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Piracy in Restoration England

After much wringing of hand and utter confusion and mental distress, I plodded forth to read Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier as part of my Reading England project, focusing on Cornwall. As many are already aware, I had no patience with Rebecca and completely lost my sanity with Jamaica Inn, why then would I venture to another Du Maurier? What can I say, except I was hoping for third time lucky??!! Not the best logic, but considering there is a huge reading population that swear by Du Maurier, I really really wanted to give her another chance before I shut the door completely, hence the Frenchman’s Creek adventure.

The book is set in Restoration England, and at the very onset, we are introduced to Dona, Lady St. Columb, who has made a hasty departure from the decadent London Court of Charles II and is heading for her husband’s Cornish country estate of Navron with her children. Dona who has been married for six years, has adapted to the life of Charles II court of being vacuousness and frivolity without really ever belonging to it. After an attempted practical joke on a old Countess, that jars Dona to reality, she heads to Navron, seeking peace and trying to find her true self, away from the bustle of London and her clumsy husband Harry. In Navron, she soon discovers, that the county has been pillaged  by attacks from a French pirate and Dona soon learns that Navron which overlooks the creek that flows into the ocean is used by the French pirate as a hideaway. Her exploration of the creek soon brings her in contact with the great Pirate himself and Dona seeking adventure, soon becoming friends and then falls in love with him. She finally agrees to go on piracy expedition with him against one of her neighbor’s vessels. The attack is a success and Dona promises to return to the pirate after she has met her children; however once she is back in Navron, she discovers that Harry and his detestable friend, Rockingham are back with some serious designs of harming the pirate and Dona has very little time to decide on actions that will determine the pirate’s as well as her fate!

Restoration England, Cornwall and Pirates, how bad can the book be? Guess again! It was TERRIBLE! No third time lucky for me. The characters are all ridiculous and unbelievable.Lets start with Dona, she is beautiful and she is bold. That’s the beginning and end of her. She married a man of her choice and them she found him clumsy, though through the novel I could figure out that Harry, albeit clumsy was devoted to Dona. She finds the life of London shallow., after indulging in all manners of shenanigans for six years. She finds Rockingham impertinent, after she allowed him to flirt with her and kiss her. I mean this woman does everything she wants, without thought or deliberation and when the results are not to her liking, she claims boredom and dissatisfaction. The way she treats Harry is disgraceful; she orders him about, never giving him any explanation of her conduct, behaving in a illogical autocratic manner through the novel. In my opinion, Harry should have left her to begin with. Then we have our Frenchman, who is a rich, aristocrat who indulges in  Piracy because of boredom. Arrrrgggghhhh! What is it with this boredom??? Is there no better way to kill it than doing something criminal.The justification Ms. Maurier is quick to point out is that the Frenchman only robbed the rich. I may have lost my common sense here, but being rich is not a crime for which you have to pay through the actions of a Robin Hoodsque character. However stealing last I checked was a crime, regardless whom you steel from! The remaining cast and crew are nothing to write about, there is the cliched loyal servant and the classic evil villain and the goofy nobleman. At least in Jamaica Inn, there was some brilliant and torrid description of the land and climate, that set the stage for the adventure; the language in this book is just placid; it hardly changes or moves, except for one reddening storm, which came and went! There is no originality in the plot nor is there any real thrill and  I kept going simply because I wanted to finish what I had started, as a form a self torture for picking up another Du Maurier.

I know I have sworn this before, but I am truly never ever reading any Du Maurier again! She is completely unbearable. A complete waste of time!

P.S. As I look back on my review of Jamaica Inn, O had warned me that this was a bad book and I had said I would not even venture near it and then I clean FORGOT!! Next time as an act of kindness if you see me attempting another Du Maurier, just point me towards Jamaica Inn review and then this one!

A Homage….

As many of you already know Harper Lee passed away on Friday, 19th Feb at the age of 89. I cannot even begin to describe the debt I owe to Ms. Lee and her fabled book for making me what I am and forcing me to confront truths even when I did not want to. I do not care about her second and more controversial publication, Go Set a Watchman and I do not care about how she has originally intended to portray Atticus. What I do not know is that she alone or in collaboration with someone gave us one of the most humane characters possible and for those of us who took her book to the heart, forced us to look beyond the obvious. I cannot even begin to eulogize about how magnificent or how life changing her writing was. I have in past several times referred to this book and its impact on me and I have often posted about it several time (for instance here and here and here…I think you get my point). Needless to say that To Kill a Mockingbird had a profound impact on me when I first read it at the age of 15 and it still moves me every time I re-visit the book and for me is a novel that defined who I am. I quote from one my old posts to just give you a hint of what this book did to my mind – “This book may not have defined my social or political mores when I was 14. But it did go a long way in making me an egalitarian, an advocating liberalist who believes in equality for all and standing up for what you believe in no matter what the cost. In my small way, I find at times speaking up for what right may cost you something – relationship, money, promotion. But this book made me understand one very important kernel of truth when very young – unless I can look myself in the eye, nothing is worth it!”  I even named part of my blog from this book.

What can I  possibly write to do justice to  the kind of wisdom the book brought forth? I cannot  and decide to let Ms. Lee do the taking instead.  I want to share those epoch moments from the book, which remain life changing to me. These quotes seem even more fitting now as intolerance and divisions across religion and race are bursting forth practically in all nations, dividing us on false fault lines and taking our attention away from real issues, like poverty, climate and other human security issues.

  1. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience
  2. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
  3. I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what
  4. People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for
  5. I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks

RIP Ms. Lee! You helped many of us become better humans.

 

Happy Birthday…..

Yup …today is the BIG day….it’s the Blogoversary for Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices! Four years ago, completely disgusted with pink and fluffy madness that envelops the world when we say 14th February, I had made a timid attempt at spewing my angst by talking about Saki’s idea of celebration an Enemies Day, quoting people I wanted to really share the latter day with. Many moons later, I am still here and surprise, surprise, so is the Blog.

Yet so much has changed…my writing skills to begin with. I cringe when I look my old attempts (Please for the love of God, DO NOT look them up!) and I am very very sure that if I survive another five years, I will cringe at what I am writing today! Back then I used to rack my brains about what I should write about, but then one day, some four months down the line, enlightenment came to me and I knew I will write about the thing most important to me, books. Over the years, this resolution has been modified and I have blogged about history, friends, relatives, celebrations and vacations. But perhaps what has made this journey so much more fulfilling and rewarding , was how it opened me to new ideas,aka adventures (from MOOC classes to Ginger Carrot Soups) new books I NEVER knew off or would not dare to read (Margaret Kennedy (authors I never knew) and Virginia Woolf  (Authors I did not dare to read)) and finally and most importantly that I developed this whole community of readers, some who became close friends. Friends who introduced me to books, got me interested in hobbies I would have never ever thought myself capable off (Gardening, Knitting, Learning Latin….the last still being conceptualized and I think you all know who you all are!) and supported me with warmth and care on some of the darkest periods of my life, across thousands of miles and vast oceans, without ever having even once seen me in person!

There is so much to celebrate and there is so much of gratitude that I feel for everyone who takes the time out to read my babble and like and comment or simply visit like an old friend, dropping in without any formalities! Thank you all!!I am humbled by your kindness and attention! A mere thank you is not enough, but that is all I can say because while not enough, it is the most apt for the moment!

 

So here’s to all my sunshines and my secret place where I can be who I want to be….

 

The Queen of Carlingford

I was talking to Jane from Beyond Eden Rock the other day about the right books at the right time and in some weird Karma twist, it happened to me over the weekend! I had tried to read Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant more than a year ago, but I was not hooked in the first two chapters, and after a brief struggle completely gave up on it. It lay among my other unreads for many months and until last month, I had no desire whatsoever to pick it up again. However, as I had previously mentioned, the Women’s Classic Literature Event is about reading women authors and venturing into those works which I would never normally venture into! (For instance, To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf) Therefore I decided to revisit Miss Marjoriebanks as part of February reading for the event. I had a really awful Friday with more disastrous and disappointments than I can usually handle and desperately need a distraction to regain my Zen self by Monday. Ms. Oliphant was ever gracious in providing that and more!

Miss Marhoribanks, Lucilla, as she was christened by her parents, Dr. Marjoribanks and his wife of Carlingsford at the age of 15 loses her mother to illness and decided that the aim of her her life is to be a comfort to her Papa. However Dr. Marjoribanks has a different opinion on this matter and sends Lucilla back to her school after the necessary period of mourning and keeps her there for 3 years and it is not until she is 19 that she actually returns to Carlingford to do her duty and be a comfort to her papa. Her plans include the reorganization of the Carlingford’s society to show them culture, beauty, brilliance and break down the provincial and parochial mindset and cliches!Considering her youth and her recent return to her home, it would have been a daunting task for any weak minded young lady, however Miss Marjoribanks goes about the whole venture with all the clearheaded ability of a born leader and manager as she orders upholstery for the drawing room that enhances her complexion and goes about organizing an “Evening” instead of party dressed in a white dress – “high”. There are vexations that daunt her enterprise – Tom Marjoribank, her penniless cousin who proposes to her and is sent of to India to better his fortunes by an unimpressed Lucilla; Mr. Cavendish the man about town from whom much is expected including becoming a member of the Parliament and marrying Lucilla to improve his candidature, but who instead is infatuated with the drawing masters pretty but absolutely unpleasant daughter Barbra Lake and the Archdeacon who has a a bone to pick with Mr. Cavendish stemming from a shared past! But Lucilla sees everything through with wit, grace and magnanimity, arranging matters and forcing things to the right conclusion for the betterment of all society even though, there are times that the society does seem ungrateful to her for all her efforts. Trial finally comes Lucilla’s way when her father Dr. Marjoribanks passes away, the circumstances she always took for granted change overnight and though life offers a golden opportunities yet again, she finally is forced to contend what is really true in her heart and make decisions which cannot be avoided anymore!

I read somewhere that this was a Victorian Emma; maybe it was. I also felt is was a dash of Elizabeth Gaskell’s  Cranford and Anthony Trollop’s Barchestshire Chronicles all mixed together. But the book is undeniably and uniquely Carlingford and Ms. Oliphant is absolutely original in her efforts. Provincial towns dictated by Victorian mores must have seem absurd to many authors and writers of that era and this came forth in their works and the styles may overlap with each other. But this novel is soooo much more than just a comedy of manners and a social satire.  Ms. Oliphant brought to life characters that were real and throbbed of life. Lucilla is a brilliant heroine who has all the qualities that make a good heroine and yet enough frailties to make her human and to touch the readers heart. She is an independent strong minded, smart as a whip girl who has no tuck with standard social mores, and brings it down with using the inner workings of those very mores. She has courage and is undaunted in the face of struggle and believes that one can overcome anything if one puts their mind to it. She has fault and fails but is intelligent enough to see those failures, learn from her mistakes and adapt to the change. Even during her most difficult time, she sustains and her own ideas against the opinions of the entire society and finally is generous in her triumphs! You cheer for her, you laugh at her and with her and are completely entertained and invigorated by her antics. The other cast of characters do justice and are a perfect foil to Lucilla – Dr. Marjoribanks with his in-toleration for all kinds of social standards and his ability to laugh at the circumstances, even when de-throned in the domestic domain by his own daughter, the poor luckless but devoted Tom, Mr. Cavendish veering from highs to lows and undecided of what choices he should make. The entire ensemble is brilliant and you are completely hooked till the very end. The plot while lengthy and some may contend very narrow since it focuses purely on the happenings in a small town, in an era when great things where happening in England, never flags and you turn page after page with a host of emotions from chagrin to laughter to anger to amusement to being anxious to relief. Its all there and you cherish each page and emotions its adds on to a rich reading experience . The language is simple and there is no lyricism so to speak off, but there is plenty of wit and reading between the lines that keeps you laughing through the very end! It is a testimony to Ms. Oliphant’s brilliance and ability as an author that she wrote such bright optimistic work during a darkest period of her life – she had lost her 10 year old daughter, widowed and struggling to bring up her other children.

Needless to say I LOVED this book! Ms. Marjoribanks has reinforced my belief that anything can be conquered with courage and ability and as I face another daunting Monday, with all the energy that had seemed lost on Friday, I have to say this novel has become one my favorites and I can see it joining my go-to books shelves!

Money and Marriage in Cumbria

I am devoted and I mean DEVOTED to Anthony Trollope. I think he was one the best authors of English Literature ever and one of the brightest stars of Victorian England, which anyway had a glittering constellation, when it came to Literature! Any chance of reading his work,I grab at and it’s a pity that some of his non Barsetshire – Palliser novels are not easily accessible in my geography. About a year ago, Jane who is equally, if not more devoted to Trollope posted a review about Lady Anna, one of Trollope’s standalone novels. I have been planning to read it since then; the fact it nicely fit in to my Reading England project made me even more eager to get on with it. However time and availability have been challenging and though I even bought a Kindle edition in December, but could not read it until a couple of days ago.

Lady Anna is the story of Anna Lovel, the daughter of Earl Lovel and Countess Lovel. The Countess had married the Earl despite his evil reputation, because of the his title and wealth. The wicked Earl soon showed his wicked colors and within a few months  following his marriage, he informed the Countess, that their marriage in invalid, as he was previously married to an Italian lady. He then left for Italy and the Countess was left proving the validity of her marriage vows and the legitimacy of their daughter, Lady Anna. In this struggle, she has no support from either her own family or the Lovels, who considered her actions as ambitious and proud. Her only champion was a tailor with socialist beliefs, Thomas Thwaite and it was he who gave the Countess and her daughter shelter and financial support when they had no one. In such a state of things, the Earl dies and leaves behind no will.His title and the estate associated with the title in Cumberland is now made over to a distant cousin, a young Frederick Lovel. However, the bulk of his large fortune is personal property, and thus not attached to the title will go to his heir, however who this heir is, is the question – the young Earl? Lady Anna? The lady in Italy claiming to be his wife. Thus begins another round of court cases and legalities under the auspices of Sir William Patterson, the Solicitor General. The Solicitor is a true blue gentleman and wants to do the right thing for both the Earl and the Countess, therefore he proposes a marriage between the cousins, Lady Anna and young Earl Lovel, that way the money and the title all stay among the rightful parties as well giving Countess and Lady Anna absolute acceptability as legitimate wife and daughter of the dead Earl, especially since this recognition will come from the remaining Lovel family, following the marriage! The idea is received by much approbation by the Countess who cannot think of a better match for her beloved daughter than the young Earl. The young Earl though initially hesitant about marrying a girl whose legitimacy was contested is soon enamored of the beautiful and well mannered Lady Anna. But there is a hitch in this plan – Lady Anna has secretly betrothed her self to David Thwaite, the son of the Thomas Thwaite, a decent and well read man, who is however a tailor by profession. Thus arises the complication of marrying for love versus marrying for money and title. Should one give up on the person, who was their dearest friend during the harshest times for a life she was naturally born to and which her mother fought for her entire life, so that Lady Anna got her legal rights? Decisions need to be made and the right thing to be done, but what is the right thing is for Lady Anna to decide!

I liked the book, but did not feel the kind of undiluted love for i feel his other works. The writing is true Trollope – clean, clear and simple moving the tale forward naturally. There is also quintessential egalitarian Trollope rooting for equality of merit instead of equality of birth. There are some wonderful characters that I would have want to see little more off – like Aunt Julia, the aunt to young Earl Lovel and the Solicitor General. However this is where I feel Trollope faltered in his usual brilliance – he set up the character of Aunt Julia as if she was to play a key part and seemed to be a wise and kind matriarch, but she has no presence after the initial chapters! The way the end played out, especially about the settlement of money, made me wonder why did we need the much anticipated court case to begin with. Speaking of the Court case, this again was set up to be a central event in the story, but was more of one of the many episodes of the life and times of the Lovels. I could not really warm up to any of the characters, including the titular Lady Anna, who does show spirit in the end but through book wails and goes “Mamma” at everything. The young Earl was nice and beautiful and that was all to him. Daniel Thwaite, though, I liked more and could understand his self respect and self belief and strength. I also  liked the character of Countess Lovel – she is a strong and perhaps a bit obstinate woman who took on the world on her own till she proved her point and I liked the way the Trollope displayed the escalated war between her and Lady Anna and though the Countess, was not always right, I felt more for her than for any other character in the novel. Furthermore, there is too much repetition in the plot – the readers are told atleast 3 times during the novel that had people behaved more gently with Lady Anna, they would have won their point. Several times we go over and over the unfortunate history of Countess Lovel and there is about  pages in the middle, where we are stuck in limbo as there is no movement in the narrative. The novel is verbose without telling us anything new or pertinent – the same point is gone over again and again and again!

I liked it, but I cannot help but feel that this is not the best of Trollope.

 

 

 

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