Happy New Year!


Whenever I think of New Year’s Eve, I envision flappers and the bright young people, aristocrats and bohemians, sparkling jewelry, sparkling eyes, sparkling wine, a glitzy, ditzy celebration. It’s awfully cliché I am aware, but I just cannot help myself! I won’t be sporting Edwardian or flapper fashions tonight, but I will however be initiating a new (to me) 1930s velvet dress while celebrating with family at my cousin’s house. Until next year! Here’s to hoping 2014 will be a better year than the previous.

Du bist meine Greta Garbo, bist die schönste Frau der Welt

Greta Garbo by Ruth Harriet Louise (1927)
I am, like everyone else on the internet, constantly exposed to such a vast amount of images and texts that sometimes it just makes my head spin and I am unable to appreciate it all, even if it is something that particularly interests me. My heart did however skip a beat when I came across this photograph of Greta Garbo by Ruth Harriet Louise from 1927. And of course, now the Max Raabe version of “Du bist meine Greta Garbo” is stuck in my head.

W.E (a rant about how it deserves critique but not for the wrong reasons)

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It seemed like W.E was one of those films everybody loved to hate, particularly because it was directed by Madonna. I did not have high hopes for it but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it in the end. The costumes were wonderful and probably my favourite aspect of the film, as I found myself screen-capping them obsessively. The plot makes sense although the script is quite bad in certain places but I generally found that when it threatened to collapse under the weight of one cliché too many, it was saved by the acting, which was great. It was a very obvious film and you knew exactly where it was going but I do not count that as a weakness in this case, just as not knowing exactly where the film is going needn’t be bad thing either (I’m looking at you, Peter Greenaway.) The soundtrack was fairly awful however (not counting the original score) as it tried to pull off modern music in a period setting, so successfully done in Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, but failed.

W.E has been criticised for being too commercial, for only appealing to young girls who are obsessed with fashion and been described as a documentary of a woman out on shopping. Although I agree that it occasionally seemed like it was written so that the characters could sport a new set of clothes or a new hairstyle, I believe this was a conscious decision and that dismissing this as vain would be like dismissing women’s preoccupation with appearance throughout history as vanity instead of enlightened consumerism (which it sadly happens quite often, I might add.)

The film was quite self-indulgent, but in a different way than I had anticipated. Personally I thought the whole “let’s tell the story from Wallis’ point of view”-narrative worked, and that it was less about history as such and more a story of a woman living in the public gaze, like Madonna herself. What she is attempting with this film should not go unnoticed, no matter whether it is considered a cinematic or commercial success or not. One should rather pay attention to the fact that history (to a certain extent) and popular culture (to a very large extent) has a habit of chosing male heroes, to concentrate the story around some royal, politician, poet, anyone who can successfully be interpreted as a personification of the Zeitgeist of whatever era the film or novel is set in, and assign female characters to small roles, pushed to the background where they exist purely to support the hero or illustrate his character. Rarely does a woman feature as the hero – as a fully fleshed out, three dimensional character with a complex personality and an agency of her own.

But I digress – my point is that popular history very much attributes Wallis the characteristics of a dark haired, well dressed, strict looking home-wrecker and just leaves it at that without questioning the historical criticism against her in the light of 20th century sexism or the strict decorum of the British monarchy. Also, I do not recall the critics making such a fuss when Tom Ford’s A Single Man came out, a film which is also completely preoccupied with fashion and personal appearance.

To sum it up: W.E is not an intellectual film nor does it offer a detailed politicised portrayal of the era in which it is set, but ultimately history is sexist so who gives a shit.

bullshitjoan

“She was loyal and liberal; her small eager hand was ever against the oppressions of academic and commercial opinion, and though her income was considerable, her bank balance was often a minus quantity.”

I have a confession – I am one of those people who keep heroines. Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong about this apart from the fact (my fellow fangirls might sympathise with this) that I tend to idealise them terribly. This can be quite damaging for the importance of these fictional characters or actual historical figures as it is not their virtuousness, beauty or level of “perfection” that make them heroine-material, but rather their complex personalities, ability to make mistakes, change their mind, to have an agenda that is not encompassed within the narrative of a hero – in short, the fact that they exist as “real people” and not simply allegories of purity, docility, motherhood and so on. (I also have this annoying tendency to wholeheartedly support my heroines, although they might be cruel or unjust – please don’t get me started on my neverending love of Cersei Lannister.) Sometimes however, I am guilty of glossing over particular strengths and focus rather on the sass or appearance of my heroines. Today I am guilty of the latter, as I obsess over June Forsyte and her wonderful sense of fashion. (All screencaps by me.)

June's smoking capJune's smoking capJune's smoking cap June's smoking cap
June's smoking cap
June's smoking cap

I do appreciate her as a character in her own right, particularly that she is allowed to develop properly, as is the case when the free spiritedness she displays as a young girl eventually turns political as she grows older. Her becoming a suffragette seems realistic and true to her personality and beliefs. (Thankfully, unlike in certain other costume dramas, her political sympathies are not discarded as the foolishness of youth, pushed aside in favour of the development of other characters or put to an end by marriage, childbirth and death – I’m looking at you, Julian Fellowes.) To me one of the attractions of June, portrayed Gillian Kearney in the ITV adaptation of The Forsyte Saga, will however always be her wardrobe, as it is (dare I say it) absolutely perfect. I particularly covet her matching embroidered skirt and smoking cap. Alas a new smoking cap from a Jermyn Street shop would be ridiculously expensive, so I’m stalking ebay for something antique and even pondering trying to make my own.

To make up for the lack of substance in this post, here’s a quote from one of the novels, concerning June’s character:

Jolyon found June waiting on the platform at Paddington. She had received his telegram while at breakfast. Her abode—a studio and two bedrooms in a St. John’s Wood garden—had been selected by her for the complete independence which it guaranteed. Unwatched by Mrs. Grundy, unhindered by permanent domestics, she could receive lame ducks at any hour of day or night, and not seldom had a duck without studio of its own made use of June’s. She enjoyed her freedom, and possessed herself with a sort of virginal passion; the warmth which she would have lavished on Bosinney, and of which—given her Forsyte tenacity—he must surely have tired, she now expended in championship of the underdogs and budding ‘geniuses’ of the artistic world. She lived, in fact, to turn ducks into the swans she believed they were. The very fervour of her protection warped her judgements. But she was loyal and liberal; her small eager hand was ever against the oppressions of academic and commercial opinion, and though her income was considerable, her bank balance was often a minus quantity. (John Galsworthy, In Chancery: Part II, Chapter III)

Men are all such nasty schoolboys; not forgetting my own brave fellow, kicked and punched by all the rest and running home to mother with his fingers in his eyes. The man is rash enough to woo me, he must take me as I am.

Jeg har denne siste uken hatt tre altoppslukende essays å skrive mens jeg samtidig har forsøkt å bekjempe forkjølelsen fra helvete, men på onsdag måtte jeg imidlertid gi tapt. På den negative siden betyr dette ar jeg ikke har vært ute av leiligheten siden søndag, men på den positive siden betyr det at jeg har kunnet begrave meg under et par lag med pledd og se på kostymedrama, hovedsakelig BBCs 1991 adaptasjon av Samuel Richardsons brevroman Clarissa. Jeg har sett den en gang før, men klarer aldri bestemme meg hva jeg synes om den – det er en av de filmatiseringene som på sett og vis har fått alt til, men som alikevel er så utrolig korny å se på til tider, litt som å se søsken opptre i skuespill på barneskolen: det er i og for seg bra, men samtidig veldig flaut. Så er jo ikke historien den letteste å adaptere for et moderne publikum heller, da plotet er sterkt avhengig av syttenhundretallsbegreper som dekorum, familieplikt og lydighet og dessuten demostrerer ekteskapspolitikk og kvinneroller og en  som (heldigivs) er forskjellig fra de vi har i dag.

John Keats til Fanny Brawne, 1819

Forrige torsdag reiste jeg og R en tur til Winchester for å besøke et par museer og den berømte katedralen der Jane Austen ligger gravlagt. Austen er forøvrig ikke den eneste literære besøkende Winchester skryter av — i september 1819 besøkte John Keats byen og skrev diktet To Autumn under oppholdet. Følgelig er jeg smålig besatt av Keats for tiden, men heldigvis kjøpte jeg en lydbok-cd med diverse dikt og brev lest inn av en av mine favoritt kostymedramaskuespillere, Samuel West, som jeg ikke har hatt anleding til å lytte til før nå. Jeg tenker derfor å presentere et av mine yndligsbrev som nok også er et av Keats’ mest berømte, adressert til Fanny Brawne som han forlovet seg med (tragedien er som de fleste vet at Keats døde, ugift, av tuberkolose allerede i 1821.)

Shanklin, Isle of Wight, Thursday, 1819

My dearest Lady — I am glad I had not an opportunity of sending off a Letter which I wrote for you on Tuesday night—’twas too much like one out of Rousseau’s Heloise. I am more reasonable this morning. The morning is the only proper time for me to write to a beautiful Girl whom I love so much: for at night, when the lonely day has closed, and the lonely, silent, unmusical Chamber is waiting to receive me as into a Sepulchre, then believe me my passion gets entirely the sway, then I would not have you see those Rhapsodies which I once thought it impossible I should ever give way to, and which I have often laughed at in another, for fear you should think me either too unhappy or perhaps a little mad.

I am now at a very pleasant Cottage window, looking onto a beautiful hilly country, with a glimpse of the sea; the morning is very fine. I do not know how elastic my spirit might be, what pleasure I might have in living here and breathing and wandering as free as a stag about this beautiful Coast if the remembrance of you did not weigh so upon me. I have never known any unalloy’d Happiness for many days together: the death or sickness of some one has always spoilt my hours—and now when none such troubles oppress me, it is you must confess very hard that another sort of pain should haunt me.

Ask yourself my love whether you are not very cruel to have so entrammelled me, so destroyed my freedom. Will you confess this in the Letter you must write immediately, and do all you can to console me in it—make it rich as a draught of poppies to intoxicate me—write the softest words and kiss them that I may at least touch my lips where yours have been. For myself I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a form: I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word than fair. I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days—three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain. But however selfish I may feel, I am sure I could never act selfishly: as I told you a day or two before I left Hampstead, I will never return to London if my Fate does not turn up Pam or at least a Court-card. Though I could centre my Happiness in you, I cannot expect to engross your heart so entirely—indeed if I thought you felt as much for me as I do for you at this moment I do not think I could restrain myself from seeing you again tomorrow for the delight of one embrace.

But no—I must live upon hope and Chance. In case of the worst that can happen, I shall still love you—but what hatred shall I have for another!

Some lines I read the other day are continually ringing a peal in my ears:

To see those eyes I prize above mine own
Dart favors on another—
And those sweet lips (yielding immortal nectar)
Be gently press’d by any but myself—
Think, think Francesca, what a cursed thing
It were beyond expression!

Do write immediately. There is no Post from this Place, so you must address Post Office, Newport, Isle of Wight. I know before night I shall curse myself for having sent you so cold a Letter; yet it is better to do it as much in my senses as possible. Be as kind as the distance will permit to your,

John Keats

Present my Compliments to your mother, my love to Margaret and best remembrances to your Brother—if you please so.