Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's my birthday, ya'll!

Wow! What a great weekend! I am constantly stunned at how many wonderful people I have in my life. I love my family and friends. Usually, I spend a really quiet birthday with my immediate family and a friend or two, but my dad's family (sans T., damn it...have no idea why he couldn't fly all the way from Oregon to be at my birthday...it isn't as if the economy is bad or anything) all came into town last night and we had dinner out and a little fun at grandma's! It was so sweet of everyone to drive so far and take the time to celebrate. A big thank you (though I will be sending personal ones soon)!

I have a really small family. My mom only has one brother (no wife or kids), and both grandparents are dead now. My father had five other brothers and sisters, but two are deceased, and out of the rest there are only a total of five grandchildren (and our grandfather is also deceased). So, like I said, we aren't many, but we make the most of one another! My dad's sister, Ginny, made me a delicious homemade strawberry cake--and it disappeared quickly. My friends, Donna, Mac, and Claire, also came to the party, and that made it extra special!

We all got soaked coming out of the restaurant, and there was a particularly funny moment with Jeff. He was taking everyone to their cars with the umbrella. He came back and said for me to come with him. I said, "No, go ahead and take Laura [our cousin] because when you come back I am going to take you home with me." Of course, Jeff wiggled his eyebrows at the "I am going to take you home with me," and this woman waiting next to us laughed so hard. I didn't bother to tell her that he is my younger cousin. It was just too much fun to see the expression on her face.

Here are some photos from the evening!


(Grandma Jean and I. Probably my favorite picture ever!)



(Jessica and I! I love this one, too! I need to see you again soon, love!)



(Dad and I! He had a great night and did really well!)



(My cousin, Jeff, and Claire! Two of my most favorite people!)



(My mom's brother and my uncle, Larry, and I!)



(Several of us having a good laugh! What is going on with that mist, though??)



(The lovely Laura (my cousin) and I!)


Today, of course, is my actual birthday. At 8:29 tonight (yes, the same as the date), I will officially turn 34.

I am so upset that mom and I forgot to take a photo last night! So, we took one a few minutes ago...I am sure that 34 years ago she was pushing really hard! (Oh, my! She just yelled up at me, as she is cutting our little cake, "This time 34 years ago I wasn't eating cake. I was saying, 'Get this child out of me!'" HA!).




I am happy to be in my 30s...I hated my 20s. I had a really good day today, though. Mom and dad and I went to lunch, Jeff and I went shopping, and then I had to get serious and work on school stuff for a little while. Don't think I can just wing it on teaching Wordsworth tomorrow!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Enjoying my Renaissance and saying to hell with the rest of the world!

Taking time off from my dissertation has been the best thing for me. Yes, I know I just started working on it about four months ago. Considering how the summer has gone however, it was either give up the stress of the dissertation or give up my sanity...and my sanity won the lottery. So, I am having a mental renaissance, of sorts. My friend Melanie said that every spring (while at university) she had a Renaissance. Her Spring Renaissance, she called it. And she enjoyed the creativity and artistry that went along with it. So, we would go out to the mounds and read poetry and just have a great time in the spring. Well, I am going through that now...right through the dog days of summer. And it has been great. I have been reading so many things that I would never read otherwise. I am writing a lot, too...and that has been the best part.

Sometimes, telling the world to go to hell is the best thing that you can do for yourself. Sometimes, you have to do it. You have to do it for yourself. This summer has been life changing in so many ways, many of which are personal. Still, I am excited and I am energized and I feel satisfied in ways that I never thought that I could be satisfied...and unsatisfied in ways that I never thought possible as well.

So, on the near-eve of the anniversary of my 34th year (not until Sunday, actually) in this universe, I am excited for the first time in a really long time. Here's hoping that I actually finish my PhD one day! That I can pay off my student loans during this lifetime! That I can travel and love and live. And that this year of my life brings less tragedy and more joy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Autumn Light

I think that I noticed it for the first time two days ago, but it struck me once again, even more powerfully, today: the light is changing. I can tell that new seasons are sneaking in by the light. This is my favorite kind of light, though. There is a richness to it that you just don't get during the summer...or even the spring, when the light changes again. I guess that is why I love the spring and autumn so much. You don't get to see the light like this quite so much.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Interlibrary Loan, How I Love Thee.

Warning: Inevitably, this will become a really nerdy post.

Those of you who know me academically are aware that I study Victorian literature. Those who are familiar with the label "Victorian" also know that there is no good definition of Victorian literature or good boundaries for the time period. So, those of us nutty enough to pursue Victorian studies end up specializing in a decade or two of the 70 plus years that make up the time period. Typically, I center my studies between 1850-1870, though my dissertation pushes for 1840s-1870s. Anyway, none of this is interesting in itself, except to say that I am ignorant of the early and later stuff...and that includes some fantastic later fiction by "New Woman" writers. I have been reading some Marie Corelli over the summer, but I don't know much about these "New Woman" folks (other than the basics).

So, I decided to check out some material for fun because God knows I have NOTHING else to do. Right. So, I started looking around in our library catalog for "New Woman" material, and discovered that our collection isn't great. So, off to WorldCat I go, and I find this fantastic anthology, called, oddly enough, the A New Woman Reader. I sent off an ILL request (hence the title of this post) and ta da! Here it is. And it is fantastic. I highly recommend it.

The first thing that I read is a story by a woman writer unknown to me: Netta Syrett. Apparently, according to the editor, her real name is Janet Syrett and she was educated at Cambridge Training College and wrote some children's fiction. She ended up publishing 38 novels...how did I never hear of her??? Anyway, she also never married...which means that I like her already. (Yes, "The altar, tis of death!"...just kidding. But I had to throw that in there.)

Anyway, I read her short story titled "Thy Heart's Desire," published in July of 1894 in the Yellow Book. This story takes place in the empire...now, the editors, in the anthology intro, say that it is the Middle East, but I think it is India or somewhere thereabouts because of the descriptions of dress and things. Anyway, the young wife (only married about a year) is miserable, didn't marry for love, and is trapped in a marriage that she hates...and an existence that she hates. The editors point out that the isolated surroundings mirror her feelings of being trapped and isolated...well, yeah. Anyway, the story is really interesting, especially for me because I am so used to the measured words and hidden meanings in most Victorian fiction. Here, the woman is so outspoken and blunt, but the story is very painful to read. When another man comes to the camp, Kathleen (the heroine) realizes that her situation is even more unbearable. It isn't explicit whether or not she has a physical affair with the man who visits (his name is Broomhurst), but she definitely has an emotional affair with him--and her husband (Drayton) is well aware of the fact.

The story is filled with really awkward and painful moments. It may not be wonderful "literature" but it is well done in that it captures everything about the agony of marrying the wrong person, about being trapped in a bad situation. One of my favorite moments occurs after Broomhurst arrives. He comes over to dinner and this is the conversation that takes place:


"Given the right Adam and Eve, the desert blossoms like the rose, in fact," Broomhurst answered, lightly, with a smiling glance inclusive of husband and wife; "you two don't feel as though you'd been driven out of Paradise, evidently."

Drayton raised his eyes from his plate with a smile of total incomprehension.

"Great heavens! what an Adam to select!" thought Broomhurst, involuntarily, as Mrs. Drayton rose rather suddenly from the table.

"I'll come and help with that packing-case," John said, rising, in his turn, lumberingly from his place; "then we can have a smoke--eh! Kathie don't mind, if we sit near the entrance.

The two men went out together, Broomhurst holding the lantern, for the moon had not yet risen. Mrs. Drayton followed them to the doorway, and, pushing the looped-up hanging farther aside, stepped out into the cool darkness.

Her heart was beating quickly, and there was a great lump in her throat that frightened her as though she were choking.

"And I am his wife--I belong to him!" she cried, almost aloud.
(59)

I especially like the ending of the story because after Drayton dies she doesn't just fall into Broomhurst's arms. In fact, she realizes that she doesn't love him either and she says:

What sort of woman should I be to be willing again to live with a man I don't love? I have come to know that there are things one owes to oneself. Self-respect is one of them. I don't know how it has come to be so, but all my old feeling for you has gone. It is as though it had burnt itself out. I will not offer grey ashes to any man. (69)

I was shocked when I read these lines. NEVER have I seen anything like it in the Victorian era. Sure, other heroines have implied the same sentiments, but I have never seen the words come out of their mouths. It was astonishing. And brilliant. It is a brave statement for anyone to be able to make, full of risk...the biggest kind of risk. I feel the same way. Why would anyone be willing to offer "grey ashes" to anyone--or oneself? I don't understand it and yet I see it in so many of the people that are married or together. I can't do it. I can't resign myself to that kind of life because I will break and run. Instinct related to self preservation is a powerful thing. Kathleen felt it early on enough, but she thought that she could override it, that her plan to marry without love would be enough. (It is easy to marry someone. There are plenty of people out there who just want to get married. So, no one can say that they can't find a husband or wife. The problem is that "easy" spells disaster.) The thing is, she realized that "belong[ing] to him" was much more than marriage. Without the passion (God...I hate that word...unless I am thinking about the etymology given in The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and the real love, she is trapped. And is in a perverted Eden (at least from English points of view) with Adam...her only choice.

Speaking of the "Adam and Eve" and "Garden of Eden" story, there is an amusing reference to it in this story. Broomhurst and Kathleen talk about Eve's encounter with the serpent...and, in a move of brilliance, Kathleen totally gets why Eve found the serpent interesting. It was really funny to come across that moment on Sunday because Saturday night I had the exact same conversation with my friend, Kelly. It is true though. If you take Milton's version, why would Eve--clearly in need of some intellectual stimulation--want to hang out with Adam who just sits around weaving her necklaces and things out of flowers? Of course she took up with the serpent. At least he knew how to talk to her. AND when she tries to turn Adam into that type of person (i.e. giving him the fruit from the tree of knowledge) it totally backfires. Ladies: this is your first true example. YOU CANNOT CHANGE A MAN--OR A WOMAN, FOR THAT MATTER. HE/SHE IS WHAT HE/SHE IS. IF HE/SHE ISN'T WHAT YOU WANT NOW, HE/SHE ISN'T EVER GOING TO BECOME WHAT YOU WANT.

Anyway, read it if you have a chance and are interested! It is worth the time!

Story: http://www.classicreader.com/book/2966/1/

Anthology: A New Woman Reader

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Eat Pray Love" and Greatness

I saw the movie Eat Pray Love yesterday. In general, it was good, though I am not sure about the emphasis on making sure that she is paired up with someone by the end. I found the movie affirming up until that point. I guess that I just have problems with the "romantic goal." I prefer something like Under the Tuscan Sun, a film that allows romance to enter the picture but ends much more positively and realistically than the fairytale that is Eat Pray Love. The reality is this: 99 % of the women out there don’t have the means to travel and live around the world for a year in order to find themselves; a gorgeous, emotional Brazilian (actually, I don't think that he is from Brazil) isn’t going to run us off the road in Bali (I got sick of the amount of crying in this movie, by the way); and, I don’t think that I need to travel to India to find spiritual fulfillment. In many ways, the title character has moments when she is such a cliché. Her experiences in Italy were the most meaningful to me--I love pasta. As my friend (who went with me) said, the transitions in the movie were too abrupt to be believable. Again, I am not saying that I hated the movie. I did like and enjoy it. But there were problems that just bug me...and I think it has more to do with our society than the film.

And that brings me to my second point: I crave greatness. I don’t need to take a year off in my life to realize that about myself. I need greatness. Throughout my life, I have sought out people who have greatness and I attach myself to them so that I can absorb everything that I can from them. Yes, it sounds parasitic…and maybe it is. But, the thing is, I need that. It is more important to me than food or sex or anything. I can’t get enough of it. It is the reason I read and latch on to wonderful movies, watching them over and over again. At the end of the day, it is all that I want. I seek it out in my personal relationships and my professional life and my private interests. Maybe it sounds terrible (though I don’t really care), but I make it a point to try to only spend time with people who fulfill me in that way. I abhor and detest the mundane or the degraded. Those who don’t try to think disgust me because they represent such waste. I, myself, am not greatness…but I appreciate greatness and what greatness gives to me—and, I especially appreciate what happens to my mind when I encounter greatness. Greatness in others is not necessarily a product of higher education—in fact, it usually isn’t. It is just something that you find sometimes. It is the light that draws me. To me, it is what Jesus meant when he said (or the words attributed to him, say) that we have "the light of the world" within us--or, actually, that we ARE "the light of the world." It is true.

So, here is my problem with Eat Pray Love and movies in general: where is the depth? The greatness? It became a cliché the same way that all movies are clichés now. Where are the movies like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (yes, I know that I can’t watch it because it freaks me out…the reason is that it is greatness to the extreme and I can only take small doses) or The Women (not the new one) or books like Absalom, Absalom! or Jude the Obscure or Wuthering Heights (yes, I know not everyone would agree with me about my preferences/examples, but you get the picture, nevertheless). I am so sick of our mediocre standards. I may not be capable of creating greatness myself, but I know it when I see it and I am exhausted with the lauding of supposed "talent" in this country. As my friend Kelly says, we pluck our celebrities off the street, for the most part. Hollywood trashes them up and strips them of their clothes and dignity for the sake of making a buck. Where are the real actresses? The real actors? We used to have them. England has them now, but they are adopting the same system. Rather than demanding that their actors go to school and be well read, they are turning to the easier American system. So, here we go again, losing what makes us great. I am in need of a revival, a renaissance of talent in film and literature. I know that we have some good people out there, but they are being drowned out by the lackluster flavors of the month. It makes me sick. Are we capable of anything great today?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's the first day of school, ya'll!

Well, it is back to the grind! Actually, today was a really good day (when my students' eyes weren't glossing over). The first day is exciting and boring at the same time. I love it because I get to see old and new faces. It is not great because I spend 40 minutes going over rules and regulations...still, it is best to begin as you mean to go on!

Jeff (youngest cousin) had his first day on campus as well! He isn't a freshman because he did some of his classes in Birmingham, but he was excited. His first class is at the same time I teach my first class...and right down the hall! It was so much fun to see him this morning before and after class. He is too funny! (Jess, you should have seen him after class! It was so funny!)

Other than that, because this day is always so hyper, I am spending the rest of it chilling out and writing (not the dissertation...just fun stuff). I have taught this class so many times that all of my lectures are prepared (except for a few about new material I have decided to teach), so I can relax a bit more and just enjoy the experience of teaching rather than worrying about how the plan will go over.

I know that I have a few friends who taught for the first time today (or will for the first time tomorrow). Hang in there! It is chaotic and frustrating and wonderful. The day that you walk in and you aren't nervous is the day that you need to find a new career. In other words, the nerves are a good sign! And don't get weighed down by the "learning to teach" class either. I know that it can happen...and will happen...but you will do great. Enjoy your students--especially if you are teaching freshman. I know that people will complain about teaching freshmen, but teaching them can be the most fun experience. They start out one way and usually end up a totally different person by the end of your class. They are all of or one or a combination of various types--arrogant/lost/homesick/sweet/bullies/etc--but they are just swimming in a new environment. Be tough, but enjoy them, too. It isn't a bad experience! And, most importantly, remember that you are where you are because you deserve to be there. You are qualified to teach them even if it doesn't feel that way sometimes (and that doesn't go away!).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Furious Love: Chapters 12.5 through the end

It should be noted that there are several more chapters of the book. I have decided not to post in detail about the chapters remaining for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that I think that they are not well done. I am both relieved and sad to end the book (as I am sure some readers of the blog are relieved that I am ending this series of posts...but these people will just have to deal with it...this is my blog). :)

I found the ending of the book rushed, incomplete, and lacking the depth and dignity that I found in other moments. If anything, the end of a relationship needs more analysis than the beginning--and there is so much more to say here. Who knows...maybe Taylor will say it one day...or maybe she already has something written. Or maybe, as perhaps she would want, she will take it to the grave. It is her decision. And she doesn't owe anyone anything. I was horrible about marking quotes in preparation for this post, but the authors printed something she said about owing explanations to the public when it came to her career, but, as for private matters, her only responsibility was to those directly involved with her. And that is absolutely right--for all of us. More celebrities and politicians and, well, just people in general should take note of that belief.

The rest of Chapter 12 was just as painful as the beginning of Chapter 12. Along with an especially well-captured moment in chapter fifteen, this was the most meaningful chapter to me, but it was the most painful to read. And that is all I will say.

Chapters 13 through the end reveal the almost constant drunkenness, cheating, and pain each tried to inflict upon the other (and those who they took along with them). Both married other people, as we all know, but Elizabeth and Richard obsessively kept in touch in long phone calls, reuniting for plays and parties (makeups, breakups, second marriages, etc). When married to other people, Richard would talk about Elizabeth and long for her (obviously making his wives uncomfortable). Elizabeth would say something to the effect of: "After Richard, all of the men were just company." (Sorry, too tired to find the citation page.) Revealed in the "Epilogue" is the content (not the text, thank God) of his last letter to Elizabeth, mailed a couple of days before he died at age fifty-eight. Supposedly, this letter has been "by her bedside ever since" (as it was delivered after his death) and is a request to come "home" because "[h]ome was where Elizabeth was" (438).

There are many incredible letters included in these chapters, letters sent by Richard even though he was married to other women, divorced from Elizabeth at the time. They are beautiful and painful--and they deserved better treatment, in my opinion, than they received in these final chapters.

So, my final assessment of all of this is that the book is worth the read. It is filled with amazing passion and words--when they are expressed by those who were directly involved. The editing is not so great. The prose is repetitive (as am I...because I have already said this in other posts). Still, I am glad that the book has been written. To have Richard Burton's own voice being heard through these very private letters is a hopeful and a painful thing--but it is gorgeous.

In a letter written shortly after their first divorce, Richard said:

"It may very well be that this is [the] last time that your last name be, in my presence I mean, the same as mine, but I bet you the impossible bet that when I am on my last bed and nearing the eternal shore that the words Elizabeth Elizabeth Elizabeth BURTON will be on my lips." (378)

The death of Richard Burton is yet another example of a life shut down by alcoholism. Taylor didn't escape unscathed, of course, but at least she did receive treatment. She was denied the right to attend Burton's funeral and memorial service (though was re-invited to another in a round about way, but could not make it in time as the invite was overseas by Burton's wife and came only 24 hours before the service), though she did go to the grave site.

It is obvious that their relationship was both excruciatingly passionate and devastatingly horrific. The title of this book is the most perfect thing about it. Yet I end this posting as I began it: at least they had the bravery to go through with it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Furious Love: Chapters 11 and 12 (first half of 12, anyway)

WARNING: Probably my longest post ever.

Chapter 11, "Rings and Farthingales," tracks the descent of the Burtons' relationship into extreme substance abuse. Richard is drinking more and more while Elizabeth has begun a binge on prescribed medication. On Dec. 31, 1968, Richard wrote:

"[During the day Elizabeth is] inevitably sipping away at the drinks. I dreaded at night when she has had her shots, etc.,...and is only semiarticulate...What is more frightening is that she has become bored with everything in life...as a result of this half-life we've been leading I am drinking twice as much. The upshot will be that I'll die of drink while she'll go blithely on in her half-world." (258)

Statements like these are especially poignant in a post-"Intervention" world. I think about the silent conversations taking place in this biography: of child abuse and neglect, of co-dependence, of addiction. Today, thank goodness, there is a very public narrative about these things. Talking about them and the public having knowledge of how these things work helps a lot. It doesn't make it any easier to talk about these things or to break the news to someone that you experienced or experience these problems, but at least there is a willing group ready to hear you. One wonders what might have happened had this relationship taken place today rather than in the 1960s. I don't know that it would have been better or worse. Certainly, due to the lack of education and emphasis on writing, Richard may not have been capable of composing such wonderful letters now as he was then. The shame of our education system and the emphasis on technology! :)

Also in the chapter are more stories about the Burton's lavish lifestyle and the jewels Richard purchased for Elizabeth, including a very amusing story about "La Peregrina." (Nope...not going to tell it here...but you can buy the book and read about it!)


The filming of Anne of a Thousand Days is covered by the authors in this chapter, as well. Elizabeth appears as an extra in the film (I had no idea) but was refused the role of Anne because of her age. It was one of the first times Elizabeth faced age discrimination in Hollywood. Richard, apparently, hated the role and thought that the dialogue was terrible. The authors insert a particularly cheesy and over-obvious parallel between Richard and Henry VIII in the narrative at this point. Elizabeth and Richard got into a violent physical altercation one day (regarding Richard's paralyzed brother, Ifor). Richard wrote of the experience, "If any man had done that [hit him repeatedly like Elizabeth had] I would have killed him...I had sufficient sense to stop myself or I most surely would have put her in hospital for a long long time or even into the synagogue cemetery for an even longer time" (271). It is after this that the authors chime in:

"The tirade was probably brought on by his own sense of guilt at the sight of Ifor in a wheelchair [he fell at the Burton's home], unable to move. After all, he had brought Ifor into his world, had brought him to Celigny. Just as Henry VIII described Queen Katherine's stillborn sons as God's punishment, was this Richard's punishment for divorcing Sybil and seizing for himself 'the most beautiful woman in the world'?" (271).

Geez. Give me a break, Kashner and Schoenberger. PLEASE. This is just another one of those moments that make me cringe. They bring up these ideas a lot, trying to make Richard identify with the character he happens to play at the time. It would be one thing if they used quotes by Richard to back up their statements...but this is annoying.

But, things are falling apart in the Burton household and Richard is starting to see the writing on the wall for their marriage. The fighting seems to increase, particularly the verbal encounters, when Richard would call Elizabeth "ugly" or "masculine" (these words were used in a moment when Richard criticized her hands), but it is clear that he doesn't think this way at all. As the editors say: "Richard himself was aghast, horrified by his own malignant remark [about her hands]. He wrote in his diary, as an act of contrition [again...they are assuming it is him being "contri[te]"], '[W]hat the hell's the matter with me? I love milady more than my life...one of these days it's going to be too late'" (273).

It is shortly after this that he purchases what came to be known as the "Taylor-Burton" diamond. It is enormous and, per agreement with the insurance holder, could only be worn for a certain number of days each year. The diamond was so big that Elizabeth found it "too heavy and awkward to wear as a ring" so she had it reset in a necklace (276). The purchase ended up being the last straw for some journalists who labeled the Burtons as the poster children for "the Age of Vulgarity" (277).

Chapter 12, "Fallen Stars": I am only going to cover half of this chapter in this post because it is intense. This is the chapter that does it. The chapter that makes you realize that you have wiggled your way into much too private territory. This chapter begins with an allusion to more marital problems and explains the moment when Richard was informed that his drinking would cause him to die within years. When he decides to go the sobriety route, things start to fall apart. The authors say that the couple never fought in front of close friends before this time, but one evening Burton insults Taylor about her drinking in front of a friend. The friend looks to Elizabeth and says, "But you do love him, don't you?" Elizabeth replies: "No. And I wish to Christ he'd get out of my life!" Elizabeth was upset at the time because sobriety lessened Richard's "sexual energy" and he couldn't even summon the will to fight back when it came to their arguments. Richard wrote later: "I have to face the fact that E. may be going to take off one of these days, and perhaps sooner than I expect. I've known it deep down for some time...a good shouting match is sometimes good for the soul, cathartic, emetic, but I can't be bothered to shout back when I'm sober" (284).

In an interesting aside, the authors include a statement by Elizabeth Taylor about this moment in their marriage. (Not sure when she actually said these words, but it was after the fact and could have been recent.) She said, "When he stopped drinking and strangely, for a while, stopped making love to me, I complained bitterly. I shouldn't have. He needed to find a way out, and I wasn't making things easier for him. We got through it. And we found each other again. Our bed was where the fighting stopped" (284).

For me, this was the moment when I felt like I had read too much. This is where the real story of struggle begins. Uncomfortable in the same way as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I like it though, just because there is also the feeling that this is where the depth of the relationship really builds. For the first time, they have to be something other than "Liz and Dick" (the way the press always referred to them). They had to figure out who they were. Hard, but a good thing.

The authors discuss the change in the movie industry and how the old-style film-making world the Burtons were used to was changing. As the authors note: "For the first time at Hollywood parties and restaurants like Chasen's, Richard and Elizabeth did not recognize everyone in the room." Burton simply sums up the experience when he says, "The world has changed...I am afraid we are temporarily out in the cold, and fallen stars. What is remarkable is that we have stayed up there for so long" (288).

The real blow came when Richard didn't win the Oscar for Anne of a Thousand Days. (John Wayne won that year.) One journalist later said of the defeat: "They did everything possible to campaign to get him that Award...But what happens? John Wayne is the winner. And she [Elizabeth] has to go up after that and give the Best Picture Award to Midnight Cowboy. You could just see that not only was she furious, God knows what waited for her back in the hotel suite." Still, Elizabeth took care of the situation at the Oscar after party, just as she always seemed to do. She was wearing her famous diamond (see photo in this post) and the press was enthralled. The couple stole all of the attention. This is a favorite moment of mine, because Elizabeth wanted to help Richard through the night and his gift to her is what did it. As the authors say: "The winners' circle seemed to be wherever the Burtons were. Their movie stardom had won back the night for them." Elizabeth turned to Richard, as they were bathed in attention all night, and said: "Who the hell voted for Wayne?" (291) (Even Wayne came up to Burton and tried to hand off the award to him, saying, "You son of a bitch, you should have this, not me.")

The chapter begins with the authors' idea that Richard was in competition with Elizabeth. He probably was. Liz Smith said: "If he had won the Oscar that year, there would have been some parity in his mind and hers. She would have been able to relax and say, 'Okay, he's got his Oscar now. I've done my duty.' I've always felt that that night, she knew it was the end of her marriage" (292).

I mention all of this because it is the most intriguing part of the chapter to me so far. I think that there had to have been competition there. As I read this book, and especially as I read Burton's letters, I see an incredible need to be accepted. His background had a strong hold on him. He seemed to constantly be fighting for acknowledgment. Not in a petty way or a way a child might wish to be acknowledged. He wanted to be recognized for the greatness that he recognized in Elizabeth. He had mastered one part of acting, but he never felt that he had mastered Elizabeth's style of acting (I think). But he did. Just take a movie like The Sandpiper, for example. Now, I admit it: this isn't an award winning movie (though it did win for the music). It really can be total camp at times, just as the authors of Furious Love describe it. In my opinion, the camp doesn't come in until their characters finally begin their affair. In the moments leading up to that moment (and in a few moments after), there is some really interesting stuff happening. I actually really like most of that movie. I could do without the long shots of the two of them making out, but I understand that it was publicity. I like the very real passion and life that emerges in Elizabeth's portrayal of a single mother, and Richard moves and speaks differently on screen in that movie than he did in Cleopatra...a trend that I think he began in The V.I.P.s. The authors mention this in the book, that he wanted to learn how to act in the understated style of Elizabeth, a silent style that was powerful. They are absolutely correct in that statement. It shows in The Sandpiper. The thing is that Richard Burton had a power and brilliance all of his own, but I am not sure that he recognized it...or, maybe he had to have Elizabeth there to reassure him. Anyway, that is just my opinion.

In any case, the marriage isn't over just yet by the end of this chapter, but the seeds for their separation have been planted.

Still, I really don't like referring to it as an end of a marriage. I think Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor remained married in heart (where it only matters anyway) for their entire lives...and even now. As Taylor would say: "All of the men after Richard were just company."

Friday, August 06, 2010

Furious Love: Chapters 9 and 10

Chapter nine, "Boom!," and chapter ten, "The Only Game in Town," review the Burton's time spent filming (obviously) Boom! and the demise of Elizabeth's film career (while chronicling the rise of Richard's). Several crazy stories are included in the ninth chapter, including the time even Tennessee Williams had to leave the Burton's chartered yacht after a particularly lurid incident (not involving Richard or Elizabeth, but instead instigated by Rex Harrison's wife, Rachel Roberts). The incident doesn't bear repeating here, as it is truly vile...and for Williams to have left (and for the Burton's to have begged her to stop), well, that should tell you what you need to know for now. Basically, this chapter is an introduction to the increasingly lavish and outrageously extravagant lifestyle that the Burton's enjoyed.


Also, in chapter nine, the authors discuss the filming of The Comedians, a screenplay adapted loosely from a novel by Graham Greene. Greene reportedly didn't blame the Burtons for the spectacle that was his novel on film, but the tension of bad reviews was getting to the Burtons. Elizabeth seemed to put up with it, but Richard wanted to be recognized for his talent. Elizabeth wanted him to be successful as well, and a great moment is recorded towards the end of this chapter. Apparently, when the couple returned to Oxford for the premiere of Doctor Faustus, a journalist began to heckle Burton about abandoning the stage in favor of film. When the journalist asked Richard if he had "[a]ny regrets," Elizabeth turned her wrath upon him, not allowing Richard to speak for himself but instead jumping to his defense, saying: "Oh, excuse me, Richard, that makes me so angry! Because he has not left the stage! That's absolute, bloody rubbish!...Last year he just got finished doing a play for Oxford on the stage. The year before that--what was he doing on Broadway? That was the stage! How can you say he left the stage?...You bastard, David! [David is the journalist.] I knew you'd ask that. Would I be 'selling out' if I deserted film for the stage?" (230)

Again, this is another one of those moments when I can really see her doing something like this. I wish that I could see the film copy of it (the "camera [was] rolling" the entire time...and she didn't hold back).

The rest of the chapter is a bit haphazard and ends with the harsh criticism of her movie with Marlon Brando, Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Chapter ten continues the narrative from chapter nine, touching on some of the same films and including others that Richard and Elizabeth filmed apart. Also in this chapter is coverage of Elizabeth's illnesses, particularly one that forced her to undergo a hysterectomy, an operation that left Richard feeling inadequate when Elizabeth had a hard time dealing with the excruciating pain and the medication given to her after surgery. He writes: "[T]his is the first time where I've seen a loved one in screaming agony for two days, hallucinated by drugs, sometimes knowing who I was and sometimes not, a virago one minute, an angel the next, and [I] felt completely helpless" (244). He is horrified, especially by the confusion brought on by the medication, when Elizabeth doesn't know where she is or who is around her. Additionally, the authors discuss the pain the operation brought on emotionally for the couple who desperately wanted to have a child together (245).

Another disturbing trend that emerges in this chapter is their new found dependence on one another that is not at all related to love but is instead the direct result of alcoholism. The authors describe the increasing drunkenness that led him to verbally assault others and led him to disappear for hours. Much of this seems to be induced by the pressure brought on by both the couple themselves (individually in the relationship) and by the never-ending attention from the press. I think Richard says it all when he says: "I'd like to be alone with E. for about two hundred years but can't even get two days" (253). I think that this is a crucial moment of admission for Burton. He loved the fame and the money, but deep down he knew that there was trouble because of those exact things. Still, the chapter ends with one of his journal entries that indicates his feelings for Elizabeth have not faded. Though "1968 had been a terrible year," Richard writes of his wife at this time:

"She is a wildly exciting love-mistress, she is shy and witty, she is nobody's fool, she is a brilliant actress, she is beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography, she can be arrogant and willful, she is clement and loving...she tolerates my impossibilities and my drunkenness, she is an ache in the stomach when I am away from her, and she loves me!...And I'll love her till I die." (255)

An end note: The chapter also mentions something about Richard writing in his journal and Elizabeth not keeping one. The excuse for Elizabeth was something to the effect of a statement indicating that she prefers to live life rather than write about it.