We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Devonshire and Wye · 13 July 06

Dear Marianne,

We’ll be off in a day or so for a conference on Anthony Trollope, an excuse for a time away in Devonshire in a tiny 19th century tower by an estuary (close by Exeter), and then London. We leave Yvette and Caroline to hold down the fort. (Plus I’ve told my neighbors Michelle and Scott.)

I hope to give a paper on Trollope’s "Comfort Romances for Men: Male Heterosexual Heroism in his Fiction". My focus in the last third is Trollope’s Ayala’s Angel, a book arguing for (and offering) deep aesthetic pleasure, beautiful places (including the green parks, countryside of England and Scotland and the historical magnificences of Rome), and idyllic erotic illusion as those realities in our existence which makes life worth enduring. The book’s alluring frontispiece, an picturesque depiction of the house and world in which the heroines were brought up, beckons us in:

"The most perfect bijou of a little house in South Kensington1"

I’ve two poems and some lines from a novel & screenplay to share.

By Judy Geater2:

Red Dress

Everyday words
fit like jeans,
snug against my hips
and the slight sag of my waist.

No need to to check the label
and whether this will wash.

But now I want to leave aside
the comfort of old clothes and
words which have been said.

Somewhere I will find
the red dress I could never afford.

Vivid fabric spun from longing,
the one slash of colour
in a black and white film,

Words that are mine to keep.

I can taste their starkness.

But on the pegs
hang only dresses made from other patterns,
with colours that will fade.

By Anne Stevenson:

Walking Early by the Wye

Through dawn in February’s wincing radiance,
every splinter of river mist
rayed in my eyes.

As if the squint of the sun had released light’s
metals. As if the river pulsed white,
and the holly’s

sharp green lacquered leaves leaped acetylene.
As if the air smouldered from the ice of dry
pain, as if day

were fragmented in doubt. As if it were given
to enter alive the braided rings Saturn
is known by

and yet be allied to the dyke’s heaped mud.
I will not forget how the ash trees stood,
silvered and still,

how each soft stone on its near shadow knelt,
how the sheep became stones where they built
their pearled hill.


Judy’s connects to Ayala whose theme and moods include how the vision of beauty and joy some apprehend inevitably fades before the realities of life, time, and chance, a vision also not to be understood by those who’ve never experienced it2.

For me Anne Stevenson’s connects to my long-time favorite 18th century poet, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), who, as I wrote this morning on Wompo, has a bad nervous breakdown in the 1690s, and lived for a time in Wye College, an at the time ruined religious house not far from her husband’s family’s "seat," Eastleigh. There she restored herself and began to write her great landscape poetry.

The Wye also brings to mind Austen’s love of Gilpin and picturesque art, and by association, her Persuasion (Lyme is in Devonshire) and so on to the (in context) heart-achingly suggestive retreat by a hero’s beloved English gentleman-friend, Madox, "’Come visit us in Dorset … You’ll never come’ ... " The invitation is uttered in Minghella’s screenplay, The English Patient (pp. 136-37), which in the original novel (Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient), was to Somerset and enclosed by an ironic dialogue and exchange in friendship: "’May God make safety your companion,’ ‘There is no God’. We were utterly unlike one another" (1992 Vintage, "The Cave of Swimmers", p 241).

Full circle. We went to Somerset last summer with the girls.

A toute a l’heure,
A time away,

1 See also Storytelling through Pictures: Robert Greary’s illustrations for Ayala’s Angel, and the members of Trollope-l reading Ayala’s Angel together, January through March 2001.

2 See her "Winter", and "Studio Still".

Posted by: Ellen

* * *


  1. I to Caroline at her Ramblings:

    "Dad and I are packing. Well, Dad is packing and when I come over to help (I got to pick out my stuff & books), he says, 'What are YOU doing?' [voice rising screechily towards the end from sudden anxiety]. I was pulling out my address book to add some information about meeting Angela next Saturday. But he doesn’t want help. Or later in our workroom 'You made the key which gets us into the Cloth Fair flat fall over!' Sigh.

    So back to my books until 3:00 when I leave to teach. It’s awful out."

    To which she replies (off blog):


    how many years have you been married to this man?

    Hel-LO! He’s Packing! Simply entering a room where packing is occurring causes you to be suspect in your movements … let alone touching something … ‘NoNoNo! Don’t Touch It! It’s in a Pile!’"

    Elinor    Jul 13, 2:28pm    #
  2. I like the honesty in Judy’s poems. Going back to one of them, I saw the Edith Piaf photo that accompanied it on Ellen’s blog. Whenever I see Piaf or hear her voice, I think of how small she was and how large her sound.
    bob    Jul 13, 6:32pm    #
  3. How stressful is preparing for trips. My husband now knows to stay well away from me while I’m packing. I’m endlessly annoyed (and jealous) of how he packs in about five minutes flat. Of course he relies on me to bring all the peripheral necessities, i.e. band-aids, diarrhea medicine, cold medicine, etc.
    tatyana    Jul 16, 8:37pm    #
  4. Dear Jill,

    With Edward it’s a matter of an urge to control partly out of anxiety. He feels safer if he knows where all is. From my point of view it’s frustrating, as it excludes me not only from participating but from knowing where things are when I want them during the trip and when we’ve arrived.

    It has the effect of putting him in charge of our pace and what we do next and making me dependent and feeling incompetent.

    The two intelligent psychiatrist/psychologists I've talked to (as professionals in a session) thus far in my life confirm that among the most stressful things people do today is going on a vacation. The expectations set up are unrealizable, partly because the time is seen as a compensation for much else, and the reality that what keeps families/friends at peace is at home they have routines which keep their tastes and goals at a distance from daily life, not to omit the cost of the vacation and simply the human nervousness at leaving the home familiar spaces.

    I am very happy to be back talking to you once again.


    NB. I want to continue these pseudonyms because of much I have been reading about blogs in a series of articles in the Guardian and a couple of other English periodicals. More on this when I have time (a blog).

    Elinor    Jul 25, 7:20am    #
  5. I have the need for a sense of control also, combined with the uneasy awareness that all sense of control is an illusion. I have a friend that prefers to travel without plans (including hotel reservations), leaving them open to the wishes of the moment. That would drive me mad, as least in a place I don’t know well. And even in places I know well, hotel reservations are a must!
    tatyana    Jul 25, 8:07am    #
  6. I’m glad you’re back!
    tatyana    Jul 25, 8:08am    #

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