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!

 

The Pickwick Papers Read-Along

Many moons ago, some of the greatest Victorian authors, like the worthy Mr. Charles Dickens, Mr. Wilkie Collins, Mrs. Margaret Oliphant and Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, wrote some of their best works not in a single bound novel, but as serialized installments in various magazines. Imagine reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell in piecemeal fashion; I am not sure I would have the patience, but her original readers in 1854-55 did. They waited patiently and like Cleo mentions, probably allowed themselves to think over what they have already read, adding another layer to their reading- of course, the thinking could have added a good or a bad flavor, depending on perspective, but it added a flavor nevertheless. It is very unique form of reading, practically unknown in this day of instant gratification unless you look at the Game of Thrones variety as serialized storytelling and really, that seems to be stretching the concept very far!!

I have always been intrigued by this form of literary exploration and when O at Behold the Stars came up with the idea of reading The Pickwick Paper by Charles Dickens as it was originally published in a serial form, to celebrate 180 years of it publication anniversary, I was sold! I read the novel long back and did not enjoy it much, but as O’s friend suggested, it was meant to be read in a piecemeal fashion, to fully enjoy it. Made perfect sense to give it a try this way!

PP

This is probably one of the longest read along ever, its definitely the longest read along I have ever participated in, with a schedule starting from March 2016 and ending in November 2017 and goes like this-

I – March 2016 (chapters 1–2)
II – April 2016 (chapters 3–5)
III – May 2016 (chapters 6–8)
IV – June 2016 (chapters 9-11)
V – July 2016 (chapters 12–14)
VI – August 2016 (chapters 15–17)
VII – September 2016 (chapters 18–20)
VIII – October 2016 (chapters 21–23)
IX – November 2016 (chapters 24–26)
– December 2016 (chapters 27–29)
XI – January 2017 (chapters 30–32)
XII – February 2017 (chapters 33–34)
XIII – March 2017 (chapters 35–37)
XIV – April 2017 (chapters 38–40)
XV – June 2017 (chapters 41–43)
XVI – July 2017 (chapters 44–46)
XVII – August 2017 (chapters 47-49)
XVIII – September 2017 (chapters 50–52)
XIX – October 2017 (chapters 53–55)
XX – November 2017 (chapters 56–57)

I am super exited to participate in this event and will blog over the chapters read every month. A big shout out to O for starting the idea and then getting it organized!

Stay Tuned!

 

 

The Queen of Carlingford

I was talking to Jane from Beyond Eden Rock the other day about the right books at the right time and in some weird Karma twist, it happened to me over the weekend! I had tried to read Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant more than a year ago, but I was not hooked in the first two chapters, and after a brief struggle completely gave up on it. It lay among my other unreads for many months and until last month, I had no desire whatsoever to pick it up again. However, as I had previously mentioned, the Women’s Classic Literature Event is about reading women authors and venturing into those works which I would never normally venture into! (For instance, To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf) Therefore I decided to revisit Miss Marjoriebanks as part of February reading for the event. I had a really awful Friday with more disastrous and disappointments than I can usually handle and desperately need a distraction to regain my Zen self by Monday. Ms. Oliphant was ever gracious in providing that and more!

Miss Marhoribanks, Lucilla, as she was christened by her parents, Dr. Marjoribanks and his wife of Carlingsford at the age of 15 loses her mother to illness and decided that the aim of her her life is to be a comfort to her Papa. However Dr. Marjoribanks has a different opinion on this matter and sends Lucilla back to her school after the necessary period of mourning and keeps her there for 3 years and it is not until she is 19 that she actually returns to Carlingford to do her duty and be a comfort to her papa. Her plans include the reorganization of the Carlingford’s society to show them culture, beauty, brilliance and break down the provincial and parochial mindset and cliches!Considering her youth and her recent return to her home, it would have been a daunting task for any weak minded young lady, however Miss Marjoribanks goes about the whole venture with all the clearheaded ability of a born leader and manager as she orders upholstery for the drawing room that enhances her complexion and goes about organizing an “Evening” instead of party dressed in a white dress – “high”. There are vexations that daunt her enterprise – Tom Marjoribank, her penniless cousin who proposes to her and is sent of to India to better his fortunes by an unimpressed Lucilla; Mr. Cavendish the man about town from whom much is expected including becoming a member of the Parliament and marrying Lucilla to improve his candidature, but who instead is infatuated with the drawing masters pretty but absolutely unpleasant daughter Barbra Lake and the Archdeacon who has a a bone to pick with Mr. Cavendish stemming from a shared past! But Lucilla sees everything through with wit, grace and magnanimity, arranging matters and forcing things to the right conclusion for the betterment of all society even though, there are times that the society does seem ungrateful to her for all her efforts. Trial finally comes Lucilla’s way when her father Dr. Marjoribanks passes away, the circumstances she always took for granted change overnight and though life offers a golden opportunities yet again, she finally is forced to contend what is really true in her heart and make decisions which cannot be avoided anymore!

I read somewhere that this was a Victorian Emma; maybe it was. I also felt is was a dash of Elizabeth Gaskell’s  Cranford and Anthony Trollop’s Barchestshire Chronicles all mixed together. But the book is undeniably and uniquely Carlingford and Ms. Oliphant is absolutely original in her efforts. Provincial towns dictated by Victorian mores must have seem absurd to many authors and writers of that era and this came forth in their works and the styles may overlap with each other. But this novel is soooo much more than just a comedy of manners and a social satire.  Ms. Oliphant brought to life characters that were real and throbbed of life. Lucilla is a brilliant heroine who has all the qualities that make a good heroine and yet enough frailties to make her human and to touch the readers heart. She is an independent strong minded, smart as a whip girl who has no tuck with standard social mores, and brings it down with using the inner workings of those very mores. She has courage and is undaunted in the face of struggle and believes that one can overcome anything if one puts their mind to it. She has fault and fails but is intelligent enough to see those failures, learn from her mistakes and adapt to the change. Even during her most difficult time, she sustains and her own ideas against the opinions of the entire society and finally is generous in her triumphs! You cheer for her, you laugh at her and with her and are completely entertained and invigorated by her antics. The other cast of characters do justice and are a perfect foil to Lucilla – Dr. Marjoribanks with his in-toleration for all kinds of social standards and his ability to laugh at the circumstances, even when de-throned in the domestic domain by his own daughter, the poor luckless but devoted Tom, Mr. Cavendish veering from highs to lows and undecided of what choices he should make. The entire ensemble is brilliant and you are completely hooked till the very end. The plot while lengthy and some may contend very narrow since it focuses purely on the happenings in a small town, in an era when great things where happening in England, never flags and you turn page after page with a host of emotions from chagrin to laughter to anger to amusement to being anxious to relief. Its all there and you cherish each page and emotions its adds on to a rich reading experience . The language is simple and there is no lyricism so to speak off, but there is plenty of wit and reading between the lines that keeps you laughing through the very end! It is a testimony to Ms. Oliphant’s brilliance and ability as an author that she wrote such bright optimistic work during a darkest period of her life – she had lost her 10 year old daughter, widowed and struggling to bring up her other children.

Needless to say I LOVED this book! Ms. Marjoribanks has reinforced my belief that anything can be conquered with courage and ability and as I face another daunting Monday, with all the energy that had seemed lost on Friday, I have to say this novel has become one my favorites and I can see it joining my go-to books shelves!

Money and Marriage in Cumbria

I am devoted and I mean DEVOTED to Anthony Trollope. I think he was one the best authors of English Literature ever and one of the brightest stars of Victorian England, which anyway had a glittering constellation, when it came to Literature! Any chance of reading his work,I grab at and it’s a pity that some of his non Barsetshire – Palliser novels are not easily accessible in my geography. About a year ago, Jane who is equally, if not more devoted to Trollope posted a review about Lady Anna, one of Trollope’s standalone novels. I have been planning to read it since then; the fact it nicely fit in to my Reading England project made me even more eager to get on with it. However time and availability have been challenging and though I even bought a Kindle edition in December, but could not read it until a couple of days ago.

Lady Anna is the story of Anna Lovel, the daughter of Earl Lovel and Countess Lovel. The Countess had married the Earl despite his evil reputation, because of the his title and wealth. The wicked Earl soon showed his wicked colors and within a few months  following his marriage, he informed the Countess, that their marriage in invalid, as he was previously married to an Italian lady. He then left for Italy and the Countess was left proving the validity of her marriage vows and the legitimacy of their daughter, Lady Anna. In this struggle, she has no support from either her own family or the Lovels, who considered her actions as ambitious and proud. Her only champion was a tailor with socialist beliefs, Thomas Thwaite and it was he who gave the Countess and her daughter shelter and financial support when they had no one. In such a state of things, the Earl dies and leaves behind no will.His title and the estate associated with the title in Cumberland is now made over to a distant cousin, a young Frederick Lovel. However, the bulk of his large fortune is personal property, and thus not attached to the title will go to his heir, however who this heir is, is the question – the young Earl? Lady Anna? The lady in Italy claiming to be his wife. Thus begins another round of court cases and legalities under the auspices of Sir William Patterson, the Solicitor General. The Solicitor is a true blue gentleman and wants to do the right thing for both the Earl and the Countess, therefore he proposes a marriage between the cousins, Lady Anna and young Earl Lovel, that way the money and the title all stay among the rightful parties as well giving Countess and Lady Anna absolute acceptability as legitimate wife and daughter of the dead Earl, especially since this recognition will come from the remaining Lovel family, following the marriage! The idea is received by much approbation by the Countess who cannot think of a better match for her beloved daughter than the young Earl. The young Earl though initially hesitant about marrying a girl whose legitimacy was contested is soon enamored of the beautiful and well mannered Lady Anna. But there is a hitch in this plan – Lady Anna has secretly betrothed her self to David Thwaite, the son of the Thomas Thwaite, a decent and well read man, who is however a tailor by profession. Thus arises the complication of marrying for love versus marrying for money and title. Should one give up on the person, who was their dearest friend during the harshest times for a life she was naturally born to and which her mother fought for her entire life, so that Lady Anna got her legal rights? Decisions need to be made and the right thing to be done, but what is the right thing is for Lady Anna to decide!

I liked the book, but did not feel the kind of undiluted love for i feel his other works. The writing is true Trollope – clean, clear and simple moving the tale forward naturally. There is also quintessential egalitarian Trollope rooting for equality of merit instead of equality of birth. There are some wonderful characters that I would have want to see little more off – like Aunt Julia, the aunt to young Earl Lovel and the Solicitor General. However this is where I feel Trollope faltered in his usual brilliance – he set up the character of Aunt Julia as if she was to play a key part and seemed to be a wise and kind matriarch, but she has no presence after the initial chapters! The way the end played out, especially about the settlement of money, made me wonder why did we need the much anticipated court case to begin with. Speaking of the Court case, this again was set up to be a central event in the story, but was more of one of the many episodes of the life and times of the Lovels. I could not really warm up to any of the characters, including the titular Lady Anna, who does show spirit in the end but through book wails and goes “Mamma” at everything. The young Earl was nice and beautiful and that was all to him. Daniel Thwaite, though, I liked more and could understand his self respect and self belief and strength. I also  liked the character of Countess Lovel – she is a strong and perhaps a bit obstinate woman who took on the world on her own till she proved her point and I liked the way the Trollope displayed the escalated war between her and Lady Anna and though the Countess, was not always right, I felt more for her than for any other character in the novel. Furthermore, there is too much repetition in the plot – the readers are told atleast 3 times during the novel that had people behaved more gently with Lady Anna, they would have won their point. Several times we go over and over the unfortunate history of Countess Lovel and there is about  pages in the middle, where we are stuck in limbo as there is no movement in the narrative. The novel is verbose without telling us anything new or pertinent – the same point is gone over again and again and again!

I liked it, but I cannot help but feel that this is not the best of Trollope.

 

 

 

Escaping Spirits….

I had heard great things about Sarah Water’s “Affinity” and I was glad to finally get hold of it, though I was reading it practically after a decade since its original publication.

The book is set in Victorian England and traces events that take place between 1872 to 1875.  Margaret Prior is a 29 year old woman, now designated as a spinster who is recovering from an “illness”. On chance of a suggestion of a family friend, Mr. Shillitoe, she undertakes to visit, Millbank Prison – Women’s Ward as a “lady visitor” in order to provide comfort and guidance to the inmates. Margaret initially finds the visits difficult and feels suffocated every time she enters the prison wall; however life at home is not happy. Her beloved father, a scholar with whom she used to work closely had died two years ago, putting an end to all her academic aspirations. On top of this came the marriage of her close friend Helen to her brother and Margaret suddenly finds she completely lonely and in a fit of depression attempted to commit suicide. She was rescued in time by her mother and since then has been constantly guarded and scolded into better humor; Margaret still feels lonely and sees her visits to Millbank as same way to create a semblance of rationality and sobriety. Soon she starts getting comfortable with the wardens and inmates of the prison and especially begins to feel a special interest in a prisoner named Selina Dawes. Margaret discovers that Selina Dawes was a spiritualist who acted as a medium and in one of séance, a girl was been assaulted, leading to Selina’s imprisonment under charges of fraud and assault. Selina initially rebuffs Margaret’s friendly overtures, but soon begins to talk to her on her violation. Margaret soon begins to find an “affinity” with Selina, and is soon led to believe in the world of spirits and mediums, as her life is filled with proof after proof, finally letting her realize that there is a higher purpose because of which events led her to Selina and she must help Selina escape from the Prison to fulfill that purpose.

The book had a lot of promise – a Victorian Era Prison Break with a dash of “ghosts” and “spiritualism”. But the promise did not hold. The first 100 pages of the book to begin with are enough to bore you to death! The plot does not grip you atleast until you reach page 151 or so and by then, you have lost all your patience with the main characters.  What should have been a fast paced edgy writing drags on and on about the miserable conditions in the prison at that time until, you are confused if Dickens wondered into Conon Doyle land or vice-versa or what??!!! Nobody is discounting the fact that the prision system then and I would say even now is harsh and horrible place; but to keep drumming it into the readers brain for 100+ odd pages is really OTTing it, especially when the point could have been driven home in 20 odd pages in far more effective and crisp writing. Then come the characters of the book – Margaret Prior, I could have thrown a book at!! She is miserable sopping insipid creature alternately crying for her “Pa” and “Helen”. Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird!!! Naturally!!) tells us that not only must we wear another man’s shoe but walk a mile in it before we can pass a judgment. Well I know what it feels like being dumped and then losing a parent, but it is not the end of the world. I mean for a while it is but, then you get your bearings back and move on. But our dear Margaret Prior moans about the death of her Pa and Helen’s marriage, though both the events happened two years ago! I understand sensitivity and all that, but woman you are rich, have a loving family (at least some members are very loving!) and your whole life, but no….dark and miserable Ms. Prior shall be! I had no feelings left for her in the end except “Duh!!!”  Selina Dawes is another confused creature, I will be happy with my spirits, I will not be happy with my spirits. Ye! Gods!  Though I could not relate to Selina Dawes either, at least her character in the end showed some spunk, though I am not sure I agree with it at all!! The language is clichéd and hackneyed “heart in the mouth” “It would be terribly wrong” …I mean what???!!!! The restorative features are , one of course the historical detailing and accuracy of the 19th century prison system, though I think it was way to unnecessary to spend so much time in describing each and every aspect of the prison, especially considering some of the descriptions had absolutely no bearing on the main plot. The other second redeeming feature of the book was naturally the last few pages, as the picture came together, though once again as reader you felt, er….how did? When did?

In the end, I must admit that I am sorry to have spent a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon reading this dark and extremely dissatisfying novel. Now it’s up to the combined efforts of Jane Austen (Northanger Abbey) and Terry Pratchett (Feet of Clay) to revive my “spirits”, banish the headache brought as an aftereffect of reading this ‘work” and salvaging whatever remains of my Sunday!!

Bookish Snapshots – 2014

2014 has finally come to an end and I cannot in all honesty say I will miss it. It’s been one of the worst years of my adult life and good riddance to bad rubbish is all I have to say for these last 12 months. Having said that, there is a need to qualify the previous statement with some home truths – this has been a year of loss of more than one kind and of illness; however it’s also been a year of wonderful friendships that have sustained me through some dark days. It’s been year of finally figuring out what really matters and going after it, even if I fall a couple of times on the way. Finally it’s been a year which I could not have survived without the therapy of books and more books. Through my difficulties, it was the friendship and care of both the fictional and non-fictional characters that kept me going.

This last post of the year is therefore nothing but a quick round up of the how my reading mapped out for the year with a listing of the best books for me in 2014.

To begin with, in my 1st January 2014 blog post, I had laid down a reading plan for the year; my score against this plan is well middling, with win some and loose some!

  1. 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge – I was expected to read at-least 15 Historical Fiction works and I completed 18 (review for two yet to come). Phew! One thing done!
  2. A Century of Books – I read about 10 books between the stated time period of 1850-1949; at this rate it will be 2024 before I finish this project. I have therefore decided to extend the deadline by 2019, which makes it 5 years – 20 books per year, way more doable!!
  3. Books on History – I failed miserably – I had planned on 12 and I finished only 4. This is one area of serious improvement. I have been neglecting non-fiction for last couple of years and it’s time to get back to it!
  4. Poetry – I had planned on reading 4 volumes through the year and I managed 3 including Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. Not bad at all for starters!

Now for the final round up of my top 12 books (I want to break all stereotypes in 2015 so I am not going with a top 10/15 kind of thing!)

  1. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope – The characters, the subtle irony and a vivid display of Victorian England in all her grandeur as well as her pettiness. Oh! Mr. Trollope, you remain the best among the best!
  2. The Source by James Michener – This was a re-read and with age, this book’s depth just keeps on increasing. Michener’s story telling is compassionate and as sympathetic as this book takes the reader through more than 2000 years of Israel-Palestinian history through her people. Historically accurate and completely free of judgment, this book discusses the definition of “God”, “identity” and “homeland” without any fanatic aspersions. Viva Mr. Michener!
  3. The Complete Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield by Katherine Mansfield – This was the first time ever I read Katherine Mansfield and I simply fell in love with her work! Beautiful poetic language, sensitivity to glean what is not so obvious and fun. Brilliant is the only adjective that seems appropriate!
  4. The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern – Innovative narration style together with deep understanding of mankind made this book a wonderful read! I mentioned this in my post as well that what could have been a clichéd story, has been very cleverly crafted into a lovely heart searing sometimes tragic and sometimes optimistic tale.
  5. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – Speechless – I decide to quote what I felt directly from my post on this book –“The book is SCARY!!! I am not someone who is usually daunted by supernatural plots, but for the last three nights, I have slept with the lights on!!!!!I am so glad that I read this book finally and I have to agree with Stephen King (whose books by the way I really dislike!) who wrote that this book was one of the finest horror novels of late 20th century!!”
  6. Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey – Gorgeous, sumptuous and absolutely delightful. More 17th century customs, to long forgotten cuisines to damm good story, Ms. Bailey pulls it all together to make this novel a scintillating read!!
  7. The Feast by Margaret Kennedy – Oh! Lovely! Simple and lovely – a morality tale for the modern world told with humor, honesty and some of most moving words. I can now say “Margaret Kennedy” devotee for life!
  8. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – Unique narrative, a very balanced approach to what goes in being bad without giving into maudlin sentiments and a very creative understanding including one of the most intriguing images of what heaven constitutes off!
  9. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell – What can I say about Ms. Gaskell that has not already been said? True picture of 19th century mill workers condition, with all its harsh realities does not make this book tragic. In fact, Ms. Gaskell, very finely teaches us to look beyond the obvious to discover true greatness of mankind!! Sheer brilliance!
  10. My Antonia by Willa Cather – Wonderful characterization, beautiful description of the land and relationships that go beyond the clichés, Ms. Cather captivates us in this early 20th century tale of friendship, generosity and human endurance in the frontier towns of US.
  11. The Narrow Road to Deep North by Richard Flanagan – Intense, difficult, and dark, yet this book is a marvel. Through deep moving and soul searing words, Mr. Flanagan brings forth a tale of surviving love and war, in the back drop of a Japanese POW camp during World War II
  12. The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric – I am yet to do the review, but one word, is enough – SPLENDID!!

That rounds up my year of reading. To end, I came across this poem in The New Yorker and I wanted to quote it last line as they seemed very apt!  It’s by Ian Frazier and goes something like this –

Dear friends, this year was not real great.

There’s no need to enumerate

Just how gloomy it’s appearing.

Ever-better days are nearing!

Though dark nightmares be distinguished,

Still the light is not extinguished

By the darkness crowding ’round it.

Find hope’s advent by the sound it

Makes somewhere out in the distance:

Bells that ring with soft insistence,

Hoofbeats, voices singing faintly,

Hymns unearthly, almost saintly,

Mailmen’s footsteps, babies’ crying,

Wings of angels quickly flying,

News worth calling from the steeple, “Peace on earth, good will to people.”

Here’s wishing all of you & your loved ones a brilliant, successful and joyful 2015!! Cheers!!

The Mills of Manchester…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serching for Truth in Victorian England

I know this review comes a bit late, but I guess better late than never!! I finished reading my second Margaret Kennedy book for Jane’s Margaret Kennedy Week yesterday, but between one thing and the other could not blog about it! So here’s my take on ‘’The Wild Swan” – It is absolutely remarkable! I know all you believe that I begin swooning just by reference to Margaret Kennedy and have lost all discerning abilities, but I cannot help it! She was a wonderful author and I cannot but feel that it’s a crying shame that today not too many people know of her work! Now back to the book!

kennedy-badgeThe Wild Swan opens with Roy Collins, a 25-year-old cynic with immense talent who works for BBB (Blech Bernstein British) as a script writer. He is ambitious and wants to become a director, but knows that the road to that position is not easy and compromises have to be made to reach it. He has developed a style of smooth talking and a sham personality to get along with everyone and get everything done, without any authenticity of character. His current assignment brings him to Bramstock, where he is to assist play right Adelaide Lassiter and critic Alec Mundy put together a script on the life of Dorothea Harding. Dorothea was a Victorian novelist, who wrote prim romantic novels set is historical backdrop which were a great success in her days, but now are complete forgotten! It was believed until about 20 years ago, that she led a completely blameless as well as color less life, until Mundy uncovered some of her poetry and a diary based on which he wrote a book claiming hidden passions and sinful love for her brother-in-law, who was her sister’s husband. Based on this book, Adelaide Lassiter wrote a play about their “affair” and this play was now basis of the film. Dorothea Harding’s current family, the owners of Bramstock, are not particularly interested in how their relation is portrayed as long they can get the money for allowing filming on the estate. Roy himself is not much interested in the work – he has never read any of Dorothea Harding’s work nor is he really concerned with what gets presented on the celluloid, as long as he can get his job done and get back to BBB headquarters and pursue his ambition. However certain incidents and discovery of some new letters, force Roy to realize that not everything is as it seems, and the truth runs deeper than it initially appeared and this one time, it is imperative to bring the truth forward, regardless of the cost – even if it impacts his ultimate dreams!!

The plot is wonderful, you are plunged write into the truth of Dorothea Harding’s life right at the start, but in a distinctive narrative style, it takes a while for the readers to actually put the whole jigsaw puzzle together and the ending, which is so simple, that it becomes extraordinary in a landscape of unreal or fairy tale like climactic endings. The characterizations, which I now realize is Ms. Kennedy’s core strength, blew me away. Dorothea Harding, lovely spirited and free, is woman after my heart. Her hopes and ambitions contradicts the norms of her society and when her plans are thwarted, she still has the moral courage to go on and continue to be good and generous. Roy is absolutely wonderful, a good boy turned jaded soul turned honest man; you feel the triumph of human spirit when he decides to follow the truth, despite all odds! The only character I could not warm up to was Cecilia Harding, but then I think Ms. Kennedy wanted us to feel that way about her and I do understand the frustration of being immensely gifted and not being able to use it because of lack of fund. My favorite character was Adelaide Lassiter – she alone stands for all that is innocent, brave and honest. She may not be the smartest or the wisest, but she knows what is right and never a moment, not even at the very peak of her success, does she lose sight of that! The language as always is wonderful and I could quote lines after lines from the book, but will contend myself with only a few – “Why should I be loaded with luxuries I don’t care for and be denied the one thing for which I crave – my leisure?” “I think she meant that happiness is really a prison and our gaolers are our preferences. We think we like one person or one place better than another. We regret the past, and we fear the future. But to a broken heart, all places are the same, there is the same grief to be encountered everywhere. And time is not important.” Wow!! The book is filled with such che-ching and the coin dropped moments!!

What a joy you are to read Ms. Kennedy!

P.S. In other news, please do remember that I am currently running a crowdfunding project and we need your support to make it happen. Details are found here.

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)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

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!

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!