Fawn

We’re thirty minutes outside town when the roads clogged. Luggage racks, road snacks, dogs barking out windows.

She’s thinking behind a pair of sunglasses. “You want coffee?”

After much thought. “It’ll be a madhouse. Don’t bother.”

Her mouth forms a perfect “O,” then shuts. She says the word “Fawn” to no one in particular.

The first thing I noticed in her room was the mess. Clothing and food wrappers rose like hills over a dirty floor. I unearthed old novels, brown, with their covers ripped off.

The best secret was camouflaged; incomplete love letters. Suddenly I wasn’t sure who the fawn was.

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In the lives of others

The trouble began when he wanted to stop returning. Indeed he would have much rather have taken a long leap away from his world, a swift hop out of reality.

Initially he kept it well hidden. He had thought long and hard on where he would keep it. How had it  found him? By chance you would assume. But he was afraid that it was more than just chance that had held his eyes, firmly attached to an old bit of paper he chanced upon. When he pulled away the words melted, oozed and formed. Every time he’d look at it, there was something else. 

He took home, he took it somewhere where his eyes would’t want to lie to him. He didn’t get it. Some days electric with a curious charge he’d loose himself in the tales it told him about little nameless people who lived hundreds, sometimes thousands of years ago. Faithfully it reported an hour or three of someone’s life. A hermit on a riverbank, a washerwoman remembering colors from her dream. Unflinching in it’s reportage of histories private hours he couldn’t help but read into it.

Eventually it found itself out of his locker and into his coat pocket. Here and then a private moment of quiet reflection he’d picked the habit of. It seemed natural to look back at little history, his little peephole into sometime elsewhere. It seemed to grow more natural to ruminate, chew up the scenery he’d seen from a hundred years ago. The weight of private lives sprung on him. He had to think and wonder on who they were, but faster and faster his list of lost faces grew into a blur. Melting and escaping him in haste. 

Once only slightly disarrayed, it grew crumpled and creased. It yellowed and so did it’s people. He swore it echoed. Had he seen them before, weren’t they doing something he thought of or wondered about before? It drew him in and the impression of his hand would appear before the words. He need more time with his paper, less to do with outside, less time to go back to his world. 

Did he realize he was freezing into his escape? Molded like the private figures, in their private lives, a man lost to stories. 

Library cycle

Back in Mangalore the library came to us. Struggling against the heat and the uphill climb an old man cycled closer.

Every month or fortnight he’d arrive. His bycycle had a large open box attached at the back. He could have fit in it easily. The box was made of tin or some metal that was showing its age, but it was not rusted. 

Inside the box were comic books and magazines. Good literature too, maybe some religious works but I never bothered about them. The family would gather near the bycycle and pick up new material. The old man always stood bent over the box, watching what we’d pick up.

The material wasn’t actually new. They were just the latest things he got his hands on. Books from America libraries, books that said “remember me Jess”, book with random writing, folds and tears. The books were usually from the 70’s and 80’s with Americans having written in them. I have no idea how they got here.

I’d take copies of Archie’s comics and try to figure out the magazines. I must have been very young; I was very proud about having learnt how to spell “Zoo” from one of them. 

The cycle library seemed to disappear from my life after a while, just all those warm Mangalore afternoons when there was nothing to do. 

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.

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.

Shadows of Moths

Having spent all day indoors, I decided to venture outside to make sure the rest of the world was still around. It was, and the fresh air felt like a pillow being  pushed up against my face.

I breathed it in and noticed my neighbor peering at me from his balcony. He and his 70’s mustache are always out there; I’ve always wondered how he has resisted the urge to play with his phone or go inside to stare at a screen. When the robots take over and pay us in internet usage privileges, He and his mustache will be peering stoically at us from some mountain, cloaked in brown robes. I drew my head back in and grabbed a collection of short stories by Nabokov. The orange streets light right outside my house poured over the stairs to the house upstairs. Reading under it seemed extremely tempting for some reason.

Another neighbor, the meek one with the meek name I can never remember, slithered  through the path to his house and stared from the corner of his eyes. I lower my head but returned the glance. He slipped away into the shadows, the curious fellow. I noticed the black railing of the stairs I was sitting on were wet and the blue house directly opposite had be colored a darker shade of blue by the rain. I scanned the road and listed to the vehicles surge past on the main road, just out of view.

I realized I hadn’t read a single line and that the shadow of a moth buzzed across the pages bathed orange light. I put the book aside and looked for the moth under the street light.

Chronicles Of A Death Foretold

The blurb tells you he will die.

It tells you why and it tells you who does it. So why read what Marques writes? Maybe its the how. Maybe it’s just the desire for a little closure. Why should a story tell you everything anyway?

Back when I was a kid I had a dog, Zoolfy, he was white the untouched parts of a new unruled notebook. I don’t remember much about him, I was six at the time and my father killed him before I got to know him better. What I do remember is a story about him that my family repeats every time that start reminiscing about the pets they had. On seeing one of the many uncles that haunt the family for the first time, Zoofly hopped up on his lap and looked him in the eye. Man and dog stared at each other for sometime,I don’t know how much time but it was enough time for the family to decide that this stare lasted so long, that it was a story meant to be retold. What passed between man and dog on that ruined,decrepit chair?

I don’t know much about Zoofly or what went on his mind or who the uncle was or what he though or why neither of them made a sound. It’s interesting. It happened. People remembered it. It had no plot no great moral lesson. It just happened. It makes you think.

The murder happens. You might like the narrator and the man who is going to die or you may not. It doesn’t matter. You might hate the people who let the killings happen, the people who kill, the man who is killed- it doesn’t matter. Curiosity will keep you going.

Find your own morals and villains if you want to. The death happens weather you like it or not. You like everyone else in the story may never truly know if the wrong man was accused. The truth might never decide to reveal itself. You don’t even know why the narrator lists out all these little stories to you. You can never be sure if that fact that several people could have saved him is important.

Marques takes you for a ride. All you can do is sit back and wonder at everything you hear and everything you don’t.

Jude The Obscure

Its not hard to see why criticism of Jude The Obscure was so severe Hardy vowed never to write another book again.

In Jude The Obscure Hardy points out flaws in religion, morality, marriage, education etc. He doesn’t leave much to imagination and the things he argues for wold be controversial even today. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started the novel. A happy tales of a man overcoming all odds? Something that would tell your all is right with the world and no hurdle was impossible to overcome.

When it was implied that women could use their sexuality and a little victim blaming was thrown around, I shook my head and though I knew where this was going. It was great that Hardy acknowledged sexuality existed, but he was still a Victorian after all. It was too much to expect him to deal with sexuality in a manner agreeable in our modern age. Boy was I wrong.

Sue Bridehead is easily one of the most surprisingly strong and interesting female characters I’ve ever read.  She better read than half the men around to begin with. Its tragic Jude can’t educate himself, but its more tragic that a person who is less interested but more capable than half the scholars around her doesn’t even consider an education. She is able to reason and debate better than anyone around her; she throws away superstition, tradition and religion. She does what she wants regardless of what the men around her say. The fact that her strong will is finally broken by an unhappy life and social pressure is in my opinion the most tragic part of the novel.

Jude himself is a more passive traveler. His determination to study, marry,find a sort of employment is often hijacked by other matters he gets himself into. You can’t help but sympathies with him and all he goes through. His kindness gets him no where, all his efforts at educating himself are futile and are made during the wrong time. He never finds happiness and dies a drunk failure who can’t stand what he used to believe in.

What the many tragic characters do is highlight the problems with Victorian society. The desire to learn means nothing is you aren’t wealthy. An act of kindness such as separating from some one who cant stand you is damnation. Marriage is a bizarre entrapment that contains little love. Sex is sold,exploited or forced. People are also often cruel and judgmental.

The world isn’t a very nice place for non-conformists. Jude and Sue might have found happiness after breaking away from the many expectations and roles they were obligated to fulfill but it doesn’t last long. Social persecution is immediate and the pair are soon outcasts. They become semi-nomadic and struggle to find work. What little comfort they found was lost once Jude could no longer work and poverty seemed imminent. All their children die as a result and Sues spirit is destroyed. She goes from a strong willed, free thinker who saw no need to conform to the popular ideas of marriage, to a broken woman who desperately tries to find solace in religion and forces herself to marry a man she can’t stand- even going so far as to forcing herself to sleep with him even though the idea used to make her jump out of her window.

Jude is constantly hounded by poverty and class difference. He loses faith in religion, becomes alcoholic and is sickly till his end. Nothing ever comes from all his struggles. Other characters like Richard and Arabella are interesting in their own right.  Richard is also a tragic figure although he is not as prominent in the story. His kindness and unorthodox views cause him to lose all his prospects and Sue never reciprocates his feelings towards him.

Arabella clearly knows how to use her sexuality and is also rather independent. She is shallow and manipulative but she doesn’t really invoke much dislike. Old father time is one of the less believable characters. He seems almost too tragic and depressed to be real -I don’t think children are competent enough to kill two of their siblings and themselves let alone willing. But that doesn’t take away much from the novel.

Jude The Obscure is a dark tragedy that is ruthless in its criticism of Victorian morality, marriage and social divisions. It is a very gloomy novel but engrossing all the same.

Bleak house

Charles Dickens depiction of Victorian life, in his excellent novel, is brutal.

Yes it is a funny,enjoyable novel that makes a very pleasant read. But Dickens includes an unflinching depiction of the many social injustices that existed during the Victorian era. Rampant poverty, exploitation, bad government, gender inequality, child abuse everything is including in Bleak house. The beginning of the novel is quite bleak to say the least.

Esther Summerstone ,the main character, begins life on a very depressing note. She is seen as a cause of disgrace and isn’t well loved by her guardian. She never seems to escape her inadequacy and sense of self doubt even towards the end of the novel. She is constantly convinced that all kindness towards her is undeserved and tries hard [maybe a little too hard] to please everyone who is nice to her. She also picks up this desire to serve, through her education and her own lack of self confidence. Although she does not seem to mind the fact that she subservient it doesn’t seem very fair.

Lady Deadlock is far more tragic. She is forced to abandon Esther ,her daughter from before she married Sir Leicester. She never expresses what she really feels and is eternally bored. She seems quite depressed and isn’t able to properly communicate with Esther when she discovers her. The story of her life and death serve to criticise the many restrictions placed on women. These two women are the cause of much of the plot and are extremely compelling characters.

The criticism of the legal system scathes. The court of Chancery is the butt of jokes and ridicule. Not without good cause of course. Lawyers,Judges and the legal system are all put on trail and make very poor defenses. The legal system seem to be a cause of woe and madness with no real good coming from it.

The many miserable characters like Jo,Mr. Krook, Nemo are obsessed with it or tormented by it. A lot of compelling arguments are made to treat them with more kindness and to understand their suffering. Dickens ability to create great characters really shows here. Many fall in to usually narrow categories of poor or crazy but all of them stand out.

The plot revolves around many mysteries that are very slow to reveal themselves. From Esthers parentage, Nemos identity, the flight of Lady Deadlock etc are extremely engrossing. Mr. Bucket is one of the best literary detective around and his method of investigation is what keeps much of the book fascinating. Other characters like George and Tulkinghorn, who seem very one sided when introduced, becoming compelling figures in their own right.

The many characters with smaller roles are equally interesting and often hilarious. Its amazing characters like Mr&Mrs Snagsby, Mrs Jellyby, Mrs Pardiggle can exist in a novel where Jo,Jenny,Caddy etc also exist. The humor gets quite dark at times, it also jolts you out of serious though at times -in a good way.

I haven’t even begun to talk about Mr Jardyce, Ada or Richard because it becomes very hard to decide which characters are more important than the others. There just so many well developed and compelling characters that you might need several essays to do them justice.

There is so much that going on in any given point of the novel. The many characters and their troubles ,lives, fears, mysteries etc along with much social commentary.

One of the most consistent [and compelling] topics is Dickens view on poverty. The law seems to be very unsympathetic and ruthless towards them. The gloomy dwellings at tom all alone, Charleys life, Jo, its hard not to be moved by them. Dickens is really determined to put his point across. Arguing for the poor, for the rights of women to resist abuse and for women who conceived out of wedlock must have gone against popular morality back them.

The satire is brilliant,the humor very agreeable,the story and characters compelling but Dickens goes a step further and includes a very real depiction of suffering in Victorian England. Characters like Ada, Sir Leicester, Jo might not have very happy endings but by the time you reach Esters happy conclusion, you can’t help but feel the story has come to a pleasant  end.

With an excellent story, intriguing mysteries, compelling characters and great humor Bleak house is well worth a read.

The French Lieutenants woman

Reading John Fowles The French Lieutenants woman after George Elliots masterpiece was an excellent decision.

Its quite easy to see how they’re comparable- both take place during the same time period and in a way are quite similar in what they aim to do. Elliot and Fowles both have stories that take place in Victorian England and a ensemble of strong male and female characters. So what difference do you find between an 20th century American man and a 19th century woman who write on similar themes?

The obvious and cosmetic similarities first. Both use references/extracts from other authors/poets to give context to chapters. Elliot uses Classical literature apart from poets and authors from her time, Fowles uses scientists  apart from poets and authors from his time. Both involve love, marriage and ideas about righteousness. Both include slightly tasteless remarks about Jews and  seem a bit orientalist.

The most obvious differences are the ones that arise due to the fact that the author of the French Lieutenants woman is someone who is looking back on what is to him – history. He ,unlike Elliot, is able to look back without as much attachment or biases that arise from living during a particular age. So unlike Elliot he is not restricted to the niche that she is [That of the upper class]. This is not to say that Elliot is oblivious to the poorer sections of society, but she is more comfortable and concerned with the gentry,the clergy and merchants. Or maybe Fowles is just able to see things that would not have been though of being worth mentioning back then.  Fowles has the ability to look back, knowing what is going to happen and is aware of statistics and facts about the Victorian era that might have shocked most Victorians.

The most important tools he seems to have in his possession are his understanding of science and Marx. Science is used to address the way of life, religion, lifestyle and various Victorian habits. Since the novel is set in a time of change where technology was uprooting old styles of life, Fowles use of science is essential to let the reader know about the world the story revolves around. Fowles incorporates everything from evolution to psychology in a love story. A no mean feat.

Fowles is also able to sneak in some criticism of science, psychology in particular, arguing for the need to be more humane in its approach. He makes a good case for why not everything can be chalked up to insanity or hysteria.

There’s a lot of talk on morality and changing social hierarchy too. This is where Fowles seems to use Marxism the most. I think it was rather brave of Fowles to quote Marx and go about talking about class divisions during the era of McCarthyism. He uses it effectively adding his already excellent description of Victorian England. The differences between lower and upper class, the attitudes of the employers and social hierarchy are all elaborated on using Marxist critic.

Both authors are rebels- or nonconformists if your feeling really miserly. Elliot is breaking away from the expectations of the stories that women were supposed to write, from popular morality,happy endings, and criticized certain aspects of society. I’d say her novel is better because of characters and a story so intresting its almost hypnotic. However Fowles is clearing trying to do more with his novel. Elliot seems a softer rebel, she does break away but not radically.

Fowles regularly breaks the third wall, appears in the story [literately] and is at the mercy of where his characters want to go. Fowles is able to say a lot about the role of the novelist in a story, the way he/she plays god and what the novelist must do. The novel includes three very different endings.

The first is a very safe and Victorian one, the one you might have seen coming. The second is not as expected since it does involve quite a lot of moral decisions [and sex] Victorians disapprove of. It is still a very pleasant ending. The final ending is the one that seems to break from tradition the most. It isn’t a very happy one and you wonder if Sarah was crazy,Charles bitter or deluded etc. The last two endings are equally likely according to Fowles.

Offering the reader endings to choose from could be called lazy from any other author. Here it is done masterfully. You realize the book was only disguised as a Victorian novel. The author enters the story and explains his position, the traditional endings he is expected to write, the godlike role he occupies and he plays/ experiments with all these rules. Each ending throws up questions about authorship, traditional styles in writing.

Sex and women empowerment are the most important themes in the novel. Sarah is clearly struggling to cope with the rigid formality and repression in Victorian society. She longs for more freedom and her affair with the French lieutenant is an act of rebellion. Historical anecdotes repeatedly make it clear that few Victorians where as chaste as they claimed to be. Fowles at times seems to suggest that the Victorians had better sex than anyone in his century, I don’t think that’s really true. But it is interesting to see why he makes the argument. Sarah whatever her intentions is clearly a very strong woman who is an intellectual equal to Charles.

Watching Charles ,a Gentleman who exists in an age where Gentlemen are quickly dying out, deal with the rebellion against gender roles that Sarah causes is both an engrossing story and a very accurate description of the outlook towards changing Victorian morality during the time period.

The only real weakness I saw was his description of America. It seemed a little too idealistic and reeked of patriotism. It doesn’t really harm the novel it just makes you roll your eyes a little too often.

The French Lieutenants Woman is a fascinating read. It is a Victorian love story but more, it is a story about an Gentleman  in the 19th century but the story is driven by the strong female characters, its can be both a tragedy or a pleasant happy ending. Fowles has done quite a bit with a simple story and has done it masterfully.