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Moliere is a 17th century French writer known for his satiric comedy plays. His plays-be it Tartuffe, The Misanthrope or The School for
Husbands-predominantly look at the French society of the time with a satiric lens. In his Preface to the play Tartuffe, Moliere has specifically outlined that the function of comedy is to correct men and society’s faults. This was the prevailing view of comedy’s function among Western writers of the time.
The Misanthrope is also a much layered play which brings into question the hypocrisies of the artificial upper classes of 17th century French society. The play is about Alceste, who detests contemporary society and its ways and manners, and his love for the beautiful widowed Celimene. Alceste does not wish to follow any superficial manners and believes them to be a waste of time and anyone who blindly follows them always elicit bursts of anger and hatred from Alceste. Celimene, on the other hand, believes that it is important to follow the social conventions for one’s own gain. This creates a lot of tension between the two extraordinary lovers who are as different as fire and ice. Alceste’s friend, Philinte, tries his best to diffuse the tension and to make Alceste understand that being in constant argument with the social world and with mankind is detrimental. With this main plot, Moliere explores several questions-whether Alceste is really a misanthrope or is it someone else and if he is the former, then it is rather paradoxical that a misanthrope is in love with Celimene; whether it is worth to struggle with social norms and not accept them at all and several others. There are several sub plots as well such as the nascent love between Philinte and Eliante; the simmering relationship between Celimene and Arsinoe; Oronte’s sonnets and his suit against Alceste who insulted the former’s writing abilities etc.. Within these several layers are revealed the minute workings of the aristocratic class, their hypocrisies regarding human relations, their vanity, the position and status of women etc.
The Misanthrope is a fun play to read as it provides an acute analysis of the malaise of the times, which Alceste detested, in a light, comic manner. All the characters are colourful and rounded with their unique viewpoints. Their dialogues and mannerisms give the reader a glimpse into their personalities and ways of thinking. Moliere is a master of satiric comedy and he invests The Misanthrope with several lines of thought and meaning which the reader can ponder over. Many critics have pointed out that Alceste’s character is based on Moliere himself and that his deteriorating relationship with Armande Bejart was the basis for Alceste’s relationship with Celimene. We can never know the truth, but only speculate. And while you speculate, do try and relate the play to our own contemporary hypocrisies as well. Happy reading!
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.
Obscenity, indecency and lewdness are quite common in today’s media-television shows, news, soaps, popular songs, movies, magazines,books, Facebook, and the internet in general. It probably does not shock us that much because we are ‘oh so modern’ and are not narrow minded like those restrained Victorians! Its also kind of ‘cool’ to be indecent at times in today’s world. Bollywood movies will teach all the Indian guys how to woo a girl by eve teasing her or worse even by raping her. However, even today, we do sometimes get outraged by shameless displays of obscenity and well mostly its the Censor Board that gets outraged which then displays its own obscene power to chop down obscenity to protect the people from getting outraged too!
Well, there wasn’t any Censor Board in the Restoration Period in the late 17th century or even later on yet the drama of that time received some flak for its indecency. Nonetheless, at the height of the Restoration, it was enjoyed by the audience to the fullest and only later on did the drama begin to be looked down upon.
‘The Country Wife‘ is one such play produced at that time which was one of the most popular plays but like the rest of Restoration drama it was ignored and only resurrected in the 20th century when a few ‘modern’ critics considered those works from a literary angle and critiqued it intelligently. Written by William Wycherley, ‘The Country Wife‘ is a quintessential Restoration play as its core is wit, satire, and indecency. The Indian Censor Board would have banned it if it was written today but thankfully it has been put in the sacred halls of literary work. Even if it hadn’t been, it is wrong to define this play and all the other Restoration plays as being solely obscene. As mentioned before, the play is replete with wit and it pokes fun at the aristocracy and their hollow/superficial lives. Satire and wit were esteemed aspects of that life and were incorporated in the plays as well particularly in comedies. Thus, ‘The Country Wife‘ is a hilarious play with several literary devices particularly the double entendre (double meanings) which furthers the wit along with the indecency.It is this hilarity that also acts as a biting commentary on the frivolous and decadent ways of the Restoration aristocracy.
‘The Country Wife‘ has a main plot and a sub plot. The former is centered on a gentleman named Horner, who pretends to be an eunuch so that he can gain the trust of the husbands who would then allow their wives to spend time with him. A rich middle class man, Sir Jasper Fidget, falls for this ruse and allows him to enjoy the company of his wife, Lady Fidget and daughter, Miss Dainty Fidget. He also falls for a town gentleman’s wife, Margery Pinchwife when he sees her in the theater. Her husband, Mr. Pinchwife only married her because he could not keep a ‘whore’ to himself and felt that the country wife would not cheat on him because of her innocence and naivete. Yet he is wholly jealous of her and keeps her restricted and even locked up so that she won’t cheat on him. Margery is thus the titular character of the play. The play then goes on as to how Horner makes a ‘cuckold’ of all the husbands because of his stratagem. This is interspersed with the sub plot that basically deals with Harcourt and Alithea’s (Mr. Pinchwife’s sister) love. The two plots are in stark contrast to each other. The former is all about cheating on one’s wives and husbands and the latter extolls true love. In the end, it is Harcourt and Alithea’s relationship that is a right example of how love should be treated.
The downside of the play is that is a tad bit sexist because it is judgmental towards the aristocratic women and not the great pretender Horner who seems to have a vicious appetite for fornication. This attitude also reflects on how badly women were treated then particularly accentuated by Pinchwife’s cruel treatment of his wife. Wycherley, however, does show Pinchwife in a ludicrous light perhaps to manifest that husbands who restrict their better halves and treat them so will deserve to be cheated and ‘cuckolded.’
The play may not be everyone’s cup of tea especially for those who are touchy about indecent language and manners. Yet those very things are what make the play a satire. It is an inseparable part of the play. Knowing a little about the time and the literary techniques and customs will also help in further understanding the play. For eg, the dominant stock characters such as the fop, the rake, the wit etc that were usually used in the Restoration comedies, the predominant French influence(seen in ‘The Country Wife‘ as well in the many French words and the influence of Moliere), the importance of wit in the towns, the constant juxtaposition of town and country and the usual deriding of the country ways and manners etc.
So you could either dismiss ‘The Country Wife‘ as being bawdy and uncouth or read it up and go with the flow as 17th century bawdry could not shock us anymore! Moreover, who wouldn’t enjoy the sexual innuendos?
The problem with reading an awesome novel by a particular author is the high expectations one has with the other novels and when that doesn’t happen,you feel heartbroken for both yourself and the author. And that’s exactly what happened with ‘Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard‘ written by Kiran Desai. Having read her other, more famous, Booker prize winning novel, ‘The Inheritance Of Loss,’ which is quite splendid weaving strands of varying themes into a beautiful story, I built up many sky high praises for Kiran Desai. But, unfortunately, her debut novel doesn’t come close to her 2nd one. ‘Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard,’ is a good read nonetheless, yet lacks the brilliance that lights up the storyline of ‘The Inheritnace of Loss.’
The plot of ‘Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard‘ begins with the birth of Sampath in an apparently middle class family living in a village named Shahkot. Then the novel does an Indian soap opera kind of leap and we see Sampath twenty years later, quite dull, and doomed as a failure by his father. Only his mother, Kulfi, has faith that her son will be able to be something in life. And ho! what do you know, he does manage to do just that. But not before getting fired from his clerk job in the post office and running away from Shahkot to be away from the misery of life. He then comes across a guava orchard and decides to climb on a guava tree and interestingly finds peace and solace over there. He feels uncluttered and unfettered on that tree. With a quirk of fate, he gets mistaken by a holy man atop a tree and his father gets a brilliant idea to juice out money from this venture. People flock to listen to his wise words and seek his advice and blessings! Sampath thus from being a good for nothing fellow becomes a famous Monkey Baba revered by one and all. Apart from Sampath, we get to see the rest of his peculiar family like his mother who relishes food and whipping up quite grand and glorious dishes. Then his sister, Pinky who falls in love with an ice cream seller, Hungry Hop.
The one word for this novel is eccentric. ‘Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard‘ reminds one of the bumbling comedies staged during Elizabethan Age that had similar comic situations with myriad quirky characters. The book gives a satirical take on rural/town India and its obsession with godly figures. It highlights the dishonesty that prevails among the fake babas that spring up in all nooks and corners. Of course, Sampath never intended to become a Monkey Baba. He in fact wanted to run away from all things pretentious. So perhaps Desai is trying to bring out how holy men should be in their heart and soul? Well, one can interpret it in anyway one wants. The characters are also well fleshed out particularly Kulfi whose love for food has been highlighted since page 1.
While the comic ans satirical part of the book is perfect, its the Bollywoodish touch and the simple, immature writing and the weak climax that make the book rather disappointing. Its quite entertaining and funny in its ludicrous situations but not really a must read, though a fun read!
Well, you could either go for it and enjoy the fun or avoid it completely. Take your pick!
‘Animal Farm‘ was another book that I read as part of my English Literature class. Written by George Orwell, ‘Animal Farm‘ is an interesting read with animals as the main characters. I quite enjoyed the book mainly because of Orwell’s remarkable story and its relevance to politics of any country. Anybody who knows the dirtiness of politics will surely relate to this book. ‘Animal Farm‘ is a biting satire on politics and is based on the Russian Revolution and the events during Stalin era. There are several characters in the novel that represent real life characters prominent at that time.
The story is about animals on Manor Farm who lead a revolution to get rid of the torturous and oppressive Mr Jones, a human and how they overthrow him and take over the farm. The pigs are proclaimed as leaders. Although initially several steps are taken to better the animals’ conditions, gradually power corrupts the pigs and they begin neglecting the masses i.e. the animals. Sounds like politics played n India, doesn’t it?
The most remarkable feature of the book is the use of animals to represent a human tendency(I think it is human because I do not think it exists in animals)- to play dirty politics. Orwell’s writing is simple, no flamboyant usage of language and his story is plain to understand as it does not have deep symbolism which one has to crack one’s brains over. Another plus point, despite it being written in 1945, is that it is still contemporary. Its themes of power, corruption , deceit and the vicious cycle of politics are still relevant as even today politicians use tactics mentioned in the book. Not much seems to have changed in the political field. Anyone can, even today, draw parallels in our own society and among our politicians from several incidents in the book. Napoleon, the pig who usurps power in the book is a classic example of how power corrupts and his sidekick Squealer, is an excellent example of any political party’s spokesperson who will do practically anything-lie, cheat, kill, bribe-to uphold the leader’s greatness(even though he/she does the most gruesome and criminal of things).
As a conclusion,’Animal Farm‘ is a delightful read, an amazing satire that can make one think. It is good(but not necessary) to get some background information on the Russian Revolution and Stalin Era to comprehend the story thoroughly. Without that information too, the story will be meaningful. ‘Animal Farm‘ is well worth a read!