Poem of the Week

Happy the Man

by John Donne
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.

Poem for Veteran’s Day

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Mr Selfridge, Season 3 Begins

Harry and the crew at Selfridges is back. I’m devastated to see that Rose is gone. I would have liked to see a few episodes with her. Another season with her, sometimes sick, sometimes not, would have been welcome. She did open a hospital for American soldiers at the family’s country house. (The exhaustion of that was what probably killed the real Rose.)

The series sweeps us along to Rosalie’s wedding. Rosalie’s all grown up and has allied herself with a Russian bounder. He seems cold and distant. I’m not a fan of this Sergey. I doubt Rose would have approved. Harry’s gone along with the wedding so Rosalie doesn’t mourn too long. Not a wise reason to wed.

Still the wedding is gorgeous and the rooftop of Selfridges is an interesting venue.

Violet’s also grown up and seems to be headed for trouble. My guess is she’ll be painting the town red having some of Harry’s rowdier genes.

Henri returns from the war. Yet he’s hiding his post traumatic stress, which they called shell shock. If you want to avoid spoilers: Don’t look at imdb.com. You’ll be able to deduce what happens to Agnes and Henri there.

I like that we’re starting to see some of the aftermath of the war, e.g. the conflict between the female workers and the returning soldiers and the soldiers looking for work or begging. Selfridges and Downton Abbey have helped me envision the WWI era with much more insight. As it’s set in the city, I think Selfridges may convey the hardship even more than Downton. We’ll see.

I’ve mentioned that I have not taken a shine to Serge and his mother seems to be a fraud and sponge. Harry, really? Couldn’t you introduce Rosalie to someone better? Well, in real life this was what Rosalie wound up with. It’s painful to watch a marriage that’s bad from the start.

Victor’s restaurant appears to be a night club and he’s dealing with ne’er-do-well’s. If he couldn’t marry Agnes, it’s a shame he didn’t get the Italian woman to marry him. A woman from the Old Country, someone down to earth might have kept him in line.

I didn’t expect to see Loxley again. Well, though he’s makes me cringe, he is a good villain. Too bad the actress who played May Loxley, went to Australia. I really liked her, especially in season 2.

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Miss Mardle isn’t working at the store, but did stop by. It seems Florian, her lover, died in the war. I always thought that relationship was off kilter, that Florian was too passive for her, too immature. I’d like to see her with a man with more personality. Neither Mr. Grove nor Florian were men of action. They react rather than initiate. Yet I wonder if she won’t relapse and return to Mr. Grove. That would be a pity. Mr. Grove’s whining about his family is so annoying, so disloyal.

Since a few years have gone by, I’m glad we see Kitty married to Frank. That’s realistic. We don’t need to see each couple’s wedding on air.

All in all, it felt good to hear the Mr Selfridge theme and return to the store.

I’m posting this via email with a delay. I hope that works.

Downton Abbey, Season 5, Episode 5

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I thought episode 5, hummed along a bit faster than previous episodes. The big news was that Grigson’s death was confirmed and Edith was grief-stricken. Mary was her usual icy self. She seems to have lost any warmth she had when Matthew was alive. Yes, she and Edith are rivals, but most sisters form alliances every now and then. Mary has no women friends (well, no one on the show does, which seems odd) and shows zero compassion for anyone other than herself. (Which may be why she didn’t think twice of making Anna take her birth control and its manual home with her.)

Thus I fully understand why Edith ran to the farmers house, grabbed her daughter Marigold and fled. Life around Mary and the others who’re absorbed with their own little problems. Episode 6 should offer a lot of action for Edith.

Mr. Bates discovered the birth control and its manual and confronted Anna. In the end Anna explained they belonged to Mary, but Bates couldn’t fathom why Lady Mary, a widow, would need them. (Remember the “sketching trip,” Bates. Not everyone is truthful.) He’s holding a grudge against Anna.

There was a little thawing between Cora and Robert, who’s still angry about finding an art historian in his wife’s bedroom. Seems fair enough and Cora could have chucked that bounder out in a flash rather than going back and forth listening to Bricker spout off about her beauty and charm. No real damage was done and Robert’s sure to come round.

Mrs. Patmore looked into buying a cottage and that’s inspired Carson to think of buying property — with Mrs. Hughes. Love seems to be simmering under the surface, which is nice, but seems forced by the writer.

Mary’s second suitor Mr. Blake is matchmaking between Lord Gillingham and Mable Whoever. He connived to get them together at the equestrian event. It’s a little far fetched, but will probably work. I had feared that Gillingham was out for revenge and would spread rumors (well the truth) about Mary to besmirch her reputation. Seems that won’t happen.

Violet’s hired a new lady’s maid who’s very set in her ways and unwilling to abide by the customs of this house. If I were Violet, I’d just dismiss her. If the woman’s already a problem, it’s unlikely she’ll change her spots.

Rose is getting closer with Atticus Aldridge, a fine gentleman, whose only problem (for her parents I’ll bet) is that he’s Jewish. The show has brought up that Cora’s half Jewish this season and that’s a shock the Abbey inhabitants have absorbed, but my hunch is this will be an issue. The youngest woman in the cast is bound to marry someone who’s unacceptable; it goes with the territory.

The episode featured an important horse race, called a point to point or steeplechase. Mary competed and this time she explained why she rides side saddle, though most women rode astride since the end of the Victorian era. It seems her grandmother, Violet, would never let her hear the end of it if Mary rode astride.

Mary Poppins

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This month’s book club selection was the children’s classic Mary Poppins. Saving Mr. Banks prepared me for some differences between the film starring Julie Andrews and the actual book, but it led me to think the father was a prominent character, who needed redemption. Well, not in the book, he doesn’t. He’s not a big part of the story.

In fact the book is more of a collection of delightful, imaginative experiences that happen while Mary is with the Banks family. More happens in the novel. Michael and Jane have baby fraternal twin siblings who can understand the communication of animals, stars and all of nature. When they go Christmas shopping with Mary, they meet and help Maia one of the stars in the Pleiades constellation who appears like an almost naked child wearing a simple blue cloth.

Mary is a mystery, a strict mystery. She comes to a family that lost their nanny, but the children weren’t bad so there was no dire need for discipline. Sure they’re not keen on chores, but they get along with each other and seem to obey.

I rewatched the film on my flight to Beijing and Mary’s not all that nice in it either. She’s a stick in the mud and very strict. For some reason though she’s magical and loves imagination, she constantly hides the fact. I was startled that a classic children’s book would end with an adult who pretty much abandons children. Yes, she told everyone she’d leave when the wind blew and she never was one for explanations, but really? Abandonment is terrible for kids and just leaving a job without giving notice is not something we want to encourage. What would Freud say?

Man in Grey

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James Mason’s debut movie, Man in Grey (1943) is part of the Criterion Collection. I wasn’t sure what I was getting when I picked it up at the library. Certainly, it would be a love triangle and it was described as a melodrama, so I expected big emotions.

The film opens at an auction in a mansion where a dashing WWII soldier More than anything Man in Grey focuses on a friendship between the kind, popular, generous Clarissa and Hester, a skeptical, poor girl who meets Clarissa at a boarding school where she’s taken on as a charity case. Clarissa is a friend to all and makes a point of reaching out to Hester, who’s aloof and snubbed by the others.

Hester runs off with the first boy she meets and brings a little scandal to the school. Clarissa somehow loses her fortune and her godmother encourages her to marry the wealthy, cold hearted Lord Rohan (James Mason). Rohan spends his time fighting and betting on dog fights and ignores Clarissa telling her right after their wedding that once they have an heir, they’ll live separate lives.

Later Clarissa sees Hester, who’s become an actress with a mediocre theater troupe. She convinces Hester to come visit her to relieve the boredom and isolation she suffers. Clarissa’s also brought Toby, a servant at the boarding school home with her.

Clarissa appreciates staying in Clarissa’s mansion and when she meets Lord Rohan is attracted to his dark, brooding personality. They’re more or less kindred spirits and an affair ensues.

As chance would have it Hester’s co-star, another 2-bit actor, is smitten with Clarissa and pursues her by taking jobs that put them in contact. He sees through Hester’s schemes.

Unwilling to play second fiddle to Clarissa, Hester takes action to get her out of the way.

I had an odd response to the film. I can’t recommend it, it seems dated and isn’t so bad it’s good. Still it was interesting enough to finish and see what would happen. Clichés abound as the dark haired woman, Hester is bad and unlikeable throughout and Clarissa, the blond is more virtuous. Toby is meant to be Black, but weirdly enough they hired a white boy to play the role and covered him in make up that looked like shoe polish. Clarissa has him dressed as if he was at an Indian court or like a 17th century footman.

The film was melodramatic somewhat like a cheap romance novel. I didn’t understand why this was a Criterion Collection film. I did read on their website that it was a highly successful film due to the racy story, which seems pretty tame, though most Hollywood films now don’t show the “fair-haired girl” cheating on her husband.

The essay on Criterion’s site offered this explanation:

With its overheated emotions and air of bodice-ripping unrefinement, The Man in Grey both flouted new guidelines from Parliament encouraging studios to produce tales of nobility and sacrifice for wartime audiences and disgusted critics, who saw it as the stuff of cheap paperbacks. This mattered little to moviegoers, who not only gobbled up the film’s plot twists, making it one of the year’s ten highest-grossing films, but also delighted in its fresh crop of stars, especially Mason, whose sensually cruel Rohan made him an overnight sensation. Despite its guilty pleasures, though, The Man in Grey is hardly frivolous: beneath its pulpy exterior, there’s a sophisticated depiction of the ways class and gender inform social interaction.

Catching up: Mr Selfridge Season 2, 7

Harry returns, the press descends

Harry returns, the press descends

Harry’s back!

May 4th Americans saw Harry Selfridge return to chaos at home. Loxley has framed him for a scandal with the military procurement committee so it looks like he profited by getting the Brits shoddy boots for their soldiers. Not a word of truth in that, but no one will believe him and only The Times prints his side of the story. On top of that, Henri LeClair is being held at the American Embassy since he’s suspected of embezzlement.

Harry bravely enters his store through the front past the vultures or journalists await. He’s determined to face things head on. The store’s dead. Few customers want to shop in a store with this black cloud hanging over it and raving protesters outside accosting all who enter.

Till now I hadn’t realized how many fresh flowers there were in the store. How lovely! I grow more nostalgic each week.

Lady Mae is at a posh hotel with her maid, who informs her that her bank draft was refused and the hotel wants its money. Mae plans to sell the jewels she stored in the safe deposit box. Married to Lord Loxley, she should have store more and loads of cash for years in banks all over the city if possible.

Snake in the grass, Delphine, who I think is worse that Mr Thackeray, visits Rose to get the scoop on Harry’s return and to offer to cheer Harry up with “stardust,” i.e. a dash of Hollywood. Rose handles her perfectly. She’s friendly, but skeptical in a way that’s not rude, but sincerely shows that Delphine’s help with Harry isn’t needed. Rose isn’t going to stop Delphine’s plan, which shows confidence in Harry and in herself.

With friends like these, Rose . . .

With friends like these, Rose . . .

Harry debriefs Bill Summertime apprising him of how met with a German manufacturer who’ll help the Brits and mentioning how the Germans questioned him for hours and ransacked his room. Bill offers little appreciation and no help whatsoever with the problem with the boot scandal.

Harry does speak to his staff assuring them that Frank wrote a pack of lies and that he’d get to the bottom of this. Neither Frank nor Rose have had great luck with friends in London.

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