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Posts Tagged ‘women’s poetry’


Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) and Henry Tilney (J.J. Feilds) entering the realm of the ancient Abbey, crossing the bridge (2007 Granada/WBGH Northanger Abbey, scripted Andrew Davies)

For a course at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at George Mason University
Day: 4 Thursdays midday, 11:50-1:15 pm online,
F405Z: The Heroine’s Journey
Office located at 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, Va 22032
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course:

We will explore the archetypal heroine’s journey across genres and centuries in the western Eurocentric tradition, from classical times to our 21st century female detectives. Our foundational books will be Maria Tatar’s The Heroine with 1001 Faces (written as a counterpart to Joseph Campbell’s famous and influential The Hero with a Thousand Faces), and Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey. Our four books will be Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Tales; Elena Ferrante’s Lost Daughter; and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. We will discuss what are journeys, the central experiences, typical plot-designs, characterizations, and events of the lives of our heroines of classical myth, fairy & folk tales (and connected to this historical romance and time-traveling tales), realistic fiction, and the gothic (and connected to this mystery/thrillers, detective stories). There are two recommended films as part of our terrain to be discussed: Outlander, S1E1 (Caitriona Balfe as Claire Beauchamp transported), and Prime Suspect S1E1 (Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison). I will supply some poetry (Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy, Marge Piercy), two scripts (for the serial episode of Outlander and the 2022 film adaptation of The Lost Daughter by Maggie Gyllenhaal), and one parodic modern short story (“Rape Fantasies” by Atwood), all as attachments.


Leda (Olivia Colman) stopping off to look at the sea sometime during her journey there and back (Lost Daughter, 2021)

Required Books (these are the editions I will be using but the class members may choose any edition they want):

Margaret Atwood. The Penelopiad. NY: Grove Press (originally O. W. Toad), 2005, ISBN 978-1-84195-798-2
Angela Carter. The Bloody Chamber and Other Adult Tales. NY: Harper and Row, 1981. ISBN 0-06-090836X (reprinted with new codes many times)
Elena Ferrante. The Lost Daughter, trans. Ann Goldstein. NY: Europa, 2008.
Jane Austen. Northanger Abbey, ed. Susan Fraiman. NY: Norton Critical Edition, 2004. ISBN 978-0-393-097850-6. Another excellent (good introduction, good materials at the back of the book) modern edition is the Longman Cultural text, ed. Marilyn Gaull. NY: Longman (Pearson Educational), 2005. ISBN 0-321-20208-2

Strongly suggested films:

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 1, called “Sassenach” Written Roger Moore, directed John Dahl. Featuring: Caitronia Balfe, Sam Heughan, and Tobias Menzies. Available on Netflix (and Starz), also as a DVD. I can supply a script for this one.
Prime Suspect, Season 1, Episode 1, called “Price to Pay 1 & 2.” Written Lynda La Plante, Directed Christoper Menaul. Featuring Helen Mirren, John Benfield, Tom Bell. Available on BritBox, YouTube and also as a DVD


Kauffmann, Angelica: Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses (18th century fine painting)

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

Jan 26th: Introduction, Atwood’s Penelopiad, with a few of her Circe poems, and Carol Ann Duffy’s “The Big O” (from The World’s Wife)

Feb 2nd: From Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Adult Tales read “The Bloody Chamber” (Bluebeard), “The Courtship of Mr Lyon,” (Beauty and the Beast)”Puss-in-Boots,” “The Lady of the House of Love” (Sleeping Beauty plus), “The Company of Wolves” (Little Red Riding Hood). Please have seen Outlander S1, E1. Another movie you could see is the 1984 Company of Wolves, an extravagant fantasy bringing together a number of Carter’s fairy tales and fables; she is one of the scriptwriters. It’s available on Amazon Prime.

Feb 9th: Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, with Marge Piercy’s “Morning Athletes” If you are interested, see the film adaptation, The Lost Daughter, scripted & directed Maggie Gryllenhaal; while much is changed, it is absorbing and explains the book (Netflix film, also available as a DVD to buy); it features Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, and Jack Farthing (as Leda’s husband). I can supply a script for this one too.

Feb 16th: Austen’s Northanger Abbey, with discussion that links the gothic to modern mystery-thriller and detective stories. I will send by attachment Margaret Atwood’s “Rape Fantasies” (a very short story). Please have seen Prime Suspect S1, E1-2. If you are interested, see the film adaptation, Northanger Abbey, scripted Andrew Davies, directed by Jon Jones; while much is changed, this one is also absorbing and adds to the book (available as a YouTube and DVD); it features beyond the two principals, Carey Mulligan, Liam Cunningham (General Tilney) and Sylvestre Le Touzel (Mrs Allen)


First still of Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison, late arrival at crime scene, driving herself (Prime Suspect, aired 6 & 9 April 1991, “Price to Pay”)

Select bibliography (beyond Tatar’s Heroine with a Thousand Faces):

Beard, Mary. Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations. Liveright, 2013. Early refreshingly jargon-free feminist readings of documents left to us.
Bojar, Karen. In Search of Elena Ferrante: The Novels and the Question of Authorship. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018.
Carter, Angela. Shaking a Leg: Collected Writings [non-fiction, essays, sketches, journalism], ed Jenny Uglow, introd. Joan Smith. NY: Penguin, 1998
Cavender, Gray and Nancy C. Jurik, Justice Provocateur: Jane Tennison and Policing in Prime Suspect. Urbana: Univ of Illinois Press, 2012.
Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn: Greenwood, 2004.
Frankel, Valier Estelle. 3 books: Symbolism & Sources of Outlander: Adoring Outlander: On Fandom, Genre, and Female Audience; Outlander’s Sassenachs: Gender, Race, Orientation, and the Other in the TV series. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015-17
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. 1983; rep, rev Harvard UP, 1993.
Gordon, Edmund. The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography. London: Chatto & Windus, 2016.
Klein, Kathleen Gregory. The Woman Detective: Gender and Genre. 2nd Edition. Chicago: Univ of Illinois, 1995.
Moody, Ellen, “People that marry can never part: A Reading of Northanger Abbey, Persuasions Online, 3:1 (Winter 2010): https://jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol31no1/moody.html ; The Gothic Northanger: A Psyche Paradigm, Paper delivered at a EC/ASECS conference, November 8, 2008 online: http://www.jimandellen.org/austen/gothicna.html ; The Three Northanger Films [includes Ruby in Paradise], Jane Austen’s World (Vic Sandborn, April 6, 2008: online: https://janeaustensworld.com/2008/04/06/the-three-northanger-abbey-films/
Pratt, Annis. Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981.
Southam, B.C., ed. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion: A Casebook. London: Routledge, 1968.
Sullivan, Rosemary. The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood, Starting Out. Canada: Harper Flamingo, 1998.
Tomalin, Clair. Jane Austen: A Life. NY: Vintage, 1997.
Williams, Anne. The Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. Chicago: Univ Chicago P, 1995.


Claire (Caitronia Balfe) among the stones, just arrived in 1743 (Outlander S1, E1, 2015)

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Ghazaleh Hedayat (2008)

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sussan Tahmahsebi:

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

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

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

https://tinyurl.com/2fzsvd6a

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

Posted by Ellen

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Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652) — self portrait of herself as a painter

Dear friends and readers,

Although I have only a few sessions to describe out of the many that the RSA presented online for a few days, that is, from November 30th, to December 1st, I want to record what I heard and participated in. The primary reason is in two of the sessions I heard ideas and information which will help me the next time I want to write and deliver at a conference a paper on Anne Finch. But I also want to record some sense of how wonderful in tone and content the conference seemed to me — and perhaps therefore will be of interest to others outside the early modern scholars who attended it.

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I can no longer take stenography the way I once did, and spare my reader my attempts in other sessions than those on women studies which is the aspect of the Renaissance I’ve been most interested in. Here I do provide longer synopses because both of the panels taken together will provide me with a new perspective for a new paper on Anne Finch. These two panels are on Women Leaders and Their Political Behavior, and Reworking Literary Representations of Women’s Bodies and Voice. for the second blog I’ll be reviewing: the depiction of women in the era; dance, gender and sexuality; women on the stage, women during plague time, and creative approaches to telling the lives of women. For the second I will keep the synopses short, giving the gist of the talk and omitting details. I have enough material for two not overlong blog reports.

There were three presentations in the session on Women Leaders and their Political Behavior.


Elizabeth I when a princess (attributed to William Scrots, 1564)

Yafit Shachar talked about Elizabeth I, and how since she was a woman and ceaselessly regarded from the point of view of her literal woman’s body, during the early years of her reign she was under severe pressure to marry. Parliament made every attempt to exclude her from knowing about their talk on other issues! They regarded her refusal to marry as an attempt to ungender herself. Her female body was seen as a conduit for continuing the Tudor regime (and all the people in place staying in their places). At the same time a foreign man could potentially lead the country into wars. She responded in words by insisting they should see her body metaphysically (the queen’s two bodies) and that paradoxically her not marrying was their safety. She would protect the kingdom by bodily staying outside the world of matter. As time went on and she was not able to conceive, and her astute political behavior, especially during the threatened invasion by Spain, the pressure gave way.


An imagined statue for Anne Murray, Lady Halkett at Abbot House, Dunfermline — she was a spy!

Caroline Fish discussed the transterritorial power of Costanza Dora del Carretto, a widow. When her son died, and her grandson was still a young child, she was given the legal authority (power of attorney) to administer the family’s estates. Women were apparently usually disenfranchised, but she was very effective also in provisioning and maintained squadrons of ships (that included enslaved people working in the galleys). She also appointed governors wisely. Andrea Bergaz discussed Anna Colonna, a marquise (first in Madrid?). During her seven years in Vienna she initiated and ran public mostly musical events at court, became an active patron of the arts. The idea was to show how a woman could use the spaces of allowed sociability to contribute to the arts. There was much interesting general talk from inferences the speakers made from their material; among the most interesting to me was the assertion that women did act as spies far more than we realize (lacking documents).

There were three presentations on Reworking Literary Representations of Women’s Bodies and Voices, and one respondent (Anne Larsen).

Giulia Andreoni spoke of how women’s association with elements of nature, specifically trees, enabled women to assert their identities. Her main stories were derived from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. We see heroines dress up as shepherds, mark up trees which become a kind of containing vessel for the female characters’ bodies (women turn into trees to escape rape). Trees protect the women, are pleasant places to dwell in, and become the woman’s tomb after she dies. She showed illustrations of pregnant trees, trees with female imagery. Some of the women are sorceresses whom the impassive hero refuses to pity. Julia Varesewski told of the mother daughter team Madeleine (1520-87) and Catherine des Roches (1542-87). They wrote within Renaissance poetic genres, e.g., the blazon. The poetry they produce is lyrical, ecstatic, erotic (women are touching, touchable) and their virtue is never questioned. In one story the women behave reciprocally and restore one another’s health and beauty. They adapted a literary tradition from men and made it serve a community of women. The style fits the kind of writing Helene Cixous describes as l’ecriture-femme and very aggressively through women’s collaboration. The mother and daughter invented a textual space within which women were seen to converse and live.


A modern Echo and Narcissus (David Revoy) — the early modern & beautiful Victorian ones might be taken for or responded to as soft-core porn and Revoy has imagined the relationship between these two: the man loving his image, the woman compelled to hang on his every gesture or sound …

Nancy Frelick discussed male and female writers of the French Renaissance (Louise Labe, Marguerite de Navarre), their motives for writing and the reception of their work. She dwelt especially on the figure of the disembodied echo. Echo stands for the sorry state of a desiring subject or poetic persona where women repeat male forms: Echo was cursed and could repeat only the last sounds she hears; she haunts places and then dissolves away. Her predicament can be read as women’s powerlessness, but also make visible or felt a poignant poetic inner struggle, a divided self. She quoted playful poetry; and a critic talking about male poets as capable of inspiring stones (Orpheus?). She went through poems by men, e.g., Donne, and then went on to the Des Roches women, showing the daughter using this figure to echo her mother’s voice with a sense of deference and respect. They were creating a poetry of mutual support which gained prestige. There were contests as to who was a muse, seeking immortality, but they turned back to Sappho. The daughter stayed single, so she does not become someone’s property and does not support the patriarchy. And they get away with their subversion. In a poem called “Echo” (1586) in response forms the characters show how to find comfort; in a poem of a Sybil reads, writes and is simply herself. Frelick argues the figure of Echo is multifaceted and used to evoke different aspects of subjectivity; Echo is not unidimensional.

In the talk afterwards the women talked of landscape poetry of the era where we see gender and concerns over environment mingle. One woman was much interested in Gaspara Stampa; another what women do with epic genres. I brought up how Anne Finch read Tasso (and Ovid too), translated Tasso, wrote poems on trees, and one on Echo, aligned herself for immortality with Sappho. It seemed to me their way of talking could give new perspectives to Anne’s so-called romantic lyrics by moving backwards to the early modern women poets. They spoke of a Tasso poem where trees were cut down, reminding me again of Finch. The tree is creative, alive, beauty in itself. They seemed to appreciate what I had to say.

So I bring forward from a blog I wrote in 2020, Finch’s poem to a “Fair Tree,” in an early form not in print (so it’s a text you will not read in the new standard edition), from one of the minor manuscripts:

Fair Tree! for thy delightfull shade
‘Tis just that some return be made;
Sure some return, is due from me
To thy cool shadows, and to thee.
When thou to birds doest shelter give,
Thou musick doest from them receive;
If Travellers beneath thee stay
‘Till storms have worn themselves away,
That time in praising thee, they spend
And thy protecting pow’r, commend.
The Shepheard here, from scorching freed,
Tunes to thy daancing leaves, his reed;
Whilst his lov’d nymph, in thanks bestows
Here flow’ry Chaplets on thy boughs.
Shall I then, only silent be,
And no return be made by me?
No, lett this wish upon thee waite,
And still to florish, be thy fate.
To future ages may’st thou stand
Untoutch’d by the rash workmans hand,
Till that large stock of sap is spent,
Which gives thy somers ornament;
Till the feirce winds, that vainly strive
To shock thy greatnesse, whilst alive,
Shall on thy lifelesse hour attend,
Prevent the axe, and grace thy end,
Their scatter’d strength together call,
And to the clouds proclaim thy fall,
Who then their evening dews, may spare
When thou no longer art their care,
But shalt, like Ancient Hero’s, burn,
And some bright hearth be made thy Urn.

Here it is, read aloud accompanied by “Epping Forest” from John Playford’s “The English Dancing Master 1670, 11th Edition,” the painting which emerges, “The Oak Tree”, is by Joseph Farrington, 1747-1821.

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My header includes the phrase “the first I’ve attended in many years.” In the later 1980s my husband wanting me to return to my Renaissance world, partly because I had embarked on a many year project to learn Italian and translate the poetry of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, and continued during that decade to keep up reading about the early modern period, its poetry, drama, and doing research at the Folger Shakespeare Library an Library of Congress on my own. I was what’s called an Independent Scholar. He meant very well. He took care of our two children while I went. I had been writing reviews that were published in the Renaissance Quarterly by that time; I had gone to Renaissance sessions at the MLA and published a paper on Katherine Philips in Philological Quarterly. Well for me to go to that conference by myself was a disaster for me. I knew no one any more, and when I talked to a few people, I was greeted with silent stares. I will not tell the social faux pas I made; suffice to say I refused to go to another early modern conference for many years. The trauma of what had happened remained with me.

Then one year after I had returned to scholarship and conferences through my work on the 18th century and Austen after 1999 (2000 I published my first book, Trollope on the ‘Net), gone to and delivered a talk on Trollope in London at the Reform Club. Also gone to a Virginia Woolf session and then party at one MLA. Jim said we should go to Florence one April (during spring break). There was another early modern conference there. He thought we could have good time in that city during the times I was not at the conference. I now feel very bad that I refused to go to an early modern conference in Florence in 1998 or so. He never went to Florence and is now dead and will never go. I now realize what I should have done is ask him to come with me to the conference proper (we could have paid) and I would have recovered. Rien à faire. Irretrievable.


Antonio Canaletto (1867-1786), Northumberland House

I just got off a zoom where I told friends how getting on the Internet in 1995 had transformed my life beyond what I’ve written above: it had enabled me to make friends without having to cross official thresholds: I began by writing on listservs, and that eventually brought me friends, respect, an invitation to write my book, and to write reviews regularly, to attend small regional conferences. The pandemic caused events to occur online which I could never have gone to even with Jim. Online you are welcomed as the image of someone in a tile and if you behave conventionally, no one questions you.  For example, I’ve now attended two virtual Virginia Woolf conferences in isolated obscure places in the mid- and Northwest USA — and joined in during the talks after the papers — I read and study Woolf a lot, have written a number of blogs on her here.

Come to our topic at hand: it was the second year of the pandemic and the RSA had its first virtual conference. I was brave enough to register, and tried to join in. I don’t know now why I didn’t manage but I found the site user-unfriendly, and managed at most to attend two sessions and gave up. Not this time. They have learned how to present the sessions and it’s now easy to get in and find things. I heard in the sessions that this year’s virtual conference had been set for Dublin, Ireland but now had added a virtual conference in November. People were lamenting they had decided to go virtual. I regret for them, they could not have the more fulfilling time they imagined (plus travel), but for me it was the first time since 1998 I was at an early modern conference, and for the first time successfully joined in.

So there we are. I broke the barrier at last. I finally also spoke during the talk afterwards in two of the sessions.

Ellen

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Said to be a portrait (miniature) of Anne Finch; the portrait resembles in features a miniature of her father …

Friends and readers,

Here is the second paper that connects to the EC/ASECS meeting this year which I didn’t go to. It is a review-essay which I worked on and off for 2 years or so, and was published in the Intelligencer that was published just before the meeting, NS Volume 35, No 2, September 2022, pp 25-35. It’s obviously too long and complicated for a blog, so here too go over to academia.edu to read it:

Editing the Writings of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea


Digital photo from Northamptonshire MS

Ellen

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Forough Farrokhzad (1934-1967)

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

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

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

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

It is Only Sound That Remains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Farideh:

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

Thanks so much for sharing!

Love,
Larissa

Here too Wendy Varaman’s interview with of Farideh:

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

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

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

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

Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

To which I can add:


A photograph of Farrokhzad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let Us Believe in the Beginning of a Cold Season

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

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

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

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

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

Let us believe in the beginning of a cold season

Farrokhzad also painted; this is from the wikipedia website

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

Posted by Ellen

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Nikki Amuka-Bird as Lady Russell, a companion-mentor as Mrs Weston to Emma rather than the more severe mother-substitute of the book (Persuasion 2022) —  I like her hats & clothing


Sandra Bullock as Dr Kate Foster, the Anne Elliot character, explains the meaning of her favorite novel, Persuasion, to Alex Wyler (Wentworth, now an architect) as she understands it (Lake House, 2007)

Friends and readers,

Many people may not know there have been six Persuasion film adaptations: I’ve never seen the 1960 British serial (it is probably wiped out), but this past week under the influence of, or having an impulse after seeing the latest American commercial Netflix product, I watched the extant other four (the 1971 BBC Persuasion; the 1995 BBC Persuasion; 2007 indie with Warner Bros Lake House; and the 2007 ITV & WBGH Persuasion) and then re-watched the latest, while taking down the screenplay as best I could (remember my stenography). I’ve read the book countless times; it was once my favorite novel by Austen. And written countless postings in many places and given papers on the book in conferences too.

The burden of my song here will be that this new adaptation resembles the older ones in numerous ways; there is nothing startlingly different. So I oppose most of the negative reviews (here’s an intelligent one from the New Yorker: A Not Very Persuasive Persuasion; and here are two likening it to a British TV serial, Fleabag; “it feels like the death of something”) and an unusual very positive one from Vogue (appropriately they find it ever so stylish). What the new Persuasion does do is alter the character of the heroine; and that’s where I think the deep offence comes. The central core of an Austen book is its heroine (or paired heroines); she or they are the genius loci of each book. Now Patrice Rozema altered the character of Fanny Price for her 1999 Mansfield Park and the audience was delighted; but this is a special case where many readers of Austen don’t like the book because they don’t like the heroine, and Rosema’s sarky character is drawn from the Austen’s letters and the narrator of the Juvenilia. In the case of Persuasion, most readers love Anne Elliot, and to remove her and her depths of emotion is to remove the central appeal and themes of the book.

So, first to make my case by a brief survey of the four

To me it’s no coincidence that the film I consider the outstanding best of all the Austen films made to date, is a Persuasion one from the stellar years for Austen films, the 1990s: the 1995 one directed by Roger Michell, screenplay Nick Dear: Two lonely, nay stranded people trying to reach one another; Poetry, Music and Place. There are so many persuasive gloriously humanly felt scenes, and wonderfully effective talk and movement and colors, I can’t begin to suggest the quality of this film so content myself with one still of Fiona Shaw speaking from the heart about how she was only lonely when she did not accompany the admiral aboard ship, which was every time after the first

This film and the 2007 one are deeply evocative of the heroine’s inner nature and they stand in contrast to the new film; this is like the new film for bringing us intense dialogue interaction, eye interaction between hero and heroine.


One of many, Ciarhan Hinds as Wentworth ends sharing the center with Amanda Root as Anne

The ITV 2007 resembles or anticipates the new (2022) one in that the film is ostensibly of the faithful heritage type, but departs in a number of ways from the original story line, including a change in the character of the central heroine. I don’t care for the truncated ending, especially the last scene where Anne blindfolded, let’s Wentworth guide her where he will (he improbably has purchased Kellynch for her, and it looks way too big for them). But the truly brilliant actress, Sally Hawkins as Anne conveys a level of distraught emotional pain (a barely submerged romantic hysteria that is felt in other of Austen’s books too now and again) that is almost alarming. But this is not replacing or changing the character, it is deepening the psychology to its logical conclusion. Hawkins carries the film, central to it, speaking to silently through her eyes, going over her precious relics (his letters, the small gifts that she keeps in a cherished box). I wrote a blog for this too: Anne grieving:

Shergold and Michell equally brings out the book’s subtexts for Mr Elliot (in Tobias Menzies’ subtle performance an insinuating desire), and a memorably disabled empathetic Harville (Joseph Mawle, also seen strikingly in two Foyle episodes as a wounded soldier returned)

Arguably, Lakehouse avoided high irritation because it was not marketed as an Austen adaptation — nowadays slender hooks are enough to label something “Austen adaptation” (though I’m told Fire Island is really a very free adaptation of Pride and Prejudice — “you have to see it to feel this” is what is said). Agresti made a brilliant meditation on the question of whether love may be retrieved years later, on the probable intervention of death (aging is an important theme in Austen’s book). Here is my full explanation of this fascinating contemporary take


The magical dwelling made of glass (on stilts over the lake) with the mailbox seen in front through which across time our hero and heroine reach one another until time and death cut them off

It is rarely recognized because the storyline is different; the Persuasion origin is shown through the four times the book, a Norton edition, is part of the story. The first time Kate left it by mistake on a bench in railway station, and Alex Wyler, the architect hero picks it up for her. Kate says it is about how a couple came near to falling in love and didn’t and years later met again and fell in love but didn’t manage to pull it off and stay together. That time could not be retrieved. But we know that Wentworth and Anne loved; they were parted by others, and when they met again, and loved again they retrieved time and stayed together. The second time she just has it to hand and seems to read from it an axiom: the lovers must get together, “how can two hearts so open, tastes so similar, feelings so in unison” remain apart; the last time the now battered copy pulled out from under the floor causes her to cry.

If my reader/watcher has the patience to enter into the older dramaturgy, there is much to be said for the long lingering 1971 BBC film. Bryan Marshall was a wonderfully complex Wentworth; the fine actor had intelligent dialogue to speak, and the adaptation kept close to the book, showing the hero only slowly recognizing his love, and the renewed threat to it.


Wentworth returned from sea, a worn man, seeing Anne again for the first time It is the closest of all five (and probably the sixth) to the book, but it is innovative.

The innovation in 1971 was the use of landscape, filming at length in the countryside (each of the walks), and close to a rough seashore in Lyme.


Three separate highly varied sequences of landscape represented by just one


The stone portico leads into wild waters (the 2007 film was filmed just here, the same angle)

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


Dakota Johnson as our new Anne (this is not the only time she makes a fool of herself — she once spills the wine she is supposed to be endlessly drinking all over her head)

As I suggested it’s the new Anne who won’t do. There is no need for me to repeat the many descriptions of this new Anne — she is all over the Net just now. I do have some qualifications about the aesthetics of the presentation. The idea that Dakota Johnson talking to us comes from Fleabag is nonsense — it is not uncommon for Austen heroines in Austen films to speak to us, because it is not uncommon for women’s films to do this. Second, those who say this show they watch only popular films made with a male audience in mind and there both voice-over and talking at the audience are taboo.

It’s also absurd to say adddressing an audience and over-voice are undramatic. The character establishes a relationship with the viewer: examples, 1999 Rozema MP (who is really sarky and gets jokes out while this dialogue for Dakota is simply dull), 1993 Ruby in Paradise (an appropriation of Northanger Abbey), the 2007 MP Fanny Price, Bridget Jones, one of the Emma movies (Gweneth Paltrow writing in a diary to us). Voice over is everywhere in Outlander but notably only in one episode does the hero do it — and very effective it is. It’s considered intellectual or beneath a male dignity most of the time.

I can see Rothman’s point that maybe this ever-so-cool semi-sarky posturing is a veneer over anguish; she certainly sees the flaws in her family (as did Ann Firbank in the long ago 1971 film — very candidly and angrily). Anne is given many witty lines as is the obnoxious not just jealous but domineering Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce). If the Vogue article is right, and this is a modern sensibility, then nasty cracks are in (both Musgrove girls get in some), and sensitivity out, unless it’s well-hidden or morphs into self-deprecation. The new Anne recalls the 1940s housewife popular book, The Egg and I.


Cosmo Jarvis as Wentworth

What most interested me in the film was the changes in Wentworth. At first he participates in the film’s (to me distressing) philistine insults of Anne’s grief: she is accused of being sullen because she sits outside the family circle; it’s a way it seems of making herself stand out. How dare she? (These film-makers believe a mass audience demands social conformity.) But within a brief time, he changes presumably by being around her (during the now familiar walk) and is not only her barrier against the children and helper into a carriage, but openly loving. Viewers have ignored the de-masculinization of Wentworth; there is no hint of toxic or guarded masculinity. He does not dress up, but very much down. Look at his wrinkled and ill-fitting clothes. He needs a wash. He’s like a male out of a Hardy novel. One problem here was Jarvis was perhaps uncomfortable in the role; as an actor, he reminds me of Aiden Turner, too stiff.

As I suggested above, the changes in Lady Russell to make her a companion is what is seen in Austen’s own Emma — and I did love their scenes picnicking (over macaroons), and walking and talking; this Lady Russell is no enemy to Wentworth because she is no snob (I wonder if her blackness was part of a sense of egalitarianism). Mr Elliot (Henry Golding) is altered too – to be a smooth (to me slim-y) hypocrite. On the other hand, the development of Louisa (Nia Towle) as genuinely attracted to Wentworth (not just a child worshipping the glamorous man who she intuits needs prompting to pay attention to her) is appealing. A sense of friendship between Anne and Louisa thickens the movie’s feel. But as with the 2007 Persuasion, some of the characters were either not differentiated sufficiently, not felt as presences (the Crofts, the older Musgroves, Mrs Clay, Henrietta). Charles was simply good-natured and well-meaning (not truly annoyed by Mary), but I admit I found Ben Bailey the handsomest or most physically appealing male in the cast.


Charles with Mary in church (the plot-point that he loved Anne before marrying Mary is kept)

Or they were caricatures (Sir Walter, Elizabeth, Mrs Clay). Of course both films were too short (2007 was also 90 minutes).

I found it interesting to trace the screenplay but this also brought out how little of Austen’s language survives. The deepest appeal of the 1995, 2007 and 1971 movies is how much of Austen’s language they keep and how meaningful they make it.

It is the most integrated costume drama I’ve seen, and not seemingly blindly so, for people’s appearance is kept in mind: Charles and Mary’s children look like what their union would produce

But I cannot really praise this film — it ends like the 2007 with Anne in the arms of Wentworth. One can say of Sally Hawkins she was active on behalf of her family; worked for them, and visited Mrs Smith (I missed Mrs Smith in this film), showed some individual character. This Anne begins in Wentworth’s arm and ends there — like a child with its mother. How is a film a contemporary one which gives the woman watching it this kind of central figure?

My reader may remember I intensely disliked parts of the recent Emma, for (among other things) losing the whole meaning of the second half of the book (the Jane Fairfax story), erasing any feminism or relationship between Harriet and Emma that could be vicarious sex or lesbian, and the sexing up of Mr Knightley to the point his pants were so tight one could see the outline of his penis. I have a much more mixed reaction here, and say merely that the “new” Persuasion shares much with the other Persuasion films, but is probably the poorest thus far because the film-makers did not sympathize with the inner life of the book.

I close on two reviews which appeared in the Washington Post: Sonia Rao said Dakota Johnson is being misused again! Johnson’s career includes the heroine of Fifty Shades of Grey. Now I didn’t know that. She then also brings the baggage of soft-core porn. Martine Powers wrote the movie made her remember how much loss and grief she had experienced during the pandemic — partly because Anne was so alone. She opens the review by talking of the book and perhaps she poured into this movie memories of the book. Powers said it speaks to caregivers! This is such a misread I’m startled. Anne is never alone; she is never trusted to do anything in this film — except stay with the useless complaining Mary. If this is what is to be done nowadays in a heritage type film marketed as an Austen product (to make money), or how they are used, understood, then stick to appropriations, modern dress. Better yet, write an original story instead.

Ellen

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Marge Piercy

Friends and readers,

I’m pretty sure I’ve never written a blog on Piercy’s poetry, much less about her as a central foremother poet in English, though I’ve written blogs on her novels, memoirs, and blogs on feminist and other issues where I’ve quoted her poems. I love them — as well as those of her books I’ve read thus far. On her End of Days; on her Cat Poetry; “Sleeping with Cats.” Earlier blogging: Three Women (rescued from an attack by a virus).

I would like this evening to share as an interlude between my summaries of the Virginia Woolf virtual conference I joined in on, her

“Right to Life”

A woman is not a pear tree
thrusting her fruit into mindless fecundity
into the world. Even pear trees bear
heavily one year and rest and grow the next.
An orchard gone wild drops few warm rotting
fruit in the grass but the trees stretch
high and wiry gifting the birds forty
feet up among inch long thorns
broken atavistically from the smooth wood.

A woman is not a basket you place
your buns in to keep them warm. Not a brood
hen you can slip duck eggs under.
Not the purse holding the coins of your
descendants till you spend them in wars.
Not a bank where your genes gather interest
and interesting mutations in the tainted
rain, any more than you are.
You plant corn and you harvest
it to eat or sell. You put the lamb
in the pasture to fatten and haul it in to
butcher for chops. You slice the mountain
in two for a road and gouge the high plains
for coal and the waters run muddy for
miles and years. Fish die but you do not
call them yours unless you wished to eat them.

Now you legislate mineral rights in a woman.
You lay claim to her pastures for grazing,
fields for growing babies like iceberg
lettuce. You value children so dearly
that none ever go hungry, none weep
with no one to tend them when mothers
work, none lack fresh fruit,
none chew lead or cough to death and your
orphanages are empty. Every noon the best
restaurants serve poor children steaks.

At this moment at nine o’clock a partera
is performing a table top abortion on an
unwed mother in Texas who can’t get
Medicaid any longer. In five days she will die
of tetanus and her little daughter will cry
and be taken away. Next door a husband
and wife are sticking pins in the son
they did not want. They will explain
for hours how wicked he is,
how he wants discipline.

We are all born of woman, in the rose
of the womb we suckled our mother’s blood
and every baby born has a right to love
like a seedling to sun. Every baby born
unloved, unwanted, is a bill that will come
due in twenty years with interest, an anger
that must find a target, a pain that will
beget pain. A decade downstream a child
screams, a woman falls, a synagogue is torched,
a firing squad is summoned, a button
is pushed and the world burns.

I will choose what enters me, what becomes
of my flesh. Without choice, no politics,
no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield,
not your uranium mine, not your calf
for fattening, not your cow for milking.
You may not use me as your factory.
Priests and legislators do not hold shares
in my womb or my mind.
This is my body. If I give it to you
I want it back. My life
is a non-negotiable demand.


Expectant, of all life might offer, a digital picture by Lida Ziruffo

Ellen

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Suzanne Bellamy — she just died — the conference poster


One of Virginia Woolf’s working tables — from Monk House

Dear friends and readers,

For four days two weekends ago I spent very long days on zooms, participating as a spectator, listener and then fellow commentator on a moving brilliant series of panels and independent key-note lectures on Virginia Woolf: June 9th – 12th, 20222. Virginia Woolf and Ethics. Last year around the same time the International Virginia Woolf Society hosted a similar conference, with the theme openly the pandemic (see last year’s blog on this and other virtual conferences). So now I’ve been privileged to go to their conference for a second time – and am regularly attending the Cambridge University series of virtual lectures (though I rarely blog on these as my stenography is so poor and it is just one 2 hour lecture). I wish there were going to be a third virtual conference next year, but I suppose they must come back in person and then I will be cut off.

As I did last time, I will not attempt to summarize or evaluate any of the papers, just pick up epitomizing details. This will though be the first of two blogs — so I took down a lot more this time than last.


Dora Carrington, An Artist’s Home and Garden

The conference began at Thursday morning, 9 am, a welcome meeting. At 10:30 am, I went to a session called “Things, Objects, Forms.” Alyson Cook talked of Between the Acts as an anti-war book through its presentation of objects. She said Woolf brings the non-human world to the fore here, and Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse (elsewhere too). Melancholy imagining of barrows puts before us a geological landscape. It seems the fabrication of stories is an imposition (one nature?). I agree our experience of life is limited by society. Leanna Lostocki-Ho also talked of Between the Acts as geological history. The pageant puts before us hypo-objects, which are defined as “things massively distributed across time and space.” (Stonehenge is a hypo-object). Against the vastness of time, human beings are a tiny point. Thus the pageant is “saturated with English history,” from airplanes you make out the scars of different historical eras. It seems the audience doesn’t recognize the point of Miss LaTrobe’s ethical pageant. “War is going on all around” the characters and places, “destroying everything.” Mary Wang talked about Flush.

In the talk afterwards Jed Esty’s book, A Shrinking Island, was recommended as including sections on Woolf and E.M. Forster’s pageants. At the end of the pageant in Between the Acts, a pontificating vicar has to stop as planes (with bombs?) are flying overhead. When someone said estate country houses are hypo-objects, I thought of Foyle’s War, 7:2, “The Cage,” where one such country house has been turned into a secret prison for torturing people.


Many editions of To the Lighthouse

The plenary lecture at 1:00 pm was “Virginia Woolf’s Reparative Ethics” by Elsa Hoberg. She began with Eve Kosofsky’s way of reparative reading by a “paranoid” PVL; you “write to expose cracks in the texts” that “show systematic oppression.” The question is then “how to get nourishment and pleasure” from a text not offering these. To do this you must create “conditions for sustainability of peace,” and she instanced Woolf’s short column, “Thoughts of Peace during an Air Raid” (New Republic, Oct 21, 1940) as reparative. Politics create “fear and hatred,” which “increase from the violence of military machines.” Prof Hoberg suggested Woolf “enacts a paranoid position in Three Guineas. Comments included there is “a need for a from of self repair and access to creative feelings”,” that “peace” leaves room for (“elicits”) people caring for others. In this sense To the Lighthouse can be seen as “a reparative text.” I think of the painter in the book, Lily Briscoe.

There was then a brief session on what is happening in Texas right now (Woolf’s legacy is activism on behalf of women’s rights): one of the women speakers said “basic access to health care is unobtainable.” I add the Texas gov’t and state laws are criminalizing pregnancy.


Vanessa Bell’s Leonard Woolf

From 3-4:00 pm I attended “Leonard Woolf, the man, the feminist, the socialist.” Peter Stansky, a pre-eminent biographer of Leonard who asked (rhetorically) is Leonard Woolf under-valued? He emphasized Leonard’s five terrific memoirs, and novel, The Village in the Jungle, comparable to Orwell’s Burmese Days and Forster’s Passage to India. (Jim read the memoirs and novel and told me I must, but I have not yet got round to them.) Leonard’s sad self-assessment has hurt his reputation, and Virginia’s written work overshadows his, which includes a successful civil service career in Ceylon and Burma, his writing on Maynard Keynes, the League of Nations. In life Leonard had an “austere style ” and “self-effacing” way and the assurance of an English gentleman of his class and time. Leonard is sometimes blamed as “controlling” Virginia, for not allowing her to have children;” the truth is he was “immensely supportive” and ‘crucial for enabling her to achieve so much.”

Marielle O’Neil talked about the political partnership of the Woolfs, their work with others in the Women’s Cooperative Guild,” where people worked to help reforms for the sake of working class women, where tea tables and parlors provide space for women to meet independently. Classrooms are places of education where working class women’s voices can be heard. Records in a Sheffield local library of women reading from working class women’s letters. In “The Pleasure of Letters,” Anne Byrne talked of the long extensive correspondence of Leonard Woolf with Nancy Nolan, a Dublin housewife. These are “fragments of lived experience” that “conceal” and offer “rare insights” as Woolf tells of his life, books, animals. She is unhappy because she cannot get round to writing; Woolf affirms her goals. An “integral part of [herself was] taken away when her husband died in 1966. Comments include “people who write or paint are not happy; in fact, they often suffer.” Yet they derive “immense happiness from their work,” that the Sitwells had a streak of cruelty. Woolf wrote out of affection and concern for Nancy: they are a agape set of love letters.

The talk afterwards was varied: people cited a propos books, talked of Clive Bell and Keynes (“political role of the state is to make conditions where art is more important than politics”).


Harold Nicolson’s Some People

From 5-6:30 pm I attended “The Ethics of Life Writing.” Chunhui Lu asked what genre does Orlando belong to? What is a good biography? She talked of “fantasy” and an “exemplary life” — what is a good life? Todd Avery’s context was the Bloomsbury group’s interest in inventing new kinds of biography. She discussed Woolf’s “The New Biography” (1927) written partly in response to Nicolson’s Some People, where some of the portraits are fictional and to a dull biography by Sidney Lee; and her “Art of Biography,” and Woolf’s “The Art of Biography” (1939), where the catalyst was Strachey’s biographies. Biographers are artists, imaginative writers, and must found themselves on facts: ideally the biographer writes with a “becoming brevity,” and “maintains” their own “freedom of spirit;” lays bare facts “understood impartially.” The ethical use of biography became more urgent at the time of Three Guineas: the human situation was “so dire.” Andy Koenig brought out Woolf’s intense awareness of how “empty of women’s lives” are our “archives;” that one “needs” to “write non-existent lives. She questions “the rules” for biography because Woolf wanted “to be doing something different.” This was a thought-provoking talk on A Room of One’s Own, Jacob’s Room, Orlando, Flush (thoroughly researched) and Woolf’s biography of Roger Frye.

In the talk afterwards a new bio-fiction, Norah Vincent’s Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf was praised; I brought up Maurois’s Aspects of Biography, which I find to be as good (I wondered why no one mentioned it) on the genre as Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. I also mentioned Woolf’s brilliant historical novel, unearthing, bringing to life a 15th century young woman, “The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn,” the self-reflexive Memoirs of a Novelist where a Miss Linsett is unable to re-create and make living the life of her friend Miss Willatt because the former was too bound by inner repressions and the latter’s papers kept mostly silent about what most mattered to her (see my comment).

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I took far fewer notes, heard fewer talks on Friday — among other things, I had to go out shopping. I did go to the first session, 9-10:30 am, “Subjects of Violence.” Candis Bond talked of the graphic frank depictions of street harassment in The Years (a man exposes himself to Rose in The Pargiters; she flies for safety into a shop in The Years). Street harassment of women in later 19th century was a social problem; women were annoyed, damaged, humiliated, scared by male strangers in public spaces — lifelong trauma can be the result. In The Years Woolf breaks the silence.


Laura Knight, Logan’s Rock, Cornwall (1916)

At 11-12:30 I tried “Time and Tide, Form and Fold: Benjamin Hagen, Laci Mattison, and Shilo McGiff performed in tandem soliloquys inspired by, paraphrasing, offering insights and explications of and from The Waves. They dazzled listeners with descriptions of landscape and hypo-objects, anti-colonialist perspectives, pastoral and anti-pastoral allegories (some elegiac, some “false”), affirmations and “things hardly ever said aloud; they staged “thinking minds:” we heard voices; what do soliloquies do?; an alienation came emerge from an “over-pullulating world.” Death ends life for individuals, but Will anything survive? The Waves‘ bleak vision (“disgust used as weaponized morality”) This triple talk was inspiring and exhilarating.

The keynote speaker was Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina and her talk on “Bloomsbury and race” included discussion of black people in London from the 18th century, the Dreadnought Hoax (more in my second blog on this), the Windrush generation; recent public sculptures and new anti-immigration laws in the UK. I attended from 3:00-4:30, “Moments of Being:” Epiphany and Ethics in Virginia Woolf’s Writing,” and from 5-6:30, what can be found of Woolf’s attitude towards Shakespeare (“Who’s afraid of William Shakespeare”). The first had papers on secular spirituality (you might say); I did like a comment on Mr Ramsay’s “intense loneliness;” the second set of papers taken a whole seemed to suggest considerable ambivalence in Woolf towards Shakespeare’s plays.

I should mention the two evenings had social party zooms on offer. I’m sure all who attended would have been welcoming or at least polite. I was already very tired, and I felt that these are intended for people who truly know each other after dedicating their careers as well as personal social lives to Woolf. So abstained.

Ellen

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Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price, writing to her brother, amid her “nest of comforts” (which includes many books) in 1983 BBC Mansfield Park

“Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” (Carol Shields, Mary Swann).

La bibliothèque devient une aventure” (Umberto Eco quoted by Chantal Thomas, Souffrir)

Dear friends, readers — lovers of Austen and of books,

Over on my Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two, I provided the four photos it takes to capture most of my books on and by Anthony Trollope, and explained why. You may also find a remarkably informative article on book ownership in England from medieval times on and what makes up a library. I thought I’d match that blog with a photo of my collection of books by and on Jane Austen, and in her case, books about her family, close friends, specific aspects of her era having to do with her. Seven shelves of books.

I have a second photo of 3 wide shelves filled with my DVD collection (I have 33 of the movies and/or serial TV films), my notebooks of screenplays and studies of these films, as well as books on Austen films of all sorts. These three shelves also contain my books of translations of Austen into French and/or Italian, as well as a numerous sequels, many of which I’ve not had the patience or taste to read but have been given me.

My book collection for Austen is smaller than my own for Trollope because even though I have many more books on her, she wrote only seven novels, left three fragments, some three notebooks of juvenilia, and a remnant of her letters is all that survives. For each of her novels or books I have several editions, but that’s still only seven plus. By contrast, Trollope wrote 47 novels and I won’t go on to detail all his other writing. OTOH, there are fewer books on him, and the movie adaptations of his books are in comparison very few.


There’s no equivalent movie for The Jane Austen Book Club where members vow to read all Jane Austen all the time

So although I won’t go to the absurdity of photographing my many volumes of the periodical Persuasions, and what I have of the Jane Austen Society of Britain bulletin like publications, I can show the little row of books I’m reading just now about her and towards a paper for the Victorian Web.

The project includes reading some Victorian novels written with similar themes, and Henry James’s Spoils of Poynton; for me it is true that Austen is at the center of a group of women (and men too) writers and themes that mean a lot to me, so I have real libraries of other women writers I have read a great deal of and on and have anywhere from two to three shelves of books for and by, sometimes in the forms of folders:

these are Anne Radcliffe (one long and half of a very long bookshelf), Charlotte Smith (two long bookshelfs), Fanny Burney (three, mostly because of different sets of her journals), George Eliot (one long and half of another long bookshelf), Gaskell (two shorter bookshelves), Oliphant (scattered about but probably at least one very long bookshelf). Virginia Woolf is another woman writer for whom I have a considerable library, and of course Anne Finch (where the folders and notebooks take up far more room than any published books).

As with Trollope starting in around the year 2004 I stopped xeroxing articles, and now have countless in digital form in my computer; I also have a few books on Austen digitally. The reason I have so many folders for Smith, Oliphant, Anne Finch (and other women writers before the 18th century) is at one time their books were not available except if I xeroxed a book I was lucky enough to find in a good university or research library. You found your books where you could, went searching in second hand book stores with them in mind too.

One of my favorite poems on re-reading Jane Austen — whom I began reading at age 12, and have never stopped:

“Re-reading Jane”

To women in contemporary voice and dislocation
she is closely invisible, almost an annoyance.
Why do we turn to her sampler squares for solace?
Nothing she saw was free of snobbery or class.
Yet the needlework of those needle eyes . . .
We are pricked to tears by the justice of her violence:
Emma on Box Hill, rude to poor Miss Bates,
by Mr Knightley’s were she your equal in situation —
but consider how far this is from being the case

shamed into compassion, and in shame, a grace.

Or wicked Wickham and selfish pretty Willoughby,
their vice, pure avarice which, displacing love,
defiled the honour marriages should be made of.
She punished them with very silly wives.
Novels of manners! Hymeneal theology!
Six little circles of hell, with attendant humours.
For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbours
And laugh at them in our turn?
The philosophy
paused at the door of Mr Bennet’s century;
The Garden of Eden’s still there in the grounds of Pemberley.

The amazing epitaph’s ‘benevolence of heart’
precedes ‘the extraordinary endowments of her mind’
and would have pleased her, who was not unkind.
Dear votary of order, sense, clear art
and irresistible fun, please pitch our lives
outside self-pity we have wrapped them in,
and show us how absurd we’d look to you.
You knew the mischief poetry could do.
Yet when Anne Elliot spoke of its misfortune
to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who
enjoyed it completely
, she spoke for you.

—– Anne Stevenson


The Jane Austen Book Club meets in a hospital when a member has a bad accident

Gentle readers, I can hardly wait to see the second season of the new Sanditon on PBS; my daughter, Laura (Anibundel) much involved with WETA (PBS) nowadays, writing reviews and such, who has read the fragment and books about Austen tells me it is another good one.


Chapman’s classic set (appears as Christmas present in Stillman’s Metropolitan): for our first anniversary Jim bought me a copy of Sense and Sensibility in the Chapman set (1924, without the later pastoral cover)

Ellen

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A double stock flower (tagetes patula?)

Dear friends and readers,

After all I have something for Christmas this year: it’s a beautiful poem that Anne Finch wrote and sent to Lady Selena Finch Shirley (1681-1762), a graceful compliment also meant for Lady Selena’s daughter, also called Selena.

Finch says looking upon the flower in its ripe prime (paradoxically during winter) reminds her of the time when she “That beauteous maid wou’d view/The green house where I liv’d retired;” that is, between 1700 and 1703 when Anne lived at Wye Shirley Finch would come to visit her in a green house or garden near Wye. This was when Finch was enduring the aftermath or getting over one of her intermittent depressive breakdowns, this one partly brought on by the anxiety over the flight of the Stuart court, Heneage’s attempted flight with them, and his arrest, bail, and threatened trial for Jacobitism, and a conviction of treason. In the event he was freed and left to live quietly (no office for him of course).


Here is Wye, now a college in Kent, where Anne wrote some of her most beautiful poetry, much of it melancholy and personal

This time included the first years of Lady Selena’s life with her husband, Robert Shirley, Lord Ferrers (1650-1717); married to him in 1699, she went on to have ten children. She was a daughter of George (and Jane?) Finch; thus a relative of the Finches (whom Cameron located living at Wye College in the early 1700’s). One woman recovering from mental distress and trouble, and the other incessantly pregnant, they made a pair together. Now fate or destiny has made Selena a widow and placed her in the country, and made Anne a Countess too, most unexpectedly also placing her in town (both the result of the inheritance by Heneage of the earldom when his nephew, Charles, died so young), in town where she is in need of the rejuvenating presence of her friend.


This is apparently an image of Lady Selena Finch Shirley when young

Writing the poem and imagining the flower brings together in Anne’s mind the two women’s minds together, makes them alive to one another through the medium of these words in a verse epistle. These are sentiments Anne expressed in her In Praise of the Invention of writing Letters).

Gentle reader, you must read it aloud slowly, savoring the tones of this renewal of friendship at a distance between the two friends

How is it in this chilling time,
When frost and snows the season claim,
This flow’ring plant is in its prime,
Which of July assumes the name?

But since we poets speech bestow,
And form what dialogues we please,
With animals or plants that grow,
And make them answer us with ease.

Tell me (said I) prolifick stock,
Which do’st these fragrant treasures bring,
What is it can such stores unlock,
At Christmas as outvie the spring?

Thus ask’d, the flower of tinctur’d bloome,
Soon blush’t into a deeper dye,
Cast stronger odours round the room,
And sweetly breath’d out this reply.

Tis true, all plants of my nice sort
Have not such license to appear,
But wait till Phoebus keeps his court,
In the hot circle of the year.

Whilst I a brighter influence own,
Than is imparted from the skies;
Nor take my blossoms thus full blown,
From summer, but Selena’s eyes.

Her cheering smile, her modest air,
Did me to this perfection charm;
For nothing droops when near the fair,
But all is lively, all is warm.

That beauteous maid wou’d often view
The green house where I liv’d retired,* *Wye
Who did such early graces shew,
That I to suit them was inspired.

Sometimes a sprig from me, I thought,
Might happily adorn her hair,
Or pardon me if ’twas a fault,
Might rest upon her bosom bare.

My soft perfumes for her design’d,
I ev’n from Zephyrus withdrew;
Unless when that obliging wind
Wou’d shed them round her as he flew.

Delighted when by me she stood,
I wish’d for some transforming art.
For had I then been flesh and blood,
I should have told her all my heart.

Yet I to Flora softly pray’d,
To hasten my disclosing day;
Who doating on the fairer maid,
For her does now my buds display.

But from a strange reverse of fate,
She to the country, I the town, *Anne in town
Have sadly been remov’d of late,
And neither to advantage shown.

Then let none blame you, if my flower
Beneath your roof is faded seen,
But know that such enlivening power
Is only granted to fifteen.

I for Selena shall repine,
And when some noble youths you see,
Bow their dejected heads like mine,
Think in our passions we agree.

What farther answer cou’d be made,
Or father question could I try?
Then let her come, and cheer our shade,
Or men and plants in town must die.

On this fourth of January 2022, two days before twelfth night.


Melissa Scott Miller, A Dusting of Snow at Islington Gardens, 21st century (don’t miss the cat)

Ellen

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