemnon’s, Ajax’s or another thug – it was forced. She knows when they go inside Clytemnestra will have axed the blustering wimpering Agamemnon, now by her side, to death, and not only she but the children and maid will go the same way. We then get a long series of flashbacks as she remembers how they got to this point.

First half several dominant themes emerge immediately. A society based on utter exploitation of women, no rights whatsover, often enslaved. She is forced to endure the Greek Panthous in bed, though he disgusts her. An elder of Troy, an old man. Like Nestor. Second half she is raped by Ajax in a fit of rage. Patriarchy based on war and aggression as necessary, cult of a hero. I mentioned in Origo’s work what we see is an ethic of caring, concern, refusal to retaliate, love. There is little room for this beyond the friendships of women. I don’t have it to hand at this moment but we are told about a group of huts the women retreat to, just outside Troy. They sew, cook, talk and even dance there – they have some liberty when they get to talk to one another. That is a theme in this novel (in Wolf’s Medea, Medea has been betrayed by her pupil, so the teacher-mentor motif as common in women’s novels as the mother-daughter paradigm is deeply perverted – as if Jane Eyre turned on Miss Temple or Miss Temple on her). The various women telling one another things. Confiding.

Significant changes from traditional story to emphasize: she and Aeneas are lovers; Wolf has given Cassandra the role of Dido, whom in Virgil’s Aeneid was queen of Carthage and lover of Aeneas. Only Aeneas is no longer something of a sneak (that’s not Virgil’s view), but a noble loving man who wanted to take Cassandra with him.

Two halves. Much of the first half does consist of Cassandra’s memories as a child, young woman, growing up with vignettes of all the characters involved – including importantly Aeneas, Eumelos, you might take him to be Kissinger (or Dr Strangelove in the famous movie, who was acted as an imitation of the very young Henry Kissinger crossed with a nutty Nazi in a wheelchair).

She was Priam’s favorite daughter and loved to sit with him as he discussed politics and matters of state. Her relationship with her mother, Hecuba, however, was never as intimate, since Hecuba recognized Cassandra’s independence. At times their interactions are tense or even cold, notably when Hecuba does not sympathize with Cassandra’s fear of the god Apollo’s gift of prophecy or her reluctance to accept his love. When she ultimately refuses him, he curses her so that no one will believe what she prophesies. When Cassandra is presented among the city’s virgins for deflowering, she iwas chosen by Aeneas, who makes love to her only later. Nonetheless, she falls in love with him, and is devoted to him despite her liaisons with others, including Panthous — indeed, she imagines Aeneas whenever she is with anyone else. It is Aeneas’ father Anchises who tells Cassandra of the mission to bring Hesione, Priam’s sister who was taken as a prize by Telamon during the first Trojan War, back from Sparta. Not only do the Trojans fail to secure Hesione, they also lose the seer Calchas during the voyage, who later aids the Greeks during the war. Menelaus visits, a complicated silly quarrel, Hesione taken and Paris follows returns (Cassandra intuits because Helen is not seen) with out Helen.

A beautiful happy moment where she becomes the lover of Aeneas. Pius Aeneas. Forgive me I could not come before now. She wakes upon a very bad dream and he takes her to her mother. Cybele a goddess of dance in a temple

Climax at center (this part of the story is in Shakespeare’s despairing satiric Troilus and Cressida): the Trojans get together to decide if they should go to war. Remember the narrative is not place in the order things occurred. Instead the segments are thematic and things are ironically juxtaposed. Like in an epistolary novel. There are three ships returned from the Greek islands and Greece. Paris is there and very angry and for war as is Troilus. Eumelos, guard, very untrustworthy, is manipulating for war. The problem comes out that if they are to fight for Helen, absurd some say, she is not there. Paris was so incompetent he didn’t manage to bring her all the way. All they have is this phantom. There is a version of the Troy story where she is spirited away to Egypt. One of Euripides’ plays has Helen landing in Egyptian with the cunning Egyptian tyrant. The allegory works very nicely if you substitute for Helen Weapons of Mass Destruction. There were no weapons of mass destruction We were going to war with Iraq (by the way there were no Iraqis on the 9/11 planes, they were Egyptians) because of all these weapons of mass destruction But when it was found out, we did not leave. And her Troilus and Hector object. So what? Our honor is at stake. Cassandra gets very excited, known to be excitable. Oh Woe is me Woe is me and Priam agrees to have her dragged away and chained.

In the second half all chaos breaks out and Achilles emerges as this senseless utterly dishonorable brute (as he does in most versions of the story since Euripides and then particularly the Aeneid. In this version Achilles brutally murders Troilus after Troilus attacks him for having murdered Hector and then dragged him in a chariot around Troy – desecrating his body. This is what happens in Homer’s Iliad, which is pro-Greek. But we are supposed to understand that Achilles was in this mad rage because his lover, Patroclus, has been murdered by Diomedes, another thug ( the whole of Homer’s Book 5 of Iliad is Diomedes murdering people)

The close: Cassandra tells of the final events: another Amazonian princess, companion-maid, Myrine, murdered, and the sounds remind Cassandra of Polyxena heard screaming by Achilles’ grave where she was murdered; Andron her lover had coward-like betrayed her. Hecuba she remembers called Hecuba (mother of Trojans) a “howling bitch.” Cassandra’s children are dead. “Yes, that is how it happened.” You are a hero. I don’t want to become a statue or hero. How are we to understand her refusal.

The four essays are travelogues, literary critiques and explications of her books (see what I wrote just above) and an essay on women’s literature. If you read Wolf’s first two travel reports to find something concrete out about Greece, you’ll be very frustrated. She does not tell us but she is in Metelyn, Germany because there is a group of people meeting there to stop nuclear armament, campaigning against building these huge arsenals of nuclear bombs whereby we can destroy the earth many times over. This is 1981 when she has come out as a political activist against the present German GDR and the Western one too

The story of the first two: here’s a strike in Copenhagen that gets in their way, they land, are taken by their friends to the friends’ apartment, lovely meal. Their friends take them for drives around Athens and out to the countryside, by the sea, they meet other people, friends of friends, they visit taverns, eat out. At some point they go to the Acropolis and wander about. Just what you’d expect. In the first report, the housekeeper-cook complains to Wolf about the mistress who treats her badly (says the house-keeper-cook). We get a lot about the food they eat, the drinks, and twice both in Athens and then part 2 they find they must go down to a police station (or so they are told and register themselves, answer questions). It’s not clear they must do this, but they do it twice. They are used to this presumably.

They make friends with two free spirits, Helen and Susan traveling together and become a sort of foursome or maybe six-some. The difference between the first travel report and the second is on the second they take a boat to Crete where some believe women were once powerful. In the second they no longer have a car, so they travel about on buses with irritatingly noisy (modern music) . They go to an amphitheater where thousands of years ago these plays were played – by men as far as we can tell, no women there. They participate in Easter Ceremonies. Much conversation and thoughts about the conventional history of what they are seeing and what they are seeing and imagining what was.

There are the barest of references to the complicated political history of Greece after WW2 and the1950s where the US CIA was involved in overthrowing a socialist regime, parties within Greece fighting ferociously, and at first a conservative regime put in place but eventually Greeks themselves worked out tenuous solutions. There were long-lasting premiers at times. The Greek orthodox church remained strong.

The fourth essay: I just love where Wolf attacks Aristotle’s ideas on tragedy or art, and quotes a male (p 278) who tells her “He does not understand me …. (p 278) I was so stupefied I could not answer him.” The female genres have been subjective novels. Ahe opens with an individual reverie I’ll call it on one of Ingeborg Bachmann’s poems where she first gives you one of the stanzas and only after that the full poem, and then her terms of reference are not the usual English and American women authors you might expect or be familiar with or at least have heard of, maybe a couple of French – so while there is a reference to Virginia Woolf – and remember I said that Woolf was not available in East Germany in translation until well into the 1970s, instead of say Susan Brownmiller (Against our Will), Adrienne Rich, Gloria Steinem, Erica Jong (I’ve never read Fear of Flying), popular novel or Simone de Beauvoir. Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, she cites Anna Segler, Ingeborg Bachmann, Marie-Louise Fleisser; she refers to their lives a bit, their writing but especially Bachmann who was a poet and whom Wolf knew, but then ends on a long passionate argument that the literature women read starting with earliest classics (Homer)is male-centered, women presented through male eyes, and proceeds herself to explain ancient classics from POV of women in charge – as if matriarchies really existed at one time and the present way we know these famous one is men having twisted the stories to suit them in charge.

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From Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party — the Renaissance Women section

Most women’s literature has been destroyed once it was written, re-framed (Sappho the only women ancient writer we know of for sure cut just to bits), only in the 18th century do we begin to hear women talking for and to themselves – the mocking and satiric Jane Austen among the first of these. I confess for those who made it to the end of the fourth essay I do not at all believe there was ever a matriarchy the way Wolf and some schools of feminism believe – Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party a huge display in museums of 39 famous and archetypal female figures having dinner together; the floor is covered with little biographies of hundreds of women in history. As far I’m concerned Chicago wastes the first 7 plates on women goddesses who cannot have existed. But throughout the history of the arts from the beginning there have been central women characters who play roles that have drawn women to them – and real historical women who have contributed to western (it’s mostly) society. A mostly Eurocentric table.

Cassandra is among these. I’ll name a few again since we don’t much hear them this way: still remembered today, Penelope (Odysseus wife) – knitting away, Medea, child-killer, Clytemnestra, nut case, Iphigenia, sacrificial daughter, Dido, seduced abandoned, a suicide, Cassandra, nut-case fast forward to Arthurian matter Guinevere, adulteress, Morgan le Fay, a witch, somewhat unhappily these queens who got their heads cut off – compensatory victimhood I call it – Anne Boleyn, Mary Stuart, Marie Antoinette, all of whom had their heads chopped off – warnings against wanting power – and among these I do include Hilary Clinton who I believe the other day in a rant Trump was saying should clearly have been executed.


Christine de Pizan’s Capital letter — she wrote books of imagined exemplary women

In my next blog on Wolf, I’ll write about Medea, No Place on Earth (if possible Anita Raja or Elena Ferrante’s Italian translation too, and Eulogy for the Living.


Mid-life from a conference of German writers

Ellen

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Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) Ethiopian girl living in Beirut (Capernaum)


Madeline (Martine Chevalier) and Anne, her daughter (Lea Ducker) — (Deux of Two of US is not just about the love of two aging lesbians, but the daughter of one of them)


Heloise (Adèle Haenel), Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and Sophie (Luàna Bajrami) in Portrait of a Lady on Fire (it’s a three-way relationship at its height: wealthy young girl to be sold to a husband, painter, and pregnant maid)

Animals welcome
People tolerated …

Friends and readers,

I’ve just spent four weeks teaching a course where we read two marvelous books by women, Iris Origo’s War in the Val D’Orcia, an Italian war diary, 1943-44, and Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Four Essays, and want to observe, commemorate, act out Wolf’s argument (proved) in her book that there is a real body of literature by women, separate from men, superior, filled with alternative values, following different genre paradigms, only permitted to thrive in Europe and her cultures since the 18th century and that in marginalized ways, but there and wonderful — deeply anti-war, anti-violence, filled with values of women, a caring, cooperative, preserving, loving ethic. What better day than V- or Valentine’s, better yet against Violence Day, especially when aimed at women. A day yesterday when much of the US in the evening sat down to watched a violent-intense game, interrupted by celebrity posturing, false pretenses at humane attitudes, and glittery commercials (the Superbowl).

Last night I watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire (which I’ve written about already here), and the 6th episode (Home Truths) of the second season of All Creatures Great and Small (ditto), and the fifth episode of the fourth season (Savages) of Outlander, Her-stories (adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn)


Anne Madeley as Mrs Hall (housekeeper, and vet)


Helen (Rachel Shelton) and James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph)


Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Adawehi

I delighted in my evening:

Home truths: shamelessly sentimental and ratcheting up lots of angst, yet nothing but good happens. Why? I’ve decided it’s a show with women in charge — for real. Mrs Herriot gives up James to Helen, Mrs Hall and the woman with the perpetually nearly mortal cows. Mrs Pumphrey is the local central goddess, and Tricky woo, her animal. A new woman came in, an aging gypsy who lives with stray dogs. Parallel to Mrs Pumphrey. I love it.

The men are the Savages: the crazed German settler who thinks the Native Americans are stealing “his water” so when his daughter-in-law and grandchild die of measles, he murders the beautiful healer of the tribe — they retaliate by murdering him and his wife and burning down his house. Claire had been there to help bring the baby into the world. The coming problem that most counts is measles. Jamie and Ian discover they can’t get settlers while the Governor and his tax collectors are taking all the profits from settlers and using it to live in luxury, and Murtagh is re-discovered. Very moving reunion with Jamie and Claire — keeping the estates, feeding animals. She functions as Mrs Hall.

The three women eat, walk, sleep, talk together; the two upper class ones go with their maid to help her abort an unwanted pregnancy among a group of local women meeting regularly to dance, talk, be together where they sit around a fire — here they are preparing food, drink, sewing ….

A brief preface or prologue to two fine women’s films: Capernaum and Two of Us, with some mention of Salaam Bombay and Caramel, ending on Isabelle Huppert as interviewer and Elif Batuman as essayist on women’s film art:

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Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) and Rahil’s baby, Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole)

One of the courses I’m taking this winter at the same OLLI at Mason where I teach is one recent fine movies, and the first we saw Capernaum directed by Nadine Labarki. She has another remarkably memorable film I saw years ago, Caramel, the stories of five women whose lives intersect in a beauty parlor). She and two other women wrote the screenplay. It’s an indie, in Arabic, set in the slums of Beirut: the title refers to a place on the northern shore of the sea of Galilee and forms part of the Jesus Christ stories. The word also means chaos. It makes Mira Nair’s Saleem Bombay looks into the semi-lark it is: both center on a boy living on the streets of desperately poor area who is cut off from any kind of help from parents. Nair’s film ends in stasis: with the boy on the streets still, having stabbed to death a cruel pimp who preyed on a prostitute who is one of the boy’s friends, and took her small daughter from her.

People write of Capernaum as heart-breaking but most of their comments center on the boy (Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian). It’s done through flashbacks. The gimmick complained about is the boy is suing his parents for bringing him into the world. Basically the boy, Zain, exposes the cruel treatment his parents have meted out to him — real emotional, social and physical abuse too. In fact, Hilary Clinton proposed many protections for children, a couple of which aroused the ire of conservatives because she proposed to give children rights which in effect included complaining about parental abuse. I remember how she was attacked fiercely for her proposals on behalf of children. As eventually passed it was about adoption procedures and administration, whether she succeeded in making the child’s welfare count for real I don’t know

What is seriously relevant is the continual filming of dire poverty and the imprisoning of helpless (stateless) immigrants, refugees with no papers and how the need for papers is used by criminals and some lower base businessman to punish and demand huge sums from these people willing to buy forged documents. Astro, the film’s villain, is trying to take Rahil’s baby from her so he can sell the baby, and we discover at the film’s end he had no good parents and home for the baby, only a transitory prison. Labarki takes the viewer through the jails such people end up in and the conditions there — although this is Beirut, you could easily transfer this to the borders of the US. I find the supposed secondary character, a young single mother end up separated from her child as important as the boy, Zain — the fantasy of the movie is this boy takes real responsibility for the child. We also see how Zain’s sister, Sarah was sold to a man when she was 11 and dies of a pregnancy, how his mother is endlessly pregnant with no way to make any money to feed her family or send anyone to school. We se how desperate circumstances have led the boys’ parents to behave brutally to him and to one another, to in effect sell Zain’s sister, their daughter, Sarah, age 11, who dies in childbirth (too young for pregnancy).

It’s an important movie for our time — Biden is continuing many of Trump’s heartless and cruel policies at the borders — not the separation of families. There is no excuse for this. This movie does have a sudden upbeat happy ending (sort of). See it.

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Then very much a Valentine’s Day film: Two of us, also on this film course’s list.


Nina (Barbara Sukowa) — much in love with Madeline, she has no family around her


Isabelle Huppert more recently (see her in the interviews just below)

Very touching. It’s about two lesbians who have grown old and one is nervous (Madeline), frightened of her two grown children (Anne and Frederick), never ever admitted how she loathed her bullying husband (who made a lot of money if her apartment is any measure). Nina lives across the hall and yes people outside them think they are just friends. But they are deep lovers and as the movie opens, Nina is pressuring Madeline to sell her apartment so they can move to Rome permanently, Rome where they have been so happy.

What happens: Mado has a stroke, and is parallel to a movie so long ago, The Single Man, for which Colin Firth was nominated for an Oscar where two homosexual men have deep true life and one dies (Matthew Goode) and the other (Firth) is closed out by the family. Goode leaves everything to Firth, an English teacher. Goode’s family know about the gay life style and enjoy spitefully excluding Firth and beating back the will. Firth comes near suicide, pulls back, just in time.

Here the women hid, and Nina has to break through a caregiver who loathes her as competition. There is much inexplicable imagery. As the film opens, Nina has a dream of herself as a child saving Madeline as a child. Black birds or crows come and go. Nina becomes violent and axes the daughter’s care to get the caregiver in trouble and fired. Gradually the daughter realizes there is something special here. When she first sees a photo of the two women together in Rome, she is revulsed, and puts her mother in a home where the mother is drugged into compliance. The caregiver and her son come and threaten Nina, and when she is out, destroy her things in her apartment insofar as they can and steal what money she has. My mother had a caregiver just like this desperate hard angry woman. Anne witnesses her mother try to come out of her stasis to reach Nina, and Nina try to run away with her. Anne thinks again, and chases her mother and her mother’s lover back to her mother’s apartment, where they are quietly dancing together. The movie ends with Anne banging frantically on the door, saying she didn’t understand.

There is hope. Anne has brought a kitten for her mother while the mother was with the caregiver. We see it in the hall and may hope Madeline’s money will be enough and they will be left alone again. Such movies do show up the ratcheted up cheer of All Creatures and Small – how much truer to life this. Real anxiety Real trouble. It’s about aging and loneliness. There are as fine reviews of this as The Lost Daughter.

And two thoughtful interviews conducted by Isabelle Huppert (a fine French actress. One with the director, this his first film. The other between Huppert and Sukowa: listen to two actresses talk shop It’s very unusual to talk candidly about the problem of enacting, emulating having sex in front of a camera.

Don’t throw your evening out to become an object sold by one company to another to sell awful products at enormous prices.

I conclude with an excellent essay-review by Elif Batuman of the film-oeuvre of Celine Sciamma. Batuman shows how Sciamma is seeking out and inventing a new grammar of cinema to express a feminist and feminine quest for an authentic existence as a woman experiencing a full life: Now You See Me. I quote from it on The Portrait of a Lady on Fire:

The “female gaze,” a term often invoked by and about Sciamma, is an analogue of the “male gaze,” popularized in the nineteen-seventies to describe the implied perspective of Hollywood movies—the way they encouraged a viewer to see women as desirable objects, often fragmented into legs, bosoms, and other nonautonomous morsels. For Sciamma, the female gaze operates on a cinematographic level, for example in the central sex scene in “Portrait.” Héloïse and Marianne are both in the frame, they seem unconcerned by their own nudity, the camera is stationary—not roving around their bodies—and there isn’t any editing. The goal is to share their intimacy—not to lurk around ogling it, or to collect varied perspectives on it.

Mira Nair (filming A Suitable Boy) and Celinne Sciamma

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Ellen

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For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Days: Wednesday mornings, 9:40 to 11:05 am,
Jan 26 to Feb 16
4 sessions online, zoom meeting style (location of building: 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Virginia) 22032
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course: F407 is Retelling Traditional History & Tales from an Alternative POV

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in the Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Irish Origo (a British-Italian biographer and memoir-writer, and literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking charge of her estates in Tuscany during the war. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author who won numerous German literary-political prizes) tells the story of Troy from Cassandra’s point of view, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet. The second book was written after the war was over and after a trip the author took to Greece. The immediate context for both books is World War Two; long range, they are anti-war (a particular aim in Cassandra is nuclear disarmament): they tell history from a woman’s standpoint; one mythic, the other granular life-writing.

During the time covered by Origo’s diary, she takes in and creates a school for 23 refugee children; she and her husband hide partisans, and protect various disconnected endangered people; a real problem is the German disproportionate and terrifying reprisals & their dropping of landmines everywhere across Italy. So one BBC serial (1979), Danger UXB, we will discuss is made up of a story of a bomb disposal unit and I may suggest watching a couple of episodes (TBA); among other parts of her life, Christa Wolf was coerced into becoming an informant for the Stasi, so I will urge people to see the powerful film, The Lives of Others directed and written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck by the fourth week of term; the heroine’s story is said to be partly based on Christa Wolf.

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

Origo, Iris. War in the Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, introd. Virginia Nicholson. NY: NY Review of Books Classics, 2017.
Wolf, Christa. Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays, trans. from German Jan Van Heurck. NY: Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1984.

Note: War in the Val D’Orcia has not been out of print since it was first published in 1947; there are a couple of other editions, which could cost less, but this one has an introduction, notes and photos. Cassandra also has not been out of print since first published (1983, German) but this is the only edition; what’s happened is there are editions of just Cassandra available (same translator) but you miss a lot about the book if you don’t read the four afterpieces, two travelogues, one diary, and some thoughts on the book and other 20th century European women writers.


Iris Origo in later life


Christa Wolf, 2007 (Berlin)

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

Jan 26: Introduction: Iris Origo, Life and Work, the Diary in the context of the war all around the estate

Feb 2: Her earlier diary, A Chill in the Air, an Italian War Diary, 1939-40; her essays on the fascism build-up in Italy; other diaries, e.g, Norman Lewis, Naples ’44; Eva Figes, Little Eden, A Child at War. The reprisals and landmines (Danger UXB)

Feb 10: Christa Wolf’s Life and Work, Cassandra and Four Essays, in the context of usual tellings of Iliad/Aeneid story, including Aeschylus’s Agamemnon (play where Cassandra and Agamemnon are killed by Clytemnestra), Euripides’s Trojan Women, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida

Feb 17: More discussion of Wolf’s Cassandra, the four afterwards (especially travel in Greece and diary); women’s novels & memoirs from the era (historical fiction); The Lives of Others: on an autocratic gov’t and society (Wolf’s Patterns of Childhood, what living in a fascist dictatorship is like).


An actress playing Cassandra from recent translation of Aeschylus’s The Oresteia, as translated by Robert Fagles

Suggested outside reading or watching (a bibliography):

Du Maurier, Daphne. The KIng’s General, introd. Julie Picardie. 1946; rpt. London, Virago, 2006. Historical fiction retells history of seige of Menabilly and war in Cornwall 17th century.
Duras, Marguerite. The War: A Memoir, trans. Barbara Bray. NY: Pantheon, 1986.
Feder, Lillian. A Handbook of Classical Literature. 1964; rpt NY: Da Capo, 1998. Very accessible.
Figes, Eva. Little Eden: A Child at War. NY: Persea, 1978.
———–. The Seven Ages [of Women]. NY: Pantheon, 1986. Fantasy retelling of all history in England, from Neolithic to 20th century by unfamous central women types (e.g. midwives, one is an aristocratic woman, Lady Brilliana Harvey who really held out in 17th century siege of her castle-like manor house)
Finley, M. I The World of Odysseus. Middlesex, Eng: Penguin, 1954; 1984; rpt. Ancient History: Evidence and Models. NY: Viking Penguin, 1987.
Finney, Gail. Christa Wolf. Boston: Twayne, 2010. Short biography and survey of her writings.
Holden, Inez. Blitz Writing: Night Shift and It was Different at the Time, ed Kristin Bluemel. 1941; rpt. London: Handheld, 2017.
Lewis, Norman. Naples ’44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy. NY: Carroll & Graf, 1978
Lochhead, Liz. Medea: After Euripides. London: Nick Hern, 2000; rpt. Glasgow: Theater Babel, 2007.
Moorehead, Caroline. Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val d’Orcia: A Biography. Boston: Godine, 2002.
Nightingale, Florence. Cassandra, introd. Myra Stark, epilogue Cynthia Macdonald. NY: Feminist Press, 1979.
Origo, Iris. A Chill in the Air, An Italian War Diary, 1939-40. introd. Lucy Hughes-Hallett. NY: NY Review of Books classic, 2017.
———–. Images and Shadows: an autobiography. Boston: Godine, 1970.
———–. A Need to Testify, foreword Ted Morgan. NY: Books & Co, 1984. On history of biography, and portraits of people she knew in the 1930s, who worked as anti-fascists
Weil, Simone, trans, ed. James P Holoka The Iliad or the Poem of Force: A Critical Edition. Peter Lang, 2003.
Wolf, Christa. Medea: A Modern Retelling, trans. John Cullen, introd. Margaret Atwood. 1998; rpt. NY: Doubleday, 2005.
————-. Quest for Christa T, trans Christopher Middleton. NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1970. Semi-autobiographical.
————-. Parting with Phantoms: Selected Writings, 1990-93, trans, notes Jan Van Heurck. Univ. Chicago, 1997.
————-. Patterns of Childhood (sometimes titled A Model Childhood), trans. Ursule Molinaro and Hedwig Rappolt. NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1980.

Movies:

Danger UXB. Developed John Hawkesworth and John Whitney. Various writers and directors, based on stories by Maj A.B. Hartley. Perf. include Antony Andrews, Judy Geeson. Available on Amazon Prime.
A French Village. Developed by Frederic Krivine, Phillipe Triboit. Various writers & directors. 7 year French serial set in occupied Vichy France, 1941-1946, with fast forward to 1975; 2002. Amazon prime, also to buy as DVD sets.
The Lives of Others. Dir. Script. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck Perf. include Ulrich Mulne, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch. Independent. Available at Amazon Prime, as DVD on Netflix, to buy as DVD
Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Dir. Jonathan Miller. Perf. include Benjamin Whitlow, Anton Lesser, Suzanne Burden. BBC 1981 movie. Available on Amazon Prime.


Montepulciano, town, commune (history begins in the medieval and Renaissance eras) close to Origo estates, to which everyone who can flees & takes refuge during a particularly dangerous period

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