Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Below is an article about the dish known as Martha Washington’s Great Cake: 

MARTHA WASHINGTON’S GREAT CAKE

While perusing a website that featured different American dishes from the eighteenth century, I came across one that caught my interest. It happened to be a dessert created by First Lady Martha Dandridge Washington

The background for Martha Washington’s Great Cake began near the end of the eighteenth century. In 1796, President George Washington had decided not to serve a third term as United States President near the end of his second term. Three months after issuing his farewell address in many newspapers, he returned to his estate in Virginia called Mount Vernon in time for the Christmas holidays. His wife Martha made arrangement for a “Great Cake”, a cake filled with fruits and spices, to be baked and served on Twelfth Night, the last of twelve days of Christmas.

Great Cake had been a common dessert during the country’s Colonial Era and tended to be very large. They were usually risen cakes, very similar to the Italian dessert known as Panettone. However, the “Great Cake” created by Martha Washington was somewhat denser than a panettone and possessed more fruit and spices.

The recipe for the First Lady’s version of the “Great Cake” was discovered among her private papers by her granddaughter, Martha Parke Custis Peter. It utilized different ingredients that were common in the “Great Cakes” of the past. However, Mrs. Washington did not personally prepared the cake herself. Instead, she utilized the kitchen slaves at Mount Vernon to do the actual preparation. The First Lady’s original recipe consisted of the following:

“Take 40 eggs & divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of eggs to it a spoon full at a time till it is well work’d then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powder’d to it in the same manner than put in the Youlks of eggs and 5 pounds of flower and 5 pounds of fruit, 2 hours will bake it add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine & some fresh brandy.”

However, here is a more modern recipe for Martha Washington’s Great Cake from the Seasonal Wisdom website:

Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Ingredients:

*1 1/2 cups currants
*1/3 cup chopped candied orange peel
*1/3 cup chopped candied lemon peel
*1/3 cup chopped candied citron
*3/4 cup Madiera, divided
*1/4 cup French brandy
*3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
*1/2 cup slivered almonds
*1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
*1/2 teaspoon ground mace
*3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
*1 1/2 cups sugar
*3 large eggs, separated

Preparation:

Combine currants, orange and lemon peels, and citron in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup of Madeira and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Stir the reminder of the Madeira with the brandy; cover and set aside.

When ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Drain fruits in a large strainer set over a bowl, stirring occasionally to extract as much Madeira as possible. Add the strained Madeira to the set-aside Madeira and brandy.

Combine 1/4 cup of the flour with the fruit, and mix well. Add the almonds, and set aside. Sift the remaining flour with the nutmeg and mace.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is light. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating for several minutes after adding each ingredient. Whisk the egg yolks until they are light and smooth, and add them to the butter and sugar. Continue to beat for several minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Alternatively add the spiced flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and the Madiera and brandy, beating until smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to form stiff peaks. By hand, gently fold them into the batter, combining lightly until well blended. By hand, fold in the fruit in thirds, mixing until well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula, or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool in the pan for 20 minutes. If serving the cake plain, turn it out of the pan to cool completely. If finishing it with icing, turn the warm cake out of the pan onto a baking sheet, and proceed with the icing.

To ice the cake, spread Sugar Icing generously onto the surface, piling it high and swirling it around the top and sides. Set in the turned-off warm oven, and let sit for at least 3 hours, or until the cake is cool and the icing has hardened. The icing will crumble when the cake is sliced.

Sugar Icing Recipe for Great Cake

Ingredients:

*3 large egg whites at room temperature
*1 1/2 cups of sugar
*2 tablespoons rose water or orange-flower water

Preparations:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, start beating the egg whites on low speed, gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the sugar. After about 3 minutes, or when they just begin to form soft peaks, increase the speed to high and continue adding the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until all the sugar is incorporated and the egg whites form soft peaks.

Add the rose water, and continue beating to form stiff peaks. Use immediately to ice the cake.

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“I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU” (1951) Review

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“I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU” (1951) Review

I have seen my share of time travel movies and television programs over the years. But I do not believe that I have never seen one as ethereal as the 1951 movie called “I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU”

A second adaptation of John L. Balderston’s 1927 play, which was an adaptation of Henry James’ incomplete novel, “The Sense of the Past”“I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU” told the story of an American nuclear physicist named Dr. Peter Standish, who is transported to London of the late 18th century. The story begins when a co-worker of Peter’s with the British nuclear program, Dr. Roger Forsyth, expresses concern about the former’s lack of social life. As the two become friends, Peter reveals that he had inherited an old house located at London’s Berkeley Square by a distant relative. He also also reveals that he was a descendant of an American Tory who had immigrated to Britain after the Revolutionary War to marry a cousin named Kate Pettigrew. Not long after this revelation, a thunderstorm sends Peter back to 1784, where he takes the place of his late 18th century ancestor, the other Peter Standish.

However, once 20th century Peter settles into his new life, he is struck by a series of surprises. One, he finds himself slowly falling in love with his fiancée’s younger sister, Helen Pettigrew. Peter discovers that Georgian era London is not the paradise he had assumed it to be for years. He also realizes that his occasional lapses of judgment, in which he uses modern day language and revealing information he could not have known if he had actually grown up in the 18th century. Peter’s occasional lapses and his feelings for Helen lead to growing antagonism toward him from not only his fiancée Kate, but also from Mr. Throstle, the man to whom Helen had been promised; leading to potential disaster for him.

I am usually a big fan of time travel movies. But if I must be honest, my reason for watching “I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU” stemmed from sheer curiosity and nothing else. I never really thought I would be impressed by this movie. And I was . . . much to my surprise. Mind you, the film’s method of time travel – a bolt of lightning – struck me as unrealistic, even from a fictional point of view. There was no machine or vehicle like a Delorean to channel the energy from that bolt of lightning. Instead, the Peter Standish was struck by lightning and transported some 160 years back to the past. That he survived being struck is a miracle.

Nevertheless, I still enjoyed “I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU” very much. At its heart, the movie featured two genres – time traveling and romance. And both seemed to intertwine perfectly, thanks to director Roy Ward Baker, who directed the 1958 classic, “A NIGHT TO REMEMBER”. There have been time travel movies in which the protagonists are slightly taken aback by the “primative” conditions of the time period in which they end up. But I found Peter Standing’s reaction to the reality of 18th century London rather enjoyable on a perverse level. I found it satisfying to watch him come to the realization that 1784 London was not the social paradise that he had assumed it was. “I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU” is also one of the rare works of fiction that pointed out the lack of decent hygiene that permeated Western society before the 20th century. Between Peter’s disgust at London society’s array of body odors and their bafflement at his habit of a daily bath, I was nearly rolling on the floor with laughter. But more importantly, “I’LL NEVER FORGET” is a poignant love story between Peter and Helen. What made it very satisfying for me is that Helen was the only one who seemed to have a bead on Peter’s personality. More importantly, she seemed to be interested in Peter’s comments about the future, instead of repelled by them.

But what really made the romance between Peter Standing and Helen Pettigrew worked were the performances of the two leads, Tyrone Power and Ann Blyth. Thanks to their intelligent and subtle performances, they made Peter and Helen’s love story believable. I was surprised that Michael Rennie had such a small screen presence in the movie, considering that he had received third billing. Nevertheless, I thought he gave a pretty good performance as Peter’s 20th century friend and colleague, Dr. Roger Forsyth. Another performance that caught my attention came from Dennis Price, who gave a very entertaining performance as Helen and Kate’s brother, a dye-in-the-wool late 18th century cad, Tom Pettigrew. Kathleen Byron gave an energetic and brief performance as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. The movie also featured solid performances from Beatrice Campbell, Raymond Huntley and Irene Browne, who not only portrayed the Pettigrew matriarch in this film, but also in the 1933 version, “BERKELEY SQUARE”.

Although I found the mode of time travel rather implausible – being struck by lightning, I must admit that I enjoyed “I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU”. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. And I have to thank Ranald MacDougall’s adaptation of John L. Balderston’s play, intelligent performances from a cast led by Tyrone Power and Ann Blyth, and more importantly, intelligent and subtle direction from Roy Ward Baker.

Excessive Criticism of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”

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EXCESSIVE CRITICISM OF “STAR TREK VOYAGER”

For the past two decades, I have never encountered so much criticism of one particular Star Trek show than I have for the 1995-2001 series, “STAR TREK VOYAGER”

Ironically, I used to buy this negative opinion. Or accept it. One of the reasons I had ignored “STAR TREK VOYAGER” for so many years, because I had assumed that those fans who had deemed it inferior to the other shows in the franchise were right. When my sister found out that the rest of our family was ignoring the show, she fervently suggested that we watch it. This happened when the early Season Five episodes were going through its first run. Well, we did. We watched some of those early Season Five shows. We also watched the previous episodes from Season One to Season Four that were currently in syndication. And guess what? My family became fans of the show.

I am not going to claim that “VOYAGER” was perfect. Yes, it had its flaws. I have even posted a few articles about some of the flaws I had encountered. But I was also able to pick out both major and minor flaws in the other Trek shows at the time – “STAR TREK”“STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION”, and “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” – while still enjoying them. I never really became a big fan of “STAR TREK ENTERPRISE”, but there were a good number of episodes that I really enjoyed.

This fervent need to nitpick everything about “STAR TREK VOYAGER” in order to deem it as some kind of pop culture disaster is mind boggling to me. Every time I access an article on the Internet – especially on a Trek message board – about series, the criticism seemed to strike me as unnecessarily excessive . . . and constant. And most of the complaints I have come across are either about some ridiculously minor flaw or how Janeway was a terrible star ship captain. I do not understand this opinion. Janeway made her mistakes. So did the other Trek captains. What made her worse than the others? Her gender? Star Trek shows were not allowed to have women as the leads, or even worse, in the command position?

More importantly, these same fans seem very reluctant to point out the flaws – both minor and major – about the other Trek shows. At least not to this extreme degree. What is going on? If you are going to state that “VOYAGER” was simply the worst show in the Trek franchise, do not expect me to buy this opinion anymore. After seeing the show and the others in the franchise, I really have great difficulty in accepting this view. So what is it? What is the real truth? I guess in the end, these are questions that no one can really answer. After all, art and entertainment are subjective.

“ROSS POLDARK: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL, 1783-1787” (1945) Book Review

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“ROSS POLDARK: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL, 1783-1787” (1945) Book Review

During a period of fifty-seven, writer Winston Graham wrote a series of twelve historical novels that centered around a former British Army officer from Cornwall, who had fought for king and country during the American Revolutionary War. The first of the novels, “ROSS POLDARK: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL, 1783-1787” had been published in 1945. 

“ROSS POLDARK” begins in the fall of 1783. Ross Poldark returns home to Cornwall after spending three years in the Army. The former officer returns to discover that his father had been dead for several months. The estate he had inherited, which includes Nampara and a failing copper mine, had fallen in arrays. His home is being occupied by his father’s two slovenly servants – Jud and Prudie Paynter. Worst of all, he learns that his former love, Elizabeth Chynoweth, had given him up for dead and become engaged to his cousin, Francis Poldark. Ross sets out to restore his fortunes by acquiring financing for one of his family’s derelict tin mines. But dealing with the loss of Elizabeth prove to be a real problem. Emotional salvation seemed to come in the form of a young 13-14 urchin girl named Demelza Carne, whom Ross saves from a mob at the Reduth Fair. Ross hires her as his new kitchen maid. Over the course of three years, she develops into a beautiful 17 year-old, for whom he develops emotional feelings and eventually marries.

I have read a good number of reviews about this novel. With the exception of one or two, most of them seemed pretty positive. Personally, I believe that Winston Graham did a solid job in setting his multi-novel series in motion. I was impressed at how he introduced his major characters, the story’s historical setting and the story lines that reverberated throughout the series. One of those story lines proved to be the various love triangles that centered around Ross Poldark and Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark. I find it amazing that most these different love triangles centered around Ross and Elizabeth, instead of Ross and the woman he would eventually marry – Demelza, who happened to be the saga’s leading lady. The 1945 novel included at least two triangles and a potential third:

*Ross Poldark-Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark-Francis Poldark

*Demelza Carne Poldark-Ross Poldark-Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark

*Ross Poldark-Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark-George Warleggan

Anyone familiar with “ROSS POLDARK” would automatically know that no such triangle existed between Ross, Elizabeth and George. I would agree . . . to a certain extent. George Warleggan was more or less portrayed as a minor supporting character in this novel. His father, Nicholas Warleggan, had a more prominent role. Yet, Graham provided a hint of the Ross-Elizabeth-George triangle during the 1787 Trenwith Christmas party, in which George projected a deferential and infatuated attitude toward her. A sign of things to come, indeed.

In fact, the Christmas party proved to be one of those scenes in which I believe Graham did an excellent job in portraying life in Cornwall during the late 18th century. Other scenes that impressed me include Ross’ arrival at Truro upon his return from the war; Francis and Elizabeth’s wedding reception; Ross’ first meeting with Demelza at the Redruth Fair; and the trial of Jim Carter for poaching, one of Ross’ employees, at Truro’s court of assize. These scenes conveyed to me that Graham did some extended research of Britain’s history during the late Georgian era and life in Cornwall during that period. And although I found his use of this research impressive, I would not say that Graham was the best novelist in conveying historical research into stories. I have read novels that have a stronger historical background.

“ROSS POLDARK” is foremost a story about a war veteran who returns home to find his world drastically changed. I suppose one could compare Graham’s tale to the 1946 movie, “THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES”. But the Ross Poldark character seemed traumatized . . . so to speak, by the ruined state of his fortunes and his loss of fiancee Elizabeth Chynoweth, instead of any combat experiences during the war. It did not take Ross very long to set about restoring his fortunes. But the loss of Elizabeth proved to be another matter. He spent a long period of time drinking heavily over her marriage to his cousin Francis. And when he finally realized that he had fallen in love with Demelza near the novel’s end, he came to another realization that his marriage had not erased his feelings for Elizabeth. It is very rare to come upon a fictional story about war veteran trying to overcome a past trauma that focused on lost love, instead of past combat experiences. Very odd. And rather original, if I must add.

Another aspect of “ROSS POLDARK” that I found impressive was Graham’s strong portrayal of most of its characters. Ross Poldark came off as a very strong and well-rounded character. While many fans tend to view him as some borderline ideal fictional hero, I was too busy noticing his personal flaws to immediately accept this view. And I regard this as a good thing. At a younger age, I would have eagerly accepted Ross as something close to a perfect hero. But not at my current age. One, I find ideal characters rather boring. And two, while I found his virtues – especially his concern for the lower classes – rather admirable, I must admit that Ross’ flaws – his stubbornness, quick temper, massive ego, and occasional bouts of hypocrisy – made him more interesting to me than any personal virtue ever could. A good example would be his attitude toward women. Despite his respectful attitude toward most women below his class, Ross still managed to retain a strong patronizing and slightly sexist attitude. This was especially apparent in one scene in which his cousin-in-law, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, requested his help in dealing with Francis’ growing penchant for reckless gambling. Instead of taking Elizabeth seriously, Ross dismissed her request as one from an over-emotional woman exaggerating about a husband’s flaws:

“It occurred to Ross in that moment that half of Elizabeth’s worry might be the eternal feminine bogey of insecurity. Francis drank. Francis gambled and lost money. Francis had been seen about with another woman. Not an amiable story. But not an uncommon one. Inconceivable to Ross in that case, and for Elizabeth it had the proportions of a tragedy. But it was unwise to lose one’s sense of perspective. Other men drank and gambled. Debts were fashionable. Other men found eyes to admire the beauty that was not theirs by right of marriage and to overlook the familiar beauty that was. It did not follow that Francis was taking the shortest route to perdition.”

What I found ironic is that Ross’ sexist dismissal of Elizabeth’s concerns about Francis will eventually bite him in the ass.

Thanks to Graham’s sharp writing, the novel featured other strong characters. One of them include his kitchenmaid-turned-wife, Demelza Carne Poldark. At first I did not know what to make of Demelza. Perhaps the reason I had such difficulty in embracing her as a character is that she was so young. Demelza remained a adolescent throughout the novel, despite becoming a wife who ends the story pregnant. I noticed that anyone in Ross’ life – namely his family and Elizabeth – made her incredibly jealous. And Demelza expressed her jealousy in a rather infantile manner. This was apparent in her internal reaction to Elizabeth’s discovery that she and Ross had sex, following Jim Carter’s trial:

“She is one day too late; just one day. How beautiful she is. How I hate her.”

This jealousy was also evident in her determination to avoid the company of Ross’ cousin Verity Poldark following her marriage to Ross. I find it interesting that neither of the two television adaptations of the novel never explored this situation between the two cousins-in-law. Another example of Demelza’s infantile expression of her jealousy appeared near the end of the novel, when she contemplated on her social success at the Trenwith Christmas party. Even though Demelza had internally expressed pity toward Elizabeth’s marriage to Francis, she also reveled in the idea that Ross still wanted her and not Elizabeth – unaware that Ross’ feelings for Elizabeth have not abated. Demelza’s hostility even managed to shift toward Ruth Treneglos, who had originally expressed hope to become Ross’ wife a few years earlier. I can understand why Graham had portrayed Demelza’s jealousy in such a volatile manner. She was – after all – an adolescent in this story. Despite marrying Ross two-thirds into the story, Demelza remained a teenager from the beginning of the novel to the end.

Graham’s portrayal of Francis and Elizabeth Poldark seemed a bit more . . . limited. Especially Elizabeth. Considering that Ross’ reaction to their marriage played such a major role in the novel’s plot, I found it odd that Graham did not explore the couple’s characters a bit deeper. Ironically, Elizabeth suffered from Graham’s superficial portrayal a lot more than Francis. I am not claiming that her character had suffered from a weaker portrayal than Francis’. I have noticed that many fans of the saga have claimed that she is a cold and haughty character. But after my recent re-reading of “ROSS POLDARK”, I found this hard to accept. Elizabeth struck me as slightly conservative, quiet and private woman, with a pragmatic streak. The only time she became “haughty” was when she lost her temper after Ross had insulted her mother at hers and Francis’ wedding reception. More importantly, she proved to be a very warm and caring parent. But I was surprised to discover upon my last reading of this novel that Elizabeth also harbored an inferiority complex, as revealed in a scene following Geoffrey Charles’ christening:

“Verity had gotten over her disappointment very well, Elizabeth thought. A little quieter, a little more preoccupied with the life of the household. She had wonderful strength of mind and self-reliance. Elizabeth was grateful for her courage. She thought, quite wrongly that she had very little herself, and admired it in Verity.”

Quite wrongly. It seemed as if Graham had inserted those words to explain to the readers that Elizabeth underestimated her own inner strength. And considering the number of times Elizabeth resorted to fainting in dealing with many crisis, I got the feeling that instead of acknowledging or even being aware of her own inner strength, Elizabeth had decided the best way to survive in a world that did not favor women was to play the role that society demanded of her – that of a quietly submissive woman. Francis, on the other hand, had three things going for him – he was not portrayed as an introvert, he did not stand in the way of Ross and Demelza’s relationship, and he is a man. Even though Francis tend to resort to infantile behavior to hide his own securities, sometimes I got the impression that many of Graham’s readers are more tolerant of his character than of Elizabeth’s. Is this due to modern society’s intolerance toward reserved or introverted women? Or is this due to many of Graham’s readers view of Elizabeth as a threat to Ross and Demelza’s romance? I wonder.

“ROSS POLDARK” featured an array of interesting supporting characters. The most colorful to me seemed to be Jud and Prudie Paynter, Ross’ servants; a fellow landowner by the name of Sir Hugh Bodrugan; Ross’ former schoolmaster Reverend Doctor Halse; Demelza’s father, Tom Carne; Elizabeth’s mother Mrs. Chynoweth and Ross’ great-aunt, Agatha Poldark. Ross’ Uncle Charles struck me as a particularly interesting character. If there was one character who matched Elizabeth in terms of pragmatism, it was Charles Poldark. Yet, for such a pragmatic man, I am amazed that he was unable to produce a bigger fortune for his family. And his determination to ensure Francis’ marriage to Elizabeth literally smacked of sheer manipulation. When I first read this novel, I had wondered why Charles was determined to set this marriage in motion. After all, the Chynoweths were cash poor. Did Charles have designs on the Chynoweth land, which would eventually go to the man who marries Elizabeth? I wish Graham had been a little clear on the matter.

The novel featured another love story – one between Francis’ sister, Verity Poldark and a sea captain by the name of Andrew Blamey. I thought Graham did an excellent job in portraying the charming and subtle love story between the plain, yet sweet and soft-spoken Verity and the intense Captain Blamey. But the latter’s revelation of how his alcoholism and temper led to the manslaughter of his wife led both Verity’s father and brother to put a stop in the romance before it could continue. A part of me felt sorry for Verity. Another part of me felt that both Charles and Francis Poldark had done the smart thing. I could not blame them for not wanting a former alcoholic who had killed his wife in a drunken rage anywhere near Verity or within the family ranks. Which makes me wonder why Graham had created this character in the first place.

As I had earlier hinted, I found “ROSS POLDARK” was a solid novel. Solid . . . not perfect or anywhere near perfect. The novel proved to be a good starting point for Graham’s saga, but it was certainly not one of his best. It had its flaws. I have already hinted at one of the novel’s flaws – namely Graham’s portrayal of Francis and Elizabeth Poldark. I realize that Francis and Elizabeth are not the story’s main protagonists. Yet, they are among the saga’s main characters after Ross and Demelza. And the couple played major roles in the protagonists’ lives. Especially Elizabeth. Unfortunately, I discovered upon re-reading the novel that Graham had not explored their characters as much as I wish he had. Characters like Verity Poldark, the Paynters, Jim Carter, Reuben Clemmow and Jinny Carter née Martin seemed to have been written with more depth than either Francis or Elizabeth.

Speaking of Jinny Carter and Reuben Clemmow, this brings me to the sequence that featured Reuben’s attack upon her. I have no problems with Graham’s portrayal of the incident. I thought the scene reeked with tension and violence. What irritated me to no end was that Graham had ended the sequence on a cliffhanger with Clemmow stabbing Jinny before accidentally falling out of a window, while trying to opening it. Following those violent moments, the novel jumped two years later in which the next chapter featured Ross in a meeting with potential shareholders for Wheal Leisure. Readers had to wait until another chapter before learning that Jinny had survived the stabbing and Reuben had fallen to his death. Perhaps other readers had no problems with Graham ending the Jinny-Clemmow sequence on this note. I did. I found it irritating. It seemed as if Graham had spent a great deal of energy in building up to Jinny and Clemmow’s confrontation, only to end it by “telling” how it ended, instead of “showing” it. And why on earth Graham felt the need to jump the story another two years before revealing the conclusion of this plot line?

As someone who has read countless number of novels over the years, I have encountered a good share of them in which the writer has a tendency to shift the point-of-view from one character to another in the middle of the scene. And unfortunately, Winston Graham seemed to be onen of those novelists that share this flaw. This was especially apparent in one scene between Francis and Elizabeth Poldark, following the christening of their son. The scene started with Elizabeth’s point-of-view, as she contemplated on the christening’s success, her love for young Geoffrey Charles and her anticipation for more rest, as she continued her recovery from childbirth. Just before Francis could enter her bedroom for a little marital sex, the scene shifted to his point-of-view and readers experience his anticipation and his disappointment at Elizabeth’s rejection of his attempt to seduce her. To this day, I still wonder why Graham had shifted the viewpoint from one character to another. Why could he not reveal Elizabeth’s point-of-view, when Francis tried to seduce her for some post-natal sex? Or explain to viewers – from her point-of-view – why she wanted more rest, instead of sex with Francis? Was it easier for him to convey Francis’ disappointment? This shift in viewpoint seemed to have left many fans of the saga to assume that Elizabeth simply wanted no more sex with her husband – or that she was sexually frigid.

One last sequence that bothered me in “ROSS POLDARK” focused on Ross and Demelza. Not long after meeting the thirteen (or fourteen) year-old Demelza at the Reduth Fair, Ross brought her home to Nampara. He had wanted Prudie to clean the lice-infested Demelza before the latter could step foot inside the house. But since Prudie was not there, he set about cleaning her himself. Ross ordered Demelza to remove all of her clothes so that he could clean her, using water from the water pump behind the house:

“He worked the handle with vigor. The first rinsing would not get rid of everything but would at least be a beginning. It would leave his position uncompromised. She had an emaciated little body, on which womanhood had onl just begun to fashion its designs.”

The idea of a 23-24 year-old man washing the naked body of a 13-14 year old girl left me feeling very uncomfortable. Squemish. I had noticed that the topic had been mentioned on the The Winston Graham & Poldark Literary Society message board, but those members who had responded did not seem bothered by the scene. I had mentioned it on Tumblr and someone had the same response as me. Perhaps an adult man washing the naked body of an early adolescent girl he had recently met and hired as a servant did not seem out of place in the late 18th century. But as a woman of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it seemed out of place to me. And I can only wonder how many early-to-mid 20th century readers felt about this scene when the novel was first published in 1945. And honestly . . . why on earth did Graham include this scene in the novel in the first place? Why not allow Prudie to be at Nampara to wash the very young Demelza? Especially since the latter ended up as Ross’ wife some three years later? I mean . . . honestly . . . all I can say is “Ewww!”.

Speaking of Demelza, how old was she? The handling of Demelza’s age struck me as confusing. According to the novel, she was 13 years old when she and Ross first met at the Reduth Fair in the early spring of 1794. When she married Ross in June 1787, she was 17 years old. And during the Christmas party at Trenwith near the end of 1787, she told Francis and Elizabeth’s guests that she was 18 years old. Exactly when was Demelza born? In 1769 or 1770? Perhaps it is wise if I just give up on the matter.

Unlike many fans of the literary POLDARK series, I cannot say that “ROSS POLDARK: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL, 1783-1787” was among the best. In fact, I would not regard it as one of the best historical novels I have ever read. It possessed some flaws that prevent me from proclaiming it as such. But . . . I must admit that Graham had created a solid story that maintained my interest from the beginning to the end. And more importantly, I thought Graham did a pretty good job in using this novel to set up the twelve-book series.

Understanding “BABYLON FIVE” (4.06) “Into the Fire”

 

UNDERSTANDING “BABYLON FIVE” (4.06) “INTO THE FIRE”

I have seen the Season Four episode, (4.06) “Into the Fire” on numerous occasions, since I first started watching “BABYLON 5” some eighteen years ago. 

My opinion of “Into the Fire” had always been somewhat lukewarm in the past. When I first saw it, I assumed it would be another episode that featured a large-scale battle – similar to episodes like Season One’s (1.13) “Signs and Portents”, Season Three’s (3.10) “Severed Dreams” and (4.15) “No Surrender, No Retreat”. There were battle sequences featured in “Into the Fire”, but not to any extent that I would consider it an action-heavy episode.

Sue me. I was young and stupid in those days. I thought a top-notch “BABYLON FIVE” episode should always consist of a large-scale battle. But I finally saw the light. I finally understood what “Into the Fire” was really about. Well, I take that back. I have always understood since I first saw it. But I was so disappointed by the lack of a real battle that I allowed the message to pass over my head.

But not this time. Anticipating to be bored out of my mind, I finally allowed J. Michael Straczynski’s message to filter through. I finally understood and accepted the messages about parental or colonial figures letting go and allowing the young – whether they were individuals or nations to grow in their own ways. And in the end, it brought tears to my eyes. Much to my surprise. Thank you Mr. Straczynski for a first-rate television episode. And please accept my apologies for allowing so many years to pass before finally getting the message.

 

R.I.P. Stephen Furst (1954-2017)

“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” (2016) Review

 

“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” (2016) Review

I never thought any film or television production would find another story written by Jane Austen to adapt. Not really. The author only had six novels published. And I was never really aware of any other novels, novellas or short stories . . . until I learned about “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Austen’s 1794 epistolary novel, “Lady Susan”

Set during the 1790s, “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” began with the aristocratic and lovely young widow, Lady Susan Vernon, being forced to leave the Manwaring estate due to her dalliance with the married Lord Manwaring and the hysterical reaction to the affair by the latter’s very wealthy wife. Lady Susan had been staying with the Manwarings in order to arrange a possible marriage to her adolescent daughter Frederica and the wealthy, yet brainless Sir James Martin. But after being forced to leave by Lady Manwaring, Lady Susan and her widowed companion, Mrs. Cross, head to Churchill, the country home of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon and his wife, Catherine Vernon. While at Churchill, Lady Susan becomes acquainted with her sister-in-law’s handsome younger brother, Reginald DeCourcy. Reginald becomes deeply attracted to Lady Susan, who views him as a potential husband or lover. She also continues her plans to ensure that Fredrica becomes Sir James’ wife.

“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” offered at least two reunions for actress Kate Beckinsale. The movie marked her second foray into the world of Jane Austen. Some twenty years earlier, she had portrayed the lead in the 1996-97 adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma”. Beckinsale also found herself reunited with director/writer Whit Stillman and her her co-star Chloë Sevigny. She had worked with both on the 1998 comedy-drama, “THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO”. In the end, I must admit that I enjoyed “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” very much. I would not regard it as one of my favorite Austen adaptations or one of its best. But I must admit that due to its unique protagonist and Whit Stillman’s witty direction, I really enjoyed this film.

However, there is one aspect of “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” that I found confusing. And there is another that I found somewhat disappointing. For the likes of me, I do not understand why Stillman did not use the novel’s original title for the movie. Instead, he borrowed the title, “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, from another one of Austen’s early works that had been written in 1790. Why Stillman had decided to use this title instead of the one from the 1794 novel upon which this movie was based . . . I have no idea. Frankly, I found it not only unnecessary, but also confusing.

I was also confused by Lady Susan’s movements in the film’s third act. She seemed to travel back and forth between London and Churchill without any real reason. And if there were reasons for her constant traveling, they seemed to be presented with a blink of an eye, due to Stillman’s unusual direction style. There were times when I found Stillman’s pacing just a bit too fast. This led to my last problem with “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” – namely its running time. I realize that the movie’s literary source is a short novel written in epistolary form (usually, a series of letters or other documents). But a part of me felt slightly disappointed that “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” could have possessed a longer running time. For me, 93 minutes is not long enough – especially for a lush Jane Austen cinematic adaptation.

But as I had earlier pointed out, I still managed to enjoy “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” very much. Unlike the other Austen stories familiar to me, this tale struck me as rather unusual. Most Austen movie or television adaptations were set between 1800 and 1820 – with the exception of 1995’s “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, which seemed to be set on the cusp of the 18th and 19th centuries. Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costume designs seemed to make it clear that “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” is definitely set during the first half of the 1790s.

But the most original aspect of “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” was the story’s protagonist – Lady Susan Vernon. Villainous protagonists are not exactly new in various movie and television protagonists throughout the years. But they barely exist in a Jane Austen story. The closest she has come to creating a villainous protagonist in the six novels familiar to millions was Emma Woodhouse in her 1815 novel, “Emma”. But Emma proved to be more of a misguided protagonist forced to learn a lesson in the end. Lady Susan Vernon, on the other hand, is not a nice woman. She seemed to harbor a good deal of contempt toward others – including her own daughter, Frederica. Which means she is not a good parent. She is self-involved, a liar, a manipulator, a gold digger and quite possibly a borderline sociopath. Some have compared her to Mary Crawford from “Mansfield Park”. However, I suspect Mary might be more of an anti-heroine than a villainess. Unlike Lady Susan, she is capable of warmth and compassion. I cannot say the same for this movie’s leading lady. And yet . . . unlike Emma Woodhouse or Mary Crawford, Lady Susan did not learn a valuable lesson about her character or faced punishment for her sins.

And like many other Austen productions, “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” was filled with a great deal of wit. I suspect a good deal of it came from Stillman’s own pen. Among my favorite lines – many of them from Lady Susan herself:

*”Americans really have shown themselves to be a nation of ingrates, only by having children can we begin to understand such dynamic.”

*”That’s the parent’s lot! We bring these delightful creatures into the world—eagerly, happily—and then before long they are spying upon and judging us, rarely favourably. Having children is our fondest wish but, in doing so, we breed our acutest critics. It is a preposterous situation—but entirely of our own making.”

*”My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.”

*”He has offered you the one thing he has of value to give . . . his income.”

Speaking of Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costume designs, I noticed that they had failed to earn any Academy Award or Golden Globe nominations. Mhaoldomhnaigh did earn nominations from the Satellite Awards and the San Diego Film Critics Society. But they are not exactly regarded in the same sphere as the Oscars or Golden Globes. I did come across one blog – Frock Flicks – in which the writer felt that Mhaoldomhnaigh had failed to created historically accurate costumes. Well . . . historically accurate or not, I found them rather colorful and beautiful, as shown in the image below:

Another aspect of “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” that I found colorful was Anna Rackard’s production designs. I thought she did a wonderful job in re-creating the world of the Georgian Era of the 1790s in both London and in several landed estates. Both Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costume designs and Rackard’s production designs benefited from Richard Van Oosterhout’s colorful cinematography.

As for the cast . . . I find it mind boggling that none of the major cast members managed to acquire a major acting nomination. Especially three of the main leads. First of all, the movie featured some first-rate acting from the supporting cast, which included Stephen Fry, Jemma Redgrave, James Fleet, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell and Morfydd Clark. But there were three performances that I found truly outstanding.

Tom Bennett gave a hilarious performance as the dimwitted baronet, Sir James Martin. His character reminded of the numerous Austen characters who would ramble on, spouting some of the most inane comments. But thanks to Bennett’s skillful performance, Sir James proved to be the most inane and hilarious character ever created by Austen. Chloë Sevigny, who had co-starred with Beckinsale in “THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO”, gave a very charming and subtle performance as Lady Susan’s American-born confident, Mrs. Alicia Johnson. Thanks to Sevigny’s performance, her Alicia proved to be just as unscrupulous as Lady Susan, but a bit more subtle and much wiser – as the final act would eventually prove. But the star of the movie proved to be Kate Beckinsale, who an outstanding performance as the witty, yet calculating Lady Susan Vernon. Beckinsale’s Lady Susan was not only deliciously bitchy, but also stylish and skillful in the way she pursued her goal that I could not help but cheer her own . . . despite the manner in which she treated others, especially her daughter. To this day, I still cannot understand how Bennett, Sevigny and especially Beckinsale failed to garner major nominations for their performances.

As I had earlier pointed out, I do not regard “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” as one of the best Austen productions I have ever seen. I had a few problems with the movie’s pacing and some of the narrative in the third act. The humor featured in “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” did not leave me laughing on the floor with laughter. But Whit Stillman’s delicious screenplay and direction had me smiling continuously throughout the film and sitting on the edge of my seat, anticipating Lady Susan’s final fate. However, it was the excellent performances of the cast, led by the superb Kate Beckinsale, that truly sold me on the movie in the end.