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‘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.

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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.

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.

Taken from goodreads.com

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!

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