How white is the morning light when I wake.
Today a hard day. I had three teeth extracted around 11 am: it was not as painful or bloody as one might expect, but it left me shaking and I have not been able to bite down properly, not bite down at all until an hour ago. I have to keep the denture on for 27 hours straight in order for the jaw to form right with the denture so tonight I'll take a very strong sleeping pill. I can't have any wine so nothing to help me relax until then.
I wish there were no such things as Teeth in the World; they
are nothing but plagues to one, and I dare say that People
might easily invent something to eat with instead of them.
---Jane Austen, Catherine, or the Bower
... being convinced upon examination that much of the evil lay in her gum, I persuaded her to attack the disorder there. She has accordingly had three teeth drawn, and is decidedly better, but her nerves are a great deal derranged
-- Jane Austen, Sanditon
It's been like in little my repeating in infinitely milder form what Jim knew last year. I thought when I came home alone to no one that I was going to cry for Jim's death; I've hardly ever done that, just sudden hysterical outbursts. But no, the crying just does not come.
I then realized it's May 26; when I was 12 an event happened to me in public which I've never forgotten, I've never quite been able to tell anyone; it has shaped my whole existence ever after. This loss of my last teeth on my top jaw was a quieter loss and will no specific results beyond what it occasions to my looks, sense of my appearance, and eating.
One of my listservs has gone mostly silent (Eighteenth Century Worlds) for some time, and the other the last couple of days (WWTA), much of it my fault. I've very poor social skills. Plus feminism is a fraught a topic as racism. Women differ intensely about what aspect of feminism they care about. There is no fan group for the 18th century but there is for Trollope and 19th century novels still (Trollope19thCStudies).
I have gone now once to Wolf Trap (for Prairie Home Companion which was uplifting, consoling, amusing, made me feel better because of Keillor's monologues) and have made a plan with a friend to go to Wolf Trap twice more this summer, and with Izzy to go once. Meme to self: must somehow get an E-Z pass.
I was to go out with another friend yesterday but she begged off and then we said today, but I was not in a state to do it. I have to hold onto the bannisters when I am going down the stairs. Probably I should not drive to the Metro even. We were going to go to Politics and Prose to hear Ralph Nader. I did fear a crowd. I told myself the next time she proposes this place I will try to drive us there: it is so hot out now and it's a 2 and 1/2 hour trip with 20 minute walk each way by train; less than 40 minutes by car. I must just try to find parking. I know my garmin and the Map Quest site will get me there. I hope I made up for not coming out and in effect being counted as a supporter by donating another $50 to Bernie Sanders; that's the second $50 since he announced his campaign for the presidency.
I am doing the reading I said I needed to: Trollope's Australia and New Zealand and for the coming Tom Jones course a full frank biography of Fielding by Douglas Thomas. This evening I will watch the 2nd episode of the 1975 and 2015 Poldarks. I am thinking of putting in a proposal for a paper on them for the coming ASECS. I find such relief and absorption in watching these extraordinary mini-series and recently re-absorbed by the Renaissance, Renaissance women, politics, historical fiction and Hilary Mantel.
Writing here right now is a substitute for friends and gives me some release as I wait for the blood to stop washing down these dentures. I feel bad that I was not sufficiently compassionate when Jim would sit down to eat after he had that operation to remove his esophagus and pull his stomach up to where the esophagus was and re-arrange the other organs. It was only gradually he began to tell me about how uncomfortable and bad was eating now. He began to lose his voice. This before the cancer spread to his liver.
Clarycat this morning.
I am in for a long haul. I'm told that in a given pair of people the husband far more commonly than the wife dies 11-14 years before her. So I've 12 years to go.
This was once meant as a diary. I want to record what I did not on my new Sylvia blog: what I now understand to be my reaction to the trip, what it meant. There I told of how I got myself to NYC and went through all the experiences I had planned and a couple more, and got myself home; and how this occurred after a previous overfull 5 days. So:
I taught myself I can do it or such things are doable. At the close, though, I grew tired of seeing so many faces about me. I did have a very bad thing happen which I can't speak of -- partly I'm not sure altogether precisely what happened. It taught me something too -- long periods where I can't find edible food or food I can bring myself to eat are dangerous for me. What to do about the food situation when traveling I know not.
So I can do all the things others do -- and without Jim -- though I can't get beyond some of the problems of travel. The question is, Do I want to? What really happens is just as in Cassandra's words when Jane Austen died: I don't enjoy most of what's called life without him. I don't understand it very well; I don't know why what's expected is expected, and I know I don't like a lot of social experiences others seem to. On the level of cultural activities (so to speak) I will take myself to Wolf Trap tomorrow to attend one of the Garrison Keillor kind of shows. Jim would probably not have bought for it; he would have bought for the operas at the small opera house; as I used still to fall asleep on them as they were without subtitles, often esoteric, there's no use my going. I am going to show myself I can find it by myself and I may enjoy it some; it's not far from home; I won't have that stress. But I'd have had more fun and comfort at the opera house with Jim.
It's that I don't know what to do with existence without Jim, how to have any good feeling about it. I understood life when I was by his side. At the close of my acknowledgements page of my Trollope on the Net I write: "as to my husband, Jim, there is nothing that I do not owe to him: che faro senza il mio ben? When did I foresee this? sometime in the 1980s. It was not long after that I began to translate Vittoria Colonna, another bereft widow.
My bedside now
I was reading Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies last night and it is as alive as her contemporary memoirs and fiction (e.g, Giving up the Ghost) and it moves outward from this personal insight to make it general and political. I wish I could write a book such as this.
I wonder myself where do people get the strength to live, the desire to, who understand how the world works and how people in reality function in it. To write this, get it down, a palimpsest, a disguise is needed. So that's why Mantel kept moving to historical fiction; her earlier ones are wooden, not these.
Last night I watched the last episode of Wolf Hall, the TV mini-series: the last few slow minutes left me shaking. The quiet realism, the intuitive natural (alas, all in nature) feeling with which they all performed their roles in this deadliest of pageants.
Claire Foy is extraordinarily real as Anne standing alone steady in the wind holding on. Gregory asks his father why does she look up to the tower as she walks to the scaffold; says Cromwell "because she thinks there is still hope." The executioner readies his sword to swipe her head off. She hears him, feels his presence, knows. You feel her breathing heavily, her trauma-terror deep within, someone has etched a line of dust and dirt around her neck.
It is astonishing how daring the treatment of death has become: this scene came as close to showing the inward experience and near witnessing of an execution as any I've ever experienced.
As important as the question why do people do this to one another is, Why do they let such things be done? And then being alive from day to day in ordinary ways (also seen in this heightened form).
Last night I watched the Miramax Enchanted April for a second time and had just about the same reaction I had to the first watching. Deep enchantment until near the end when the film seemed to be a cop-out, and while I might not speak so harshly of it today, when I reread/skimmed the book I came to the same conclusion as I did four years ago. It made me very sad -- the film did, because I felt I'll never know such an Enchanted April again, but when I reread my blog here I felt better.
A typical mixed moment from A Month by the Lake a little later one of these young male characters tries to rape Vanessa Redgrave's character) -- and not atypical of My Life So Far, Mrs Brown and An Ideal Husband
Louis Ducros (Swiss, Moudon, 1748-1810, Lausanne) and Giovanni Volpato (Italian, Angarano di Bassano, 1740-1803, Rome), View of the Temple of the Sybil, Tivoli (watercolor)
Dear friends and readers,
I've not had time to write in this space in over a month. Most of my autobiographical writing now appears Under the Sign of Sylvia, Two on wordpress. But I am loathe to give up this space as there are many blogs here people can still read with profit, and I link these into my other wordpress blogs, as I link the wordpress blogs here. So I thought I'd say hello to anyone still part of this community who is one of those who have befriended me and my blog, and put a picture on this blog I used to have as my wallpaper for my laptop -- and before that my older PC: View of the Temple of the Sybil, Tivoli brings together so many 18th century motifs I can't detal them all -- from meditative to classical, Augustan age to age of sensibility (as we used to call it), gender inflections, travel, story-telling. I was writing a final blog from my time at the 2015 LA conference and realized once again that I lost all the pictures that I had on my destop when my old PC crashed. So I scanned them in again. At the bottom you see another beauty: Turner's View of Crichton Castle, ca 1818.
This is recent re-enthusiasms. I've been finding myself reading about Renaissance women again since the playing on PBS of the mini-series Wolf Hall The book is very calculated. She wanted to make a big sum and be super-respected, known. She's done it. She writes brilliant reviews, draws rings round people like Linda Colley. I see as imitating Joyce using the language associated with the Renaissance -- soWhat I love is something endemic to women's novels.The tone of Cromwell's mind, uttery unlike what the man probably was at all, but a feminine version of a man.
I love Mantel's autobiographical novels as a frame for this one (Eight Months on Gaza Street -- the scary world of not knowing, not going out, not seeing anyone but family and a couple fo friends for women), her essays, her diary hospital entries. I suppose everyone knows that she is a physical wreck. Sometime after she returned from Saudi Arabia (I believe it was) I have read somewhere that she had an operation to remove her pain and problems with endometriosis and the physician wrecked her body: she became obese. She had operations after that, took drugs, was made just miserable - whence her brlliant (sardonic, black humor and yet pathos-filled) hospital entries for the LRB. if you see her interviewed, she is often sitting in shadows -- I know she gets up on the lecture circuit but she also shows some impulses to hide still. Her face is also distorted. So there is intense compensation going on here.
I've written about this here on this livejournal and transferred it to Austen Reveries
In the ONDB, Leithead makes a good case for seeing Cromwell as a hard-headed (practical and ambitious) evangelical reformer. He also makes a good case for seeing him as someone with a number of decent humane impulses which he acted successfully on -- reforms in the structures of the way money, buildings, relationships between people were acted out. I can see why Hilary Mantel liked him and felt she wanted to defend him against Bolt.
This is returning to roots for me as the first adult books I ever took out of a library were tomes (fat brown books) of biographies of Renaissance women: Jeanne d'Abret, mother of Henry IV (French) the first I can recall. Yvette and I were talking of her new interest in Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, as a result of her reading a biography, Alison Weir's Mary, Queens of Scots, and the Murder of the Lord Darnley: here is a fair biography from wikipedia. I find myself interested by the link in her life between teaching disabled children, running a school for disabled children and then writing about these early modern women. Weir began with Lady Jane Grey who was beheaded as a teenager, said to have translated Iphigenia (from an Italian translation out of the Greek).
A young Mary Stuart
Yvette has a good idea for a modern novel on Mary Stuart.
Probably a street prostitute known to Michelangelo. It's now been claimed as yet another improbable image of Vittoria Colonna; it couldn't be but I understand the impulse to want to believe this -- for ever so long I've been meaning to review a review of the most recent biography of Vittoria Colonna (which makes unsubstantiated claims for such improbable images) but don't get to it.
Well, I'm trying to add some reading on these women again and "fit in" Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and thinking about Historical fiction which is an old old love. So let me cite a series of books on historical fiction -- which is where many readers first read about these women: as I recall these give insight on why when women as well as man write novels about apparently powerful women in the Renaissance, women who seem to have agency (but can easily end up beheaded, savagely raped, imprisoned for life) they opt for conventional norms, and how it is that that the historical novel of the 19th century which for women as well as men at the turn of the 20th century was debased into woman's romance for women or boys' adventure stories for men.
Helen Hughes's Historical Romance
Diana Wallace The Woman's Historical Novel 1900-2000
Pamela Regis A Natural History of the Romance Novel (which has chapters on the historical novel)
Susan Strehel and Mary Paniccia Carden Double Plots: Romance and history
Mary Spongberg, Barbara Caine, Ann Curthoyus (eds) Companion to Women's Historical Writing
I thought I had written summaries of these or blogs, but apparently not, so I've bought used copies for the first time -- in all cases I just took the books out of the library. Now I'll have them. Two were costly and two inexpensive.
I don't know of any studies of women's biographies: the professional woman biographical is a real occupation in the 20th century (as well as the more familiar woman writer of mysteries, thrillers, ghost stories). How do they write about other women? men? what are their typical choices? I don't know
I've also found myself returning to women's novels, be it new women, or books like Rumer Godden's China Court.
Wm Turner, (British, London, 1775-1851, Chelsea), View of Crichton Castle, ca 1818
All for now.
A train rushing through the Yorkshire landscape -- as I once rushed to Jim, September 1969 (very first still of Downton Abbey, the 1st season).
- Those who are left are different people trying to lead the same lives … (Graham Warleggan, Bk 1, Chs 4 , pp. 55)
Dear friends and readers,
Clive James was a favorite poet for Jim. I own four books of James's poetry, couplet satiric art about London and the literary world, which Jim would read aloud from to me. I didn't understand most of the references, and probably couldn't enter into the spirit of these as I didn't know enough about the people. They are Pope updated. I could and did read James's journalistic criticism.
It became apparent to me sometime last year that James is dying: he has a fatal illness and is living with a daughter and grandchildren: I noticed first one great poem, and then another, saw a brief explanation and now fit together here the four thus far.
Sentenced to Life
Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though
Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
And when I walk the mile to town, I show
The right technique for wading through deep clay.
A sad man, sorrier than he can say.
But surely not so guilty he should die
Each day from knowing that his race is run:
My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
As ifI could be true to everyone
At once, and all the damage that was done
Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
I might have met my death believing this,
But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
I see things with a whole new emphasis.
My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish, each a little finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories as perfect as plain song.
Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.
Even my memories are clearly seen:
Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
There’d be no recollection I could trust.
Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will and testament –
As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind.
Rounded with a Sleep
The sun seems in control, the tide is out:
Out to the sandbar shimmers the lagoon.
The little children sprint, squat, squeal and shout.
These shallows will be here until the moon
Contrives to reassert its influence,
And anyway, by then it will be dark.
Old now and sick, I ponder the immense
Ocean upon which I will soon embark:
As if held in abeyance by dry land
It waits for me beyond that strip of sand.
It won’t wait long. Just for the moment, though,
There’s time to question if my present state
Of bathing in this flawless afterglow
Is something I deserve. I left it late
To come back to my family. Here they are,
Camped on their towels and putting down their books
To watch my grand-daughter, a natural star,
Cartwheel and belly-flop. The whole scene looks
As if I thought it up to soothe my soul.
But in Arcadia, Death plays a role:
A leading role, and suddenly I wake
To realise that I’ve been sound asleep
Here at my desk. I just wish the mistake
Were rare, and not so frequent I could weep.
The setting alters, but the show’s the same:
One long finale, soaked through with regret,
Somehow designed to expiate self-blame.
But still there is no end, at least not yet:
No cure, that is, for these last years of grief
As I repent and yet find no relief.
My legs are sore, and it has gone midnight.
I’ve had my last of lounging on the beach
To see the sweet oncoming sunset light
Touching the water with a blush of peach,
Smoothing the surface like a ballroom floor
As all my loved ones pack up from their day
And head back up the cliff path. This for sure:
Even the memories will be washed away,
If not by waves, by rain, which I see fall,
Drenching the flagstones and the garden wall.
My double doors are largely glass. I stand
Often to contemplate the neat back yard
My elder daughter with her artist’s hand
Designed for me. This winter was less hard
Than its three predecessors were. The snow
Failed to arrive this time, but rain, for me,
Will also do to register time’s flow.
The rain, the snow, the inexorable sea:
I get the point. I’ll climb the stairs to bed,
Perhaps to dream I’m somewhere else instead.
All day tomorrow I have tests and scans,
And everything that happens will be real.
My blood might say I should make no more plans,
And when it does so, that will be the deal.
But until then I love to speak with you
Each day we meet. Sometimes we even touch
Across the sad gulf that I brought us to.
Just for a time, so little means so much:
More than I’m worth, I know, as I know how
My death is something I must live with now.
My beloved Clarycat who so loved Jim, grieved for him, and whom I now spend my days and my nights too with; she and Ian, her brother are attached to me (and Izzy) and we to them (Spring 2014)
Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:
Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?
Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:
Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.
Northwest by Susan Stokes, 21st century
The Star System
The stars in their magnificent array
Look down upon the Earth, their cynosure,
Or so it seems. They are too far away,
In fact, to see a thing; hence they look pure
To us. They lack the textures of our globe,
So only we, from cameras carried high,
Enjoy the beauty of the swirling robe
That wraps us up, the interplay of sky
And cloud, as if a Wedgwood plate of blue
And white should melt, and then, its surface stirred
With spoons, a treasure too good to be true,
Be placed, and hover like a hummingbird,
Drawing all eyes, though ours alone, to feast
On splendor as it turns west from the East.
There was a time when some of our young men
Walked plumply on the moon and saw Earth rise,
As stunning as the sun. The years since then
Have aged them. Now and then somebody dies.
It’s like a clock, for those of us who saw
The Saturn rockets going up as if
Mankind had energy to burn. The law
Is different for one man. Time is a cliff
You come to in the dark. Though you might fall
As easily as on a feather bed,
It is a sad farewell. You loved it all.
You dream that you might keep it in your head.
But memories, where can you take them to?
Take one last look at them. They end with you.
And still the Earth revolves, and still the blaze
Of stars maintains a show of vigilance.
It should, for long ago, in olden days,
We came from there. By luck, by fate, by chance,
All of the elements that form the world
Were sent by cataclysms deep in space,
And from their combination life unfurled
And stood up straight, and wore a human face.
I still can’t pass a mirror. Like a boy,
I check my looks, and now I see the shell
Of what I was. So why, then, this strange joy?
Perhaps an old man dying would do well
To smile as he rejoins the cosmic dust
Life comes from, for resign himself he must.
Constable, Landscape with Clouds, 19th century
P.S. I've been rereading Winston Graham for a course I'm attempting to teach.
A diary entry:
My time among these OLLI people was good; I was cheered to see a suggestion of a future course in Fielding's Tom Jones for a whole semester was looked upon very favorably by those I mentioned it too.
The delightful 1997 BBC Tom Jones -- Tom, Sophia playing the harpischord so pleasurably while Square Western glowers at them...
With a wonderful ironic narrator at the cross-roads, lots of voice-over narration ..
I'm now home with my cat, sitting by a radiator thinking to myself how my beloved never said goodbye to me because he couldn't bear to, the last days he was conscious he did not try to comfort me because he knew there was no comfort for this loss of his companionship. He trusted he left me enough money; if I could stay rational, I would survive.
These are four remarkable videos by Stephen Frye; and ought to be watched regularly: everything he says is true, good, helps one do good work, but to enact them fully requires great courage and strong nerves:
One of my facebook friends placed Stephen Fry thoughts on God on my central "home" feed with the comment: it is impossible to say more. True, but we can bring out emphatically that the only way to make our brief lives better is to recognize and work to eliminate the monstrous from existence insofar as we are able:
Adam Gopnik from the Talk of the Town to read. Merci au New Yorker
And to those horrifically slaughered in the same week at a massacre of probably nearly 2000 people in Nigeria by Boko Haram. There is no possibility of humor here.
And loving the books all over again. For the more impersonal reasons I'm doing this, see Ellen and Jim have a blog two.
Today I realize the first thing most people would have done would be to explore what are the living Graham people, estate, executors, websites. I was at first astonished to discover that is most people's reaction. The first thing they want to do is get in touch with someone. I was floored. It was the last thing I'd want to do. Jim did not stop me from reading the Graham books and getting intensely involved with the Poldark historical novels and the one film adaptation by the BCC. But when he saw I did have a desire to "spread" the word, to try to teach them, to write papers on them, he told me I should not. I would meet only rebuffs, incomprehension and ridicule. And indeed how many times I've heard they are "out-of-date," "obsolete," at the OLLI at AU, who has heard of these? I discovered far fewer people there watch PBS than I thought, and certainly few remember as having any significance what they saw in the 1970s.
I'm thinking that perhaps were it now that I started to read these books I might not have carried on. I am wondering if we experience reading differently today. Were we better off when we could not so quickly tell others about the books we are reading, find views of others, reach sites about authors and films.
In 2008 or 2009 when the Net had already spread and many fandoms too and when I first began to read these books the last thought in my mind would have been to contact the estate of Graham or someone empowered to allow or encourage publications and new books. I looked upon what I was in the same way when I embarked on Vittoria Colonna. I feared contact would bring me hostility: I'd be laughed at as a nobody who barely knows Italian, had never been to Italy; I've been asked why I did it with the corollary question, You are not religious at all? So to be able to do what I wanted I did not allow my desire to be contingent on any acceptance by anyone else. If I said my goal was a publication of my translations, that would have stopped me there. And in later years boy did I experience an ugly incident when I was introduced to an editor of the Chicago University Press subset of books which publishes early modern womens's texts (I was handed over to some who already "had" Gambara but no translations; her first rebarbative comment was, You've never been to Brescia?!). I did agree with Jim to put my work on the Net, and in later years was tempted to email letters asking if anyone was interested. I did get some interest in Gambara, but found I could not shape what I was doing to their (to me rigid) requirements. He was wrong when he said the woman poet who would get the least attention was Anne Finch, Lady Winchilsea, but then he didn't take into account I'm an 18th century scholar and never foresaw I'd go to conferences.
I may find my course at OLLI at AU flunks. So I won't be able to do it again. But if it passes muster, I'll be satisfied. I'm all alone now, no one to validate these thoughts. Jim was with me as long as I didn't try to "spread any words." He knew I'd not fit into this Poldark website I once joined (where people escape accountability by pseudonyms), laughed at this fan group club's materials worshipping the film stars (he expected this he said). Maybe my problem is I should be truer to him. Hard to do now he's not here. He would have been against this volunteering: I would not have done it were he here. I'd have had him to be with. But he did say it was fine to make the two pages on my website: for readings of Graham's writings and the films and for lists of books for others.
But I do think for others the experience of a first reading of a book will change because of this Internet as well as how the book does in the marketplace.
My new gravatar -- Tabu as Ashimar in Namesake, just above. How I've learned to love much in Lahiri's fiction . So I've changed my profile picture.