“NORTH AND SOUTH” (1982) Book Review

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“NORTH AND SOUTH” (1982) Book Review

During the first twenty years or so following his graduation from college, John Jakes spent that period writing many short stories and novels that featured science fiction, fantasy, westerns and the occasional historical fiction. Then he achieved literary success in the 1970s with the publication of The Kent Family Chronicles, a series of eight novels about a family between 1770 and 1890. Three years after the publication of that series’ last novel, Jakes embarked upon another literary series called the North and South Trilogy.

The North and South Trilogy was a literary series that depicted the lives of two wealthy families – the Hazards of Pennsylvania and the Mains of South Carolina – during the years before, during and immediately after the U.S. Civil War. The first novel, 1982’s “NORTH AND SOUTH”, began with the establishment of the two families when their founders immigrated to the New World in the late 17th century. The novel jumped a century-and-a-half later when George Hazard, son of a wealthy Pennsylvania iron industrialist; and Orry Main, the son of a South Carolina rice planter, Orry Main; met as cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842. The pair immediately become fast friends as they endure the brutal hazing of an older sadistic cadet from Ohio named Elkhannah Bent, and action during the Mexican-American War. The friendship between the two young men eventually form a connection between their respective families as they become acquainted with each other during family trips to the Newport summer resorts and Mont Royal, the Mains’ rice plantation in the South Carolina low country. The two families consist of:

The Hazards
*George Hazard – one of the main protagonists, who is like his father, an iron industrialist
*Constance Flynn Hazard – George’s Irish-born wife and an abolitionist
*Stanley Hazard – George’s older brother, an incompetent businessman who left the iron trade to become involved in politics
*Isobel Truscott Hazard – Stanley’s shrewish and social-climbing wife
*Virgilia Hazard – George’s only sister and die-hard abolitionist
*Billy Hazard – George’s younger brother
*Maude Hazard – the Hazard family’s matriarch
*William Hazard – the Hazard family’s patriarch and iron industrialist

The Mains
*Orry Main – one of the protagonists, who becomes a rice planter like his father
*Cooper Main – Orry’s older brother and owner of a shipping company who harbors moderate abolitionist views
*Ashton Main – Orry’s younger sister and die-hard secessionist
*Charles Main – Orry’s young cousin, who is saved from a future as a wastrel by Orry
*Judith Stafford Main – Cooper’s wife, who also happens to be a more hardcore abolitionist than her husband
*James Huntoon – Ashton’s future husband, who is also a secessionist and attorney
*Clarissa Brett Main – the Main family’s matriarch
*Tillet Main – the Main family’s patriarch and rice planter

Two other major characters featured in “NORTH AND SOUTH”:

*Elkhannah Bent – The Ohio-born sadist who becomes an enemy of George and Orry during their years at West Point; and both Charles’ enemy and Army commander on the Texas frontier
*Grady – James Huntoon’s slave, who later escaped and became Virgilia Hazard’s common-law husband

Both the Hazards and the Mains find love, marriage or both throughout the novel. George meets and marries Constance Flynn, the daughter of an Irish immigrant attorney. Orry falls in love at first sight with Madeline Fabray, the daughter of a New Orleans sugar factor. Unfortunately for Orry . . . and Madeline, they meet and fall in love as she is preparing to marry the Mains’ neighbor, the brutal and venal Justin LaMotte. George’s younger brother, William (Billy) Hazard II falls in love . . . first with Orry’s sister Ashton Main and later, with the youngest Main sibling, Brett. And George’s older sister Virgilia, an ardent abolitionist, meets and fall in love with Grady, who turned out to be the slave of James Huntoon, Ashton’s future husband.

More importantly, “NORTH AND SOUTH” depicted those last nineteen years of American history before the outbreak of the Civil War. Through the eyes of George, Orry and their families; John Jakes conveyed readers through life at the Military Academy at West Point – first through George and Orry’s eyes during the 1840s and later, through Billy and Charles’ eyes during the 1850s. Although John Jakes portrayed George and Orry’s West Point experiences with more detail, the author’s portrayal of the Military Academy during the following decade proved to be more interesting, as he conveyed how Billy Hazard and Charles Main struggled to maintain their own friendship amidst the growing sectional conflict that threatened to overwhelm the Academy and the nation.

What I found even more interesting is that the novel began during the 1840s – a decade in which the abolitionist movement began to become increasingly popular in many parts of North. Another significant event had also occurred during this decade – namely the Mexican-American War. Because of the war, George met his future wife, Constance Flynn, during a stop at Corpus Cristi, Texas; on the way to the battlefields in Mexico. The war also featured a backdrop for George and Orry’s last dangerous encounter with Elkhannah Bent in the novel – during the Battle of Churabusco. The most important aspect of the Mexican-American War is that it left the United States with more Western territory to settle – including California. Although both the North and the South had been in conflict over the slavery issue for several decades, the addition of the new Western lands, along with the rise of the Republican Party in the following decade, heightened the conflict between the two regions. In fact, the conflict over whether or not slavery would be practiced in the new Western territories helped lead to the creation of the Republican Party and eventually, the election of Abraham Lincoln as the country’s 16th president.

For some reason, many of today’s readers seem very critical of long and thick novels. They are even more critical of a historical novel filled with a great deal of melodrama. As I have stated in my review of Jakes’ 1984 novel, “LOVE AND WAR”, I simply do not understand this criticism. “NORTH AND SOUTH” is a novel . . . a work of fiction. It is not a history book. Fans either complained over the presence of melodrama in Jakes’ story or they complained over the abundance of historical facts that served as the novel’s backstory. Like I said . . . I do not understand this mentality. Even if many literary critics have been unwilling to admit this, a great deal of melodrama have been featured in the novels of literary giants. And novelists like John Jakes have proven that one can create a first-rate novel with a solid balance of both melodrama and history.

Since “NORTH AND SOUTH” told the story of two families during the last two decades leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War, it only seemed natural that the topic of slavery would dominate its narrative. I can recall a YOUTUBE vlogger complaining that Jakes seemed a bit too “in the middle of the road” about slavery. This only seemed natural, considering the story’s two main characters came from different parts of the country. Following their stints in the Army, George took over the management of his family’s Pennsylvania steel manufacturing company and Orry took control of his family’s rice plantation in South Carolina that included slaves. It was only natural that the novel’s narrative would be about two men and their families trying to main their close friendship during the conflict over slavery.

Being slave owners, it only seemed natural that the Mains would see nothing wrong with slavery. Only three members of the family felt differently. Orry’s older brother Cooper viewed slavery as a moral wrong and refused to own slaves himself when he assumed control of a shipping line acquired from a man who had borrowed money from his father. However, Cooper seemed more concerned with how emancipation would impact his family and state’s economic situation than with the freedom of enslaved African-Americans. This would explain why he supported gradual emancipation. Charles Main, Orry and Cooper’s younger cousin, also felt that slavery was wrong. But he was too young to understand that slavery could end and merely tolerated the institution . . . until he became a cadet at West Point. And Cooper’s wife, Judith Stafford, a former teacher who had been schooled in New England, believed in the absolute abolition of slavery and civil rights for non-whites. Yet, she rarely expressed her views to others than her husband. Despite being Northerners, the Hazard family did not begin the saga as abolitionists – with three exceptions. George never gave slavery a thought until his first visit to the Mains’ plantation, Mont Royal, following his and Orry’s graduation from West Point in 1846. This visit led him to become an abolitionist, his politics remained moderate like Cooper Main’s. Neither older brother Stanley, younger brother Billy, sister-in-law Isobel Truscott or his mother Maude seemed interested in abolitionism. This was not surprising since the Hazards struck me as a moderately conservative family. Only George’s wife Constance and his sister Virgilia were fervent abolitionists. Virgilia’s abolitionism was viewed as “fanatical” due to her unwillingness to hide her hatred of slavery and slave owners beneath a veneer of politeness.

I noticed that in the novel’s second half, political moderates like George, Orry and Cooper seemed willing to blame political hardliners like Virgilia and rigid pro-slavery like Ashton Main and her husband, James Huntoon for the eventual outbreak of the Civil War. I could understand their aversion toward the country being driven toward war. And I realized they believed that compromise (namely the sacrifice of any future freedom for the slaves) could have prevented the outbreak of war. But unlike that YOUTUBE vlogger, I realized that Jakes was simply conveying the mindset of characters like George and Orry to his readers. If he truly believed George, Orry and Cooper’s moderate mindset regarding politics and slavery, why bother creating characters like Judith Main or Constance Hazard?

Another complaint that YOUTUBE blogger had brought up was Jakes’ lack of any slave characters. I believe her complaint was at best, minimal. Unlike the two novels that “NORTH AND SOUTH”, 1984’s “LOVE AND WAR” and 1987’s “HEAVEN AND HELL”, I must admit that the 1982 novel featured very little in-depth characterizations of either slaves or Northern blacks. There were occasional black characters that received brief viewpoints. But “NORTH AND SOUTH” only portrayed one non-white character with any real depth – namely Grady, James Huntoon’s slave, who eventually became a fugitive and later, Virgilia Hazard’s lover and common-law husband. For a novel in which the topic of slavery dominated the narrative, I found this rather odd and lacking.

I must also admit I do have some issues with Jakes’ portrayals of his villains. Although I believe he did an excellent of delving into psyches, many of them were in danger of being portrayed as one-note personalities. And his worst villains seemed to be wrapped in a great deal of sexual perversion, violence or both. This especially seemed to be the case for characters like Elkhanah Bent, Ashton Main Huntoon, Justin LaMotte and the latter’s nephew Forbes LaMotte. Bent is portrayed as a man with a sexual preference for anyone who happened to attract his attention – whether that person is a man, woman or child. Ashton is portrayed as a promiscuous female since the age of 14 . . . or younger. In fact, one sequence featured a visit made to West Point by her, Orry and their younger sister Brett in which Ashton ended up having sex with a handful of Northern-born cadets. Frankly, I thought Jakes had went too far in this sequence and he seemed to portray Ashton’s highly sexual nature as something ugly and perverse. He also did the same for Virgilia Hazard, whose emotions regarding abolition and black men in general seemed to ring with excessive sexuality. On the other end of the scale; Jakes portrayed other villainous characters like George’s sister-in-law, Isobel, as sexually frigid; and Orry’s brother-in-law James Huntoon as sexually inadequate.

By the way, why did he portray Virgilia Hazard as a borderline villain? Many fans of his saga viewed her as a villain due to a general dislike of Southerners. Yet, the novel made it clear that Virgilia also harbored a strong dislike to those Northerners who opposed slavery, regardless if they were fellow citizens of Lehigh Station or members of her own family. I have to be honest. I still find it difficult to view Virgilia as a villain. As a character, she was on the right side of history – not only in her support of abolition and civil rights for non-white, but also in her embrace of interracial relationships. I found it difficult to condemn her for her beliefs.

One could condemn Virgilia for her willingness to embrace violence to end slavery. But honestly, this willingness only exposed the other characters’ hypocrisy. In other words, many Americans like the other Hazards and the Mains continued to celebrate the country’s use of violence to win independence from Great Britain during the late 18th century. Yet, they condemned Virgilia and other abolitionists like her for supporting the use of violence to end slavery. Even to this day, there are historians who continue to express this wish or desire that slavery had never ended via a four-year war, yet see nothing wrong in celebrating the violence of the American Revolution. I do not know if Jakes had intended this, but in another sequence in the novel, Virgilia had confronted Orry and Brett Main during the pair’s visit to Lehigh Station in 1859. During a quarrel between her and Orry, Virgilia pointed out that it was only natural for those who participated in evil would deny it. And she was right. No matter how decent most members of the Main family were, they participated in evil – namely slavery – for their benefit. And they saw nothing wrong with this. Northern businessmen like George also profited from their business connections to the South. In the novel, George had agreed to help finance Cooper Main’s new vessel that would ship slave-produced cotton to Europe. No matter how “fanatical”, violent or confrontational people like Virgilia were . . . they were right about the country’s ties to slavery.

Although I love the novel overall, there were segments that I really enjoyed. Among them were George’s first visit to Mont Royal, Constance’s early clashes with sister-in-law Isobel, the Hazard and Main families’ first summer vacation at Newport, the Hazards’ 1851 visit to Mont Royal, the Mains’ visit to West Point, Ashton and Forbes’ attempt to murder Billy following his wedding to Brett, and the whole Harper’s Ferry segment beginning with Orry and Brett’s visit to Lehigh Station and ending with their experiences during the Harper’s Ferry raid. But if I had to choose the segments that I truly enjoyed, they were – the train crash that the Hazard family experienced on their way to Newport; Charles’ conflict with Elkhanah Bent in Texas during the late 1850s; and especially Billy’s experiences during the crisis at both Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter.

I will admit that “NORTH AND SOUTH” has its flaws – especially the one-dimensional portrayals of its villains and a minimum of African-American characters in a story dominated by the topic of slavery. But after so many years, I still love the novel. I think it is one of the best literary depictions of life in the United States during the last two decades before the Civil War. And to that YOUTUBE vlogger who believed that Jakes’ view on slavery may seemed a bit too conservative and suspect, I should point out that he ended the novel with a partial quote from Virginia-born Founding Father George Mason, who condemned the entire country for its participation in slavery . . . and expressed a prophecy that it will pay the consequences for that participation. Which it did.

“ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN” (1948) Review

 

 

“ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN” (1948) Review

I will be the first to admit that I have been a fan of several movies starring Errol Flynn for years. Ever since I was in my early teens. However, my preference for Flynn movies tend to be for those that were released during the first five years of his Hollywood career – between 1935 and 1941. However, I recently took a chance on viewing one of his films made during the second decade of his Hollywood career – the 1948 adventure film, “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN”.

The character of Don Juan had originated some time in the early 17th century – actually in the 1630 Spanish play by Tirso de Molina called “El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra” (“The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest”). Only in de Molina’s play, the character of Don Juan was portrayed as an evil man who seduced women, thanks to his ability to manipulate language and disguise his appearance. Over the next century or two, Don Juan had transformed into a wealthy libertine, who devotes his life to seducing women in the belief that he had plenty of time to repent later for his sins.

In the 1948 movie directed by Vincent Sherman, Flynn’s character is a Spanish nobleman named Don Juan de Maraña, a charming libertine, whose penchant for seducing women has landed him in scandal after scandal for many years. The movie opened in the last few years of Elizabethan England, when Don Juan is caught in a diplomatic scandal after a dalliance with the British fiancée of a Spanish nobleman. An old family friend and Spain’s ambassador to England, Count de Polan, advises Don Juan to return to Spain as soon as possible. He also sends a letter to Queen Margaret of Spain and consort to King Philip III, recommending that Don Juan serves as the Spanish court’s fencing instructor to rehabilitate the latter’s reputation.

Upon his arrival in Spain, Don Juan discovers that the country is under the thumb of the king’s premier minister, Duke de Lorca, who also has the weak-willed Philip under this thumb. Don Juan also falls secretly in love with Margaret, but remains a staunchly loyal subject to both her and the king. Don Juan discovers a treacherous plan by de Lorca, who is holding the loyal Count de Polan as a secret prisoner. The Duke plans to depose the monarchs, usurp their power over Spain, and declare war on England. With the support of his friends at court, Don Juan heroically defends the Queen and the King against de Lorca and his henchmen.

If I did not know any better, I would have sworn that “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN” reminded me of Flynn’s 1940 movie, “THE SEA HAWK”. Like the 1940 film, Flynn’s character is trying to save his country and monarch from a scheming prime minister, plotting to take control of the throne. But there are differences. One, he is in love with a married royal figure, instead of a single noblewoman. Also, the film’s narrative remains firmly land-locked, unlike the 1940 movie. And unlike “THE SEA HAWK”“ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN” has a strong underlying streak of comedy in its narrative and in its portrayal of most of the main characters.

Do I have any complaints about “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN”? Not really. The worst I can say about the film is that it seemed to lack an edge that a good number of Flynn’s earlier swashbucklers had possessed back in the mid-to-late 1930s. Despite the plot regarding the Duke de Lorca’s oppression of Spain and his plot to assume control of the throne, the screenplay written by Herbert Dalmas, George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz just seemed to lack some kind of real edge or darkness that could be found in “THE SEA HAWK” and a few of his other films between 1935 and 1941.

On the other hand, I cannot deny that “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN” was a joy to watch. I found it to be a very entertaining film. It possessed a strong comedic streak. Some of Flynn’s other adventure films had their moments of comedy, but a part of me began to wonder if “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN” was basically a comedy-adventure. It certainly seemed so. And you know what? The strong comedic element really worked. I believe the topic of Don Juan’s womanizing behavior provided a great deal of strong humor for this film.

Comedy or not, “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN” provided some good dramatic moments – especially in scenes featuring the main character’s interactions with Queen Margaret and the Duke de Lorca. And since this is an Errol Flynn swashbuckler, I have to bring up the film’s action scenes. The movie did feature its share of action scenes, but I can only think of two that really impressed me. One featured Don Juan’s fencing students fighting de Lorca’s men around the beginning of the last action scene. The other happened to be Don Juan’s main duel against the Duke de Lorca. It is fortunate that both Flynn and Robert Douglas were experienced on screen/stage fencers. Mind you, I still regard Flynn’s duel against Henry Daniell’s double in “THE SEA HAWK” as my favorite sword fight to feature the Australian actor. But I cannot deny that both he and Douglas managed to provide a first-rate duel in the movie’s final action scene.

The performances in “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN” were excellent. The movie provided either solid or first-rate supporting performances from Romney Brent, Robert Warwick, Helen Westcott, Fortunio Bonanova Jerry Austin, Mary Stuart and Douglas Kennedy. I was surprised to find Ann Rutherford, who was a MGM contract player in the late 1930s and early 1940s in this film. She gave a funny, yet sly performance as Dona Elena, the amorous older sister of one of Don Juan’s students. Una O’Connor, a veteran of Flynn’s two earlier films, provided a breath of comedic fresh air as the maid of one of Flynn’s conquests. I was also surprised to find future television star Raymond Burr as Captain Alverez, one of the Duke de Lorca’s villainous henchmen. I thought he gave a very solid performance. Robert Douglas, who must have made a career of portraying villains, was very effective as the traitorous and scheming Duke de Lorca. “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN” proved to be the last of 13 or 14 movies that Alan Hale co-starred with Flynn. Not only did Hale give a highly entertaining performance as Leporello, Don Juan’s personal servant; both he and Flynn managed to continue their great screen chemistry they had maintained for over a decade.

I have to be honest. I thought Viveca Lindfors gave a strong and excellent performance as the high-minded and no-nonsense Queen Margaret. But for some reason, she seemed out-of-place in this movie and as Flynn’s co-star. I think her presence in this film would have worked if there had been a lot less humor in the story. I could say that portraying Don Juan de Maraña seemed like a walk in the park for Errol Flynn. He seemed to portray the role so effortlessly. I suspect that certain film historians would be inclined to dismiss his performance . . . as they are inclined to dismiss his talent as an actor altogether. But I must admit that Don Juan has become one of my favorite Flynn roles. Mind you, I thought he handled his dramatic scenes with Viveca Lindfors and Robert Douglas with great skill. But I found Flynn’s comedic acting in this movie to be exquisite. This was especially apparent in scenes in which Don Juan had expressed annoyance by the unwanted attention of enamored women or mild resentment by his inability to put his seductive reputation behind him.

Overall, I really enjoyed “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN”. I thought director Vincent Sherman did an excellent job of using Herbert Dalmas, George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz’s screenplay to create an adventurous tale that also included romance, intrigue, action and a great deal of humor. And Sherman also worked well with a top-notched cast led by the talented and woefully underappreciated Errol Flynn.

Five Favorite “MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES” Series One (2012) Episodes

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of the Australian drama series, “MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES”. Based on Kerry Greenwood’s mystery novels and created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger, the series starred Essie Davis as Miss Phryne Fisher:

 

 

FIVE FAVORITE “MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES” SERIES ONE (2012) Episodes

1. (1.03) “The Green Mill Murder” – Melbourne socialite Phryne Fisher and the police investigates the murder of a man at the Green Mill dance hall after her partner becomes suspect number one.

 

 

2. (1.12) “Murder in the Dark” – Two days before the engagement party for Phryne’s licentious cousin, her Aunt Prudence Stanley finds the latter’s teenage chambermaid floating dead in the swimming pool.

 

 

3. (1.01) “Cocaine Blues” – In this series premiere, Phryne returns home to Melbourne after several years abroad and becomes entangled in the murder of an old friend.

 

 

4. (1.09) “Queen of Flowers” – Phryne investigates the murder of one of the disadvantaged girls to whom she had been teaching manners.

 

 

5. (1.13) “King Memses’ Curse” – Phryne, Detective Jack Robinson and her friends race to find the man who had killed her sister, Murdoch Foyle, and understand why he is so interested in pursuing her.

Five Favorite Episodes of “GAME OF THRONES” Season One (2011)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “GAME OF THRONES”, HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s 1996 novel from his A Song of Ice and Fire series, “A Game of Thrones”. The series was created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “GAME OF THRONES” SEASON ONE (2011)

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1. (1.09) “Baelor” – In the wake of Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark’s arrest for treason, his oldest son, Robb Stark, goes to war against the new King Joffrey and his mother’s family, the Lannisters. Khal Drogo, the Dothraki husband of Daenerys Targaryen, falls ill from an infected battle wound.

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2. (1.05) “The Wolf and the Lion” – Ned’s wife, Catelyn Stark, captures Tyrion Lannister, whom she believes is responsible for attempting to kill her second son, Brandon (Bran). She takes him to her sister’s land, the Vale, to stand trial. King Robert Baratheon of Westeros receives news of Daenerys’ pregnancy and plots to have her assassinated. Ned, as his new Hand of the King (premiere aide), refuses to participate in the plot and resigns his position.

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3. (1.01) “Winter Is Coming” – In the series premiere, Ned is torn between his family and his old friend, King Robert, when the latter asks him to replace their recently deceased former mentor as the new Hand of the King. Viserys Targarys plans to wed his sister Daenerys to Drogo in exchange for an army to invade Westeros and reclaim the realm’s Iron Throne on his family’s behalf.

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4. (1.06) “A Golden Crown” – While recovering from his duel with Jaime Lannister, Ned is forced to run the kingdom, while King Robert goes boar hunting. At the Vale, Tyrion demands a trial by combat for his freedom. Viserys begins losing patience with Drogo and threatens Daenerys’ life in exchange for the promised army.

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5. (1.10) “Fire and Blood” – Robb vows revenge against the Lannisters following the incident of the last episode. Ned’s illegitimate son, Jon Snow, must officially decide between joining Robb’s army or remaining the Night’s Watch near the Wall. Daenerys says her final goodbye to the catatonic Drogo.

 

“THE CHISHOLMS” (1979): Chapter II Commentary

“THE CHISHOLMS” (1979): CHAPTER II Commentary

The first episode of the 1979 miniseries, “THE CHISHOLMS” – otherwise known as Chapter I had focused on the Chisholm family’s last year at their western Virginia farm. The episode also explored the circumstances that led to patriarch Hadley Chisholm’s decision to move the family west to California during the spring of 1844 and their journey as far as Evansville, Indiana. This second episode focused on the next stage of their journey.

This new episode or Chapter II focused on a short period of the Chisholms’ migration to California. It covered their journey from southeastern Illinois to Independence, Missouri. Due to the addition of a guide named Lester Hackett, who had agreed to accompany them as far as Missouri, the Chisholm family experienced its first crisis – one that led to a temporary split within the family ranks. The family’s journey seemed to be smooth sailing at first. They managed to become used to the routine of wagon train traveling. Lester proved to be an agreeable companion who helped with both hunting for game and cooking. He even managed to save Bonnie Sue Chisholm, who briefly found herself trapped in the family’s wagon being pulled away by their pair of skittish mules. Eventually, Bonnie Sue and Lester began expressing romantic interest in each other.

But alas, the family’s luck began to fade. A lone rider began trailing the Chisholm party. Lester discovered that he was a friend of someone named James Peabody, who believes Lester was responsible for the theft of some valuables that include a pair of Spanish pistols . . . the same pistols that Lester had claimed he lost in a poker match in Louisville. He and Bonnie Sue enjoyed a night of intimacy together before he abandoned the Chisholms . . . while riding Will Chisholm’s horse. Around the same time, Hadley’s violent encounter with a drunken Native American at a local tavern fully revealed his deep-seated bigotry towards all Native Americans and foreshadowed the problems it will cause. Then Hadley made one of the worst decisions of his life by allowing Will and middle son Gideon to pursue Lester to Iowa and recover the former’s stolen horse.

Upon their arrival in Iowa, Will made an equally disastrous decision. Instead of requesting information and help from the local sheriff, he and Gideon appeared at the Hackett farm, asking for Lester’s whereabouts. The two brothers ended up being arrested for the theft of chicken eggs and trespassing. Although the charges of theft were dropped, Will and Gideon were convicted of trespassing and ordered to serve on a prison work gang for a month. This left the rest of the family to continue on to Independence, Missouri – the jump-off point for all westbound wagon trains. During their journey through Missouri, the Chisholms joined with the Comyns, a family from Baltimore. Upon their arrival in Independence, the Chisholms and the Comyns discover that most of the wagons trains had already departed. However, they managed to form a wagon party with a plainsman named Timothy Oates and his Pawnee wife, Youngest Daughter. Unaware that Will and Gideon have been sentenced to a prison work gang, and aware that they are already behind schedule, the Chisholms have no choice but to head west into the wilderness.

For an episode that began in a light-hearted manner, Chapter II ended on a rather ominous note. You know, I have seen this production so many times. Yet, it never really occurred until recently how the turmoil caused by Lester Hackett in this episode, ended up causing so much turmoil for the family. What makes this ironic is that it all began with the sexual attraction that had sprung up between him and Bonnie Sue Chisholm back in Louisville. The first sign of this turmoil manifested in Lester’s abandonment of the family and especially, his theft of Will Chisholm’s horse. The horse theft led to the separation of the family at a time when it would have been more imperative for them to be together as a unit.

Hadley did not help matters by allowing Will and Gideon to search for Lester in Iowa. And the two brothers made the situation worse by failing to immediately contact the local sheriff before appearing at the Hackett farm – an act that led them to be sentenced one month on a prison work gang. Will and Gideon’s situation made it impossible for them to catch up with the rest of the family on the trail. And as Beau Chisholm had pointed out to Hadley in Independence, they were not in a position to wait for the other two. The Chisholms had no choice but to leave with two other westbound parties – the Comyns from Baltimore and the frontiersman Timothy Oates and his wife, Youngest Daughter. Two families and a couple does not seem large enough for a safe journey on the overland trail. But considering they were all behind schedule, they could either take the risk continue west or hang around Independence until the next year.

But I did notice that despite all of this turmoil, the light-hearted atmosphere of the episode’s beginning seemed to have persisted. More importantly, Chapter II seemed to be marked by a good deal of humor. The episode included humorous moments like Hadley’s negative comments about the Illinois and Missouri landscapes, Will and Lester’s lively debate over using mules or oxen to pull wagon overland, Lester’s attempts to win over the family – especially Minerva, and especially his sexy courtship of Bonnie Sue.

Once Lester had abandoned the family near St. Louis, the humor continued. Will and Gideon’s experiences in Iowa were marked with a good deal of sardonic humor. That same humor marked Hadley and Minerva’s low opinion of the Comyn family. Even Hadley’s quarrel with the Independence saloon owner permeated with humor and theatricality. Looking back on Chapter II, I can only think of two moments that really emphasized the gravitas of the Chisholms’ situation – Hadley’s violent encounter with the Native American inside an Illinois tavern and that final moment when the family continued west into the wilderness without Will and Gideon.

When the Chisholms left Virginia in Chapter I, their journey was marked with a good number of interesting settings. That episode featured a detailed re-creation of Louisville and travel along the Ohio River. There seemed to be no such unusual settings for Chapter II. The entire episode focused on the family’s journey through Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. Not once did the episode featured the family in St. Louis. And a few set pieces (or buildings) served as Independence, Missouri circa 1844.

The performances from Chapter I held up very well. Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris, as usual, gave excellent performances as the family’s heads – Hadley and Minerva Chisholm. I was especially impressed by Preston’s performance in the scene involving Hadley’s encounter with the intoxicated Native American. In it, the actor did a superb job in conveying both Hadley’s racism toward all Native Americans and his poignant regret over the tragic circumstances (Allen Chisholm had been killed by a Native American in a drunken fight over a slave woman from the Bailey plantation) behind his toxic attitude. Both Ben Murphy and Brian Kerwin clicked rather well during those scenes that involved Will and Gideon Chisholm’s search for Lester. The episode also featured solid performances from James Van Patten, Susan Swift, Katie Hanley (as the amusingly mild-mannered Mrs. Comyn) and David Heyward (as Timothy Oates). Veteran character actor Jerry Hardin gave an excellent performance the slightly proud, yet finicky Mr. Comyn, who seemed to run his life by his pocketwatch.

But if I must be honest, this episode belonged to Stacy Nelkin and Charles Frank, who did superb jobs in conveying Bonnie Sue Chisholm and Lester Hackett’s burgeoning romance. I was impressed by how both of them developed Bonnie Sue and Lester’s relationship from sexual attraction to playful flirtations and finally, to a genuine romance that was sadly cut short by Lester’s need for self-preservation from a charge of theft.

Overall, I enjoyed Chapter II. In a way, it seemed to be the calm before the storm that threatens to overwhelm the Chisholm family on their trek to California. The episode seemed to be filled with a good deal of humor and romance. On the other hand, Lester Hackett’s past and current choices in this episode seemed to hint an ominous future for the family by the end of the episode.

 

Favorite Miniseries Set in 19th Century Britain

Below is a list of my favorite movies and television miniseries set in Britain of the 19th century (1801-1900):

FAVORITE MINISERIES SET IN 19TH CENTURY BRITAIN

1. “North and South” (2004) – Sandy Welch wrote this superb and emotional adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel about the well-born daughter of a former English clergyman, who is forced to move north to an industrial city after her father leaves the Church of England and experiences culture shock, labor conflict and love. Daniela Danby-Ashe and Richard Armitage made a sizzling screen team as the two leads.

 

 

2. “Pride and Prejudice” (1995) – Even after twenty-four years, this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, which stars Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehrle, remains my all time favorite Austen adaptation, thanks to Andrew Davies’ excellent screenplay and the cast’s performances. I cannot describe it as anything else other than magic.

 

 

3. “The Buccaneers” (1995) – Maggie Wadey wrote this excellent adaptation of Edith Wharton’s last novel about four American young women who marry into the British aristocracy is also another big favorite of mine. I especially enjoyed the performances of Carla Gugino, Cherie Lughi, James Frain and Greg Wise.

 

 

4. “Emma” (2009) – Sandy Welch struck gold again in her superb adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel about a genteel young woman with an arrogant penchant for matchmaking. Directed by Jim O’Hanlon, Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller starred in this fabulous production.

 

 

5. “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” (1996) – Tara Fitzgerald, Toby Stephens and Rupert Graves are fabulous in this excellent adaptation of Anne Brontë’s 1848 novel about a woman attempting to evade an abusive and alcoholic husband. Mike Barker directed this three-part miniseries.

 

 

6. “Wives and Daughters” (1999) – Andrew Davies wrote this excellent adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1865 unfinished novel about the coming-of-age of a country doctor’s daughter. Justine Waddell and Keeley Hawes starred in this four-part miniseries.

 

 

7. “Jane Eyre” (1983) – Alexander Baron wrote this excellent adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel about a destitute, but strong-willed governess who falls in love with her mysterious employer. Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton made a superb screen team in my favorite adaptation of the novel.

 

 

8. “Middlemarch” (1994) – Andrew Davies adapted this superb adaptation of George Eliot’s 1871 novel about the lives of the inhabitants of an English town during the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. The superb cast includes Juliet Aubrey, Douglas Hodge, Robert Hardy and Rufus Sewell.

 

 

9. “Jack the Ripper” (1988) – This two-part miniseries chronicled the investigations of Scotland Yard inspector Fredrick Abberline of the infamous “Jack the Ripper” murders of the late 1880s. Excellent production and performances by Michael Caine, Lewis Collins, Jane Seymour and the supporting cast.

 

 

10. “Bleak House” (2005) – Once again, Andrew Davies struck gold with his excellent adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1852-53 novel about the pitfalls of the 19th British legal system and a family mystery. Anna Maxwell-Martin, Gillian Anderson, Denis Lawson and Charles Dance led a cast filled with excellent performances.

 

“My Problem With Kylo Ren”

“MY PROBLEM WITH KYLO REN”

Kylo Ren has to be THE MOST overrated character I have ever seen in the Star Wars saga. I am amazed by how so many fans have gone out of their way to put this guy on a pedestal. My personal disgust for this worship has nothing to do with him being portrayed as a villain. There are plenty of other villains – within the saga or not – that I actually find interesting. My problem with Kylo Ren is that I do not find him either interesting or well written.

I will start this article with a question. What was the reason behind Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo embracing evil? What was it? Director J.J. Abrams had hinted in “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” that either the film’s main villain, Snoke, had influenced or mesmerized him; or his parents, Leia Organa and Han Solo, did not raise him properly. In “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”, writer-director Rian Johnson had suggested that Ben’s uncle, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, had contemplated killing him out of fear that Snoke was influencing him. Has the franchise finally made up its mind regarding the background of Ben’s moral turn? It certainly does not seem like it to me.

However, it does seem as if Lucasfilm under Kathleen Kennedy is trying to go out of its way to find a reason to blame others for Kylo Ren’s descent into evil, instead of blaming the man himself. The Sequel Trilogy’s leading lady, a gifted Force user and former scavenger named Rey, had questioned (a bare chested) Kylo Ren in “THE LAST JEDI” on why he had murdered his father in the previous film. Rian Johnson failed to provide the young villain with a convincing answer. Instead, Ren had responded that he had killed Han to cut out any of his remaining emotional attachment . . . and nothing else. I found this odd, considering that he did not bother to personally kill Leia in “THE LAST JEDI”, when presented with the opportunity. Kylo Ren’s response to Rey’s question had struck me as the biggest piece of bullshit from a Star Wars movie that had ever reached my ears. His response struck me as vague and frustrating. Worse, Johnson had allowed Rey to accept that answer and not bother to question Kylo Ren even further or demand that he clarify his comments. And after she had learned about Ren’s last encounter with his uncle Luke, Rey had never asked him about or mentioned his murders of Luke’s students. Not once. Talk about poor writing.

There are some who claim that Kylo Ren is a better developed character than his grandfather, Anakin Skywalker. Each person is entitled to his or her own opinion about any work of art or entertainment. But every time I read or hear this claim, I find myself rolling my eyes in disgust or laughing. Exactly why is Ben Solo better developed than Anakin? Because he adhered to the “delinquent” moniker more than Anakin ever did? I realize that both J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson tried to infuse some kind of ambiguity into the Kylo Ren character. But honestly . . . he simply struck me as some kind of emotional man child with the maturity of someone half of his age, who engages in a combination of violence and temper tantrums whenever he does not get his way. And Kylo Ren is supposed to be around 30 years old in this trilogy. I realize that Lucasfilm is trying to portray him as a . . . you know what? I have no idea what Lucasfilm is trying to achieve with this character. Not one damn idea.

Kylo Ren had been born in a stable family situation. He certainly was not a slave like Anakin. He was never an enslaved kidnap victim like Rey’s friend, the former stormtrooper Finn. He was never orphaned and forced to work for a tyrannical crime lord like Han Solo. He was never simply orphaned like Resistance figher, Rose Tico. And he was never abandoned and later orphaned like Rey.

Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo was the son of respected politician/military hero Leia Organa (Skywalker) and another military hero, former smuggler Han Solo. He had a privileged upbringing. The first two Sequel Trilogy movies had never made it clear than Leia and Han had ignored him during his upbringing. It was established that the pair had sent a younger Ben Solo to train in the ways of the Force under his uncle Luke when they began to harbor suspicions that he was being drawn under the influence of the First Order’s evil leader, Snoke. Just go with me here.
Apparently, in the eyes of Lucasfilm and Abrams, this was why Leia and Han were neglectful parents.

This is the reason why Abrams and Lucasfilm have labeled Han and Leia as bad parents? This is one of the reasons why Ben had become the evil Force user Kylo Ren? And exactly how did Snoke maanged to gain any influence over young Ben in the first place? What did the First Order leader do? Brainwash him with the Force? I also noticed that Luke’s near attempt to kill Kylo Ren led the latter to kill the former’s other Jedi students, leading him to a path of evil. At least according to Rian Johnson. So . . . Kylo Ren never considered ratting out Luke to his parents, which would have been a very effective way in tearing apart the trio? Between Abrams using Leia, Han and Snoke as Kylo Ren’s scapegoat for his moral fall and Johnson using Luke as the scapegoat . . . all I see are Lucasfilm’s conflicting reasons for the character’s downfall.

To me, Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren is basically a narrow-minded and arrogant man from an over privileged background. He has the mental capacity of a seventeen year-old and like the franchise itself, blames others for whatever misery he experiences and his moral downfall. What makes this even more ridiculous is that his character is roughly around thirty years old in this trilogy . . . at least a decade or two older than his grandfather was in the Prequel Trilogy. And characters like Kylo Ren (without the powers) are a dime a dozen in both the film/television industries and in literature.

And there is the problem of Kylo Ren’s relationship with the trilogy’s leading lady, Rey. This relationship with Rey has proven to be one of the most abhorrently written ones that I have seen on film . . . period. The idea that Rey would be remotely attracted to Kylo Ren JUST A FEW DAYS after being kidnapped, nearly mind raped and nearly killed by him is repellent to my very core. What I find equally repellent is that many fans and critics have viewed this aspect of the relationship as “sexy” or “romantic”. In fact, a critic for “TIME” magazine had regarded Kylo Ren’s attempted torture of Rey in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” as “sexual energy”. In fact, here is the exact quote from the article:

“In one of the movie’s finest moments, Ren—unmasked and intense—engages Rey in a major stare-down, an unholy duel between the light side of the Force and the dark. The sexual energy between them is strange and unsettling, like a theremin sonata only they can hear.”

Either critic Stephanie Zacharek was into the rape fantasy trope or perhaps she might be a racist who saw a potential romance between a young white woman and the white male villain who was trying to torture her via mind rape; instead of the friendship between the woman and the young black man she had befriended. And I cannot help wonder if Ms. Zacharek, along with these other critics and fans would have felt the same if Finn had been portrayed by a white actor, instead of one of African descent. I really do. In the end, many of these fans and critics (many of them white women) who either want Rey to end the trilogy with no romantic interest or with an immature and violent man child, who is portrayed by a white actor.  And guess what?  These fans got their wish after all.  With some incredibly bad writing, Lucasfilm and J.J. Abrams rushed the “Reylo” relationship in the last third of the trilogy’s final film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”in an attempt to plagiarize the Luke Skywalker-Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) relationship from the 1983 movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”.  Abrams and Lucasiflm were so intent upon plagiarizing the 1983 movie that it actually brought the main villain from the Original and Prequel Trilogies – Sheev Palpatine – back from the dead.  However there is one difference . . . “Reylo” ended with a fatal kiss that struck me as one of the most forced moments in the history of the Star Wars franchise.

In the end, Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo struck me as another over privileged man child who resorts to violence when his sense of entitlement is threatened. As I have pointed out, there have been similar characters in other movie and television productions. And there are people like him who do exist. My problem with this is that I do not find this type of characterization particularly original. Worse, his backstory seemed to be surrounded by a great deal of vague, rushed and uneven writing from J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson. Adam Driver, who portrays the character, is a first-rate actor. I have seen him in other movies that featured him in what I believe are better roles. If he ever decides to turn his back on the STAR WARS franchise following the release of the Sequel Trilogy’s third film, “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”, I would not blame him. Not by a long shot.