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!

The Sisters from the Photoshop

Jane has always always been such a great source of lesser known hidden gems, that I can always rely on her to lead me to books which I would have missed, but in missing them, it would have been a crying shame! She has introduced me to Margaret Kennedy, Hélène Gestern and Margery Sharp and so many others that I can barely begin to enumerate and therefore it was only natural that when she posted about this very little know The Romance of a Shop by Amy Levy, i would add it to my TBR and wait for a right opportunity to explore more! It was however good 2 years before I could actually get my hands on it and get the time to read it and when I finally finished it, it seemed apt that it should be part of my Women Classic Literature Reading Event!

The Romance of a Shop is set in Victorian England and the novels opens with the death of Mr. Lorimer who has left his estate sadly tangled with mounting debts all of which would have to be paid by the sale of his house and the belongings. This leaves the Lorimer sisters, daughter of the late Mr. Lorimer, Fanny, Gertrude, Lucy and Phyllis extremely poor. They have the option of residing with friends and relatives in ones and twos and go to India as part of fishing fleet in search of eligible husbands, all of which mean separation from each other and dependence on someone else for their welfare! They resolve against all such schemes and under the leadership of Gertrude (the artist and the creative sister) and Lucy ( the clever and pragmatic sister), they decide to open a photography shop, much to the consternation and horror of their noble relations. This is 1880s England and girls from well-to-do gentle background do not become shop girls, even if it is their own shop! Despite all the oppositions, the sisters who had been amateur photographers for a long time, decide to pursue their aims and to that effect find small accommodations at Upper Baker Street, where the ground floor would serve as their workshop and the upper floors as their apartments.Chang in economic situation, brings in new changes in their lives as the sisters cope with making the ends meet and gain a respectable foothold in the new age of artists and writers. While most of their old friends abandon them, some stick through the Lorimers including the Devonshires, Constance the daughter being a particular friend of Gertrude and Fred, her brother who besides having a sympathetic heart for all the sister, also holds a secret love for Lucy. Soon their old friendships are tested and mixed up with new relations as the Lorimer girls from new circles  – Frank Jermyn, an artist who lives across and provides some commission work for the sisters and who becomes a part of their inner circle; Lord Watergate, a brilliant scientist with whom they become acquainted when the he wishes them to take a picture of his dead wife and Sidney Darrell, a member of the Royal Academy, who also commissions some work and makes Gertrude extremely uncomfortable.As the sisters adapt to the new social circle and have to change their traditional mores of interactions, they have to look inside themselves for what they truly want and what they really wish to achieve, especially when threatened by storms that promises to shake the very foundations on which their lives have been built on!

This is not one of the best novels that I have read, the plot while it flows, seems at places to meander and sometimes, there is no logic for sudden actions. The end ties up the lose ends far too easily and the writing seems at times a cross between a Jane Austenish social manner book meets Virginia Woolf. But then why consider it a classic? Because despite all these flaws, it is. The novel published in 1880 clearly calls for empowerment of the women, especially economic empowerment and stands against all masculine mores of “women needing to be looked after”. In the four sisters, we find the perfect examples of modern women , Wikipedia tell me that this concept was called “New Women” – women who were not delicate darlings, who fainted at the very sound of a harsh voice (even Fanny who seems to have been created to form a parody to her non-traditionalist sisters, has more strength of character than what was usually given credo to women of that era!), but rather strong independent women, who were not afraid of hardwork, of keeping their own house and yet managing to maintain a certain about of intellectual culture! The sisters are far from perfect, and at times can come across as selfish in their own needs, but they are constantly striving the better themselves and their lot and when the world comes crashing, instead of finding solace male arms, they band together find strength and battle their demons head on! Considering Ms. Levy wrote about these characters nearly 140 years ago, the modern reader will find much to identify with and that in some significant feat! The society of London is also very well portrayed in the novel and there are characters and events which encourage and provide platform for the girls to explore their talent and build their business, there is enough gossip and malicious whispering to make the portray real and ring in the true nature of the socio-econiomic paradigm of late Victorian England. At the heart of it all, it is a great story. There is wit and a sense of mirth though the book, even at some it darkest passages and the reader is involved and concerned regarding the fate of Lorimers until it plays out to the very end, most to the satisfaction of all. The epilogue is a wonderful touch giving an insight into the lives that carry on and leaves you feeling safe after being hailed by a multitude of storms! Ms. Levy wrote a marvelous work with such promise, and it seems such a shame, that she would die, two years after this book’s publication!

Celebrating Freedom – The Home and The World Read Along

In the year of 1916, exactly 100 years ago, 3 years since he became the first Non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Rabindranath Tagore, one of the most prolific artistic geniuses to come from India, published his extremely controversial and then much contested “The Home and The World“. It was a book that broke the mold and brought out women from the “anter mahal” (the inner chambers where women led secluded lives in 18th-19th century Bengal, albeit with consequences) and put a spin on on the Indian National Movement by defining and defying at the same time what a true patriot is/was. This novel has been since subjected to countless reviews, researches and critiques and has been subject of several dramas and filming, the most popular version being the one directed by Satyajit Ray, another first, the first Indian to win an Oscar!

On Aug 15th. 2016, India celebrates her 69th year of “Independence”; exactly 69 years ago, India regained her independence from the British rule after more than 200 years of colonization and exploitation. This act of regaining independence was the final culmination of the Indian National Movement, which began after the disastrous failure of the  ill-fated attempt of 1857 Mutiny and would ultimately inspire many world leaders in their efforts gain freedom and equality, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Interestingly 2016, nearly a 100 years after Tagore brought the traditional bengali woman to the man’s world in a startling attempt to emancipate women atleast in literature, the first batch women fighter pilots of Indian Air force, take to the sky, in a revolutionary departure from the historically masculine dominated world of military and warfare!

With such changes and events, colliding, it made sense to host a reading event that celebrated the long way India and her women had come along and “The Home and The World” seemed an apt book to do it with. Therefore with all humility and some pride I present “The Home and The World Read Along” for the month of August! It’s short novella, and does not require much time, but stitched together in those 120 odd pages is a story that speaks both of unique historical moment of time and of relationships that are timeless and abound through the ages!

Batch

I already have the honor of having Stefanie and Cleo join me for the event. Ruth also committed to check in and try and fit in with her schedule, and I am hoping many of you will join as well.( Please feel free to share the button above to share the love!) Like I promised Stefanie, I plan to provide an overview of the socio-political events that formed the background of this novel as well a summary of the position of women in India through centuries to help you better understand the book and provide you crucial clutches to navigate the specifics of the novel!

So come on and join us as we travel through time to the coming of age of an old country and her people!

Some Goblins, Some Songs & A Birthday

For somebody enormously fond of literature and passionate about readings, my adventures in Poetry are next to none. Despite majoring in English Literature for my undergraduate degree, I could not develop a liking for this form of writing. I always felt that it takes a very developed and highly sensitized brain to truly appreciate poetry and somehow, I seemed to lack both in the right measure to really become a connoisseur. So I remained in the margins, reading up what others wrote about the texts assigned to me and managed to get the degree with honors, largely because I loved prose and drama. Anyway since the dismal tryst with poetry, I have usually kept such reading limited and at bay;however this year like I keep harping and I am trying to do things differently, as in reading Woolf and Zola, both of which I had dreaded and ended up loving, that not to venture forth with this other albatross seemed silly and I decided to plunge ahead. Since I was planning to take baby steps in reading poetry, I decided to start with someone whose works I have read in the past and enjoyed and did not not struggle through – Christina Rossetti fitted the bill to a T and her Goblin Market and Other Poems seemed the thing that slid very nicely into my Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event as well The 12 Month Reading Challenge, March theme being, A Classic that has been recommended! Goblin Market has been recommended to me for like FOREVER and now was a good time to start!

The Penguin Edition of Rossetti’s works is a collection of the poet’s 20 poems, the most famous being The Goblin Market. The poem describes the coming of the Goblins to sell their wares – the most delicious and freshest of fruits apples, cranberries, peaches, apricots, pears, grapes, pomegranates etc. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie who live together hear the coming of the Goblins; Laura is tempted by the descriptions of the fruits, but Lizzie cautions against going and purchasing the fruits from the Goblins. Laura however is tempted and one evening lingers around the stream waiting for the Goblins to come and bring their fruits; when the Goblins arrive, she realizes she does not have any money to buy the fruits but the goblins offer to take a piece of her golden hair instead. So Laura gives up some of her hair, gorges herself on goblin fruit, and heads on home to her sister.The next day Laura and Lizzie go about their work in the house, Laura dreamily longs for the coming evening’s meeting with the goblins who will come again with their delicious fruits. But at the stream that evening, as she strains to hear the usual goblin cries of their fruits, she realizes that although Lizzie still hears the goblins’ voices, she no longer can. She slowly begins to fall ill and starts to waste away.  A worried Lizzie has to act soon and decides to confront the Goblins in an effort to save her sister!

This is the primary poem of the collections consisting of 28 stanzas and provides much food for thought! There is of course a vast deal of analysis that is available on this poem and they range from feminism, to sexual freedom to anti-Judaic character treatment etc etc. There is no denying that there is a sexual element to this composition, however, my take is that simply, Rossetti was rebelling against the social mores and restrictions, especially the ending, where the Victorian fallen woman, instead of dying away in oblivion, is resurrected and lives to a ripe old age! There is also the creation of Lizzie as a “hero” noble and brave who goes out to find a cure for her sister – there is no Prince Charming to the rescue here, but rather a theme of how woman must stand by each other! Then there is the aspect of being cautious against things we seem to little understand and letting them be.The poem uses an irregular rhyme scheme and irregular meter and allows some time to pass before the word finds its partner, which makes for a very unique reading experience and is best if read aloud. Apparently this poem was written for children, but I am not quite sure, if that was the only purpose of Ms. Rossetti.

I loved the collection and I completely  “besotted” is the word is guess, by the images and the themes that Ms. Rossetti uses to bring forth in her poems. While I really enjoyed the revolutionary spirit of Goblin Market, I also loved her “Song – When I am dead, my dearest” I cannot help but feel that though this particular poem bespoke of sadness of departing in death, there is also the same element of rebelling that was present in the Goblin Market, where the narrator ironically and iconically points out that the ‘dearest’ will not remember her! Yet another poem, a memorial for Keats called On Keats. Keats was a poet she greatly admired is as beautiful in its lyricism as much as its in its ode to the master poet “Here lies one whose name was writ, In water: while the chilly shadows flit, Of sweet Saint Agnes’ Eve; while basil springs, His name, in every humble heart that sings, Shall be a fountain of love, verily”. I also loved “A Birthday“, a poem where the narrator celebrates and expresses her joy at the upcoming birthday of her love. I loved the simple innocence of a true love and the brilliant way she weaves the words to create a lasting imagery! There is so much I can say, yet all of it will be insufficient to accurately describe the brilliance of this collection! Therefore, I leave you with only one thought – Please read it yourself!

 

I got all my sisters with me……

 

This is a bit of delayed post for March reading plans, but I really wanted to figure out what the Classic Club Spin#12 would bring, before I chart my course! To begin with, I am really proud of myself as to how well I have adhered to the reading plans of January and February and got some additional reading done as well. I may twist my arm, patting myself on the back, but I cannot help but grin! (Grin!Grin!)

However, wise people say that it is important to look ahead instead of gloating over successes of the past, so I reluctantly but rationally share the plan for March. Now we all know this is the month of International Women’s Day, which is in fact today – 8th March. Coming from a country that was as liberal and egalitarian as it gets on women issues until about 7oo years ago, when we lost all sense of proportion, and become a very conservative and masochist nation, I feel especially strongly about today. Its like having a great thing and then losing it! You never miss what you did not have, but when you have it and then lose, it seems kind of end of the world, not to mention stupid! Anyway, while we have recovered significantly in the last 100 years, I still have sisters in various corners of the country who are deprived of education, financial independence and the simple choice of living life on her own terms! Therefore call me a feminist, but I am all Go Woman!

I therefore have decided that besides the Women’s Classical Literature Reading Event which is a great monthly event, I will spend the month of March only reading Women authors, with the exception of the Readalongs which kind spread over from previous months! This is my kind of celebration of Womanhood! Therefore, to kick start, as part of Women’s Classical Literature Reading Event as well as 12 Month Classic Challenge (March theme – A classic you’ve been recommended), I am reading Christina Rossetti’s The Goblin Market and other poems. In Reading England, I select a crime fiction, because you cannot constantly read heavy literature and I wanted a good romping read towards the latter half of the month when I go on vacation to the Himalaya, and therefore it is Busman’s Honeymoon: Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy Sayers, focusing on Hertfordshire. I also revisit Dorothy Sayer’s in another avatar of a playwrite as I read her The Man Born to be King. I know this more of Christmas play and this is the wrong time of the year, but hey, it is Lent and Easter will be around soon! I think Christ believed that we should keep God in our hearts and remember him always and not during a particular month, so I venture forth on this drama as my Drama read of the month. You know you are lucky when your Spin Read is also a woman author – I will be reading Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Also because I know vacation is cometh and I will be undisturbed in the glorious pastures of Himalayas for a week, I added some more books to my reading kitty –Up the Country: Letters to her sister from the Northern Provinces of India by Miss Emily Eden. Her brother was one of worst Viceroy’s of British India, but I have heard great things about Ms. Eden’s writing so I want to really read this, especially when sitting in a British built hill station, watering place kind of thing! In some additional fun reads, I have got Ms. Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson, something recommended highly by  a grand aunt and Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. Finally if I do find time, I will also have The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel, though I strongly doubt I will reach that far!

Now for the exceptions – I continue and hopefully will finish The Metamorphoses by Ovid, that I started in January with Cleo and O. I also have The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien Readalong with Cleo, which forms a part of my Lecito List Reading. Finally O is hosting a brilliant and innovative ReadAlong for the The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, that kicks starts this month!

That’s the reading plan for this month! Simple, would you not agree?

Before I bid adieu for this post, though, I came across these lines in Rossetti’s Goblin Market, which seemed so very appropriate for the sisterhood we all belong to and therefore I leave you with it –

For there is no friend like a sister

In calm or stormy weather;

To cheer one on the tedious way,

To fetch one if one goes astray,

To lift one if one totters down,

To strengthen whilst one stands.

Cheers to Us!

 

Exceptional Women and More Exceptional Women and Some More Exceptional Women….

A very Happy Women’s Day to all the ladies and a special mention for all the gentlemen across the world who display sensitivity and generosity, supporting equality and standing by us while we fight our battles! While I don’t believe in “particular day” based celebration, but considering we as women, have more than 5000 years of bondage to throw off, a special boost does no harm, I guess!

Naturally, I wanted to a do special post on focusing on woman, and considering I draw all inspiration from books, I decided on strong women characters – I don’t mean to go down the road and list some of the strongest heroines and do a regular cliché cataloging; but rather I wanted to take this moment and identify top 10 women in “supporting cast” across various works of fiction, who are more humane and identifiable than the central heroine ( because most ‘heroines’ have it all – beauty, brains, courage, etc etc) and yet a critical to the plot, without whom the novel would fall apart, pretty much like life. After all life does imitate art…

Here we go then…

  1. March from Little Women – I have mentioned about her in one of my previous posts as well and while the book is about her five daughters, there is no getting away from the fact that Mrs. March is what holds them together; her kindness, fortitude and silent courage in face of extremely distressing circumstances, keeps the March brood together. She is not perfect and she claims to have struggled with her unbiddable temper for a long time, but what makes her stand out is her innate ability to overcome this shortcoming.
  2. Jane Bennett from Pride and Prejudice –True Jane seems to have it all – beauty, kindness and a cheerful disposition; but it cannot be fun constantly living in the shadow of a brilliant and witty sister, who is her father’s favorite and with a mother, who favors her only for her beauty. But Jane Bennett rises above all that is petty; to appreciate the good in all and feel blessed for the love she gets, in whatever form or manner. When Bingley leaves her without a word, she promises Elizabeth that she will not regret or pine over her loss for the sake of all those who love her. In an age of increased awareness about individuality and the “I” factor, it is still worthy to honor sentiments of others and do something for their sake!
  3. Rosa Hubermann from The Book Thief – Outwardly Rosa Hubermann is brash, aggressive, nagging and pretty much a termagant. But she is also the pillar of the Hubermann family, providing food on the table, taking good care of her adopted daughter and standing by Hans no matter how difficult the circumstances. While Liesel has a far more bonded relationship with Hans, there is no denying that Rosa Hubermann acted as good strong surrogate mother to her foster child.
  4. Mellissa Hallam from Lucy Carmichael – The best example of a girl best friend; she describes Lucy as – “She taught me how to enjoy myself … Lucy forced me to believe that I might be happy. I don’t expect I’d have had the courage to marry you, to marry anybody, if it hadn’t been for Lucy.”It’s not just about what she says about Lucy that is significant, but what it says of her own character – strong, devoted, loyal and brave enough to admit her flaws and get past them. Mellissa and Lucy’s friendship endure various test of time and all the natural emotions of knowing that friends see you through when they see you through. Mellissa stands by Lucy through all her ups and downs, with maturity, sensitivity and the everlasting knowledge for the other that she will always be there for her!
  5. Mrs Burden from My Antonia – Generous , kind and supportive, she is there even when she is not wanted, (Remember how the Shimerdas react when she first comes over to their farm to help them) helping in all the little ways so that those whose fortunes are less than hers, can better their lives and become more complete individuals. She knows that her good nature is often exploited but she lets it be, if there is some good in the end. She is the principle person who helps Antonia in attempting to shape a better life for herself beyond the farm. If you ever need a model mentor, Emmeline Burden is a shining example of that!
  6. Molly Weasly from Harry Potters – She is perhaps the most unconventional of the great mom’s literature. She yells at her children when they step out of line; she is generous in her love when she adopts an orphaned Harry in her family, caring for him like her own sons and a roaring tigress when anyone harms her brood! (Remember her battle with Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.) She is one fierce woman demonstrating the best of motherhood – pride, kindness and protectiveness.
  7. Ellen O’Hara from Gone with The Wind – Ellen’s life revolved around Tara and the O’Hara; the perfect mistress, she took care of her family, the plantation and the dependents with kindness, wisdom and determination. She embodied the very best of what was considered the highest standards of a “lady” and seemed absolutely contended with her life, never letting anyone know the very depth of her heartbreak and despair, when she lost Philip, the one man she truly loved.
  8. Cheery Littlebottom from Feet of Clay and other Discworld Novels – No one knows she is a ‘she’ until she decides to step away from the paradigm of what constitutes a female dwarf. What makes her really endearing is that her rebellion is not without angst; she is afraid of breaking away from the mores of traditional societal norms, but she still marches ahead and thumbs the nose to the world, while quaking in her boots! And oh! yes! She is a brilliant chemist, a contradiction in itself – brilliant and a Chemist? Now who would have thought of that???
  9. Marilla Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables – Marilla is a traditionalist, a conservative and she seems to have absolutely no room for imagination. Yet as the book progresses, we are touched by all that is kind, warm and filial in Marilla as embraces Anne’s unusual look of life with a strong sense of humor and resilience for all the upheavals that life throws at her!
  10. Sita from The Far Pavilions – The iconic Ashton Akbar Pelham Martyn would not be Ashton Akbar Pelham Martyn had it not been for this uneducated, poverty stricken woman. With no resources at her disposal and only her subsuming love for her surrogate son which drives this humble woman to a display of courage, strength and intelligence; the end being only to ensure the survival of young Ashton, through the mayhem of 1857 Mutiny and the intrigue of 19th century indigenous kingdoms, even if it cost her, her own life!

There are so many more I want to include in this list, but space constrains along with time limitations, force me to end here. However before ending, one last virtual toast to all these and other brave women, both in fiction and the  real world, thank you for inspiring us and paving the road for the future generation of women.

The Girl and The Inn Keeper and Cornwall

Jamaica Inn” was part of my December reading event for Goodreads Women’s Classic Literature Enthusiasts. I already was extremely disappointed with “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier and I had hoped that since my opinion of her work was based on only one book, I should keep an open mind and re-read this one.

The book is set in 1820 in Cornwall around a pub house that apparently still exists or at least used to when Daphne Du Maurier wrote the novel. Mary Yellan has recently been orphaned and her mother’s dying wish is that she sells the farm and goes and stays with her aunt Patience who lives with her husband Joss Merlyn, an Inn Keeper at Jamaica Inn. Mary sells her farm at Helford and travels to reside with her uncle and aunt. She soon discovers that her happy once happy aunt has become a dithering, scared and silly fool under the constant treat and bullying from her husband Joss Merlyn. Mary soon discovers that under the guise of Inn keeping Joss Merlyn actually does illegal smuggling by wrecking ships of Cornish cost. She realizes that her uncle is completely ruthless when one night she over hears him giving order of a murder of one his team members who disagreed with him. Worried about her aunt’s safety and eager to get out of her uncle’s clutches, she concocts various plans to escape from Jamaica Inn; but these go awry as she discovers kinship with Jem Merlyn, the younger brother of her uncle. Confused as to whether to trust Jem or not, she turns for advise to Francis Davey,Vicar of Altarum, an Albino gentleman with all kinds of unforeseen results!

Where do I begin??!! The cast in itself is really bad and clichéd. Mary Yellan enters Jamaica Inn for the first time and is immediately scared of her uncle, then before you can blink your eye, she is defending her aunt? Where does this courage come from and if it was there, why was she so scared in the beginning? She is constantly confused – like Jem/don’t like Jem!! Ye Gods!! Joss Merlyn is the arch-typical villain who has more strength than brains – no prize there for any originality; nor is there any real charm in Jem Merlyn except he is a crook of lower order – his brother kills people( heinous of course!) and Jem steals horses ( a much less horrific crime), but a lesser crime is no excuse for committing it none the less! The worst was characterization was Francis Davey – nonsensical, clichéd and without any foundation. The plot drags and drags and at one point you just want Mary to die or something instead of sitting through another chapter of her traipsing through Cornwall moors. The only redeeming feature of the book is the description of Cornwall and the dark mood that Ms. Du Maurier is able to create through inclement weather and the planning and execution of horrific crimes. That alone provides relief in an otherwise very ordinary work.

Daphne Du Maurier just does not improve on closer acquaintance. I am glad this re-read is over and I am NOT touching a Du Maurier for some time!

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 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)
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Please do help and Thank You again!

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!!