Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Drama’

The Roman Emperor…

Jewel Parker Rhodes in an interview, a few years ago had highlighted one of the most most unique features of Historical Fiction. She said, “I love historical fiction because there’s a literal truth, and there’s an emotional truth, and what the fiction writer tries to create is that emotional truth.” This to me is one of the best definitions of Historical Fiction, where facts becomes woven in a narrative through an emotional thread and one of the most telling example of such genre, is I, Claudius by Robert Graves.

20180730_121613 (1)

Published in 1934, I Claudius was a significant departure in the style from the usual, writings of Robert Graves, who had already received much accolades first as a War Poet and then for his World War 1 autobiography, Goodbye to All That, all of which focused on the 20th century socio-political developments. I Claudius, went back in time to ancient Rome and gave voice, to one of the more able, albeit relatively neglected Emperors of the Julio-Claudian clan, Claudius, and tells to story of the successors of Julius Caesar, from the time of his assignation, to Claudius’s coming to power in 41 AD, after Caligula’s assignation. Taking the reader, through the lives and actions of Augustus and his ruthless wife Livia, to the profanity and yet able administration under Tiberius and finally the desecration of the Rome under Caligula, the book gives a rich insight into the intrigue and the sly diplomacy that went into keeping the power of Rome at the helm, in a way which would also ensure that the Julio-Claudian clan continued to rule the affairs of the state, in the name of the “Republic”. Claudius, a weak child with a limp, born to the Drusus, Livia’s second son from her first marriage, he is mocked for weakness and often considered dim witted because of his stutter. Shunned as a child, with the only friend and champion in form of his elder brother Germanicus and is cousin Postumus, he develops a intellectual abilities beyond the ordinary, and begins writing histories about Rome and her subjects. During all this, he  also watches from the sidelines as Augustus’s favored and presumptive heirs lose their lives or are banished, and the rise of Tiberius, the eldest son of Livia to the throne, finally followed by the base Caligula, which brings Claudius closer to the throne, surviving, treachery, tragedy and humiliation, to be finally declared an Emperor himself!

This book has often been sighted as one of the best modern classics and one of the most outstanding examples of historical fiction! I have to agree with these kinds of sentiments. Roman politics written even by the most adept authors can be difficult and despite all the best efforts, it becomes dry, despite the scandalous  conduct of many of its subjects. And yet here, Mr. Graves not only produces a fine nuanced piece of literary writing and make it so interesting, that you stay up the night to finish the book! The plot never flags, though there are repetitive actions of murder and mayhem, and herein lies the brilliance of the author to make each event interesting by some unique twist of the narrative. While, I am not very well acquainted with Roman History (on account of the dry narratives) but from my megre reading, it does seem that Mr. Graves has kept to authenticity of the actual unfolding of events as much as possible taking very little artistic licenses. In this work of historical fiction, one can easily see how Mr. Graves supplied the “emotional truth” to the “literal truth” to make this an edgy, interesting novel. Claudius is hardly a hero you would cheer for and there are times when Graves’s protagonist comes as too much of a namby-pamby, that bends as per the blowing wind! But that I think was the point, that the author was trying to showcase; that Claudius was great not because he was a standard strong and brave hero, but because he knew what his weaknesses were and knew how to use them as a strength to survive one of the most tumultuous and bloody ages of Roman Empire.  Claudius remains on the side lines for most of the narrative, observing, commenting with sly humor and with touch of distaste, but always, interesting and somehow involved that while, you know he is not the hero, you cannot fathom the events, without his presence, regardless of impact he makes or fails to make. And while you are never really cheering him on, you are nevertheless sympathetic and invested in his survival and eventual prosperity. The other ensemble is equally well drawn, especially with the portrayal of Livia, in whom we find an exceptionally talented administrator, far to capable for the times she was living and ruthless, in determining what is best for her family and for Rome. Augustus and Tiberius again portrayed very clearly, and drawn very much close to life, while holding good on their own, still pale in representation of Livia.Finally to end, one can easily say that written in an  an easy language, with minimum description and with more focus on action, the book is a great, entertaining read, that gives an interesting and absolutely, fascinating glimpse into the Roman world!

This book was my July Read for The Official 2018 TBR Challenge.

The Lawyer’s Wife

Henrik Ibsen’s The Doll’s House had been one of the oldest TBRs ever. I added it to my list when I was like 17 after attending a special seminar on modern European Drama back in College but for some unexplained reason I did not get around to reading until 16 years later. Why? No idea. All I can say is that I am immensely glad I took part in the 12 Months Classic Challenge, which finally led me to read this drama after all my intellectual and academic fervor that I cannot say has had much tangible results. The brilliance  or lack of it in our modern education system is a theme I rest for discussion another day, and for now move on to The Doll’s House review! Cleo, my partner in all kinds of reading adventures came along for the read and made it a read along – she will be putting up her post soon and you can find it on her website!

The Doll’s House opens on the Christmas Eve with Nora, a young housewife coming back home from a shopping expedition in a happy expectancy of the gaities of the season and the expected good fortune stemming from her husband, Torvald Helemer being appointed a Bank Manager. It is evident that while Nora and Torvald seem to be in a comfortable circumstances, they have reached this status, through much hard work and trimming their expenses and there have been times, when they were in significant financial distress. However they are debt free and while they had to sacrifice much to achieve this status, they have managed to do so without being beholden to anyone, a matter of significant pride for Torvald. The relationship between Torvald and Nora appear to be one of happy contentment; Torvald seems to rule Nora and check her more extravagant tendencies, treating her more like a child, who needs to be alternately petted and disciplined to ensure the smooth functioning of the home and hearth. Nora is completely dedicated to her husband and her home, his opinion of her and her actions are her guiding factors and though there are things which she undertakes secretly from her husband, the primary motive of those actions is to keep Torvald happy. The first act also introduces the audience to the ensemble cast of Dr. Rank a doctor, who is Torvald best friend and has been a companion to the Helemer household for anions. The audience is also introduced to Mrs. Kristine Linde, an old friend of Nora’s, who has come seeking employment from Torvald, since she is now a widow and in financial difficulty and finally Nils Krogstad, an employee at Torvald’s bank, whom Torvald seeks to replace and a man who had committed some misdemeanor in the past but is desperate to regain a respectable footing for the sake of his children. The audience soon is made to understand that about 8 years previously when the Helemer’s were just married and extremely poor, Torvald had fallen gravely ill with the only cure being to take him to Italy for the summer. Being extremely poor, they could not undertake this trip and Nora desperate to save her husband’s live was forced to borrow money from the same Krogstad and she since then has been paying him off through odd jobs. Torvald has no idea that his wife has borrowed money from the man he plans to fire and believes that the money came from Nora’s dying father. Act Two reveals that in a desperate bid to save his job, Krogstad blackmails Nora and asks her to use her influence on her husband otherwise he will disclose her monetary dealings with him including the fact that she had forged her father’s signature on the gaurentee papers – an act she undertook because she wanted to spare her then dying father the agony of her financial and personal crisis. When Nora is unable to convince Torvald to retain Krogstad, she shares her story with Mrs. Linde, who in turn offers to persuade and talk to Krogstad and with whom she was engaged previously. This intervention however comes in late and though Krogstad convinced by Mrs. Linde sends another letter to nullify the harm of the first one which had earlier posted revealing all,  Nora is forced to contend with her husband’s displeasure and face far more hard hitting reality than she could have previously fathomed, forcing her to make decisions she could have never forseen or believed herself capable of making!

So much has been written and debated about this play, that I am quite at a loss of what to actually say. When originally published, the play created a furor even to the extent that the German production had to amend the ending to suit the sensibilities of the audience then and uphold the image of women as mothers and centers of the hearth! I can understand why there should have been such angst with its publication in 19th century – many scholars contend that this play was centered on emancipation of women, but I cannot help but feel that it was more than an woman’s empowerment concept; the drama in fact seemed to me to revolutionize the concept of an individual, instead of a collective identity of mother/wife. it recognized Nora as a being  and even in the more individualistic 21st century society, this concept of standing on sole instead of clan identity is difficult for many to adjust! But this very stand, revealed in Act 3 made this play a piece of brilliant work for me and put me in awe. The first two acts, I could not abide by much – Nora seemed like a scatterbrain with the best intentions and least abilities to think through the actions stemming from those interventions. I was sick of what would Torvald think, do, react, – yes Torvald, no Torvald and three bags full Torvald. In creating Torvald’s character however I think, Ibsen’s brilliance came forth; its not like you like him, though he seems like a respectable, self made man devoted to his family and friends (his duplicity is not revealed till the end) but you cannot quite seem to like him  – I am not sure if it is a 21st century phenomena but his “skylaring” “squirelling” Nora put in the mind of men who call their partners “honey/doll” etc, which seems to dehumanize these women to fluffy pink icing pastry! The very fact that he wants Nora to be a perfect wife/mother/hostess, singing/dancing pleasing one and all, gives the audience the first glimpse into the “Doll’s House” and the Doll Master! This slow unraveling of what seems picture perfect, is a testimony to the dramatic capability of Ibsen where in 3 acts he reveals all without really rushing the reader. The ensemble cast is quite as brilliant as well – in Krogstad , the audience readily feels sympathy of a man being tried twice for the same crime, especially when desperately trying to establish his credibility for the future of her children. Mrs. Linde’s character is a foil to Nora’s – a sensible grounded woman who has worked hard all her life and now when emptiness seems to threaten to overtake her, she once again seeks work to keep her balance. In terms of plot, I did feel that Act I  was too prolonged and Act III kind of hurriedly reconciled the end, but the brilliance of Act III overpowers all flaws and left me converted to Ibsen.

I feel like an idiot for not reading this work sooner and will surely look up more of his plays!

July and Reading….

I realize this post should go up on the 1st of the month, instead of the 10th but, I thought my last post was more important to share and since then, well life getting busieth! But it is what it is and lets just get down to the reading plans of July –

To begin with of course, I have the Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event and I am reading this hidden gem called “The Romance of a Shop” by Amy Levy. I owe Jane as usual an immense obligation in finding and sharing these lost books to the world! I am still struggling to complete my May and June books for the 12 Months Classic Challenge, but I am hoping to finish “Dombey and Sons” (My June Read) this week and then start Henrik Ibsen’s “The Dolls House” for July; the theme of the month being A European classic (non-British). For my Reading England Project which I have been overlooking for some time, I am reading “Cakes and Ale” by Somerset Maugham, covering the county of Kent. Finally I continue my “Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte Read Along with Cleo and Hamlette who is hosting the event. I also follow the monthly “Pickwick Paper by Charles Dickens Read Along hosted by O.

I realize this reading list looks kind of tame compared to my past lists; however, I seem to be straying again from the well trodden documented path and picking up books on the fly. I am breaking bad so to speak in my reading explorations, so to speak! Therefore it makes perfect sense for me to stick to basics, atleast for now and then pick up books as I like and what I chose , while balancing the progress of my this year’s reading goals!

Finally as I close this post, I wanted to share that I will be hosting my first ever read along in August. Cleo, my partner in all reading adventures has promised to join and I am hoping some of you will also join both of us as we read Rabindranath Tagore’s masterpiece “Home and the World“. One of the most intriguing and bold pieces of literature to come out of India in 19th century, it remains a resounding classic about human fallacies and courage. I will be sharing details of the reading plan as well some historical context for the novel, so that we may enjoy it to the best in the upcoming weeks! I hope many of you will join us as we explore one of the best works of Eastern literature!

Books Maketh Life Better….

February cometh, it means winter soon endeth and that makes me sadeth!

Apologies for the really bad prose, but as all my regular readers know, the potential demise of winter season take a toll on me. There was great mismanagement at the time I was born by the powers above and instead of being born in the cold Alpine Tundra, I was born in the wonderful, albeit extremely HOT Tropical lands! Such are the ironies of life, but we have books to fortify us and help us imagines lives, very different form our everyday mundane reality! My February reading plans fortunately are exactly suited for such flights of imagination from 17th Century Restoration England to 19th Century France to Middle Earth….its all there!

To begin with, as part of Reading England 2016, I read Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier, which is set during Restoration England, specifically Cornwall. (One place I really really want to visit in person, despite exhaustive imaginings of the place, thanks to various Authors who wrote about Cornwall and Jane with her lovely descriptions of her hometown!). Moving on, I am reading The Fortunes of the Rougan’s by Emile Zola as part of 12 Month Classic Challenge; the February theme being A classic you’ve always dreaded reading. Sigh! Everybody assures me that I will love Zola, but so far I have been kind of wary about reading French authors as my experience with Flaubert and Hugo have not been too successful. Though I love some Victor Hugo’s works, but I could not abide by Les Miserables, but then I read it at a very young age and I have a feeling, should I re-visit it again, I will end up liking it. But that is another project for another day! I am reading Miss Marjoriebanks by Margaret Oliphant for my Women’s Classical Literature Reading Event.

This month, for my Lecito List Read which got an impetus from my having absolutely no self control, I start a re-reading of Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien with Cleo. The plan is to read the entire three volumes in piecemeal fashion from February to June. I am also continuing with the Metamorphoses by Ovid ReadAlong, again with Cleo, O and Jean. (I have been fascinated with whatever I am reading and so far, while I am not sure of Ovid as a person, I am very glad I am reading the book!)

Finally while there is no definitive plan and no special efforts, I did realize that over the last couple of years, I have been reading the novel variety of fiction and some poetry; I used to love Dramas in my undergraduate days and it seemed a good time as any to re-visit some of them. I am almost done with Shakespeare’s Richard III and for the month of February, I am re-visiting another old favorite of mine, She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith.

In easy readings I still have the he Lake House by Kate Morton and , I also got The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric, books I could not complete in January (Yep! I finished all the heavy Classics and could not finish the more contemporary reads!) because I was too busy reading things on the fly, like W.M. Thackeray and Agatha Christie.

Overall, I had a really good reading month in January and I hope I able to keep up my gutso of sticking to the plan in February as well!

Until then next post then, Happy Reading

 

 

Ideas on December, Holidays and Reading…

Ahh…December is finally here!! My favorite month of the year…the holiday season, the hopeful season (for the New Year is about to start and you can make all your plans here and now!!) and of course my birthday month! Undoubtedly the best month of the year!

Naturally this month being so awesome as is deserves an awesome reading plan, especially with a two-week long and lazy winter vacation! Therefore as I mentioned before, I have dubbed this month this month as I-Will-not-finish-the-year-without-finishing-these-books-self-event. It means that I will read all those books I have planned to read through the year but did not due to work, Reading events or because another book came up, I could not get around to them!

Kickstarting this month are two books which I think I have mentioned in my TBR for at least 4 month running but not gotten around to reading them – Michelle Lovric’s “The True and Splendid History of the Harrington Sisters” as well as Susan Howatch’s “Penamrric”. Finally I have started reading them!! Yay!! Also inspired by Stefanie’s re-read, I began reading “Emma” by Jane Austen and the book has such a Christmassy flavor to it with snow, fires and wonderful dinner parties that it seems like a great book to read now. I also have to finish Henry James’s “The American” and Mark Twain’s “Innocent Abroad” as a study in contrasting genres with similar subject written during same period. I am absolutely devoted to Anthony Trollope and Jane has posted such wonderful things about the Palliser Series that I have decided to read “Can You Forgive Her?” and “Phineas Finn”. Jane brilliant review on L.G. Montgomery’s “The Blue Castle” made me add it to the holiday season reading pile. Also in for indulgence of my Historical Fiction obsession a little more I have plans to read Sarah Water’s “Affinity”. Finally I have not read any plays for some time, so December is a good time to dig in and read G.B. Shaw’s “Selected Short Plays”.

As part of reading events, I am readingMy Antoniaby Willa Cather both as my Classic Club Spin #8 and Ali’s Willa Cather Reading week. Also reading (Sigh!) and I cannot believe it is Daphane Du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn” as part of Goodreads Women’s Classic Literature Enthusiasts.

That’s my plan for December….considering it’s the holiday time, I am sure I will read a whole lot more but because it is my I-Will-not-finish-the-year-without-finishing-these-books-self-event, I keep myself open to reading whatever comes along!!

%d bloggers like this: