The Choices We Make…..

A few weeks ago I read this wonderful review at Heavenali about a novel called “Which Way?” by Theodora Benson. The review was as always brilliant, like all of Ali’s reviews and it was available on Amazon Kindle without costing me a kidney and the central theme of “sliding door moments” i.e. of of inconsequential or unimportant choices result in momentous effect on the future path of life was intriguing. I was deeply impressed to know that this book was written, well before 1998 film of the same name, i.e. in 1931. On further research I found that it even preceded, J. B. Priestley’s 1932 play, Dangerous Corner, where apparently this concept more popularly explored. The final clincher was that this very innovative piece was written by the author when only 25 years old; this novel I needed to read!

Theodora Benson was born in England in 1905 and had published over a span of 30 years. She was a prolific writer and wrote everything from short stories, to novels, to essays and humor pieces, to writing speeches for the Government during World War II, where novelist Elizabeth Jenkins was her assistant. She spent her later life writing several books in partnership with her childhood friend Betty Askwith including travel writing about Europe and Asia, where she travelled with Askwith. She was never married and died at the age of 62 in 1968.

Which Way was Ms. Benson’s fourth novel and traces the parallel narrative of the novel’s protagonist, of Claudia Heseltine’s future, returning to the same moment with three different actions of Claudia, that would chart her life. Till this moment, Claudia is a bright young 20 something girl of her times (late 1920s?) she has doting parents, has been well educated in terms of intellectual as well as social needs , like attending a finishing school in Paris and has a host of amazing friends with enough money and a good life. She then reaches this moment, where she has three invitations – conflicting invitations, a stay at her good friend’s house over his birthday, another from a society friend, to meet an actress and her husband, both of whom Claudia finds very interesting and yet another from one of her highly intellectual friend to a weekend at the latter’s house where she was hosting some people including a popular polo player whom also, our heroine wanted to meet. The novel then follows her life as it unfolds driven by the which of the invitation she chooses, three times over. We meet Claudia, in a different setting each time, with different choices and a wholly different life from the other. There is no happy or sad ending per se, only life as is, bittersweet , simple and extremely complex, all at once.

There was so much to like about this novel; to begin with the main protagonist, Claudia Heseltine. She is neither a ravishing beauty nor an intellectual giant nor is an angel of mercy. She is a bit of everything, just like all of us in everyday life and just like all of us makes decisions based on what she feels best at that point in time and learns to live with its consequences, which may be whatever. She comes across as real and the brilliance of Ms. Benson lies in making it all seem so possible; we as readers may know what other choices Claudia could have had, but Claudia at that moment, choosing to accept one invitation over the other, seems as clueless and as innocent we are before we realize what the result of that choice is. Other characters in the book do equal justice, and again, the brilliance of Ms. Benson comes forth in being able to beautifully articulate, how a certain person may act when placed in the same circumstance, but with a different context. One of the outstanding qualities of the novel, among many others, is the absolutely authentic depiction of female friendships; there is strength and there is support but there no romanticism in them. They may change when life circumstances change or they may continue to be the very mainstay of your existence, but regardless of how they alter, they are always present in your life, always something for you to consider and sometime even seek permission from. The plot slowly unravels without any tense moment or “climax”. There is strong sense of irony at play through the book, but especially at the end of the first part, where Claudia wonders, how different her life would have been if she had made a different choice. On the face of it, this may seem a simplistic light novel about love and romance and marriage, but it is deeper than that; it is to great extent a feminist novel; where our protagonist, uses the herself, her inner happiness, her everyday cares and concerns to live a fulfilled rich life, no matter what curve ball life throws at her. She finds her worth and her value in simple everyday things despite off and inspite of the roads her life leads her onto. Personally to me, her first narrative felt the most real, though the other fates, were equally possible, in the social context of 1920’s-1930’s. It felt more heartfelt, more real and more simpler than the other narratives and I could not help but feel, there was a touch of personal history in there. Of course, I could be over imagining everything, and no such thing ever occurred except in my highly imaginative mind!

On my own personal note, I was super excited to read a thoughtful and insightful afterword by Simon Thomas of Stuck in a Book and who is the series consultant for these reprints. Simon’s essay gave me a lot of additional details to think about and helped in making the whole reading more enriching. Chuffed to know a celebrity, even remotely, as in really remotely!

Strongly recommend atleast one reading of this book, for its novel approach, for its very illuminating description of the life and times of this era and I would add, the woman’s movement. I for sure will be looking up her other works and also read Priestley’s play on the similar theme.

Books Maketh Life Better….

February cometh, it means winter soon endeth and that makes me sadeth!

Apologies for the really bad prose, but as all my regular readers know, the potential demise of winter season take a toll on me. There was great mismanagement at the time I was born by the powers above and instead of being born in the cold Alpine Tundra, I was born in the wonderful, albeit extremely HOT Tropical lands! Such are the ironies of life, but we have books to fortify us and help us imagines lives, very different form our everyday mundane reality! My February reading plans fortunately are exactly suited for such flights of imagination from 17th Century Restoration England to 19th Century France to Middle Earth….its all there!

To begin with, as part of Reading England 2016, I read Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier, which is set during Restoration England, specifically Cornwall. (One place I really really want to visit in person, despite exhaustive imaginings of the place, thanks to various Authors who wrote about Cornwall and Jane with her lovely descriptions of her hometown!). Moving on, I am reading The Fortunes of the Rougan’s by Emile Zola as part of 12 Month Classic Challenge; the February theme being A classic you’ve always dreaded reading. Sigh! Everybody assures me that I will love Zola, but so far I have been kind of wary about reading French authors as my experience with Flaubert and Hugo have not been too successful. Though I love some Victor Hugo’s works, but I could not abide by Les Miserables, but then I read it at a very young age and I have a feeling, should I re-visit it again, I will end up liking it. But that is another project for another day! I am reading Miss Marjoriebanks by Margaret Oliphant for my Women’s Classical Literature Reading Event.

This month, for my Lecito List Read which got an impetus from my having absolutely no self control, I start a re-reading of Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien with Cleo. The plan is to read the entire three volumes in piecemeal fashion from February to June. I am also continuing with the Metamorphoses by Ovid ReadAlong, again with Cleo, O and Jean. (I have been fascinated with whatever I am reading and so far, while I am not sure of Ovid as a person, I am very glad I am reading the book!)

Finally while there is no definitive plan and no special efforts, I did realize that over the last couple of years, I have been reading the novel variety of fiction and some poetry; I used to love Dramas in my undergraduate days and it seemed a good time as any to re-visit some of them. I am almost done with Shakespeare’s Richard III and for the month of February, I am re-visiting another old favorite of mine, She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith.

In easy readings I still have the he Lake House by Kate Morton and , I also got The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric, books I could not complete in January (Yep! I finished all the heavy Classics and could not finish the more contemporary reads!) because I was too busy reading things on the fly, like W.M. Thackeray and Agatha Christie.

Overall, I had a really good reading month in January and I hope I able to keep up my gutso of sticking to the plan in February as well!

Until then next post then, Happy Reading

 

 

Hail To The Great Women…..

The Classic Club is hosting a brilliant event through 2016 called Women’s Classic Literature Event. The idea is to read classic literature by female authors and share your thoughts! The fun part is you do not have to wait for January, for the Club decided that Christmas had come early and opened the event on October 09 2015…so super yay! It goes without saying that I will be participating, the only problem I do face as of now is what all to read…more like there is so much and I don’t want to leave out ANYTHING! Therefore in a rare moment of wisdom, I have decided to take one book at a time and I will kick of the event with North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. This book was part of my Reading England project and now it snugly fits into Women’s Classic Literature event as well. I plan to read it through November and I am super excited as I had been waiting to read this FOREVER!

Moving on, as part of the same event, the club has brought out a survey for its members to complete; this survey is naturally based around Women in Classics and I am sorely tempted to attempt it, though I am ridiculously bad at these things! I never seem to remember the pertinent things in a timely manner and later I go through these huge moments of “Oh! Damm! I should have said that!!!”  However, the survey is far too interesting to give up without any struggle and with a quaking heart, I venture forth-

The Survey

Introduce yourself. Tell us what you are most looking forward to in this event.

For those of you who already do not know, (that sounds incredibly pompous!) I am Cirtnecce – part time Project Delivery Leader, full time (constantly hoping and NOT in any order) Writer, Reader, Traveler and Foodie! To say I love reading is a ridiculous understatement – I cannot remember a time I did not read and I hope I never live to see a day when I cannot read! Books are what sustain me and what makes me!  I am really excited about this event and what I looking forward to is reading works of some lesser known female authors, especially outside of the Anglo-American belt.

 

Have you read many classics by women? Why or why not?

I have read a significant amount of Classics by women, but I know there are many more brilliant works out there which I have never tried. One of the main reasons is that many of these works are not easily accessible, especially in my part of the world. Even e-books are have limited number of such works available, making it kind of hard to diligently follow up on these readings.

 

Pick a classic female writer you can’t wait to read for the event, & list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works.

I have been kind of scared of reading Virginia Woolf for sometime; however most of the readers that I respect assure me that I will LOVE To the Lighthouse! So here’s hoping, I get to reading atleast one work (I am guessing Lighthouse) Adeline Virginia Woolf, born 25th January 1882, at Hyde Park Kensington England

 

Think of a female character who was represented in classic literature by a male writer. Does she seem to be a whole or complete woman? Why or why not? Tell us about her. (Without spoilers, please!)

This is a toss-up between Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn and Esther Summerson from Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I think both the characters embody the complete and true identity of woman – they display courage in the worst circumstance and they refuse to give on life and move on until they have improved not only their own lives, but lives of others, dependent on them by sheer force of will and quiet strength!

 

Favorite classic heroine? (Why? Who wrote her?)’

This has undergone so many changes over the years, so I quote directly from one of my old posts – Like many others, I began by absolutely admiring Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen…I still do; I love her pride, sense of doing the right thing, even accepting her own folly. However over the years, others have joined her company – Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; as a teenager, when I read the book, I was not particularly impressed by the namby pamby Jane Eyre and her stiff upper lip stance. I wanted fire and courage in my heroines and Jane was a calm stream of water. But re-reading the book during an interesting phase of my life (The Willoughby phase!), I realized how much of strength it takes for an ordinary governess to stand up to a Mr Rochester – to demand to be treated as an equal and what’s more to seek respectability and honesty in a relationship, even when your heart is breaking. And finally Mrs. March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and though she may not be the primary heroine, there is a lot to look upto her – here is a gentlewoman who is no longer in the comfortable circumstances she was originally born or married to, yet she tries her best to single handedly bring up four,  albeit difficult daughters, manage a household with diminishing funds, and yet instil joy and faith among all. It requires a lot of courage, what I call quiet courage to face the world everyday alone bravely. She is first single mother of modern literature and by far the most intelligent, kind and strongest of them all.

We’d love to help clubbers find great titles by classic female authors. Can you recommend any sources for building a list? (Just skip this question if you don’t have any at this point.)

I love this list by Feminista! 100 Great 20th Century Works of Fiction by Women –http://www.thebookescape.com/Feminista.html

I also recommend this list by Buzzfeed :  http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariannarebolini/howmany-of-the-greatest-books-by-women-have-you-read#.mw2bXVXWG

Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event. (Again, skip over this if you prefer not to answer.)

Well I am sure most of us have read all of these three authors, but I still believe these writers are a good place to start –

  • Jane Austen
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Willa Cather

Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the New Year starts?

I think I have already answered this question right at the start of this blog…I cannot wait till January and I plunge right in with Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South

Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make out a preset list?

I love lists, and usually try and stick to it, but then something catches my eye and the list goes awry, so this one time, I am not doing any lists. I will completely go with inspirations and whatever catches my fancy at that moment in time!

 

Are you pulling to any particular genres? (Letters, journals, biographies, short stories, novels, poems, essays, etc?)

In no order of significance, this is what I will most likely end up reading vis-à-vis genre – novels. Essays, short stories and poems; but then I may surprise myself and read a series of journals, but as of now the above looks like a plan!

 

Are you pulling to a particular era or location in literature by women?

Even without trying, I know I will gravitate between the years of 1800-1945, however I would try and spread my readings out, but knowing my previous tendencies, I am not sure this is one commitment I will be able to hold on to.

 

Do you hope to host an event or readalong for the group? No worries if you don’t have details. We’re just curious!

I have not planned any as of now!

 

Is there an author or title you’d love to read with a group or a buddy for this event? Sharing may inspire someone to offer.

I think considering my apprehensions about Woolf, I would love to join a reading group or get a buddy to encourage me to start and then finish To the Lighthouse!

 

Share a quote you love by a classic female author — even if you haven’t read the book yet.

There are so many, but I decided to go with one of the more understated ones – this was one of the earliest hurrays celebrating the independence of woman, liberating her from the traditional requirements of husband, home and hearth for occupation; and naturally, it was written by the inimitable Jane Austen in Emma – “If I know myself, Harriet, mine is an active, busy mind, with a great many independent resources; and I do not perceive why I should be more in want of employment at forty or fifty than one-and-twenty. Woman’s usual occupations of eye and hand and mind will be as open to me then as they are now; or with no important variation. If I draw less, I shall read more; if I give up music, I shall take to carpet-work. And as for objects of interest, objects for the affections, which is in truth the great point of inferiority, the want of which is really the great evil to be avoided in not marrying, I shall be very well off, with all the children of a sister I love so much, to care about. There will be enough of them, in all probability, to supply every sort of sensation that declining life can need. There will be enough for every hope and every fear

Finally, ask the question you wish this survey had asked, & then answer it.

No…I think the survey is quite complete!