Discovery and Revisit at Home

One day in the future when I have to account for how I spent my time in the months of March to May, 2020, I will come up short for a better answer than cook, eat, read, watch, sleep and then repeat day after day, lockdown except for weekly essential groceries. I admit though, I take to such reclusive, stay-home life quite naturally, albeit I did miss the Pond.

You wouldn’t want to know what I cooked and ate during those months, but I can tell you the discovery and revisit I’d made at home.

The Great Courses on KANOPY

Kanopy is wonderful if you’re not into trendy pop culture movies and TV shows. The streaming service offers classic titles and worthy contemporary films, international in scope, and is free with your local library card or an academic library account. They also carry The Great Courses, numerous subjects to choose from covering a huge variety of interests.

I took two courses, both exemplify the word ‘edutainment’, academically sound and informative. One is “Reading and Understanding Shakespeare” taught by Marc Connor (professor at Washington and Lee U), the other is “Screenwriting: Mastering the Art of Story” taught by Angus Fletcher (Ohio State U). Both comprise of 24 videos. In the Shakespeare course, I learned over 40 tools to decipher the Bard’s plays, and from the Screenwriting course, how to build a story world.

There are many pleasant discoveries but there’s one I find most gratifying. Come to think of it, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all: Both lecturers have cited Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, noting how Austen had used Shakespearean elements in her storytelling, and in turn, how her work had influenced modern day screenwriting.

Pride and Prejudice

To illustrate the tone of the Ironic Narrator, an ancient literary device dating back to the Greek and Roman satires, an example professor Fletcher uses is the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The larger things of the cosmos, ‘universal truth’, is juxtaposed with that which is much smaller and singular, albeit such triviality may well have made up the cosmos of those who are parochial. Examples of such an ironic tone can be found in The Big Short, The Princess Bride, Fargo, and CSI. ‘All of them employ the same basic what and how of Pride and Prejudice, with their own little twists and tweaks.’

Maybe you’ve noticed I used the words ‘most gratifying’ with the pleasant surprise when I hear Austen being mentioned. Yes, Jane would turn in her grave to read what I’m going to write: it feels good to find someone, particularly a male with credentials, to confirm the value of her writing such that her work isn’t being seen as ‘just women’s novels’ or ‘chick lit’. Ugh… saying this is so unnecessary, for Austen doesn’t need to prove her worth among the ignorant. However, in this day and age, it takes movements and hashtags to confirm things that should have been valued. Misconceptions ought to be corrected.

Pride and Prejudice Revisited
(Audiobook cover image above)

So, after these two courses, I was all set to revisit my favourite Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. This time, I downloaded the Blackstone audiobook (2011) narrated by Carolyn Seymour, and listened to it twice back to back; this time, I enjoyed it more. Here’s my ripple stirred by the Bard himself:

Ah ha! Fair is foul and foul is fair
Darcy and Wickham as foils repel
Appearance and sweet words can ensnare
At last! Lizzy learns her lesson well.

Further, the famous ‘block to young love’ conceit, not blocked by an older character as in the Bard’s plays –– surely Lady Catherine de Bourgh is old but she’s no match for Lizzy –– but by the lovers’ own internal flaw, be it pride, or prejudice, or both. How satisfying to see the protagonists mature in their self-knowledge as the story develops, first Darcy then later Elizabeth, gaining clarity of their own true self. Not to mention how gratifying to see that figure of grace, Darcy, as he saves the reputation of the Bennet family with his own silent, altruistic plan all for the one he loves.

Well, what’s a staycation for if not to savour one’s favourite reads over again, doing nothing all day but just dwell in the story world without feeling guilty about time spent. I’m thinking it’s a little like being stranded on a deserted island, like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, and feeling lucky you’ve got Wilson as a companion, even when there’s no one to actually play volleyball with you.

 

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects

I’ve written many posts on Jane Austen during the early years of blogging. Just put her name in Search you’ll find them. Here are some of my personal favourites:

Art Imitates Life, or Life Imitates Art, or…

Why We Read Jane Austen

In Praise of Austen: Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

Bath’s Persuasion

Here’s a link to my articles published in the Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine

Easter Sunday Paradox

Light rising out of total darkness makes the most stark contrast.

I took this photo at sunrise two days ago. It wasn’t that dark in the environs but my camera pointing at the light source darkens everything else.

 

Rising Light

 

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty
Thy glory in my valley.

–– excerpt from The Valley of Vision

 

On that first Easter Sunday, the ultimate paradox came to pass, for without a willing death, there would not have been a resurrection.

He is risen!

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HAPPY EASTER!

Thanks to the Quarantine Resource List from Alison Chino, I followed the link to her Trinity Aberdeen Pastor’s message from which the above prayer is quoted.

 

 

 

Good Friday Separation

The One who had gone through utter isolation and known our griefs laments with us at this time.

A man of sorrows who had experienced the ultimate separation: In a crisis, his followers deserted him, even his closest denied him; above all, the physical torments on the cross couldn’t match the pain of searing separation from his Father, forsaken.

___________

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

–– Isaiah 53: 2-5

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This song has been on my mind all week. An apt meditation on this Good Friday as we’re all going through separation like never before. I chose a minimal video with just the words and the music. Take a 3 minute respite in your isolation this Good Friday.

 

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Downton Abbey the movie not just for fans

At the end of every Downton TV Season, there’s a two-hour Finale. Downton Abbey the movie feels like one of those grand finish. If there’s any TV series that can move to the big screen with just a TV script, Downton Abbey will be it. The iconic Jacobean styled mansion, superb cast, beautiful costumes and set design, not to mention creator/writer Julian Fellowes’ screenplay are its assets. Nothing close to the caliber of Gosford Park (2001) which brought Fellowes a Best Writing Oscar, but this will do. Nothing deep and poignant as some of the TV episodes, but for two hours of viewing time in the theatre, there are a lot to see and savour.

Downton.jpg

Just by listening to the rhythmic rumbling bringing out the single melody line of the theme music can send vibes of excitement. The majestic aerial shots in the setting sun (or is it rising sun?) establishing the grand manor Downton Abbey’s stature on the big screen is a thrilling experience for fans. In the theatre I was in, almost full house with fans obviously, laughing out loud at all the jokes and witty lines, embracing the film with a celebratory mood. After 6 Seasons, 3 Golden Globes and another 54 wins and 219 nominations (according to IMDb) plus three years of absence, a Downton movie is something worth celebrating.

But this isn’t just for fans. For those who come to Downton the first time, they might have missed six Seasons and 52 episodes of backstory, the movie could be an appetizer whetting their appetite for the full feast that’s offered in the PBS Masterpiece series. The estate that they must have heard in recent years called Downton Abbey, possibly wondering if it’s a cloister for monks or nuns, is now magnified on the big screen with stunning establishing shots. No medieval garbs or habits but 1920’s, Gatsby-styled fashion and hairdo. Inviting cinematography both exterior and interior familiarize them with the setting, albeit fans might find watching in a theatre is more dim with the cinematic mode, less vibrant than via their home TV which they can adjust the brightness.

Those not comfortable with the priggish social system of the past (and present to be sure, and not only limited to England) can look deeper into the series for some revelatory themes. While The Crawley’s are originally contented with their status quo and privilege, and some rejecting all forms of modernity, like Violet’s complaint about the ‘blinding’ electric lights or Mr. Carson’s fear of the telephone, the Great War (1914-1918) changes everything. Lady Sybil goes into nursing to contribute to the war effort, the whole Downton is turned into a convalescent hospital for the wounded (a historic fact of Highclere Castle), heir Matthew Crawley and footman William fight side-by-side in the trenches, and later Lady Edith venturing out on her own to start a journalism career. The most significant is probably Lady Sybil marrying Tom Branson, the driver of Downton who’s on the ‘wrong’ side of politics, Irish republican. In this movie, he reiterates his stand: “You can love people you disagree with.”

Director Michael Engler picks up from Season 6 Finale and set the time to a year later, 1927. The movie starts with a reminiscence of the very first episode in the first Season with a train pulling into the station and a telegram delivered to Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). No Titanic bad news this time but earth-shattering nonetheless, King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) will be coming to Downton Abbey  and stay for one night while on route to the Yorkshire area.

The household is in warp speed mode preparing for the royal visit in just two weeks. Before the arrival, the royal management team plus chef come to set up their commanding post, brushing away the Downton stalwarts downstairs. A coup is planned subsequently to offset such an invasion. Thus the movie diverge from its realist styling to a bit of a comedic/fantasy mode. That storyline lasts for the first hour. Then the subplots begin, allowing more interesting development.

Why Downton hasn’t lost its appeal through the years is highly due to the characters and how the actors slip into their skin so perfectly. Every character has his/her own back story, idiosyncrasy, viewpoint, and despite the class system that seems to segregate upstairs from downstairs, they are relatively free individuals who can and usually speak their minds. Take Daisy (Sophie McShera), for example, a kitchen maid, expresses her view against royalties, while Tom (Allen Leech), despite his stance for a republic Ireland, chooses to support his father-in-law Lord Grantham nonetheless. Just reflects the complexity of each individual character, a key asset of the TV series which a two-hour movie is impossible to delve into.

Thanks to scribe Fellowes, there are more duels of dialogues between Dowager Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton), two darlings of opposing views. Here are some samples from the movie:

(Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to skip these lines so you can experience them first hand.)

______________________

When talking about the coming royal visit, Violet and Isobel have the following exchange.

Violet:  Will you have enough clichés to get you through the visit?
Isabel:  If not, I’ll come to you. (Not missing a beat.)

Or here, as the family talk about a relative who’ll be coming with the royalties:

Isobel:  You’re plotting something. I see a Machiavellian look in your eye.
Violet:  Machiavelli is frequently underrated. He had many qualities.
Isobel:  So did Caligula — not all of them charming.

_________________________

As with the finale of the last Downton Season, we see romantic pairings and the movie picks up where it left off.  Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton) are happily married, so are Isobel and Lord Merton (Douglas Reith); Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and John Bates (Brendan Coyle) finally living in bliss, Tom meets a comparable mate, and that dancing scene outdoor with the two of them in silhouette is nicely shot. Downstairs Andy (Michael Fox) makes his intention known to Daisy, and Barrow (Robert James-Collier) finds a friend. While Molesley (Kevin Doyle) isn’t seen with Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), he has the time of his life serving the King and Queen.

New members to the cast include Imelda Staunton (spouse of real-life Mr. Carson, Jim Carter) as the Queen’s lady-in-waiting Lady Bagshaw and Tuppence Middleton playing her maid Lucy Smith, a pleasant addition and a character with some significance. The short vignettes of Princess Mary’s (Kate Phillips) unhappy marriage to Henry Lascelles (Andrew Havill) has historic basis and it’s side stories like these that make the movie more interesting. Surprisingly, Tom Branson is the thread that weaves these characters together, and saves the day too.

An important conversation between Violet and granddaughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) towards the end may have dropped a hint for the future. And what of Mary’s new hubby Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode)? He appears like a flash and cameo. I just wonder if Dan Stevens (Mary’s first love Matthew Crawley) ever regretted leaving Downton so soon.

Beautifully shot, classy costumes, and as always, top performance from a great cast, while not delving into deeper stories, the movie overall can satisfy fans’ longing and make a good introduction to pique the interest of first timers, hopefully prodding them to binge on the full-fledged episodes.

 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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I’ve a write-up for every episode beginning with Season 3 of Downton Abbey here on Ripple. The following post has the links to all of them plus some other related topics:

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey

 

Middlemarch Book II – IV: Inkblot Test

We’ve come to the midpoint of our tentative reading plan. Hard to believe one month’s gone by already. Instead of a review of all the chapters, how about a Middlemarch inkblot test?

What word comes to your mind when you see the following:

 

  • Dorothea 
  • Casaubon 
  • Ladislaw 
  • Fred 
  • Rosamond 
  • Lydgate 
  • Celia 
  • Mr. Brooke 
  • Mary Garth

 

I’ll just stop with these ones. Have your views about these characters changed from first you met them?

Any surprises in the storylines?

Which characters do you click ‘Like’?

What to do with the ones we don’t? Is Eliot having fun with Austen’s idea of creating characters whom no one would much like?

Favorite Quotes?

Here are some of mine, for various reasons, but mostly for Eliot’s power of association in her descriptions.

Will Ladislaw’s thought about Dorothea:

“To ask her to be less simple and direct would be like breathing on the crystal that you want to see the light through.”

About Dorothea’s predicament:

“I suppose it was that in courtship everything is regarded as provisional and preliminary, and the smallest sample of virtue or accomplishment is taken to guarantee delightful stores which the broad leisure of marriage will reveal. But the door-sill of marriage once crossed, expectation is concentrated on the present. Having once embarked on your marital voyage, it is impossible not to be aware that you make no way and that the sea is not within sight –– that, in fact, you are exploring an enclosed basin.”

And if Eliot were among us today, she would likely be vocal in the #Metoo and #Timesup movements:

“Society never made the preposterous demand that a man should think as much about his own qualifications for making a charming girl happy as he thinks of hers for making himself happy.”

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Your two pebbles?

Wood Duck.jpg

 

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Other posts from our Read-Along participants:

Men of Middlemarch

Middlemarch –– Ladislaw’s Force of Unreason

Middlemarch by George Eliot –– Completed today

 

A Good Friday Trial

DSC_0280

“Then went the jury out, whose names were Mr. Blindman, Mr. Nogood, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. Highmind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hate-light, Mr. Implacable, who everyone gave in his private verdict against him among themselves, and afterwards unanimously concluded to bring him in guilty before the judge. And first among themselves, Mr. Blindman, the foreman, said, I see clearly that this man is a heretic. Then said Mr. Nogood. way with such a fellow from the earth! Ay, said Mr. Malice, for I hate the very look of him. Then said Mr. Love-lust, I could never endure him. Nor I, said Mr. Live-loose; for he would be always condemning my way. Hang him, hang him, said Mr. Heady. A sorry scrub, said Mr. High-mind. My heart riseth against him, said Mr. Enmity. He is a rogue, said Mr. Liar. Hanging is too good for him, said Mr. Cruelty. Let us despatch him out of the way, said Mr. Hate-light. Then said Mr. Implacable, Might I have all the world given me, I could not be reconciled to him; let us forthwith bring him in guilty of death. And so they did; therefore he was presently condemned to be had from the place where he was, to the place from whence he came, and there to be put to the most cruel death that could be invented.”

–– John Bunyan
Pilgrim’s Progress

 

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Memorable Movie Love Quotes

The following is my Valentine post back in 2008 and an update after Downton. Re-posting here today for reminiscence. For several years, this post held the highest view records on my blog. I’d received 60+ comments suggesting more quotes. I regret I don’t have the plugin to copy them all here. But I’m sure we can start anew and update with fresh ones.  You’re welcome to add your fave movie love quote in a comment.
 
                                                                                    
                                                       ****   
 
 
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, I’ve compiled a list of memorable quotes from movies, all on the theme of love. All come from movies I’ve seen, some I’ve reviewed on this Blog (click on title to my review). They represent dialogues that have stirred some ripples in one small heart. And love…being a many splendid thing, embraces all kinds of human relationships, and transcends cultures and boundaries.
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Here’s Arti’s Collection of Memorable Movie Love Quotes:

  • Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. — Dead Poets Society
  • The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return. — Moulin Rouge
  • The things that people in love do to each other they remember, and if they stay together it’s not because they forget, it’s because they forgive. — Indecent Proposal
  • I like you very much. Just as you are. — Bridget Jones’s Diary
Bridget Jones' Diary
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  • When the planes hit the twin towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge — they were all messages of love. — Love Actually
  • Maybe it is our imperfections which make us so perfect for one another. — Emma
  • And now, I’m back…and I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring? —Castaway
  • I don’t believe in quantum physics when it comes to matter of the heart. — Bull Durham
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  • Shoot me. There’s no greater glory than to die for love. — Love in the Time of Cholera
  • I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe. — The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • For you, a thousand times over. — The Kite Runner
  • Come back…Come back to me. — Atonement
  • Natalie:  Do you believe in love at first sight?
    John:  Yes I do. Saves a lot of time. — The Stickup

While a few are lucky enough to save time and escape the torments of love by creating a lasting flame from the first spark, some have to go through tumultuous pining, even the arduous and humbling experience of transforming oneself to gain requited love. And who, other than the following, epitomizes such kind of yearning:

Love Quotes From Downton Abbey:

“I love you Mr. Bates. I know it’s not ladylike to say it, but I’m not a lady and I don’t pretend to be.”  — Anna, S1E5

“I’m not a romantic… But even I concede that the heart does not exist solely for the purpose of pumping blood.” Violet Crawley, S2E2

“I’d rather have the right man, than the right wedding.” — Anna, S2E5

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You all are welcome to contribute to this list. Just submit your favorite movie love quotes in the comment box below…and have a memorable Valentine’s Day!

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Here’s the link to my original post where you can read all the comments.

A New England Fall Foliage Road Trip

Just came back from a ‘Thelma and Louise’ kinda road trip with my cousin to Northeastern United States. Kinda but not exactly, for obvious reason: I’ve come back, bearing photos and a foliage report that says it’s not too late to head out even now.

According to locals, due to the warm, extended summer days, foliage change has delayed by about a week. I started my drive in late September to the first week of October, and I’d say the foliage color change was from 10% to 40%, depending on the locale.

Here’s the itinerary of my travels:

Wayland, MA –> Portland, ME –> Rockport / Camden, ME –> N. Conway, NH –>
Stowe, VT –> Williamstown, MA –> Wayland, MA

I’ll be posting interesting sights I encountered during this trip. Here’s my first entry.

Walden Pond

I started from Wayland, MA, a suburb about 30 mins. drive west of Boston. Walden Pond is just 6.2 miles north of Wayland. In pursuit of solitude, to taste the bare essence and to ‘suck out the marrow of life’, Henry David Thoreau cleared some trees in the woodlands owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, built a 10′ x 15′ cabin and on July 4, 1845, began to live there by the Pond, an experience that lasted two years, two months and two days.

A stone-throw from the parking lot of the Walden Pond State Reservation is a replica of Thoreau’s cabin. A friendly ranger greeted me:

Thoreau's Cabin

Inside the cabin were the bare necessities, a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs: “one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

Interior

As for the Pond, it was pure serenity. As for fall foliage, I could only see it in my mind’s eye:

Walden Pond

So you could imagine my surprise to see beaches and swimmers. But of course, this is now a National Park, and it’s summer still:

Swimmers at the beach

The day was September 28, the few autumn leaves reminded me that transition of the seasons was indeed happening, however slowly:

Autumn Leaves

As I walked around the lake, a sign pointed me to the actual site of Thoreau’s cabin in the woods:

Actual Site

And beside it, these famous words of his:

To live deliberately

But nowhere could I find a sign posting this other quote which I also admire, on the economy of work:

“For more than five years I maintained myself thus solely by the labor of my hands, and I found that, by working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the expenses of living.”

Don’t you just love his calculations?

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Follow my New England series:

How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain De Botton

Here’s my second instalment for the blogging event Paris in July 2014.

Paris In July 2014

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You must have heard of this book by a Swiss-born Brit writing about a French novelist called Proust. You probably have read it, and let me guess, were surprised when reading the first chapters? Well, I was. For before reading this book, my knowledge of Alain de Botton, the popular British writer and media personality, mainly came from an art critic’s thoughtful posts on her blog.

How Proust Can Change Your Life

Is Botton joking? This book reads like a parody.

First we are introduced to Dr. Proust, Marcel’s father, who was a renowned physician and prolific writer. His thirty-four books had helped the French people from defences against the plague to the correct postures and exercises for the ladies. Botton being an image-driven person does not hesitate to include some of Dr. Proust’s instructional illustrations for his female readers such as how to jump off walls, or balance on one foot.

Not your definition of parody? How about this chapter on ‘How to Suffer Successfully’. Proust is well known for his physical ailments, having had to lie in bed most of the time when he wrote the longest novel ever written, In Search of Lost Time. Botton exhaustively lists down the various trials Proust had to live with throughout his life:

  • The Problem of a Jewish Mother
  • Awkward Desires
  • Dating Problems
  • A Lack of Career in the Theatre
  • The Incomprehension of Friends
  • At 31, His Own Assessment
  • Asthma
  • Diet
  • Digestion
  • Underpants
  • Sensitive Skin
  • Mice
  • Cold
  • Coughing
  • Noise from Neighbours

… Should I go on? And oh, he does include Death.

I know, that’s what Botton does, bring the extraordinary into the ordinary realm of common readers, and by so doing, explaining Proust to us lowly creatures. And of course, it would help if you have at least read the first two volumes of In Search of Lost Time, for many of his examples are taken from there, so you would feel a resonance, or disagree with Botton’s interpretation, when he talks about Francoise, Swann, Albertine, Combray, or Balbec.

Do I get anything out of it? Plenty. I’ve lots of highlighted passages and my own handwritten notes on the margins. When Botton gets serious between the lines, he leaves me with some useful tips:

So if speaking in clichés is problematic, it is because the world itself contains a far broader range of rainfalls, moons, sunshines, and emotions than stock expressions either capture or teach us to expect. (p.106)

For one thing, express your own feelings and ideas instead of saying ‘nice’, or describing the setting sun as ‘a ball of fire’. I love this little passage Botton quotes from Proust about the novelist’s description of his ‘lunar experience’:

Sometimes in the afternoon sky a white moon would creep up like a little cloud, furtive, stout display, suggesting an actress who does not have to ‘come on’ for a while, and so goes ‘in front’ in her ordinary clothes to watch the rest of the company for a moment, but keeps in the background, not wishing to attract attention to herself. (p.98 of Botton’s, but no mention of where this is from Proust’s)

The key of course is not so much of trying to use a new language to describe a common scene or object, but to be able to look at them from a distinctively new perspective to begin with. How can we invent new lenses to see the world? Towards this end, Botton has failed to go further. So we’re told to avoid clichés, but not how. If you sense my ambivalence, you’re right.

In order to avoid clichés himself, Botton has resorted to hyperboles. The title of the book is a ready example. The 200 page book comprises of nine short chapters, each can be a book in itself. So you can expect the oversimplification of the ideas. Further, with no citing of sources for the Proust quotes, the critical reader could be left unsatisfied; it feels like Botton has jumped to generalizations and found expressions of his own thoughts from one or two excerpts of Proust’s. Makes one feel that Proust could just be a selling point.

However, this is an entertaining read, like a self-help manual with instructional tidbits and amusing images. The book is a mixed bag of common-sense wisdom, with a ‘moral’ at the end of each chapter. Throughout, it is obvious that Botton could well find it not as easy as he tells his readers to do… to be original and not say what others have said before. Here are some of his main points:

  • Live life today
  • Read books to form your own ideas
  • Suffering makes you strong
  • Find art and beauty in the ordinary
  • Avoid clichés like the plague
  • A time to pick up a book, a time to put it down
  • Win friends by your praises
  • but pour your honest criticisms of them into a work of fiction (now that’s a novel idea).

Is there anything new under the sun?

Speaking of the sun, take this to the beach. It would make one breezy read.

Lastly, following Botton’s (actually Proust’s) advice on reading:

We should read other people’s books in order to learn what we feel, it is our own thoughts we should be developing even if it is another writer’s thoughts which help us do so. (P. 195) Reading… is only an incitement…

 

So I’d say the moral is: read Proust yourself. Don’t let Botton tell you what Proust can do for you.

That’s just the prodding I need to press on to In Search of Lost Time, Vol. III.

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Paris in July 2014 on Ripple Effects:

Haute Cuisine Movie Review

CLICK HERE, HERE and HERE to see what others have posted.

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Related (Proust) Posts on Ripple Effects:

Proust Read-Along: Swann’s Way Part 1, Combray

The Swann and Gatsby Foil

Half Way Through a Budding Grove

Out of the Budding Grove

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Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 5 (PBS)

A relatively light-hearted episode, but the cheeriness depends on your point of view, quite like the Super Bowl, celebratory depends on which side you’re rooting for. But overall, a delightful and engrossing hour.

First off, a little surprise, Alfred is leaving. I thought the foursome is going to have some more entanglement. Alfred is accepted to the training course after all at the Ritz Hotel, London. That’s a significant leap from the servants’ hall in Downton, deserving celebration, but only depends on which side you’re on. Daisy is heartbroken. Eventually she’s sweet to make peace with Alfred and herself, wishing him luck as he leaves.

Violet and Isobel’s battles resume, evidence that Isobel has recovered from her mourning. She’s a social activist fighting for justice, and Violet, the established aristocracy, therefore legitimate target of her indignation. When Violet wrongly accuses and fires young Pegg for stealing her things, yes, things, Isobel rediscovers her calling. Things are what Violet cares about, so materialistic, so unjust. The ivory curio is soon found, misplaced.

Some interesting dialogues ensue…

Isobel: “Aren’t you going to say you’re sorry?”

Violet: “Certainly not.”

Isobel: “How you hate to be wrong.”

Violet: “I wouldn’t know. I’m not familiar with the sensation.”

The Sherlock in Isobel does some personal digging and recovers the valuable missing letter opener. What develops is like a parable. Isobel makes the same mistake of which she accuses Violet when she misjudges Pegg too soon and unwilling to face up to her wrongs, not knowing Violet after discovering her own mistake has already apologized to young Pegg, asked for his forgiveness, and rehired him back. Nobody monopolizes justice after all.

Napier and Blake turn out to be unwelcome guests. Not that I’m not sympathetic to farmers or food production, but these two men just prove they are the entitled ones, especially Blake, biting the hand that feeds him. Why, which guest would sit beside his host and call her “a sentimentalist who cannot face the truth.” Now where does that come from?

Rose has proven to be quite an event planner. Lord Grantham’s birthday party is a success, the secret is a big surprise, as she has intended. Jack Ross has done the unprecedented, bringing a night club jazz band into Downton, and he himself can go down history as the first black person to set foot in that aristocratic estate. Time has changed, or at least started to. Despite his shock, Mr. Carson is quick to point out that “we led the world in the fight against slavery,” but not before embarrassing himself by asking Ross: “Have you never thought of visiting Africa?”

While everyone is having some light-hearted turns, the heavy news or lack thereof falls like lead on Edith. She found out she’s pregnant, and Michael Gregson has “vanished into thin air.” At this stage, she doesn’t suspect anything except to worry about him. But this just may prove to be another dark chapter in her failed romantic narratives.

A date in the shadowBates and Anna’s seemingly reconciled relationship is another dark shadow in an otherwise bright episode. I like these contrasts as far as plot is concerned, light and shadow. The intriguing development is with Cora overhearing their conversation in the hotel dining room, and later, Baxter overhearing Cora talk with Mary about her concern. Even though she’s warned not to leak out what she has heard, Baxter has her assignment, the ‘condition’ as Thomas reminds her.

That hotel dining scene is oh so gratifying. Anna has phoned earlier to make a reservation. When actually there, the Maître d’ takes a top-to-bottom glance at their attire, decides there’s no reservation under the name of Bates. Julian Fellowes’ another social justice moment. Lady Grantham, Cora, comes to the rescue, ever so graciously. Isobel would have made a scene.

As for the Maître d’, a perfect casting would be Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean. Just a thought.

But my favourite scene is when Isobel, Mary, and Tom are in a room waiting to see the little ones being brought in by their nanny. These three are all widowed, survivors of tragedies when their loved ones were unexpectedly taken away from them. Mary is honest with her feelings: “I’m just not quite ready to be happy.” Then, Isobel starts sharing and reminisces on her engagement with her husband Reginald; Tom joins in with his love for Sybil; Mary recalls Matthew’s proposal to her while standing in the snow, not feeling a bit cold. Each recharged by the memory of love. Isobel cheerfully concludes at the end: “Well, aren’t we the lucky ones.”

Your favourite scene?

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Previously on Downton Abbey Season 4:

Episode 4

Episode 3

Episode 2

2 Hour Opening Special

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Downton Abbey Season 4: Episode 3 (PBS)

Here’s a Downton episode that shows why it keeps gathering fans. That’s when every plot is captivating, and every other line uttered by the characters is a quotable quote, plus, two strong female characters saving the day: Violet Crawley upstairs, and Mrs. Hughes downstairs. Thanks to them, the good regain their zest for life (Mary and Isobel), and the bad are banished (Edna Braithwaite).

The most important storyline of course is Anna and Bates. And Mrs. Hughes is the only one to know about the rape. I have been successful so far to block out spoilers for future episodes but I hope Mrs. Hughes is wise and strong enough to make sure the right steps are taken in this heart wrenching case. After the most controversial tragedy befalls a faultless character, we’re all eager to see the aftermath.

Anna is thrice victimized. First raped, then silenced, and ultimately guilt-laden. I’m sure such a scenario is real even for today. “I must have made it happen. I feel dirty. I can’t let him touch me because I’m soiled.” A gap has developed so quickly like the ground has parted suddenly between a once loving couple. Now Anna and Bates are standing on opposite sides of a deep chasm. Mrs. Hughes urges her to go to the police to report, and tell Bates about the assault. She can see how hurtful it is for him to suffer from not knowing. But Anna sees the possible reality for Bates. “Better a broken heart than a broken neck.”

Several people have noticed Anna’s recent silence. Who wouldn’t? But not many would ask Bates directly except of course Lord Grantham himself. Julian Fellowes has written him some good lines. I just want to quote the whole thing here:

“There is no such thing as a marriage between two intelligent people that does not sometimes have to negotiate thin ice. I know. You must wait until things become clear. And they will. The damage cannot be irreparable when a man and a woman love each other as much as you do.”

But as always, the punchline comes after a pause:

“My goodness that was strong talk for an Englishman.”

Downton Abbey S4E3

On a slightly more pleasant note, Lady Mary’s dilemma regarding Lord Gillingham and his lightning speed of a marriage proposal. Michelle Dockery has put forth some very fine acting in this episode, especially the scene when they are walking on the green grounds of Downton, when Gillingham asks her a very short question: “Will you marry me?” The setting is romantic, the cinematography gorgeous, but this is what I’m most gratified to hear from Lady Mary:

“I can’t. I’m not free of him. Yesterday, you said I fill your brain. Well, Matthew fills mine. Still. And I don’t want to be without him, not yet.”

After all, it’s only about seven months after Matthew’s death. Further, if Tony Gillingham can discard a previously engaged relationship so readily, what kind of a lover will he be to Mary? Again, I don’t know about any future story development, but in my heart, I wish Mary would wait a while longer. But, she gives him a warm kiss though. What a conflicting heart. Did she say later that she’d done something she might regret?

Same with Edith. Have you seen anyone signing away a document without giving it even just a skim over? Julian Fellowes knows exactly where to grab our attention… when the character is least attentive. This is a document prepared by her very sincere-looking love interest, the man admittedly had had a ‘dubious, misspent youth’, and who had won back everyone’s poker losses from a crook within the same night. Oh but love conquers all fears for Edith. Lady Rosamund reminds her she’s “gambling with her future”. So Gregson leaves for Munich the next day. Interesting.

While in London, we’re introduced to the first black character in Downton Abbey, the jazz singer Jack Ross, who leaves a fine impression on Lady Rose, launching another interesting plot line.

And don’t you just love Mrs. Hughes even more, a bulwark of discernment and authority? Tom is wise enough to come downstairs to seek her advice as Edna blackmails him to marry her for a fake, just-in-case kind of pregnancy. Even Thomas (it’s Mr. Barrows now) the schemer isn’t a bit sympathetic.

And it’s Mrs. Hughes again who is so kind, and sweet, to restore a loving memory for Mr. Carson, framing up his once, young love. Can you imagine Mrs. Hughes taking time off Downton to go to town to shop for a nice picture frame? Anyway, it’s good to know these characters have heart, and are not afraid to show it. Very well done here. And no, I don’t particularly wish that Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson would become late romantics. They are just fine now. It’s much rarer to see genuine friendship than romantic love.

Mr. Carson gets the best quote here in Season 4 Episode 3:

“The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that’s all there is.”

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Season 4 Episode 2

Season 4 Opening Special

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Out of the Budding Grove

When I picked up Swann’s Way earlier in March, I had no idea that 2013 is the 100th Anniversary of its publication. Now in hindsight, I’m all the more excited with this serendipitous selection for a Read-Along. And what discoveries I’ve made reading Proust!

Six months later in September, I started Vol. II Within A Budding Grove, allowing myself and any fellow reader two months to finish this 730 page volume.

Within A Budding Grove Modern Library

I reiterate, I’ve encountered thickets blocking the way through the budding grove, but I must say, the enjoyment I’ve reaped from slashing and plowing through it is greater than my frustration. All in all, coming out of it feels like finding my way through a corn maze. Out I come dazed but gratified.

I’ve posted some thoughts on Part One of Within A Budding Grove here. This latter part is about Balbec, a seaside resort the adolescent narrator travels with his Grandmother to stay for the summer to recuperate his health. Like his memories of Combray, Proust’s description of Balbec is detailed and colourful. He relays to his reader his journey, the scenery, the Grand Hotel they stay in, its guests and their social hierarchical interactions, his new-formed friendship with the painter Elstir who introduces him to the band of girls the young narrator admires but is too shy to greet on his own, Albertine, Andrée, Rosemonde, Gisele…

The original title of this volume is In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs) which I think is spot on. But, the budding grove is an apt metaphor too for his adolescent self discoveries of love and passion. And in one hilarious scene with Albertine, Proust has shown he can be a writer for Saturday Night Live any time. Too long to quote here but well worth the read. (p. 700-701 in case you want to skip the first 699 pages.)

And young Marcel is ever in-touch with his own feelings for these girls, especially Albertine. Here is his honest analysis:

At the start of a new love as at its ending, we are not exclusively attached to the object of that love, but rather the desire to love from which it well presently arise (and, later on, the memory it leaves behind)… (p. 676)

Ahh… romancing a desire and a future memory.

What about Gilberte, Swann’s daughter, with whom the young narrator is so obsessed earlier? To his credit, young Marcel has a full grasp of his own psyche. Why? It’s all a matter of Habit, he reasons. Since Gilberte has snubbed him, he needs to forget her and let go of any form of Habit reminding him of his previous life in pursuing her. This trip to Balbec takes him away from the familiar and replaces his memories of Gilberte, and a static existence, with fresh experiences and revitalized senses. Getting out of his home in Paris and going away might just be the best medicine:

… one’s days being paralysed by a sedentary life, the best way to gain time is to change one’s place of residence. My journey to Balbec was like the first outing of a convalescent who needed only that to convince him that he was cured. (p. 301)

Even before he gets to Balbec, while on the train stopping at a station, the sensitive and observant narrator is already filled with delight as he sees a young milk-girl carrying a jar of milk walking to the train at the break of dawn:

She passed down the line of windows, offering coffee and milk to a few awakened passengers. Flushed with the glow of morning, her face was rosier than the sky. I felt on seeing her that desire to live which is reborn in us whenever we become conscious anew of beauty and of happiness. (P. 318)

My own memories of the changing hue on those Bohemian Waxwings come to mind. Proust has effectively conveyed the power of association, the linking of words on a page to the reader’s own memory and the joy it had once elicited.

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Proust in Cabourg copy 1
Photo Source: franceculture.fr

Proust insists that In Search of Lost Time is not autobiographical, but said “The pleasure that an artist gives us, is to introduce us to another universe.” No matter, his writing relates closely to his life experiences, parallel universe if you will.

Balbec is the fictitious reconstruction of Cabourg, a seaside resort town in the Basse-Normandie region of France where Proust frequented between 1907-1914. While Proust explores voluntary and involuntary memories in his long work, he could well be weaving memories with imagination, fusing fiction with real life experiences, creating an intricate tapestry.

Lydia Davis, translator of the most recent edition of Swann’s Way (The Way by Swann’s), offers this insight: “this novel is not autobiography wearing a thin disguise of fiction but . . . fiction in the guise of autobiography.”

Right.

Whichever way you slice it, it’s still as delicious as madeleines dipped in tea.

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Some Relevant Links:

The TLS blog: French literary anniversaries, part 4 – Du côté de chez Swann

CLICK HERE to a webpage on Cabourg where you can see the video of The Grand Hotel, with Proust’s room still being kept there.

Proust in Cabourg

In The Shadow of Young Girls in Flowers, from The Modernism Lab at Yale University

Photo Source: franceculture.fr

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Half Way Through a Budding Grove

Swann’s Way Part I: Combray

Parts 2 & 3: Swann In Love

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