Once Upon a time in Puritan New England

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

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

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

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

A Universal New Zealander…..

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

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

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

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

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

Turf Wars and more in Victorian England

I am still very ill so I will make this post short and sweet. While I have some pending reviews,  let me review what I have just finished reading and fresh in my mind so that I do not labor myself too much (Yes! I am reduced to dithering hypochondriac except I really cannot seem to take on too many tasks!)

Therefore without further ado, I present to you Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. I had bought this one way back but for some reason or other I did not get around to it; recently this book came back into view and seemed like a perfect staple for my Century in Books project.

Framley Parsonage is the fourth instalment in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire and was published in 1861. I do not know why I took so long in getting round to this book, because I had so far read three of the Chronicles and loved them – The Warden, Barchester Towers and my personal favorite Dr. Thorne.

Framley Parsonage continues the saga of the Cathedral Town of Barchester and follows the life of Mark Roberts – a young Vicar who is blessed in every possible way when our story opens.  Mark Roberts is a son of country physician who had done well and had sent his son to a private tutor; as luck would have it the only other pupil at that time was the young Ludovic, Lord Lufton. The dowager Lady Lufton impressed by young Mark Roberts and encourages the friendship with her son as a fitting companion including convincing Dr. Roberts to send his son to Harrows and then Oxford and upon graduation, presenting Mark Roberts with a valuable living in the rectory of Framley Parsonage. Furthermore, Lady Lufton also finds him a suitable wife in Fanny Mosell who is the closest friend of her daughter Lady Justinia Meredith. Fortune smiles on Mark Roberts and things are looking up when Mark decides to increase his hold and place in Church of England by interacting with such Nathaniel Sowerby a Member of Parliament in serious financial trouble and Duke of Omnium, an unprincipled libertine and a staunch Whig supporter and an opponent of Lady Lufton. As Mark is taken away from his home and rectory and is implicated in Nathaniel Sowerby’s debt, he also incurs Lady Lufton’s displeasure by consorting with a worldy group whom she violently opposes. In the meanwhile, Dr Roberts dies, and his youngest daughter Lucy Roberts comes to stay with Mark and Fanny. It is here that the young Lord Lufton meets and falls in love with her and though she also feels the same way, she refuses to marry him unless Lady Lufton consents, which everybody agrees will not happen, since she has decided to make a match of her son with the beautiful and wealthy Griselda Grantly, the only daughter of daughter of Archdeacon Grantly. What ruin does Mark’s future hold and what happens to the star-crossed lovers is the core of the novel. Other staple characters of Barchester intermingle with these new entrants including the Proudies, Dr .Thorne, Miss Dunstable and the Arabins.

I am told by Wikipedia, that Anthony Trollope said that Framley Parsonage is a “thoroughly English”. I think this is the perfect description of the novel with only a footnote – thoroughly Victorian English! This novel is Victorian at its best – there are church wars and there are wars raging in the Parliament on India policies and French diplomacy. There is as Mr. Trollope rightly points out fox-hunting and I add seasons in London. It is a beautiful vibrant picture of the golden age of the British Empire in all its grandeur and all its folly. There is never any pedantic voice on the follies but a gentle mocking humor underlining the need that is clear even today of a great nations that stops itself from greater glory because of the pettiness’s of its people. The narration is linear and very straightforward and the plot line though simple touches upon some of the everyday facts of life and the challenges we all face ins resolving them. There is a lot of humor and a subtle irony.

The real show stealers of this novel are its characters. They are wonderfully drawn as usual and like life there are really no black and no real white characters. Mark Roberts is not the hero, though he shows heroic tendencies in the end nor is Lord Lufton the hero, though there is much virtue in his conduct. The heroines and I do say the heroines because that’s what they are; and are an absolute pleasure to read. Fanny Roberts is intelligent bright and sensitive and though not blind to her husband’s faults, defends his character with as much gusto as possible.  She has thoroughly developed sense of propriety and can see the rightness of Lady Lufton’s actions, even if they are against her husband and is a complete champion to Lucy Roberts. Lucy Roberts is one those remarkably fine characters – though to world in general and in terms of Lady Lufton seems insignificant; she had depth, principles and courage of the bravest kind – the courage that requires you live knowing you have sacrificed every happiness of your life for the sake of another. She is a marvelous character and her episodes are a joy to read; I especially enjoyed her interactions with the Crawleys.  Lady Lufton while masterful  is a wonderful woman, capable of great love and it is love in the end that always steers her actions in the right directions despite her pride and her constant urge to take charge. Nathaniel Sowerby though he comes through as dyed in the wool villain is also shown to be capable of honor and even sensitivity. The Arbins, Dr. Thorne and Miss Dunstable are as always delightful to be reacquainted with; with their sense of integrity, delicacy of mind and in Miss Dunstable‘s case a brilliant sense of fun!

I know I promised this to be short and sweet, but remember this is Victorian novel and it is long. Judging by current standards, this novel could have been a 100 pages less; but I am not complaining. This is one of those books that you read and immerse yourself slowly and bit by bit.

I had mentioned earlier that Dr. Thorne is my favorite among the Barchester Chronicles – here’s the postscript – it’s just been replaced by Framley Parsonage. Like a fine wine, Mr. Trollope keeps getting better and better!

Random Notes on Illness, Books and Love…

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

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

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

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

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

And Now For Some More Inspirations….

I have been planning to write this for a while, but there have been so many things to write about lately, this kind of got late, but I guess better late than never. This month’s The Classic Club Meme was provided by Ruth and is again one of those questions, that one has to write about those –

Which character from classic literature is most important or influential to you and why? Or which character do you most despise and why?

I could somehow never really despise a fictional character, maybe because I knew they were fictitious and my hope was and is that art here is stranger than reality and mankind is capable of far more goodness than despicable actions. Though to quote Jane Austen, “The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.” But one cannot help but hope that good will triumph over evil and therefore I always remember characters who inspire me more than the ones I find despicable.

I know I have talked about this in the past and that too several times, but one cannot help but talk about this again and again, because the character is such. No character has had a more significant or profound impact on me than Atticus Finch. When Ms. Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird”, she knew what she was writing about; for here was a character who was actually asked to stand up for the values that he professed – honor, integrity, truth, equality, and justice.  There are so many times when in our lives we stand at those crossroads, where there are really two paths – one that is simple and easier to take and the other which has more hardships that one can count, but it is also the path that defines who you are. Atticus Finch is a beacon of light and inspiration for all us who have or will be at such junctures; if you don’t speak up when you should and do not act to what you profess , well then you are not what you are who you think you are! And like I said before Mr. Finch taught at a very young age and Thank God, I learnt this lesson early, that unless I can look myself in the eye, nothing is worth it!

But when you read so much, there are other characters who stand tall and inspire you and while I can write a whole 100 page of them, neither time nor cyber space memory will allow me such liberties, so U restrict myself to only three –

Mrs. March, Jo March and Beth March – Yes I know they are three characters and no they are not “the three” but I club them in one category because they are progeny of one book, the seminal bible of all independent young women Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”.  To begin with Mrs. March, who I think is often overlooked among the glamour or aura or squabbling of her four daughters.  We forget that here is a gentlewoman who is no longer in the comfortable circumstances she was originally born or married to, yet she tries her best to single handedly bring up four,  albeit difficult daughters, manage a household with diminishing funds, and yet instil joy and faith among all. It requires a lot of courage, what I call quiet courage to face the world everyday alone bravely. She is first single mother of modern literature and by far the most intelligent, kind and strongest of them all. Jo March I think almost all of us relate to while growing up, fierce in temper, independent of thought, extremely intelligent and emotional to the T….she is as human as one can get. Most importantly, in the lines of Jane Austin’s Elizabeth Bennett, she refuses to marry for the sake of convenience and though Laurie is much better candidate than Mr. Collins, the logic is the same – marriage for equality and companionship and most importantly love and not for material or other escapist gains. Call me idealistic, call me foolish (in the light of recent events, trust me foolishness is a strong emotion I feel these days!) however marriage should be because of love and for no other reason. Jo March, in the lines of Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse, stands as one of the first feminist of modern literature. Beth March I realize I bore much more affinity to as I grew older and re-read “Little Women” and though I cannot profess to 1/10th of her goodness, nor do I have her gentleness, shyness or lack of character flaws, I do find a lot of joy in the simple domesticity of lives, where there is such joy in doing things for others that your own self does not matter.

Larry from The Razor’s Edge is yet another character who inspires me; he convinces me that there is more to life than acquiring a house, a car and a million dollars. While money is important and necessary in today’s life, one cannot be a slave to it and one has to find one’s identity and belief to really enjoy  and find meaning in life and that no money, no wealth can provide as was evident with Isabel’s meaningless wealth and her uncle’s lonely death.

The one final character who inspires precisely because, like all human beings I struggle to achieve and become a better individual and at times even succumb to the softer options is Andrew Manson from The Citadel by A.J. Cronin .  The book starts off with an idealistic Dr. Andrew Manson who is eager to help the people of small Scottish mining town and is sensitive enough to understand their wretched conditions and wants to elevate them. His research and subsequent success takes him away from his original plans of helping the less fortunate and follow a life of luxury and only a tragedy makes him realize what is truly more important. He returns to his plans of helping others and overlook the immediate selfish gains. This struggle to leave behind softer options for a greater good and its ultimate triumph is something that makes me go on day after day when all things that are more lucrative in short terms is also mundane and mind numbing and temporary and drives focus on what is truly important.

 

A Stormy Night Adventure!

It was late in the day and I had not yet decided the book I was going to read for The Classic Club Readathon 2014. I had specifically declined all social engagement and had cooked enough food to last the entire weekend on Friday, so I could devote January 4th for the Readathon. I had piled up enough coffee/tea/wine and nuts to see me through the day and I was all set – except for the book. I just could not decide on what book to read! I wavered between re-reading Daphne Du Maurer‘s “Rebecca” which I had not re-read in a long time. I also mulled over reading Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” and Wilkie Collin’s “The Moonstone” or I could try something new like Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” or Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Other Side of Paradise”. While I wavered and thought and re-read the synopsis of all the books and discarded one in favor of the other, only to return to the original again, Fate or God or could be both, I think disgusted with my indecision, decided to take matter in their own hand and raged such a storm that all wires went down and the valley where I stay was plunged in darkness. Inquires reveled that we would be stuck in this powerless/internet less world for next couple of hours to come! Oh! Joy!

Considering the situations, Du Maurer, Chopin and Fitzgerald were out as they were all in my Kindle and the battery was low and would not last me through the night. I could go for Dicken’s  but the print was too small for reading in candle light and I have enough Myopia to last me a lifetime without tempting it more. So it was Wilkie Collin’s “The Moonstone”. As I hovered at my bookshelf to draw out the Volume in a la Lady with a Lamp style, I noticed a slim volume, right next to “The Moonstone”. I drew it out and realized it was H. Rider Haggard’s “King Solmon’s Mines”. Now shocking as this may sound, I had not read this book. I had read “She” by Ridder Haggard and I had read “The Lost World” by Author Conan Doyle, and Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness” but I somehow had missed reading the very first of the lost settlement writing. The original Africa adventure tale! So without further debate, I settled down to read this much neglected and overlooked book, discarding all the original thought through options! Ah! Such is life – man proposes and God/Fate disposes!

Anyway, enough philosophy, here goes the tale of reading the tale –

Allan Quatermain, a nearing 60 Elephant hunter is the narrator of the tale and he describes of an adventure that began about 18 months ago when aboard a ship that was sailing to Durban, he met Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good. They are in a quest to find Sir Curtis’s brother, who was last seen by Allan Quatermain couple of months ago, heading for the mysterious mountains across the desert in search of the fabled Solmon’s diamond mine. It was said that no man survived the journey and no one returned alive from the mountain. Sir Curtis and Captain Good solicit Allan Quatermain’s expertise in the journey; along the way a Zulu named Umbopa who though acts as a servant and general man Friday joins their journey. It is clear that Umbopa has some mysterious questof his own that he seeks to fulfill through this journey.  Travelling through the desert and after various adventures and desperate condition, they reach the Kukanaland; through some glib talking and the magic of modern science including the set of false teeth and use of a gun, the three white men convince the Kukanaland people of being godly creatures from “the stars”. Kukuanaland though extremely organized and well maintained is ruled by the cruel King Twala with the help of the witch Gogool. Twala gained the throne after murdering his brother and running out his brother’s widow and young son out of Kukuanaland into desert where they both are presumed death. After many blood shedding ceremonies which were apparently in honor of the “white men from the stars”, Umbopa reveals his identity and order is restored in Kukuanaland by killing of Tawala. The original three then continue their quest for the mines and the consequences there off forms the climax of the story.

Needless to say this is one thrilling adventure tale, more so when read through a stormy dark night, especially when cut of s from modern civilized amenity like electricity and internet. However, taking away the ‘atmospheric’ element of the story, there is no getting away from the fact that this is wonderful yarn. I am not generally in favor of hunting Treasure Islandy tales, but this book is so much more than that. To say the King Solmon’s Mines is an adventure tale, is over simplification of the worst kind.

Though written in simple direct everyday language (it is the everyday language of 1880s), the tale grips the reader by the collar and does not let go, with its turbulent highs and lows. There is enough humor to break the tension and it is woven through the tale in such finesse that its breaks the tension just when the reader is about to bite off his fingers (by now you have chewed through your nails!) with some laugh out loud moments. It also raises some very interesting questions that have more than a shade of political and social commentary in it. For instances, right at the beginning Allan Quatermain describing himself, asks “What is a gentleman?” and then debates through this question in some way or form through the tale. Then when talking about African, he writes the word “nigger” and then scratches it out saying that he will never use such a term to describe African race. There is also the question of equality when Allan Quatermain upbraids Umbopa for use of imprudent speech when talking to Sir Curtis and Umbopa replies that how does Allan Quatermain know that Umbopa is not of equal rank as Sir Curtis in his own land and may be enen a superior? Though there is stereotypical barbarism of the Africa in the blood rites and cruelty displayed by Tawala and Googol, it far limited and written from the 19th century perspective hardly any commentary is passed on the superiority of the Europeans over Africans. In fact, there is much to admire that comes through Ridder’s description of the level of organization of Kukanaland Army or the noble conduct of many of its inhabitants. He even includes an inter-racial romance between Foulata a girl from Kukuanaland and Captain Good; but is candid enough to question how it will survive in a conservative 19th century England society, though he is full of admiration for Foulata. There is enough questions raised on the relationship between Europeans and Africans at economic, political and social levels and goes beyond the pale of the standard cliche of superior white race showing civilization to backward communities.

As a predecessor to many such tales and adventure stories, I cannot help but say, it rightly stands out the original masterpiece. I am just very sorry to have read this so late in my life!

The Vacation Finally Cometh…..

Finally vacations here….I can’t believe it actually here and by the time I can actually believe it, it will be 6th January and back to work! (They should have back to work stationary like they have back to school stuff! I know I get a whole new set of notepads, writing books, pens and sticky before I commence work every New Year…but it would be really awesome to have a back to work stuff! It will be a perk us up for Monday kinda thing!) Anyway, 6th January is mercifully away, and while I acclimatize myself to a very short vacation, it’s time to kick back shoes and let my hair down and have FUN FUN FUN!!!!

Every year during this time of the year, I go back home and to the old rambling house that my parents live in. But this year, due to one reason and another, I ain’t making the homewards journey. While there is no denying I will miss the traditional gaieties of the year, there are consolations to be thought of and plans to execute.

Presenting to you my top 5 holiday activities –

  1. Get the house back in shape – lately I and my roomie have worked so hard that the house is in a mess! It’s a wonderful apartment, nestled among low hills overlooking stretch of green fields and while commuting back and fro remains a challenge besides the godforsaken earth shattering rent, the fact is it’s a great place and recently gone to bits! So doing up the house is on the agenda big time – thanks to Stefanie I have planned a terrace pool as well some lovely wall hangings which have lain around for ages!
  2. Writing – Have not picked up the pen and paper, er…ok! Hit the keypads on the word document in a while and it’s as good as a time to make up!!! I am going to write once again diligently for the next two weeks, even if it’s only for a couple of hours!
  3. Transfer music to IPOD – There are some old classic CDs lying around that I have been planning to convert and transfer to my IPOD FOREVER…simple task but no idea why I never did it!! I will get that completed for sure or blast!
  4. Read – Goes without saying….what else is the point of vacation if one does not read. The List is long and varied. Some of the top to be read for these holidays are – War of Roses by Conn Iggulden, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (yes! I am on LTR re-reading trip!), Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, (part of my December Classic Spin) Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, The Kashmiri Shawl by Rosie Thomas, and The Murder at Sissingham Hall by Clara Benson. I am also participating the readathon for The Classic’s Club Annual Readathon event on 4th January but have not decided on the book as yet! (Feel free to suggest!)
  5. Party – Loads of parties lined up – kicking off with my birthday eve party tonight (I know I am too old for it, but for some reason I never had a party when I was young, so I guess I am making up for lost years!) an awesome Christmas eve party and a potential getaway for the new year!

The calendar is packed and so are my days and night and though I am doing the traditional going home this year, I think I will have oodles of fun! Will let you know on 5th January, how the time had flowth! Until then, here’s to good cheer…vacation is finally here!!

All About Nothings and Somethings….

As God be my witness, this year has been super crappy; even the bubbly me hangs her head and sighs when I look back on this year and see the misses –

  • Got unceremoniously dumped! (Yay!)
  • Much awaited Promotion did not happen and in fact went to an office slacker
  • More rejections on publishing front
  • More financial strain due to some unforeseen expenditure by parents

So really, on this glorious gratuitous day, I sit back and think, well do I really have anything to be thankful for? I mean my God seems to be on vacations here…..

But then is life really that bad???? Yeah! Pretty Much!!!

However I can still hang on and that in itself is a cause for celebration! Besides, it is absolutely ungrateful as my flatmate tells me to forget all the brilliant things in my life just because some setbacks.

Therefore, here’s to being grateful –

My people – family, friends and more who stood by me and held me through some fun adventurous nights (irony intended)

My books – Oh! Such joy to just read through the night; to escape to a world where life is so much better and see things in a different light!

My blog and followers – The joy of coming home and seeing a like/comment or a follower – only a blogger would know the high of that comes of it! Besides, so many people whom I call friends, I have met thanks to blogging – could there be a better incentive than that?

My Job – I cannot believe I wrote that! But let’s face facts – there are plenty of people out there in the world who would kill for a job like mine! Comfortable, secure with a lot of job satisfactions – I mean the Project Manager me quite likes doing Projects!

My Hope – I know this is intangential, but I cannot imagine living through my life without any sense of hope! I felt like that for a couple of days and they were not good – felt like I had lost all sense of joy! As long as I have the sense of hope I know I will survive, no matter how low life gets!

On that brilliant philosophical note, I end this blog!

A very happy Thanksgiving to all of You, regardless of whether you celebrate this day or not! You have no idea how much you’re reading through this or stopping by my blog means to me. Thank You for being a part of this adventure with me!

The Veil and The View….

I know my plate is full and things are about to topple over, but I just could not pass up not answering The Classic Club’s November’s Meme

“A meme rewind: Pick a classic someone else in the club has read from our big review list. Link to their review and offer a quote from their post describing their reaction to the book. What about their post makes you excited to read that classic in particular?”

There was no way I was going to let this one go, there are so many who have inspired me to read so much more, expanding my horizons and making me realize that there is more so much more to read than I was viewing. As is always the case, I had more than I can possibly talk about and I was definitely not going to restrict myself to one book/post alone, but since I am short of time this month, I had to limit myself to two bloggers only.

Here goes – again, the disclaimer, the sequence in way reflects any order of preference or importance:

Stefanie reviewed EM Forster’s A Room with A View, published last year in November. Stefanie writes such amazing blogs about books anyway, that my TBR as well reading activities lists keep growing longer, way longer than I can manage. But this really stands out in my memory, is because, I do not like EM Forster. I do not relate to his writings and though his writing had a great humanitarian touch, I always felt that his attitude towards the then British colonies and the indigenous population was of kind condescension, a gentle noblesse oblige! Anyhow, what really caught my eye were these lines –

It is all light and frothy and romantic on the surface with an undertow of serious that if a reader isn’t careful will catch her up and swirl her around every which way. There are issues of class, women’s roles, relations between the sexes, the English tourist, and, most of all, personal integrity and self-actualization.

The only work of EM Forster’s I had read prior to this was A Passage to India and there was no undercurrent of color and gender politics in that. I mean it was there from the word go – no floating around and tea parties or anything. The fact that this book seemed to be multilayered and more importantly not deal with colonial politics of that time made me sit up and take notice. (Colonial politics is important, but I could not stomach the seemingly fatherly patronization of Kipling and I still say Forster). Also the way Stefanie synopsis of the characters seemed much more human – Lucy seemed to be like so many muddleheaded women I see (at times, I am among them) as well as the goodness of Emersons. This book is in my TBR pile, already bought and ready to be read, once I finish the November chores!

Fleur reviewed W Somerset MaughamThe Painted Veil” in January of this year and this among her many works, made me take notice and read it. Again one Somerset Maugham is one author I am wary of! I read his Razor’s Edge and loved it. Though I know Maugham was trying to make several statements but I simply loved the concept of a difficult path to true happiness versus the short cuts of materialism. Though I read it centuries ago, I still find the concept heartwarming and real and just as apt! On the other hand his, Of Human Bondage (Yes! I know many people swear by it! But I cannot relate to it all) The trauma of fitting in, the suicide, and the never-ending cycle of heart breaks left me gasping and I was sure as ever of never picking up another Maugham as long as I read, which practically my whole life! That was my resolution until I read Fleur’s review. She has a knack of writing things that catch my eye and when reviewing this novel, it was no different –

I must confess that, though I loved the recent film adaptation of The Painted Veil, I have been circling my copy of the book for a long, long time. Because for years Maugham lived in my box marked ‘A Great Author But Not For Me.’ Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Hey! That’s me all over again! Except I had not yet decided on the Wrong Wrong part, as yet! And of course, I had not seen the movie. But I loved how Fluer spoke about the clean precise lines of the story the non-populated (as opposed to Of Human Bondage where I was losing track of Mildreds and Sallys) tale of Walter and Kitty  and a difficult marriage with some glorious descriptions. She also described how she cared about the characters and wanted the best for them. This was in sharp contrast with my feelings with, but reclaimed memories of how I felt for Larry in Razor’s Edge and I was hooked. Of Human Bondage. I have since then read the book and have to agree with Fluer’s final assessment –

I have moved Maugham to a different box, marked ‘A Great Author And I Must Read More of His Books,’ now

Thank You Ladies, once again for introducing me to some great books!

Just a Bit More Than Usual

I thought it was a good day to sit back and think just how many things I have gotten myself into for the month of November and muse over the fact about why do I take on more than I can manage and why do I keep making myself a guinea-pig for all Sadistic Gods who take great pleasure in laughing at me – considering there is no one else to blamed for the soup I get myself into except ME!!

Therefore without further ado, let’s all sit back, put our feet up and review my projects for this month, and please feel free to choose a drink of your choice – tea, coffee or something stronger. I now am feeling a strong tendency for something stronger (wringing my hands! I think there should be a smiley for wringing hands and wordpress should have a smiley drop down!)

The list does not reflect any order of preference or importance

  1. The Project Manager side of me has to pull off two projects before month end which means minimum 16 hrs at work.
  2. I am again (woe is me!) attempting NaNoWriMo so 50,000 words in one month, 11669 words a week, 1667 words a day – piece of cake!!
  3. I have also enrolled myself for the MOOC – Plagues, Witches and War (Thank You Stefanie!!!). While I love the class and it’s a lot of intellectual gymnastics and makes the academic me very happy, It is an intensive course with exhaustive reading and fast paced courses and while Unit 3 is already posted I am struggling to finish Unit 1 (Running to catch up and do it fast; but kind of difficult when hyperventilating)
  4. Social commitments – every weekend for the next 3 weeks is booked. Plans made way earlier and committed without a thought and now we pay the price. Dinners, weekend trips and more dinners. Of course, one cannot back out of any for the fear of offending; besides I really do like most of these people whom I had made plans with and besides it’s not their fault if I DO NOT THINK BEFORE I LEAP!!
  5. The reading list – My flatmate gifted me (no reason! She is just generous) J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit. How in the world could I resist that? My sister also decided that she was fond of me and bought me Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands. In between, because I had no idea everybody will suddenly start gifting me, that too nearly two full months before my birthday, I bought myself Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter Trilogy, Willa Cather’s My Antonia and Arnold Bennett The Grand Babylon Hotel.  Of all the months, this month I had to win Penguin’s First to Read effort and now I have to read and then post a review for Being Josephine by Heather Webb. I am not even getting into the re-readings that I do like Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova which I do for fun or the novels I have to read for my MOOC!

There, life could not be simpler!!!! I mean really except for my day job, no body compelled me to take on all these tasks at one go…..I just decided to bring all of this on myself! All the best to me!!!

P.S. I can hear the Gods laughing as I type!