Posts Tagged ‘diary’

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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Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood (Sanditon 2) — I fancy this is an allusion to a well-known drawing of Austen by Cassandra where she is seen staring out at the landscape from the back in casual clothes – I am enjoying this second season of Sanditon very much

A brief blog in defense of allowing twitter & face-book to be part of my life

“My idea of good company, Mr Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.” “You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company; that is the best — Anne Elliot, Persuasion

“We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing” — Elizabeth Bennet, P&P)

Both face-book and twitter are mostly adversely criticized in the traditional press (in paper and online), by people seeking to defend individual liberty and a right not to be surveilled by gov’t or other organizations (commercial), not trustworthy information (twitter is a place for mobs, said Obama) — and there is good reason for some of this hostility.

Tonight, though, I want to say that like most human things, the reality is more ambiguous than the above makes the experience appear, has other aspects for the ordinary person (not brought out by professional writers who are partly in competition with these social media or platforms. My idea is that these two vast cyberspace regions (I’ll call them) in experience will be for each of us the product of how we individually use or approach them. We may also weigh the inescapable negatives (like being surveyed, being put into algorithms) against a gain for ourselves.

A long time very favorite book by a scholarly writing woman — with a cover I like very much too

For me from the beginning twitter was a place where I could come into contact with my two daughters and from their tweets (knowing them) have an idea of how they were passing their day. On top of this I typed in the names of women scholars and journalists, and for years have “followed” Amanda Vickery, a historian (she puts reproductions of interesting pictures on, and sometimes a URL to a good essay), Mary Beard (yes too much self-promotion and too determinedly cheerful, but she puts URLs to her blogs, to broadcasts, and interesting essays, information), Joan Smith (a writer of detective novels, feminist, political activist on the left), Lucy Worseley (for her programs and good photos of the places she goes to for filming them), Elaine Showalter (feminist scholar and teacher, mostly personal comments but once in a while an article of interest), Katha Pollitt (The Nation, journalist on the left), Maria Frawley (who I met as a teacher, a 19th century scholar and teacher), Jacqueline Banerjee (Victorian Web edito, Rohan Maitzen (through Trollope Society in London zooms and her blogs). I follow a few friends (not many, this I do on face-book). Janeites and 18th century scholars are mostly face-book friends.

Yes I follow a few very liberal publications (the Nation) and have a few blogs I love — mostly congenial and literary people, e.g., Nick Holland on the Brontes, Samuel West (!). And a few social-public museum and library places (e.g., Gaskell and Chawton houses).

Our — in our front garden — little cherry tree, photographed by Izzy on one of her walks away from and to the house, then put on twitter

I’ve begun what I have to say about face-book: the beginning there was to be with other 18th century scholars I knew from conferences and relatives (a cousin, her daughter) and friends I made elsewhere on the Net or on face-book literary pages (The Way We Read Now, a Trollope Society FB page, once upon a time, a Poldark book page, Jane Austen), art (women artists), personal needs (I’m on two Aspergers pages with women). It’s personal connection, a shared taste or outlook. Several months ago I had stopped going to the general “feed” which was filled with commercials, but now it’s mostly friends who send mostly upbeat messages about what they are doing in life today, this week, this semester. For me it’s a comfort to chat with friends and acquaintances. I have friended more people on FB than followed people on twitter; I am followed by more people on twitter than followed on FB but I have been friended by more people on FB.

I do keep up with news this way, which seems to show on twitter first. If it’s worrying, I got over the NYTimes or Washington Post to check out validity. Once there was a shooting on the platform from the Metro into the Pentagon where I knew Izzy crosses. I first found out about it from an email from Laura, then over to twitter where I saw no tweet from Izzy; but then an email from Izzy re-assured me she had passed through earlier. I then went to AP where I saw a brief item and then went over to the NYTimes a couple of times over the day to see what news came out. I first knew about the Jan 6th insurrection through the TV! I had called Comcast because the TV wasn’t working right; the technician told me to put it on around 2:30 pm on January 6th and I was horrified and frightened by what I saw: thugs dressed in macho male outfits with chains and Trumpite signs scaling the walls, non-gun weapons in hand.

Lenu (Ingrid Del Genio) and Lila (Elisa Del Genio) reading Little Women (in Italian of course) together — 2nd episode of 1st season (My Brilliant Friend, still radiant)

There are downsides to these experiences — like being blackballed from a Poldark Book Discussion FB page, or once in a while badgered over some literary reading I’ve given something (and then accused of being uncivil when I answer candidly to stop him carrying on), or I myself lose “it” over some irritating stance (over upbeat on FB, putting pictures of the worst people in politics on twitter). But these are versions of what we come across in physical life.

What isn’t is soft-core porn (I go nowhere where I can see hard-core porn). I allow no pornography or violence whatsoever on my two feeds. I block the person or address immediately. No naked breasts, no naked men, nothing prurient in this way. I have complained to FB when I’ve seen this persistently on a couple of pages (e.g., an Outlander FB page) and I get in response how quickly to block an address.

It’s still worth to me who am alone, now that Jim is gone, to let unknown people gather my posts as metadata.

I’ll leave this topic at that. The next time you or others wonder how it is that people use these platforms, remember each person in the world or maybe me and people like me want access to others, company, companions. It was on FB the other day I discovered that the third season of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (and the fist two others) are on HBO Max now. So I bought a subscription at long last. While on twitter I see lovely photos by Izzy of where she’s been walking and Laura’s three beloved cats.


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