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.

The most inspiring them of all…

I know I have to still write about Charles Dicken’s Great Expectation and I promise I will do it this week for sure. But while I drown myself in my other life, aka, the Project Manager, this Meme, I just could not let go! So Classic Club’s 2013 July Meme is –

What classic book has changed your view on life, social mores, political views, or religion?

I was 14 when I read this book – a very impressionable age and this book was way beyond the 14 years old reader – it had rape, violence, racial discrimination and per Wikipedia, destruction of innocence (though I have never felt that; to me it was more of coming of age!). So what book was this when all my peers were reading Ann of Green Gables? It was called – To Kill a Mockingbird. And I am darn glad that I read it and that too when I was 14!

To Kill a Mockingbird is more than an everyday story of fighting for the rights of less privileged. It’s more than a story of black versus white, rich versus poor! It’s a story of moral courage and about being brave when you are most afraid (Yes! I know George R R Martin wrote that in Games of Throne, but I am really talking about the principle of the thing!). The book is filled with acts of honor and valor even when they count for nothing. For instance when Atticus forces Jem to read to Mrs. Dubose because she is dying, though she has done nothing to deserve such kindness.  It’s about winning people over through bravery and honest conduct. It is about winning, when you have lost everything! It’s about compassion, not pity for your fellow beings – my favorite motto in the world is what Atticus says to Scout “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb around in his skin and walk around in it”. All this while, the book remains warm, humorous and very personal. There are everyday events out of our daily life – again one of the parts that I relate to most is when Scout talks about her reading – she could not recollect when she had not read with Atticus. I know the feeling, like I said before; I never realized when my father’s moving fingers over the words became my own to read.

This book may not have defined my social or political mores when I was 14. But it did go a long way in making me an egalitarian advocating liberalist who believes in equality for all and standing up for what you belive in no matter what the cost. In my small way, I find at times speaking up for what right may cost you something – relationship, money, promotion. But this book made me understand one very important kernel of truth when very young – unless I can look myself in the eye, nothing is worth it!

Viva Ms. Harper Lee. You wrote only one book, but boy! That book challenged our thoughts and forced many to reckon with what they thought was right and what was actually right! It gave impetus to the Civil Rights Movement and continues to inspire generations of lawyers and humanitarians!

P.S. now you know where the “Mockingbirds” in my blog’s name came from!

All that we see or seem……

I was walking along the shady path that led up to the house. It was a huge rambling mansion that had seen better days, but despite the peeling paint and the washed out appearance, it was still imposing. The rain lashed out harder and as I neared the entrance…..I could remember in flashes the memories that belonged to this house – the lovely, intelligent lady of the manor, her tall brilliant husband, how she took care of all the dependents of the house and its lands, her unwavering kindness and care with she had brought up her husband’s sister, like her own daughter and then that horrid night…..what happened? Where had those wonderful days of sunshine and laughter gone? I wondered about this brutal stillness in the surroundings? Where were all the people of the house? As I approached the main door, I knew there was no turning back….I had to knock and enter the threshold to fathom its secret. I gritted my teeth and rapped loudly and the heard somebody calling my name….the sound became clearer and closer and then I heard clearly “The laundry guy is here! Can you please settle the bill, I am out of change!”

Laundry? Bill?

Yup! It was a dream and just as I was about to unravel the great mystery, my flatmate decided to wake me up for something as mundane as a laundry bill!! Grrrrrrrrrr…….don’t you want to just strangle these so called best friends at times??? I so wanted to go back to sleep and pick up where I had left off. I wished it was like a movie on the DVD player where you pause and then start again. When I complained to what I felt at that point my very unsympathetic best friend, she scoffed and said “Well! It was just a dream! Why don’t you just write a tale and put in a finish that you want! That’s how you get most of your ideas anyway!”

That kinda got me thinking and I must confess that’s true. Every story/novel idea that I have written has had its germination in my dreams. A lot of successful creative people say that they the get their best ideas from what they see in their everyday lives. The courage of the common man is what makes their stories a success. Q.E.D. I do not find inspiration from daily life…oh! no! I have to dream them up…no wonder I am still trying to get published.

Anyhow so the piece around the dream and its lexis nexus with my creativity made me Google to my favourite research site – (no more brownie points for guessing, I have ranted about it enough several times) Wikipedia. I remembered reading Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams during my grad years and coming to the conclusion that it was a bit of hogwash, though most of my brilliant friends tell me I do not understand basic science let alone a complex phenomenon like psychology….they are I am sure right! But I still think Freud is hogwash. Back to Wikipedia, I read and read to better understand my condition, so that I could stop dreaming ideas (literally) and start getting inspired by daily life as a stepping stone to my success as a published author.

Per my trusted source, dreams are connected with our subconscious and are often outside the control of the dreamer. Per good ol’ Freud, dreams are manifestations of wish fulfilment. Jung, his most famous student, of course disagreed and said that dreams have messages and the dreamer should pay attention to them to better understand his/her own psychology.  ( He did not account for inconsiderate flatmates who interrupt one’s concentration) Fritiz Perls argued that dreams are projections of desires that have been ignored, rejected or suppressed and even an inanimate object may represent may present aspect of the dreamer. (What is the house supposed to represent?) Eugen Tarnow says that dreams are ever-present excitations of long-term memory. (No long-term memory of rambling house with a loving owner!)The closest I got to some understanding was Finnish psychologist Antti Revonsuo’s theory of dreaming – dreaming as an evolutionary phenomenon where the dreamer replicates the threats and continually practices dealing with them and this is proved by the fact that dreams include much more threatening events than people meet in daily non-dream life, and the dreamer usually engages appropriately with them. It made sense that as human’s we would be scared of losing what we value and this might impact our dreams! So I plodded on and  read more, but the more I read, and the more I read, the more I got confused and finally after ,making relations to all objects in my dreams, ended up with couple of startling conclusions –

  • I am suffering from trauma
  • I have repressed childhood memories
  • I have faced rejections
  • I need help! Sob! Sob! Bewail!

At this point, my uncaring flatmate decided to take charge and marched me out of the house with a dinner and movie treat.

Now that I have regained my mental composure (some of my friends are convinced I did not have any to begin with!!!) I have decided not to delve in medical matters or become a caricature of Jerome K Jerome’s J who realized while reading a medical journal that he suffered from every single disease in the world and was destined to die in a couple of months!! Instead I shall use my dreams like I have done so far – to find good stories, whether I get published or not! So there!

P.S. The title is borrowed shamelessly from Edgar Allan Poe’s A Dream Within a Dream.

All those “Beautiful” Men…..

I went to watch a movie over the weekend. Never mind what the movie was or who was in it! It was something else that caught my attention and kind of stumped me and kept me wondering. During the intermission, while the world goes out to buy Nachos, popcorn and yucky burgers, I sit through all the ads and trailers of upcoming films. I love watching these and I am one grumpy person if somebody suggests that I go buy a coke during this time.  I do not know what is special about these adverts/trailers but I love it!

So there I sat in all anticipation and then it hit me. For 15 minutes non-stop, they showed one advert after the other for men’s beauty products. There was a face gel to help clear oil and blackheads. There was a face cream to make the man fair and handsome and I think there was a hair gel for the golden locks. Er….what is going on here?

First of all, without sounding like a provincial prejudiced individual, the phrase, men’s beauty product is kind of oxymornonish. (Beauty products anyway leave me cold. I am all for cleanliness and being well groomed but let’s not go overboard here, regardless of the gender. I mean there are more important things in this world that fake eye lashes) I mean I know there are beautiful men, but that is not a term that I would popularly associate with this gender. I mean George Cloony is a lot of things – sexy, suave, charming, handsome etc but not beautiful…..right? Also I grew up on the diet of Captain Alex Randalls (The Shadow of the Moon) and Fritzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) and these men did not do pretty. But over the last couple of years, there is this media led push for men that besides being handsome, rugged, caring, sensitive, intelligent, financially well off, they also have to be fair with smooth skin. I think we are pressurizing the guys way too much! Besides, if he is a great guy, do I really care if he has a smooth skin with no black heads? I mean really, whatever are we expected to do next?

I was sounding these thoughts to a friend of mine and she said that these products are designed to cater for the “metrosexual”. Per Wikipedia again (my most favoured, always there and almost always accurate source), a metrosexual is a term coined to define men who are metropolitan and heterosexual, who invest both time and money on their personal looks. It refers to men who indulge in pedicures and facials, practice aromatherapy and spend freely on clothes like dress shirts (what the hell is a dress shirt- either it’s a dress or a shirt!) and are extremely conscious of their appearances. They might be straight, gay or bisexual or whatever! I am sure, most girls will be extremely happy to find an intelligent, relatively sensitive, funny guy, but they will not go pedicuring with them. I do think that the young mother’s I know will not sing, and here I am quoting Jay Livingston “Now I have children of my own. They ask their mother what wil I be. Will I be handsome, will I be rich?”

Now I am sure there are men out there who the very embodiment of metrosexuals and Wikipedia does after all quote David Beckham, Brad Pitt and Channing Tatum as examples of 21st century metrosexuals; but what I want to know is how many real men…you know the guys you hang out with, your boyfriend/husband, the guy next door or the men you work with actually indulge in all such grooming activities. Again,  I want to state that all of us, regardless of our gender should take care of our personal grooming and appearances, but how many everyday guys really go for aroma therapy that opens up clogged skin pores? The guys I know and this could be an old school thing, actually laugh through such adverts and do NOT want to compete for the Most Beautiful Man of the 2012 award, though many of them are narcissist. And if there are not many such men out there, who are all these adverts catering to? Why is my 15 minutes of vicarious pleasure of trailer watching being subsumed with stuff nobody buys? More importantly, as humanity moves forward in directions away from traditional mores that bind an individual (especially women who are trying hard not to let such equation work anymore), are we not going back in time where appearances more than characters matter, only this time the gal is replaced by a guy!

Perfection, Blocks and Blogs

For the last couple of days, I have been suffering from what is referred to in a clichéd manner as “The Writer’s Block”!  I want to understand why something that sounds so bloody positive should actually mean a dead end! I mean the idea of a writer’s block should conjure images of 1920’s Paris and the roaring twenties and the Jazz age of Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound. Or it should represent some hill side (or if you prefer a beach side; give me mountains over the sea any day; but then that’s me!) where a writing community meets every year to discuss and develop the “next break through literature”. Better yet, it could refer to a journal, a la, the New Yorker, where all the post-modernist/post colonialists/post realists/post whatever genre is in vogue now publish their posts! (Pun intended). Instead, it actually refers to my sitting in front of the laptop, staring at the blank word doc and twiddling my thumbs, while I drink endless cups of tea! (The way things are going I will soon have to graduate to drinking something stronger!)

Wikipedia (I only go to the best for reference) lists that Writer’s block can be a result of various factors working in combination or independently and includes but not limited to –

  • Creative problems where the author does not have any inspiration and may think that he has conceived a project far beyond his capabilities – My response – I am very much inspired and the narcissist that I am, I am convinced nothing is beyond me except a 10 mile marathon (Physical activity is not my forte; maybe I have a condition called Physical Block or something!)
  • Awareness of an audience can also be a deterrent for the writer and stifle his creative capabilities – My Response – Narcissist argument holds good here  again; what I will write, the world will love (Yes! I know I need to come down from my cloud 9 zone to avoid nose bleeds!)
  • Writer’s personal life may impact his writing capacity – physical illness, depression, financial constraints. – My response – Physically I am fine (I do not consider my inability to run a 10 mile a thon, a serious ailment) Depression – Nope again!  Financial Constrain – Well, that has been my condition ever since I have finished university and is now practically my best friend residing with me and my flatmate!

So after much rumination, I have come to the conclusion, that I have a unique writer’s block condition that no one has experienced before – I cannot think of a absolutely spectacular, stunningly innovative and brilliantly conceived plot, that will be handed down to posterity as the by-word of all matrimony where my male protagonist proposes marriage to my female protagonist.  I know Margret Atwood has said that if she waited for perfection she would never get a word written, but in all honesty, I cannot conceive a believable plot where my hero can propose marriage in an era of chaperoned girls and conservative morality. That’s my dilemma….I am inspired, I am aware of my audience and I am not suffering from any physical or mental ill health! (Unless you consider my eccentricity as a sure sign of madness!)  I just cannot seem to get past this chapter!

Again, per Wikipedia, the cure to writer’s block lies in –

  • Group Discussion – My flatmate alone has suffered enough through my novel high and lows (again! Pun intended and yes it’s a bad pun, but concentrate – I am suffering from lack of creativity) and I refuse to subject the rest of the world with it – I mean if I start breaking down the plot for one and all, where is novelty of the book?
  • Journals – What will I write in the journal that I cannot write in the book? I know the plot; I know the outline, it’s the detail I am struggling with! Ugh! Ugh! In fact this thought made me feel like a goat! (Don’t despair, I will explain, I am suffering from creative disability not correlating inability – Sue Grafton made a very pertinent observation on writers and ideas – “I carry a notebook with me everywhere. But that’s only the first step. Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.”)
  • List Making – List of all the innovative proposals through ages? Who is the author of this work again- the whole wide world or moi?
  • Free Writing – Well, that’s why I began this blog because per Julia Cameron  (again Wikipedia) Morning pages, which are three pages of writing without any intention of writing for any purpose, helps stimulate cognitive functions of the brain. I thought this was eminently sensible, so the blog.

But woe is me…my condition is bad……I still have absolutely no idea how to make my protagonist propose marriage!!!!!!!