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Posts from the ‘Love’ Category

Love and Longing In-Between Wars

I read The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford for the 12 Months Classics Challenge Event (August – A Modern Classic) as well as my Women’s Classical Literature Reading event for the month of August. I am choosing to overlook the fact that I was supposed to read this in August, but finally ended up reading it in September. Like I say better late than never!

The Pursuit of Love is set after the end of World War 1 and follows the lives of the Radlett children, until the end of World War II, through the eyes of their cousin Fanny . Fanny is the daughter of the youngest sister of Aunt Sadie, being brought by her other aunt, Aunt Emily. Fanny’s mother is called “Bolter” and has had a string of affairs and marriages leaving her daughter to the care of her sister to be brought up. Aunt Sadie is married to Matthew Radlett, who owns Alconleigh, where Fanny spends her holidays in the company of her Radlett cousins, especially Linda, to whom she is closest too. Their childhood is spent hunting with their uncle and forming plans in the wardrobe, for their secret society “The Hons”.  The Radlett girl cousins are not educated too much, Uncle Matthew being of the belief that girls to retain their feminine virtues, must know some French, play instruments and read and write, but no scholarship is needed. Aunt Emily however beliefs in education of women and ensures that Fanny receives a good education, even moving towns to enable her to attend a good school. At the age of 13, their lives are disturbed by the news that their Aunt Emily is getting married. Davey Warbeck is introduced to their lives and this gentle brilliant man with hyponchdriac tendencies is soon an accepted member of the extended Radlett tribe!  Soon the young children grow up and Louisa the eldest of the Radlett tribes debuts in London and marries a solid, albeit boring Scottish peer.Linda and Fanny spend days dreaming of the “true love” and waiting for their time in the society circles. The years pass and Linda and Fanny debut and in one of the balls hosted by her parents, she meets Tony Kroesig a young banker, brought in the last moment, by the glamorous neighbor and Linda’s mentor Lord Merlin. This sets off an unprecedented chain of events over the next decade that sees Linda failing and then falling and finally finding the expected  promise land.

I had heard much and much and much about this novel. It was cried out as one of the best coming of age stories and its humor and sensitivity was to touch one and all. It is a good book, it has many humorous touches. I loved the initial years of the Radlett children growing up and I loved the well drawn larger than life characters of Uncle Matthew,. Lord Merlin and Davy. I loved the brusque humor and the simple nostalgia of days and nights of doing everyday things and finding pleasure. I loved the relationships not bound by social stereotypes which spring forth and bring heart to this novel,. like Davy’s unvarying love and devotion to his nieces and Lord Merlin’s constant watching over Linda and the kind of care Aunt Sadie and Uncle Matthew bestowed on Emily and even her truant mother! These were wonderful relationships and I wish we had stuck to them instead of chasing Linda and her happening and non happening love life across the length and breath of Europe. I am told Nancy Mitford wrote this novel from her own recollections and experiences and I don’t know what to make of it; anyone who reads closely, will find that there is no bigger chicken head than Linda Radlett! She pines for true love; hello! who does not? But because she does not find it, she spend a whole decade doing nothing – I mean nothing!! She does even bother to take care of her daughter! She becomes a social butterfly then a communist before settling down to become a Mistress to her one true love! In between she does absolutely nothing, she does not read, she does not cook, she does not do anything except shop and spend days in parties and moan about her disastrous life!!Goodness! You would think, she is most unfortunate under privileged woman ever!Then I have a serious problem with the War; I mean there is a war on and the only thing Mitford focuses on is Linda’s pining away for her lover! I understand that the society then was different form us and society women doing nothing was the norm, but history testifies to many many woman who pinned for their lovers and still drove ambulances, worked in communal kitchens and patched up the wounded. During the war, there was no time for indulgence of grief; there was so much to do just to survive and all Linda does is lie in her bedroom in the posh London apartment! Ms. Mitford’s treatment of the war comes across as minor civilian disturbance; I am not sure what genre she was trying to fit in because she does not manage to in any!  The plot that begins with so much promise ends in a ordinary cliche, which you know would have been the inevitable conclusion some 80 pages into the book.

I read the book and I now of read of “the books” but frankly I have read better and I am still bemused at the kind of rave reviews it has received over the years!

The Ripping Reads….

I finally finished two of my RIP IX reads and considering both are masterpieces and everything that could be said has been said about them. Therefore I thought of doing a short combined post on both the books and instead of doing the usual reviews, I thought I will just share some observations that have now stuck me, after my re-readings!

The precedence as always goes to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, featuring the greatest of all fictional detectives, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his trusty aide, Dr. Watson. The book begins with Dr. Watson trying to convince Holmes to give up his use of cocaine and other such substances with Holmes replying that these are the only stimulants that keep his brain active, in the absence of work. This conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Miss Mary Morstan , a young genteel woman, who has been employed in the capacity of a governess and whose regular life has been disturbed by a note which asks her to meet a certain person that evening at six, along with two of her trusted friends, so that a great wrong that has been done to her can be righted. Miss Morstan also reveals that her father had been a Captain in the British India army and posted at Andaman Islands, from where he returned about ten years ago. He then wrote a letter to his daughter, who at time was in a boarding school, asking her to join him in London; that was the last she ever heard of him and he had since disappeared. Finally she states that for the last 6 years, she has received an expensive pearl anonymously. She then requests Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to accompany her in the evening to meet the man who wrote to her. Thus begins, the adventure of the Sign of Four, taking the reader from the fogs of London, to Cumberland, to Agra and the Andamans, in search of treasure, truth and in a very non Conan Doyle style, love. It’s a great mystery and the art of scientific deduction is wonderful to read – it makes one wistful and wish that if only one could think logically and deductively as a habit and at all the times. The narrative style is as always in a memoir of Dr. Watson and for once, some of the ending is given away, with allusions to what happened in future. However this does no harm to story in itself and it is a thrilling and nail biting narrative to read (especially the steam boat chase chapter) which has not lost even a tenth of its shine, since being published in 1890. Like I said, I can say nothing more about the novel than what has not already been said and shared; but this time two items stuck me as, well, a bit non-palatable. One was the portrayal of Mary Morstan, sweet, gentle, supportive, fragile, disdaining treasure for the sake of love – I mean Ye!! Gods!! Help me from such virtuous role models; for that’s exactly what she is – a model of ideal womanhood from Conan’s point of view. I know allowances need to be made for that particular time and the social-political rules that governed the society; but Victorian era produced a number of strong women who would disdain any namby pamby portrayal of their characters – these were women of blood, sweat, substance and strength, and while possessing a lot of compassion, they also were practical and sensible. I mean, England was ruled by such a woman at that time, not to mention, other wonderful women like Elizabeth Gaskell, Christina Rossetti, Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Fry. This concept of the ‘household angel’ was enough to throw me off the book, and I cannot believe that I had been so oblivious to this angle during my earlier reads! Sir Conan Doyle wrote of a much better woman, at least vis-à-vis character in Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia“– who is intelligent, loyal and practical to a T! Hard to believe the same man wrote about Mary Morstan. The other item that hit me was the portrayal of non-whites – whether it is Mohmet Khan planning a cold-blooded murder or Tonga the indigenous tribal from Andaman, the natives can kill with no conscience, the only redeeming characteristic being their loyalty! Thank Heavens for that!! I mean as it is the brown man/woman are “savages” but imagine the greatness and generosity of Englishmen, in inspiring loyalty among this unworthy people!! Kipling was a unaplogetic and unashamed imperialist, but to think Sir Conan Doyle also sang a similar tune, is kind of unsettling; as I mentioned before allowance have to be made for the age and I do, but with Kiplings, and Doyles and Haggards, at times, it becomes difficult not to be prejudiced! Everything apart though, it is a great book and Sir Doyle does what does the best, proving time and again he is the master of “detective fiction”.

The second book that I read for RIP IX is “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier. I had originally read this novel when I was 15, through the night, when I was racked with fever and could not sleep. I had deep impressions from that read – all very gothic and creepy. The story is too well-known from me to write in detail – Maxim De Winters, the owner of the Manderley, an estate on the Cornish Cost, brings home a young wife after the accidental death of his first wife Rebecca, in a boating accident, a year ago. The second Mrs De Winter, is a young, shy woman who has great hopes of her future, that come to standstill, as she grapples with the presence of Rebecca in Manderley, whose presence is overwhelming and who continues to run the house from her grave! It could be that fever had induced my brain to be more sensitive, because, when I had read this book the first time I had felt the terrifying presence of Rebecca, I was afraid of Mrs. Danvers and I felt all the apprehensions and illogical fears of the second Mrs. De Winters. I should have waited for another bout of fever, before re-reading this book! I know people rant and rave about this book and I may be offending half a million readers if not more, but only a teenager, with really low self-esteem can like this book! My whole problem with the book is the second Mrs. De Winters – I can understand being shy and I can empathize with the feeling of being left out and not belonging, but Mrs. De Winters made me want to throw up and throw the book at her. She does not even try; for heavens’s sake, she is not even willing to try. She goes around the house like a mouse, when she has no reason to, and is perpetually afraid of Mrs. Danver who is just a big ol’ bully who should be set in her place. She does not even try to manage the house or stake her claim as the mistress – had she tried and then failed, that would have added a complex layer to the narrative, besides adding on to her oh-i-am-so-scared characterization. She is embarrassed in the presence of Mrs. Van Hopper, she is embarrassed with Maxim and she is embarrassed when Mrs. Danver finds her in East Wing! Mrs. Van Hopper is embarrassing and it could be that the second Mrs. De Winters’s initial life may have been a trial, but as Jane Austen had showed us, that one can still act sensible in presence of distressing environs; case to point, Elizabeth Bingley with Mrs. Bingley as a painful dimwitted loud mother or Jane Fairfax with her poor, silly aunt. But of course, no understanding of self-worth, enters the poor little Mrs. De Winters’s head until her lord and master, declares his undying love her and confesses that he never loved Rebecca – I mean what value do we women have unless, it is to be made worthy by the acceptance of the man. Also let’s not forget, that the Lord and the Master is a great man of courage and forbearance, who can murder to save his family name from infamy but cannot divorce for the fear of scandal. Such wonderful choice makes this declaration of love, even more touching; after all who can resist the love of a cowardly soul, who cannot face the truth; no matter how far he would have to go hide it. Only by such love, can one make herself a complete woman!!! By such standards, I should really consider myself an absolute failure and consider becoming a nun!!!! The redeeming feature of the novel, really are the last 100 pages as the body of Rebecca is discovered, and the mystery unfolds to an unexpected and unbelievable climax. This is where Ms. Du Maurier revealed her exceptional brilliance and expertise of her craft and as a reader; you are left breathless and shocked by the sudden twist of the tale!! It is this end, which makes the book in my view a classic and preserves it from the morbid and irritating presence of Mrs De Winter, the second! I never realized how disgusted I was with this novel, until I wrote this piece! Writing I guess is therapeutic!

I know this is one of my longest posts, but I cannot end, without once again urging all of your help in the Indiegogo Crowdfunding project which I am managing. We are not doing that well and your help would really make a difference. Again, there are a couple of ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

A Sonnet…

I realize that I have been away from blogging for nearly a month and this has truly been my longest hiatus from the blogosphere since I started this blog more than 2 years ago. But life took a really crazy and unexpected turn since Aug 17th 2014 when I posted my last blog and I am still trying to come to terms with it. My mum was visiting me when she suddenly fell ill on 15th August, slipped into coma on 18th and passed away on 1st September. The suddenness of the whole thing is still sinking in; it somehow seems unacceptable that my mum who did have a congenial heart problem but was not ill in the sense of being really ill, should suddenly one day complain of low-grade fever and then lose consciousness and before a blink of an eye is, no more. I was not ready for any of this, but I realize since last year September, things have happened to me for which I am not ready and maybe that’s a good thing, because if I start to think on how my life has fallen apart over the 12 months, I will have to see a therapist. Nevertheless, it’s still difficult to really believe that she is truly no more and while our relationship was far more smooth and was in fact quite difficult, the fact that she is no more there to fight with, argue with, talk with and be with is heartbreaking!!

Thus in the memory of my Mum, I publish this poem written by Christina Rossetti, a poet whom both she and I loved….

Sonnets are full of love

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome

Has many sonnets: so here now shall be

One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me

To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,

To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;

Whose service is my special dignity,

And she my loadstar while I go and come

And so because you love me, and because I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath

Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:

In you not fourscore years can dim the flame Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws

Of time and change and mortal life and death.

 

Take care Ma….be in peace wherever you are!!Love You!

Finally Something Lovely…..

It’s been a tiresome troublesome two weeks – I have besieged with challenges, both tangential and non-tangential – Just after my laptop was fixed and I could resume my normal blogging activities, WordPress for some reason decided to send all comments I made to the SPAM folder!! My phone after being fixed went caput again and just when my phone goes on a blinker the entire world has to call me!!!!But my phone could not go caput before I had a rather “distressing” conversation with one of my lesser liked aunts!!! I listened to a long and extremely offending lecture on my life style including what she deemed as important matters of life to which apparently I had an “immature” approach!!! AGRH!!!!! I am so glad I live 2300 kms from her and more of her kind!! Whoever said family is important never met my extended maternal family!! All of this followed by two instances of working for 24 hrs straight…I had heard of working for 24 hrs, and I have done 18 hrs but working for straight 24 hrs not once but twice in one week was just something else….needless to say, it’s not been very good lately!!

Anyway the only bright spot and this one is a considerably big bright spot, in fact it was so bright that I deem it as a bright sun, was to be nominated for a One Lovely Blog Award/Very Inspiring Blogger. While the honor is great and I am absolutely thrilled about it, what makes it even more special was that this came from Stephanie – a person I admire, whose tastes I have the firmest reliance one, whose opinions are always sensitive, a person who inspires me every day to read more, especially things I would have never explored and whose blogging discipline makes me write a post diligently and keep at it!! An awesome person, a wonderful friend and a great mentor all rolled into one!! What could be more joyous than to be recognized by somebody you look up to – there cannot be a greater accolade than this!!

Per the rules, I have to share with the greater world 7 facts about me and nominate 15 other bloggers –

About the 7 facts –

  1. I am extremely short-tempered and I have a TEMPER!! Over the years I have learnt and tried to control it, but there is no getting away that I have a short fuse and it takes very little to light the mental dynamite.
  2. I am FOODIE!!! I mean it…I love food!! The first thing I think off when I wake up is what will I have for breakfast??? Last thought before my close is where we can have dinner tomorrow. I love cooking and besides reading and writing, that is one activity, I spend a lot of time on!!
  3. I am a perfectionist – ask my team at work!!! Even the smallest mistake are highlighted and sent back with a not so nice email. For all my bouncy, optimistic, cheery personality, I am perfectionist and a hard, very hard task master…I drive myself over the edge and so does my team. I am very blessed to have a team which takes all my “perfection driven” idiosyncrasies with good humor and I am truly truly proud to lead them. But they do have to put up with comments like “the right hand margin of the slide 2 of the PPT is 1/4th inch less than the left hand margin”!!
  4. My first true love was when as 7 year olds, my best friend and I discovered a movie released nearly 5 years earlier, called “Top Gun”…No I did not fall in love with Tom Cruise, though my best friend did…instead I lost my heart and never quite gained it back to Val Kilmer . (I know he looks like a whale these days, but true love is beyond the obvious and such shallow things like good looks – though at the age of 7 I doubt I thought in such depths!! But I still hold a candle for that man!!!)
  5. I love and need my morning tea….nothing and no one comes in-between that…otherwise I am one grumpy creature. My other favorite drink is water and I consumer at least 6 liters a day – it’s never a task as I am always thirsty and I always have a bottle of water around me. I also LOVE white wines!!
  6. I am not particularly a movie person. I do watch an odd film now and then, but for me movie watching has to be an event – I do not go to the theater every week (more like once in 5 months) and I consider it a waste of time. However I do get bitten by a bug now and then and I watch back to backs non-stop for days on end, maybe because I like the time period the film was set in (I saw Band of Brothers 7 times, all 10 episodes) or the actor (like when I do my Val Kilmer fests) or country (recently went through Spanish film thingy!!)
  7. I love dancing – I went to a dancing school for more than 14 years and till date love to dance around my house. For some reason or the other, I have developed a strong disinclination for dancing in parties/clubs etc…cannot seem to quite enjoy that!!

Okay!! Glad that the 7 things are over…now for the 15 nominations –

Fleur in her World : Jane is my biggest bookish/bloggish inspiration along with Stephanie. Her reads are always wide ranged and her reviews succinct. I have never gone wrong with her recommendations and she is one of those very few people who have managed to introduce some great authors in my repertoire. If she has liked the book, rest assured, it will go in my TBD. Briar’s posts are absolutely marvelous and comes as an added plus when visiting her blog!!

Eggton : is another of my favorites. Katherine is not only an ex-New York mover shaker lawyer turned cook, but she is also someone with a wonderful sense of humor and with funniest laugh out loud takes on life. You read her blog, when you are down, and I guarantee 100% upliftment of spirits!! The fact that she always posts some awesome recipes that completely blows away the foodie in me, just adds to the brilliance of her posts!!

Flowers and Breezes – Sheen Mam’s take on life, her simple observations that bring home the truths which we forget in our daily lives and her generous nature makes her writing a refreshing read. If you had a bad day, read her posts, before you call it night, they act as a soothing, peaceful and comforting salve to your cumbersome challenging day.

Women, Words, and Wisdom -Dr. Joan Bouza Koster is a scholar, feminist, humanist, historian, author and a connoisseur par excellence of great literature. Her blog brings together all these items and more. Her posts deal with well researched nuggets from women writers from the past, on subjects as wide-ranging as daily working conditions, to memories of childhood to writing etc.

CogitoFilm – I don’t like films too much, but this blog has awesome reviews on both Hollywood and Bollywood film with some really clever observations and wonderful imagery of descriptions.

jaynesbooks : If you love books, you HAVE to love this blog. Her reviews are clever and absolutely in your face. I love her like it-do not like it approach and I tend to find myself almost always in alignment with her thoughts!! Her Top Tens are a treat!!

Brona’s Books : If anyone, anywhere loved books, then Brona is their ideal. Like me she reads practically everything, like me she has an opinion and unlike me her opinions are always well-informed, judicious and sensitive. If she likes an author, I will like it!! Her readings have opened me up to a whole range of authors and I love the bantering we share on every book we read via the Classics Club

The Odd Pantry – humor and good food and some wonderful insights; what more could one ask. Her recipes are as creative as it can get and her musings on life mostly hilarious, but at times extremely thought-provoking.

A Great Book Study : Ruth is again I met someone via the Classic Club. Though she claims that she is no expert and her posts are really her first cut take on classics, her writings and opinions always brings out nuances of books which I have read and though understood completely and her review is always considered and subtle

Breadcrumb Read – Risa has a post graduate degree in English literature and one quick review of her blog will convince you that her education is well utilized every day and though she does not accept awards for her blog, I am nominating her because I want more people to enjoy what I really really enjoy – her bookish talks, her love for classics and all her bookish adventures!!

Biblioglobal : I have only just started following her blog and I lament that I lost out on so much for so long. Reading one book about one country across our globe, she has in a very short span of time really broadened my understanding of literature. She also does some amazing and quirky research that gives you a lot of insight into reading and books related demographics around the world.

A Striped Armchair – Though she replaced her armchair with a lovely couch, her blogs keep up the standards of great review and a thorough and uniform understanding of the context of the book. She is one of the few fellow readers who reads loads of stuff about international relations, ethnicity, religion and identity that is outside of academic requirements.

12 Novels – 12 novels in 12 months, actually 13 novels in 12 months. What could be more inspirational than a struggling writer than to be motivated by this one diligent, fun and honest writer who takes on a new challenge every month, with no other expectation than becoming better in her craft!

A year of reading the world – Similar to Biblioglobal, Ann, a blogger based in London decided when 2012 Olympics came visiting her city, she would celebrate the occasion by reading literature from the 196 nations participating at the games. While Olympics has come and gone, she is still reading some great stuff and writing about them.

Mister G’s Kids – Hilarious, funny and a great take on teaching today filled with irony and rib-tickling laughter and all the highs and lows of being a teacher!!

It’s up to you if you choose to carry this award further, but thank you all for sharing your lives and interests with me and for picking me (virtually!!) especially when the chips are down!!

Once Upon a time in Puritan New England

As part of the Classic Club Spin # 6, I was to read Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlett Letter! To the say the least I was not pleased; I am completely fed up with this 20th century obsession with the heroine whose infidelity leads to tumultuous ending. Case to the point are Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; I was done with the heroine trying to seek fulfilment outside an unhappy marriage leading to disastrous results with the only viable option left for our protagonist being death!! This might be fully in keeping with the morality of the age and the writing may be lyrical, majestic etc etc; but the stories left me cold (though I do love Anna Karenina more than any such genre novel; it’s because of its awe-inspiring descriptions of Russia and her society and of course the love story of Levi and Kitty; I must stop this is not after all a review of Anna Karenina!) Therefore with the strongest dislike I began to read this book; thinking of it more a chore than a pleasure! And Surprise! Surprise!

The book from the very beginning grabbed my attention. It begins with the description of the jailhouse from which an adulteress came out to be paraded onto the street and then to be displayed in all her shame with her “misbegotten” child in the town square before all the public; the letter A was emblazoned on her dress, which she would have to wear for the rest of her life in this new Puritan colony of New England. Here it self was a big difference, the story began where the other books had left off and in itself, it made a huge statement about the courage and valor of the heroine – a heroine who was capable enough to commit adultery in the conservative society of 17th century, was brave enough to live through it. The story of Hester Prynne was different because it traced her life and forced her to live after committing adultery. The Scarlett Letter follows her struggle as she is boycotted from the 17th century society and tries to bring up her daughter alone in such circumstances, defying the patriarchs of the colony who pressurize her to name her partner in the adultery. She lives outside the colony settlement and tries to earn her livelihood by doing embroidery and other such work. Her life is harsh and she is ostracized by the society even to the point of the poor who abuse her when she gives them alms  and  the Elders of the society debate whether she is morally fit enough to be a mother and try to take away her daughter from her, until pastor Arthur Dimmesdale, whose parishioner she used to be, intercedes on her behalf and ensures that Pearl, i.e. her daughter stays with her mother. Parallel to Hester Pynne’s tale is the story of this very Arthur Dimmesdale, a promising priest and scholar, who had graduated with a degree from Oxford and had then taken a ship to the Colonies to do his bit in this new community. Since the 7 years, when Hester Prynne was ordered to wear the scarlet letter A, Arthur Dimmesdale had become more and more ill. A new entrant to the New England colony, Roger Chillingworth who was supposed to be a famed doctor takes charge of Arthur Dimmesdale’s health and tries to improve it, but the latter continues to waste away! It is at this point that Hester Prynne intercedes to show the true nature of Roger Chiingworth’s character to Arthur Dimmesdale, leading to the culminating tragedy and revelation before all of New England’s society about the true nature of the scarlett letter. The novel closes with a brief epilogue on the last years of Hester Prynne with a comforting speculation about the well-being and happiness of her daughter Pearl, now a grown woman and ends with the death of the heroine due to old age!

I loved the fact that our adulteress protagonist lived and lived to a ripe old age, where her former sins were forgotten and she was the wise old woman of the society to whom everybody turned to for solace, advice and comfort. This in itself was such a huge shift in paradigm from Hawthorn’s contemporary or successors; it ties in directly with the concept of “Timshel- thou mayest overcome” as written by John Steinbeck 100 years after the publication of The Scarlett Letter. But then the character of Hester Prynne differs from all other competition literary adulteress’s in the fact that Hester never saw her act as a sin – she saw it as an act of love for which she was blessed with Pearl. Here lies the fundamental difference from the other heroines – she did not feel any guilt or vengeance. She did not regret the momentary act of passion, because for her it was borne out of love and it gave her the joy of becoming a mother. While she did regret the scorn and the isolation of her place of and in the society, never did she regret her child. She is a strong, proud woman who takes on the realities of life as it comes and yet retains gentleness, kindness and courage to act once again in complete contradiction of the society laws and norms, if it will be for the good of the people whom she loves. In Hester Prynne, Hawthorn created a character that would endure and win the admiration of her readers because of this endurance!! Arthur Dimmesdale character on the other hand is in paradox to Hester Prynne’s open courage; fearful of the society and yet lacking the moral courage to break free from the rules which he and others like himself impose, he decays from the inside. While Hester draws her strength from her harsh realities filled with adversity, Arthur Dimmesdale degenerates, both in soul and in person, because he is unable to face the reality and is constantly torn by what is perceived and what he knows himself to be! In drawing out the characters and their psychology, Nathaniel Hawthorne not only creates a masterpiece but also probably writes the first psychological novel in the history of literature. The story, so oft-repeated is taken to a wholly new level as the minds and behaviors and not so much action, takes the tale forward. The beautiful description of New England is breath-taking and even more so when the author so cleverly crafts the scenic details of the landscape to match the thinking/mentality of his protagonists. The book is set in 17th century Puritan England was written nearly two hundred years in the future in 1840s is well researched and describes the land, the people, the architecture, and clothes and costumes of that era is correct details. Puritan New England comes out vibrating to life in the pages of The Scarlett Letter.

This is not an easy book to read; you cannot read it overnight though it’s barely 200 pages. It is a book to be read in piece meal so that you can sit back and cast your mind over all that may have truly transpired so many centuries ago!!

A Universal New Zealander…..

I just finished reading Katherine Mansfield’s The Collected Stories and I am sitting in awe….there is no other word except awe! Actually I take that back, I am in awe and at the same time kicking myself for being stupid – why the hell did it take me soooooooooo long to get around reading her work????? I remember trying to read her works, way back as a teenager, and then I do not know what happened!! Where the hell did I pick up the idea that she was of the Kate Chopin (The Awakening makes me want to never ever awake!!) Or my bigger reading albatross Virginia Wool (Shudder! Shudder!! One day I will bravely tread those choppy waters, but not now!) While it is true that Katherine Mansfield did interact with Virginia Woolf and was for a time a believer of Fauvism, her writings are her own – original, poignant and completely realistic.

The Complete Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield is an all-embracing assemblage of her short stories, including – Bliss and Other Stories, The Garden Party and Other Stories, The Dove’s Nest, Something Childish and Other stories and In a German Pension. This collection also contains her unfinished stories. How do I describe out nearly 100 short stories, which are my favorite? I just love them all – I love Bliss for its heart wrenching end, the broken pieces of illusion; I love The Garden Party for it generosity and sensitivity and I felt such sadness for the The Daughters of the Late Colonel, for their servitude, for their devotion and lack of independence. I love all the stories of the German Pension and though Katherine Mansfield called those stories “immature’, I loved the irony and the subtle mockery of mankind and its pretensions. Stories like Je ne parle pas français and The Dolls House made me cry, especially the latter for its brutal portrayal of weakness of men and women and the pain they inflict on innocents because of their own failures! I absolutely admire the way she speaks of children and their loneliness or attachments or fears, whether it’s the Prelude, or How Pearl Button was Kidnapped or The Little Girl! I cannot decide, I like all her works!

How do I define her work? I can only use adjectives …ok maybe some verbs! Her language is sheer poetry, whether describing a new house or the sea. It evokes such wonderful imagery in the reader’s mind and some of my favorite passages are of her nature descriptions, especially of New Zealand. Her stories are however anything but colloquial or restricted in New Zealand; though they are based in as far flung locales as New Zealand, France, England and Germany, her stories are universal. Her portrayal of marriage, both good and bad kind is real and hard-hitting. Despite being a “bluestocking” , she gives a very rational portrait of men and women, though being a woman, she does bring out the various nuances of a woman’s character far more adeptly than her presentation of her men. Her women are all kinds – brilliant, loving, sparkling, lonely, independent, deprived, unkind, courageous and humorous. They are extremely humane. Long back I had read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex where she said that only three female authors have explored ‘the given’ – the disproportionate struggle for women to seek what is given for men – education, economic power, political platform; the three woman who have managed to question this were Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. I now understand what Simone Beauvoir meant; Mansfield through her stories constantly challenged and questioned the unequal struggle that women had to go through for those basic things in life, which men so easily took for granted – independence, economy and security. But to call all Mansfield writing as feminist is a narrow and unidimesional categorization that is absolutely inaccurate; while she wrote a lot about women, she also wrote about things like love, relationships and some marvelously succinct and astute insight into the lives of children. It’s a tragedy that she died so young, for even her unfinished short stories had such promise of richness.

In the end, all I can say is that one cannot truly describe Mansfield and do justice to it. One has to read her work, sit back and savor it and only then does her brilliance completely sink in!

A humongous Thank You to Dr. Joan Bouza Koster, for reintroducing me to Ms Mansfield in the best way possible!!

Random Notes on Illness, Books and Love…

I have been so ill…for the last two weeks I have been confined to my bed with multiple disorders including a low blood cell count that has led to such weakness that standing on one’s own two feet for more than a minute is risky (On account my loosing balance and falling) I have not been this ill, ever in my adult life – never been this sick to be unable to stand, write or even read. Anything remotely difficult or challenging makes my head ache and eyes water…I mean Shakespearean Sonnets are not even difficult but there, cannot read it!

It is times like this one really misses one’s true blessings – never a very active child (I mean physically! I hated sports, though I was always active enough to run around the house doing all I want!)I was never weak and this past two weeks I am all namby pamby . Make me lift the serving spoon and my arms ache. Make me walk from my bedroom to the drawing-room and my head spins! I hate not having control over my body which in turn impacts how much I have control over my mind and me losing control over my mind – a very very bad thing! But now as I write this post, I miss the strength and the stamina to go on and on. In a brief spell of time, I seem to have become this wishy-washy person who is no longer in charge of her life and this makes feel worse because I never really appreciate good health and stamina as something that makes life better! Now of course, I know better and once I get back to my old self I am going to make sure I never go back down this road again!

What have I been doing these last two weeks – no prizes for guessing: reading? I read Conn Igulden’s War of Roses, I read Arnold Bennett’s The Grand Babylon Hotel,  I read Claire Benson’s Murder at Sissingham Hall, I re-read all the Harry Potters (Trust me there is no better antidote to bad humor or ill health) as well as all the feel good classics – Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Jane Eyre and Little Women. I also started on New Grub Street by George Gissing and am loving it. Somebody should do a study in sick room and reading patters – me thinks it will show a lot about the psychology of the person and may even give correct prognosis about by when the sick person will be healed (I know the last part is a very 19th century, but one never knows! These days I am trying to live with a mind over matter principle, because I would otherwise be unable to get through simple tasks of the day like taking a bath!)

The only upside of this illness is again to make me aware how blessed I am. As you can figure out, I am pretty ill and incapable of simple acts like cooking cleaning etc. My parents are very old and 2500km away from where I stay so dragging them so far is out of question. My sister is in teacher’s conference and out of the country….so who is taking care of me at home (I refuse to be admitted at the hospital; I am sure I will become more sick!!!) My flatmate/my best friend/my mentor all rolled into one. Very rarely does one come across in life a friend who puts his or her life on hold for your sake – well I am truly blessed to have her. She has taken care of my meals, ensures I eat the right stuff at the right time, cooking, cleaning and managing my ill humors when they raise their head! She has been an angle though she hates the comparison and would rather be called a mysterious la elegante damsel. Well damsel or not she was my knight in shining armour and I am so blessed to have her in my life. The doctor said that my body was reacting to some unpleaseant shock which may have happened months ago but to which I did not react properly then and its coming out now. I can think of what happened and now that I think back, I did bounce on my feet very early, perhaps a bit too early! However if betrayal and dishonesty were the root of my illness, surely the love and care of my flatmate, my friends and all my well-wishers (and trust me I have many for I was besieged during this illness with cards, flowers, calls and a genuine wish on everybody’s part to actually help me!!) should serve as the protective shield against any such damage.  May be it’s my illness that’s making me maudlin or too much of Dumbldore’s advice (When you read 7 Harry Potters in two days, Dumbledore is as real as it gets! Besides wisdom is wherever you want to see it) but love does make a person a whole lot better!!!

P.S. I will for sure go back to review of all the books I have read from next week – big time catch up needs to be done!!

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