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Posts from the ‘England’ Category

About Truths From 200 Years Ago – Austen In August

One doesn’t read Jane Austen; one re-reads Jane Austen.” said the very complicated William F. Buckley, Jr, but in this simple sentence he lay bare the absolute truth of Ms. Austen’s brilliance; one is never tired of re-reading her! Recently Brona over at Brona Books decided to pick up the threads of the annual event that Adam used to host “Austen in August” and sent round invitation to anyone interested in joining up! As I read through her page of people signing up for the event, many reflected my sentiments – re-read Jane Austen atleast once a year. All most all of us, who love books, classics and fiction, are devoted to Jane Austen. We may differ in our intensity in our devotion and we may argue about which of her work is the best, but there can be no denying that Ms. Austen rules triumphantly in our reading culture and preferences. And this brings me to the very heart of the matter  – Why does Ms. Austen abide even after 200 years?

I know of hundred thousand papers, books, essays that enumerate and illustrate, the many reasons why Ms. Austen continues to a be literary success inspiring generations of readers and writers alike from Edith Wharton to JK Rowling. The reasons are varied and range from the sheer brilliance of her writing to Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy as a means of reviving interest in her works! I am sure there are another hundred thousands reasons as to why we each prefer Ms. Austen in our unique way and each can be counted as a great motivation. The reason I have loved her work always, since being introduced to her at the age of 13 is many – the plot, the pre-feminist but for sure feminist heroines, the humor and that one telling quality of Austen novel – there is some truths to re-discover no matter how many times one re-reads and this truth is still as pertinent as it was in Regency England. I always loved Pride and Prejudice and Emma but over the years, Persuasions with several re-reads has become equally closer to my heart. Mansfield Park, which I could barely get through the first time round, has now been re-read atleast in double digits, because despite many more socio-economic resources being available, women in many parts of the world struggle to make independent choices with pressure of withdrawal of those material resources to keep body and soul together, until adhered too the norms set by those who control those resources. Ms. Austen keeps telling us many things, and things which still hold true 200 years, each time and this is why she endures!

Therefore to celebrate this season of Austen In August, I sought out some passages from the evergreen Pride and Prejudice which are a dead ringer for the state of today’s society, that also illustrates the genius of Ms. Austen in writing about things that were so remote from her time and social surrounding and yet managed to become a universal tale.

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  • if she had not happened to see Mr. Jones’s shop-boy in the street, who had told her that they were not to send any more draughts to Netherfield because the Miss Bennets were come away – Mrs. Phillips explaining how she heard of the elder Bennet sisters returning from Netherfield, is a perfect and outstanding example of the grapevine network which continues to flourish till date and whose authenticity actually can be trusted upon more than official channels many a times!
  • Pardon me for neglecting to profit by your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself.”  – Mr, Collins remarks when Elizabeth tries to stop him from putting himself forward through a self introduction to Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball. Sigh! What can I say except Mansplaining seems to be a generational and sometime incurable phenomena!
  • I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character.”  Mr. Collins again, when Elizabeth rejects her marriage proposal. Consent as we see in many ways and forms are “interpreted” for the woman and the whole baloney of a No being a Yes…..seriously! Where did that come from?
  • Elizabeth, however, had never been blind to the impropriety of her father’s behaviour as a husband. She had always seen it with pain; but respecting his abilities, and grateful for his affectionate treatment of herself, she endeavoured to forget what she could not overlook, and to banish from her thoughts that continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum which, in exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children, was so highly reprehensible. Elizabeth on reflecting on her father’s conduct post the letter from Darcy. This was one those very interesting and though provoking passages in the novel. Mr. Bennet’ s marriage was not the happiest; he had simply put married a woman who looked good and did not have any other abilities. There are many things here – in the best partnerships, a partner should elevate each other and bring out the best in other. In many cases I know this does not happen but how does one some around that and make the lesser partner more acceptable in the larger world. I think this is one place where Ms. Austen attributes too much influence on the partnership of spouses. True, while it is one of the highest forms of relationship but there is only so much one an do? Or is it? Either way, I do think the truth of the last statement is key – exposing your partner’s weakness in front of the children, does not brood well for the family overall.
  • There was now an interest, however, in believing the housekeeper; and they soon became sensible that the authority of a servant who had known him since he was four years old, and whose own manners indicated respectability, was not to be hastily rejected. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner’s reaction when realizing that Mr. Darcy was interested in their niece, when previously, they thought the Pemberly housekeeper had given an over the top opinion of Mr. Darcy simply because he was good Master.  I love this one – how often we change our own interpretation of narratives when we wish to believe something, especially if it is something good!
  • All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man who, but three months before, had been almost an angel of light. The social reaction when Wickham’s elopement with Lydia came to light. But obviously, hindsight always becomes foresight after the destruction has happened!
  • Elizabeth, agitated and confused, rather knew that she was happy than felt herself to be so – Elizabeth feelings after accepting Mr. Darcy. One of the deep and most honest insight to human sentiments; when the longed for event finally happens, the initial feeling is more knowing the happiness than actual overflowing cheerful garrulousness!

There are so many more things that I can talk about and continue to talk about, but time and other duties all. So I end this post with something Brona mentioned in our Twitter conversation and that seemed apt with what I have been trying to say through this post  – It is a truth universally acknowledged that p&p is quite simply perfect.

The End of July

Yet another super late post! I wish I was bit more regular and diligent but crazy work hours and super hectic weekends, have slowed the pace of reading and blogging severely! I barely got any reading done in July and did very little in terms of leisure activity besides watching the Wimbledon semi final and final round matches. Yet looking back, I must say, that it was not so bad, if I managed to watch all the semi-finals including the Men’s Singles each of which was 5+hours long! Oh! Well! Hindsight is an interesting thing!

Moving on, like I said, between work, Wimbledon and socially busy weekend, reading really took a back seat! However, if we were to claim quality and never quantity matters, then, I had a wonderful reading month, because, despite the limited number, the sheer  brilliance of the works, made the reading a truly enriching experience! My reading for the month went something like this –

I Claudius by Robert Graves

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There are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth”

Final Meeting : Selected Poetry by Anna Akhmatova; Translated by Andrey Kneller

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Faced with this grief, the mountains bend,

The mighty river stops its flow,

But iron bolts won’t even dent,

Behind them – “the convicts’ den”

And somber deathly woe.

Some people feel the soothing breeze,

For some the sun shines red –

For us these wonders long have ceased,

We only hear the grinding keys

And soldiers’ heavy tread.

We rose as though to early mass

And crossed the capital in throngs,

More breathless than the ones who’ve passed,

The Neva’s hazy, overcast,

But hope continues with its song.

There’s the verdict… Tears burst loud,

She’s singled out, on her own,

As if her life has been ripped out,

As if she’s thrown onto the ground…

She’s staggers… stumbling… alone…

Where are the friends with whom I’ve shared

Two years of living in that hell?

What blizzards do they have to bear?

What visions in the lunar glare?

To them I’m sending this farewell

Augustus Carp, Esq. By Himself Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man by Henry Howarth Bashford

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“For the first time, I was in the presence of the greatest human vice. Nor have I ever, perhaps, entirely recovered from the enormous shock of that discovery. For though I had been aware, of course, from my studies on Holy Scripture, that such things had occurred in the Middle East, and had even deduced from contemporary newspapers their occasional survival in the British Islands, I had never dreamed it possible that here, in a public park in the Xtian London of my experience, a married man could thus openly sit with his arm round a female who was not his wife.”

That is all for now folks! Like I said, not too many readings, but some very qualitative and interesting ones! Hopefully August will bring many more Reading Hours!

Losing & Finding During The Great War

Carl Sagan in his essay “The Path to Freedom” co-written with Ann Druyan, said that “Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.” If there is book that stands for understanding the world and a democratic society, then it must be Vera Brittian’s Testament of Youth. This book which has been in my TBR list for many years now and was supposed to be my December Read for The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge 2018; until Jillian came along with her Read Along and her enthusiasm and some amazing pre-challenge activities that tempted me to move this book up in the TBR Challenge pile and start on it on priority!

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Testament of Youth is a memoir of Vera Brittian’s life capturing the years, from 1900 to 1925. Ms. Brittian who would achieve great success with publication of this work, was a nurse, a writer,a lecturer, a pacifist and a feminist and in this book, we get a glimpse of of events and happenings that went into her making of all the above! The book opens with a brief overview of Ms. Brittain’s family history – a well to do, upper middle class family. Her father, a Paper Manufacturer, and her mother a home maker as were most women at that time. Two years after her birth, her brother Edward was born and he would remain her closest companion through the years! The first Chapter captures her growing years and her schooling at St. Monica’s where she was introduced to History, feminism and politics through an energetic teacher. Chapter 2 continues the narrative where Vera describes her “coming out” year and her dissatisfaction with the lot of young women in those days that limited their lives to home and hearth and her battle with her father to go to Oxford University, in an effort to escape such a future and see more of the world. It was during this stage of her life she would meet Roland Leighton, a senior and a close friend of her brother Edward and with whom she would eventually become engaged. Chapter 3 follows Vera’s first year at  Somerville College, Oxford,  studying English Literature as England is drawn into World War 1 and both Edward and Roland and her other close male friends join the army to support the British war effort. As the fighting gets more and more intense and the hope of a quick victory diminishes, Ms. Brittain decides to delay her degree and starts to work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse. The next few chapters deal with her VAD years, which takes her to Malta and France, her personal struggles and both her own and her peer’s griefs; those who belonged to that “war generation” as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of their youth, idealism and what was supposed to a promising future and finally the deaths of their loved ones! The final chapter of the book, deals with the close of the War, the after effect on the survivors and Ms. Brittian’s evolution as a writer and lecturer, the friendships that helped her heal, her completion of her delayed degree and finally her ability to close the door on the traumatic years and moving on to finding happiness.

There are some very few books in this world, that effortlessly draw you in, force you think and then, challenge you to be a better person. To me, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was one such book and now Ms. Brittain’s Testament of Youth, joins that rank! Rarely does one come across writing that is strong and fierce and at the same time so poignantly heartbreaking; but Ms. Brittain achieves this feat and more. In some of the most powerful prose ever, the author takes us through some of the most transformative events of her life, from school years, to her college life to her engagement and the war and her final evolution as a Feminist and Writer; we are moved as readers, we are concerned at the well being of all involved in the narrative and when we close the book finally, we know we have an obligation to feel grateful, that our generation was spared of the searing pain and loss that our predecessors went through first 100 and then 80 years ago. In yet another marvelous first for me, this is the only memoir I have read, whose writing carries a “what-happens-next” feeling with the close of each chapter. Despite being relatively verbose, the pace of the books never slacks and the reader never feels bored with the events as they come through, one after the other! The characters are beautifully drawn and brought to life by Ms. Brittain and you cannot help but wish that you had known them in person. They are all realistic and wonderful, portrayed without any rancor, even the German POWs or the more difficult Matrons, and mankind is shown in some of its most minute lights, with all the kindness, joy, brilliance, anger and vulnerabilities! This book has often been described as a War Memoir, but I felt that it was too narrow a definition; for this book is so much more – it is a history of things we must never repeat so that lives are not needlessly lost, it is a history of epoch making events in Women’s Movement, it is a story of love and friendships and finally it is the story, that once again affirms that even in our deepest, darkest, most traumatic moments, we are not alone and what we are going through has already been experienced by someone else and from that experience also comes the final assurance, that things do pass and get better! To end, all I can say, is that this book makes us attempt to be more more humane and to read it, is critical in our evolution to be better! Read it!!! Read it now especially in this era of mindless chest thumping overt and agrressive nationalism that goes back in time to distinguish between Us and Them instead of an all encompassing understanding that we are all linked and my brother’s loss is my loss!

P.S. Adam I hope you will forgive the disruption in the order list of my TBR, but this one was just too good to pass up!

The End of May…..

5 months have already gone by and suddenly, we are in the middle of the year! 2018 is passing and I cannot say I quite regret it; but I must also own, that the Summer has brought much peace and much needed calm to what had been a hectic Winter/Spring! And while the earth is baked under the powerful sun, that blazes down with all its fury in this part of world, I was able to sit quietly at home and read through several nights, drinking glasses of “Shikanji” (Indian Lemonade) and Buttermilk, in an effort to stay cool! Thus, I present to you, a snapshot of all my readings for the month of May –

From Persuasions by Jane Austen

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How quick come the reasons for approving what we like.”

From The Sign of Four by Sir Author Conan Doyle

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The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.”

From The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

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Deeds may speak more compellingly than words,but I believe words have their place too. A man who has both is gifted indeed.”

From Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

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“This was the great truth of life, that fact and fiction were always merging, interchanging.”

From The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

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Really, this man seems to have been considering the difficulties very intelligently. I wonder if he had an aunt?

From The Uncommon Reader by Allen Bennett

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Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it.

From The Sisterhood by Helen Bryan

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It confirmed Mother’s secret conviction that the world had enough trouble without insisting all worship God the same way. There was room before the Throne for everyone who served Him – Baptists and the Hindus, Seventh Day Adventists, Muslims and Jews as well as Catholics.”

That’s my round of May books! Another Summer month beckons and hopefully, it will bring more books and great readings for all!

 

 

 

 

The Attempt ……

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction is considered to be the interwar periods, when such stalwarts as GK Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Josephine Tey, Micheal Innes and many more, who wrote, what can be termed as “whodunnit’; murder mysteries, with a cast of characters, a certain Upper Middle Class English setting, most likely in a English Country House. These novels were mainly written from an entertainment value and were kept simple, direct and without too much complexity or depth. Despite it’s decline in popularity, especially with the on set of World War II and criticism by many including Edmund Wilson, as non intellectual reading, this genre, for many remains a go-to, that helps them escape the real life and provides much needed amusement!

The Murder of my Aunt by Richard Hull is one such piece from this era. Published in 1934, it soon was celebrated as something special in the genre and hailed by  authors and newspapers alike including Dorothy L Sayers, Times Literary Supplement and New York Times. Yet today, this novel, remains virtually unknown with  only 120 ratings and 29 reviews on GoodReads. I myself stumbled on this book by chance, too lazy on a Saturday afternoon for any heavy reading, I found this little novel in Kindle Unlimited, with a very interesting premises and began reading it on a whim!

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The book begins with the narrator, Edward Powell, describing his life in a small village town, Llwll, in Wales,  where he lives with his Aunt, Mildred, on whom he is financially dependent. Early into the novel, it unravels that Edward is a weak, pompous individual who looks down on everybody and everything. His aunt, however comes across as an excellent woman, who is kind to her neighbors, popular in the society, a just and considerate human, who goes out of her way to take care of her orphaned nephew, though he seems little deserving of the same! The two personalities naturally come into conflict with each other, and often, with Edward constantly feeling that his aunt, was stifling him, because she holds the purse, despite Edward’s overall superiority. One such clash over delivery of some novels for Edward from the post office soon escalates, leading Edward to formulate a plan, which will once and for all take care of all his concerns and ensure he is never held in contempt by his aunt!

The book blurb says, that  “this classic mystery is considered a masterpiece of the inverted detective story, in which it is known “whodunit.”  I could not have described it better; turning the whole concept of “whodunit”, Mr. Hull, from the beginning keeps the reader is in confidence of the who, but is left wondering on how and what finally did happen. In what I consider a most innovative narrative of such genre, the author manages, what is often deemed impossible, a mystery, with dollops of humor. In Edward, we find a reprehensible, good for nothing and not to bright, but thinks he is bright character. While the readers, cannot help but dislike him, at some level, he manages to create a connection, nevertheless, where one is left wondering, what does happen to him. In the character of the the Aunt, we have a portrait of all that is solid, responsible and good. She endears, because she does not always know the answer but she tries to the best of her abilities! The supporting cast is equally magnificent, with all drawn true to life and many who must have resided in the 1930s small village towns, doing their bit and leading good lives. The plot is tightly drawn and though at times, the details of the planning may get tedious, they do not essentially take anything away from the narrative and the story flows along wonderfully! Quirky, witty and intelligent, this is one of those lost gems of the genre, that need to be read, if nothing, for its sheer originality!

Friendships & War

It’s been more than 6 years that I have been blogging and if I had to describe the experience in one sentence, I would simply say, that Blogging made me find my tribe! I  found friends who read books and authors I never knew and friends who helped me read texts that I never thought I could and finally friends, I could talk too without judgement or prejudices, talking in the language only readers understand! Stemming from this unshakable faith in my tribe, I always listen very closely to recommendations that come my way and naturally, when Helen, over at She Reads Novels, introduced me to Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce a couple of weeks back, in her wonderful post, I knew this is was far too good to pass away!

Mrs Bird

Set in 1941, the book chronicles, the life of Emmeline Lake as she quits her boring but stable job as a secretary, in a Law Firm, to embark on a journey as journalist and that she thinks will finally lead her to her ultimate goal of becoming a  Lady War Correspondent.  Only on the first day of her job, does she realize that she never asked for what role is she being  hired for, and finds her self as a junior staff of a Women’s Self Column called Dear Mrs. Bird. Emmy never one to give in to gloom for too long, grits her teeth and gets down to her job, ably supported by her colleagues, including Kathleen and the cyncial Mr. Collins. She soon finds, that Mrs. Bird, a formidable elderly woman, believes the current generation has lost all sense of proper conduct and has a list of subjects, “Unpleasantness” as she calls them, on which she refuses to give advise  – affairs, pregnancies out side of marriage, girls who have gone too far and other such “riff -raff”. However Emmy believes that these woman in the time of War as as is having a hard time and truly need help. She thus embarks on a project to help them. Of course, she has to keep it all quiet, not only from her office colleagues, but also more importantly from Bunty, her best friend and roommate who would never approve of meddling in other’s affairs, against the instructions of her Superiors, but Emmy is convinced she is on the right path, until fate dislodges all her best laid plans!

What can I say about the book? Whatever I say, will not suffice! In the character of Emmy and Bunty, Ms. Pearce has created a real life portrait of deep friendships among women, who are sisters not by birth, but by their soul. She captures the whole gamut of emotions that are at the core of such relationships – loyalty, support, love, sometimes even anger and finally humor, dollops and dollops of it! In Emmy, the author has created a heroine whose indomitable spirit and optimism conquers everything! Smart, loyal, funny and sometimes crazy, she is you or one your friends, with all the madcap zanniness, that goes with people like them! Bunty is what a Bunty should be – supportive, sensible, capable of drawing her claws when her loved ones are hurt and finally loyal! The ensemble cast is wonderfully drawn with my heart, literally going out for Mr. Collins, and ably supported by ‘Charles’, Bill and the formidable Mrs. Bird. Written in bright, optimistic and funny note, the book however manages to stay very realistic and captures the grim realities of London, during the German bombing. The plot is fast paced, and holds your attention so strongly, that you finish the book in one sitting! There are more than enough laugh out loud moments, and you should be careful if reading in public as me discovered when reading it in a cafe! Most importantly, for me what really made this novel stand out, was while there are many works set in this era, they all somehow end up focusing on the “romance” angle of the plot; this book in a stark departure from such angle, (it does have some romance) instead followed a narrative that showcased how woman helped woman, through self help columns, through long nights of vigil at the fire stations and as friends, when the chips are truly down!

I cannot say enough great things about this book; it is brilliant, funny, real and heart rending. all in one go! So just please read it, especially, if you are fortunate to have a Em or a Bunts in your life!

The End of April

Summer is here and while these are not the months to be rejoiced in my part of the world, I cannot help but feel, that Winter this year was, well, troublesome! In a sharp departure from the pleasantness that usually surrounds my Winters, this Winter was quite literally terrible and I am very very glad to see the end of it! I think this may be a first for me, where I am happy to see Winter go and almost, key word almost, overjoyed to welcome Summer!

April, unlike her predecessors was actually a very good reading month, and though I did not cover much ground during the Readathon, overall, the month was quiet enough to allow me some solid reading time! And not only that, seems like the most of the books I picked for April also turned to be a winner! So then, here’s to April’s recollection –

(P.S. I think, by now everyone is conversant that this snapshot is not my idea, but borrowed and is a combination from Helen’s monthly post of Commonplace Book post   and O’s ideas of  Wordless Wednesday )

From A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
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He had never thought of himself as much of a praying man, but as he sat in the car in the growing darkness and the minutes passed, he knew what it was to pray. It was to will goodness out of evil, hope out of despair, life out of death. It was to will dreams into existence and spectres into reality. It was to will an end to anguish and a beginning to joy.

From Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

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Your of two mind Sergei. Please tell me, because criticism is constructive.It defines our purpose and leads to unanimity of efforts.”

From Polar Star by Martin Cruz Smith

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Why are you doing this?”Arkady asked. “It keeps the mind alive.”

From February – Selected Poems by Boris Pasternak; Translated by Andrew Kneller

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Oh, February, To get ink & Sob! 

To weep about it, spilling ink

From Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith

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“Who is right?” asked Polina. Now that, Arkady thought, was question only asked by the very young

From Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

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A week after the newspaper advertisement, I was trying terrifically hard to remain calm!

From Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather

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“Only a Woman, divine, could know all that a woman can suffer”

That’s it for my April reading! It was a good months, and here’s to May and more books!

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