I knew of Frederick Douglass mainly through reading the novel Transatlantic, by Colum McCann (2013 Random House), about a third of which is devoted to a narrative describing Douglass’s trip to Ireland. He is invited by protestants, and I think, Quakers, to Dublin, in the first instance. There a maidservant seems to take a romantic interest. Douglass travels down to Cork by the backroads and is struck by the sight of impoverished Roman Catholic peasants, barefoot and in rags. The love interest turns up again in Cork and is disappointed so that the last we see of her is as a forlorn waif waiting at the docks for a ship to America.
A nagging memory also connects Douglass to a novel by Sebastian Barry: I thought it was The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty but I am not sure. I was really looking forward to hearing more about him from an expert in the field.
Bill Lawson opened by quoting Douglass, “the colored people of this country are bound to keep fresh a memory of the past till justice shall be done them in the present.” From this Lawson explained his own concept of social disappointment. He interrogated the differences between expectation and hope. So this was very interesting as I had always considered that hope is the binary opposite of despair. My understanding, limited I admit, is that despair is the most venal sin because it indicates loss of hope. But here Lawson seemed to be presenting hope as a disastrous evolution of expectation. His argument seems to me to be as follows: Black citizens, such as Douglass, had the expectation that as citizens within the constitution they would be equal with whites. As this expectation has not been fulfilled over time black Americans are being forced to evolve from expectation to hope. Once you can only hope you are not expecting. So if there is no expectation there can only be despair because hope does not include the expectation of change. Lawson, himself, seems to be without expectation of equality for black Americans. He seems to be despairing.
I may have misunderstood the ideas and be misrepresenting the thrust of the argument as when I discussed it with group member, Emilio, on the walk home, we did not seem to agree on semantics. Nevertheless we were both interested in the idea of social disappointment and how that might be applied to other nations or groups. I thought of the suffragettes and votes for women (especially after the recent demonstration by Sisters Uncut at the premier of the new film, Suffragette, – and the supportive comments made by the film’s stars, Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham-Carter). Emilio said he would be blogging his thoughts on the seminar; these will be more erudite, I think, as he has been researching properly, unlike me – I have just mentioned novels and films. But one thing I did do, as I failed accurately to note down the Douglass quotation, was look up his speech.
Bill Lawson, University of Memphis, ‘Douglass, Memories and Disappointment.’ 7th October, School of English Research Seminar
Yesterday I went out to look for the site of Bowen’s Court. I probably should have prepared more before I went but I knew its position, in terms of Mitchelstown and Fermoy and Mallow (formerly named Moyallow). I knew that the house had been dismantled (and the stones removed) and I knew the story of the hawk and the position of the demesne below the Ballyhoura Mountains. So, in glorious sunshine we turned off the N20 at Ballybeg (note the name in terms of Brian Friel‘s decision to set most of his plays in a fictional town Ballybeg = small town in English) Abbey (ruined) and drove around the small roads, choosing turnings which would keep us not too high and not too low in terms of the position of the house. I think I understood why Elizabeth Bowen so loved the place and why she wrote that enormous, irritating but oddly addictive book about it and its history and her family history. I also thought of Emily Lawless and how her family had supported “their peasants” through the famine. One of the Bowens instituted a programme of road building to give work for starving families. Were we driving on one of these roads? I saw a delightful road with grass growing up the centre but my partner rejected it; he wanted to get home for the Chelsea match (another disaster of this frustrating season). As we drove we listened to Far from the Madding Crowd and Hardy’s description of Dorset countryside and representations of rural communities and conversations between working men, provided a perfect backdrop. No time to read that day, other than The Guardian’s excellent obituary of Brien Friel. My favourite line in this article is a quotation from Friel: “There is no home, I acknowledge no community”. This might come in useful for my dissertation when I hope to interrogate his play The Home Place .
Oh, and did you see? Another Greek tragedy opened at the Almeida; another Medea. This time by Rachel Cusk; another woman.
So I have not read any of my books and articles. But, perhaps time spent usefully away from the desk and the computer? Today, I bought garden compost. It is peat-based! In England people like me do not use peat-based compost as we know it lays waste vast areas of land, particularly in Ireland. Here, in Ireland, I could find nothing else in Woodies.
Bowen. E, Bowen’s Court, London, Vintage, 1999
Friel, B The Home Place, The Gallery Place 2005
Pine, R. Obituary, Brien Friel The Guardian 3/10/2015
Hardy, T, Far from the Madding Crowd 1874 Cornhill Magazine, Audio download narrated by Nathaniel Parker
Last night I dreamt about my blog. As far as I can recall it was an all-night dream and proves my anxieties about i) managing this new piece of media and ii) knowing what should be going into it. It terms of research most of my time has been spent attempting to find out how to do Twitter and a blog. I followed a band on Twitter, WolfAlice, (named for Angela Carter‘s story) as the lead singer, Ellie Rowsell, is a past student of mine. She wrote a brilliant, haunting, terrifying song, King of Darkness, for her A level Drama and Theatre Studies practical (a devised piece responding to A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Her reply to me was, “Is that you Ms Fenton?” It was me. This seems to have been re-tweeted and favourited (?) all over the place. Whoops. Apparently Wolf Alice has an album out tomorrow. Perhaps you caught them at Glastonbury last summer or the one before?
Today I have been thinking about tragedy and wondering why some women playwrights (Marina Carr, Timberlake Wertenbaker and April De Angelis, for example) have recently been re-working Greek tragedies. I saw Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats a few weeks ago in Dublin. That was Medea. Now she has a Hecuba opening at the RSC. Just before I left London I saw De Angelis’s After Electra at the Tricycle. Wertenbaker has written lots, but, of course, she was a classicist at university. I recommend her Our Ajax as a visceral piece of theatre. And her Britannicus; recently at the Wilton Music Hall. One of my favourites is Love of a Nightingale, (Philomela) written in the aftermath of the death of her previous partner John Price. Look at the phosphorescence speech in Scene Thirteen which is, I think, as moving as Maurya’s laments at the end of Riders to the Sea (Synge).
And I have been looking at Riders to the Sea in terms of its status as tragedy. T R Henn, writing in his introduction to the Methuen edition of The Complete Plays, 1984, states “it is the only one-act play that can be described as a tragedy in the fullest sense”. This seems quite a bold statement. Has/had he read all the one-act plays ever written. Hats off to him then.
So next to Synge: A Celebration ed. Colm Toibin (2005) in which he collects responses, in any form, to Synge, from writers such as Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright. I have read a few and recommend Marina Carr’s one-act play (Ha! Mr T. R. Henn – I bet you haven’t read this one) which is called A Glass of Champagne and which depicts the meeting of the recently deceased Synge and less recently deceased Chekhov in a place of “sulphur and vapours … whirling terrors and night sweats” . (Sounds like my blog dream.) Shakespeare’s in it too with Hamnet. It’s a good piece of literary criticism and funny and frightening too.
It would be great to be able to find and then see what my fellow students are reading and blogging about. I think I have managed to find a few sites by following links on Emilio’s page. Thanks Emilio! I also saw the “white hair” blog (sorry forgotten the title) which made me laugh. Only 58! You should try being me…
So I now have an image on my blog. It was difficult as, for some reason, it did not want to get itself loaded. Nevertheless, it is loaded. Jack B. Yeats is my favourite Irish artist and I have seen some of his pictures, in the flesh, so to speak, both here in Cork at the Crawford and also in Dublin. They are immediately recognisable to an art gallery visitor, such as myself, who just strides through glancing at the pictures on the left and on the right, my head switching like someone at a live tennis match. Something strikes me and I approach it. In Ireland I find it is Jack B. Yeats or William Orpen. So that is my way of citing my image; the painting is held at The National Gallery of Ireland, in Dublin. W.B. Yeats would be so proud after all his efforts to establish such an institution.
This painting features on the cover of my 1995 copy of Synge’s The Complete Plays. I suppose it is there as an illustration to The Playboy of the Western World. A play soon to open in Cork at The Everyman, and, incidentally, the first play I ever directed when I was Head of Drama at a grammar school for girls, in 1981. Strangely in that school there were no drama lessons. My brief, apart from teaching English, was to direct two plays a year. So I cast the naughtiest girl in the school, Joanne, to play Pegeen Mike. And the handsomest boy from the local boys’ grammar school to play Christy. They played in the round, dodging a peat fire, made of stuck together bits of peat from a gardening centre, and lit by a lamp bulb, covered with a red lighting gel. Inevitably this contraption started to smoke and caught fire during the first act.
But I love the horserace in Playboy. I love the horserace in The Quiet Man. I am now the proud borrower of UCC’s library book, The Kirwans of Castlehacket, Co. Galway: History, folklore and mythology in an Irish horse racing family by Robert Lynch. (2006) Four Courts Press, Dublin. It has a chapter on Emily Lawless. I found this out during my session yesterday with Ronan Madden. Well done, Ronan, you taught me how to search databases. No mean achievement, I assure you.
Can’t wait for my visit to Cork Racecourse Mallow on October 17th. This is deep research, as in deep cleaning. Experiential. Let me know if you have any tips – but be clear that I usually choose a horse by its name and the jockeys’ colours.