You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘classics’ category.
Victorian Age, that supposedly dark age of medieval thought, is known for its strict morals and orthodoxy and perhaps a few would associate it with Dickens too. It was those double standard morals that shaped every bit of society from the clothing to the stories in the magazines to the way women and men should behave and carry on relations.
Tess of D’Urbervilles is very much a product of its time. But wait, there’s a twist. And you would have to wait a bit longer to know that or perhaps when you read the book, eh?
Moving on, the novel by Thomas Hardy is singular in that it features a woman protagonist: Tess as the heroine. And like all heroines she too faces her own set of trials and tribulations in love and money matters among other things. And typical of Hardy, the novel is set in the country side-a place he never tires singing praises of as the sylvan beauty as against the raging industrialisation that was changing the British landscape.
The novel begins with Tess’ father finding out from Parson Tringham that he in fact belongs to an old lineage, an ancient line of family who were once rich and owned boundless land. This sets him on the path to use this info to his advantage and therefore sets out his eldest daughter, Tess, to be engaged to work with a rich relative (who are actually upstarts who have merely borrowed the last name!) close by. It is there she meets the brash son of the old lady she has to work for, Alec D’Urberville. And his constant pursuit of her despite Tess’s dislike for him, changes Tess’ life for the worse until she decides to take matter into her own hands and find another occupation in Mr. Crick’s dairy instead of sitting idle crying over her fate. Over there her life unfolds without much ado as she likes it and she falls in love with one of the dairy hands, Angel Clare, who had interestingly even seen her before at a countryside May dance and danced in that very group too. What then happens is a series of romantic trysts along with a bit of tragedy and the book ends on a bittersweet note that will linger for sometime.
So that seems plain enough right? Girl loves the boy and they have ups and downs and somehow then its smooth sailing? So where’s the twist?
But no Tess of D’Urbervilles is more complicated than that. Hardy has nuanced the story well so that it does not read like just another moral story about love, relations and women. It is layered story which at every turn of the page forces you to think beyond the status quo, beyond the rigid morals and social norms and archetypes especially that of the fallen woman and woman as a temptress. He thought way ahead of his time! For one, Tess is not the typical damsel in distress who believes her world has ended if no man loves her or rejects her. She picks up the pieces and gets on with her life and tries to order her life with her own choices. She is the agency for her own life and that is something commendable to see in a Victorian Era book (Indian soaps should learn something from Hardy!). The ending jars with the whole plot and may have been put perhaps to please the moralistic Victorian readers of the time. Who knows?
Hardy himself does fall prey to certain set ways of depicting the woman such as Tess as a divine ethereal being, the portrayal of her physique to emphasise her beauty and put her in the stock character of the temptress, thus exempting the man from any blame.
Yet, the novel is peppered with several gems like his beautiful descriptions of the setting-Blackmoor Vale and others that are too exhaustive to list here. But one I cannot help listing is Tess utterance when she is leaving Alec and her work to go back home in the 2nd part of the novel: ” If I did love you I may have the best o’ causes for letting you know it. But I don’t.” It is a succinct take on the much abused “no” of a woman to her so called admirer, pursuer who expects that he alone can somehow convert that no into a yes. It is clearly stating that a no means a no and if i did love you I would let you know it. Are the Bollywood filmmakers listening??
For the review of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, another marvelous and beautifully written novel, click here.
Amidst the hullabaloo of Edward Snowden’s revelations of the US government snooping on its own citizens and those of foreign countries, George Orwell’s 1984 has been mentioned countless times and how he was right in predicting the government’s role of the Big Brother. Another author depicted a dystopian future wherein the government had a different sort of control over you-controlling your violent instincts. While the government spying on one’s phone calls, emails, social networking data is not a comforting feeling, the government actually controlling how you behave is even more disconcerting.
Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess, explores precisely this aspect of control. Alex, the anti-hero of the novel, is a the narrator and refers to himself as “Your Humble Narrator.” He narrates his and his pals’ violent escapades in a nameless town where such violence by teens is rampant. They engage in brutal violence-assaulting, stealing, beating and sexual violence during the night. On one such escapade, Alex and his gang decide to rob a single woman living with dozens of cats. However, the plan goes awry as Alex’s usual ruse of acting like a wounded boy and fooling the woman to open the door fails. He then goes through the window and threatens her but the old woman isn’t frightened so easily. She seems to get time to call the police and eventually in a fight, Alex gives a fatal blow. The police picks him up and he is shunted to the prison for a good 14 years. It is here Alex learns of a miraculous technique that will reform him quickly and let him get out of jail in no time. The prison chaplain, the only decent person around, warns of this so-called-miraculous Ludovico Technique and of its ethical ambiguity. Due to a turn of events, Alex is eventually subjected to this technique which is torturous in its own way and has terrible consequences for our Humble Narrator.
Written in the “Nadsat” language, which is the lingo used by the teens of that world, Clockwork Orange is a gruesome look at the politics of control and surveillance and raises questions about the need for an individual to have a choice in the way s/he behaves. Ludovico Technique essentially conditions Alex to have sickening feelings for anything related to violence. It ‘cures’ him of his bad behaviour by leaving him with no choice but to be good because being bad or even thinking of violence entails a rising of aversion in him. Burgess cleverly shows how the government’s method of reducing crime by relying on such ethically questionable techniques is not a foolproof method but only raises more problems rather than resolving them. For example, if Alex is faced with a situation where he has to defend himself he is absolutely helpless since he cannot resort to violence as he has been conditioned to be averse to it.
To complicate the plot further, Alex after being ‘cured’ is used by certain individuals for their own personal gains-namely to show that the present government is using such brutal techniques in the reduction of crime. Alex becomes a trophy prize over which politically motivated parties and individuals tussle, leaving behind the core of the problem-if the Ludovico Technique is not morally correct and the usual punishment of imprisonment also fails, then how exactly to reduce the rate of crime and violence in a world where youngsters are increasingly setting up sub cultures of crime and violence.
Clockwork Orange doesn’t answer those questions outright. Instead the story explores the ideas of the nature of evil and if it is really possible for the government to control the individual’s violent inclinations and urges through conditioning techniques. The book shows how the government treats people like machines, like ‘clockworks’ that can be tweaked to make a better, crime-free society. We have already seen in the 20th and 21st centuries how the media has been effectively used to tweak people’s way of thinking and getting their support on certain politically important matters (For eg, it is thanks to the relentless media proclamations of US’ war on terror that the entire globe sees the Middle East as merely a part of the world crawling with terrorists out to attack America while completely disregarding their own unique culture. Closer home, the media is often used in India to mobilise people’s opinion for the ambiguous notions of ”development” and “growth” while cleverly trying to put down all those who clash against these ideas). It is not just the media alone, mainstream culture-whether it is books, movies or art-all are effectively used by the government to mould people’s opinions for or against something. Therefore, it is perhaps not far away that the governments all over the world will be able to control its citzens’ behaviour. And that would indeed be a scary prospect.
Though small in size, Clockwork Orange may not be a breeze to read thanks to the “nadsat” words that Burgess uses which can be understood only by referring to the glossary every once in a while. It can be frustrating because while you want to get on with the story(which moves at a good pace), you have to pause and find out the meanings first but be patient and it will definitely be worth it. It will take time to accustom yourself to the language but once you are attuned to it, it will be an easy and enlightening read. Try and read this one-it is relevant and will always be because no government has come close to curbing violence among its people. So while you figure out what “droog”, “carmen”, “chasha,” malchick,” ‘mesto” etc mean, don’t forget to also ponder over the subtexts of the story.
‘Orlando’ may not be Woolf’s most famous novel but it certainly is her most fun and playful novel. While her other works can be tough to peruse, require a lot of concentration and have been viewed as tedious and heavy reads, ‘Orlando’ is an enjoyable read. It seems as if Woolf was taking a break from all her other ‘heavy’ novels to write something ‘light’ and so she penned Orlando. This however does not entail that the novel is a mere story with nothing in terms of depth and meaning. On the contrary Woolf uses her story to make comments on a number of aspects of her society. First and foremost, the novel was written to underline the issue of how the female sex was denied any rights of inheritance. Her friend and lover, Vita Sackville West, who came from a prestigious lineage was denied the inheritance of her ancestral Knole House on account of her being a woman. Woolf highlights this and several other aspects in her novel.
Orlando is the name of the protagonist of the novel and many critics have asserted that Orlando is modeled after Vita herself who at the end of the story is able to inherit his lands. The novel is truly modernist in its approach as it uses the idea of the fluidity of time which is the main crux of the novel. Modernists were fascinated with deconstructing the notions of time and its linearity. Consequently, ‘Orlando’ spans four centuries with the protagonist living through various time periods. The time periods are also distinctly described in terms of literary periods. The story starts in the Elizabethan Age with Orlando, a man, who owns vast lands and a huge house and has the privilege of gaining an audience with the Queen herself and ends in 1928. In the four centuries, Orlando falls in love with a Russian princess, becomes a successful Ambassador in Constantinople, writes a novel-Oak Tree, gets it published, meets his literary idols in cafes and undergoes one important change (which if revealed can be a spoiler) that Woolf uses to state the ideas of bisexuality and also gets married among other things. For literature fans, the novel is a fun ride through the various ages, like studying the background of English Literature but in a cool way rather than in a the drab manner of reading up a Daiches or Boris Ford volume. It gives a sweeping survey of the literary periods of English literature but also critiques them simultaneously. The quirky character, Nick Greene, is an author but also a pompous critic who Orlando meets in the Elizabethan Age and then in the Victorian Age but his manner of appreciating the older works rather than the contemporary ones does not change over the centuries. For example, in the Elizabethan Age, he mocked Shakespeare and Marlowe while extolling the Greek writers and their works. He termed the latter as ‘great’ and the former as just a shadow of the latter’s greatness. However, in the Victoria Age, he calls the Elizabethan Age as having produced great literature and the Victorian Age as being wishy washy in the literature it produces. Woolf uses Nick Greene cleverly to prick the hallowed literary canon and to show that what constitutes ‘great’ works is rather subjective and fickle.
Apart from contradicting ideas of male inheritance and taking a jibe at literary tradition, Woolf’s ‘Orlando’ is also very English in its essence. The importance of home, one’s roots, one’s land is highlighted in subtle ways. The work that Orlando writes, ‘Oak Tree’ is itself a symbol of that. Moreover, his sense of Englishness comes through when he is ambassador in Constantinople where he adores the foreign and exotic but also longs for English landscapes. The novel does have hues of the English pride and a respect for British imperialism.
Overall, ‘Orlando’ is a cheerful and lively read and even if you have a love-hate relationship with Virginia Woolf or hate her outright, this novel should not be given a miss.
Jack London’s exploration of a dog’s life from being a pet to a sled dog to a ferocious beast in his short novel ‘The Call Of The Wild‘ is immensely intense and delightful. The story is set at the time when gold was discovered in ‘the frozen North’ and there was a great demand for the sled dogs as means of transportation in the Arctic. The protagonist of the novel is a half St. Bernard and half Scotch Shepherd dog named Buck who initially lived a life of ‘a sated aristocrat’ in Judge Miller’s house in Santa Clara Valley. But that was until the treacherous gardener
Manuel stole him and sold him to a couple of dog traders as a result of which Buck ended up as a part of a dog team. It is here that he learnt the rule of the club, knew about what it is to be part of a team and a pack; learnt how to work hard etc. It was for him the first initiative into the wild, the primitive, the instinctual and the uncivilized. He soon adapted to the harsh demands of being a sled dog and gradually there arose within him ‘stirrings of old instincts’ that made him intimately aware of his wild origins. From all the incessant brutality and cruelty of his world, Buck was fortunately rescued by the gentle yet strict John Thornton who nursed him back to health and to whom Buck became fiercely loyal. With him Buck had a curious relationship-one in which he allowed his primordial instincts to take over and he went hunting for days on at a stretch but always came back to Thornton and his camp. In the end however, the ‘call of the wild’ overwhelmed Buck and he soon plunged into the wild, the forests to meet his ancestral instincts raging within him.
‘The Call of the Wild‘ is like a bildungsroman of sorts as it traces the progress of Buck. It intricately shows his transformation, from a pet to a primitive ferocious beast. Jack London’s writing is gripping and fascinating. It takes the reader into the mind of Buck (similar was the case with his book, ‘White Fang’). London’s detailing is meticulous to say the least-every other aspect whether its Buck’s anatomy, his primeval thoughts, the cruelty meted out to him, the landscape-is rich in detail. The narrative is pretty straightforward and direct. It is visual, precise and to the point. It is a balanced mix of adventure, action, excitement as well as meditation and interiority. The narrative is replete with bursts of actions and adventure which is interspersed with Buck’s thoughts. The external occurrences are often the cause of Buck’s mental states through different stages of his life.
‘The Call of the Wild‘ is a short yet powerful and intense novel which is packed with intricate details and multifarious themes-loyalty of animals to man, the primitive instinctual nature of all creatures, the cruel treatment of animals by humans etc. The novel will undoubtedly be a compelling read as it has the pace of a thriller and the intensity of a period piece.
Satire is a style which helps us to reflect on the ills of our society. It makes us sit up and take notice of things that we might have otherwise taken for granted. Satire pokes fun while also eliciting an engaging response from the audience. It reveals a picture of things which we know exists but often ignore. It is undoubtedly a powerful tool to attack the system or simply the way things are or are taken for granted.
This is the style which Jane Austen also employs in her famous novel ‘Pride And Prejudice.’ Austen gives to her reader a delightful, detailed account of upper middle and middle class lives, their hypocrisy, artificiality and preoccupation with marriage. Simultaneously, she also lightly satirizes all these aspects, but unfortunately the satire is so subtle that it is invisible so that the novel appears nothing more than an interesting love story.
In a line, ‘Pride And Prejudice‘ is a story of the Bennetts’ rather mama Bennett’s measures to get her daughters married in good, respectable houses much like ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ or the plot lines of numerous of our own soap operas. However, the novel lacks the exuberance and comedy of the film/musical. The novel is really nothing more than that one line description. While numerous critics have upheld the novel as a good satire, lauded her writing style and attention to detail, I beg to differ. The critics are spot on about the last two aspects but the first one is laughable (no pun intended). The fact that Austen is mocking artificial pretensions of decorum and niceties is overshadowed by the marriage factor of the novel. It is the overriding theme of the plot and her satire or mocking tone just isn’t enough to gloss over that. Austen doesn’t do justice to her satirical technique. The book rather than making fun of marriage, endorses it grandly as being the sole aim if a girl’s life.
‘Pride And Prejudice‘ is an enjoyable read, nonetheless. But it really does not promote any revolutionary ideas about womanhood or marriage as many critics have diligently pointed out over the years. It is a light read, an ordinary love story with intricate detail and good writing but not good ideas. Enjoy the story, the characters, the relationships, the scandals but don’t expect ‘Pride And Prejudice‘ to change your ideas about marriage and other things that are stereotypically associated with it.
No other age excelled in first person narratives than the Victorian Era and who better than Charles Dickens could be ts finest exponent? With ‘David Copperfield’, safely under his belt, he diligently set out to write one of his finest, ‘Great Expectations‘ which is very similar to the former yet also vastly different. Both have the trademark autobiographical touch in the story and follow the conventional chronological order which the later modernists despised so vehemently. Yet ‘Great Expectations‘ while following the life of Pip, also comments on the English life of that time particularly its artificiality.
The novel is about Pip, an orphan who lives with his domineering sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery and her amiable blacksmith husband, Joe. As a child, Pip coincidentally happened to meet an escaped convict in the marshes. The latter threatened and scared Pip into bringing him victuals which Pip obediently albeit deceitfully(by stealing) brought for the convict the next day. Later on in his youth, he is regularly called on to visit a certain Miss Havisham, who is a rich, old lady stuck in the past. These visits are nothing short of eccentric and humiliating for the young Pip. Humiliating particularly due to Estella’s cruelty of reminding him often of his low class and unworthy status. Consequently, Pip too begins to perceive his situations and his relatives in a poor light, as being unrefined and plain dumb. He desperately wants to get out of such a situation and pretty soon a golden opportunity presents itself before him. Pip comes into a large chunk of wealth and is sent to London to be educated. In short all his great expectations are to come true because in short he becomes a gentleman. The twist is that his benefactor wants to remain anonymous and will only reveal him/herself as and when appropriate. Thus Pip climbs the social ladder under the illusion that his benefactor is indeed a benefactress-Miss Havishman. The revelation of the identity of his benefactor/ess leaves him stupefied in the end and changes his worldviews at that.
I believe that I am a novice to give a prolonged commentary on such a critically acclaimed classic. All I can state is that ‘Great Expectations‘ met all my expectations of reading an engaging Dickens’ novel. The plot is punctuated with the quintessential Dickensian characters-the hypocrite Pumblechook, the warm hearted Joe who is Pip’s best friend, the patient Biddy, bipolar Wemmick, ever the optimist Herbert who is Pip’s closest friend- and scores of others that make the entire story come alive. Coupled with Dickens’ famous biting humour and satire, ‘Great Expectations‘ is a lighthearted novel that makes you laugh in the most serious scenes and other such unlikely places.
The one fault was the sensationalism of ‘Great Expectations.’ Of course, this was in keeping with the norm of serialization of novels during that time which compelled the writers to keep each episode exciting and melodramatic. Moreover, Dickens himself was strongly influenced by the sensationalist movement that emerged in the 1860s’. These two reasons account for the dramatic tone of the novel. Though legitimate reasons in themselves, it is quite incongruous to read a style that only startles and shocks. In the India of today where sensationalism is a the norm, subtlety is much appreciated. But barring the sensationalist factor of the novel, ‘Great Expectations‘, is wholesome and is sure to entertain, tickle your funny bone and even compel you to examine your own position(as the novel makes Pip examine at every turn of the story) in a class and status obsessed society of today.
Called as a critique of colonialism, ‘Heart Of Darkness‘ by Joseph Conrad gives a profound, horrific and terrible account of human nature and the darkness within.
The nameless narrator of the novel recounts Marlow’s adventure in the Congo as a steamboat captain and how his experiences in the various colonial outposts over there and with Mistah Kurtz deepened his understanding of the world around him. Marlow narrates his own story on ‘a cruising yawl,’ Nellie on the river Thames. Critics have noted that ‘Heart Of Darkness‘ is based on Conrad’s own travels in the Congo and that Marlow is Conrad himself. Marlow does come across as the vehicle through which Conrad gives voice to his own worldviews. The novella too has a touch of being a travelogue as it consists predominantly of a journey-Marlow’s journey up the the snakelike river. Consequently it is replete with anecdotes-how Marlow made the journey, the steamers he hopped on, the stations he stopped at where he met a wide range of colonialists whose sole purpose seemed to be ivory and domination and who brought him closer to the idea of Kurtz and his ‘unsound’ methods. He eventually gets wrapped in a mission to get Kurtz out of the way as he, despite being a ‘universal genius’ and a ‘remarkable man,’ got carried away and was doing more harm than good in providing the ivory to the Company. Yet at the end, Marlow realises through his talks with Kurtz that there is no proper right and wrong in this place (Congo), that there is darkness in every soul, in every human being, in every civilization. This profound knowledge that he gains leaves him scarred and as they sail away into Thames that sense of the inherent nature of evil in man imbues all who listened to Marlow’s story.
The novel is hailed for its revolutionary ideas and for its questioning of not just British Imperialism but also European Imperialism on the whole. Throughout the novel, the reader sees Marlow hesitatingly exploring the disadvantages of colonialism and how power and greed can blind men/ women to unthinkable cruelty and oppression. Conrad very subtly presents such complex notions on this theme. There is a constant juxtaposition and even mocking of the greatness of the white people with the wildness and the mess around them. Kurtz himself went to absurd lengths to acquire the ivory and even commanded a bunch of tribes to do his bidding to get more ivory but he in the end realised the horror of his deeds while the the authorities simply don’t. What they call Kurtz’s ‘unsound’ methods is also what they themselves are perpetuating throughout the world. Thus the novel takes a hard hitting look at the politics of power, greed as well as territorial, racial and ideological supremacy that is relevant in today’s global world where we are subject to a capitalistic or corporate colonialism
However, despite, ‘Heart Of Darkness‘ being an attack on the imperial powers, it is thoroughly grounded in those very ideologies. Thus, Marlow may have gained enlightenment about the darkness of the human heart, he still is very much a product of that very imperial superpower. Many of his ideas and views adhere to imperialistic ideologies. He seems to journey in his own contradiction of being questioning as well as open minded. This makes the novella very ambiguous as to whether ‘The horror! The horror!’ that Kurtz talks about is in fact a meditation of his own deeds or of the way of the ‘savages,’ and whether Marlow is indeed talking of ‘the heart of darkness’ of humans in general or of an ‘uncivilized’ place that creates this kind of greed and horror in them. The novel is racist, sexist and reiterates colonial notions undoubtedly. There is a tinge of racial superiority in Marlow and the others who constantly believe about the rightness of their actions. This was possibly the dominant way of thinking at that time and Conrad seems to have been influenced by it despite the ‘reality’ of the human nature he encountered there.
‘Heart Of Darkness‘ therefore provides a mix of two different attitudes. Conrad is trying to be liberal, transgress his colonial upbringing and throughout the novel, the reader does see the way he illuminates colonialism’s downside, yet that upbringing seems to be ingrained in him.
A powerful and profound read. Don’t let the size fool you. Its not a book for time pass. It will move you, hurt you and shock you and enlighten you as well.
P.S. : ‘Heart Of Darkness‘ was also transformed into a cinematic spectacle in the movie, ‘Apocalypse Now'(1979) directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring the famous Marlon Brando and the not so famous, Martin Sheen, who has given a brilliant performance nonetheless! What Coppola has done however is that he has used similar ideas and applied it to a different context all together. From the European imperialism he has used it to comment on the American high handedness during the Vietnam war. Its a splendid movie that captures the ‘essence’ of the book in a completely different context. It has the same sense of unreal, lunatic and dreamy, haunting feel that shocks the viewer doubly because it is now visual and accentuated by the breathtaking music that blends so well with the story from the Doors’ songs to the Wagner track. The movie can be a task to watch because it is 3 hours long but a complete cinematic treat to watch nonetheless. Reading the book and watching this movie will deepen one’s understanding even further about the message and moral of the book. The movie however is more political and clear in its stance.
The Victorian Era (roughly from 1830s to 1901) is renowned for producing several great novelists. In fact it is known as the Great Age of The Novel. Thomas Hardy is one of the many greats of this period who was not only a prolific novelist but also a poet. He has to his credit several novels and poetry collections.
‘The Return Of The Native‘ is one of his lesser known novels; ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ and ‘Tess Of D’Urbervilles’ being his other more well known works. Yet ‘Return Of The Native’ has a charm of its own and provides the quintessential Hardy outlook on English rural life. Set against the ubiquitous, unchanging Egdon Heath, the novel is preoccupied (like most of his novels) with the workings of Fate and the interference of misfortune and chance in human life. Like his other novels, it has a predominantly pessimistic tone.
The novel begins with pages of the heath’s descriptions which immediately establishes its importance in the story. It is November fifth-Guy Fawkes Day-and the inhabitants of the heath light bonfires all across illuminating it and thus giving it a diabolical look. Eustacia Wye-the queen of the night as Hardy calls her- sends a signal to Wildeve through the bonfire at Mistover Kapp and they have a clandestine meeting. Wildeve was just that morning set to marry Thomasin Yeobright but some trouble with the marriage license prevented it. Poor Thomasin was heartbroken and returned home in Diggory Venn’s -the reddleman’s- van much to the consternation of her aunt-Mrs. Susan Yeobright. Wildeve on the other hand had an ambivalent relationship with Eustacia and Thomasin. He had passionately loved the former and adored the latter. It is in such circumstances that Clym Yeobright-Susan’s only son and Thomasin’s cousin-returns home from Paris after a long time. He is the native that comes back to his beloved heath after being fed up of the materialistic life of Paris. He comes back for good to do some selfless service here- namely to start a school for the heath’s inhabitants. Its a move disapproved by his mother and creates an unfortunate gulf in their intimate relation. Clym also falls passionately in love with Eustacia and her divine beauty after they meet each other in unusual circumstances. Many complications arise thereafter due to Fate’s constant intervention that turn the lives of the heath’s inhabitants upside down. It is obvious that it ends on a tragic note(being a Hardy novel nothing else can be expected) with Clym bereft and philosophical.
The tragic end should not be a deterrent for avoiding this novel as it includes features that give it a status of a masterpiece. The genius is in the fact it provides a microcosm of Fate. The beauty of novel lies in the celebration of the power of nature, of heath’s power and resistance to change. It is a formidable entity in the novel that wraps its inhabitants in its godlike hold. The Edgon Heath is in itself a character of the novel. Being godlike, it has a supreme power to shape the destinies of the characters in the novel. Hardy not only celebrates nature but also the simple, rustic life, its people, its customs, traditions, its idealism, its simple life, and its superstitions. The novel is suffused with certain rustic, pagan customs that became rare in Hardy’s time such as the Guy Fawkes Day, the Mummer’s Plays, the Maypole dance etc.. This aspect manifest Hardy’s own belief in the rural way of life and attests his scorn for the industrial life.
The characters too are robust rustic individuals (except Eustacia) who adore the heath and accept its overwhelming presence boldly. The most unique sketches that Hardy gives are that of the furze cutters-Timothy Fairway, Christian. Grandfather Cankle etc. who embody the quintessential English countryside qualities such as friendliness, hominess, strength, politeness that better their lives in contrast to the townsfolk. The various characters’ personalities, their dominating passions and emotions define their lives and the events that occur to them. Eustacia is a melancholic, powerful active not to mention a divinely beautiful woman whereas Thomasin is on the quieter side and much more passive. There is a shade of delicacy to her character. Clym on the other hand is an upright, selfless man whose optimism helps him face any adversity. Whereas the reddleman is a gentle soul, a product of the heath itself and the character through whom Fate works. The story also has unique, peculiar characters such as Susan Nunsuch, her son-Charley, Captain Wye etc.
All in all, ‘Return Of The Native‘ is an excellent tragic novel modeled on Greek tragedy that is sprinkled with pure, untouched rural life and permeated with a wild, heath which in turn permeates its inhabitants even Eustacia. It is an absorbing read that will re-ignite anyone’s interest in classics.
Go ahead immerse yourself in the beauty and power of Egdon and leave everything to Fate!
A fragile love flowered in the vast, desolate,empty Yorkshire moors between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. The latter was adopted by Mr. Earnshaw, the master of the manor, Wuthering Heights but was hated and ill treated by his son, Hindley. His daughter, Catherine, on the other hand, soon became friends with him after her father’s death and because of Hindley’s tyrannical transformation thereafter. Heathcliff soon fell in love with her because of the care and affection she bestowed upon him that no one else in the family or neighbourhood ever did. However, Catherine’s reluctance to marry Heathcliff shattered him and turned him into a diabolical man set out to ruin everyone and everything. However, he remained steadfast in his love and even more so in his revenge.
This story told as a flashback by the housekeeper, Ellen Dean, to the Heights’ new tenant, Mr. Lockwood, is none other than ‘Wuthering Heights’ written by Emily Bronte which is a classic love story
that many, if not all, voracious readers will recognize. Bronte gives the reader a look into the twisted, cruel nature of love which for many readers will be a bitter pill to swallow. The novel does not exalt the emotion of love or the two lovers and does not portray love as a goody-goody thing that magically resolves everything. It provides grim picture of love and a plethora of disturbing characters who are warped in their narrow, small lives. The portrayal of the anti-hero Heathcliff is marvellous. There is also a lovely blend of the surroundings with the story. Its almost as if the nature of the novel’s setting-the moors-seeps into the storyline, making it as sad and desolate as itself.
Emily Bronte’s bold exploration of the dark side of love and the pressures of society on it is commendable. She does not idealize love but rather projects an almost real picture of the misfortunes of falling in love without heed to the norms of status and society. Therein perhaps lies the reason for the book’s popularity till today. Its depiction of the tragic love is surpassed by few authors.
‘Wuthering Heights’ is undoubtedly an unconventional love story with almost nothing positive about it except perhaps Bronte’s style of writing and Heathcliff’s undying love for Catherine.
Love is complex, we all know but definitely not as complex as D.H. Lawrence makes it to be in his gigantic novel, ‘Women In love.’ Not only is it massive, but Lawrence just makes every idea extremely complex which makes it quite difficult to read the novel. Infact when it came out in the 1920s’ people then also said that they found the book too difficult to read. And it definitely is even till now because I forced myself to finish the book as I hate leaving books unfinished no matter how bad they are.
Ok, first, lets clear one misconception that one gets because of the title: ‘Women In Love’ is not a book about lesbian love! It does have references to homosexuality but it is definitely not the main focus!
Now that that’s cleared up, let us go to the plot. ‘Women In Love‘ begins with two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen who discuss about marriage. The former is a teacher while the latter is an artist. They live in Midlands in England and on one occasion, the sisters meet two men, Gerald Crich- an industrialist who owns coal mines- and Rupert Birkin who is a school inspector. There is also Hermione Granger um sorry I mean Hermione Roddice who was a love interest of Rupert. These five become sort of friends who practically do nothing except discuss difficult, intellectual things that helps them in no way to make a head or tail out of the issue they are discussing. These discussons seem to be the only thing they do beside attending parties and all that!!! They are profound at times, not the parties I mean, but the discussions, but get really boring because the plot doesn’t move forward quick enough. Ursula falls in love with Rupert while Gudrun falls in love with Gerald but the quartet is too thick headed to admit they are in love and go about having rambling, pointless discussions before even admitting it!!! I dont even know how Ursula and Birkin end up getting married but they do(Somehow!). Meanwhile Gudrun and Gerald are vacationing in the Alps. I think it is over there that Gudrun strikes a friendship with Loerke, a fellow artist from Dresden.
Loerke is my favorite character in the novel. He is quirky and so witty. Well, he is quirky in a good way! All the other characters are also quirky but in a stupendously intellectual,boring, complex,roundabout manner! Loerke is direct and straightforward and has no pretensions!
Well, now we are digressing! Well I am not giving away the end of the book because it is would be truly a spoiler to tell you all what happened to the quartet’s love story. Go read the end for yourselves!
‘Women In Love‘ was not an enjoyable book and I labored really hard to complete it. D.H Lawrence threw several complex notions and ideas about so many things with Rupert being his mouthpiece. His writing is very Victorian despite it being written in 1920s. But that is the best part of the book-his writing. The descriptive style makes so many things in the book come alive such as the quartet’s intimacy, their perplexity over life and love, their constant discussions,the industrial cum countryside setting, the parties and the best part-Gudrun’s friendship with Loerke.
‘Women In Love‘ does question a lot of things mainly at least the notions of love with a woman and a man. Then the process of industrialization seen through the eyes of Gerald. There is almost a Futurist fascination with machines and Gerald in general comes across as a misanthrope. Changes in the aaspects of British countryside brought about by industrialization are also pointed out through Gudrun and Ursula’s conversations and will be more pronounced if one reads, ‘Rainbow’ before reading this novel as the former is a prequel to the latter. Women’s empowerment is also sketched out but still the two women protagonists are more or less dependent on the men but they still are quite bold, strong characters.
I would not recommend ‘Women In Love’ namely because it is tedious, slow in pace and tooooo much strain on the brain!!!! Although any voracious reader is free to take it up!