Once upon a time and everytime…..

So the Classic Club’s September Meme is contributed by Brona from Brona’s Books –

Rereading a favorite classic at different stages of your life gives you different insights with each reading. Is there one classic you’ve read several times that also tells a story about you?

Please be forewarned, this is going to be a loooooonnnngggg post!

Like a lot of people I began my formative years reading a lot of classics and like many I always thought of myself, especially in my teens as (Yup! You guessed it!) Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by the greatest of all, Jane Austin  – I wanted to believe I was clear-headed, was quick  and witty and above all could give it back with all due decorum and politeness! Of course, there was always the sneaky feeling that if I became a Lizzy Bennett, I will find a Fitzwilliam Darcy – I already had a bit crazy and extremely hyper mother and a very laconic and sarcastic, albeit thoroughly sensible father. But life has different plans in place and as I grew older and read all of Jane Austin’s work more closely, I began to realize that I am actually a Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, again by Jane Austin – I was an intellectual and cultural snob, who would turn her nose at anything low brow. I was extremely passionate about everything, still am, the only difference is at that point and this is the University years, I was passionate to the point of fanaticism. I also believed that there is only and only one true love and no secondary attachment could be that passionate. I had even found a semi – Willoughby! (Yikes!!! Super Yikes! Let’s not even get into that!) But now in my more respectable and mature 30 years of age, I know despite every plans and intentions, I have settled down to being a Jane Bennett (from Pride and Prejudice, the elder sister to the much aspired, Ms Elizabeth Bennett)  – how colorless can one get????? But facts are facts – though I do not have the legendary beauty of the eldest Ms Bennett, there can be no denying that I am a fool and do not see faults in anyone unless I am run over by avarice and selfishness of the other.  I am so busy, ensuring everybody else is happy, that no matter how unhappy I am, I keep up the demeanor, without realizing that those that are close to me can never be truly happy unless I am happy! The only thing lacking is Mr Bingley ( Mr Soulmate is nothing like Bingley – he is nothing like any of Jane Austin’s heroes!) and a sanguine temper – I am short fused and this is a carry-over from my Marianne Dashwood days!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is another book, whose re-reading has made me identify more and more with her. As a teenager, when I read the book, I was not particularly impressed by the namby pamby Jane Eyre and her stiff upper lip stance. I wanted fire and courage in my heroines and Jane was a calm stream of water. But re-reading the book during an interesting phase of my life (The Willoughby phase!), I realized how much of strength it takes for an ordinary governess to stand up to a Mr Rochester – to demand to be treated as an equal and what’s more to seek respectability and honesty in a relationship, even when your heart is breaking and you are completely in love with the person. Jane Eyre clearly was one of few books to take such a strong equality stance between men and women, with the subtle underlining of a simple message that took me years to learn, vis-à-vis, matters of the heart, that something simply cannot be compromised on – no matter how high the cost!

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand was another novel which I read during my teens and could not really relate too. It took me good 9 years in a corporate environment to understand what it is to be not only very good, but absolutely excel at your job and how the larger crowd with mediocre talents will try to pull you down. Though I am blessed to be working for a great company that actually has very limited if any Corporate politics, but there can be no getting away from the truth – the mediocre crowd would always find flaws with you if you are really good. They would rather you confirm to their average standards, that stand up alone and raise the bar! Individuality is good and having a mind of your own is even better – it’s difficult to stand alone holding the reins of success, but I rather hold the reins than become a blind horse treading the known path!

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is yet another book that made me realize a lot of home truths very early. In my Marianne Daswood phase, I could not fathom anyone making big mistakes in life and living on – the concept of forgiving and moving on was alien to me and therefore for a very long time I could not relate to Caleb’s actions in igniting Aron’s mind against their father Adam Trask. It was only much later as I became closer to my sister who was 14 years my senior and always the golden child of the family; therefore for a long time in my eyes taking the place of Aron (though she is undoubtedly more kind to the parents!) that I learnt about making mistakes, accepting them and moving on to make a better life. The day I accepted that I transitioned from a Marianne to a Jane!

Finally and I know I have already written a blog on this but no book at any point of time made me what I am and whose re-reading over the years has just made me appreciate a little more about such non tangential things like courage, honor and integrity – about standing up for one‘s beliefs no matter what and about strength that comes in all forms – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. My basic principle of life came from this book and has only become stronger over the years – unless I can look myself in the eye, nothing is worth it!

Liking Jane…..

This blog is in response to the March Meme of The Classics Club. The subject is Jane Austen…now how can I ever pass out on opportunity to wax eloquently on my all-time favorite author – the very witty, the very talented and an acute observer of all the fallacies of human nature.

While Jane Austen has always been at the very top of my ladder of veneration that I reserve for my most beloved writers, it is very surprising that I never wrote about her before. But then what can I say for Ms. Austen that has not been said before – what can I say that is original and not hackneyed or trite?  However let me attempt to spell out why I resort to Jane Austen, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am confused, when I need distraction or simply when I need to attain a Zen state of mind!

By now, the very first question of The Classic Club for this subject should be answered by now – I do not love Jane Austen; I am obsessed with her!!!!!

Now to broach why I love Jane Austen – I love reading her because she is one of the original fountain of all wisdom pertaining to relationships, especially those between a man and a woman. All those of who had been nourished on a healthy and completely untrue diet of Prince Charming carry poor little Cinders away, despite strong objections against her background got of first taste of reality through Austen’s work. Whether it is Mrs. Bennett or her relations, there can be no denying that improper behavior by the family of the protagonist will always be a hindrance in the path of true love and will always make a lover hesitate in declaring his intentions. How many times in your adult life have you heard your boyfriend say that your mother/aunt/sister is too loud and an embarrassment in public which led to an eventual showdown between the two of you, regardless of the validity of criticism? I feel this keenly and therefore try as much as possible to shield my guy from my extended family.  She was one of the first writers to put forth that while filial respect is always important and should always be of greatest import, one cannot turn away from the obvious shortcoming of the parents, which at times may lead to disastrous effect on the child. Example of the same is Mrs. Dashwood who does not try and control the imprudence of Marianne in her relations to Willoughby leading to heartbreak for one and exposing another to the censure of the world. Sir Elliot’s vanity and pride deprives his daughter Ann Elliot from happiness for seven long years. These were revolutionary concepts, especially when we look at the era that Ms. Austen was writing from.

Many claim Jane Austen had written a 18th century Mills & Boone through Pride and Prejudice. But this  in itself is a very simplistic understanding of the novel – this was one of the first books where the heroine asserts not only her own self-respect but also forces the male protagonist to respect her family through sheer force of character. Ms. Eliza Bennett is not a milk and honey  miss, like her other fictional compatriots, who faint at anything remotely stressful; nor does she give away to hysteria when ill befalls her family – instead she faces them as a strong individual, sharing burdens with her sister and keeping her own repining in check and rarelyhas moments of self-indulgence. She does not go around being pedagogic to her suitor, but speaks to him on equal terms, in mixture of humor, angst or anger as dictated by natural human tendency.  Pride and Prejudice was also one of the first writings to throw an egalitarian twist – while Mr Darcy had 10000 a year and Pemberly, he is dismissed as a gentleman by Elizabeth, who claims equality as a gentleman’s daughter and is completely unapologetic about the comparative material inequities between the two.

Ms. Austen was one of the first writers to create a flawed heroine, whether it was Elizabeth Bennett’s initial liking for Mr Wickham or Emma Woodhouse’s meddling and sometimes rude conduct towards her friends and neighbors. She makes her heroine fall to only make them rise, realize their mistake and become better human beings, woman, wife, daughter etc.

Finally many critics have condemned Jane Austen as parochial and not addressing some of the pressing concerns of her time, like the Napoleonic Wars. She does refer to the Napoleanic Wars when there is a need – Persuasion is filled with allusion to peace after the war; but mostly she wrote about the country – the kind of place she grew up and spent most of her adult life. She wrote about things that she understood and had complete command over than attempt something for which she was dependent on second-hand sources and which may have a false bearing on the tale. After all, since Ms. Austen’s celebrated examples of writing about spheres understood by the author, more than 200 years later, the apparently modern and up-to-date social networks, work on her principle of writing locally!

Jane Austen is not out dated, she is not boring and she is not parochial – she is in fact very cool, with writings that can be handed down from one generation to another, because it addresses the really never-changing mores of human interactions!

To address the last part of The Classic Club Challenge – my favorites in order of 1 to 6 are (with 1 being the best!)

  1. Pride and Prejudice (No Surprise there!)
  2. Emma
  3. Sense and Sensibility and Persuasions (I know…I cannot decide between the two!)
  4. Northanger Abbey
  5. Lady Susan
  6. Mansfield Park (Only Austen that I consider tedious and didactic!)

Do let me know what you think about Ms. Austen as well!

200 years of Pride with a sprinkling of Prejudice….

So I have been really ill for the last couple of weeks – I mean really: high fever, fatigue and no rest. Whoever heard of getting a break from gulag???? Anyway, therefore I did the disappearing act on the blog – one can only do so much – manage the never-ending expectations of a Boss, take on extra work load especially since most of your team is out with …yup you guessed it: Flu and balance needs of a sister in a mid-life crisis, a best friend who has professional issues with her workplace and a non-existent love life, who only needs your attention, when you really do not have any to give; all the while one is running a 103*C temperature almost every alternate day for last two weeks. But do I complain???? Hell no – I just neglect blogging, one of the most relaxing and joyful things in my life!

Now after digressing for some 13 mins, (Yes! I am aware I am exaggerating, but after what I have described above, everyone should humor my indulgences, which in the greater scheme of things is really minor!) let me get to the point – what I was trying to say through all this muddle is – I could not let this day go by …..after all it is the bi-centennial celebration of the greatest feminist-turned mills and boons  – turned literature-turned comedy of manners-turned brilliant critique of society-turned a dam good story!

On 28th January 1813, T. Egerton, Whitehall, published a novel, that was “written by a lady” and English Literature would never be the same: The name of the book was Pride and Prejudice.

For over 200 years, this book has shaped the understanding of the power of women and the little control that a gentle woman brought up with education and morals has over her marriage in absence of fortune, as well as shaped and honed idealistic beliefs that marriage should not be made for economic reasons. My grandmother read it and swore she was Lizzy Bennett. Might have been true in her case – she left her relatively richer perspective groom on the eve of her wedding to marry my well to do but hardly rolling in wealth grandfather. My mother too swore by the book and she herself could have made much wealthier and glittering match, for she was the belle of the town, but she settled for my brilliant and kind, albeit low-key father. As for me, well, I am not sure of the brilliant match I could potentially make – all I can say is that he is very different from what I am – chalk and cheese, library and sports bar, subtle and flash and dash…..but would not change it for the world. So my family is a living proof of the incredible debt that we all owe to this publication, two centuries ago!

What can I say that has not been said before, how can I describe the immense joy I feel, even now reading that book for like 456,452 times. I know each phase, I know each character and I know exactly what will happen next – but never for a moment, does this lessen the joy of my reading. Never for a moment do I waver in declaring this book to be one of my all-time favorites, though I know it’s very fashionable anymore. And I am always surprised (rolling eyes smiley) when I get asked such innately dumb question – you reading this book again? How can you read the same book twice? Duh!! That’s why it’s called a classic!

I know there are celebrations world over, to mark this occasion – the New Yorker ran a special column, CBC is also running some special series and all Jane Austen societies are going into overtime to honor this day. But I tumbled across this cartoon version of Pride and Prejudice, by Jen Sorensen which made me think that Ms Austen herself, had she been alive would have approved.

Do check it out!

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/27/170253360/pride-and-prejudice-turns-200

In the end – Viva Jane Austen! Viva Pride and Prejudice!