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Posts tagged ‘Equality’

The Diary She Wrote….

These have been very stressful weeks and this last week was no different. By the time Friday was done, all I wanted was a good book to steer my mind from professional and personal challenges, smart enough to be meaningful and funny enough to distract me from past events! Now it so happened, in this frame of mind, I embarked on toggling through by favorite bookish blogs and I saw that O had just done a Nostalgia post – books  from which she sought comfort to take her mind off from the recent snow infested disasters around her home! Among the long list, one book, she referred to was Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield and the novel settings seemed like the most perfect read. I also remembered that Jane had couple of years back an enthusiastic review of the book and that kind of sealed the deal. I mean O and Jane are two people with irreproachable bookish taste and if they say its good, chances are it will be good! Oh! the joys of bookish blogs, none but the book obsessed understand – you find readers-in-arms who are completely supportive, empathetic and as added bonus, have the right book recommendation to get you away from the mundane reality!

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Thus began my tryst with the Provincial Lady, living in a country near Plymouth, in between the two wars, probably around 1930s. She is married to a laconic but practical land agent, Robert and has two adorable but handful children, Robin who is away at school for most of the year and six year old Vicky! The household further consists of the Mademoiselle, the sometimes high strung, but always sympathetic governess to Vicky, the Cook who rules the household and itinerant round of parlor maids/menservants. The Lady’s life is of course anything but “leisured” as wonders herself! When involved with managing  the servants, house, husband and children, her time is taken up with the Women’s Institute, writing for the Time and Tied magazine and the social life within the country. Then, there are interludes of visits to London, ostensibly to procure a parlor maid, but primarily spent in shopping, dinner and theater, with her best friend Rose as well trips to South of France and the English coast. Then there are her neighbors like Lady B, the Vicar’s wife and many others whose actions and conversations take up much time and thought in the provincial lady’s already busy life, which trundles along among  home, travel, bank overdrafts,illness and social activities!

I often agree, with my fellow readers, that all books have a time and a place and this book came at the most propitiate moment in my life and rescued me from gloom and doom! Through the eyes of the Provincial Lady, I found much to be satirical about mankind and further more, I found hilarious laugh out loud moments! Ms. Delafield took the everyday life and turns it on its head, to make it look like one gigantic joyride, despite all the challenges. Her struggles in 1930s are as real as now and her relief and enjoyments remains as much fun, nearly 100 years down the line. I loved the brisk pace and crisp writing of even some of the most complicated situations that life presented! The brilliance of Ms. Delafield comes across especially when narrating a wholly embarrassing situation in a self deprecating yet extremely humorous manner! I loved her tongue and cheek take on Orlando and Vita Sackville West as well as her dislike for “cultured recreations” like the Italian exhibition! But for all its witty sparkle, what I loved most about the book was the subtle vein of commentary on women’s equality and classless society, which she superbly weaves into the narrative!

To say I have become a devotee is an understatement; I am a convert, who will now go out to the world to convert more into the Delafieldian clan! Vi Va Ms. Delafield!

The Great Day…

As many know, on 8th March diligently I do a post dedicated to Women’s Day. Mostly I review fictional characters who are the very role model of strong women and so forth! However today I wanted to take a bit of a different route and instead share a factual tale. It is a true blessing when you have a sisterhood of women, supporting and cheering you through the journey called life! This becomes even more precious, when your boss and peers are women, who also are part of you sisterhood. And all of this becomes exceptional when they sit nearly 28000 km away from you.

I know I have been raving about my long hours recently as well some personal stuff that I am working through. Recently another friend and peer, of mine. CM, visited our US headquarter on a business trip, where she met my boss , AB and my peer, AG. They sent a whole truck of gifts for me, but what was perhaps the most wonderful gift, was a handmade mascot that they created for me for”the project” that is taking 28 hours of my 24 hours . Knowing how stressed out I was, they spent a lot of time in this cheer-me-up mascot, so that when I feel down, I have a pick me near me. CM on returning told me of the kind of hard work that AB and AG had put in to make that mascot and after a bit of nagging, AG put down the story for me. I present the same, deleting out the specifics.

Here’s to the two brilliant woman, who truly inspire and uplift other women!! Thank You for being such an awesome cheering squad!

CM arrived in sunny state of _ US, to spend some time in the  _ Center. Little did she know, she would be a part of a grand plan to transport the Mascot back to its PMO Owner India. On the morning of March 3rd, 2016; AB and AG thought of a genius plan to give life to the Mascot of “the project”. Before they set out to collect the materials needed, they assessed if the fuzzy cactus was the optimal platform for the mascot. AB said, “I like the concept of the fuzzy cactus because it is a true representation of the tool itself.” AG replied, “I agree! But what should we make it out of?” They both thought about it for 23.4982 seconds and all of a sudden you could see the invisible lightbulb appear over their heads.

Off they went, down the stairs, past the cafeteria, through the turnstiles in the breeze way, out through the perimeter gate and across the street to Ml’s Craft Store. There they collected all the necessary materials and scurried back to their desk to begin the operation.

Gloves, check. Paper as a barrier, check. They were ready to rock and roll. AB began applying the green coats of paint to the wooden body until the optimal coverage was reached.  Next came the full assembly process. AB yelled, “Green Body!” AG handed it to her. AB yelled, “Flower Pot!” AG handled it to her. AB yelled again, “Super Glue!” AG handed it to her.

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Next came the facial recognition of the mascot. AG asked, “Is this a happy mascot or a sad mascot?” AB confirmed, “Definitely a happy but goofy mascot.” So they continued the assembly operations with an image in mind.

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AB and AG stood back and reviewed the mascot so far. Scratching their heads they said in unison, “Time for the fuzzy part?” Turning towards each other they yelled, “Yes!” and high fived. So off they went, adding more and more fuzzies all over using clear nail polish until the desired amount was added.

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After adding the final touch of a mouth, they both looked at the mascot, tilted their heads to the side until AG said, “He is cute. He has a weird resemblance of George Washington, but I like it!”

AB probed, “Well do you think it is time to name him? What shall we call him?” AG thought a moment before speaking, “What about Prometheus?” AB replied, “What the heck! Does that have anything to do with “the project”?” AG advised, “I don’t know…I guess Prometheus was the protector of mankind so isn’t that like “the project” and it starts with ‘Pro’?” They both went back to thinking of a name. Then it came to them, “let’s call him ‘H’ they agreed.” AG started on the letters and started from the center to ensure perfect symmetry was achieved while moving to the right. AG thought to herself, Wow this looks great! She continued now from the center to the left. AG pulled the marker away from the flower pot to admire her perfect penmanship. Frightened, she said, “OMG AB I messed up!” Instead of writing there was no H and she instead had created a whole new word! AB busted into laughter. Tears ran down her face as AG began to laugh as well. After a full 60 seconds of laughter they both said, “Well! this will be his name since we cannot erase marker.”

So, ZZZZZ was born instead of “the project”.

AB said, “I love how cool he looks”, touching his fury little head. And then with a blink of an eye, Mascot was accidentally bummed and was falling slowly, rotating over and over until he made contact with the carpeted floor. There he lay with his body separated from his flower pot and his flower pot cracked in 3 different areas. In slow motion, AB reached down and picked him up and they both had gears turning in their head thinking What are we going to do? AG said, “We do have some super glue, I think that will work! Engineering at its finest, we fix things!” Within 28.76501 seconds, it was back in full form.

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AB said, “You know, his pot actually looks like it has some real character now!” They both sat back and admired Mascot. Then something crazy happened! Mascot came to life!!! He said, “Hey AB! Hey AG! Can I borrow your cell phone? I would like to take a selfie of myself to send to my friends.” AB and AG looked at each other timidly and handed Mascot the phone.

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Next, AB and AG packaged Mascot up for his trip to India and they said their goodbyes as they wiped away a few tears.

Remember, when things get tough with “the project”, just look at the mascot. He also had some struggles along the way but with a little super glue and ingenuity, he still was ok and made it to his final destination. Which will be the same for our project journey.

I have no words to describe how touched I am. The kindness and their support is beyond comparison and they both truly represent the strength and the generosity of women!

I would like to end with a big shout out to all my women readers/blogging gang and all those brilliant, and wonderful men, who enrich our lives every day!’

Happy Women’s Day you all!

The Home & The World Read Along – Indian History Part II

Continuing from my last post, as part of my August Read Along Event – The Home and The World by Rabindranath Tagore, I come to part 2 of my snapshot of Indian History, in an effort to better understand the socio-economic backdrop of the novel and therefore better understand the nuances of this classic.

In 1498, Vasco Da Gama successfully discovered a direct sea route from Europe to India, which eliminated the need for Arab brokers and put Europe in direct touch with India. The Dutch and the French soon followed, but the most impact full of all these merchant ventures had a nascent beginning in 1617, when the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, impressed, by the ability of a European physician to cure his ailing son, granted a charter for trade to the physician’s company; the Company was called The British East India Company and this was the start of something which Jahangir could have little forseen! Soon, little by little, the British began to expand their commercial empire and the venture recieved a significant impetus, when the then Mughal Emperor  Farrukh Siyar granted them permits for duty-free trade in Bengal in 1717. The Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Dula, the de-facto Governor, naturally opposed these permits and this brought him in direct conflict with the British powers. However, he had not counted on the greed and treachery of many, including Mir Jafar, his commander in chief and Jagath Seth, his chief banker, who plotted with the British for overthrow of the Nawab in exchange of additional trading rights. If there had been any other company clerk at that time, perhaps this initiative would not have worked or fallen through; but Mir Jafar and Jagath Seth connived with one of the most brilliant and daring Britisher of that time – a little known ensign who would become the Governor of the Presidency of Bengal, Robert Clive. On on 23 June 1757, Robert Clive and the British Company Army under the command of Clive, defeated the Sirj-ud Dula and established the first foothold in India.

Following the colonization of Bengal, the British East India company adopted a series of expansionist policies, which began with open war and later incorporated any and every arbitrary policy from mis-rule as defined by the British to the hated Doctrine of Lapse to increase their colony.The first series of conquests happened in South of India, where the East India company defeated the French to conquer the Madras Presidency. They further consolidated their rule after the Anglo Maratha Wars ((1772–1818) which gave them supremacy over Bombay and conquered and annexed Punjab and Kashmir, following their decisive victory in the Anglo Sikh Wars in 1849. The British Colonial policy gained more territory, when they adopted the infamous Doctrine of Lapse, devised by Lord Dalhousie (1848 -1856). Under this policy, any princely state or territory would automatically be annexed if the ruler was either “manifestly incompetent or died without a male heir”. The latter  clause especially violated the long-established right of an Indian sovereign without an heir to choose a successor, by adopting someone from his/her family.In addition, the British decided whether potential rulers were competent enough, making the Indian kings and Princes, puppets in their own country, expected to serve at the pleasure of The East India Company. They also initiated the  Divide and Rule policy, exploiting the age old religious rivaliries to further their aims, the results of which would be felt more than 100+ years later, when India gained her independence by losing much of its territory to the formation of the state of Pakistan.

The British East India Company not only bought English rule, but also English governance with them.  They introduced a land taxation system called the Permanent Settlement which introduced a feudal-like structure in Bengal, often with zamindars set in place, who lorded over the poor peasants for ungodly taxes. They also tried to “modernize” India by introducing the railways, the telegraph and the English education system. The latter especially would have far reaching results, as suddenly India, gripped in the miasma of medieval barbaric traditions was exposed to the works of Kant and Rousseau and Mill and re-discovered their Vedic roots. The education system which sought to provide clerks to help the company business, was suddenly producing thinkers and heralding a profound social movement termed as the Bengal Renaissance. This movement argued  by many historians began with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772–1833) and ended with Rabindranath Tagore(1861–1941). This was social, cultural and intellectual movement that would force India into the modern nation states, and change the way Indians thought! The movement began by the questioning the then prevailing social evils in India – it argued for the ban of Sati (immolation of Hindu women on the cremation pyre of their husbands), fought against child marriage and was vociferous in its favor of education of girls and remarriage of widows,  both an anathema to then Indian Society.The movement received support of some of the more enlightened Governor Generals, with Sati being outlawed under Lord William Bentinck in 1829 and the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act being passed in 1856, legalizing marriage of widows. It was also under Lord Bentinck, under the misguided advise of Lord Macaulay, who believed that the Orient had nothing to educate its people, introduced many “modern” schools and universities in the country. The Hare School (1818), Scottish Church College (1830), Wilson College (1832), Madras Christian College (1837), and Elphinstone College (1856) and the founding of the first English style universities – University of Madras (1855) and University of Calcutta and Bombay (1857).

While the social reform from the current point of view seems a movement in the right directions, the middle 19th century India, did not seem to think so. Most of the common men, thought that a group of educated Indian elites were seeking to breakdown the Indian culture and tradition and most importantly their religion to gain complete control over the country. While the end was not completely inaccurate, and there were enough missionaries trying to convert “heathen” Indians, the education and the railways, were only to serve the British commercial needs. The changing rules in the British Indian Army, a much coveted post for Indians, also added to the growing disquiet. The final spark was provided by the ammunition for the new Enfield P-53 rifle.These rifles used paper cartridges that came pre-greased and to load the rifle, sepoys had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder.The grease used on these cartridges include tallow derived from beef, which would be offensive to Hindus and pork, which would be offensive to Muslims. Despite knowing the reservations the English continued the production of these cartridges and court martialed any Indian solider refusing to use these rifles. Such practices, along with social reforms that seemed to break down the Indian society  along with unlawful conquest of Jhansi, Saugar and Oudh, states which had stayed loyal to the East India company, under the uniformly abhorred Doctrine of Lapse , finally led to the eruption of the First War of Independence or The Rebellion of 1857, depending on the perspective of the historian narrating the event. The rebellion began as a mutiny of sepoys of the East India Company’s army on 10 May 1857, in the cantonment of the town of Meerut, and soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the Northern and Central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, the then state of Oudh, northern Madhya Pradesh, especially around Jhansi, Indore and Saugar and the Delhi region. The Rebellion was a horrific event in Indian history and atrocities that belie imagination was committed by both races. The only two factors that came through this event was the British Crown took over the rule of India, ending the unique monopoly of a company and Indian National Congress was founded under the patronage of a British man names A.O. Hume, who thought this would provide a forum for the Indians to present their cause and therefore prevent any such events like the 1857 mutiny.

The Indian National Congress at this time comprised mostly of the upwardly mobile and successful western-educated provincial elites, engaged in professions such as law, teaching and journalism, with no clear aims except to act as a debating society that passed numerous resolutions on less controversial issues such as civil rights or opportunities in government which were submitted to the Viceroy’s government with nothing much to write home about. However by 1900, the the Congress had emerged as an all-India political organisation, especially with the enhanced socio-religious movements. The nationalistic sentiments now coloring the beliefs of  Congress  led to them demanding to be represented in the bodies of government, to have a say in the legislation and administration of India. Congressmen saw themselves as loyalists, but wanted an active role in governing their own country, albeit as part of the Empire. This trend was personified by Dadabhai Naoroji, who went as far as contesting, successfully, an election to the British House of Commons, becoming its first Indian member. It was under this atmosphere that the Nationalist or the Swaraj movement gripped the country. Bal Gangadhar Tilak  was the Indian statesman who pioneered this movement and  deeply opposed the then British education system that ignored and defamed India’s culture, history and values. In 1907,  the Congress was split into two factions: The radicals, led by Tilak, advocated civil agitation and direct revolution to overthrow the British Empire and the abandonment of all things British. The moderates, led by leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji and Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who wanted reform within the framework of British rule. In July 1905, Lord Curzon, the Viceroy and Governor-General (1899–1905), ordered the partition of the province of Bengal supposedly for improvements in administrative efficiency in the huge and populous region.It also had justifications due to increasing conflicts between Muslims and dominant Hindu regimes in Bengal. However, the Indians viewed the partition as an attempt by the British to disrupt the growing national movement in Bengal and divide the Hindus and Muslims of the region. The partition outraged the now educated and well informed Indians, especially the Bengalis. Not only had the government failed to consult Indian public opinion, but the action appeared to reflect the continued British resolve to divide and rule. This act kicked off what would be The Swadeshi Movement and which formed the background of our novel.

I will conclude this historic overview in my last installment with an insight on the Swadeshi Movement and the end of the British Rule in India.

Again while I have not cited any particular sources, but my essay is based on readings of Modern India by Dr. Sumit Sarkar, The Men Who Ruled India by Philp Mason, A History of India by Percival Spear, Awakening: The Story of Bengal Renaissance by Subrata Dasgupta, The Great Mutiny by Christopher Hibbert, Wikipedia and once more, class notes during my Graduate School days from the lectures of Dr. Tanika Sarkar.

From The Idyllic Counties To The Factory Towns

I finished reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell as part of my Reading England Project. It also ties in brilliantly with my Women’s Classic Literature Event. I have always been a huge Gaskell fan and some of my best blogging buddies (Cleo and Stefanie. I am especially looking at two of you now!) have often told me that this is perhaps on of Gaskell’s best works! Naturally, I was excited to be able to finally read this work!

The novel opens with Margaret Hale preparing for a change in her life – she was brought up with her cousin Edith in her Aunt Shaw’s house in England; but Edith is now getting married and Margaret is going back to her own home at Helstone, where her father is the local pastor. She loves the village and has great plans to settle down there and support her parents in their daily routines and get a chance to be the daughter of the family. However her plans are overthrown when soon after her return, her father tells her that he is planning to resign from his post in Church of England due to his lack of beliefs in the institution and the Hales must move to Milton, an industrial town in Darkshire, north England, where he will work as a private tutor. Margaret does not like this transition, and her initial impression of Milton is unfavorable. Her understanding of mill owners is spurious and she believes them to be tradesman, without culture and intellect, incapable of being gentlemen. Her first impressions are further strengthen, when her father’s first pupil John Thornton, owner of the  Marlborough Mills, speaks straightforwardly on how the mill owners have risen and how their work is real, versus the intellectual pursuits of a “gentleman”.  John Thornton, despite believing Margaret Hale to be haughty, soon falls in love with her and proposes, which she declines. However the ensuing 18 months, bring many changes in Margaret’s life forcing her to not only revise her first opinion of mill owners, but also start caring deeply for John Thornton. But there are tumultuous events in Margaret’s life including the well –being of her exiled brother, Fredrick, who was part of a naval mutiny and now residing in Spain as well the health of her mother which will force to make many life choices which would push John Thornton’s love for her at the very edge.

Before I get into a more detailed review of the book, let me end the curiosity and speculation and say – I LOVED the book! Simply loved it!

Now for the more detailed analysis – Strong characterization has always been Mrs. Gaskell’s strength and in North and South, she not only plays to it, but comes out triumphantly! Margaret Hale is a living, breathing girl, with opinions about matters she understands little, petty jealousies and pride. She is also very loyal, generous, and capable of doing her duty, no matter what the sacrifice. She learns from her mistakes and is humble in her acceptance; and when her very world is torn apart, she stands like a rock, despite her own heartbreak to provide strength to those who love her! In short, she is not just a heroine, but she is a human heroine. John Thornton is everything a 19th century gentleman would have been, especially around Manchester. A self made man, who will not stand for anything that comes in the path of his success, but is also kind and loyal, who will do good, even when he knows there will be no rewards for his goodness. The supporting characters are wonderful as well – Mrs. Thornton as the proud mother to John Thornton, who never bowed or lost her self respect even in the worst of times; Mr and Mrs. Hale, two good people, who were perhaps not the best couple, despite their love for each other. I loved the loyal and sometime draconian servant, Dixon and Mr. Bell, Margaret’s God Father.  Finally, my heart went out to Nicholas Higgins and his daughter Betsy, kind and good even when they have nothing, absolutely nothing to be kind with! While the novel has a similar backdrop as that of Mary Barton, this book looks more closely at the owner and employers of the mills and brings home the fact; they not all of them are black villain, a subject, and the author had already touched upon in Mary Barton. She acknowledges that while there was much that needed to be done for the workers, the mill owners were also facing challenges, especially from the booming cotton business from Southern United States. She tries to showcase the struggle and effort these mill owners themselves went through, to reach their current position and these were all self-made man, who worked their lives through to build what they have built. Like all Gaskell’s novels, religion is a strong pillar in the construct of the story, and while, it is used as a means of building fortitude and courage, it is also openly questioned for its absoluteness, several times. This streak of rebellion against the establishment runs through the plot and while very much crouched in the conventions of Victorian England, it is very much there and one cannot ignore it – Mr. Hale’s break with the church, Fredrick’s mutiny, albeit against tyranny, but nevertheless against authority, the strike of the workers, and of course Margaret’s rebellion against anyone trying to tell her about social proprieties, which she feels impinges on what is personal to her. There is a smidgen feeling of Pride and Prejudice in the romance between Margaret and John, but it is smidgen and their story stands independently on its own!

Overall it’s an absolutely marvelous read. Mrs. Gaskell remains as brilliant as ever!

Love and Equality in Victorian England

I finished re-reading Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” today as part of my Classic Club November Victorian Literature event. I think besides Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, there is no other book in English literature that is so famous or the by-word of must read lists and whose plot has been copied innumerable times for prequels, sequels, pre-prequels and it central story line used for films, stage and even modernized versions of the original book. Therefore since novel is so well steeped in the public memory, it makes little sense to summarize its story or review the book considering practically almost all of us have done that at least once middle-school upwards. Thus I adopt the same means as I when I wanted to discuss Rebecca and Sign of Four and share with you some observations and thoughts –

I have always had mixed feelings about “Jane Eyre” – as a young girl in her pre- teens, I could not warm up to Jane Eyre, with her controlled behavior and her at times cold approach. I liked my leading ladies to have all the fire in the world and I could not suppose why Jane was always striving to be so what I considered uptight in her actions. This came from the heart that worshipped Elizabeth Bennet and was fundamentally a Marianne Dashwood. However re-reading the book, several times since then, I did realize that allowances had to be made for the age – woman had limited means and character once lost would irrevocably lead to ruin. I did understand that one had to only act correct but also seem correct and one’s passion must be regulated by one’s intellect for the long-term well-being of all concerned. Jane Eyre therefore had long seized to be a cold insipid creature, but rather a courageous and strong woman who did what was right, no matter what the sacrifice and no matter how painful. The idea of what is right versus what makes me happy, is refreshing especially in the modern world of “absolute individualism” and “doing what makes me happy as long as no one is hurt” – perhaps by becoming Mr. Rochester’s mistress, no one would be hurt, after all the wife is mad!! Besides what is right for me may not be right for you and would the modern re-telling of Jane Eyre, actually hold up the value of not living in while the spouse, albeit mad lives? Would the modern readers judge such an action – such “living in the moment” more logical and plausible than the original Victorian moral guide of what is now considered as “prude”. I am very curious, what would be the turning point of should Charlotte Bronte write Jane Eyre in 21st century or is such a story longer possible, since the very socio-political background has changed?

Moving on to Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester – I know why I never liked the “Jane Eyre”; it was because I NEVER liked the hero!! Not in my pre-teens and not now at the age of 32. I mean come on – I am all for anti-hero and all such, but Mr. Rochester is farce and a weakling! Never mind his redeeming stance about trying to save his mad wife from the fire or his utter complete love for Jane. He is pugnacious, cowardly and irresponsible from the word go. Oh! Yes! His father wanted him to marry a wealthy heiress but he did choose to marry Bertha Mason and there is no justification in saying he did not know her well enough when of marriage; really whose fault is that? The fact that he stayed married to her is no absolution for his original fool hardy actions. We have loads of heroes who choose to break away from parental tyranny to make a better life or seek fortunes through means wholly unconnected with matrimony. Cases to the point include Henry Tilney in “Northanger Abbey” and Captain Frederick Wentworth in “Persuasions” and many others. Then this whole business of marrying Jane when he was already married; I do not understand this kind of selfish love – the kind of love where you seek only one goal, your own goal and the justification of the means is that you love the person so completely that this was the only way out!! Had the marriage happened, Jane legally would have been no better than a mistress and he was willing to carry out this ceremony , despite knowing how much faith and belief Jane held to doing what is right and how much weight she gave to the appearance of what is expected of good conduct in the society. I do not understand this kind of selfish self-centered love, where you willingly sacrifice the very principles that are held dear by whom you proclaim you love; and I cannot understand how a sensible a heroine like Jane Eyre could go back to such a man.

The one last thing that I love about this book and I may have mentioned this in one my older blogs is that I believe that this is first book that takes a stand of feminism and equality.

It is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are

Could there be a more revolutionary statement, especially considering the time it was written in? Here was this young orphaned girl with no money, no relations and no prospects; furthermore she is a mere governess in the house of rich and aristocratic landowner. Yet she demands to be treated as an equal because at the end of the day when all the material considerations are stripped away, we all stand as one and equal. This was a triumphant feminist war cry, that sought equality and that demanded that women no matter what their material situation is treated equal to a man. Jane Eyre the heroine knows that true love is made of respect and of being treated as equal, and this is not something that can be bought with money and in a position of a paid mistress!

The Mills of Manchester…

Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell had been lying on top of one of my bookshelves for some time At least for 3 years, it remained in the same corner of my book shelf, untouched and unread. As everybody knows, I worship Elizabeth Gaskell and I would normally never let a work of hers that I possessed, lay unused especially for such a long time. But the blurb behind the book and I am quoting verbatim from Penguin Classic publication –

“Mary Barton, the daughter of disillusioned trade unionist, rejects her working-class lover Jem Wilson in the hope of marrying Henry Carson, the mill owner’s son, and making a better life for herself and her father. But when Henry is shot down in the street and Jem becomes the main suspect, Mary finds herself painfully torn between the two me.”

Gave this book a very “Hard Times “feel and I was not sure I wanted to tackle sadness or hardship when my reality was hardly joyous for more reasons than one! Anyway, when Classic Club declared its  November event as the Victorian Era Literature and it seemed like a good time for me to prod myself to finally take this book down and start reading it!!

Mary Barton”, as the name suggests is the story of Mary Barton, a young girl apprenticed as a dressmaker, whose father, John Barton is a mill worker in the Manchester factories, circa. 1841-42. As the story progresses, the reader realizes that Mary, like many other girls, has aspirations of a better life – a life outside the squalor and poverty of the mill workers colony and dreams of being a grand lady. This cherished dream of hers gets a boost, when Henry Carson, the wealthy and handsome son of Mr. Carson one of wealthiest mill owners of the city, starts courting her. She is also courted by Jem Wilson, a workshop supervisor and the son of John Barton’s closest friend; however in her aspirations for higher life, she does not encourage Jem’s suit. It is very clear that Mary Barton is not in love with Henry Carson, but nevertheless is flattered by his attention; furthermore the good life that she so wishes, is not only for self, but also for her father, whom she loves desperately and wants him to be comfortable in his old age. All this while, the socio-economic condition of the Manchester Mill workers, worsens; as wages are brought down lower and lower, many of the factory workers are laid off and their children and other dependents begin to die due to malnutrition and illness. John Barton, one of the spokesperson for the mill workers trade union grows bitter and bitter as first the mill owners and then the government turn away from the pitiful conditions of the workers and deaths due to starvation increase. The increased divide finally lead the trade unionists to take some harsh actions, to have higher authorities listen to their demands. Amidst this unrest, Henry Carson is shot and Jem Wilson is imprisoned as the prime accused. It is now up to Mary Barton to decide what her heart truly wants and how can she go ahead in achieving its object.

To begin with never go by the blurb, it says what the book is, without really saying what the book is. Therefore not only do not judge the book by its cover, but also use discretion when reading a blurb. To begin with, the blurb makes Mary Barton out to be one social-climbing opportunist, which she is anything but. Like all young girls, she dreams of better and richer life, but that’s for the enriched value of life itself. How many of us have not wished for a better, more prosperous life? In a restricted, confined Victorian society, Mary leveraged the only option available to her – that of marrying someone better. She is conscious of Jem Wilson’s liking for her and because she thinks that she may seek another man, goes out of her way, to not make sure she does not encourage him or raise his hopes, that may lead to him being hurt. The wish of for bettering herself does not discount that she is a generous and a loyal friend and a dutiful daughter. Her decision are made well before any shots are fired and there is no social-climbing in her sincere wish to do what is best and what is right, all the while following the dictates of her heart! You will really like Mary for all her courage and gusto in doing everything in her power to make someone’s life better or comfortable. The supporting characters are also brilliantly drawn – you cannot help but be touched by the humanity and kindness in both John Barton and Job Leigh’s character. The simplicity and dignity of Alice and Margaret’s life and conduct is wonderful and extremely joyous, especially in the atmosphere that is both sobering and tragic. You cannot help but love the Wilson cousins – Jem and Will; they steal the reader’s heart with their honesty and earnestness. Finally, there is Mr. Carson, a wealthy man, who worked his way to the top from his childhood in grinding poverty and who in his most testing times, showed how much greatness, mankind is truly capable off! I know Ms. Gaskell wrote this book as a social commentary of her times, but it’s more than just a social drama – there is a sense of thrill and chase, especially in the second half of the book, that makes you want to reach the next page as soon as possible. The pace never flags – it a big book, 494 pages – I read it through the night. No credit to my reading skills and all kudos to Ms. Gaskell fast-moving plot that keeps you going. There are bits and pieces on Christianity and faith which may a bit challenging, but are completely in keeping with the social times of the era she wrote in and are far and few and do not really distract one from the plot! One of the key factors of this novel which makes it easy to read despite the very serious nature of the subject is that Ms. Gaskell is never didactic or pedantic. She never preaches, but observes and provides incidents, written with extreme sympathy and understanding. Not for once did she make this tenacious issue black and white – her sympathy was for the workers, but she was gentle in her exhortations of the owners, allowing them with far more human elements, than books of such genre usually allow. Most importantly, she succeeds in showcasing that even in amid most painful and difficult times, good things do happen and the most vengeful is capable of kindness and forgiveness.

Ms. Gaskell, thy name is versatility and you are truly one of under-sung but brilliant heroes of that age!!

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