Notes on Bookish Readings When Ill

I have been writing this post in my mind for the last 3 weeks since I have recovered from a painfully long bout of bronchio-asthma, but there have been out of station weddings to attend and friends to visit and preparation for a Project Management exam, that  blogging took a back seat and worse, for a while there was not enough time to even read! Anyway, such things are happily in the past and I hope I am back to the settled rhythm of daily reading and frequent blogging!

While I was laid up three weeks, I was mostly in a irritable temper, struggling to breathe while fever came and went and the Indian summer heat rose. I could not eat much and doing almost anything gave me a headache. The only thing I was capable of was watching endless reruns of F.R.I.E.N.D.S , but for such bookish creature like us, you can watch only so much of sitcoms, without yearning to dive back into books. Herein lay the problem, I was too ill, to read my April reading plan books….I could not bear to look at Shakespeare or Poe, Spenser made my eyes dance and see things and Willa Cather was simply out of the question! So I decided to hunt the ever reliable internet for some suggested readings when ill. However for once, the cyber space completely let me down; while some sites suggested the tried and tested Austens and Rowlings, most sites suggested some very grim readings, biographies filled with struggle and toil and one site even suggested As I lay Dying (I don’t know if the guy was being funny!!) I don’t know why people would read such stuff when they are physically so unwell, which in turn has to have a psychological impact! Why read depressing stuff when you are already  down and out, but I guess, different strokes for different folks and for a different folk like me and I am hoping other like me, we need a much more cheerful reading list. Therefore, I humbly present to you 10 books/series/authors  you ought to read if you feel like laughing out loud or even chuckling a bit or simply take your mind off the physical trauma, when laid up with maladies –

  1. Jane Austen – Devoted as I am to Ms. Austen, I must say she has helped me recover several times in my life and made the illness more bearable. I do not recommend all her works but Pride and Prejudice, Emma and the lesser known Lady Susan! In the author’s own words – light, bright and sparkling!
  2. Terry Pratchett- I have said this before and I will keep saying it again, the world is a better place, thanks to Sir Terry. When your are completely fatigued with the mundane sameness of your surroundings, compounded by a sever iron grip variety headache, take a walk in the Discworld and meet the witches and the watch and Death and so many more characters, that will take you to whole new world and keep you there laughing, agreeing and coming out as a much more happier, healthier and even a better human being!
  3. Short Stories by Saki – The much lesser known Hector Hugo Munro, aka, Saki is the perfect anecdote when you are irritable and cannot stand your fellow creatures! Saki’s short stories filled with irreverent humor and biting sarcasm is a treat, as you wander into a 1900’s England filled with social gaities and find succinct observations, served with irony and dash of laughter to help recover your soul!
  4. Sherlock Holmes Series by Arthur Conan Doyle – You want to escape the physical discomfort, then there is no better escape than Victorian England where a hook nosed, opium using detective takes you down the lanes of England and Europe to unravel some of the most unbelievable acts of crime!
  5. Father Brown Series by G.K. Chesterton – While very different in tenor, than the Sherlock Holmes series, Father Brown is another detective, with whom you will be alert and constantly involved as you unravel one gritty mystery after another, in a intuitive, philosophical and patient way, that characterizes , one of the best detectives in Fiction!
  6. Miss Marple Series by Agatha Christie – When you are ill, and need a distraction, who better than the queen of crime. While all most all her books are addictive, I prefer Miss Marple, because I cannot get over the impression of a weak woolly old lady going after some of the most ruthless criminals and that kind of always makes me feel better and hope that I will recover soon!
  7. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – Cliched, I know! But I cannot help it! The wizard world is such a pick me up and then there are all kinds of fantastic creatures and constantly changing dynamics and yes, there are several deaths, but the books always end in hope! So it is way better option than As I Lay Dying, when ill!
  8. Lord Wimsey’s Series by Dorothy Sayers – I read my first and only Dorothy Sayers when I was ill and she did me a world of good! First impressions are not usually a thing to go buy, but I am taking a chance here – me think reading her when ill, will make you feel infinitely better! At any case I can vouch for Busman’s Journey, among all the other books in the series!
  9. Jeeves and Wooster by PG Woodhouse – Need I say anything! A Jeeves is exactly what you need when so ill,but it being in short supply and only available in fiction, wade through the mis– adventures of Bertie Wooster in 1920s England as he is rescued and saved every time by the dependable Jeeves!
  10. Asterix Comic Books by  written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo – Follow the Gauls through one magnificent adventure in Roman world after another, as they meet Caesars and Cleopatras and discover pun like never before! Laughter and more laughter!

There you go folks, that’s my list and my recommendation! What are yours?

 

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!

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!!

Murder and More in Victorian England

I have often heard that there is a time and a place for everything!! Apparently this holds true for books as well. Take the case of Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, which I had bought more than 3 years ago and only read it like couple of weeks ago as part of Classic Club’s Victorian Age Reading Event. The case was same with Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I had bought the book, well over a year ago after mention by Jane (She has till date never led me wrong vis-à-vis new authors!!! Thank You Jane!) But for one reason or another I did not read it till last week – again propelled by the Victorian Reading Event (Big Yay to Classic Club for always making me read what I should have read long back!!)

Now about Lady Audley’s Secret…..

The novel opens with the beautiful and extremely talented, albeit impoverished governess Lucy Graham making a great match and marrying Sir Michael Audley, Bart. Audley Court. The new Lady Audley is liked by all both for her beauty as well her child like behavior which endears her to everyone except her step-daughter Alicia, who till the arrival of Lady Audley had reigned supreme both over her father and his house. Parallel to these events, George Talboys is returning home to England after three years; he had been gold mining in Australia and had finally made his fortune after bitter struggle and was now looking forward to re-uniting with his lovely wife and child. On reaching London, he runs into his old Eton schoolmate and friend, Robert Audley, a young indolent barrister, who also happens to be the nephew of Sir Michael. The two friends catch up on each other’s lives and it is revealed that George Talboys who was the only son of a very rich Squire had married a beautiful but penniless girl, which had incensed his father, who had then disinherited him. George Talboys had then sold his Naval commission and left for Europe with his pretty bride and had spent some luxurious months, while the money from the commission lasted. However once the money ran out, the Talboys returned to England and settled down in a house, which they shared with his bride’s father. As money ran low, there were arguments and dissatisfaction among the couple, until George deserted his wife and new born son and left in the middle of the night to make his fortune. He now hoped that his beautiful wife would forgive him and they would now settle down to a life of happy domesticity and love. George Talboys plans are dashed when on he learns of his wife’s death a week before he reached England. Heartbroken and depressed beyond his depth, he makes Robert Audley the guardian for his son’s education – the little boy had lived with his grandfather and wants to set off to Australia again to bury his sorrow in the wilderness of the land, but falls ill. Robert Audley nurses him back and finally convinces him to take a trip with him to Russia. As George Talboy’s spirit and heath mend, Robert Audley takes him to Audley Court, which he visits annually during the hunting season. Robert always stays at his uncle’s place during the hunting season, but this year is turned away as Lady Audley is unwell and unable to act as a hostess to visitors. Robert Audley and George Talboy take up residence at one of the Inns near Audley Court and one day when Sir Michael and Lady Audley are out, convince Alicia to take them on a tour of the house. George Talboy comes back from this tour of Audley Court visibly disturbed, but by morning regains his composure. He and Michael decide to spend the day fishing and return to the Inn for dinner before taking the last train back to London. They settle themselves down for a day of peaceful fishing and Robert Audley falls asleep; George Talboy again restless gets up and starts walking towards Audley Court. When Robert Audley finally wakes up, he hurries to the Inn, thinking that George Talboy must have wandered off and the comeback for dinner per their agreement. But the innkeeper tells Robert Audley that George Talboy never came back to the Inn and the barrister soon discovers that no one has seen his friend; George Talboy seems to have disappeared from the very face of the earth on a balmy afternoon. Robert is not satisfied by the way the disappearance is treated by all including Talboy’s own father, and begins in earnest to search for his friend, by piecing together his life before he left for Australia. As he slowly gets nearer to the truth, he is torn between his duty and his loyalties and face the horrifying facts, that threatens to destroy everything he holds sacred.

The book written in 1862 discusses things that Henry James said “that ladies are not accustomed to know”. Written more than 160 years ago, the book is all about murder, treachery, blackmail and bigamy – things that could simply not be discussed in the polite Victorian circles during afternoon tea visits and often considered “racy”. Yet the book is marvelously well written, with a taut plot and with strong characters that do not let you rest, until you reach the last page of the book and naturally was a rip-roaring success that brought justified praise and recognition to Braddon. The characters are extremely well drawn out and it is they and not the events that propel the story forward. I could not warm to either Lady Audley or Alicia Audley but both their characters were extremely believable and their angst and actions are alike understandable, in the shadow of their past. Robert Audley is the quintessential Victorian hero, a bit sardonic, but intelligent and generous, whose loyalties are clear and conduct is always that of a gentleman. But my favorite cast in this ensemble was Sir Michael –the kind generous noble man, deeply in love with wife, sincere enough to know and face the truth and honorable in every conduct, even when the worst comes to his doorstop. The novel naturally being a mystery tale keeps you hooked, but there are these clever tricks where Ms. Braddon pulls an unexpected whopper that hits you as a reader and you are left thinking “Wow! That I did not see coming!” She does this judiciously and cautiously without descending to theatrics and manages a fine balance between a social commentary and a good read.

An awesome book…again one that I should have read long back!!

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!!

Personality and Duplication in London

Late last night I finished reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as part of my RIP 2013.  I had read the abridged children’s version long back and I was very curious to come back and read this classic which had spawned more than 125 adaption in stage and films alone and has become a part of our everyday conversation when referring to people with hypocritical characters traits or with dual personality, medical or otherwise.

Wikipedia, (my ever trusted resource and where would I be without thee!) tells me that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886 and may have been inspired by a dream as well as Robert Louis Stevenson’s lifelong interest in the good and bad side of a man’s character that coexisted with each other.

I don’t think there are many out there who are not aware of this plotline. Nevertheless, here goes a brief synopsis – The tale is narrated from the point of view of Mr. Gabriel John Utterson, a well-established lawyer and a generous gentleman.  It begins with Mr. Utterson being unease with a will which he had drawn up for his friend and well-known physician Dr. Jekyll and pertained to the half million sterling legacy which would go an Edward Hyde, after the latter’s death or disappearance. Mr. Utterson is in total distrust of Edward Hyde and believes that Dr. Jekyll is in the grasp of some vile plot which has forced him to name Edward Hyde as his successor and fears that Edward Hyde may actually murder Dr. Jekyll to get his hands on the wealth. He is aware of the loathsome nature of Mr. Hyde which is further blackened when his kin Sir Richard Enfield shares with him the story of Edward Hyde trampling a child. Mr. Utterson tries to argue with Dr. Jekyll and tries to make him change his mind about his will but it of no use. He even solicits the help of another friend Dr. Hastie Lanyon with whom Dr. Henry Jekyll has parted ways on reasons of scientific disagreement. Things take a turn for worse, when Edward Hyde is charged with the murder of an harmless and well respected Member of Parliament Sir Danvers Carew.  Sir Danvers was also Mr. Utterson’s client and to ensure that he does not compromise one client over the other, he visits Dr. Jekyll to understand if the latter has been hiding his prodigy. Dr. Jekyll vehemently denies the same and promises Mr. Utterson that he is through with Edward Hyde and he shall never see the man again. Things begin to look up as Edward Hyde is no longer heard off and Dr. Jekyll once more begins interacting with society and doing good among the unfortunate and taking up his old friendship with Dr. Lanyon and Mr. Utterson. However things come to a sudden halt as suddenly Dr. Jekyll becomes a recluse again and Dr. Lanyon suddenly dies claiming to Mr.Utterson that he never wishes to talk of Dr. Jekyll again. Mr. Utterson then sets off on a quest to save his last friend and find the truth about Edward Hyde with startling results.

What can I say about this book that has not been said before? To begin with, I am sure you have read books which are like roller coaster rides – you rush through one page after the other with such intensity that when you reach the end, it leaves you grasping for breath. This is one of those books – its only 92 pages but it’s a tour de force.  You do not read this book leisurely and it does not leave you feeling complacent. It’s something you sit down and read and then get up and go for a walk or a run or something, because its gets your adrenalin pumping.  In my case because I read it far into the night I could not go for a run – the night watchman might have called the doctor or the police or both to see the crazy girl from flat #805 run around the apartment block at 3:00 am, as it is, he thinks I am a freak. Anyway, I went and cooked enough food for next two days and finally slept at 6:00 am in the morning!

Enough about the physical impact of the book – let’s talk about the book instead! It’s written in a direct and no frills voice. The descriptions are minimal and the author does not waste words in describing the house, garden or the table patterns.  He gets right to the story and starts his narration with very little prelude. There is ample time spent however in building the characters and though he uses very limited words to describe a character, their actions define them infinitely better – showing once again what a good author can do without being verbose. There is a lot of action in this book; however, there is no description of anything gruesome or vulgar. It’s only through words and atmosphere that the author manages to convey the feeling of depravity and terror in the presence of Mr. Hyde.  The author therefore uses a description of the weather and the fog as a constant companion to the action; but I cannot help but think that it is both an effort by Stevenson to create an eerie atmosphere as well a metaphor for clouding of a good man’s thought which prevents him from seeing the whole truth.

Metaphor in fact seems to be the very corner-stone of this tale. One could state that novella was an attempted Victorian morality tale. I am not sure what was Robert Louis Stevenson’s motivation in writing this piece and I am sure it was much more than a simplistic understanding of good and evil. The story talks about the duplicate nature of Victorian society, where behind the veil of gentlemanly conduct, there lurked many depravities of character. There is the concept of how both the good and bad exist within a man and too much pressure on bringing out the good may lead to violent eruption of the bad side. It’s also a can be seen as a cautionary tale of development of science – 1880s saw a number of scientific advancement and the tale could have been a question on how too much scientific interference in man’s constitution may alter it – something far-seeing considering we see the side effects of many medications our character everyday now .

The story is far seeing in many ways and there are multiple layers through which one can interpret this tale. Ultimately it’s a very very good read and I now understand why this work has been adapted more than 125 times.