Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Precious Mylee Photos:

(Mylee loving her bottle!)

(The most precious child in the world in my arms! Thanks for letting me spend time with her, Melanie!)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Remember me talking about magazine industry stuff??

See this old post: The September Issue.

Well, here is an incredible article published recently about where I used to work. So many amazing people. Reading this reminded me so much of my time there. What a horrible breakdown, though...

This is one of my favorite bits, because it is so true:

"Many writers, designers and photographers will tell you that Southern Progress Corporation in Birmingham is, or was, a damn near Edenic place to work.

At Southern Progress, these creatives could practice their craft at a high level while living in laid-back, family-friendly Birmingham, rather than being forced to hustle for a buck in a busy media Gomorrah like New York or Chicago...Many former staffers talk about what they call SPC’s family atmosphere. Nick Patterson was an associate editor at SL in what became the Travel & Livings department. “[former CEO Tom] Angelillo, it would never fail that if he saw me in the hall, he would stop and ask me what I had been doing. And [former SL editor in chief] John Floyd would have meetings with his staff every week. ‘Java with John’ it was called. Basically he would answer any question from anybody on the staff.”

And all of that is true. Everyone spoke to one another. It was a wonderful environment. And Joe Rada, the former Southern Living writer/travel editor, has it right:

“The initial impression I had of [SPC], and it lasted for a long time, was how polite the society there was. It was the epitome of Southern culture. It was a growing company, always expanding, introducing new sections, new divisions. And everybody was nice. Everybody was polite, positive Southern boosters. The whole corporate concept was the good life in the South.”

It really was the sort of dream and lifestyle in the bubble...but what a beautiful bubble it was.

Usually, I really enjoy change. But this is something that didn't turn out so well, unfortunately. Still, here is hoping for the best. I do wish much good luck to the new editor!

...And, by the way, I am working on a "thought-provoking" people piece! It is going to be a fun one! I needed something fun to do between all of this chaos at the hospital and so much diss. work. But all of the problems over the last two weeks have delayed my progress. It is coming along, though. :)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Another great article...

Elizabeth Taylor: Famous, but on Her Own Terms.

Great 1983 article about "Private Lives"

The Liz and Dick Show.

“Darling,” Elizabeth Taylor said to Richard Burton, “you’re still wearing your wedding band.” She took his hand tenderly. “I know,” Burton said. “Why don’t you take it off?” Taylor said. “Because I can’t get it off.” “I see,” she said, light as a meringue. The moment played like Noel Coward, deft, a little too fraught with meaning, except, irony of ironies, it wasn’t from
Private Lives at all.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tributes and Exhaustion

I think I have watched just about as many tributes as I can watch. I don't like most of them, but I enjoyed the Biography Channel "Remembers" the best, mostly because there were several clips of Elizabeth Taylor speaking.

I am just really tired today. I didn't get much sleep (the sweet, but elderly, dog, again). But, I did have a crazy dream with Taylor in it. She told me she liked the film clips I posted. :) (Laughing about that today!)

Anyway, this week has just been chaotic. My uncle (dad's brother) has been in the hospital's trauma unit since Tuesday. He hit his head (hard enough to knock him out) last Friday night. He didn't tell anyone that this happened, and it is a miracle that he isn't dead from the injury. Anyway, the pain became so bad on Tuesday that he drove himself to the hospital and was immediately admitted to the trauma unit for bleeding in the brain. So, he had one surgery to repair a torn artery and another today to help clear up more bleeding on the brain (at least not "in" the brain this time). He is still in a lot of danger and I hope he does well.

But, please, anyone out there reading this: If you fall and hit your head, ALWAYS go to the hospital. It is just too dangerous not to do so.

Other than that, I have just been trying to stay awake and cope with all of the craziness. Lots of work, as usual, too. Here is hoping the rest of the week goes well.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My First Elizabeth Taylor-Related Memory and Its Consequences

(Scroll down for more Elizabeth Taylor entries.)

The first time I remember being exposed to any movie Elizabeth Taylor acted in was when I was about eight or nine-years-old. Now, it should be said that my parents never censored my reading or viewing material as I was growing up. So, though Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a bit mature, and though I certainly did not "get" all of it at that age, that was the first Elizabeth Taylor movie I remember seeing. My only impressions of seeing it at that age is that I kind of distractedly watched it during many scenes, but I was totally glued to the screen when it was just Taylor and Newman. About eight years later, when I was sixteen, I became totally obsessed with the movie. I would watch it over and over again. And maybe I still didn't "get" all of it, but I sure did get Elizabeth's passion.

Fast forward about seven years: am forcing a now ex-boyfriend to watch part of the movie with me while I was living in Birmingham (don't think he was too put off) when suddenly he says, "You know, you move your hands just like that sometimes...you do the same thing with your hands as she does with her hands."

For me, at the time, it was shocking and, yet, the ultimate compliment. I guess I internalized more of that film than I realized. I still don't know exactly what he meant by that entire statement, but I understand some of it. He was probably lying (almost certainly, knowing him!) for his own reasons...but who cares. :)

Anyway, not sure what that says about me...but it is my Elizabeth Taylor moment.

Of course, now that I am older and really "get" the movie and Tennessee Williams, I have a much stronger and deeper appreciation of the film. Though very different from the play for various reasons, I still love it for what it is. For what Taylor does in that film and in so many others.

And--as a side note: I have not written much on here about Taylor's work with her AIDs foundation. Again. Amazing. She broke barriers in whatever she set her mind to do.

We lost someone incredible today. Even if you weren't a fan of her life or her work, you have to admit that she made a statement.

ALSO: My friend Kelly's reaction to her death...

"I feel abandoned...It's like Rome is gone. It's like God has said, this is all there is, folks; all the splendor of mankind is now only ever to be legend."

I would add to that: Egypt is gone, too, in the Shakespearean sense.

"Egypt, thou knew'st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings,
And thou shouldst tow me after...

Elizabeth Taylor

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"

Thank you for contributing to the world. Rest in peace.

Some previous posts about Elizabeth:

A Not So New Obsession

Furious Love 1

Furious Love 1.5

Furious Love 3-4

Furious Love 5-6

Furious Love 7-8

Furious Love 9-10

Furious Love 11-12

Furious Love 12-end

Reflections in a Golden Eye

More Elizabeth Taylor

One of My Worst Qualities

Because we can never have enough discussion about Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor in Iran Photos

I am sure there are other posts that mention her, but these are the entries most concerned with her or her films.
From the media: 25 Things You Didn't Know About Elizabeth Taylor.

And, this tribute article today gets it right:
"In this and in many things, the actress was in a class by herself. Her astonishingly dramatic personal life, characterized by full-throttle romantic love and later recriminations, serious illnesses and tragic deaths, matched the drama of her on-screen roles stride for stride and maybe even bested it. While many actresses specialize in public private lives, it's hard to think of another one quite as astounding in its fearless pursuit of happiness as Taylor's."

But, we should leave it to one who loved her most...In the words of Richard Burton:

"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."
(Furious Love 255)

Maybe a new joining has taken place. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My new favorite line(s) from a book:

"I was a young woman and all around me things ripened when I passed, or they were made new again. ...You could not understand the girl who met the General without meeting the girl who flung her clothes off for the thrill of being watched, who remained chaste even so, and who slippered about the streets like a Helen without a war and no idea how to start one."

(Really, it is all of the buildup that makes these lines great...that and the Helen of Troy reference.)

(Source: http://images.indiebound.com/653/581/9780446581653.jpg)

A Separate Country by Robert Hicks

(Note: This is a novel that takes place in the years after the Civil War. I rarely read Civil War-era historical fiction, but I kept passing this book and it kept calling to me. I am a bit superstitious about these things...if a book keeps popping up and "calling out" to me, I eventually buy it and am almost always glad that I do. So, I picked it up and began reading it during my babysitting job the other night...after the child was in bed, of course! It is truly amazing. The writing is beautiful and the author is truly gifted in matching voices to personalities. Lush, exotic, horrifying, brutal, southern gothic, amazing...all of these words apply...and I am only 80 pages into the novel.

Hood, a major figure in the story, had to do with the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee. And, I am terrible with my Civil War history...but I have actually, believe it or not, been to the Battle of Franklin site. My mom helped open a store up there once and I went to visit her for a long weekend. She was there for three weeks and I missed her, so I decided to pay her a visit. Anyway, she had to work 16 hour days and had the flu, so I only saw her for lunch and an hour at night. I kept myself busy by going to places around Nashville...and when I say "places," I mean bookstores. Anyway, the day was coming to an end and I was bored, so I followed some really bad signage and ended up at the Battle of Franklin site. Now, I had no clue what I was doing and I had missed the last tour by 20 minutes. The lady behind the desk was so sweet and she let me run to catch up with the tour for free. I am so glad that happened, because it was amazing and made history come alive. The tour guide was phenomenal. Such a tragic site and period in our history. I may live in Alabama, but I am not a "rebel"...and I ache when I try to comprehend what that time was like and how awful it must have been.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I am just stuck on it...

See previous post: "Come for me, Gmork! I am Atreyu!".

Well, last night my dog woke me up at 1 a.m. (as usual these days...poor thing...he is so old), and I couldn't get back to sleep. I finally found my copy of The Neverending Story and happened to open up to just that scene. Now, some believe (and I am one of them) that this novel is actually related to the Holocaust...an allegory of sorts...and the scene with Gmork (and, really, almost every scene with Bastian and Atreyu when you think about their orphanhood) still gives me chills.

Here is some of it from the book (much better)...

Atreyu is from Fantastica (Fantasia in the movie = the imagination...therefore, Atreyu is also a product of the imagination. Gmork could be a stand in for evil, the Nazi beliefs, etc...whatever he is, he is terrifying and horrible and very much into manipulation). Gmork begins when asked what is in the human world and what Atreyu would be there...

"You ask me what you will be there. But what are you here? What are you creatures of Fantastica? Dreams, poetic inventions, characters in a neverending story. Do you think you're real? Well yes, here in your world you are. But when you've been through the Nothing, you won't be real anymore. You'll be unrecognizable. And you will be in another world...You will bring delusion and madness into the human world...there are many kinds of delusion...That's why humans hate Fantastica and everything that comes from here. They want to destroy it. And they don't realize that by trying to destroy it they multiply the lies that keep flooding the human world. For these lies are nothing other than creatures of Fantastica who have ceased to be themselves and survive only as living corpses, poisoning the souls of men with their fetid smell. But humans don't know it. Isn't that a good joke?"

One day, I want to talk about this book a bit more...unfortunately, the dissertation calls. :)

Spring is Here!

(Note: Not quite ready to post my next "Thought-Provoking" person yet...)

In honor of spring arriving, my mom and I went out to the university to take pictures next to my FAVORITE object: the rusted robot man.

(The Robot Man)

(Me on the Robot Man)

(Mom on the Robot Man)

(A great photo of mom.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mylee Photos!

(Mylee sleeping...)

(Josh, Melanie, Mylee and I)

(Friends since seventh grade...now we have a new addition to our crew!)

(There are no words! Joy wrapped up in one little child! Welcome to the world! You have two wonderful parents and an "aunt" who love you very much!)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mylee Katherine Bridges is here!

Melanie, my sister of the heart, had her baby today! Little Mylee Katherine was born at 7:24 pm and weighed 9 lbs and 4 oz! The baby is gorgeous and it was love at first sight for all of us. Welcome to the world, Mylee. We love you!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dissertation Guilt

I have to stop doing this to myself! I work for hours on end and then I feel incredibly guilty for stopping...even though it (supposedly) is spring break and it is after 10:00 p.m. at night.

But my angst goes beyond this. I mean, this morning I spent some time with my mom, and, instead of enjoying our outing, I had to keep forcing myself to stop thinking about the dissertation and writing and research and what I needed to do. It is a miserable way to exist. And anytime I am not working on it, I feel guilty or that I am lazy or something. This is totally irrational because I devote time every day to dissertation work, even if I am just reading a couple of things or making notes.

So, now I am exhausted, feeling down about the whole thing even though I know that I am making good progress. I guess this is just normal. But I do worry that at the end of the day, when all of this is finished, I will have to learn how to live life again.

And, in saying those words, I feel incredibly guilty for feeling this way. Because just look at the people in Japan. Or in any other part of the world that is devastated by any number of things. Or at people suffering in any way. I really should just be quiet about it all, I guess.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Thought-Provoking" People: Ann M. Martin

Oh my gosh. Getting to this week's "Thought-Provoking" People has been a chore! I started out with one idea and the information I received was so bad that I had to abandon it last night. So, just because I wanted to get something out there, I decided to do a short post on someone I find amazing: Ann M. Martin. For those of you who may not remember the name, Martin is a children's book writer, and any girl who grew up in the mid-1980s probably remembers her best-selling Baby-Sitter's Club series. I devoured these books when I was about eight or nine, and continued to read and reread them well past the point when they were reading-level appropriate for me. I think that I knew most of the stories by heart. What is interesting is that I started to lose interest in the books sometime around #75 or #80. I always thought that this was because I was growing out of the series...oh, no. Apparently, Martin only wrote a bit over 60 of the books (and I don't know that she wrote many of the specials, most of which I hated). So, anyway, as a back-up "article" for this week, I present Ann M. Martin!

Ann M. Martin is largely responsible for me being an avid reader today. I still remember picking up the first Baby-sitter's Club book (there were eventually 213, though I didn't read all of them). In fact, I still have that book, along with about eight others that I considered to be my favorites. I don't really know why I loved the series so much. During an interview, Martin also pondered this question, and she came to the conclusion that readers enjoyed the novels so much because "they [the books] were stories of friendship, and this particular group of girls was very different from one another. They had different sets of problems, different home lives, different families, but they got along well together and worked well as a group. I think also because there were so many characters and they were so different, most readers could find at least one character with whom they could identify."

(I still remember this cover...and it is still one of my favorites today. Source: Amazon.com)

I suppose that all of that is true...but I think the main reason I loved this series is even simpler than that: I was reading about older girls who were living more mature lives than myself. Also, Martin exposed me to realities so different from my own. I learned about myself through getting to know and experience the emotions of these girls (Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey...and eventually Dawn and Mallory). Through their experiences, I found out about things I knew nothing about: divorce, single parents, strict parents, diabetes, a bit of Asian culture, etc.

(This is the cover of one of the most memorable books in the series for me: The Truth about Stacey. It was the first time I came across a character with diabetes and it was a good way for a child to learn about the disease. Source: http://www.fictiondb.com/author/ann-m-martin~the-truth-about-stacey~267676~b.htm)

I knew these girls. They were my own best friends and I was completely in their world when I opened one of Martin's books. Getting a new book was as much fun as getting a new toy. I couldn't wait for one to come out.

As for Martin, she was born on August 12, 1955, and grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. She graduated from Smith College and became a teacher (who also worked with autistic children). From there, she entered the publishing world as an editor of children's books and then began writing her own books. She published her first children's novel, Bummer Summer, in 1980. She was twenty-eight-years-old when it was published (according to one site) and had been working on it for three years.

Her most famous series, The Baby-sitter's Club, began in 1986 (I say "most famous," but apparently she has some others gaining a huge readership now...we will see!). In a November 29, 2006, transcript of an interview on Scholastic's web site (see all transcripts here), Martin explained the origin of the series:"The idea for The Baby-sitter’s Club came from Jean Feiwel, who used to work at Scholastic. She had an idea for a mini-series about a group of friends who had created a baby-sitting club. So I created the four original main characters, thought about what a baby-sitting club might be, and that was the beginning!" The series lasted until the year 2000, but, as I said before, I stopped reading long before then! Most of my separation from the series was due to age, of course, but, like I said, after the group of books in the 70s or 80s in the series came out, I just noticed that something was changing. She had help, which doesn't surprise me. I can't imagine any author keeping up that series for so long! She had to produce one book a month, and those of us who know...well, that is a lot, even if you are "just writing children's books." (I say that with much sarcasm. Writing good children's books is one of the hardest careers out there.)

From that point until recently, Martin stuck with single titles. I have not read all of her books, but I do remember at twelve picking up Inside Out.

(Source: Amazon.com)

Again, in this book, Martin introduced me to something I had no experience with in my own life: autism. I have raved about this book for years and have recommended it to so many people. I don't even know if it is in print anymore, but, in my humble opinion, it is one of the most important books for children ever written. If it is not in print, it probably will be soon, considering the epidemic of autism that our country faces. I can't say enough positive about this one. It shaped my thinking about autism long before I met an autistic child, and that was good because it let me know what to expect and how to react to them. Martin is just such an amazing writer and teacher. She opens doors and gives children experience by living through the page.

And, yet, I can tell you almost nothing about her. I know she isn't married, that she lives in upstate New York and has occasional web interviews with children and students. She has lots of pets and enjoys sewing clothing for children. All in all, she seems shy, quiet, and a bit of a loner...but I could be wrong and probably am! She is a mystery and seems to downplay her success in all of the interviews I have read (and I haven't found many). I mean, everyone else recognizes the huge addition she created in the children's market--especially for girls. In a 2009 New York Times article titled "Comeback Planned for Girls' Book Series", the editorial director for Scholastic, David Levithan, described the huge following and business deals made from Martin. The series, he said, "garnered an ardent following among preteenage girls throughout its run of 213 titles, with the publisher ultimately printing 176 million copies…spawned several spinoffs, including a mystery series and a collection of books about Kristy’s little sister." And, as he also admits, those of us who are readers are loyal as hell. We still love Martin! (And, by the way, I love the photo they use of her...see the book cover illustration in the background?)

So, I don't know much about her, but I know that she is a fascinating person. Anyone who has experienced this kind of fame and has consistently produced valuable and quality literature has to be interesting--even if she may think that she isn't.

(A Newbery Honor Book, A Corner of the Universe is one of Martin's most recent titles, and a favorite of the author's. Source: Goodreads.com)

I was really excited to find out that one of her more recent novels, A Corner of the Universe, is a Newbery Honor Book. Martin says that this is one of her favorite books (see Oct. 25, 2005, transcript) because it helped her to "wor[k] out some family issues.” The book is about a man's mental illness and its impact on a young girl. I actually went to the store and bought it today, and I can't wait to read it. (It was a treat for finishing a draft of my introduction to the dissertation, you see.) In any case, that should testify to the power of this author. There aren't many authors I read as a child that I would be willing to pursue as an adult...and, here is the best news, the prequel to the Baby-sitter's Club books comes out in April (according to Amazon)! It is called The Summer Before. Yes. I will buy it. How could I not?

Anyway, thank you, Ann Martin, for making my childhood wonderful. For making me a reader...not to mention a successful babysitter. For those of you who don't know, I worked as a babysitter and nanny from the time I was twelve until just about five years ago. I only worked for a few families, moving to a new one when the kids outgrew me. But I still remember my first job, right across the street. (I even had the guide to babysitting that was published for the series.) And, yes, I had a "Kid Kit." It was a hit, too. (You will just have to read a book if you want to know what that is.) I learned how to deal with children from those books. I learned what to do in case of an emergency, how to be properly responsible, etc. And I was lucky enough to love the kids I took care of as well, just like the babysitters in the books. So much of my life, when I think about it, has been affected by reading Martin's stories. I guess we all have people or authors we can say that about, but for me...well, this is special. So, I end this post grateful that I had those books (and, by default, the author) in my life. Again, thank you, Ann Martin.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Amazing Women in My Family (And a Few Amazing Men, too)

Every two weeks or so, I have happy hour with my grandmother (see her in photos in previous posts). She is 89 and so much fun to be around. Last week, my cousin, Jeff, and I had happy hour with her; but, after the stress of this week and trying to work so hard on my dissertation, I decided another happy hour was in order. So, we indulged this afternoon!

Usually, we just sit around and sip scotch while talking about fun stuff. Today, however, she had a surprise for me. She had my uncle bring out a box full of my deceased great-great-uncle's papers. My G. G. Uncle Jack Warner was and is someone close to my heart. We went to visit him in Indiana every year from the time I was six-years-old until I was near thirty. After that, I usually saw him when his neighbors brought him down to the Kentucky/Tennessee line to pick up my grandmother for a long visit. Jack died a few years ago (so I basically only missed a year or two of not seeing him at his home) at the age of 93. Fortunately, he had his wits about him until the last few months, and he was an amazing man.

Jack was an English professor at Purdue University in LaFayette, Indiana. Some of the best moments of my childhood were spent at his country home, playing around cows and near corn fields with his neighbor's daughter, Julie (who is probably my oldest friend). Julie and I wrote letters to one another during the year, between the visiting times, and when we saw one another again it was as if no time at all had passed. This is still true today, though we haven't seen each other in ages.

Uncle Jack and I also exchanged letters, his written partially in French (because I was learning the language at the time). He called me "Frogette" and I called him "Froggy" because he had such a wide grin. When I would visit, I would play with artifacts he had collected from around the world (amazing, because he never let anyone touch those things) and his stereoscope. I absolutely loved the stereoscope. During the afternoons, when everyone else would take a nap, Uncle Jack and I would sit on the porch or in the room added on to his garage and test each other with quotations from famous literature. He was amazing in his ability to remember quotations.

In any case, when he died, he left me his writing desk and his collection of letters from World War II. (His sister saved all of his correspondence from the war. He was involved in intelligence and deciphering codes.) It is amazing to see how his boyish frame of mind changes to a jaded, matured man's point of view from 1942 through 1944.

Anyway, the point is, he was an incredible man...but he came from an amazing family. Now, many of us who have been in academia long enough have come across those men who are the ancient professors. They like things the way they WERE--not the way they ARE. And that includes women in the field. Now, my uncle knew that I was pursuing a PhD. He thought I was crazy--but not because I was a woman. He just knew how much the field had changed and he warned me of the pitfalls. But he always supported me and secretly loved (he admitted to others) that I was doing it. The reason? I was continuing not only his legacy but also the legacy of the women in our family. Jack was a surprise baby, of sorts, born late in his parents' lives. He was also born into a family of women--four sisters, to be exact. They spoiled him rotten...and maybe that is part of the reason he remained a bachelor all of his life. Anyway, the point is that all of these women were highly educated, and many were educators in their lifetimes.

And...this is where we return to the happy hour today with grandma: in the box of Uncle Jack's papers were several diplomas that belonged to the Warner women. The diplomas for Edith and Winnie and Josephine were not surprising to find. Jack adored his sisters and kept many of their belongings (they all passed before he did), especially those of Josephine's. (I actually had the pleasure of knowing Aunt Jo before she died. She had a house with a secret passage that I thought was so amazing...and she gave me her bedroom furniture that I used until it literally fell apart.)

What I didn't expect to find was my Great Great Grandmother Alice Batten's high school diploma. Alice was born to immigrant parents (from England), and, out of her four siblings, only she and a brother survived past childhood. Born in 1871, she graduated high school in 1889, right on time. It was hard to keep from crying when I saw the diploma. I mean, clearly education was a huge priority for her. Life couldn't have been easy and it wasn't as if she married a rich man or anything. They weren't poor, but they weren't wealthy either. She must have instilled the same values into her own daughters. These girls not only graduated high school but most (if not all...will have to check) went on to college. The sisters ended up as teachers, government employees, and principals of schools.

Two sisters, Winnie and Jo, never married and lived long lives, for the most part. They were described as "strong women" who had minds of their own. They traveled the world together, and sometimes with Jack, too. I have one of their travel journals for a trip they took across the country to Hollywood, and I saw photos today of Josephine's trip with Jack to Greece. (Josephine and Jack were very close. He had a special room and living area built on to his home for her, but she fell ill and never was able to move in.)

The other two sisters were Mabel and Edith. Mabel was my grandmother's mother (she married Herman Galloway...I never met either of them), and Edith married my Italian/American Uncle Ugo Carusi. Mabel died of ovarian cancer when my grandmother was ten or eleven. Edith died in the hospital preparing to deliver her son, Colin. She choked to death, and, though the baby was born alive, he died a short while later. Ugo married again, and he and his wife, who he referred to as Ms. Shaffer for their entire marriage, never had children. Ugo was a tragic figure, but I adored him. The last time I saw him was when I was about eleven-years-old, and somehow I knew that I would never see him again. I cried for ages as we drove from his house. But, even though Ugo was in his eighties at the time I knew him, we had an amazing connection and a deep bond. He was very old school. When we visited him in Washington, D.C., we observed the old-school formalities of dressing for dinner, listening to him singing opera before going out, and all of that. I loved it. I also loved that he had a photo of Shirley Temple, who he hosted at his home when she was a child. Also, Ugo was involved in immigration, and he helped Roddy McDowall out at one time....see? Always just a few degrees of separation from those we really want to meet. Roddy and Elizabeth Taylor were great friends. Too bad I didn't know much about Elizabeth Taylor in those days!

Anyway, each time I would visit Ugo, I would go into his room and look at the photos of my Great Aunt Edith. I don't know why, but I felt as if I knew her. I can only imagine the daring and excitement that she and Mabel felt when they decided to move away from home to work in Washington, D.C.!

But back to the story...The point is, these women were all educated and had independent lives before retirement or marriage (Mabel and Edith both met their husbands while working on the job in D.C.).

My grandmother continued the legacy, as did her children and grandchildren. All of the women have graduated from college and many of us have advanced degrees or specialized degrees or have distinguished ourselves in our chosen fields (even if we don't always believe it...the fact that we have survived in this economy is a miracle in itself).

It makes me sad to realize that I will never know the stories of the women in my family's past. I have my grandmother and know many of her tales, but I only have scattered memories of Jo and no memories or much knowledge of the rest. My hope is that from here on out, the rest of the men and women in our family will keep records and journals so that those who come after us (if any of us actually ever reproduce) will know something about where they came from.

And this is only the beginning, because I only touched on part of my family. There are so many other stories (for example, my mother's mother was a business woman and owner...and a force to be reckoned with, herself!).

PS: Over the coming days, I will try to post photos of people mentioned!

"My First Love Asks Me to Stop Writing About Him" by Elizabeth Wade

Everyone: please check out this amazing and powerful poem written by my friend, Elizabeth. I wish I could write like this.

"My First Love Asks Me to Stop Writing About Him".

Tsunami and Earthquake Victims

Please send prayers and good thoughts to the victims (and the families of victims) of the tsunami and earthquake. This is so sad and horrifying to watch.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Wish I was there...

(Source: Personal photo from my trip.)

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration...

(From William Wordsworth's "Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.")

Missing Scotland with every ounce of my being.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Thought-Provoking People: Marie Corelli

Note: The majority of material included in this post comes from what I consider to be the best biography (combined with a bit of literary criticism) of Marie Corelli: The Mysterious Miss. Marie Corelli: Queen of Victorian Bestsellers (2009) by Teresa Ransom.

When I conceived of the idea to write about "Thought-Provoking People" on my blog, I decided that the only criteria for choosing a subject would be whether or not that person had the ability to interest me beyond a simple reading of his or her life and/or work. And, of course, qualifying as interesting or "thought-provoking" does not always (and usually doesn’t) equate with being nice. Just as I often say about Augusta Evans Wilson, who I also wrote about, "Augusta is an interesting woman, but I am not sure that we could have been friends." The same can be said of my first subject for this new posting project. Marie Corelli is as enigmatic as she is infuriating. But her life, little-known to most people today, is one that is amazing and important in so many ways. I immediately knew that she would be my first subject to cover. I don’t necessarily like her and I don’t consider her work on par with some of the heavy hitter novelists of the Victorian era, but Corelli’s work IS important for so many reasons. Here is what I know of her and why I find her fascinating. Unless cited, all work/words are my own. And, even though I don't make money from this blog, this post may not be reproduced without permission.

Marie Corelli: The Power of Imagination

By the time she died on April 21, 1924, Marie Corelli, the woman who "made up [her] mind to be 'somebody'…as unlike anybody else as [she could]," occupied the roles of novelist, spiritualist, feminist, and celebrity (Ransom 1). In spite of the public’s adoration for a tiny woman (she was under five feet tall) whose work they had followed since the mid-1880s, when she died people found they could verify very little information about her life. The same can be said today. Records are nonexistent or muddled, sometimes by Corelli herself. Secretive about her past to the bitter end, perhaps the only clues we can gain about her strange life appear in her novels—books that, as time went on, usually became explorations of a particular personal or autobiographical moment of time. Fiercely passionate and unafraid to place her most intimate thoughts and encounters on the page, Corelli (if, indeed, that was her real name) left behind her a powerful legacy that, nonetheless, "rapidly faded from public memory" (Ransom 221).

As her most recent biographer, Teresa Ransom, says at the end of her amazing narrative of Corelli’s life, however, this late Victorian writer holds tremendous appeal for a contemporary audience—if they would only seek her out. "She was a fearless fighter, who sometimes mistook her targets, but who fought with a passion which swept all before her," Ransom explains. "She came from nothing, and against huge odds became a superstar and one of the most famous women of her time…Numerous children were called after her heroine, Thelma, whose name she is said to have invented, and many of her mystical novels are much in tune with today’s interest in reincarnation and astral travelling" (Ransom 223). Corelli was unusual for her time, and her story is inspiring not only for her accomplishment of becoming one of the most popular writers of the late-Victorian era but also for her ability to survive.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Embedded in Secrecy: Marie Corelli’s Earliest Years

Even today, we still don’t know when Marie Corelli was born—or to whom. She doesn’t seem to have known herself; or, if she did, she kept it a great secret. We can guess that she was born in 1855, perhaps in Italy…or, perhaps not. She often lied about her age, presenting herself, at times, as over a full decade younger than her actual age. She said, and as some records appear to indicate, that Charles MacKay was the man who adopted her. She never spoke much about her mother and the two did not seem to be close. What does come up over and over again, particularly in a very autobiographical novel produced near the end of her career titled Innocent, is the idea of illegitimacy. Most scholars agree that Marie was probably illegitimate, though no one is even sure if the woman she called her mother was actually her mother.

We do know that Charles appeared to love the child, who at that time went by the name of Minnie MacKay. As Ransom points out, however, there are disturbing details that emerge from this relationship. Though Ransom never specifically states what those details might imply, one thing she does say is that MacKay would have his male friends to the house and request that Minnie/Marie entertain them, often allowing them to touch and make over the child. Now, again, I am not sure what this means, but the way Ransom relates the story is disturbing. She also explains that by the time Minnie/Marie reached adolescence, MacKay suddenly sent her away to a convent school. The relationship between father and daughter, though changed, was extremely informal for its time. Their correspondence is frank and quite modern, leaving off the stilted and distanced tone one finds in most letters between fathers and daughters during the nineteenth century.
As for close family and friends, the group appeared to be tightly knit and exclusionary. Minnie/Marie had a brother (not sure if he is genetically related or not, though some suspect that Charles MacKay could have been Marie’s true father), Eric, who would plague her for many years, constantly taking advantage of her fame and fortune. When her mother died, Marie’s close childhood friend, Bertha Vyvers, came to live with the family, and the two women lived together for the rest of their lives.

Some scholars contend that Marie and Bertha were lovers, however, this, also, is too murky a subject to verify. The women were certainly close and scholars tend to base their ideas about the potential lesbian relationship on the correspondence between them and the fact that their initials are entwined at their last known residence. As for Ransom and myself, we are not so sure. Like Ransom, I have read much correspondence between females from this time period and it is not unusual for a more touchy-feely relationship to emerge in the letters—and in life. Still, I could care less about her sexual preferences. Marie did, in later life, have a love affair with a man, Arthur Severn, so at the very least we would consider her to be bisexual.

In any case, Marie appears to have been sheltered and isolated from the world, but she continued her adoration of Charles MacKay until he died. She continued to act the little girl around him, a persona that found its way into her correspondence with editors at famous journals as she tried to become a published author. For all intents and purposes, she hounded the editors in an effort to persuade them to publish her work, beginning by pleading with them in a little-girl voice to verbally punching them with a tirade when they refused her.

The Writing Life: Marie’s Path to Publication

Marie’s own "adoptive" father (sorry…I believe he could have been her father) was a writer and apparently worked with Charles Dickens early in the famous novelist’s career. He implored editors to publish his daughter’s work, but for the most part was unsuccessful. When he died (1889), he left everything to Marie and canceled out any inheritance for Eric, a not-so-great poet who preferred to sponge off of his sister and make her life miserable. But at least Charles lived long enough to see his daughter publish her first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds (1886).

Critics, throughout Marie’s life, scorned her work, even though the author produced over twenty novels. She would crave their attention and praise, but they saw her, for the most part, as unliterary. When she died, one reviewer explained:

"Miss Corelli’s novels were not only novels but manifestos… Her views though passionately held were negligible; she knew little; she wrote often, very ungrammatically; her stories and her people were like nothing on earth. But nobody succeeds as a novelist with any public without some positive qualities."
(From a 1924 article in Review of Reviews. Ransom 7)

But others eventually came around and recognized her worth, at least as a popular writer. J. Cuming Walters, one of her most ardent critics, eventually praised her work. After getting to know Corelli in her later years, he said:

"It was doubtless because she had a lesson to enforce, a truth to explore, or some fine daring speculation to announce that she threw herself with such ardour into her work…but it must often have seemed strange, almost inexplicable, to a visitor to know that the bright, girlish woman, with the merry, shining, golden hair, talking gaily as she moved about her flower-decked rooms, was she who a few hours previously had been writing burning words on Society’s sordid slave market, on the horrors of the Drink traffic, on perverted Education, or misapplied Wealth and its corruptions and the Satanic influence of riches on womankind, on the barter of souls in the false name of Love and the hypocrisy of marriage, on the hollowness of religious professions unaccompanied by faith and deeds, on the tyranny of convention and the injustice of caste;--or, if these had not been her texts, that this same woman had been engaged in some bold forecasting in the region of science, or some probing into nature’s deep and well-hid secrets, or some keen visionary of wonders yet to be." (From papers belonging to J. Cuming Walters. Ransom 158)

Love her or hate her, Corelli was a force to be reckoned with in the end. Perhaps her popular appeal rested not only on her ability to tell a fast-paced story but also in the strange content she relied upon for her plots. A Romance of Two Worlds is a strange novel even by today’s standards, involving a type of astral travel and the concept of twin souls. Corelli returns to this world (a place that exists somewhere in the realm of spiritualism, science fiction, and steampunk) several times in her career as a writer.

As she would in all of her novels, Corelli seemed to verbalize through her female characters (who all, as Ransom point out, bear a striking resemblance to Corelli) any conflicts she happened to experience at the time. Struggling with being accepted as a female writer, she says in A Romance of Two Worlds, "You need not be one of the rank and file unless you choose,--… but you must take the consequences, and they are bitter. A woman who does not go with her time is voted eccentric; a woman who prefers music to tea and scandal is an undesirable acquaintance; and a woman who prefers Byron to little Alfred Austin is—in fact, no measure can gauge her general impossibility!" (Ransom 140)
Her public adored her, however, even if the critics did not. Queen Victoria liked Corelli’s novels so much that she requested to be sent a copy the minute a new novel was published (and Victoria’s son was enthralled with Corelli as well). Hailed as a moral writer, Corelli still enjoyed the fame that success brought to her—at least in the early days. But the more famous she grew, the more her privacy was threatened—and she guarded her privacy as much as possible. She did not want people taking photos of her or finding out information about her background, at least information that she did not supply. She was mobbed everywhere she went and fame soon began to wear her down. In one novel she says of fame:

"Fame is like a great white angel, who points you up to a cold, sparkling, solitary mountain-top away from the world, and bids you stay there alone, with the chill stars shining down on you. And people look up at you and pass; you are too far off for the clasp of friendship; you are too isolated for the caress of love; and your enemies, unable to touch you, stare insolently, smile and cry aloud, ‘So you have climbed to the summit at last! Well, much good may it do you! Stay there, live there, and die there, as you must, alone for ever!’ And I think it is hard to be alone, don’t you?"
(From Delicia. Ransom 157)

By the time she wrote these words, in 1896, Corelli was a superstar in the world of novel writing. She had tremendous power and influence—but she also had a knack for making enemies. As I read through Ransom’s account of Corelli's life, I came to realize that Corelli was a very unstable person, capable of bestowing much love on a person for a short time and usually breaking off with that person at some later point. The exclusion to this rule takes place within her relationship with Bertha. But rarely did she maintain relationships for life, and this earned her a bad reputation, particularly in Stratford-Upon-Avon, where she and Bertha spent most of their adult life.

(Sign outside of what is now the Shakespeare Institute and formerly Corelli's home. Source: Personal photo.)

Marie Corelli lived in Mason Croft, a house that has since become the location of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford. Honestly, if I had known more about Corelli’s involvement in Stratford’s nineteenth-century history, I might have enjoyed my time there more (I think Stratford is a huge tourist trap and it is not my favorite place). In any case, Corelli began to alienate herself from the influential members of Stratford society when she had an argument with a Mr. Bloom. Bloom’s daughter, Ursula, was a favorite of Corelli’s. The child innocently asked if Corelli was divorced, and Corelli panicked. She scooped up the child, who said she had heard the information about Corelli’s divorce at home, and took her back to her parents, demanding to know why they would tell the girl such lies. This is the story that first made me realize that Corelli was a bit unstable. In the beginning, she places no blame on the little girl (who, according to Ransom, had no idea what the word "divorce" even meant). As time passes, however, Corelli eventually excoriates the child in venomous language…and that just doesn’t make much sense. The crisis for Corelli, as Ransom explains, is that "divorce" or "illegitimacy" as words attached to anyone in this point in history would be enough to cause shunning--a fate Corelli could not bear.

Regardless, Corelli was burning bridges. Still, her legacy in Stratford survives today. She largely was responsible for saving Shakespeare’s residence, fighting with locals who wanted to tear down the cottages and build a library on the location.

More time passed and more novels were written (you can look up all these on Wikipedia and Amazon has several available in Kindle format). When she was in her fifties, she met a married man named Arthur Severn, and the two of them began a long affair.

Corelli was taken completely with the man, who from all appearances only used her as a meal ticket. She invited him to stay at her Stratford home, an offer he did not refuse. In her private journals from which Ransom quotes, Corelli, surprised by her new found passion, was infatuated with Severn even though she tried to keep it a secret from others:

"I am not unpleased with the bitter-sweet taste of this new sensation. I am conscious of joy when you are near me, and of desolation when I see you not at all—both joy and desolation are equally subtle in sweetness. …Nothing in the strangest fiction is stranger than I should love you,--I who have loved no one,--or rather, to be quite truthful, I, who have had no one to love. …To my mind all life is rounded in the one orbed fact that YOU live; and if you live no longer I too should cease to be, for the very air bereft of your breathing would have lost its power to sustain me. But this is my secret….It has come to me in its transfiguring mystery and magic when I had no thought of it coming, --when the warm firelit silence of the room in which you and I were alone for a space together gave me no hint of aught save the most ordinary peace…when your sudden kiss started my soul from its house of quiet, and your arm for the first time encircling me, marked the future boundary of my life…You will, if you are honest with yourself and me, admit that the patient peace of my life was simple and endurable enough till your touch unfastened a locked door within my being and set loose a crowd of long-imprisoned emotions."
(From Corelli’s journal. Ransom 171)

Corelli was fifty-two and Severn was sixty-four. He travelled with her and she, disturbingly, wrote him love letters that often included baby-talk, reverting back to her behavior with her father, as Ransom explains. It is "unexpected," as Ransom says, to come across these words about her relationship with a married man considering that she was such a "moral" crusader:

"I can dwell for hours on the merest memory of your touch—a touch that thrills me to the centre of my being; and your kiss on my lips, long and passionate, separates my soul from all common things and thrones me with angels in supernal joy. Moreover, the consciousness of your love gives me a power beyond mere mortality,--it is time I saw to drop all effort at pleasing those whose pleasure is indifferent to us,--and to take full possession of one’s own identity, one’s own destiny. We harm ourselves infinitely by imagining duties and ties to this or that person, when such ties and duties hamper the soul in its wider and nobler attainment…and those who would force us to walk in one cramped path of routine should be broken away from and left with all possible speed."

(Corelli journal. Ransom 172-173)

The words are passionate indeed, but as Ransom says, Corelli’s passion often appeared on the page. As usual, Corelli translates autobiography into fiction, writing a novel about her relationship with Severn titled The Life Everlasting. She has Santoris, the character representative, according to Ransom, of Severn, say to the heroine:

"Sometimes it happens, even in the world of cold and artificial convention, that a man and a woman are brought together who, to their own immediate consciousness, have had no previous acquaintance with each other, and yet with the lightest touch, the swiftest glance of an eye, a million vibrations are set quivering in them like harp-strings struck by the hand of a master and responding each to each in throbbing harmony and perfect tune. They do not know how it happens—they only feel it is…. No force can turn aside one from the other, --nothing can intervene—not because it is either romance or reality, but simply because it is a law. You understand?"

(From The Life Everlasting (1911). Ransom 176)

The relationship began to sour, however, and Severn turned on Corelli. As the Severn affair began to deteriorate, "He humiliated her and argued with her in public; he mocked her writing and left her intimate letters to him lying around so that his family or any stranger could read them. Yet he still took advantage of her generosity, he still went for holidays with Marie and Bertha, and still visited her in Stratford. Marie may have been behaving foolishly, but Severn’s behavior was cruel and insensitive" (182). As Ransom explains, "While in her public life Marie was overseeing her empire, writing books and suffering from unkind press attacks, her private life was a maelstrom of emotions" (Ransom 172).

"Obsessed [with Severn to the point] that she no longer cared" that her life was become spectacle, Corelli’s emotions began to spiral out of control (Ransom 181). She found solace in writing, again, and published one of her most autobiographical novels yet, Open Confession (not published until 1925, after her death). She confronted Severn (and perhaps even her father) on the pages of the novel, having her heroine state:

"You are a mere shred of a man, out of which my imagination wove a divinity! But it is your own hand that has struck the destroying blow at the stately image of yourself—it is your rough voice and boorish manner which has clashed the music of love into discord,--how much nobler it would have been had you gone away from me and never returned, leaving me to dwell on a vanished dream rather than on degraded Reality!...I can only imagine that the strange and sudden 'love' with which you inspired me, was the result of my own loneliness in this world, --my own long-stifled longing for some scrap of tenderness. For I have been lonely all my life, --as a child I was one of the most solitary ever born. I was not allowed to play with other children; and I had no games, no diversions of any kind. I lived with elderly folk, and my only companions were books—fine books certainly,--written by the fine-brained authors of a bygone era; nevertheless hard reading for a child, especially a girl-child…I was considered a 'strange' child, 'old-fashioned' and a 'dreamer'. You came in as part of the constant 'dream',--but, like a rough wind which breaks the smooth edge of a sunset cloud into jagged fire and swift dispersal, you destroyed its former placid beauty."
(From Open Confession. Ransom 182-183)

Bertha, nervously watching from the sidelines during the attraction, must have breathed a sigh of relief when the end finally came. When things calmed down, she and Corelli appeared to have resumed a sense of normalcy, with Corelli continuing to write more novels.

The Last Days: The Death of Marie Corelli

During her final years, Marie experienced war and evolved in her stand on women's rights. Always outspoken, she vehemently attacked the zest for war that she believed was corrupt and evil. Her opinions about war in general are firm. She explains:

"Civilisation is a great Word. It reads well—it is used everywhere—it bears itself proudly in the language. It is a big mouthful of arrogance and sefl-sufficiency. Yet it is all the veriest game of make-believe, for we are mere Savages still.... WAR is unquestionable the thrust and blow of untamed Savagery in the face of untamed Civilisation. No special pleading can make it anything else. We may if we like call it 'Patriotism' in our perpetual life comedy or tragedy of feigning, but in sane moments we must surely realise that we are wilfuly deceiving ourselves…. The 'civilised' State protest against the murder of one individual, but looks upon the ghastly holocaust of slaughtered lives in battle as something almost noble and inspiring! Is this reasonable? Is it reconcilable with sane judgement? Is it any proof that our ‘Education’ is of real worth?—or does it not rather testify to the amazing fact that in our greed of possession, our thirst of conquest, and our curious conceptions of religion and humanity, we have progressed scarcely a step ahead of our 'barbarian' ancestors and their 'savage' customs!"
( From Corelli’s "impassioned anti-war tract," "The Savage Glory." Printed in Nash’s Magazine in 1913. Ransom 193)

Even though she was against the war in general, she did help with the war effort on the domestic front. Still, her actions were not without controversy and many of her enemies in Stratford made trouble for her, accusing her of covering up her own greedy tastes by performing acts of charity.

Corelli also experienced before her death a change of heart about the women’s movement. Originally calling suffragettes "ladies who scream" and believing women should remain within John Ruskin's sphere of the home, after the war she said that women deserved full rights. Retracting her anti-feminist view, she claimed:

"[W]hen it was forced on me that man was more ready to deride than worship woman, and that as a matter of fact men denied to women such lawful honours as they may win through intellectual achievement, and that in certain forms of their legal procedure women were classed with 'children, criminals, and lunatics,' I began to change my mind. In the war women worked instead of men without demur or hesitation, and taking their full share of the hardest and most menial labour…it was and is no longer possible to deny them equal rights with men in every relation of life and every phase of work. By every law of justice they should have the vote—and I who, as a woman, was once against it, now most ardently support the cause." (From 1919 tract titled “Is All Well with England?” Ransom 201).

Her last major novel, The Secret Power, was written in 1921. I think that it would be successfully reprinted today, as it has a heroine that "invented an airship, driven by small circular plates of some shining substance which line the cabin" (Ransom 199). Oh, yes..STEAMPUNK!!! As Ransom says: "The story itself is slight and rather disjointed, but some of the concepts were prophetic. Marie talked of communication through sound rays which transmitted voice without wires and light rays which beamed pictures through vast distances; she also described the defensive use of force-fields and the use of the sun’s energy for power" (200). And, really, this is the reason that Corelli, because she too is "slight and rather disjointed," is so fascinating.

By 1924, Corelli’s health was dire. She had already undergone what Ransom believes must have been a hysterectomy some years earlier (notably, she only allowed a female doctor to operate on her). However, in 1924, Corelli’s heart began to give out. She suffered a major heart attack in January, and she died on April 21.

Corelli’s funeral was a major event, with a coffin "carried on a hand bier" and "preceded by twenty girls carrying sprigs of rosemary and two large carloads of wreaths" (Ransom 205). Interestingly, it was with her death that people began to notice that her life history was sketchy—and it has been a mystery ever since.

The Fascination Lives On

Marie Corelli’s fame and fortune are astounding in their own right. I believe that she was a conflicted and tortured soul, but she sure could tell a story. Ransom says it best: "She was a phenomenon of her time, who like all shooting stars burnt itself out before vanishing. But the plot of her passing through the heavens must be charted because for a time she illuminated late Victorian England in a way which still has echoes for us today" (8).

I have read a few of Corelli’s novels: A Romance of Two Worlds, Vendetta, and Wormwood. I have already given basic details of A Romance of Two Worlds. Vendetta is a gothic tale of disguise and revenge against an unfaithful wife, and Wormwood attacks absinthe abuse in Paris. But Corelli wrote about all kinds of "wrongs" in society. Like many great authors, her passion and need to speak and be heard often caused confrontation with the public—and with themselves. Corelli is no exception. I find her fascinating, troubling, irritating, and admirable—all at the same time. So, I encourage all of you to try one of her novels and to check out Ransom’s biography, which details much more about Corelli’s life than I have done here!

Here are a few sources for extra reading:

Bhattacharya, Prodosh. "Revolt of the Angel in the House: Two Novels of Marie Corelli."
Journal of the Department of English 33.1-2 (2006): 88-99.

Federico, Annette R. "'An 'Old-Fashioned' Young Woman': Marie Corelli and the New Woman." Victorian Women Writers and the Woman Question. 241-259. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1999.
--Idol of Suburbia: Marie Corelli and Late-Victorian Literary Culture. Charlottesville, VA: UP of Virginia, 2000.

Kershner, R. B., Jr. "Joyce and Popular Literature: The Case of Corelli." James Joyce and
His Contemporaries. 52-58. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1989.
--"Modernism's Mirror: The Sorrows of Marie Corelli." Transforming Genres:
New Approaches to British Fiction of the 1890s. 67-86. New York: St. Martin's, 1994.

Kowalczyk, Richard L. "In Vanished Summertime: Marie Corelli and Popular Culture." Journal of Popular Culture 7.(1974): 850-863.

Ransom, Teresa. The Mysterious Miss Marie Corelli: Queen of Victorian Bestsellers. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited, 1999.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Thought-Provoking People: A new posting project

So, I have been giving some thought about what to post on this blog. I will keep posting my usual "Susie" rants and raves, because this blog is basically my only therapy in the world of graduate studies! Still, I would like to have a few posts that will come up regularly and that will have a particular purpose. So, I have decided to start a regular posting series (not sure how regular...maybe once a week or so?) about people who inspire me or provoke interesting thoughts...at least for me.
I guess I already sort of started this with the whole Elizabeth Taylor thing. As we all know, I find her life quite thought-provoking. Not sure I would have wanted to live her life, but I do like learning about her. I have several people in mind that I can cover in this type of post...more to come on that later! Some will be predictable...some, not so much. So many different kinds of people fascinate and inspire me to think new thoughts...and for all kinds of crazy reasons. Anyway, be prepared. When I find someone interesting, I am so wordy.

So, by the end of the weekend, I plan to write my first post. For now, I will call these by the title of this post ("Thought-Provoking People")...but only because my brain is tired and I can't think of anything else to call it. Anyway, hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I think I will enjoy writing them!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Where I began and where I am:

I spoke with a friend recently about what we imagined for ourselves when we were little and thinking about our futures. Here is what I thought about....

My first plan: Join up with Indiana Jones.

Yes, I wanted to go around the world with Indiana. This dream started around the time I was about eight-years-old and my older cousin and I managed to get into the theater on our own to see one of the movies. I fell in love--not just with him but also with the idea of travel, learning about old civilizations, and the thrill of finding out a secret through archaeology. So, I dug around in the dirt and never found anything, but I still have a crush on Indiana.

My next plan? Become a marine biologist.

(Source: http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-illustration-3388562-marine-life.php)

I fell in love with this idea when I was about 12-years-old. I was chosen, along with several others in my class, to visit Dauphin Island Sea Lab. It was so much fun and I learned so much. The decision to work with and study marine life continued for about two years. During this time, my friend, Rachel, and I did a crazy science project about dolphin communication. If you can imagine us at my house, mimicking dolphin noises in the bathroom while one of us had her head ducked under water in the bathtub to figure out what we could hear through echolocation...well, that is where this dream led me. We won second place...but the school told us that if we had taken photos we would have won the grand prize. :)

Rachel and I , disappointed by our loss, turned our sights away from this planet and decided that space was the place for us...

So, career path #3:

Space Academy...wow...I could tell some stories...and because this is my blog, I will. I was there for about five minutes before I realized that I had made a huge mistake. You see, in spite of my love for science and all, I am a horrible math student. And the first thing they made me do at Space Academy? A test...a math and science test...during my summer vacation...the same summer I was obsessed with reading V.C. Andrews novels...the same summer I was a dreamy 13-year-old...yep. You got it. I was not impressed. And, when I surprisingly scored really high on the math test, I ended up in charge of mission control for our first mission. And that was a complete disaster because I was clueless. So, we crashed.
Then, the food was terrible at space academy...and we weren't allowed food or music in our rooms...and this was also the time when I was obsessed with New Kids on the Block and Madonna. So, I am deprived of music (BECAUSE I ALWAYS FOLLOW THE FREAKIN' RULES...even though I had a walkman with me) and I am starving. Am getting ill just thinking about it.

Keep going...I faked being sick for the second mission. I just couldn't take it. We had homework everyday, were up by 5:30 or 6 a.m. every morning (after going to bed way past 11 every night...and I need my sleep), and I WAS STILL HUNGRY. Cause I love my food.

But I did really well on the next to the last day when we had a project in a pool. We had to build something underwater...and, well, I can hold my breath for a really long time...so I helped us win by a long shot. I was elated. So, that same day, emboldened by my success, I ditched the group and broke the rules. I bought food in the gift shop, and that night I ate in my room after lights out...and I listened to music...and, the one time I broke the rules, I got into trouble. The monitor came in and told me that she was calling my parents and sending me home. (She didn't, by the way.) The problem? I really didn't care. Because it was the night before we were leaving anyway. It was the first time I was totally unremorseful for doing something wrong. But I had had it. Earlier that evening, I actually met an astronaut. When he asked me how I liked space academy, I told him the truth. He asked me why I had come and I said that I really didn't know. Yes, I was a bit surly. (Actually, though, I was very polite to him because he was my elder. I just felt surly inside.) Needless to say, that was the end of the space dream for me. Am I still bitter? Yes.
My new dream after the space disaster: To be Jane Pratt

I have already written about this recently, so no need to go into it. But, as you who follow this blog know, I wanted to be Jane Pratt, editor of Sassy magazine.

And, of course, I followed that path and have been involved in magazine work consistently since then....

With a slight detour to do various degrees along the way...and teach...and write a dissertation...

The dreams never end. And that is a good thing.

Because we can never have enough discussion about Elizabeth Taylor...

Today I will be reading proofs all afternoon, but I wanted to include this post for the day! Last night, I couldn't decide what I wanted to watch before going to sleep (am boycotting television these days...most of it is just too boring. For instance, for the first time in ages, I turned on the Today Show as I printed off proofs. The topic: learning to cope with aging, specifically teaching women to cope with turning 40. I am not demeaning this at all, but after everything that I have seen in this world, turning 40 is the least of my worries. When it happens, I will just be happy that I am alive and still able to learn and travel and be with people who I love.). Anyway, I keep several movies in my room, basically easy access background noise that I can quickly put on if I need a distraction.

So, I had not watched any Elizabeth Taylor movies in a while, and I decided to put one on. I chose a really bad and disturbing film called X, Y, and Zee. So, today's post is going to be about some of the really bad movies that Taylor made...movies that are so bad that they are good. (By the way, these movies really aren't great, if you haven't seen them. So, don't rush out and find them!)

As for X, Y, and Zee: Not a stellar movie. The cast is pretty much composed of Michael Caine, Elizabeth Taylor, and a very young and gorgeous (in spite of her Carol Brady-like hair) Susannah York.

In thinking about how to discuss this movie, I really couldn't decide how to go about summarizing it. I mean, it is so totally bizarre. All summaries fail to describe it. For instance, here is the one from IMDB:
"The venomous and amoral wife of a wealthy architect tries, any way she can, to break up the blossoming romance between her husband and his new mistress; a good-natured young widow who holds a dark past."

Hmmmm...not really. Yes, Taylor does play what I guess we would call an "amoral wife." She is certainly "venomous." But Caine, her "wealthy architect husband" (BTW: That doesn't seem to be the case in the film, as there is so much discussion about money and paying bills...) is just as "amoral" and "venomous" as she is. He is abusive and condescending, and the "romance" between himself and the mistress, York, is anything but romantic. In fact, Caine kind of scares me to death in this film.

Like so many of Taylor's movies, this one is really uncomfortable to watch (and not because it is a crazy film). And this is what I love about her films--even the bad ones. It doesn't matter how crazy the movie is, there is always some kind of story involved that is so strange that it forces you to think. Caine is obsessed with proving himself as a paragon of his own distorted image of masculinity (you can tell this by the conversation he has with York's two boys at the dinner table), Taylor is obsessed with staying energetic enough to keep him interested while at the same time in lust with her perception of his violence, and York...well, to tell her story would be to give away the "surprise" ending...so I won't. Taylor and York are complete opposites, for the most part. Taylor is over the top and full of life and insanity, while York appears to be the perfect lady (except for the fact that she doesn't flinch at getting involved with a married man and being up front about that with the wife and society). York becomes more interesting as time goes on, but as Taylor says, sarcastically, we get sick of York because "she's always a little out of breath and sees beauty in everything!"

Anyway, it is a strange movie. Not Oscar material, certainly, but will leave you shaking your head for various reasons.

...and then there are three of the worst Taylor/Burton movies created: The Sandpiper, The VIPs, and Divorce His/Divorce Hers.

The Sandpiper
: Out of the three, this is the one I love the most because it is total cheese. Summary from IMDB:

"Free-spirited, young, unwed mother seduces a Episcopalian priest. Lots of pretty beach/ocean scenery."
(Who writes these things???)

Again, like I said, not a great movie. At the same time, Taylor and Burton are gorgeous and there are some interesting moments. I especially love the conversation near the beginning of the film when Burton is questioning her about her child's background. He is calling judgment upon the fact that Taylor is an unwed mother and tries to assign every excuse in the book to make her look like a victim, including saying that he is sure the father must have abandoned her (aka, she just made a mistake). Her response: "I was not abandoned by the father, Dr. Hewitt. The father was abandoned by me." I wasn't expecting her to say it, and it is one of the moments that saves the film for me. For the most part, it is just a moneymaker capitalizing on their romance...but we all need a little unapologetic lust every now and then.

The VIPs? Again, not a great film. There are some incredible actors in the movie (Maggie Smith, Orson Wells, Taylor, Burton, etc.), and the plot revolves around various problems in the lives of the characters. From IMDB, again, people:

"Fog delays a group of travelers headed for New York. They wait at the V.I.P. lounge of London Airport, each at a moment of crisis in his or her life."


Of course, we only really care about Taylor and Burton. :)

The plot for them is that Burton is a rich business man who neglects the emotional side of his marriage and overcompensates for it by buying gifts for his wife, Taylor. She is planning to run off with a young man who is probably only after her for her money, but, in the end, Taylor and Burton get back together. In the beginning of the film, Burton drops Taylor off at the airport, but the plane is delayed. He has already gone home, but he returns to the airport after finding a note Taylor left for him in which she confesses her plan to run away with her lover. Burton returns to the airport to confront them and tightly, carefully controlled chaos develops.

Taylor is completely unemotional in this film and it is a bit unsettling. But, there are some intense moments with Burton and Louis Jourdan (Taylor's other man) when Burton returns to the airport to find them together. Of course, there are other scenes, like this one:

See? Not so great. Not Virginia Woolf, certainly. But, then, what would a Taylor/Burton film be without a little domestic violence?? Geez.

But, and I saved the BEST for last, probably the worst film that I hate to love is a made for t.v. movie the two of them acted in during the 70s, right before their divorce...and, yep, you guessed it, the title is Divorce His/Divorce Hers. It is actually two separate films, one told from the husband's point of view and the other from the wife's. The thing is that the quality is horrible...and, if you plan on ever actually trying to see both movies at once, good luck. It is incredibly hard to find someone who sells both movies (and, if they tell you that the DVD has both, the seller probably is mistaken because usually only one shows up). I actually found a DVD with both in a dollar store...yes, that tells you how bad it is.

Now, as someone who has sympathy for people in relationships that never seem to work out, I found this film, bad as it is, a bit heartbreaking to watch at times. There really isn't much of a summary to go along with it. Drum roll, please...From IMDB:

"The story of the breakup of an 18-year marriage, as seen from the points of view of both the husband and the wife."

On YouTube, there is actually a link to watch both in the full version:
Divorce His
Divorce Hers

It is just bad. Really bad. And...yet...I have seen it more than once. I freely admit that I subject myself to these things because I am fascinated by certain aspects of the movie. The movie itself is crap, of course. But, I like to watch these things to see what is being said and when (and, when I say "when," I am referring to the year in which the film was made). It is not a new concept for the film industry to make money off of whatever scandal is in the works. Certainly, by the early 70s, the Taylor/Burton affair was close to explosion round one. But, I find it a bit sad and horrifying that the actors involved would capitalize on their own destruction and the disintegration of their relationship. To me, it is just too private a thing to broadcast, and that is why Divorce His/Divorce Hers is such a painful thing to watch. A bad film? Absolutely. But there is a lot of excruciating honesty, I believe, being portrayed in the movie.

Anyway, that is about it for now. I just felt the need to have a little Elizabeth Taylor on my blog again.