- Basic Psychic Development
- Kitchen Witchery
- Beginner’s Guide to Mediumship
- Egyptian Power Stamps
- Reconnecting the Love Energy
- Gay Witchcraft
- Retire Your Family Karma
- The Psychic Self-Defense Personal Training Manual
- To Live with the Fairy Folk
- Attacked by Poison Ivy
- Your Guardian Angel and You
After I finished the novel, I was relieved to discover that nearly everyone, including Henry James, thinks the first third of the book is entirely too long and slow. And this is by the standard of other 19th century novels. Events do happen, and rapidly once they’re underway, and it’s no surprise that the 1996 film version compresses the first 300 pages into 20 minutes and the remainder of the book is covered more or less faithfully.
By the end of the book I thought I understood Isabel Archer’s character thoroughly, but I’ve been surprised to find readers who view her as an innocent and a hero. Certainly, there’s a lot for a 21st century female reader to admire: Isabel states that she may never marry, that she wants to spend her youth travelling and experiencing the world. I suppose these readers view her ultimate marriage to Gilbert Osmond as simply a fateful mistake borne out of her trusting nature. Instead I saw it as an inevitable consequence of her pride and her stubborn desire to subvert the wishes of the people who care about her.
Isabel does get to travel the world, but it’s an experience so uninspiring that it’s completely elided in the novel (the movie depicts it, bizarrely, in the style of a silent film). I read this episode as illustrating two points. In the 19th century, even a wealthy and unattached woman did not have much opportunity to actually do anything engaging — she can be at best merely a spectator. As Isabel’s “friend” Madame Merle remarks, “a woman, it seems to me, has no natural place anywhere; wherever she finds herself she has to remain on the surface and, more or less, to crawl.” Beyond that, Isabel’s fault is that simply moving about in the world does not satisfy her. From the moment the book opens, she is flattered or proposed to by an astonishing number of men, and her response upon returning from this empty journey is to rush to the one person for whom none of her friends are advocating. She is self-centered and willful at heart, but charming and intelligent on the surface.
The movie makes some questionable changes to the story’s chronology. Readers are uncertain about Osmond’s motives until well after the marriage; in the film, well, he’s played by John Malkovich with the sneer factor cranked way up. While I’m on the subject of casting, I was disappointed to find Martin Donovan to be both sickly and mustached. Christian Bale is about 15 years old. Aragorn does get to make out with Nicole Kidman but his lack of scraggly beard and her 19th century beehive hairdo do not flatter either one of them.
I was a little baffled by Kidman’s Isabel jumping into bed with her dying cousin and making out with him, and then shortly after his funeral getting it on with Aragorn. The film also changes the ending from definitively tragic to ambiguous and hopeful. I was predictably enraged, but overall it’s not bad.
Next: Roman Polanski. The movie Tess does not star anyone from The Lord of Rings, and while it features both “Peter Firth” and “John Collin,” Colin Firth is disappointingly absent. I’ve already finished the novel and am plowing through Middlemarch.
How awesomely cool it must be to have people making adaptations of your work over a century later in some futuristic technology of which you couldn’t possible conceive? I mean, how cool that would be if you could know about it, which you couldn’t, because you’d be dead. But it does make me wonder why anyone would bother writing non-fiction at all, because unless it’s The Origin of Species, no one will care about it after a few years. At best they’ll just make dreary documentaries about you instead of feature-length films starring attractive famous people.
When I was reading Middlemarch I remarked on how progressive it was, especially in its treatment of women and religion. Sure, it was written by a woman and so I would expect it to be generally sympathetic towards them. It’s especially sympathetic towards the women who are independent-minded, who aren’t in pursuit of marriage and child production. Sometimes their pursuits are selfish but more often they’re noble. This is a book with a cast of dozens, so sure, there are also female characters who are portrayed positively and do exhibit traditional values, but they tend to fade easily into the background. It’s the honest and independent, or weak and scheming, who draw our attention for better or worse.
The novel is forward-thinking but much more conservative than its author’s life would lead one to expect. At age 22, Marian Evans decided that Christianity was based on “mingled truth and fiction” and she refused to go to church. Eventually she moved to London by herself and began socializing and working with radicals. According to one biographer, “Her social position as a single working woman in London in the early 1850s was extremely unusual. [...] She was now in a society composed entirely of men, and though it was intellectually stimulating to associate with them freely, she was risking her reputation in doing so.” A society composed entirely of men. That sounds totally hot.
Eventually she entered into a relationship with a man in an open marriage. They lived together for decades, during which she wrote her novels under a pseudonym largely because she was already notorious as a political writer. Her non-husband died after many happy years together and and as a result she was “plunged into loneliness, filling her journal with verses from Tennyson’s great poem of mourning, In Memoriam (1850), as Queen Victoria had also done after the death of Prince Albert.” Eventually she resolved the loneliness by marrying a dumb guy twenty years her junior. And then she died. Hell yeah.
The miniseries is really good too, and features Colin Firth’s brother.
Once I freed up the rusted bike lock and got the apartment windows to slide smoothly, I was pretty desperate to find something else I could spray with WD-40.
Last night after the Squarepusher show I got on a late bus. Normally, buses are inconvenient because of frequent stops, but this driver did not stop for anyone or anything else, not even four red lights.
I got off at the last stop, in Government Center, and walked from there towards my apartment, down Tremont by Park Street and the Commons. At the intersection by the T stop I stopped to notice a very large bird flying towards me. It landed on a U-shaped balcony just over my head, and I could see clearly through the railing that it was a grey and white striped owl. I watched it for a minute while it swiveled its head around and around. Lots of drunk people were passing me but no one seemed to notice or care that a woman was standing alone on the sidewalk at 2am staring up at a building.
“Who,” I said.
The owl swiveled around to stare directly at me. Without breaking gaze, it hopped from one end of the railing to the other, putting it now just a few feet over my head.
I stood there for a few minutes more, just watching it. A car pulled up behind me, which I didn’t turn around to see but I heard someone roll down the window and start screaming, “Who! Whooooo! WHOOOOO!!!”
The owl didn’t look especially startled but it did decide to take off. It crouched down for an instant and then leapt into the air in a cloud of feathers. One of them drifted right to me, which I caught.
Herring gulls have discovered the dumpster behind Finagle-A-Bagel on Congress Street. Yesterday I saw only one, standing in the garbage with a cream cheese packet in its mouth. Today there were at least twenty, mostly dashing back and forth in front of the dumpster. A handful were watching from the top of a covered parking area, and the corrugated metal roof amplified their excited pacing.
There is nothing more hilarious than a seagull dragging a whole everything bagel around a parking lot. Even though the bags in the dumpster had been ripped wide open and the bagel supply therein was nearly limitless, the gulls prefer chasing after the excavated spoils rather than acquiring their own. A speckled brown juvenile tore off a piece of another bird’s meal, swallowed it whole rather than surrender it to higher-ranking animals, and then stood still, possibly quite alarmed, with a half-moon wedge of bread bulging out of its neck like some kind of gluten-filled goiter.
I left the parking lot and crossed the Summer Street bridge, and there were two more gulls in the channel, one juvenile and one adult. The younger bird was swimming back and forth in front of the other, turning each time the elder did, the way people walking towards each other negotiate passing by uselessly starting right and left in synchrony. Except this bird was clearly doing it on purpose. When the adult gave up and took to the air, the younger one followed right behind. I quickly lost sight of them because seagulls do not conduct their business on a human scale.
The first couple was well-dressed, middle to upper class, probably on their way to the theater. He was all J. Crew, she had long, straight black hair. He was touching her hair as I approached them.
“I see another one,” he teased.
“Shut up,” she said.
“That’s two grey hairs. I bet there’s more.”
“Shut up! Pull them out!”
He brushed her hair back from her face. “I wouldn’t do that. I think they’re beautiful.”
. . .
The second couple was in the supermarket:
Her: “Ew, I don’t buy that stuff. I hate whipped cream.”
Him: “Well, there goes that fantasy.”
Overheard at Fenway Park:
“I really want to get one of those little flags.”
“Yeah, they’re giving them out over there, but you need to sign up for a credit card first.”
Words used by Artisanal, a fondue restaurant in New York City, to describe their cheese selections:
- Extra daring
“Liza L-I-Z-A, Daly D-as-in-David-A-L-Y.”
“Like how Liza Minelli spells it?”
“Well my name is Leonard Bernstein, so I know a little about music, if you know who he is.”
“And where are you calling from today?”
“Boston! The Boston Pops are very familiar with Mr. Bernstein’s music.”
“Boston is important to my family, you know my daughter went to Harvard Law school. Then she married a cardiologist from Chicago where they live now, but he took her out of the courtroom and into the hospital because in February she will be delivering to us three beautiful triplets.”
“Yes, my wife of 32 years has left me to go live with my daughter while she is expecting as has the wife of my son-in-law, which means that the two men are now bachelors but we are very much looking forward to this.”
“Well I’m very sorry that the Boston Red Sox did not go to the World Series against the Chicago Cubs this year.”
Then he told me about a card protection plan.