The Hereditary Grand Falconer-Delfico

The  Hereditary Grand Falconer-Delfico
The Model for the Maitre d'Armes

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mind the Gap!

(Barbara Murray and Donal McCann as Madame Max Goesler and Phineas Finn in The Pallisers)

Although no precise date is given, textual evidence, as well as the couple's childlessness, suggest that Marie ("Madame Max") Goesler is roughly a decade older than her second husband, Phineas Finn. Refreshingly, this was honored in Simon Raven's adaptation of the novels; Barbara Murray (who died earlier this year, alas!) was born in September, 1929; Donal McCann in May, 1943. The almost 14 year age gap shows on screen, but the actors have tremendous chemistry, even in the early episodes where McCann's Phineas is a bit raw. In the later episodes, especially as Phineas's woes mount, the ageless elegance Murray brings to the role (she was 45 at the time the adaptation was filmed, McCann was 31) and her charisma, as well as McCann's impetuous performance, rule out any mercenary motives; Phineas wants her, in this adaptation, as well as in the text.

Now, this is far from the usual pattern in Victorian mores; quite to the contrary, according to Ginger A. Frost:
Age differences were common among late-Victorian couples. According to Jalland in her study of the upper classes, 'The husband was expected to be older than the wife; ideally by three to seven years, since women were supposed to age faster than men.'. . .[In the breach of promise here under study,] defendants were older than plaintiffs 84 percent of the time, but the ranges were quite often higher than the ideal, since half of the older defendants were more than ten years senior to the plaintiffs. However, few people involved in the trials disapproved of these age ranges. In several cases a woman in her twenties was considered well suited to a man in his forties or fifties.
In fact, the older woman-younger man pairing is rare, and usually either comic or critical; as John Mullan notes,"Only one man in all Jane Austen’s novels marries a woman older than himself: Mr Collins, aged 25, marries Charlotte Lucas, aged 27. The disparity speaks of the unselectiveness of both parties. Yet three of Jane Austen’s own brothers married women older than themselves."

So one thing about Marie's and Phineas's marriage from the start--it's subversive. She is older--considerably so--and she is wealthy, with all the power that money brings. A total inversion of the Victorian patriarchal ideal, no? And both are from normally despised minorities--the Viennese Jewish woman, the Irish Roman Catholic man.

In trying to project out this couple's future after Anthony Trollope drew the curtain, I thought quite a lot abut their atypicality. Marie and Phineas are an uncommon partnership in Victorian literature. Much of the obvious power resides in her, yet he is not diminished thereby. Phineas has the virtue of ease in his own skin, most of the time; it it enables him to cheerfully accept the benefits of Marie's money and power just as he was willing to learn from Lady Laura the arts of politics. In continuing that trajectory and projecting it out two decades, I believe that Phineas at Bay keeps faith with the creator of these wonderful aberrations from the norms of Victorian fiction.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Phineas in Review: How Did I Not Point This One Out?

I don't know how I did this, but I don't appear to have highlighted a very fine review (on Goodreads) of Phineas at Bay by Douglas Gerlach:
It's not an uncommon lament of fans of Anthony Trollope: "what shall we do after we've read all of his novels?" This even so, despite the Victorian author's output of 47 novels; more than the fictional output of Dickens, Eliot, and Thackeray combined.

Fortunately, Trollopians can add one more novel to their "to-read" lists, the frolicking just-published sequel Phineas at Bay by John F. Wirenius.

Phineas at Bay revisits the life of Phineas Finn, one of Trollope's most charming characters and the main character of two of the "Palliser" novels, the eponymous Phineas Finn and its sequel Phineas Redux.

In Wirenius's book, set 20 years after the events of Phineas Redux, the Anglo-Irish love-struck politico has settled into a comfortable life with his wife, the still-steadfast former Madame Max. He takes on cases as a barrister in London and still represents Tankerville as a Member of Parliament for the Liberal party.

A chance assignment to represent a Welsh miner in court, however, pits Finn against the forces of a changing industrial society, awakening past alliances both good and bad, and ultimately disturbing the politics of the two-party system. Challenges on the home front require Finn's honor-bound attention, as well, drawing him into a life-threatening imbroglio.

To the sure enjoyment of many readers, familiar characters from the Palliser novels appear in Phineas at Bay, such as a still-unreformed Sir Felix Carbury, a still-scheming Lady Eustace, a still-grieving Duke of Omnium, a still-odious Quintus Slide, and a still-boorish Lord Fawn. Part of the fun of the book comes from the inclusion of Trollope's characters and locations from outside the Palliser series, such as a number of friends from Barsetshire.

There are new faces in the book, too. Several of the cast are the offspring of Trollope's characters who have now grown to adulthood. Some clearly take after their parents, while others struggle to break out of the familial mold.

Obviously, Phineas at Bay will appeal to the growing league of Trollopians, who will take delight in discovering one answer to the question "what happens next?" raised in the final pages of the Phineas diptych. To the author's credit, the book also stands on its own for readers seeking drama, romance, social justice, and political maneuvering set in 19th century England.
Pleasing a discerning, no nonsense reader is a nice experience. I'm honored.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Forsyte Phonetics, Philology, and Fate

I have always been bemused by the fact that the received pronunciation of the first name of Irene Heron Forsyte, the heroine of John Galsworthy's masterful trilogy, The Forsyte Saga as "I-reen-ee," rather than the more common pronunciation, "I-reen."

In both the 1967 and 2002 adaptation, the less common is employed:

(By the way, that truncated clip, the poor quality, and the cheesy trailer don't do justice to a masterful adaptation, with great performances.)


(Yeah, I know. But it was this or watch through a whole episode on Hulu--after subscribing--to hear someone say her name.)

Although either pronunciation is correct, the consistent use of the more rare pronunciation (other than in the botched 1949 film adaptation That Forsyte Woman), raises the question why.

I have a hunch.

Galsworthy's novels are generally viewed as all-of-a-piece, but in fact the difference between The Saga and its sequel, A Modern Comedy, is in its treatment of Soames, Irene's first husband, who is the anti-hero--almost the villain of the earliest novel. The Man of Property but who is, by the time of Swan Song, pretty well redeemed, if not exactly warms and fuzzy. The Man of Property was originally intended to be a one-off, and its starker tone is notable in comparison to the other volumes.

One of the aspects of the books that has baffled generations of readers is his risky decision to have Irene viewed solely through the outside, to be seen only through the perceptions of others, as he writes in the preface to the collected Saga: "The figure of Irene, never, as the reader may possibly have observed, present, except through the senses of other characters, is a concretion of disturbing Beauty impinging on a possessive world."

This makes it impossible for us to know her the way we know any of the other characters. I can't help but wonder if this is due to the fact that John Galsworthy played the part of Young Jolyon in his own life, marrying his cousin's wife, Ada Nemesis (!) Pearson after an affair with her--but was loathe to depict his much loved wife in print more clearly than he absolutely had to, and tried to disguise her in the tale.

Nemesis, of course, is the Greek goddess who "appears chiefly as the avenger of crime and the punisher of hubris, and as such is akin to Atë and the Erinyes." (Yes, its Wikipedia, but it's also correct.) The Erinyes were "three netherworld goddesses who avenged crimes against the natural order. They were particularly concerned with homicide, unfilial conduct, crimes against the gods, and perjury. A victim seeking justice could call down the curse of the Erinys upon the criminal." The Erinyes sound fairly close to the name "Irene" yes?

Nemesis makes her appearance in the Forsyte Saga, and, as I pointed out last week, she is dangerous--to Old Jolyon, to Philip Bossiney, and certainly to Soames, whose death is traceable, ultimately, to the rejection of his daughter's love by her son Jon, because of Irene's and her dying husband, Young Jolyon, opposition to the marriage.

Nemesis is in the warp and woof of the Forsyte Saga and, cloaked as the Erinyes, or, rather, Irene, indirectly, precipitates the tragic end of the Modern Comedy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thirteen Years Later

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

For many years now, I have had a tradition of no politics on September 11. And, more recently, I have laid aside political blogging altogether, and I find the change has been for my good.

But here we are, thirteen years after my generation's equivalent of Pearl Harbor, only, not so; no "Good War," with a happy ending, and justice meted out. Mess, confusion, and a fire that reignites just as you think that, at long blessed last, it may smolder out.

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above

I have no easy answers today, as our President seems ready to re-enter the conflict we were receding from. I am heartsick, and wonder if this really is all we have to offer:
The morning after committing the nation to an expanded military campaign against Islamist terrorism, President Obama honored the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as the White House argued that he had the right to wage his new fight under the same legal authority he used to hunt down Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

On a day suffused with memories of four hijacked planes and the war they ignited, the president’s new mission seemed less a break from the past than the continuation of a long national struggle.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the administration said, was formerly the Iraqi affiliate of Al Qaeda, and has maintained ties with Al Qaeda even after its very public falling-out with Qaeda leaders. It uses brutal tactics that are out of the Qaeda playbook, and is viewed, even by some members of Al Qaeda, as the legitimate heir to Bin Laden’s legacy.

The argument, laid out Thursday by Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, could spare the president’s lawyers from having to negotiate a new legal authorization from Congress, should Mr. Obama decide to ask lawmakers to approve a prolonged military campaign.
The mixture as before. It worked so well last time.

O let the heavens falter
And let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

Earlier this year, I quoted Herman Wouk's The Winds of War:
Victor Henry turned his face from the hideous sight to the indigo arch of the sky, where Venus and the brightest stars still burned: Sirius, Capella, Procyon, the old navigation aids. The familiar religious awe came over him, the sense of a Presence above this pitiful little earth. He could almost picture God the Father looking down with sad wonder at this mischief. In a world so rich and lovely, could his children find nothing better to do than to dig iron from the ground and work it into vast grotesque engines for blowing each other up? Yet this madness was the way of the world. He had given all his working years to it. Now he was about to risk his very life at it. Why?

Because the others did it, he thought. Because Abel’s next-door neighbor was Cain. Because with all its rotten spots, the United States of America was not only his homeland but the hope of the world. Because if America’s enemies dug up iron and made deadly engines of it, America had to do the same, and do it better, or die. Maybe the vicious circle would end with this first real world war. Maybe it would end with Christ’s second coming. Maybe it would never end.
We seem no closer now to ending that vicious circle, and I have no better answer than that of Victor Henry tonight. Do you?

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

And Love Itself Have Rest: Indian Summer of a Forsyte

In his Indian Summer of a Forsyte, John Galsworthy returned to the story he had laid down, he thought, forever--that of Irene Forsyte, née Heron, fugitive wife of Soames, who finds a refuge from her drab--but free!--life in an unexpected place--at Robin Hill, the house that Philip Bossiney, the man who became her lover, designed for her husband.

Robin Hill has passed out of Soames's possession into that of his uncle "Old Jolyon," most philosophical of the old Forsytes, and head of the family. Jolyon's philosophy, and his compassion are touched by Irene's loneliness, and her beauty and charm stir him to go beyond the realm of safety and convention, as he realized on waking up from a cat-nap:
That night in his study he had just finished his cigar and was dozing off, when he heard the rustle of a gown, and was conscious of a scent of violets. Opening his eyes he saw her, dressed in grey, standing by the fireplace, holding out her arms. The odd thing was that, though those arms seemed to hold nothing, they were curved as if round someone's neck, and her own neck was bent back, her lips open, her eyes closed. She vanished at once, and there were the mantelpiece and his bronzes. But those bronzes and the mantelpiece had not been there when she was, only the fireplace and the wall! Shaken and troubled, he got up. 'I must take medicine,' he thought; 'I can't be well.' His heart beat too fast, he had an asthmatic feeling in the chest; and going to the window, he opened it to get some air. A dog was barking far away, one of the dogs at Gage's farm no doubt, beyond the coppice. A beautiful still night, but dark. 'I dropped off,' he mused, 'that's it! And yet I'll swear my eyes were open!' A sound like a sigh seemed to answer.
"What's that?" he said sharply, "who's there?"
Putting his hand to his side to still the beating of his heart, he stepped out on the terrace. Something soft scurried by in the dark. "Shoo!" It was that great grey cat. 'Young Bosinney was like a great cat!' he thought. 'It was him in there, that she—that she was—He's got her still!' He walked to the edge of the terrace, and looked down into the darkness; he could just see the powdering of the daisies on the unmown lawn. Here to-day and gone to-morrow! And there came the moon, who saw all, young and old, alive and dead, and didn't care a dump! His own turn soon. For a single day of youth he would give what was left! And he turned again towards the house. He could see the windows of the night nursery up there. His little sweet would be asleep. 'Hope that dog won't wake her!' he thought. 'What is it makes us love, and makes us die! I must go to bed.'
And across the terrace stones, growing grey in the moonlight, he passed back within.
How should an old man live his days if not in dreaming of his well-spent past? In that, at all events, there is no agitating warmth, only pale winter sunshine. The shell can withstand the gentle beating of the dynamos of memory. The present he should distrust; the future shun. From beneath thick shade he should watch the sunlight creeping at his toes. If there be sun of summer, let him not go out into it, mistaking it for the Indian-summer sun! Thus peradventure he shall decline softly, slowly, imperceptibly, until impatient Nature clutches his wind-pipe and he gasps away to death some early morning before the world is aired, and they put on his tombstone: 'In the fulness of years!' yea! If he preserve his principles in perfect order, a Forsyte may live on long after he is dead.
Old Jolyon was conscious of all this, and yet there was in him that which transcended Forsyteism. For it is written that a Forsyte shall not love beauty more than reason; nor his own way more than his own health. And something beat within him in these days that with each throb fretted at the thinning shell. His sagacity knew this, but it knew too that he could not stop that beating, nor would if he could. And yet, if you had told him he was living on his capital, he would have stared you down. No, no; a man did not live on his capital; it was not done! The shibboleths of the past are ever more real than the actualities of the present. And he, to whom living on one's capital had always been anathema, could not have borne to have applied so gross a phrase to his own case. Pleasure is healthful; beauty good to see; to live again in the youth of the young—and what else on earth was he doing!
There is something dangerous in beauty, in Galsworthy. Irene cares for Uncle Jolyon, and is conscious that she has something to give him, just as he shows kindness toward her. But, alone of the old Forsytes--except for his rattletrap brother Swithin--Jolyon chooses the riskier path.

And what is the risk? Hastening the day of which Byron warns:
So, we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.
In a quiet way, Old Jolyon rejects Forsyteism in his last days. He chooses transcendence, spontaneity, and love. It hastens his death--and yet enriches his life

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Changing of the Guard at the Brooklyn Museum

Arnold Lehman, who has been the head of the Brooklyn Museum since 1997, has announced his retirement. As the NYT points out:
Mr. Lehman made many attempts to reinvigorate the museum. But he will most likely be remembered for being at the center of one of the most bitter public fights in recent museum history when, in 1999, he presented “Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection,” a show of art from the holdings of Charles Saatchi, the British advertising magnate. Although the show was widely popular and attracted some 170,000 visitors, Mr. Lehman was attacked by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Roman Catholic leaders for including an artwork by Chris Ofili depicting the Virgin Mary, decorated with elephant dung.

The mayor threatened to cut the city’s funding to the museum and accused it of colluding with Mr. Saatchi to inflate the value of his art. The museum faced scrutiny for financing the exhibition largely with donations from those who stood to profit from it. Adding to the protests was the revelation that Mr. Lehman had lied about having seen the show himself in London. Still, it was the first time many Americans had seen the work of a generation of British artists, of whom many, like Damien Hirst, Mr. Ofili and Tracey Emin, have gone on to be superstars.

“It was through that show that all those artists were introduced to an American museumgoing public,” Mr. Lehman recalled.

The “Sensation” brouhaha was just one of his struggles. Shortly after he arrived in Brooklyn from the Baltimore Museum of Art, where he had been director for 18 years, Mr. Lehman started making what at the time were considered audacious managerial decisions, ones that made him a kind of lightning rod. In 2006 he shook up the curatorial staff by replacing traditional departments like Egyptian art and European paintings and created two teams, one for collections and one for exhibitions — prompting the resignations of three longtime curators and two board members.

Still, over the years, Mr. Lehman increased the museum’s annual attendance to 558,788 visitors from 247,000. He also more than doubled the institution’s endowment, which is now $123 million, but was $55 million when he arrived in 1997. Since 1998, with the introduction of programs like First Saturdays, when the museum is open free until 11 p.m. on the first Saturday of almost every month, he has transformed the place into a kind of nightclub, with food, wine and live music. This popular event has helped turn the place into a hangout for Brooklyn residents and attract a significantly younger crowd.

“The average age of visitors in 1997 was around 58,” Mr. Lehman said. “A couple of years ago, it was about 35. Now, when I look around, I feel like everybody’s great-grandfather.”

He also made significant architectural changes to the museum’s classical McKim, Mead & White home, the most instantly visible being the redesign of its entrance, with a modern glass canopy. The design, by Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects LLC) included a newly conceived lobby and public plaza as well. He has also started systematically renovating the galleries to make them more coherent and climate-controlled.
Leaving aside the controversy, I thought most of the art in the Sensation exhibition was jejune (Marcus Harvey's powerful and disturbing Myra was a prominent exception). Also, I hate the new front of the museum, because the classical front was gorgeous and--get off my lawn, that's why!

That said, Lehman did a lot to revitalize and popularize a great museum, and his departure truly marks a new era at a great Brooklyn landmark.

Monday, September 8, 2014

O'Toole as Higgins

Here's something I never expected to see--a video recording of Peter O'Toole in Pygmalion--not the production I saw on a magic night my senior year at college. I remember seeing a broadcast of either this film, or a straight play, on HBO when I was in high school, though. It lacks the fire that the conflict between O'Toole and Sir John Mills as Alfred Doolittle. Sir John Standing, who was so good in A Dance to the Music of Time makes a sturdy Pickering, though. It's nice to see it again.