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Posts Tagged ‘Mystery-suspense movie’

Outlander 2014 Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall and Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall in Starz’s Outlander Outlander 2014 Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall and Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall before Castle Leogh, 1945

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Castle Leogh, 1743

I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days — my hair standing on end the whole time …

Impelled by an irresistible presentiment, you will eagerly advance to it, unlock its folding doors, and search into every drawer –but for some time without discovering anything of importance — perhaps nothing but a considerable hoard of diamonds. At last, however, by touching a secret spring, an inner compartment will open–a roll of paper appears–you seize it–it contains many sheets of manuscript — you hasten with the precious treasure into your own chamber, but scarcely have you been able to decipher ‘Oh! Thou–whomsoever thou mayst be, into whose hands these memoirs of the wretched Matilda may fall’ — when your lamp suddenly expires in the socket, and leaves you in total darkness … Henry Tilney to Catherine Morland, NA, Chapters 14 and 20)

Dear friends and readers,

Having finished listening to Davina Porter read aloud (remarkably well) the whole of Diana Gabaldon’s historical romance, Outlander, I’m ready to go forward with watching the second season, adapted from Dragonfly in Amber. I’m studying both the series of romances and the film adaptations as examples of what has happened to popular historical romance in an era where the prestige of historical fiction has gone way up. Historical fiction and post-colonial historical romance have again for some (as the forms did in the Victorian era) become an instrument of political import (mostly post-colonialist). At the same time there has been a fierce backlash against feminism and liberal attitudes towards homosexuality (lesbianism, tranvestism), and fascist ideas gaining ground, i.e, violence as a means of solving problems, individual liberty and thought are out, women are there as mothers, wives, sisters, not individuals in their own right. That’s why Gabaldon needed a 20th century woman in her book so she should have agency.

How does this relate to Austen: this sort of book, the romance, especially gothic and implicitly political, ambivalently feminist were the kinds of books she read and praised as works genius — Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith, Francis Burney, Maria Edgeworth — in a novel she rewrote endlessly in an attempt to combine satire of the form while embodying its truths persuasively, i.e., Northanger Abbey.

As a prelude, I’ve gathered up all the blogs I’ve written thus far on Outlander so I can refer back to them, and so my readers can see what has been our findings about this genre and film adaptation thus far:

Outlander: a cross between Frank Yerby’s Border Lord, DuMaurier’s romances, Sophie Lee’s Recess, Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, and epistolary subjective novels

Outlander and Poldark: Horsfield’s scripts; problematic parallels towards violence towards women & rape

Outlander 1: Sassenach and Craig Na Dun; People Disappear all the time … Radcliffe Redivida

1 Outlander 2 and 3: Castle Leogh & The Way Out: DuMaurier Redivida

1 Outlander 4 & 5: The Gathering and Rent; as a Descendant of Waverley

Outlander: 6 and 7: Garrison commander; Wedding Nights (2): tapestry

1 Outlander 8: Both Sides Now; The Long  night of the Wedding: magic

1 Outlander: 8 & 9: Reckoning; Both Sides Now, the historical sublime, Romancing History; 2:1 Through a Glass Darkly

1 Outlander: 10 & 11: Pricking of My Thumb; Devil’s Mark; babies & witchcraft; again the question of genre

1 Outlander: 12 & 13: Lallybroch and the Watch: you can’t go home again; gender roles transitioning

1 Outlander: 14-16: The Search, Wentworth Prison, To Ransom a Man’s Soul, Finale; The issue of torture

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I have read fans were dismayed by the choice of Caitriona Balfe — I find her very appealing. At no point does she have the lightly mocking jocular tone Gabaldon uses for her heroine.

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

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Inverness where the novel opens

A few thoughts on Gabaldon’s novel:

Problems: in the present time sequences Gabaldon is American and has no idea how to write British dialogue or thoughts. She uses the phony language of 1950s romance as I remember it: Frank Randall calls Clare a wench; characters beam at one another; they are roguish. She has been influenced strongly by the 1940s British movies and this is reflected in the films in the way the opening new honeymoon scenes are done and the opening scenes of the second season when she has returned pregnant in 1948 after Culloden has happened but she somehow does not know what happened exactly, not even who won. In the opening sequence in the UK there is supercilious tone of half-mockery at reading people; a shallow amused jocularity and descriptions of what no British woman really did in the 1950s when they shopped. Gabaldon seems to think that genealogy studies are serious historical research — or she assumes her readers do. It may be this tone is intended to function like that of Lockwood in the opening of Wuthering Heights (supercilious and faintly ironic), but he never aims his irony at sensitivity, history itself and so on.

Oh and no one reads anything at all – except as part of a profession. The film did counter this gap in the book with literary allusion (all added in, poetry from Donne, Robert Louis Stevenson) and downplayed the heroine’s irony towards her husband’s literary research profession — though presented her as slightly bored by him, and the renewed marriage not quite working (so said the heroine in her voice-over). Gabaldon herself is clearly (I concede) drenched in the history of this period and all sorts of book leaning, biography, chronicles (disguised or referred to in her companion most cavalierly, sprezzatura and all that – she never sleeps, does no housework &c&c)

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Escape — Claire perhaps wanted to disappear — through the stones

At each deviation and choice the film-makers are better. They keep the significant and resonating lines unerringly. Her story is what makes the book in a way, and her characters are somewhat re-conceived. Litereally the mini-series is close. Her heroine has never had a political thought in her head. Gabaldon is also a master of romance style; she sustains eloquence about love; her dialogue is naturalistic once Claire moves back in time and to Scotland. The Scottish dialect does not feel like pastiche. They add “Madam” to Black Jack’s speech and sudddenly Randall’s is an 18th century male voice. Gabaldon’s strengths come out more too: she’s good at describing love-making, at erotica. These passages are important for today’s historical romance for women, as the love-making is told from a woman’s point of view (foreplay emphasized ….)

There is self-reflexivity. Clare comments how in romances the “bad male” of romance is never rooted in any local reality; Gabaldon feels she does this by her post-colonialist story of the vicious English against the Highland Scots, the corrupt Jacobite courts. She also (I think consciously) wants to give us a heroine who struggles against forces of nature: so we have Clare fighting a wolf and subduing and killing it! It’s very much a woman’s book — if you can get into this sort thing. Today I’m going to try Daphne DuMaurier’s King’s General for a while to see if I can in her case for the summer term as I have to send in a proposal for this coming summer by Feb 10th! DuMaurier is a political innocent in comparison. The 21st century Catherine Morland would read both. — in preference to “real history,” which Martha Bowden in her Descendants of Waverley does not have that much use for either. Phillippa Gregory gobbles it all up to spit it out as historical romance: she has done that for Margaret Tudor too. The book as Emily Nussbaum wrote of the mini-series it’s mirroring our time. Anne Stevenson, one of my favorite 20th century women poets, has also written about the book favorably.

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Claire being taught how to kill with a knife

There are some troubling patterns of violence and humiliation across the first season which is much more emphatic in the book: the subaltern hero is intensely punished. The last two episodes of the mini-series are horrifyingly abusive of Jamie Fraser: he is tortured into submitting to anal sex, his spirit to resist broken by breaking his hand, the merciless flogging. I had realized his back shows horrific treatment too, well, this a pattern in the book too: the ritual humiliation of the heroine (occurs much more weakly and not as centrally) is nothing to this. I asked izzy about Games of Thrones, and she said yes and they are killed off; in Agents of Shield these central and subaltern central heroes go through enormous emotional turmoil.

I had noticed this pattern in Tudor dramas on film: the men took the place hitherto reserved for the heroine, and took it that the Henry 8 story appeal was the ability to show masculinity of a very different sort than the modern controlled invulnerable (unattacked mostly) hero, but maybe not. In Outlander this fits the (mild or undeveloped very much )post-colonial perspective, an unintended consequence inheritance from Walter Scott. Poor Jamie can’t go home again even: the result an unmitigated disaster. I’ve grown to like Jamie Fraser, have bonded with him and to some extent Claire (the text is strongly offset by the mini-series, its tone and especially Caitronia Balfe’s intelligent performance). I find myself very anxious as the story moves from distraught catastrophe to distraught catastrophe. I know this was the appeal of Poldark: I liked the central hero and heroine (and secondary ones, Elizabeth and Francis, too). In Tolstoy’s War and Peace I bonded with some of the central characters. It’s a sina qua non finally for loving a book — though one can love the imagined author as a substitute.

I found a long scene describing a childbirth very good. IN the depiction of Lallybroch, Jamie’s home, in the film instead of a long series of scenes of life in such a country place there was yet another action-adventure inserted betrayal: the book here is good. Both women’s point of view. At the same time the insistence on violence as an answer to problems becomes yet more overt. It’s not simply the book shows a man violent to a woman and her learning to accept just that once, but there are repeated instances of problems solved by violence. The idea is when there is no other way. I have said I think there are situations where the other side will not respond except through violence. To me the argument slavery was dying by itself ignores human nature plus the actual situation. I think the present administration thinks they can do what they want as the American people, especially democrats are utter cowards, despicably lukewarm (that’s how they see the desire to reason and negotiate). But many many instances should not turn violent; that makes for more violence — which does happen in the book: a man forced to give up his son whom he has been beating mercilessly by violence on hi then turns in our hero, so he may be hanged; our hero’s friends then set fire to his house or him (it’s not clear).

There is an obsession with defending violence as a way of solving problems (really — the belief is you force people to do things and then they retaliate if they are not scared any more), but also sheer pain, and combined with the at times faux at times earnest post-colonialism, it is an exploration of torture from the point of view of the horrors of the experience. You are not meant to be inured (as can happen and discussed by Susan Sontag in her Regarding the Pain of Others). This book sold widely in the US, is enormously popular. I’ve already mentioned the ceaseless attack on homosexuality through the depiction of Black Jack Randall — it’s kept up as mockery of effeminate males.

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Again the mini-series is an improvement: there are added and emphasized males who are thoughtful, gentle: like Willie — and favored

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Ned Gowan’s role as poet-lawyer is built up enormously — he appears only in the collecting of rents briefly and in the court scene in the novel — so the film-makers recognized this violence as a problem in the novel

In the final sequence of novel Jamie is humiliated personally (made to do submissive begging) and he feels he has to tell this to Clare: we get a depiction of torture which condemns it on all grounds and shows how it is basis of a tyranny (as Eleanor Scarry discussed in The Body In Pain); beyond that in the telling why someone would kill themselves after they escape even years after they escape (as Primo Levi and others who spent time in extermination and German concentration camps). He lives in dread of Randall and has nightmares. In the mini-series the emphasis was on a man raping a man, in other words sexual, and the discussions (such as they were on popular websites run by professionals, very discreet) focused on see how men are raped too (so it almost became a show revealing women lying in another direction — they pretend only they are raped) though to do the film justice it was also deeply anti-torture. I could not get myself to finish one of books Jim was in the middle went when the cancer had affected his brain to the point he couldn’t read, Speaking About Torture, edd Julie Carlson and Elisabeth Weber. Looking it at now I find essays on “What Nazi Crimes tell us”, how torture is represented, the “rituals of hegemonic masculinity” John Yoo, the torture memo and Churchill. I find it used in studies of torture where it is suddenly introduced with insufficient information. At first I thought it referred to the purpose of torture (as defined in such studies) to through pain and terror “drive the victim ‘beyond the borders of death into [a state of speechless] nothingness; well, that is what Black Jack Randall has done to Jamie and it is Claire who must give him an identity again, a sense he’s alive, pride, should live; the idea of ghosts on the mind is part of the meaning and in the second season and Dragonfly In Amber Jamie is haunted by nightmares of Randall getting hold of him again.

Before the book ends there is a (to me) odd decent moral set of lessons: Claire seeks comfort in “confessing” to a priest and we see him calm her conscience over bigamy; try to give reasons for God having sent her back to this era. As with Austen and other popular books I’ve read two chapters before the end you get the characters discussing the moral of the adventures, of this time-traveling. She clearly believes in God, that this is a just universe with rewards and punishments and yet a moralism about life as a journey and self-development through helping others and so on is suddenly put before us credibly. The discussions include can she stop Culloden for then the people who are supposed to be killed won’t be? the responsibility of changing history. At this point the book is silly.

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Murtagh listening to the priest, Claire and Jamie in the monaster

The book ends with Claire and Jamie leaving the monastery through walking through a cave which has warm restorative mineral waters — like a spa, only dark colored, a mirror. This coming up from a recess is directly Sophia Lee and Ann Radcliffe material, only enhanced here by the sensual delights of love-making. The center of romance is the love story. They will go to Rome where he has connections and could get a position, be safe, and they work to prevent Culloden. Murtagh who we have learned once loved Jamie’s mother and regards himself as Jamie’s second father goes with them.

crossingthehighlands
Crossing the Highlands together

I realize now I have listened to Porter read aloud the whole of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as translated by Maud — she provides brilliant reading of that too. I recommend her to lovers of books read aloud by tape, CD, MP3 or download.

Ellen

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Five girls imprisoned in family home in rural Turkey: Lale, Nur, Selma, Ece Sonay (2015 Mustang)

Anna has not a chance of escape; her husband called here the other day, & said she was pretty well but not equal to “so long a walk; she must come in her “Donkey Carriage.”–Poor Animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty.—I am very sorry for her.–Mrs Clement too is in that way again. I am quite tired of so many Children.–Mrs Benn has a 13th… (Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. Le Faye 336, Letter dated Sunday 23- Tuesday 25 March 1817)

Friends and readers,

This is to recommend seeing a quietly powerful depiction of what life is often like for girls in Turkey once they reach puberty in a film with the American title, Mustang. I contextualize the film with this year’s Room (Brie Larson won the Oscar for best actress), Deepa Mehta’s Water (which it is very like), two summers ago Philomena (Judi Dench); Orphan Pamuk’s novel, Snow, about all these unsolved murders of Turkish girls. And some women do win: Jenny Beavan after decades of work …

Mustang has two women screenwriters, one of which is the director: Alice Winocour directed it, and Deniz Gamze Ergüven, a Turkish French screenplay writer scripted it to dramatize what life is often like for a majority of Turkish women today. Five girls who are cousins are taken from the schools they are in in more modern places in Turkey and delivered to live with a grandmother and uncle in a more rural area of Turkey.

We first see Lale, the youngest, torn from a teacher who gives Lale her address, hugs Lale and tells her to write each week. Then they are piled into a van and we next see them playing games in the water with boys where they sit on the boys’ shoulders and attempt to pull one another down. The water experience seems to be regarded as fun, but it is not idealized as we find the girls arguing with one another, and the boys over who cheated, who won, who took unfair advantage.

Swimming

Suddenly they are taken from this scene, shoved into a house, the door locked, put into a narrow corridor, and their grandmother beats three of them in a locked room. The girls are accused of playing in the water this way in order to have orgasms. They are hurled back into the ban by an angry uncle who drives them to the hospital to see if they lost their virginity by rubbing their thighs against these boys shoulders and heads. He seethes with shame and screams at them. The grandmother here and throughout the film justifies herself as doing the best for them, and thinks of herself as loving them and devoting her life to them.

mustang-photooutfitted

The family (there are other women in the house, other men at times) proceeds to cut the girls off from all outside influence, locking away phones, computers, books. They are in effect kidnapped and the word appears in the English subtitle translations throughout. They are taught nothing but how to cook and dress to please a man. We see them try to rebel and the hopelessness of it. It’s not a short movie and much daily life happens. They do escape once to go to a football game through a bus which happens by. They make much more of this experience, look hysterically happy on TV sets others see them on while there because they have been allowed no other outlet or excitement. We see these supposedly joyous football audiences are separated by gender. So you wonder what the lives of these other girls are like that they too go into these apparent ecstasies of fan cheering. We see our girls begin to be grateful to those female relatives, their direct keepers who control them for hiding what they do from the uncle and other male relatives. Thus they take on the values of these women too. They are experiencing life as a hostage situation.

MUSTANGescaping

Not surprisingly and ironically (if it was the culture wanted them not to desire sex), the girls actually become far more intense about sex, sex is on their minds all the time, and one has sex with a boy in a car in the only chance she gets to drive out. The result: he comes back with a gang of boys to call her down; he sees her in the most debased and degrading light. Along the way one has a boyfriend who she has sex with through anal intercourse lest she not be a virgin; like Rapunzel she escapes by a pipe and climbs back at night. The men are free to eat and drink, encouraged to be merry, control the TV. The women live subdued downstairs and what they watch is controlled and of course the programs themselves reinforce subjection.

Two are married off unwillingly. The ceremonies of arranged marriage with the girl serving the boys’ famiy are just as Jumpa Lahiri describes them in her idealizing mode in her American-Bengali fiction. I watched the family decorate the girl as one would an object. The rituals are presented as playful when they are competitively hypocritical: the girls’ family is supposed to play “hard to get” when the boys’ family comes to the door.

It slowly emerges that the uncle is a molester of them all, one by one — the very man who controls them so inhumanly. He chooses the oldest before she is married off each time, all the while ever more turning the house into a prison as each escape attempt fails. The third girl shoots herself to death, a suicide hushed up, a quick burial in a sheet in a shallow grave. We also see the grandmother knows her son (the uncle) is sexually molesting these girls; she rushes to “save” the fourth after the suicide of the third by setting up a marriage for her though she is too young for this. When the fourth girl refuses to come out of the house to be married, and this fourth and Lale, the fifth and youngest, stage a protest. We are encouraged to identify with Lale, the youngest who seems most daring and who would have been the only one left in the house.

I was so caught up in the last two girls’s fates as they desperately try to escape I began to grow agitated. Lale had tried to drive from the house time and again, but did not know the step to do after turning the ignition on. A young man who had enabled the group to catch the bus to the football game with his truck is persuaded by her to teach her how to drive. She plans the escape: gathers clothes, money, a phone, figures out how to climb out of the house by a hole from the roof, and get into the car. I wanted her and her older cousin just to run, not to take the time to get these things. They do manage to get into the car and start off, but they drive the car into a marsh and must hide out. If the young man had not come by (he was watching?), taken them to a bus deport, put them on a bus to Istanbul (where they return to the teacher we first met), they would have been at a minimum severely punished. They were in danger of being killed or raped for disobedience and “shaming” of their family. We can say they are momentarily safe. Thus the film ends.

The excuse or palliation is made that this kind of life for girls goes on only in rural areas but the film shows the interconnection of city to country, and how what dominates in the country influences the feel of what happens to women in the city.

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Brie Larson and Jacob Temblay

I cannot get myself to sit through Lenny Abrahamson and Emma Donoghue’s film adaptation of Donoghue’s Room for which Brie Larson won the Oscar for best actress. I read the book and am told they changed the latter part of the story by presenting an ending where after a long time of abduction, isolation, rapes and beatings, the girl re-adjusts to life healthily; falsifying, we are told the film is about “the unbreakable bond between mother and child,” but it is rather about another kind of kidnapping. If you cannot endure it, as I could probably could not have, read the novel (which won the Orange Prize the year it was published). I wrote an account and review of the novel four years ago. In all these cases we see men attempting in effect to bury women alive in order to exploit, control, abuse their bodies. Their lives just thrown away, kept in servitude to men, continual pregnancies, when older looking so grim.

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Rescuing the child-widow from debased prostitution through starvation

Mustang also reminded me strongly of Deepa Mehta’s Water where a young girl of 9 is married to a very old man who dies, upon her being widowed she is sent to live in what appears to be a strict convent to live meagerly, all hard work, little food, but is eventually revealed to be a brothel where she is to be sold nightly or permanently to other old men. The pretense that what is happening is not is part of the helpless pity one feels for the girl. I became hysterical when she was turned over to an obscene old man towards the end; she too is saved by a friend who puts her an old train (not a bus) with a man who agrees to take her to a boat and out of India to an address the woman gives him. I was relieved to see her escape to have a life. I wrote a review of Water comparing it to Jamie Babbit’s The Quiet and how both were misrepresented by the reviews. I thought of Orphan Pamuk’s novel, Snow, which I read and is about the large number of murders of girls in Turkey that are said to go “unsolved” — are simply tolerated as long as all conspire to hide what happened. Of Seierstadt’s non-fiction book of the lives of the family under the control of the tyrant Bookseller of Kabul. I wrote about this one too, but the blog was one of those attacked by a virus years ago.

Mustang was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film this year, so there are a few reviews. Like so many reviews of films about the oppression of women, these underplay what is shown, change the subject even: we are told Mustang is a coming of age film, celebrating youth: Metronews. I put the English title in quotation marks because I’ve been told this is not at all what the title was in the original language. It can happen the title has nothing to do with the movie but seems one that might attract an American movie-goer.

A friend suggested “mustang” referred to horses in the wild, so the potential wildness of the girls forcibly tamed. The trouble with that is it suggests the girls need this kind of training, as if they were sheerly animals. The girls have vibrant life when we first see them, but two are re-imprisoned, or tamed for life, a third dead, and the other two by the end shaking with fear and probably ever after unnerved and careful lest they be kidnapped again. As I remarked, the word kidnap is used throughout the film:Kidnapped would have been a much better title.

Izzy told me that during the Oscars TV show, Lady Gaga sang a song about rape and women’s oppression. Gaga said that she was the victim of rape and she had a number of girls come on stage with her who also had been sexually assaulted. Sexual harassment and oppression was one of the themes of several movies winning prizes this year (e.g., Spotlight is about journalism too).

DIRECTINPUT~  This image has been directly inputted by the user. The photo desk has not viewed this image or cleared rights to the image. The image  will be purged from Merlin in 14 days unless it is outputted for production or arrangements are made with the photo desk. Philomena
Judi Dench as Philomena

I know Spotlight had as its topic the sexual molestation of boys — for context here I’ll allude to Philomena two summers ago had as its topic how the Irish church imprisoned girls who got pregnant out of wedlock, took their children from them (most of the time they lost contact with a child for decades, never regained knowledge of what had happened to the child), kept them as slaves in laudromats and other menial kitchen and factory work, and then when they died of the treatment they received buried them in nameless graves.

Jenny Beavan, winner for Best Costume Design for "Mad Max: Fury Road", poses during the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake - RTS8H6D
Jenny Beavan, winner for Best Costume Design.

On a more cheerful note, I was glad to see Jenny Beavan after years of making costumes for countless British TV and now American films won the Oscar for costume design. She did a number of the Austen films, e.g., the 1995 Sense and Sensibility, the 1996 Emma (by Davies), the older Jane Austen in Manhattan. She did Miramax films: Room with a View, Howard’s End, Maurice, Jefferson in Paris. She did Gosford Park. Her name appears towards the end of so many credits I’ve seen scrolling down. She said she didn’t “in the least mind that nobody clapped for her.” I wish she could know I am clapping for her here.

Ellen

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Caspar Friedrich, Chalk Cliffs on Rugen (1818-22, a detail)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m gratified to be able to report the Times Literary Supplement has published a review of Valancourt Press’s edition of once the most rare of the Northanger Abbey gothics, Eleanor Sleath’s Orphan of the Rhine; where I come in for praise for my introduction. I quote from part of Julie Peakman’s review (TLS, October 9, 2015, p 26)

Little was known about the author until recently, except for an incorrect suggestion by Michael Sadleir that she was a Roman Catholic, based purely on the Catholic sentiment in her writings. Recent research by Becky Czlapinski and Eric C. Wheeler has discredited the idea; she was in fact a Protestant, born Eleanor Carter (1770-1847), lived in Leicestershire. and married at twenty-one. Her husband. a military doctor called Joseph Barnabas Sleath, died four weeks after the death of her first child in 1794. leaving her bereft and in debt.

Peakman retells of Eleanor’s liaison with an already married clegyman, John Dudley, and how it connects to “a creative period for her:”: between 1809 and 1811, she published The Bristol Heiress, The Nocturnal Minstrel and Pyrenean Banditti. She married Dudley in 1823 after the death of his wife. After recounting the stereotypical gothic elements of the story, Peakman goes on to highlight some of the novel’s strongest features:

Sleath describes the wildness of the natural Iandscape, with its rugged rocks and dark, horrifying forests, in detail. The moon is ever-present as the mists waft over the darkened skies, and mysterious spectres glide through unlit corridors.

She makes the mistake of seeing the back-stories as secondary to the book. To quote from my introduction:

Large swathes of Sleath’s novel are given over to tranquil stories of Madame Chamont who we first meet as Julie de Rubiné (an allusion to Mackenzie’s novel Julia da Roubigné), as a mother nurturing and educating a boy, Enrico de Montferrat, and girl baby, Laurette whose true parentage are learned at the book’s close.  This boy and girl emerge as the ostensible central pair of characters who experience a Longus-like Daphnis and Chloe (Greek, 2nd century romance) semi-incestuous erotic childhood that becomes a shared adolescent love … Some of its paradigms do recall particular obsessions in Radcliffe: e.g, the dark father-lover who seeks to murder his daughter-niece and worldly callous aunt, and a ghost is explained away, but the one character who stays in the narrative from beginning to end is the older woman, the romance’s mother.  Madame Chamont stands in for Sleath.  The book’s back stories often parallel Madame Chamont’s and project many intense retreats into solitude from the severe calamities of the social world that we find in the main narrative. Gothics lend themselves to psychoanalytical parallels, but it is intriguing to note that, like Madame Chamont, the book’s true central male character is the Conte della Croisse (called LaRoque).  Della Croisse is the most carefully delineated complicated male character who Madame Chamont comes upon early in the book, and who keeps turning up at hinge-points in the plot-design, and himself gradually presents a believably mixed personality (amoral with virtuous impulses). Like Madame Chamont, at this point LaRoque seems at a central male (it is he whom she hears being tortured) …

The second half of my introduction tells the story of Eleanor Sleath’s life. The first half (which I quoted from above) is written in academic style and really tells of how the book is mostly misunderstood (it’s not a German horror story but rather Radcliffian – imitating and inspired by Radcliffe) and how the older main characters — a woman and man he mother and the unmarried priest — reflect Sleath’s life. It’s common to think that women in the earlier period lived these chaste obedient dull lives: they wisely hid themselves. She is typical in being widowed young, though the first husband died too quickly to make her endlessly pregnant and leave her with too many children. In this era they did know of contraceptive methods, but often people didn’t use them.

Sleath was part of the same milieu as Austen; since we now know of this life of hers, its events and hiding makes me wonder what we don’t know of Austen’s. Was Austen so closely chaperoned that she never came near any of Sleath’s experiences? probably. Unlike Austen, Sleath was freed by a marriage and widowhood.

Then what probably happened was the woman had a stillborn child by this clergyman out of wedlock (who La Roque is surrogate for) — very dangerous in this period because of what she could have been accused of. Being middle class with connections she was able to hush it up. A dead husband, two dead babies, and an intense love affair. And one result of all this were these books. (Peakman calls the love affair “ill-advised:” by whose criteria?)

My introduction does not say Sleath probably had this stillborn child or very bad miscarriage, only refers to the rumors that she had one and how this hurt her position with her “friends” and broke up the coterie. It’s speculation I can put here.

But Peakman is right that for “a modern-day reader accustomed to a linear narrative,” these may seem a distraction instead of what they are: the core of the novel.

She concludes however that

while the novel is by no means high literature, it makes for good bed-time reading. It is also fun to understand what the eighteenth-century reader was enjoying. This new edition, with an informative foreword by Professor Ellen Moody, is a valuable addition to the modern study of a work formerly all but lost to public view.

I hope this review helps sell The Orphan of the Rhine, and my introduction makes Sleath’s narrative content and the book’s autobiographical context better understood.

I look forward eagerly to when Valancourt publishes my edition of of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or the Recluse of the Lake, where I prepared the text itself, wrote explanatory notes as well as an introduction. We are promised the coming spring.

The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach 1802 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Courtauld Institute Gallery, London http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/TW0491

The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach 1802 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Courtauld Institute Gallery, London http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/TW0491

Ellen

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Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth Bennet seeking relief by washing her face in a basin (2013 Death comes to Pemberley, scripted Juliette Towhidi)

Dear friends and readers,

It will come as no surprise that the most common or repeated topic at the ASECS in Los Angeles (not far from Hollywood) were film or media studies, or (perhaps) those were the ones I noticed and was told about. It might surprise to discover that a number of those papers (including mine) used as their texts Jane Austen films. It was the zeitgeist topic. A young male Austen scholar told me he went to a panel expecting to hear a paper on Jane Austen’s novels and discovered it focused on a couple of Jane Austen films. Gothic too, Jane Austen as gothic was an element in this.

I confess I did not go to all of these. To my regret I was not able to attend “Appropriating the Restoration and Eighteenth Century: Fictionalized Place and Time on Film and Television,” which hosted papers on “Blackadder: Satirizing the Century of Satire” (by Sarah Stein), “Filming ‘The Fanny Wars:’ Mansfield Park, Literary Fandom and Contemporary Critical Practice (by Fiona Brideoake),” and (especially hard to miss), “Crossbones, Piracy, and the British Empire” (by Sirvidihya Swaminathan). It was on against another on film session I felt I had to go to, as some people there would be attending the panel my paper on film was to be given. I regretted missing “Jane Austen and Multimedia” on Saturday morning, which included a paper that includes The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (it had been heavily advertised & I thought it might be over-crowded). My friend told me a panel on “what we learned teaching Jane Austen” was often about the films. I especially wanted to hear Andrew McInnes, “‘It wants shade:” Pride and Prejudice and the Gothic” but had to leave the conference early to spend time with friends.

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The gravatar for this blog: Jennifer Ehle as a deeply meditative Elizabeth Bennet (1995 P&P, scripted Andrew Davies)

Plus my stenography is not what it once was. So this does not begin to cover even part of what was said on film or Jane Austen films. I offer the gist of a few papers and some of the conversation about them afterwards.

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Caroline Lennox (Serena Gordon) meeting Henry Fox (Alun Armstrong) in secret (1999 Aristocrats, scripted Harriet O’Carroll)

I began with a double panel, “The Eighteenth Century in Hollywood:” two sessions in a row. Thursday 9:45 am to 1 pm. Paula Byrne had been expected to talk on Belle, but couldn’t make it. Stella Tillyard, author of many books, historian, the source of a number of films, spoke first on “Aristocrats, Tides of War, and A Royal Affair.” She began by asking, What makes for a successful historical drama? Outside the university there has been an immense growth of interest in history, to see a non-fiction past depicted. There is also a desire to get at the interiority of the experience. To adapt these for the screen (as in the John Adams mini-series) one must have strong plot-design, tension, and to exploit the medium of film. These films are based on some sort of vision, tell about the future; the books are disguised autobiographies often. Her book, Aristocrats was written with a general audience in mind as a 5 act play, with entre-acts; it was history as an argument about this group of women in their context and novelized. The mini-series was framed by a narrator (the voice of Emily when older, Sian Phillips) to convey information; all kinds of compromises continually, including spun out at length pageantry and love and dressing scenes. There is an urgent commercial desire in films women go to for heroines: few 18th century women had any agency for real; the much-touted Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire is a tragic figure. People want to see sites of power, courts, theatrical moments. O’Carroll and her film-crew kept in mind the Reithian imperatives of inform, educate, entertain. They filmed in Ireland for the tax breaks, and part of the story takes place there. The mini-series is marvelous at bringing to us the materiality of the past. She went over some scenes (the fireworks) to show what effects were sought and how. There was a kind of thrill to filming in the real Carlton House where the Duchess of Leinster lived, with an original picture really there. (Today it is a tasteless hotel.) So film records the time at which it’s filmed too.

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The doctor, the king and his wife (from A Royal Affair)

The shorter format film has advantages; it usually has a stronger sense of tension, sense of mystery as we chose epitomizing moments. Tillyard was especially proud of the 2006 Danish film, A Royal Affair; not a commercial success, an art film. It is a family romance seen through a historical lens, a poignant story about friendship, sexuality, Caroline Matilda’s affair with the German doctor, Johann Frederick Struensee;the king is presented as melancholic rather than mad, and finds in the doctor someone he can tell about his condition to. In 2012 Denmark was willing to tell more truths about the lack of egalitarianism in earlier Denmark. It is one of the recent Scandanavian noir films. Tillyard showed a few clips where we saw a quiet austerity of approach and intelligent use of sound and image.

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Marital sex scene between the Duke (Ralph Fiennes) and Duchess (Keira Knightley) (from The Duchess, scripted Jeffrey Hatcher. directed by Saul Dibb)

Jeffrey Hatcher, author of many screenplays, told of how he got into 18th century films. He said as a screenplay writer you are fictionalizing with all the realities of a film in mind; you want enough information to fill out concrete circumstances. For Stage Beauty, he had just the right amount. He kept in mind what he read about Edward Kynaston, the last male actor to portray women on the 17th century stage. For The Duchess, he had the problem of a book (Amanda Foreman’s) which took the character from cradle to grave. You want to tell the story from the character’s crucial and best moments; so he was a bit at odds with the producer. He tried to focus in on particular political moments: she was good at campaigning, became a symbol of radical chic, understood the ways of her world and sold an image. In her private life she knew much trouble, with Elizabeth Foster a kind of succubus, the Duke’s mistress, perhaps Georgiana’s dominating lover too. Georgiana had a long-time affair with Charles Grey, later prime minister, so he took the giving up of this affair for the sake of his career as a turning point in all their intertwined lives. Ralph Fiennes was able to make the Duke far more appealing than he is written up for in the script or was in real life — for example in the scene where he is seen teaching Bess Foster’s sons to use a gun. Hatcher sees Fiennes as a kind of Jean Gabin. Amanda Foreman felt some of the depiction of Georgiana was unsympathetic towards her, and Hatcher conceded she was not a heroine for him. Like Tillyard, he felt the Duchess a tragic woman who lived a terrible life however glamorized. He ended on the intransigence of what happens to story matter in popular film genres, maintaining you cannot make an anti-war war film.

In the talk afterward it was said that adaptation to film must be an act of betrayal in which you try to hold onto some essential truth of the life or time or the book. Talk was of Michael Winterbottom’s A Cock and BullStory from Tristram Shandy (starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, Gillian Anderson and Keeley Hawes ) as excellent. Now I would like to see it .How central film-editing is when it comes to the final product. The writer of a book has to accept that someone else (a team) has taken possession of your idea.

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Johnny Depp as Rochester (The Libertine, scripted Stephen Jeffreys, produced John Malkovitch)

The second session was made up of the responders. Misty Anderson thinks we are in a post-Johnny Depp era, i.e., The Libertine with Depp as the Earl of Rochester has been highly influential. Her aim as a college teacher using film is to think with students about how what we are seeing is the product of late 20th century capitalism; we have to critique what Chatsworth House was built upon then and is built upon now. Like Rozema’s Mansfield Park, bring out the cost of this world. Belle she saw as a fairy tale about racism. A Royal Affair shows how many people are moving towards atheism, and full modernity (the reaction to this) is not turning out to be a success. Devoney Looser said she tries to bring out the relationship of these films to original and present texts, emphasize the importance of educational influences in shaping identities. She would use how Lady Emily Lennox’s life was radically altered by her relationship with the Rousseauistic tutor, Ogilby and that of her children. The film Aristocrats kept a sense of the thousands of pages behind the knowledge that made making Tillyard’s book possible. John O’Neill talked about using satirical cartoons of the era to critique the films he studies with his students. Linda Troost told of how she first fell in love with the 18th century by watching costume dramas set in the era. She often needs to rely on films to convey a sense of period to students as they take her courses to fulfill a requirement and have had little history. The problem is to to teach them to look for signs of where we are in history and where we are fictionalizing. She has used 18th century historical dramas like Rowe’s Jane Shore to show how earlier history was portrayed analogously in the 18th century. Steven Thomas focused on Belle as a film that meant a lot to him personally. It is rare to see black faces on admirable characters; we do see the costume drama world from Belle’s eyes, feel her hurt about how this world regards the color of her skin. He teaches the film as a political fable for today. he emphasized how scant the evidence for what we see and how much change from the historical record is done.

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The talk afterward was lively, varied, and included someone who suggested the influence of film on literary studies today is pernicious. Tillyard had emphasized how important is literal historical accuracy for sets and how that is a driving force for how a film looks. This insistence prompted me to offer the idea that filmic realism changes from era to era, so that the realism of a films of the 1970s (say Oneddin Line and the 1970a Poldark) looks quite different from the realism of the new Poldark (Aidan Turner’s expressions and wild hairdos remind me of Depp as the Libertine, the ambiance of Outlander) and Belle today. The length of scenes, the way they are filmed, has changed utterly, so technology drives the look of films just as much. Someone argued landscape is much more central because of filming on location. People countered Misty Anderson’s thesis, offering a real demonstration for the influence of Tony Richardson’s 1963 Tom Jones and again Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 Barry Lyndon. It was suggested that plays were influential on how people saw themselves in life and how they wrote their novels and that has influenced how we portray characters in films until today.

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Norma Shearer as a bejeweled doll of a Marie Antoinette (1938, scripted Claudine West, directed W. S. Dyke, costumes Adrian)

There were four papers on “The Eighteenth Century on Film,” the panel my paper found a place on. Friday, 11:30 am to 1 pm. Since I was giving a paper my notes are minimal in comparison to some of the thoroughness with which each participant managed to present his or her paper inside 20 minutes. Dorothee Polanz seemed to survey the whole of the Marie Antoinette canon in her “Portrait of the Queen as a Celebrity: Marie Antoinette on Screen, 1934-2012.” Polanz demonstrated that on film Antoinette is an over-dressed doll, recognizable in iconic gorgeously elaborate and exquisite scenes; she is a mythic figure, and the poignancy of aspects of her life lost. Polanz tended to focus on more recent more naturalistic portrayals; she did suggest that the use of the part of a vehicle for stars is part of this and you can undermine this image, try to break it apart by casting somewhat against expectations. In her “‘Too light & bright and sparkling;’ the BBC Pride and Prejudice and the Secret of Style,” Melissa Bissonette’s insightful thesis was that the way the camera was used in Davies’s famous film continually kept Darcy’s eyes averted from us, showed him from the back, thwarted the viewer’s desire to see him up-close; he is carefully kept from Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth too, so that in the latter part of the film when they finally make long and full eye contact over a piano scene, we feel intense satisfaction. It’s a kind of game where a desire for erotic satisfaction is kept up for 6 hours. I have put the version of my paper I gave at the conference on Academia.edu, “Screenplays and Shooting Scripts into Films.” I’ve written about the process I went through coming up with my choice of films, my argument that we need to study and publish film scripts as central to understanding a film, and that screenplays and shooting scripts can be valued as a new experimental genre in itself elsewhere on this blog and Ellen and Jim have a blog, Two. Steven Thomas in “The Assurance of Belle, the insurance of the Zong, and the Speculation of Cinema,” talked at length about Belle. He offered a detailed history of the real political case used at the center of the film, talked about the history and conventions of costume drama, and while he said the discrepancies between historical accuracy and the fable before us were not important, he did show how speculative financial capitalism (how insurance policies lead to inhuman human acts) and the horrible treatment of people who were enslaved was beautifully hitched onto this finally melancholy romance film with many ghosts from today’s hurts (like the politics of African hair).

There was little time for talk afterward. I was asked what kinds of films or which films have had film scripts published and I answered from the notes on my paper (see academia.edu). People talked about Marie Antoinette’s agon during the revolution, her trial, and if modern attitudes towards her as a celebrity have changed the fundamental hostilities towards her; if she is a compensatory victim.  Polanza spoke of Chantal’s Les adieux a la reine and Sofia Coppola’s sweet film. Of course Colin Firth’s performance was brought up.  There was not time to do justice to Thomas’s complex paper.

Over the course of the sessions I attended people probably did not begin to talk about the financing of films, roles of producers, uses of close-ups (so important in film) and modern montage, film-editing anywhere near enough (see Future Learn: From Script to Screen, Film-making; click and scroll down). I still think one of the finest and most successful films in conveying the 18th century Ettore Scola and Sergeo Armidei La Nuit de Varennes based on Catherine Rihoit’s novel and wish I had the nerve to do a paper on that for next time.

Ellen

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Anna Maxwell Martin as Susan

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Julie Graham as Jean

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Rachel Stirling as Millie

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Sophie Rundle as Lucy

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Hattie Morahan as Alice Merren

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Faye Marsay, Lizzie, Alice’s daughter

Dear friends and readers,

After I watched this two season mini-series, The Bletchley Circle, and its features through twice, I felt cut off to discover there had been no third season. I just loved the lighting, color, the dark quiet costumes by Anna Robbins

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and in the second feature we met a woman director, whose mother had worked in Bletchley Park, Sarah Harding:

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I heard Guy Burt, the writer for all the episodes, say how he looked forward to exploring the changes in the women from their surrounding world over the next decade, with Jake Lushington (executive director, both seasons), talking of further plans for development of these womens’ lives. I wonder what had happened. Had the ratings not been sufficiently high, really? The history of these women who had worked heroically during WW2, been kept silent for years after, had been respected, talked about, watched — above all by women. From reading about the chequered history of even a tremendously successful series, Poldark, I know mini-series costume dramas can be cancelled by individuals out of personal tastes or a sense of their own power: they prefer something else.

Perhaps that was it: someone who couldn’t believe there was an audience for, or disliked a woman-centered detective show which was built out of the lives of five women, all of whom had been a team during World War Two, had come together to solve crimes that hurt women. I loved its recreation of the feel of England in the 1950s, and its depiction of these relatively powerless women seeking justice for one another, safety, space for themselves to fulfill their identities.

Allow a friend, herself a blogger at Jane Austen and women writers, who recommended it to me first, explain:

Last night, my husband and daughter and I watched the first season (three episodes) of a BBC series called Bletchley Circle, I would highly recommend for its woman-centered pov, and its decency, empathy and compassion. It stars the same woman who played Elizabeth Bennett in the televised version of the murder mystery sequel to P&P by PD James: Anna Maxwell Martin.

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Martin as Susan in closing moments of first story, coming home

It is about (for those who haven’t seen it) four women who worked together at Bletchley Park doing decoding during WWII–each has a particular skill she brings to bear. Since the end of the war, they have been sworn to secrecy and have taken on ordinary lives–two are married, one with children, one oppressively with an abusive man,

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Rundle as Lucy ironing his shirts

one is a waitress

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Stirling as Millie, a waitress renewing her friendship for the first time in years with Susan

and one is a librarian.

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Graham as Julie stamping books

They come together to try to find a serial killer. I found the three episodes extraordinary–the women show real compassion for and identification with the murdered women–they are not “hardboiled,” they don’t turn away with a veneer of hardness from these victims. We see sexism completely through a woman’s lens–it is an obstacle the four women constantly have to work around–and they do. Ritual humiliation is always a threat, but it doesn’t define them–in other words, unlike heroines from Catherine Morland to Emma to the female protag in I’ve Got Mail they don’t have to undergo a “purification” of humiliation at the hands of a male into to be made properly fit up (abject) for marriage or other entree into the male world. The humiliation–and it is there, for example, in the suggestion of the waitress’s boss that he will give her time off (to pursue the murders) if she has sex with him–but the woman sidestep it adroitly, competently–it becomes something like a traffic jam, something you navigate.

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Susan seen sewing — also cooking, playing with children, shopping, at the dinner she provides

There is real pain in this series too–the pain of the lead character’s good (but not good enough) marriage to a “kind” man, the pain of these women having to hide their talents, an undercurrent of loss and lost possibilities–I kept thinking Virginia Woolf would have appreciated this series. It’s set in the early 1950s, and although I wasn’t born yet, the ambience felt right to me. I don’t know if women were involved in producing this series–I will look that up–but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

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A typical shot of the group in first season

In the first season’s story, “Breaking the Killer Code,” what stung me in Susan’s case is how again and again her help to officials is dismissed unless she fits into what they are thinking, and in one case her help is being used to find the wrong man (set up by the murderer). Each time any of them take time off to do her own thing — this project — they are missed, complained to, where have you been? hemmed in, punished, beaten, Millie fired. Susan’s husband trivializes her gifts by offering to keep her well supplied with cross-word puzzles. Lucy has been beaten by her husband many times, is frightened of him,

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but with these friends who use her gifts rightly who give her a task worth doing, she escapes him.
As the program ended, we have seen the murderer see the four women trying to capture him and so when Susan (our true central heroine, Anna Maxwell Martin) does make her way to the right place, a mental hospital and the door opens and we see that face and he lets her in and the doors closes, it is a shock. She does manage to flee him but it is her first real evidence who the killer is.

Lucy goes to live with Millie who we see has traveled, had adventures, and now supports herself partly by quiet prostitution and black market dealing — and dresses colorfully yet not overdone at all.

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Jean is someone the world identifies as a spinster type, she was the office manager in the war; now she is liberated into independence, a quiet life alone, implicitly a lesbian. We see her blackmail another woman now in charge of a group which supervises secret papers for the gov’t in order to help her friends stop the serial killer. The way the woman at first lies and then is forced to tell the truth is riveting because she’s being bullied by Jean; their friendship we are to feel was never more than surface connection:

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We see how the atmosphere of demanding keeping secrets is so pernicious to human relationships but keeping secrets itself is not impugned. Later Susan visits a man at the head of another group who has secrets to keep — good old Simon Williams still going, still an aristocratic type (he was James Bellamy in Upstairs Downstairs)

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and in his dialogue with Susan the doctrine of keeping secrets is held up as a way of protecting people from the point of view of you don’t inform on people.

Lucy is recognized by the writers as the victim type: the woman dress her up as decoy or the murderer and I felt intense anxiety over her — they were forced to risk her safety.

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In the US this kind of nuanced presentation is not possible. We have impoverished art and films because the reactionaries rule what is presented and for the most part women are presented super-sexed up, or over masculinized. Housewives are presented as hostile to their husbands.

I was drawn to the many quiet shots of these women at work together or in a reading group:

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and separately:

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Lucy’s hand turning pages as she memorizes

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A repeated group scene from the second season

There was a falling away in the second year. First Anna Maxwell Martin left half-way through. As a type Martin appeals deeply to me. In watching Death Comes to Pemberley frankness compels me to admit that I love especially Martin; I love seeing her inhabit Elizabeth and thus change the contours of the character. I thought she was all that Esther Summerson in Davies’s Bleak House could be. When she left something important was lost for me. She is celebrated in this pastoral shot of her contemplative:

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Susan contemplative

In second season’s first story, “Blood on Their Hands,” Susan has become unnerved by the first experience, and has stayed away from her friends, and she is dragged in, intensely reluctantly because a new old friend, Hattie Morahan, as Alice Merran, has allowed herself to be found guilty of a murder she didn’t do in order to prevent the police from inditing her daughter, Lizzie. In the first season we learned that Susan had gotten pregnant before marriage, and opted for her conventional life rather than travel with Millie as they had dreamed; now we see that Susan’s choice of retreat and living through quiet strength with others whom she loves and love her is part of her nature.

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Millie and Susan bid adieu

Mother-and-daughter and female friendship strains are a central woman’s theme, so too family life. So Alice and Lizzy as a family replace the bourgeois group of Susan, her husband, and their two children, when he takes a better job in Bombay, and she finds that she can find a real job there alongside him, and can avoid sending her children to boarding school if they take the children with them. Hattie Morahan is one of my favorite actresses, and she was brilliant as the shattered isolated woman who actually had an illegitimate child she was not able to bring up, but now is desperately working to save, and then when the true murderer is discovered, building a new relationship with.

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Parallel moment: Alice and Lizzie come together.

The problem is Alice’s sacrifices are over-the-top, and a new note of slightly meretricious hysteria enfeebles the stoic mood of the first year. OTOH, a political touch was the murderer was a fanatic anti-communist who had been a fascist in the war.

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Millie tells Hattie and Lucy what she has discovered in a contraband warehouse

The second and as it turned out, last story of this mini-series, “Uncustomed Goods,” had Millie and Hattie first, and then with Lucy (now working at Scotland yard, a position worthy her gifts), Julie (still a librarian), rescue a group of trafficked women from a life of abusive prostitution in the UK itself. It made me uncomfortable that the chief villain was a seething brothel and black-market madam type, though it may be probable, and certainly kept the women-centered nature of the stories intact. Nonetheless, they needed the help of a brotherly male in power or with access to information; Tim Piggot-Smith replaced Simon Williams for this function:

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The corpses have become bloodier, more mutilated too. I suspect the melancholy undertow plus the frankness about how women are made victims by their society — it’s not clear these immigrant women will do well now — did not find favor with those who want an upbeat story. It’s obvious they were laying a groundwork for another season: the man in Scotland Yard who has been colluding with the corrupt woman who is trafficking women and running black market deals looks very angry at Lucy and we see that a romance is beginning between and other employee in Scotland Yard.

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The costume designer did not keep up the somber colors quite as much, and there were many more shots of the women in parks. In Fashioning the Nation: Costume Drama and Identity in British Cinema, Pam Cook showed that bleak outfits and dark lower middle-looking streets are not realistic but rather symbolic of a self-controlled mood of acceptance of what is. People love the flamboyant dress of the older costume dramas not because the costumes are believable, but because they stand for dreams of desire fulfilled. The second season was inching towards more typical costume drama: in the US Mad Men, set in the 1950s, the women are dressed in scrumptious concoctions of crinoline and flounces. I have a preference for the first, a Brief Encounter look myself — I allude to the 1940s movie of self-sacrifice by train with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, an Anna Maxwell Martin type) look myself.

Not that it was not done tastefully and with an eye towards commemorating this Bletchley Circle women:

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A recreation of an actual picnic a group of Bletchley women had — there’s an extant photograph imitated here

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The feature had a Bletchley Park woman who is still alive tell of her experience, her silence for 30 years, and her satisfaction to be appreciated now

We still had these passing moments of sustained fulfilled endeavour:

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At someone’s kitchen or working table

The woman are in a group, they don’t operate alone — but in some scenes to see them walking along in their high-heeled pumps, handbags on arms, through bomb sites, wrecked neighborhoods, seems improbable — would they not call attention to themselves? In her invaluable study (as no other has gone on to develop her idea seriously), The Girl Sleuth, Bobbie Ann Mason says the early twentieth century girl detective fiction has girl sleuths working in a group, often of 4, never alone. A growth or change which occcured around 1940 was to allow a woman to work alone, independently, like Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton. Mason is dismayed to find that once again in 1972 this group formation has returned to girl detective fiction, as if it cannot be conceived a woman can act firmly on her own. In The Bletchley Circle we feel they need one another because it’s dangerous their quest, and also we see how vulnerable they are to their society ejecting them and men’s violence, but still the group being necessary is there again. Mason wrote her book before we began to see men’s detective fiction evolve to give the famous detective a female side-kick (like Joan Warton in Elementary with Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock).

The explanation which feels more satisfying to me is that the society watching these films printing these books does not want to see women alone. They want to see them in groups, to reinforce what modern women psychologists say is the relational nature of women’s psyches.Some studies suggest the hostile portrayal of the Renaissance Queen Elizabeth I derives from her having lived so independently. The anomaly is not wanted or appreciated. In Moore’s book she is endlessly showing her lesbians in a group It may be that women naturally form groups: at the bottom of society, when women are hired as cleaning women they form teams, work with the same women each day, and naturally begin to identify as something like families; men on the other hand, wait on corner streets and are picked out to join a truck one at a time for that day; tomorrow they will be with a wholly different group of individuals. Women would not do well with this. So this group detective story replicates a woman’s sense of what’s important, what she’s comfortable with, enjoys too.

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The favorite spot in both seasons, all three stories is the bowels of Julie’s library

Ellen

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Parapet on Afterward (BBC film adaptation of Wharton’s ghost story)

… but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid? — Austen, Northanger Abbey

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve sent and have good reason to think this proposal has been accepted by the OLLI people at GMU for this coming fall 2014. The emphasis is not historical; I’ve chosen short, contemporary and turn of the 19th century texts, and recent powerful films:

The Gothic

This course will explore the gothic mode in fiction and film. It’s an outlook found in a vast terrain of sub-genres, where images, plot-, and character types repeat like a recipe. Take one labyrinthine or partly ruined dwelling, fold inside one murderous incestuous father or chained mother (preferably in a dungeon), heroes and heroines (various kinds, as wanderers, nuns, friars), stir with a tempest; be sure to have on hand blood, night-birds, and supernatural phenomena, with fore-action or back-stories set in the past. We’ll be reading short stories, beginning with ghosts, witches, moving to vampire, werewolf, and then modern socially critical mysteries and the paranormal (stories of possession). We’ll cover terror, horror, male and female gothic. The course culminates in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly; Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963 version) and an excerpt from The Dark Angel (featuring Peter O’Toole). Most texts will be found on-line and include: LeFanu’s “Green Tea” and/or “Carmilla;” Marion Crawford’s “For the Blood is the Life;” R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; Doyle’s “Adventure of Abbey Grange;” Wharton “Afterward” and/or “Kerfol;” M. R. James’s “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral;” and Suzy Charnas’s “Unicorn Tapestry.”

The course lasts for 8 weeks and begins in early September.

We have on Trollope19thCStudies in the last few months read and discussed Sheridan LeFanu’s Wyvern Mystery and the fine film adaptation of it, read 5 of LeFanu’s ghost stories, and will soon embark on Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Making of the Marchioness which combines with a sequel, was turned into a gothic film adaptation for PBS, The Making of a Lady, and LeFanu’s Uncle Silas (the source for Dark Angel).

I am still typing Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake, and have embarked on reading Eleanor Sleath’s Orphan of the Rhine to write an introductory essay — both for Valancourt Press. Recently I wrote a review of Tyler Tichelaar’s The Gothic Wanderer where I also went over an excellent anthology of different ways to teach the gothic too. I will be reviewing Susan Wolfson’s Harvard Press edition of Northanger Abbey too — it has the loveliest of illustrations throughout.

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Fuseli, The Shepherd’s Dream

I seem never to let go of the gothic. I’ve got Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe beat … .

Ellen

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BiritSchossowNYorkerJustpictureblog
Birgit Schossow, from a New Yorker cover: Big City Noir

Dear friends and readers,

Over on WomenWritersAcrosstheAges @Yahoo, quite a number of us have read (or tried to read) some of Jane Smiley’s novels, and two of us have just finished her mystery-crime novel, Duplicate Keys, with three now going on for 13 Ways for looking at the Novel. Having once tried 13 Ways where Smiley defends “the virtuous and good character” (though on what grounds I no longer remember) and remembering the ferocious quarrels that once flared on Austen-l over Fanny Price, I thought those of Smiley’s novels I’ve read thus far a good opportunity for discussing the good or exemplary heroine. All three novels I’ve read have at their center, Private Life, A Thousand Acres, and now Duplicate Keys, have such a presence as their point of view.

Duplicate Keys may be said to be centrally about whether such a heroine is really “good” or is she a fool (cannot see the world in front of her), a “free rider” (she — horrors! — lives off a man or someone else), “dependent” on others, unfairly entangling them with her devotion, idealization (so much emotional blackmail), in reality a “passive-aggressive” (what could be worse than the hypocritical bully in disguise?). It’s also a Radcliffian sort of gothic (heroine terrorized by locks and doors), a woman’s novel re-engineered to look like a crime/mystery book, similar to Hughes’s TV film, Five Full Days, and is reminiscent Jane Elizabeth Howard’s Falling & Winston Graham’s Walking Stick.

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First, about the book: the commentary on it online suffers because people stick to this anti-intellectual and silencing idea we are not supposed to tell the ending (or in some versions anything about the book the person doesn’t know) especially stubbornly when the book is a mystery. If you can’t tell anything or the ending, you can’t discuss its meaning. A book’s meaning includes the whole design. (See What do spoiler warnings spoil?).

Far from being like a Hitchcock story (though why this should be a term of praise is beyond me, Hitchcock being a mean film-maker who loves to do cruel things to women), it’s a woman’s novel re-engineered to be a mystery; or mystery-crime-detective re-engineered to be a woman’s novel. Rather like Gwyneth Hughes’s Five Full Days or Prime Suspect featuring Helen Mirren — with the detective, whose name is Detective Honey (perhaps a joke) marginalized. And I liked it for the reasons I liked her others: a deep-feeling study of a cultural milieu through the eyes of a heroine: the difference is this time we are in a big, no a world city, and the time is contemporary. I long for books to be getting on with, a kind of friend to be dialoguing with someone and I can go for quite a time without finding a new one, but admit I’m now sure Alice, her heroine, was quite someone I could identify with. Bond and care about her, but not love and be intensely anxious for. I had the same problems with her previous two heroines.

It has a story which swirls around the friendship of two women: Alice Ellis and Susan Minehart. Alice comes to Susan’s apartment one day to find murdered in two chairs next to one another Susan’s husband, Denny and his best friend, business partner in a firm making and marketing popular music, and hanger-on, Craig Shellady. Who did it? and why? we slowly hear about a tiny circle of friends, associates and meet Noah Mast and his wife, Rya, whom it seems he bullies, while she clings to him. I realize now that they are a weak parallel for Alice and her ex-husband, Jim Ellis, who left her for a younger woman, Miranda, because he couldn’t stand her idealization of him, her “goodness,” her dependency; at the same time we learn, through the phone calls he sets up, that he continues to encourage this dependence, is himself still sexually jealous of any other suitors. The back story as Alice remembers away in one chapter tells something rather different: Miranda was an idolizing beautiful and much younger student, and Jim preferred her as a rebel, as a romancer, and because Miranda never asserted herself in any way whatsoever, not even achieving the minimum of job and profession.

There is also the homosexual Ray, doing well in his music businessman, big spender in expensive restaurants for all, and a drug dealer, with a cool (nasty-minded) lover, Jeff. The cast of characters is small: the last is Henry Mullett, a man who lives in her apartment house, and whose window faces hers (he has been watching her for an undetermined time) and with whom she commences a sexual affair and friendship. Craig is a domineering abusive type and both Alice and Rya have become his mistress-punching bags for a time.

Did I say Alice is a librarian? but perhaps gentle reader you guessed that. It seems in the cliched universe of popular novels librarians are characters who embody “good girl messages” by their love of books, lack of ambition (librarians are assumed to be without ambition) and typical activities (shelving books, cataloguing, and worse yet, helping other people to find and read books). In a way she reminded me of the heroine of Graham’s The Walking Stick, also a mystery: Deborah Dainton is a kind of cataloguer and librarian for an expensive art-jewellry-antiques shop.

It seems there has been drug dealing and someone murdered Denny and Craig over money and/or drugs — Ray is a suspect; so too Noah who is at one point arrested. Susan has throughout a severe tongue, apparently hating Craig, whom she characterizes as a predator a neurotic abuser. Alice (as ever, traditional good heroine again) tries to understand which means excuse, even justify Craig. Alice also turned to Ray after Jim left her; as a gay man, she was a companionable friend and he a support. This feels sinister feel as Ray is one of those people who took keys from Susan and gave them out. While Susan spent for the funeral, she defied other taboos too: she will not leave the large comfortable apartment and after she and Alice do a ritual cleaning out and throwing out, begins to return to sleep there. Denny who seems to have loved Craig has a Catholic family who insist on an expensive burial and Susan feels she must make a Catholic funeral and has to go yet further into debt to pay for it, about which she is endlessly bitter. Never made explicit after a while the reader realizes Susan has turned to Alice for friendship because her husband, Denny, made Craig his alter ego.

Coverblog

The title refers to how Susan has been in the habit of making duplicate keys and giving them out to everyone who has a relationship with Denny and Craig as a matter of business policy, a way of networking. Those given duplicate keys can of course make more copies. So anyone could have gotten into the apartment and murdered Denny and Craig. Alice has followed suit (she often imitates Susan) and given keys for her apartment to others. The cover illustration to my book show two doors that seem to be at right angles, an old-fashioned glass-looking doorknob on one, the other in shadows, both having reflective light glancing over them.

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What there is of suspense is as Radcliffian as the business of doors that can be opened by others at will, doors Alice cannot lock: it’s the result of Alice hiding from Susan and everyone else her growing relationship with Henry.

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18th century illustration for Radcliffe type novel

Duplicate Keys reminded me of The Walking Stick because of the way Henry Mullett quietly pursued Alice. We see he watches for her from the window; she half realizes this and does not (like Deborah trying to avoid Leigh Hartley) want the man’s company. She is though reading her ex-husband’s poems to his second wife as a substitute for phoning him, which she has not quite got out of the habit of doing still at the crises of her life. Henry insists she come downstairs as a much better way to pass the time. He cannot get her to go to a movie with him as she has to work tomorrow — to to her librarian job her basis for support.

Heny’s slow moving into Alice’s life is worrying — because of the way he is insistent, from the time he got her to pick him up (and we realize now that he was aware they lived near one another so he was watching her go in and out of the apartment house), and from her dropping the remark that she did not know why she had not told Susan about him.

This feels like a Hitchcock motif and to be sure he uses it, but I’d like to suggest it’s more endemic of women’s books. A very powerful one I read a couple of years ago, Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard has another Henry insidiously take over a woman’s life to the point she is in mortal danger from him; it was made into a chilling film by Andrew Davies. The man can take advantage of this divorced woman now in the country, partly retired. At the core of Graham’s Walking Stick: the lame or crippled heroine discovers that she has been a target for the man whom she regarded as so beautiful and the rare friend; we don’t learn of this quiet stalking and plan all along to use her to steal jewels form the firm she works for until the very end.

Tricky this business of caring about, being anxious about characters. On Trollope19thCStudies we talked about how this is central to our love of particular books or authors …. Remember when we read A.S Byatt’s Imagining Characters where Byatt and Sodres talked about how filmed characters can get in the way of people’s memories or they can be very disappointed in the choice of an actor as he or she interferes with a previous conception. What happens to me sometimes is the actor almost replaces the preconception or character as I’ve felt it before I saw the movie.

Alice is carrying on a genuine affair with Henry (going to bed with him) and hiding this from her friends. This spells disaster: how will they know to help her or where to find her if he should spirit her away? Smiley accounts for her hiding where she’s been by her fear of a new failure or rejection. Alice fears Mullett will desert or hurt her as have all the others. The heroine of Falling is saved because her friends know of her Henry (hmmn the same name) and find out about him and are there to help her if she should phone.

This hiding reminds me of how Ginny in A Thousand Acres kept getting herself pregnant by not using contraceptives – and telling Tyler she was – and when she’d miscarry hiding this. Come to think of it this is a bit improbable. But Margaret also kept secrets in this way.

Remember the trio of lies, secrecy, silence as the way women get through life — and also the pathologies that result – this begins with Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, it’s central to Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and many a woman’s novel. In the 2002 film adaptation of Forsyte Saga we see that after sex with Soames, Irene goes to take a bath, and uses a syringe to push up into her vagina vinegar (and whatever else she can think of) to stop any conception.

She’s learn of more adulteries and betrayals among her group of friends. Rya was having an affair with Craig (he got around, so did Alice, so did Denny now dead and murdered too) and her deriding husband, Noah knew. And suddenly Ray shows up and asks to stay with her.

The novel held me mostly through the my fear for Alice over Henry … What I liked about the one Susan Hill mystery, The Various Haunts of Man (a Simon Serailler novel) I read – which made me very anxious — was there too a woman was threatened who was alone. I have liked mysteries when they are comedies of manners too (Sayers) and romances (Byatt); this is combining female gothic justifiable paranoia …

Ray and his slinky boyfriend Jeff now somehow force their way into Alice’s apartment and while she sleeps they take her key. I feel for her because I know that I could be pressures this way. The screws are turned as Henry Mullett is also pressing himself on her but then suddenly vanishes from the narrative and Alice wonders where he is.

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Semi-comic image of gothic library — libraries are replacing labyrithine castles (e.g., The Name of the Rose, Charnas’s Vampire Tapestry)

But our Alice takes satisfaction in her job as a librarian; what a release to escape to one’s job. (I knew the feeling even as an adjunct, when I would turn to what I was doing with books and writing and for my students). J. L. Carr has a wonderful line in Month in the Country about escaping into the mask of one’s job to meet others through. But as she works into the night she finds herself downstairs among the stacks. The light seems to go out after she has put it in and suddenly for a sequence we get this uncanny nervous fear that such books usually have on offer. From Radcliffe to Susan Hill this is part of what we are to feel; in Falling once the heroine lets Henry live with her in the house we have it continually.

But then Alice calms down. To me this calming down is a sign that Smiley’s real talent is not in the gothic area as she really is at play unseriously when she does it.

I should say it’s very easy reading and if you get lost on the subway (as I did yesterday on the DC metro) it is a good companion. There is Alice having her hard time and there are you lost. There is Alice unable to hold onto her keys. There are you unable to make the machine add $10 to your “smart” card (proving of course you are not worthy a smart card as you are not smart enough). Both incompetent before life’s demands. You feel not so alone …

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And then it happened, I was 23/s the way through and got to what Margaret Forster called in Smiley’s Blind Horses and A Thousand Acres “the sudden pull, the shocking jerk as the point of it all pushed home …” The brutal reality that was staring me in the face all along. Alice comes to the conclusion Susan did it. And we realize how Susan has been managing Alice’s life: Susan does all the cooking when she is there, takes over Alice easily.

At first when Alice come to the conclusion suddenly that Susan did the murders we are not sure. It might be all in her mind and Smiley wisely keeps up the uncanniness at the same time as we cannot be sure Alice is right. If Susan did it, that is the sudden pull though: so now we have a picture of private life in the city as lived by people making it through the arts (or not making it as the case is), and then we get the proof. It’s also about what constitutes success and what failure and how the lack of admired success can destroy people, and when it destroys an individual it can poison the circles he’s in.

It seems that what Susan loathed was Denny and Craig’s continual “whining” over their lack of success. They had one success with one hit and never made another, and they have spent the rest of their lives trying to make another hit, to become stars or businessmen like Ray. She has had to listen to them talk about this for years, plan this networking, that strategy, watched them fail, vow to do something else, but come back to the dream all over again. And take drugs in the meantime, sell them, deal, get into worse and worse debt.

A bit improbable: Alice twice sends away a locksmith, once after Detective Honey urges her to change her locks, and again after Ray and Jeff get in and leave without permission. After the first time she is left without a door. Could Susan have engineered a “difficult” locksmith? At any rate, after the second attempt she has no locked door again — we are in Radcliffe country now. Susan thinks she again hears that same sound she did before and escapes — out the window.

Great movie cliff-hanger as she literally hangs 4 floors up form a ledge; as she improbably rounds the bend, she sees Susan looking out the window gun in hand, looking for Alice.

Things fall into place: all the bitter conversations, Susan’s disgust (for that’s what it is) with Alice’s way of coping with life and men — Susan scorns the way Alice lived with Jim and blamed Alice for Jim having left her and we are asked to take this seriously.

Alice has so dithered and insulted Henry by this time — for example at one point letting him buy an expensive set of food from Zabar’s to bring back, and then when Susan shows up on the sidewalk hurrying off with her without telling Henry. He slams the door in her face the next time she comes to his apartment. We are to see she mishandled a relationship that would have been satisfying — though at the beginning we distrusted him too (Hitchcock-like looking at her from his window). The romance is weak because Henry disappears and at the close of the book is apparently suddenly happy to start up again — to furnish us with a supposed happy ending?

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A excellent thoughtful posting by Anna on our listserv awakened me to the function of this book as a woman’s novel. Anna said she was ambivalent about the book and heroine, and had a friend who disliked it — presumably because she disliked the heroine. I know I did dislike Ginny at times, not because she was good but because she was conventionally good, because she bought into the mores of her community, many of which were awful, and she hid the incest inflicted on her by her father and kept on justifying him to the end. The way for example, at the close of Persuasion Anne Elliot justifies Lady Russell.

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Leonora Carrington, The House Opposite (a depiction of women’s worlds, women’s relationships)

Women’s friendship is central to this book, to me unexpectedly,
and also the good heroine. Alice is good and her goodness is
presented in this novel as under attack and somehow false — at least I suggest we are to believe Susan that Jim left Alice because Alice was”‘too dependent,” “loved him too much.” Susan shows a great deal of hostility towards Alice while dominating her, being the lead in the relationship. Susan resents this while taking advantage — as if somehow Alice were lacking and
irritating by not being aggressive and competitive. It’s false Susan thinks, a coverup for what? laziness? not seeing the truths of life. Alice is accused of not seeing the truths of life.

Ginny is similarly a good heroine and she gets some hard knocks because of it but her genuine helpfulness, cooperativeness, love and the rest are not turned into Freudian “passive-aggressive” nonsense (partly because her sister does not have the language for this kind of charge). This phrase is a badmouthing out of resentment and even jealousy. Many readers nowadays are perfectly comfortable with their more ugly and cruel impulses, told these are fine (such is the rhetoric of our time which supports unqualified competition, capitalism in the very corners of our souls). Ginny married Tyler out of her relationship with her father. He is NOT-her father, not a bully, not aggressive, not hurtful (and does get hurt for this is not a good reason to have married him just alone) Margaret is also good and has her life sluiced from her, but she is at the same time very strong and her husband lived off her.

Susan is also the bad heroine and fascinates Alice. Alice thrills to imagine Susan’s crime and for a while does not want to tell Honey what she saw. She admires Susan too. Only when she realizes that if she does not tell what she knows, Susan will kill her does she go to Honey.

The problem in Duplicate Keys for me is Smiley never defends Alice. We can see her goodness as real; how kind she is at the end to Noah, how she does the right thing to Rya. That she’s a good librarian Goodness ought to be defended more. I’ve had students write explicitly out of an assumption they’ve been taught: we are not to allow our human sympathies to decide our moral judgements. The best of judges know that this sympathy is what guides them in their determination. Yes there are pious books which teach women to hurt themselves centrally (good girl messages). And where I didn’t like Ginny was where she was this sort of good girl.

I believe the attack on the traditional heroine mostly comes out of resentment and jealousy when such a character is supported by loving people. Alice is acceptable to Susan because Jim left her. Susan then stepped in; she’d hate it if she saw Alice succeed by her goodness and it be accepted at face value — as well as having ambiguities.

People who want to be bullies and to win out at all cost want us to define the victims they make (as they often do make them) as “passive-aggressive,” and really wanting to do the same only too cowardly. Not so.

I liked Walking Stick so much better because Graham did not blame the victim. It’s true that Elizabeth Jane Howard is content to allow the villain to be simply pathological (Graham is not) while the portrait of Susan is sympathetic to her. Only it must be admitted Susan does not herself question success, she only wants Denny to get into another business, and drop Craig.

This is an important quarrel among women today. Many women just hate Austen’s Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) and call her every name they can think of including “creep mouse.” I suppose Ginny is a creep mouse, so too Alice – Esther Summerson has phases like that. This point of view hurts feminism, is anti-feminist, comes out of pride unwilling to admit women are victims, oppressed, and their goodness taken advantage of — if you want it to be socialistic, caring, supportive, a group effort for us all. I’m sure my readers have seen this “I hate the good heroine” syndrome; the good heroine is the traditional heroine from 18th century on to today. Nabokov openly despised this “type” and made her the mother of Lolita and had his Humbert Humbert kill her off.

A crime novel is a perfect place to bring out this debate as many womens’ enjoyment of these seems to be an enjoyment of femmes fatales, bad women, and the aggressive hard kind of heroine we see in Susan. There are (mistaken here) women justify violent revenge movies as feminist (these are serving the misogynist vicarious thrills of men viewers and movie-makers).

I’d like to read 13 Ways now to see if Smiley goes into this matter with insight and explicitly. I gather Smiley does what I call avoid the issues her own women’s novels sets up. She seems to treat “the novel” as if novels by men and women are seamlessly one. Myself I’ll guess it gives us more than insight into her books, but also insight into her Americanness and strong tendency as central heroines to justify (if in Private Life especially) undermine “good girl messages: Maybe though in the details she does not treat of novels and values as if they were universal and not continually gendered. Her own fiction is deeply gendered.

Ellen

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