DOWNTON FORELORN

For three seasons I’ve enjoyed Downton Abbey. Characters have ebbed and flowed, matured and changed. Characters had resilience. But I didn’t watch the series when it was broadcast last winter. I DVRed it to watch it all at once. I began peeking earlier this month. It was disappointing, and it was difficult to watch (3 1/2 programs).

The immediate problem were character, development during and after an incident and consistency with that prior character. I’ve watched these persons for three seasons, and bought those DVD discs. In the development of any character are experiences which guide (control) and influence future actions. That can be anticipated, unless actions are out of character. Now those characters are using training wheels.

The audience never saw the after-marriage story of Lady Mary and Matthew, complete devotion and final love. They saw mostly, the social and business transactions surrounding that marriage. Mary had told Matthew she is neither powder-puff nor pure, unlike his previous flu-ridden finance. The audience should expect experiences in Seasons 1-3 to make Mary tougher and mature.

But Lady Mary mourning for six months, reclusive and shunning people. Lady Mary loved Matthew, but she has suffered loss before: The cousin on the Titanic, the Turkish gentleman, and the newspaper publisher. Remember also, Matthew was almost lost in the war, to wounds and to another woman.  Loss or near loss are not new to Mary.

Rape of Anna: That is an attack on the institution of Downton Abbey. No other person better than Anna should appreciate that. The Bates experience with its connivings and near execution of Bates has taught her the power and influence of that institution. Mrs. Hughes as head housekeeper should know that, and not follow the spontaneous reaction of a woman so traumatized. This was a very poor story point to raise this issue.

Tom and and Lady Grantham’s maid. We have learned that Tom has a good, progressive business mind. He can change things in this area of England. In Season Three he purports to love his daughter, but in Season Four? He seems to toss it away for quick convenience, sullying his own name and marring the memory of his wife. It is hard to believe.

Lady Edith: She has had no character development. She is the same pathetic Edith. Hanging out with the card-shark newspaper man who will become a German citizen so he can divorce and marry Edith, she is the most consistent character in the series, but she is not worth watching.

So Downton Abbey,  I can no longer watch further episodes. I’ll let the people drift inexpertly toward another war with Germany without me.

Advertisements

NOT ELEGANT AND BRILLIANT

In the Wall Steet Journal, September 6-7, 2014, is a book report of Beyond the First Draft, John Casey. In the review is a quote from Casey’s book” “There is an appreciation of the Irish essayist, Hubert Butler, whom Mr. Casey rightly calls, “one of the great under appreciated writers of the twentieth century…elegant and brilliant…”

Has Casey or the reviewer ever ready any of Hubert Butler’s essays or other works? It seems unlikely. Upon reading that evaluation, I searched for Butler’s books – more than 6,000,000 in the Los Angeles County System. There were none. Pasadena bought one (selected essays, I supposed the best). But given the quality of the words and thoughts, that purchase is forfeited. UCLA had four books, most in the library reserves, 7,000,000 books known as the SRLF.

Butler is a provincial writer who inherited the family estate and didn’t have to make money so scribbled for 70 years. There’s never a sentence that is not overstocked with words. Paragraphs somewhat stick on course but drift. And throughout, Butler writes about “I,” I, I, I, I. Not many writers do that. They camouflage themselves within their stories and essays and never use I. Writers realized that use of “I” reveals poor writing and distracted story telling. Writers know that the author’s opinion and personality will emerge from any well written novel, short story, tale, essay or criticism. Indeed, using “I” is a redundancy. The reader assumes already that I – writer – author wrote it.

Using I reveals the author has limitations, prejudices, biases, ignorance, blindnesses. Writers are not honest to tell the truth about themselves; immediately without candor there is routine, boredom and revelations of falsehood: I brushed my teeth; I dressed; I moved a trunk; I did the laundry. I ate breakfast. It is noon. An “I” author will not tell what happened what planned that morning: “I slipping on my butt while picking oranges for juice. The resulting back strain made trio-sex impossible. I couldn’t get into position for the best angle…”

Butler comes from that school of nonsense writers of this language requiring excavation and sometimes a backhoe to dig through sentences and a paragraph. In a “diary entry(?)”, he writes about Henry and Frances (1950) Butler quotes one sentence from a novel of Frances: “There is something extremely indelicate in professing a Passion for a virtuous Woman before we have undergone a sufficient Quarantine after the Contagion of an abandoned one, and Man in such a situation resembles a Centaur, half-humamn and half-brute.” Anyone who purports to understand this sentence and can explain it, send me $10.00.

In the sad end all is lost for Butler’s Henry and Frances: “But his marriage was still recent and wholly satisfying when Henry left Maidenhall. He must have felt that a turning point in this life had been reached and that a rather more solemn self-analysis than he had hitherto attempted should be undertaken. On leaving the house he made a will in favor of Frances and her infant son and wrote upon the wrapper the reasons for his marriage and his theological beliefs.”

This is not great storytelling. None of it is brilliant or elegant. It is doubly sad for readers of Henry and Frances who realized they were reading poorly written tripe usually found in tourist materials: “As for Maidenhall, it has not changed very much, it’s successive owners have always been poor and never had the money, to make many of the lavish improvements which were admired in Victorian times.”

Butler reveals obvious naiveté based upon ignorance common and accepted in Ireland to this day: “I believe passionately in Irish neutrality, not an ignoble one in Hitler’s War…” Irish sentiments were obvious when upon learning of Hitler’s death, the Irish Prime Minister signed the Condolence Book at the German Embassy in Dublin on May 4, 1945. In 1939 Britain offered Ireland the Six Counties [Northern Ireland] if Ireland would allow British use of Irish bases for the duration of World War Two. The identical offer was made after the Americans entered World War Two. Both times the Irish refused. It is no wonder the British resisted and over came the resistance during The Troubles 25-45 years later. (Crossing the Border and The Kagran Groupe discusses Irish sentiments. See also utter, foolish speculation about a German occupation of Ireland in The Invaders Wore Slippers.)

Butler writes magazine quality pieces about this place, that person, another trip, spontaneous comments about justifiably obscure persons, places and things. There is a lot of superficial, supercilious non-fictional impressions relying on conventional wisdoms, legends and myths. An essay at the end of this volume, Independent SpiritsButler write a feeble recounting of a meeting of PEN (1966), relying on glibness to relay aspirations and approval of the proceedings, but giving no indication that he understood, cogently any issue or the proceedings in whole. Compare an essay about PEN proceedings (circa 1945) by George Orwell, The Prevention of Literature.

MOVIE WRITING

Edmund Wilson rounded criticized Hollywood as “an intractable magnetic mountain which twists American fiction askew.” Wilson further complained about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathanael West: “Their failure to get the best out of their years may certainly be laid partly on Hollywood with its already appalling record of talent depraved and wasted.”

What is a screenplay? It is a play shot on film. It runs about 15,000 – 20,000 words which makes it the length of a short story. Indeed, a movie script generally has a protagonist who meets other humans (antagonists, supporting characters, dead people). It has the same limits as a short story. A single theme, a straightforward point of view. Done well a screenplay is an excellent piece of literature, and is sometimes better than its literary genesis.

Entertainment has its rules. There are rules for writing screenplays (more than using Movie-Writer Pro, or some other application). When Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler collaborated on Double Indemnity, novelist Raymond Chandler did not like all the rules. In a later interview Wilder was complimentary about Chandler although he did not understand the rules.

There is considerable money to be made by anyone who can write short stories and also can write a screenplay. That money dwarfs money derives from books, essays, magazine articles and the world influenced by Edmund Wilson. Perhaps Wilson was feeling poor in his medium.

Is it necessary for a writer to live a “depraved and wasted” life in Hollywood? Fitzgerald arrived in Hollywood depraved and wasted. He had started those ways at Princeton. Nathanael West, being in California and good friend of Fitzgerald, wrote novels, but as his literary competitors demonstrated (Chandler and Hammett), drinking one’s self to death was not required. The movies did not drive anyone to die drunk anymore than the movies drove Eager Allen Poe to die a drunk’s death.

The scorn of Edmund Wilson that screenwriters have nothing to add to society and are overpaid comes from ignorance from someone who wrote no fiction of note and was deeply embedded in the New York literary club and the East Coast Establishment. Not every movie shows excellence, but used correctly movies can compete completely with books and periodic literature.