A School for Scandle

A School for Scandal, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s’ comedy of manners, is a surprisingly fast and entertaining read despite being about as old as the United States.

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A School for scandal

A Comedy of Manner

A comedy of manner is a form of entertainment that satirizes a social class using  witty dialogue and stereotypical characters.  It’s like most sitcoms we have today, except intelligent. Staying true to the characteristics of comedies of manner, you often know quite a bit about a character with just their names. All the Moses’s, Sneerwells, Snakes, and Surfaces induce giggle with every appearance. Things get serious soon enough though.

The story might not be rather original, or very important in a comedy of manners for that matter, but it is rather engaging. It took me about 2 hours to read the entire text; I’d wager that watching the play would be a much shorter and more entertaining affair. The language wasn’t very archaic either.

Now for the most important aspect of all comedies of manner- the wit. This play certainly has a lot of it. Sharp comment fly at characters with every plot point and keep the play humorous. The plays’ main concerns are integrity, libel, and of course scandal. The story and wit revolve around these matter and the nice people have happy ending and the bad ones have bad endings. It might sound simple but the wit is plentiful and the values delivered. This was unusual for that time; most comedies of manner had the ill-doers get away.

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A 1937 production of the play

Themes, Motifs, Plot

The message about scandal, libel, and rumor are still relevant in a world where Rupert Murdoch still publishes about a million tabloids a day.

Sheridan might have been writing a comedy whose humor may not translate too well with modern audiences with society being a lot more progressive and diverse. But if you know a little history about the rigid, wealth and decadent upper class of the 1800’s you’ll find the play very entertaining. If humor doesn’t seem to reveal itself, remember this is a satire and look for the wit and parody among the prudes on stage. There isn’t any central character to drive the play, because the upper class and their scandalous ways and disregard of propriety is the main focus. This is something that’ll either make the play a chore or refreshing.

There is a lot of antisemitism in the play. Although Moses is shown to be a kind man, that seems to be played as a aberration. This is something audiences should expect from plays of that era and from R.B Sheridan who has a reputation for making choice comments about women authors and the Irish. Audiences may also be surprised by the amount of affairs and sexual escapades that are hinted at in the play.

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Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Why should you care?

R.B Sheridan is a man worth know about. Any man who went from class dunce to dueler to play write is worth reading about.

If that doesn’t interest you the fact that Sheridan makes a scathing critic of the hypocrisy and prudishness of the upper class at a time when it was solidifying, and managed to be funny about it makes the play worth a watch or read.

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Moonstone

This one’s been a long time coming. The Moonstone is an excellent Victorian detective novel cum thriller with a bit of oriental flavoring.

I was supposed to finish reading this for my course but I never finished it as I heard of the ending before I was halfway done. The fact that I was able to finish Bleak house and Middlemarch in a few days and took months to finish Moonstone had a few of my friends questioning my humanness. Their concern isn’t all that unwarranted.

Wilkie Colins’ The Moonstone could easily be mistaken for something written in the early 20th century. The language is simple, far removed from the intimidating wordplay that puts most people off Victorian writing. The story is narrated through journals written by the characters. This doing away of the omniscient narrator does wonders for the story. The reader often knows little more than the characters and is on his or her toes the entire time. It also helps cut away any flab that might slow own the story. The story and mystery take their time to unravel but this is never really a bother for previously mentioned reason. The unceasing exposure to the characters’ thoughts and deviations fleshes out their personalities and make everything that’s said more relevant and very often- endearing.

The mystery that the story revolves around is engaging and the narration manages to slip you a revelation just before you start to get impatient. The story is undeniably well written and it would be a very pleasant thing to finish on the high note that is Betteredges’ endearing epilogue. There are plenty of memorable lines, characters and quips I doubt anyone is likely to forget. If you ever find someone who has read the moonstone, threaten to quote Robinson Crusoe and I guarantee a laugh.

However, there are the three Indian and the Moonstone that steal attention at the end of the book. It would have been very easy to have just forgotten about them after the epilogue but Collins decides otherwise. In doing so Collins seems to draw attention to the story of the Moonstone, the Indians, Hinduism, faith, caste and list of other things.Stories that had been hidden away under all the drama. Why? I’m not really sure. It work’s beautiful, yes. But why?

This fascination Collins brings to everything from the Moon to Tipu Sultan adds a little something to the book, that just invites you to wonder. Was Collins enamored with the idea of duty and the cycles of time? We can never really be sure, but there’s no denying the Moonstones brilliance.

Middle March

When I realized Middle March was 3000 pages on my mobile reader, after I had just put off finishing Anthony Trollope Barchester towers, I was terrified.

Barchester towers wasn’t uninteresting, it’s just that the language and style of narrative made it difficult to finish. Since I had to finish Middle March before the vacations ended I thought it would become a cause of much pain and struggle.  Halfway through the first chapter I was shocked at how wrong I was.

Middle March felt very different from what I expected a Victorian novel to be. The characters seemed like archetypes at first, but Elliot manages to show us their complexity and inner struggles in a way that makes nearly everyone of importance in the novel likable. You could sympathize with everyone from Celia to Raffles. Ever character was given some back story that let you understand why they behaved in the ways they did. Even when they behave badly you understand why they did so.

Mr. Raffles who is the closest thing to a villain in the novel, is a man who has clearly suffered a lot and is haunted by his past. He has nightmare, debts, drinking problems and seems to have made many enemies who force him to flee for his life. Mr. Causbon who is the cause of Doretha’s suffering is also a character who is easy to sympathies with. You understand that there motives that are quite understandable for each character. This humanization of all the characters makes the novel more engrossing.

You might be able to predict where certain subplots like the one with Mr Causbons’ nephew and Mrs. Causbon are going fairly easily. But the fact that it is so easy to care for these characters makes their stories more engrossing. You sympathize with them and even if you know exactly what’s going to happen next, you can’t help but hope that they don’t run into the calamities you see them walking into.

The ending might seem like a fairly safe one with most of the main characters getting a happy ending, but since you have seen so much of their anguish and suffering-along with the fact that they are so easy to sympathize with- make their endings seemed deserved. They have actively worked towards and fought for the endings they get.

When you really think about it the endings don’t seem all that fairy tale like. Quite a few have suffered- the doctor knew he was mistaken in marrying his wife and died early. While she lived to a very long age and never seemed to have done anything about her own issues. Mr. Bulstrode and his family were driven away from Middle March. They might have found comfort in each other, but they still suffered a great deal and Mr. Bulstrode had blood on his hands. What effect would that have had on a man who wished to be so righteous? Mr. Causbons suspicions were well founded and he never got his life’s work published.

Few achieve what they really want and even consider themselves failures. The reader might find better satisfaction in the conclusions of the story rather than in the conclusion of their [The characters] lives. Despite the fact that not everyone got a happy ending, all the development the characters go through make the ending seem satisfactory.

A person who might not have known all that we do might assume that nearly everyone ended up with unhappy endings and had lowered their standings and happiness. But as Elliot explains in the final chapter many of us crate harmful perceptions when we judge people without knowing about the struggles they go through. The novel is extremely effective in arguing for that final suggestion by Elliot.

It must have been very forward for a woman in those times to write a novel that questioned [and sometimes mocks] most of the values and beliefs held at those times. I can’t shake the feeling that the novel is daring in the way it seems to suggest that everyone from gentlemen and clergy to doctors and peasants could, from time to time,  be wrong, mislead and cruel. The comparison she makes between Doretha and the Virgin Mary, apart from being a great argument, must have been very blasphemous/dangerous.

The fact that several characters are encouraged to go against so many social norms must mean that Elliot was quite the rebel. Although the novel deals with a lot of relationships sex is never mentioned. This isn’t surprising given the more conservative time during which it was written but I think Elliot compensates for it by showing so much intimacy. Intimacy being the best word I can think of to describe the delicate bonds and weaker/romantic moments between the characters.

It is clear everyone is aware about their gender roles, the sort of behavior expected from them etc. but they seem to break these barriers placed on them where no one else see them. Eliot shows us the humanity hiding beneath formality. Their weaknesses, their ungentlemanly / unladylike qualities are all laid out. And for everyone one of those qualities she makes arguments telling you why those should not give you cause to condemn any of the characters.

Middle March is also interesting because of the history it reveals. Elliot makes it clear that she is talking of a time before she began to write the novel. 40 years if I remember correctly. But looking back on it from out time it seems even more historical and fascinating. Much more has changed since Elliot wrote her novel. It is impossible to think medicine was considered a low profession and one that would not leave you wealthy. It’s also interesting to see the standing the clergy and priesthood held, with most of the scientific minds of the time, being from the clergy. The fact that there seemed to be so much wealth in the clergy is also interesting.

The contrast between Mrs. Causbons’ orthodox Christianity and the more worldly and liberal Christianity she finds in Rome seems in opposition to the sort of attitude to religion you’d find in those places today. The political events that occur in the background are interesting, but the way everyone reacts to it is the most fascinating part.

The talks on the coming of railways, industrialization, cholera etc all links up Middle March to the rest of England, letting it comment on the changes that those things brought. The book might take a while to finish, but it is impossible put down. You’ll never find yourself unwilling to read through the huge descriptions and digressions because you’re so engrossed with the story and can’t wait to find out what will happen next. The deliberations that the characters drag out make reading a nail biting experience at some points. Elliots’ detailed and sympathetic study of country life is a fascinating read with likable character, many tense moments, much rebelliousness and a very interesting plot.

1Q84 Book 2 July September

The last book ended with a cliff hanger that suggested the story was going to become more intense, and the many many questions that the first book raised would be answered. It did. Just not in the way you’d expect.

Murakami revisits what we already know while his characters try to understand the world they are in. The novel[within the novel], which was written in the first book, is elaborated on in a manner that makes you want go read the first book again and hit yourself for not seeing things more clearly the first time around. Yet again Murakami uses the novel that was written in the story to tell the reader where he/she should be looking. The readers like the characters do not receive any direct or complete answers. But make no mistake there is a lot of development.

The way this development works isn’t like the sort in most other stories. The development is extremely slow, minute and detailed. Because every single thing that happens in the story does something to alter the perception of the books characters, you never get bored or feel overwhelmed. The amount of detail and struggle, makes progression seem believable. It more philosophical progression than plot progression.

Few authors are able to repeat what has already been said over and over again and still make it interesting. Irrelevant and minute details in the characters individual stories grow in significance as they[ the characters] reflect on the changing world. Every time you look at a story again a few extra details you picked up as the other stories progressed change the meaning and relevance of everything you already knew. Anecdotes and idle chit-chit suddenly become incredibly important revelations that push the story in directions you would have never seen coming.

They also link up implied or unstated histories/stories as well, making the world far more and far more extraordinary. The fantastic difference ,between the real world and that of 1Q84, such as the two moons, air chrysalis etc blend in fantastically and do not actually make the story seem any less believable. In fact you might not care for them as much as for the love story that happens while the entire world around two people changes.

Everything in the first book is picked up, examined and elaborated on. These changes that encourage a sort of spiritual journey in both Tengo and Aomane, are the most interesting parts of the book. Their beliefs and motivations become as fantastic as the world around them. Perhaps this is why Murakami made the world around them so extraordinary, to try and show the reader how extraordinary certain beliefs can be even when compared to a sky with two moons.

The story moves slowly although it never seems to lose steam, Murakamis writing is again very essential in making it work. It isn’t easy to make you feel indifferent to a serial child rapist. However there are a few sentences that seem awkward at times, especially when talking about sex. And the idea that a person in japan would have croissants just sitting in their fridge doesn’t seem very believable to me. But I suppose croissants begin the most unbelievable thing in a story with two moons is a good thing.

1Q84 book 1 April-June

I haven’t read much Japanese literature and what I have read are biographies and material related to history. The even fewer works of literature that I have read consist of small poems and short stories. But I’ve always been interested in reading Japanese novels; while I do know of and have read much manga and other works that were written by Japanese authors I would not call them novels.

The style of narration and the episodic made the difference quite distinct. Manga, Anime and Japanese history always make for interesting reads. Having evolved from an island shadowed by china -which was often the mightiest, wealthiest and most respected nation on earth-to a place which has been able to come close to over shadowing Chinese history with Samurai,Manga and a history of modernization combined with fierce protection and preservation of what was thought to be Japanese. So when I bought a thick,heavy and expensive copy of Murakamis 1Q84 without knowing much beyond the fact that Murakami was a famous author I was very eager to see what was in store.

The books cover with a grey tree and peeling moon and a smaller green moon next to [along with a puzzling message at the back] did much to add to my assumption that there would be some sort of great mystery to uncover. The first chapter seemed to confirmed my beliefs when it proved to be extremely descriptive and well written- while it did not actually tell you much about what you actually want to know.

Aomane and Tengo seemed to shoot the book in opposite directions like a rubber ball at a tennis match. The more you read the more you wondered how these two people who were so different in nature and lifestyle could be related at all.

Murakamis writing really carries the novel. I don’t think many other writers could keep you interested while offering you so few actual hints about the true direction or purpose of the story in between so many vividly described details of the world they inhabit.

I did not however find much beyond the names of characters or places without which the story might be uniquely Japanese. That isn’t a bad thing, but it did seem unusual and I wonder if this is due to some overzealous translator.

Describing the story feels almost criminal as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone. The manner in which bizarre hints and encrypted speech reveal at a tantalizingly slow pace more and more of the story and the two characters makes you feels the revelations must be earned. You are in lockstep with the characters and are often as surprised and as baffled as they are by what you discover.

The novel and writing within the story is also incredibly important [and clever] as it allows Murakami to come in and tell you all about his writing and story telling while also telling you how to read the story. The beginning of the book might inspire you to ask “Whats really happening?”. As I near the end of the second book I’d say I still  don’t know. I may know a lot more about the characters and their stories, I may have read through months of their lives but I don’t feeling any closer to answers. In fact both you and the characters have far more questions due to prior questions being answered. The way Murakami keeps you hooked on the long way to the end is simply a brilliant feat of story telling, one that is definitely  worth reading.