Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant

Reading Maupassant reminds me why I love Jane Austen.

To be fair, I’ve only read one of the numerous short stories and one novel of Maupassant’s, but all of Austen’s six novels. So it just may not be apt for me to generalize the former. But focusing on just this book, Bel Ami, I can say here’s a protagonist whom I can never cheer for nor find amiable, to put it mildly…

Maupassant uses a scoundrel as the main character and have us follow his ascent, unscrupulous at every turn, as his ego and desires are being fed all the way to the end, and then some more. An antihero, the poster boy of realism in his depiction of late 19th C. Parisian high society?

Jane Austen has also written a protagonist she described as “A heroine whom no one but myself would like”. But comparing to Bel Ami‘s Georges Deroy, Emma Woodhouse is angelic. How do I even start to think of a parallel… imagine Wickham of Pride and Prejudice and Willoughby of Sense and Sensibility, combine them and magnify their nasty streak ten folds, then you’ll have Georges Deroy, nicknamed Bel Ami by the women in his life, ‘good friend’, a most pathetic irony.

The time is 1890’s Paris. Georges Duroy is a former soldier living in poverty. But call it luck or call it will, Duroy ends up a prominent figure in Parisian high society. This is how he does it.

Women. At one time, there are four significant females in Deroy’s life. These are upper crust, influential beauties. To Duroy, they are but rungs up the social ladder, each a conquest.

First is Madeleine Forestiers, the wife of his benefactor, editor friend whom he runs into coincidentally, and who saves him from poverty by bringing him in to work for the newspaper La Vie française.

The second one is Clotilde de Marelle, a married woman whom Duroy has made mistress. She aptly analyzes the Mars and Venus chasm of gender differences on that elusive notion called love. To Duroy, she says:

I know perfectly well that for you love is merely a sort of appetite whereas for me it would be more a sort of… communion of souls which doesn’t exist in a male religion. You understand the letter and I understand the spirit.

The third is the big boss of the newspaper Monsieur Walter’s wife Virgine, who has such a crush on Duroy that she loses her senses when he successfully schemes and manipulates her daughter Suzanne to elope with him.

George Wickham has plenty to learn from Georges Duroy because his subsequent wedding after the elopement is not a hush hush patch up, but a glamorous celeb nuptial, fully legit and the envy of all. By now, Duroy has climbed to be editor of La Vie française and made himself a Baron, changing his name to Du Roy for a more aristocratic sound. And we know full well that the conquest doesn’t stop there.

In one earlier incident, Duroy comes out of a gun duel unscathed, albeit a bit numbed. With his life spared, he could well have used such a near-death experience as a springboard to a new beginning and a turnaround of his ways. But his lucky escape has only fuelled his hubris and reaffirmed his self-importance. After the duel, he thinks himself invincible.

Is he immoral or amoral? I feel I have to choose the latter in order to find some amusement in following this unscrupulous character. Is it realism or sarcasm? I have to mix them both in order to seek some reading enjoyment. And with the English translation by the Cambridge scholar Douglas Parmée, there are the occasional descriptions that sounds… curt. But are they the original intent as realism dictates, or the collateral effects of translation? Can’t make up my mind on that one. Just an example:

The elder sister Rose was ugly, as flat as a pancake and insignificant, the sort of girl you never look at, speak to or talk about.

There, I find myself having to choose or debone or mix and stir in order to wash down better when reading Bel Ami. Under Maupassant’s pen of realism, Duroy is relentless all the way to the end. Just goes back to my love for Austen’s works… why, I can take in big gulps, devour and be totally satisfied. There are Wickham and Willoughby, but ultimately my yearning for some sort of poetic justice can be gratified. For my reading pleasure, I’ll take Jane’s idealism anytime.

***

Bel-Ami by Guy De Maupassant, translated by Douglas Parmée, Penguin Classics, movie tie-in edition, 2012, 394 pages.

As you can see from the book cover, Bel Ami has been adapted into film. To literature purists, I suggest you look for another edition. Whenever I read about Georges Duroy, which is on every page, Robert Pattinson’s face keeps haunting me, and images of Uma Thurman as Madeleine Forestier, Kristin Scott Thomas as Virginie keep conjuring up in my mind. Now I haven’t even watched the film… oh the suggestive power of a book cover.

This concludes my Paris in July entries for 2012. Thanks to Karen of BookBath and Tamara of Thyme for Tea for hosting.

To Paris again next year!

***

Midnight’s Children: Book Three

Click on the following links to the different sections of the book:
Midnight’s Children Book One
Midnight’s Children Book Two, Part A
Midnight’s Children Book Two, Part B

CLICK HERE to read my Movie Review of Midnight’s Children

***

Finally, we’ve come to the last section, the most eventful and catastrophic in our protagonist Saleem Sinai’s life. I must admit, my enthusiasm sagged a little at the end of Book Two, through no faults of Mr. Rushdie’s. Book Three sent me to some major Googling to be informed. After reading what I found on the Internet, I was fully awake.

The tumultuous waves of history swept Saleem along like an open dinghy. The 1965 Indo-Pakistani War over Kashmir ‘wiped out’ his family in a bomb blast. Saleem was ‘wiped clean’ with no memories of his own identity. He subsequently joined an intelligence gathering unit in the Pakistani military, his super sensitive nose being the major asset. In 1971, another war awaited him as he headed from West Pakistan into East to counter the revolutionary Mukti Bahini in their fight for an independent Bangladesh.

Perhaps fate had a gentler hand than humans. Saleem, now ‘buddha’ as he was ‘purified’ of all his past, got lost in the Sundarbans jungle. For seven months, he escaped the war between the two Pakistans. When he reemerged he witnessed atrocities done by his own Pakistan army he could not believe. Ten million refugees from East Pakistan walked across the border into India. As a result, the mightier Indian army led by Sam Manekshaw intervened and soon ended the war, with Pakistan’s Tiger Niazi surrendering with his 93,000 men. Buddha shed his uniform and became a deserter in Dacca, independent Bangladesh.

Tossed amidst the raging sea of national and personal upheavals, our protagonist, though a drop in a sea of six hundred millions, felt the burden of history and came to a self-realization. Rushdie’s description is powerful:

Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me… I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow a world.

With the Bangladesh Independence victory parade came a band of magicians from India, among them was Parvati-the-witch, one of the Midnight’s Children. Seeing Saleem again and calling his name out loud in excitement, Parvati cured his amnesia. She smuggled him in her basket back to India. Subsequently, Saleem stayed with Parvati and the magicians in the slum of Delhi. The silver spittoon he carries all these years is a perfect metaphor of his life… once born with a silver spoon in his mouth as a changeling, Saleem now comes back to where he would have been if he had not been switched at birth, the spittoon.

Saleem met his changeling rival, Major Shiva now. A loyal supporter of PM Indira Gandhi, Shiva had risen as Saleem fell. A national hero and a womanizer, Shiva went to the magician ghetto and took Parvita away. Months later she was sent back to the slum when he learned that she was pregnant. At the end, it was Saleem who married Parvita, knowing that she would give birth to Shiva’s son.

Baby Aadam Sinai was born at midnight, June 25, 1975, on the brink of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency measure in gripping absolute power, another fateful night of the nation’s history. But Saleem knows his son who is not his son will have a different path:

Aadam was a member of a second generation of magical children who would grow up far tougher than the first, not looking at their fate in prophecy or the stars, but forging it in the implacable furnaces of their wills.

With Shiva as the biological father, baby Aadam once again flowed back to the blood line of his grandfather Ahmed Sinai, the offspring of a changeling comes full circle back to his rightful lineage.

Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay conducted an anti-poverty operation to eradicate the slums. Parvati was killed in the clean-up. After her death, Saleem had a chance to go back to his birth city Bombay with his son. There he reunited with Mary Pereira. She was now Mrs. Braganza, manager of a pickle factory. Her changeling crime forgiven, Saleem now worked in her factory, paralleled his work as a writer preserving history:

… in words and pickles, I have immortalized my memories, although distortions are inevitable in both methods. We must live, I’m afraid, with the shadows of imperfection.

Is an author liable for what he writes in a work of fiction? The line delineating reality and fiction in Midnight’s Children is often blurry. Do Saleem’s views parallel Rushdie’s? Like Saleem telling his life story to Padma, Rushdie in Midnight’s Children could well have gone all out to unleash his sentiments towards the historical progression and political turmoil of India, the Partition, Pakistan and later Bangladesh.

In Book Three, Rushdie was particularly critical of the suspension of civil rights, censorship of the press and arrests of subversive elements during the Emergency as Indira Gandhi seized absolute power. But it was for a more personal description, a single sentence about Indira in this section of the book that brought Rushdie a defamation suit in 1984 by Mrs. Gandhi when she was PM again. In context, the sentence is Saleem’s account, but has to be removed from publication after that year. Rushdie mentions it in his introduction to the 25th Anniversary edition.*  The author still has the last word.

Midnight’s Children is an epic chronicle that carries multi-layered meaning and parallels, a feast of stylistic literary offerings. As an outsider, I feel I have only scratched the surface. But with just this outer core, I’ve been much entertained and informed. I will be back for more.

***

A note of appreciation to Mrs. B of The Literary Stew who planted the seed of this read-along, and Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza who supported the start-up. My hearty thanks to all who have shown interest, participated at one time or another exchanging thoughts and insights in your reviews and comments, as well as those who are silent readers. All your contributions have made this four-month endeavour gratifying and worthwhile.

Review posts for Midnight’s Children Finale:

Janell of An Everyday Life

Gavin of Page247

To read my reviews of previous sections of Midnight’s Children, please click the links on the sidebar.

We must do this again some other time. Book suggestions?

* Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, 25th Anniversary Edition, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2006, 533 pages. (Book cover as image above)

***

Midnight’s Children is one of my most anticipated films for 2012. Here are the actors playing young (Darsheel Safary) and adult Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha):

Here’s @SalmanRushdie’s Tweet regarding the release dates of the film: ‘Canada, October 26th; UK, November 9th; USA, being finalized, should be around the same time.’

***

To G. K. Chesterton: Happy 134th Birthday

Well, I miss it by a day, but I don’t think he’d mind. 

To celebrate the birthday of the gifted writer G. K. Chesterton (born May 29, 1874 – June 14, 1936), I’m posting here some thoughts I wrote down after I finished reading his book The Man Who Was Thursday earlier this year.

 

 ‘Well, I don’t understand anything…’  — Gabriel Syme

‘I understand nothing, but I am happy…’  — Dr. Bull

Just finished this book by G. K. Chesterton.  One word had been on my mind as I was reading it:  ingenious.  Of course, there were other words too, like baffling, profound, funny, even hilarious.  Published exactly 100 years ago in 1908, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare reads like an allegory, farce, fantasy, thriller, adventure, philosophical treatise, religious exposition, and a postmodern piece of literary anime, and yes, that’s 1908.

Having said all that, I must concede and humbly admit, upon finishing this first reading, I understand very little.  The twists and turns make one doubt what actually is real, or what is disguised as real, and where the line lies between good and evil, friend and foe, government and anarchists.  I’m baffled by the symbolism and eager to seek the appropriate interpretation. 

Who is Sunday?  Is he who I think he is?  The author in his own words in the addendum says, no, he’s not.  So, what am I to think? And, even if he is, how can I explain all the events that lead up to the ending?  And…what does the ending mean?

I welcome anyone who has read, studied, or taught the book to help me out with my bewilderment.  Of course, I could research on what scholastic publications have said, but, I’d just like to entertain some casual and random thoughts.

For those who wish to explore more, here are some Chesterton links:

The American Chesterton Society: Common Sense for the World’s Uncommon Nonsense  (Plainly tells you who you’re dealing with here)

G. K. Chesterton Quotations  (Just brilliant!)

Read Chesterton Online

The Man Who Was Thursday discussion on the blog “So Many Books”

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard: Book Review

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I am reviewing Annie Dillard’s novel The Maytrees.  That’s right.  For Annie Dillard, even her novel reads like poetry.  Consider these lines:

“Behind his head, color spread up sky.  In the act of diving, Orion, rigid, shoulder-first like a man falling, began to dissolve.  Then even the zenith and western stars paled and gulls squawked.”

Toby Maytree came home to Provincetown, Cape Cod, after the Second World War and met Lou Bigelow.  They soon fell in love and married, their lives bound by nature.

“His wife, Lou Maytree, rarely spoke.  She painted a bit on canvas and linen now lost.  They acted in only two small events–three, if love counts.  Falling in love, like having a baby, rubs against the current of our lives: separation, loss, and death.  That is the joy of them.”

Toby and Lou Maytree live a bohemian life. Toby works enough as a carpenter to support his real pleasure, poetry writing; Lou paints, rendering obsolete her MIT architecture degree.

“For a long time they owned no car, no television when that came in, no insurance, no savings.  Once a week they heard world news on the radio. They supported striking coal miners’ families with cash.  They loved their son, Pete, their only child.  Between them they read about three hundred books a year.  He read for facts, she for transport.  Nothing about them was rich except their days swollen with time.”

Can life, or love, be any simpler for any married couple?   Life in Cape Cod is idyllic for the Maytrees, and for a long while, time almost stood still.  Until, a third person, their long-time mutual friend Deary, came between them. Anticipating the ambivalence of guilt and desire, Toby and Deary secretly plans a move away to Maine, leaving Lou to raise Pete alone in Provincetown. 

“We bound ourselves to the fickle, changing, and dying as if they were rock.”

Dillard follows the Maytrees’ lives together, apart, and together again years later under very peculiar circumstances.  She uses condensed and poetic language to describe the subtle beauty of love, the reality of human frailty, the numbing of separation, and the inevitability of death.  Against the backdrop of nature, and a web of characters in the Maytrees’ lives, the author explores the power of forgiveness, the sharing of human responsibility, the acceptance of the human condition, and the preparation for death.  Love can still triumph despite failings, and yet, she also queries, what exactly, is love.

For most of the novel, Dillard displays fully her expertise: meditative nature writing, her thoughts touching the realms of science, literature, anthropology, religion, and philosophy. I do not pretend that I fully comprehend all that Dillard writes.  Eudora Welty in her 1974 New York Times review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek admitted that: “I honestly do not know what she is talking about at such times.”  Who am I to say I have understood all that Dillard has written here in The Maytrees. It may help if you are well-versed in Keats, Kafka, and Wittgenstein.  But often it is in the language.  Occassionally, her condensed language has left me cold and clueless.  However, it is also her language that appeals to me.  Amidst the ambiguity, I have appreciated the mesmerizing power of her poetic sense.

“Later he stood on the foredune’s lip and looked at the stars over the ocean.  A wider life breathed in him, and things’ rims stirred and reared back.  Only the lover sees what is real, he thought.  Only the lover sees the beloved truly, inwardly.  Far from being blind, love alone can see.  Watching the sky now, and forever after, doubled his world.  He felt he saw through Lou’s eyes as an Aztec priest, having flayed an enemy, donned the skin.  Or somewhat less so.”

At the end, death wraps up a life and a narrative. Surprisingly, Dillard describes it in a prosaic and matter-of-fact manner. And yet, the images are vivid, and the humanity shines through.  This is the genius of Annie Dillard. The Maytrees is a gem of a story; it gives and demands much. It may need some effort to plough through, but well worth the time. And like poetry, you would want to go back and savor it again.

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. Harper Collins, 2007.  224 pages.

~ ~ ~ Ripples 

 

Emma: Miss Woodhouse Regrets

UPDATE:  To read my posts on the new BBC production of Emma (2009, TV), Episode 1 CLICK HERE.Episode 2 CLICK HERE... Episode 3 Conclusion CLICK HERE.

.

Andrew Davis created another proficient and loyal adaptation of Austen’s work, a year after his success with Pride and Prejudice(1995).  Emma (1996 TV) shown on PBS last night is effectively written for the screen, bringing out all the crucial scenes in congruent sequences. Great acting from all, except I must say, Mark Strong’s Mr. Knightly seems to be a bit too severe and lacks the forbearing and benevolent nature he possesses in the book. Maybe because of that, Kate Beckinsale is a more subdued Emma, less spriteful as Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal. I have enjoyed Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax and Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith, who is more appropriately cast than Toni Collette in the 1996 movie.

“I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.”  –Jane Austen on Emma

Is Emma such a despicable character that Jane Austen thought no one but herself would much like?

At first, I thought so. Emma is manipulative, imposing and snobbish. In her pride, she has toyed with Harriet’s emotions, misdirected her path, and dominated her decisions. In her blindness, she has misjudged intentions and at times, behaved disdainfully. If Lady Catherine were around, her words targeted at Elizabeth Bennet would be most appropriate here: “Obstinate, headstrong girl!”. Lizzy would also decry: “Insufferable!”

But, why did Jane Austen still like her?

In her ingenious style, Austen has led us in a most gratifying way, to see our heroine regret. Emma is not a perfect human being. Far from it. She probably has more ingrained flaws than most of the other characters in the story. However, that is the way our beloved author likes to sculpt her heroines: making them earn their respect by their mending their ways. And she knows how gratified her readers must feel to see Emma enlightened and humbled. By showing a regretful and corrected Emma, Jane Austen has aligned our views with hers, helping us to appreciate our heroine as a respectable character who is not afraid to own up to her blunders.  Emma’s tears of regret have melted our hearts away.

Moreover, and most importantly I think, Austen has inconspicuously led us to see Emma from the eyes of Mr. Knightly towards the end of the story. Mr. Knightly has been Emma’s moral compass and benevolent mentor. While he can see her errors clearly, and does not hesitate to correct and admonish, he is also ready to forgive. He has chosen to love her from a distance while she is still an immature and self-deluded girl, albeit an imaginative one.

At the end, we are rewarded to see Emma gaining self-understanding:

“I seem to have been doomed to blindness.”

Hearing Knightly’s declaration of love, the undeserved euphoria is unspeakable. But of course, Mr. Knightly sees it otherwise:

“I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.”

His kindness and love for Emma compel him to still give her credit in her most self-deprecating state. In his eyes, she is ‘faultless in spite of all her faults’.

So, from Mr. Knightly’s point of view, we’ve come to appreciate a very human Emma, humbled by experience, regretful of her ways, and in the end, ever so ready to change. After all, it’s about time that a blissful match is made for herself.

******

Update:  You can read this article as well as other interesting and informative articles on Jane Austen and the Regency Period in the Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine.

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


 A Room of One’s Own is based on a series of lecture Woolf delivered at the two women’s colleges in Cambridge University on the topic of “Women and Fiction”.  It was published in 1929.

Woolf lamented the disparities women in a patriarchal society had to face throughout history.  The stream of consciousness flowed into torrents of incisive social observations and satirical commentaries.

She noted that women had long been deprived of equitable opportunities in education and employment. Men were rich, women were poor; men got to roam the country and travel the world, women had to be satisfied with the domestic.  Men were great writers, poets, playwrights, women had to concede to find fulfillment in “making puddings and knitting stockings”. Men had rooms to work, to rest, to create…women, the average, middle class women, seldom had a room of their own.

…to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound-proof room, was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble, even up to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

And sadly, Woolf had to utter this statement:

Yet genius of a sort must have existed among women as it must have existed among the working classes.

Isn’t it true, Jane spent her most prolific years writing in a very public room in Chawton House.  In the midst of family activities, at a small and spartan desk, she revised Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, wrote Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion, and began Sanditon:

Jane's writing desk in Chawton

And isn’t it true that only in movies do we see the idyllic desk against a clear window, with soft light diffusing in, gently illuminating a lady dressed in elegant regency gown, writing on expansive papers and stationary, contemplating in solitude:

Room or no room, recognized or not, something happened towards the end of the eighteenth century that, according to Virginia Woolf, deserved much more mention in history than the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses:  The middle-class woman began to write.

Woolf pointed out that not only did Jane Austen lack a room of her own, having had to write her novels in the very public sitting-room, she had to hide her manuscripts or cover them with a piece of blotting-paper, as observed by her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh in his Memoir of Jane Austen.

Ironically, there lay the genius of Austen, and the few woman writers around her time such as Bronte and George Eliot.  Woolf wrote:

…and we must accept the fact that all those good novels, Villette, Emma, Wuthering Heights, Middlemarch, were written by women without more experience of life than could enter the house of a respectable clergyman; written too in the common sitting-room of that respectable house and by women so poor that they could not afford to buy more than a few quires of paper at a time upon which to write.

Little did they know, it was in such a room that they were trained in the prerequisites of novel writing:

…all the literary training that a woman had in the early nineteenth century was training in the observation of character, in the analysis of emotion.  Her sensibility had been educated for centuries by the influences of the common sitting-room.  People’s feelings were impressed on her; personal relations were always before her eyes.  Therefore, when the middle-class woman took to writing, she naturally wrote novels…

Not only that, they wrote good novels.  With reference to Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf concluded:

Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching.  That was how Shakespeare wrote.

High praise indeed.

The Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine

I’m excited to see my three posts on PBS’s Pride and Prejudice (1995 TV, Parts 1 to 3) have been selected for publication in the March issue of  The Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine

The posts have been combined into a single article. Magazine editor Laura Boyle has given it a new name “Pride and Prejudice Revisited”.  If you go to the Magazine’s home page, it can be found under the category of Jane Austen’s Work: Jane Austen’s Books and Characters .  You can also click here to go directly to my article.

While you’re there, browse through the many interesting and informative articles on topics relating to Jane and the Regency world, including fashion, recipes, histories, Jane’s work, media reviews, biographies, hands-on crafts and projects, and a short story mystery featuring Northanger Abbey characters entitled ‘There Must Be Murder’.

The Jane Austen Centre

I visited the Jane Austen Centre in Bath last December.  It’s located a few doors from Jane’s second residence in that Georgian City at 40 Gay Street.  The Centre houses a permanent exhibition, a gift shop, tea rooms, and sponsors walking tours and an annual Jane Austen Festival.  

For pictures of my Bath visit, here are my posts Jane Austen’s Bath and Bath in December.

Pride and Prejudice (Part 3): Ideals Universally Acknowledged

I have watched this miniseries countless times, but I still wanted to see it again last Sunday night, the finale of Pride and Prejudice (1995) on PBS’s Masterpiece. I knew I was partaking in a communal experience shared by kindred spirits across North America. Every time I watch it, I glean some new insights, and I cherish the story all over again.

This time, I look into the characters convinced that Jane Austen has depicted the ideal woman and the ideal man in Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Ideal, not perfect. While they have virtues of their own, they have character flaws that if remain unchecked and unaltered, could well lead to a downfall like a tragic hero. Elizabeth, biased by her confidence in her own judgment, initially found Darcy to be utterly despicable. And Darcy, acting according to his own hubris, only fuels the very prejudice held by the one he admires. In circumstances like this, the ideal scenario is for the characters to change, to transform themselves into a better person in order to earn requited love. And that is exactly what Austen has done, and I think it is one of the main reasons why we love her story. She has put together two flawed characters and placed them in an ideal scenario wherein they strive to improve themselves, and turned into a better person for the sake of the other…Well, maybe more on the part of Darcy, and we love him for that. I like the title Pride and Prejudice more than Jane’s original First Impressions. It gives a bit more depth and sets readers out searching for the universal shortfall in us all. Often our own prejudgment and overconfidence in our myopic view confine us squarely inside the box, unable to see the world beyond.

The portrayal of such transformation is vividly and sensitively acted in the miniseries. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle effectively help us envision such an ideal scenario, satisfying our quest for the good, the wholesome, universal ideal of love hidden in us all. Kudos to Andrew Davis. I think he has written an ideal screen adaptation of Austen’s novel. Because of its loyalty to the original and still keeping the integrity of the work even when Davis presents to us imagined visions arise from his own interpretation, I believe this miniseries is the definitive version of Pride and Prejudice on screen.

Again, I have several favorite scenes. Which heart will not melt by that burning gaze of Darcy ardently holding Elizabeth as she rescues his disturbed sister in Pemberley upon the malicious mention of the name Wickham by Ms. Bingley? (BTW, this is Andrew Davis’ favorite scene in all of his Austen adaptations!) Who will not rejoice in Elizabeth’s assertive and eloquent rebuttal against the diatribe of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and her calm refusal to promise never to enter into any engagement with Darcy? Whose heart will not stir as a restrained yet passionate Darcy extends his second marriage proposal to Elizabeth?

Elizabeth has demonstrated time and again that she has the autonomy to make her own choices, yet Austen has also poignantly shown us that while Elizabeth can choose who to love, she cannot force the other to choose her, especially after her family’s reputation has been ruined by Lydia’s elopement. Darcy learns this lesson much earlier, in a most traumatic and humiliating manner, as he realizes that wealth and social standing, or even his own declaration of love cannot force another person to accept him. Here lies the paradox of love, one can choose who to love but cannot demand requited love. Choosing one’s love manifests the autonomy of self, but having to earn and wait for the other to choose you is a most humbling discipline. Maybe the ideal thing to do in such a circumstance is just to become a lovable person. That could well create the best chance of gaining love.

In the end, it is heart-warming to see both Darcy and Elizabeth, even having decided on each other, yet still quietly pines and waits for the other to declare his/her choice. A sense of uncertainty is what keeps us humble and instills in us the virtue of hope.

“It taught me to hope as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.”

Knowing our innermost yearning, Jane Austen brings her characters together in the most humbling circumstance, with their mutual admission of wrongs and weaknesses while esteeming the other higher than him/herself, fulfilling the ideal state of love.

“Do not repeat what I said then…I have long been most heartily ashamed of it.”

“As a child… I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit… and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth!”

Through such mutual respect and admiration, our beloved author delivers the ideal ending to the love story of two imperfect persons…and sets us up for another round of watching and reading.

The Ideal Ending

********

Click to go back to Pride and Prejudice Part 1 and Part 2.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, you might like to click on “Jane Austen” in the category cloud on the side bar for more Austen articles here in Arti’s Ripple Effects.

Several of Arti’s articles have also been published in the Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine.  To read more about Jane and the Regency Period, just click on the link highlighted.

********

Andrew Davies Interview

Thanks to a Jane Austen and film fan, I just received a link to an interview with Andrew Davis on CNN dot com.  Davis’ recent adaptation of Northanger Abbey (2007) will be shown as the second installment of Masterpiece Theatre’s “The Complete Jane Austen“, to be aired on PBS this Sunday, Feb. 20.

Master of screenplay adaptations of literary classics and especially Jane Austen’s works, Davis has some interesting views to share in this AP article entitled:  Sex, Class, and Exposing the Heart of Jane Austen.  Here’s the link:

 http://edition.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/TV/01/18/apontv.andrew.davies.ap/index.html

Enjoy!

To Read or Not To Read: A Personal Response

       

It looks like my last post has stirred up some ripples. I thank you all for your input to a very complex topic.  Your comments certainly make an interesting forum, where there’s the exchange of ideas and the sharing of opposing views.  That this is even possible is basically because we all read and write.  It’s not too late to thank our teachers for this.

Indeed, the issue of reading is a complicated one.  On the outset, and from your comments, we see aspects dealing with the skill, the form, and the content of reading.  While at the same time, underlying are the very values we hold towards this seemingly simple act: What is reading after all?  How should it be taught in our schools and transmitted (or not) in our homes?  And, what should the content be in order to classify the act as such?

As someone who has involved in literacy research, I have seen recent academic studies taken the perspective of re-defining reading and writing not as a skill but a social practice. Our values sustain the act, or transform it. As we see the ubiquitous usage of the internet and digital communication, we are witnessing the power of technology changing our social values, lifestyle, interests, and how we spend our time.

The NEA surely had the effects of our technological age in mind, thus, an update on the reading habits of Americans.  The last one they did was in 2004.  As with any survey, the NEA Study has its limitations and confined by its own perspective and contextual stance.  And, within the parameters of the present study, they did not go into details the causes, but they did present the correlations of variables.  The results can be considered as reflections of our contemporary society.  The correlations of factors and the implications of the findings are significant enough for us to ponder.  Again, you can download the 98-page report in pdf format here (3.32 MB).

I welcome the progress we have made in digital and internet technology, bringing the world closer at the twitch of our finger, feeding us with instant knowledge and information. I congratulate those who attempt to bring the world of print to their readers by more convenient modes of delivery, such as transmitting reading materials in digital mode, and others who attempt to attract young readers through the creation of new kinds of books, such as graphic novels and manga’s. 

And yet…I lament the erosion of a part of our culture and civilization, the form of reading and writing as we still know it.  I’m concerned about the gradual obliteration of the “classics”, or the dying of the literary form. I lament to see the decline of appreciation and comprehension of literature, for I believe the humanity and universality in many of these works still speak in our world today.  I believe there’s an urgent need to create even more literary works in the face of technological domination.  There may not be a golden age of reading, but there has been a heritage of writing.

I worry about our next generation replacing the art and pleasure of book reading with offerings from other media. I’m also concerned about the English language disintegrating into cyber lingos, or replaced by sensational, action-packed anime. It is a phenomenon graver than just seeing the puzzled faces of our young as they look at an analog clock or try to use a dial phone. 

The progress we have made in technology does not mean that we should downplay the loss of a heritage.  That we can artificially make ice should not trivialize the disappearance of glaciers. The ushering in of electronic music should not obliterate the works of Mozart.  The two can co-exist…isn’t that the postmodern promise? 

No doubt, reading and writing will survive, since we still need to look up information, make lists, chat on-line…and blog.  But I regret to see the erosion of literary reading and the appreciation of literature, classic or contemporary, and may it not come to pass, the termination of its creation in the future, near or distant.

As another year draws to a close,  we may need to take stock of both our progress and our loss.  I’m not a doomsayer, but surveys like the NEA’s point to what seems like an irreversible trend.  While some may not see it as a gloomy path but just a shift of social practices and lifestyle, the survey results reflect our priorities and the shifting values in this day and age. 

Or, is it really irreversible? 

Maybe all is not lost.  At the start of a new year, I’d like to remain optimistic.  Maybe it begins with…yes, a New Year’s resolution on reading… 

A Happy New Year to All!

To Read or Not To Read

To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence…That is the name of the recent study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts on reading habits in America.  Just as I was writing about the study in the UK on re-reading in my post Reading and Re-reading, regretting no such kind of surveys being done in North America, and here it is, the NEA’s reading survey results, incidentally, released the same day I published my post. 

Well, maybe I should not be so much of lamenting the lack of reading surveys than the actual survey results.  In a nutshell, the major findings are:

  • Americans are reading less, especially the young.  For example, the percent of non-readers among 17 year-olds doubled to almost 20% in the last two decades.  Or, on the average, 15 – 24 year-olds spend 7 minutes reading on a weekday, 25 – 34 year-olds are slightly better, 9 minutes.
  • Reading comprehension is on the decline, as indicated by reading scores.
  • The decline in reading has civic, social, and economic implications.

The whole 98-page report can be downloaded in pdf format here.  It is not Stephen King material, but just the same…interesting reading with an ominous undertone.  It covers various topics including correlations between pleasure reading and academic scores, reading habits, reading and multitasking, employment, internet and digital technology, the relevance of newspaper, and yes, even blogging.

I understand that the issue is complicated and the causes are complex.  Critics are quick to point out that the form and purpose of reading have changed in this internet driven age.  People still read to look up information they need, critics argue.

Maybe the concern should be the gradual extinction of literary reading, the reading of literature for pleasure, and the whole business of reading and writing.  When the figure shows that 63% of college seniors read little or nothing for pleasure, even the pragmatists should be worried when they consider the bottom line.