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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Before Midnight (2013): Reality Check

Spoiler Alert: It’s impossible to discuss this film meaningfully without giving out the storyline, same with the two prequels.

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We are gleaners of memories. An interesting parallel applies to the two characters Celine and Jesse as well as ourselves as audience. But if you haven’t seen Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, it would enhance your viewing pleasure to watch them first.

Flashback: Before Sunrise (1995)

Before SunriseTwo young people, Parisian Celine (Julie Delpy) and American Jesse (Ethan Hawkes) meet on a train passing through Europe. They strike up a conversation and become so in-tuned with each other that when the train arrives Jesse’s stop in Vienna, he convinces Celine to get off with him even though her destination is Paris. There for just one night until sunrise, they walk around the city and talk about life, death, love, religion, relationships, and being transients… for they know this may well be their only encounter with each other in both of their lives. The next morning Jesse has to fly back to the U.S. As they part, they promise to meet again in six month at the same hour, on the same train platform. Throughout the film, we feel fate, or whatever you call it, has a strong presence in their short few hours together. We feel their sincerity in capturing those precious  moments, as we hear Celine’s words ring true:

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world… it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something.”

Flashback: Before Sunset (2004)

Before SunsetNine years after that chance meeting, Jesse is in Paris on the last leg of a book tour. He has written a book based on that memorable encounter nine years ago. At the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Celine shows up. They now meet for a second time, again for a short few hours before Jesse has to leave on a plane to fly back to the U.S. Their conversation reveals that, alas, their well intended reunion six months after their first chance meeting has turned into a star-crossed, missed opportunity. After that, fate has led them down separate paths. Jesse is now married and has a son. Celine, still on her own, yearns for that first romance to develop but now seems even more elusive.

To the present: Before Midnight (2013)

Before Midnight

So we have been following Jesse and Celine like a longitudinal study, albeit meeting them just twice within this eighteen year period. In the first two films, director Richard Linklater has us follow Jesse and Celine in real time through long takes, walking along with them in Vienna and Paris, listening in on their conversations and see them pour their hearts out, just to be heard, to be known. Those were romantic moments. This time is summer in Greece; this time is reality check.

We see Jesse and Celine now married. What happens in between those nine years is that Jesse has divorced his wife in Chicago, come over to Paris, married Celine and together they have two lovely twin daughters. But things aren’t so idyllic, for Jesse is troubled by not being around for his now young teenaged son Hank from his previous marriage and whom he can only see in the summer. The film begins with Jesse seeing his son off at the airport.

For the next 15 minutes and in one stationary take through the front windshield of the car, we see a happy couple Jesse and Celine driving from the airport to a Greek country house, with their twin daughters sleeping in the backseat. We hear them talk, yes, they love to talk to each other, just as we’ve seen in the past.

In the setting of an idyllic seaside residence, Jesse and Celine join a small gathering of writers. we see them prepare and eat healthy Greek salads and discuss equally idyllic topics such as writing, love, knowing each other, virtual reality (yes, for the contemporary effect), and being transients in life. Again, that first train encounter comes to mind. In conclusion they drink to ‘passing through’.

The next act is reminiscence of previous Before films… Jesse and Celine walk to a hotel paid for by their writer friends, who have also taken up the duty of babysitting their twins so the two of them can fully enjoy each other for the night. For twenty minutes the camera follows them in real time strolling through some scenic rural town toward their country hotel, exchanging thoughts like before. But no, not totally like before, for now they are eighteen years older, 41, and each with emotional undercurrents running deep.

Five minutes in the hotel room, discordant riptides begin to surface. Talk turns into quarrel. Why, this is just too real. In the past, we see them only in romantic mode. Now as they expose their underlying thoughts and suspicions, tempers flare, words turn callous. We would silently say ‘ouch!’ occasionally.

The beginning scene of the first film, Before Sunrise, has become a stark foreshadowing… sitting near Jesse and Celine on that train, two middle-aged couple argue fiercely in German. Seeing their temper flare but not understanding what they were arguing about, Jesse and Celine ponder on the question of how two people can grow old together in harmony.

Now here in what is supposed to be an ideal get-away, for twenty minutes we are the invisible witnesses of a marital conflict, and we would want to stay in there to see what happens next, not because of the schadenfreude effect, but because this is just too real.

Romance is holiday, marriage is work.

Hawke and Delpy own these scenes depicting realistically what marriage could entail. Other films readily come to mind… Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage (1973) and Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives (1992). Before Midnight is a contemporary version, with a highly watchable backdrop and natural performance. Unlike Bergman and Allen, Linklater is commendable in crafting a more positive ending. It’s refreshing to see a glimmer of hope at the end of nasty quarrels.

In the final act, Jesse attempts to woo his wife back. How he does it is most endearing. Every moment in the present is an opportunity to create a fond memory to look back to in the future. This complicated package called love is a piece of work. Director Linklater and his two stars, who co-wrote the screenplay with him, might well have passed to us the secret of marital success… Before too late, glean fond memories from the past to sustain the relationship at present; before too late, create more loving memories to carry it into the future.

One line from Celine in Before Sunset is most apt here: “Memory is a wonderful thing if we don’t have to deal with the past.” Jesse might have known this too well, not to leave the present a mess for future to deal with, but leave it as a pleasant memory to cherish in the days ahead.

With a trilogy of films beginning with the word ‘Before’ in the title, we should know that time is of the essence. Time to make the present a memorable past for the future, before too late.

That line still lingers as the film ends… ‘To passing through.’

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples for all three films

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A Thought for Valentine’s

Beginning this year, I started subscribing to a daily piece of meditation from The Henri Nouwen Society. Here’s the one for Saturday, January 19. As Valentine’s Day draws near, I feel this is most apt:

Creating Space to Dance Together

When we feel lonely we keep looking for a person or persons who can take our loneliness away. Our lonely hearts cry out, “Please hold me, touch me, speak to me, pay attention to me.” But soon we discover that the person we expect to take our loneliness away cannot give us what we ask for. Often that person feels oppressed by our demands and runs away, leaving us in despair. As long as we approach another person from our loneliness, no mature human relationship can develop. Clinging to one another in loneliness is suffocating and eventually becomes destructive. For love to be possible we need the courage to create space between us and to trust that this space allows us to dance together.

                                                                                   — Henri Nouwen

Solitary 1

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Photo: Bow Valley Ranch, Fish Creek Provincial Park, Alberta. Taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, November, 2012.

Upcoming Post:

Feb. 15, Bonhoeffer Read-along Part 1, Ch. 1-18 (Or any part of it)

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The Girl In the Cafe (2005): The Hunger for Connection

February is the month that raves about love. It’s also Awards Season, culminating with the Oscars. With all the competing productions on the big screen, are you getting a bit overwhelmed by now? Or maybe a little indigestion even?

Here’s a little gem of a film, like lemon sorbet, simple and fresh, just to clear the palette. It’s only recently that I come across this DVD dated a few years back. O what a find! I took it out from the public library, have watched it three times, and maybe more before I ultimately return it.

Directed by David Yates (State of Play, TV) and written by the screenwriter who has brought us Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually… Richard Curtis, The Girl in the Cafe is a reason why we should not dismiss TV movies or those that go directly from production to DVD.

The Girl in the Cafe

The story begins with a chance encounter. Lawrence (Bill Nighy, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) is an aging civil servant, a senior-level analyst working for the British Chancellor (Ken Stott). During one coffee break Lawrence, single, well no, married to his job, shares a table with a girl Gina (Kelly Macdonald, Dolly in Anna Karenina) in a crowded cafe. Thus sparks a genuine connection between the two. On a whim, Lawrence asks Gina to accompany him to attend the G8 Summit in Reykjavík, Iceland, the following week.

What’s that? Gina asks. Right, a most incompatible relationship. But just because of that, the drama, and conflict, sparks off. Lawrence’s shy demeanour fits perfectly with Gina’s quiet composure. But for both actors, their restrained and understated performance form the very essence of this charming and thought-provoking film.

Once there in Reykjavík, Gina is appalled by the facts she learns about world poverty from Lawrence, like, one child dying in every three seconds. She takes a very personal stance on the success of the Millenium Development Goals to fight extreme poverty. While heavy police force keeps protesters out of the Conference venue, Gina becomes one small voice that speaks out from inside, genuine and innocent among seasoned politicians, albeit bringing Lawrence unexpected ambivalence. Some may find it uncomfortable to watch this scenario, but I feel it is one that deserves to be played out, and definitely to be heard.

What grabs me right away as the movie begins is the soul stirring song ‘Cold Water’ as the images of Lawrence going by his daily routine all alone. At coffee break, he steps into the crowded cafe, and finds another soul also alone. It’s gratifying and a pleasure to watch them connect and warm up to each other in a most genuine and tender manner.

As the film ends, ‘Cold Water’ reprises, but by now I see the parallel. Not only do Lawrence and Gina reach out for human connectedness and love, the millions of dying children in extreme poverty are also uttering these words of the lyrics:

“Cold water surrounds me now.
And all I’ve got is your hand.
Lord can you hear me now?
Lord can you hear me now?
Lord can you hear me now?
Or am I lost?”

Don’t we all need a helping hand for the different kinds of hunger we experience as human? The song and the music in the film augment its impact in a quiet and haunting way.

Bill Nighy owns the role of Lawrence. His self-deprecating and gentle manner fits in perfectly with Kelly Macdonald’s authentic and genuine Gina. The two have such connectedness in their performance that they earned Golden Globes nomination for Best Actor and Actress the following year.

The DVD came with special features which include director and screenwriter’s commentary. That is definitely a bonus after viewing the film. From there I found out Nighy and Macdonald were in the British TV series State of Play before doing The Girl in the Cafe. So that’s exactly what I did… went to the library to borrow the DVD’s of the TV series, and binged-watched all six episodes, which I highly recommend as well.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Watch on YouTube Damien Rice’s ‘Cold Water’ with lyrics.

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Read my other reviews on films about love:

I’ve Loved You So Long

Away From Her

Never Let Me Go 

The End of the Affair: Book and Movie

It’s a bit ironic to post this on Valentine’s Day. It’s a story of an extramarital affair, and it doesn’t end well. But then again, maybe this is the best time to talk about it.

This is my second instalment to meet the Graham Greene Challenge hosted by Carrie of Books and Movies. Spoiler Alert here. But since it’s a classic, I’m sure many of you have read it or seen the movie.

The End of the Affair

The book opens with a meeting between novelist Maurice Bendrix and civil servant Henry Miles on a cold, rainy night in 1946 London. Miles’ wife Sarah had ended an affair with Bendrix 18 months earlier. Bendrix has not seen them since. In this chance meeting on the street, Bendrix observes that Miles is heavy-laden, suspecting Sarah has ‘secrets’. Volunteering to hire a detective to tail the wife for the husband, Bendrix is in fact acting out of jealousy, for he too wants to find out who Sarah is seeing now. “Anyone who loves is jealous.”

Again, in just 160 pages, Greene has intricately explored the depth and complexity of the human psyche, love and hate, trust and insecurity, faith and lameness. Yes, the lameness in Bendrix’s leg can well be a metaphor for his numbness of unbelief. Isn’t there such an argument: “If God does not exist, everything is permitted?”

Love with all its smothering, blinding passion, its persistent, burning desire, its all-consuming emotions that distill into pure jealousy and hate… Graham Greene is a master of such incisive descriptions. But here’s the rub, they’re all found in an adulterous affair.

Isn’t that a pity that such intensity of love is often depicted outside of a marriage. Why, we see them all the time in literature and movies. And, don’t we tend to cheer for the romantic heroes and heroines? Guinevere and Lancelot, for example, to whom Bendrix in the book alludes when he talks to the detective Parkis, who has named his son Lance. Readily come to mind are some others: Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and in the epic cinematic versions like The English Patient, in a more restrained way Out of Africa, and the near success in The Bridges of Madison County…  didn’t you wish Meryl Streep would have gone with Clint Eastwood? I’m just thinking, if Ralph Fiennes were the one beckoning her, she’d probably had jumped out of her husband’s truck.

O the fantasy of romance vs. the mundane reality of a marriage. The forbidden fruit seems sweeter, for it arouses excitement, it entices with adventure. Bendrix accuses the oblivious and dull husband Henry Miles as an accomplice in Sarah’s affairs, calling him ‘an eternal pimp’:

“You pimped with your ignorance. You pimped by never learning how to make love with her, so she had to look elsewhere. You pimped by giving opportunities… You pimped by being a bore and a fool…”

There might be some truths in his rants. But then again, are these reasons enough to drive one to discard the marriage vow and seek other allurements? Alas, it seems like boredom is the major impediment to fulfilling that commitment… “If I could love a leper’s sores, couldn’t I love the boringness of Henry?” Sarah tries to reason with herself.

But of course, here, the key is the End of the affair between Bendrix and Sarah. What causes the end is none other than God Himself according to Sarah. A bomb drops near Bendrix’s home while they are both there, striking him dead. Sarah, in her horror and desperation, prays to a God she doesn’t believe to exist, but pleads for the life of her lover just the same. She makes the promise that if God gives Bendrix back his life, she would stop seeing him. As she’s still kneeling by her bed praying, Bendrix walks into the room, injured but very much alive. Thus begins the agony of keeping a promise to a God whose existence now has become an inconvenient truth.

We learn at the end, Sarah has attempted to shift her love from Bendrix to God, albeit with much searing pain. She has gone to a priest and converted to Catholicism. In the crucifix she knows that God Himself is a suffering God too. If only she can see the scale of the pain in the nail-pierced hands in a greater cosmic proportion compared to her own…

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The marvellous cinematography, the diffused lighting of many scenes, all work to cast a romantic veil over an adulterous affair. Two Oscar noms in 2000 included one in cinematography and one for Julianne Moore as Sarah Miles. Ralph Fiennes plays Bendrix, a suitable choice. He is in his element. Since The English Patient (1996), Fiennes seems to have mastered the persona of the romantic tragic hero and obsessed lover.

While the screenwriter is understandably free to invent more scenes for the visual storytelling and change some plot points, one alteration I feel  is definitely unacceptable and that’s the character Richard Smythe. In the book, Smythe is an atheist whom Sarah visits several times to discuss views about atheism. Ironically it is Smythe’s atheistic stance that drives Sarah into believing God. She then confides in Father Crompton her wish to convert to Catholicism. But in the film, Smythe is the priest, and what more, he is implied to be another of Sarah’s lovers. I think here is where integrity to the source material should have given priority over dramatic effects.

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And what does Colin Firth have to do with The End of the Affair? Well, for all you Colin fans, he is among some A-list stars to have signed with the UK audiobook provider Audible to record their reading of their favorite classic novel.

Audible’s founder, Donald Katz, told the Observer: “Colin Firth could read me the back of a Marmite jar and I would listen.” Well, Colin has chosen, not Marmite or Cornflakes, but for more flavour, Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. CLICK HERE to read the announcement and see what other stars are reading for Audible’s recordings.

Now we have another portal to appreciate Colin, and, another channel to enjoy a Graham Greene book.

Update May 7, 2012: The Audiobook The End of the Affair narrated by Colin Firth is released today.

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The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Hemingway’s voice has been heard the world over. His persona and perspective reflected from his prolific writings. Now fifty years after his death, Paula McLain has gleaned through facts and whatever that’s true to create the novel The Paris Wife, revealing the point of view of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife.

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Hadley’s voice speaks from the shadow. It reflects the thoughts of one who had seen it all from the beginning. Within seven short years, she had witnessed the transformation of a disgruntled journalist into a promising, full-fledged novelist. And she was the one who, after only three months of marriage, sailed with Hemingway to Paris and began her fateful role of the ever supportive and loving companion. How we need to listen to her side of the story.

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There are those who have read The Paris Wife and then want to read more of Hemingway’s works.  For me, after reading the book, I want to read more of Paula McLain’s.  It’s interesting that her MFA is in poetry, and that she has published two volumes of poetry collections before this novel. I wonder if it takes a poet to write prose like this, highly sensitive and nuanced, while surprisingly void of ornaments. I find the no-frills narrative style of McLain’s a bit like Hemingway’s, spare and direct, like his memoir A Moveable Feast. Consider something like this as Hadley recounted her earlier life:

And everything was very good and fine until it wasn’t.

What wasn’t fine is an understatement. It’s ironic that what happened to both Hadley and Ernest was quite similar. A domineering mother and a depressed father whose fate led to suicide by a self-inflicted gun shot wound. We know now that Hemingway himself could not escape such a fateful end himself.

But from the start, it was love at first sight for Hadley and Ernest as they met in a house party in Chicago, after Ernest returned home from the war. He was 21, she 29. A year after they met, on September 3, 1921, they were married.

Hadley’s voice captured me right away from the very beginning. I like her down-to-earth persona, her self-deprecating anecdotes as a simple American gal in Paris among the ‘lost generation’. I like it that she played Rachmaninoff and Chopin and not jazz-savvy. I like her ignorance in fashion and avoidance of the dazzling Parisian glitz and glamour:

 If the women in Paris were peacocks, I was a garden-variety hen.

It’s interesting too reading how other writers advise Ernest. They point to the bare essentials, as Hadley recalls Gertrude Stein saying:

Three sentences about the color of the sky. The sky is the sky and that’s all. Strong declarative sentences, that’s what you do best. Stick to that.”

As Stein spoke Ernest’s face fell for a moment, but then he recovered himself. She’d hit on something he’d recently begun to realize about directness, about stripping language all the way down. “… leave only what’s truly needed.” She’d said.

Or this from Ezra Pound:

Cut everything superfluous… Go in fear of abstractions. Don’t tell readers what to think. Let the action speak for itself.

Hadley was with him all the way. When she was later pregnant, Hadley felt the need to go for better birthing care in Canada to deliver her child. I was amazed to read about such a currently hot issue in their time. They sailed to Canada in September, 1923. One month later, Bumby was born.

They lived on the fourth floor of an apartment on Bathurst Street. And since I’m in Toronto now as I write this review, I’m able to go over there and take these photos for my readers. Currently, the building at 1597-1599 Bathurst Street is a comfortable and elegant looking five-storey apartment aptly named The Hemingway.

A plaque is placed at the entrance to mark this historic site:

It reads:

Ernest Hemingway

American-born Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), internationally renowned author, lived in this apartment building 1597-1599 Bathurst Street, in 1923-24, while working as a journalist for the Toronto Star, where he became friends with novelist Morley Callaghan and writer/broadcaster Gordon Sinclair. He returned to Paris, France, where he began his career as a novelist, producing such masterpiece as “The Sun Also Rises”, “A Farewell To Arms”, & “For Whom The Bell Tolls”

Toronto Historical Board
1985

Ernest had worked for the Toronto Star before, and had developed an amicable working relationship with his boss John Bone. But this time he encountered tumultuous problems with his new boss, causing him to shorten his stay. This is what I found a block away from The Hemingway apartment:

Four months after their son Bumby was born, in January, 1924, the Hemingways sailed back to Paris. Upon seeing Gertrude, Ernest said:

I know we meant to be gone a year, but four months is a year in Canada.

I just can’t help but smile upon reading this. Interpret whatever way you will.

Once back in Paris, Ernest discarded his journalist hat and went all out to pursue his dream of a published writer, encouraged by his mentor Gertrude Stein. He began to be noticed and gain publishing success. And with success came fame, and fame, a different circle of friends, richer, more glamorous and drunk. Within their group of acquaintance, people were falling for each other’s spouses, messy and totally lost.

Hadley began to fall out of it all. One time at a tense exchange among the group, she was so fed up that she had to excuse herself and left early with Don Stewart, their writer friend. And here’s the sentence that leaves such an impression on me:

“Before we’d even gotten to the door, the gap had closed around the table and you couldn’t even tell I’d been there.”

The American journalist for Vogue magazine Pauline Pfeiffer soon became Ernest’s new preoccupation. She had not only won his heart, but Hadley’s trust and friendship. But the balance was bound to tip. Hadley’s innocence was soon shattered by betrayal from both her friend and her husband; her naivety ebbed away as she watched helplessly the painful disintegration of her marriage and small family.

I’d chosen my role as supporter for Ernest, but lately the world had tipped, and my choices had vanished. When Ernest looked around lately, he saw a different kind of life and liked what he saw. The rich had better days and freer nights. They brought the sun with them and made the tides move. Pauline was a new model of woman and why couldn’t he have her…

When I think back on Hemingway’s memoir of those Paris years, A Moveable Feast, in which he writes about his early love with Hadley, I can’t help but feel for both of them. How can we command our own feelings, passion, love? The bull fighting scenes in Pamplona which mesmerized Ernest so had become such an apt metaphor… the bulls charging madly through the narrow streets towards the ring, aroused by a mere spot of red, driven by brute instincts and raw impulses, yet all come to the same gory end in the ring.

In the book, McLain has their writer friend Don Stewart declared:

I can take the bulls and the blood. It’s this human business that turns my stomach.

You might ask: “But is this all true?” After all, this is only a novel. From his notes on A Moveable Feast, Hemingway stated that all was fiction. Conversely, in McLain’s The Paris Wife, she has this quote from Hemingway:

 There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.

Looks like it’s for us readers to pick and choose.

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~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, published by Bond Street Books, Random House, 2011, 314 pages.

You might like to read my review of:

A Moveable Feast (Restored Edition) by Ernest Hemingway.

Midnight In Paris, a film by Woody Allen.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

slumdogposter

Updates:

Feb. 22:  Slumdog Millionaire just won 8 Academy Awards. CLICK HERE for the Oscar Results 2009.

Feb. 8:  Slumdog Millionaire has just won 7 BAFTA Awards including Best Picture and Best Director tonight in London, England.

Jan. 25:  Slumdog Millionaire has just won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Jan. 22:  Slumdog Millionaire just nominated for 10 Oscars including Best Picture. Click here to go to my Oscar Nominations Post.

Jan. 12:  Slumdog Millionaire just won 4 Golden Globes for Best Original Score, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Motion Picture – Drama.

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A. O. Scott in his 2008 year-end article and podcast on the New York Times website gives credits to movies that explore the element of hope. How fitting it is to start the new year by watching ‘hopeful movies’. In this turbulent time of ours, ‘Hope’ might just be the word of the year for us all.

Slumdog Millionaire not only explores the idea of hope, it builds its whole momentum on this element, and its fuel is none other than ‘love’.  The movie is a modern day fairy tale, an exciting concoction bubbling with fantastic visuals and sounds, a post-modern alchemy of culture, language, and place. But what unifies is the aspiration of requited love and shattered souls redeemed.

Directed by Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, 2002, Trainspotting, 1996) and based on Vikas Swarup’s award winning novel Q & A, which has been translated into 36 languages, the film has garnered high acclaims in film festivals. Just four months into its limited release, Slumdog Millionaire has already won 20 awards, and is nominated for 4 Golden Globes including Best Picture, and 2  SAG Awards, and is a possible contender for the Oscars.

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) grows up in the slums of Mumbai, India. He and his brother Salim watch their mother killed by mobs. The two boys have to fend for themselves living on the streets. They survive the deplorable conditions with tact, style and grace, until Salim falls for the gang. Jamal has a childhood sweetheart Latika (Freida Pinto). In a heart wrenching episode, she gets separated from the brothers. Her fate seems to be sealed as a young girl on the street.

Years pass but Jamal’s heart still yearns for Latika. One thing that unites all Indians seems to be the popular quiz show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”. With his heart firmly fixed on reaching out to his long lost love  somewhere out there in the mass populace of India, Jamal gets on the show, hoping Latika would see him. Latika at this time is in the firm grip of a gang lord, her hope of freedom is dismal.

slumdog-millionaire-2

Yet, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, 2008 ) and director Danny Boyle gratify their viewers with some unexpected twists and turns, allowing us to savour an exhilarating end to the story. With their seamless, non-linear way of storytelling, framed by an upbeat musical score, they have turned what could be just another love story into a fresh and engrossing tale.

While the film features all Indian actors and some Bollywood stars, shot in Mumbai, many dialogues in Hindi with English subtitles, I don’t feel the cultural elements particularly stand out, drawing attention to themselves. Herein lies the success of the film. It has not led me to feel like I am watching something ‘foreign’ or ‘ethnic’, like some National Geographic features. The sense of place and subject matter, plus the amiable cast have all worked together effectively to transmit a universal appeal. The only Bollywood moment is when the end credits roll. Do stay for that.

Slumdog Millionaire evokes reminiscence of similar successful though lesser known titles like ‘Chop Shop’ (2007) and ‘Born into Brothels’ (2004), but on a grander scale, with an explicit message of hope and an unabashed resolution of requited love.

How satisfying! You’ll come out rejuvenated. The skeptic in you might say it’s only a movie, a fantasy too…  Mind you, not all fantasies end well. With some, the darkness can loom for days. Be good to yourself, start the year on a cheery note. Watch a ‘hopeful movie’. Love and Hope can sustain and triumph. As simple as that.

~ ~ ~½ Ripples


*****


Motherhood and Music

This just happened over the weekend…

It was your typical wedding banquet. The elegant ballroom, the thirty some round tables tastefully decorated, the introduction of the wedding party, the welcoming of out-of-town guests, the buffet, the clinking of glasses…

All the usual stuff at your usual wedding celebration…until…the mother of the groom played Tchaikovsky at the piano.

As a promising, award-winning pianist in the then North Vietnam years back, her talent and future were stifled under the harsh political climate. Thanks to the sponsorship of a Canadian church, the family immigrated to Canada, starting a new life in freedom.

Not long after that, a tragic work-related accident claimed the life of the father. The mother continued to run the family business and raised her young children all by herself, instilling in them the love of music, while laying aside her own musical career…

Until, as a most moving gift of love, she practiced again for her son. On his wedding day, as the lights dimmed, she walked over to the grand piano in the banquet hall, and played with such depth of expression and poignancy, two selections from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, May: White Night, and June: Barcarolle. The 300 guests were silent, mesmerized, deeply moved…then the standing ovation.

The love of a mother, the power of music … what a wonderful way to bring up a child, what a remarkable beginning of a marriage.

***

Enchanted (2007, DVD)

I consider myself a rational person.  As an armchair critic, you have to, right?  Analytical, critical, not easily moved… But when it comes to humor, I just can’t resist.  I have to admit, I tried to control myself from laughing out loud many times, and not embarrass myself among all the preschool kids and their parents in that matinee show, even though it was dark there in the theatre.

Note to myself:  get the DVD when it’s out.  And so I did.

Why am I enchanted?  First of all the movie.  It’s loaded with smart dialogues, humorous parodies, seamless fusion of animation and real characters, and an old-fashioned and yet still wise message for today.  And the cast,  sure looks like they are having the time of their life making the movie. And the Oscar nominated songs by Menken and Schwartz, with the huge conglomeration of dancers, a delightful revival of the old musicals of the heydays.

Enchanted is a classic fairy tale: An evil queen, afraid of being dethroned, tries in all her power to prevent her stepson from marrying his true love by banishing her to the real world of modern day New York City, where there are no “happily ever afters”, a punishment indeed.  While there, the fairytale maiden meets her real life prince…and so on and so forth…But, what’s not typical is that it’s being handled intelligently, thanks to an excellent script, and the talented technical support it receives.

Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey,  James Marsden, and Timothy Spall all deliver lively and very gratifying performances. Also, Susan Sarandon as the wicked Queen Narissa…I say, she’s in character.  And the then 8-year-old Rachel Covey, the cutest child star I’ve seen in movies these years. This is only her second movie, but she’s a natural, that is, she doesn’t need to act. She can just stand there and be adored.

The DVD is packed full of fun and information. We have a Carrie Underwood music video “Ever Ever After”, an additional animated story, bloopers, and director Kevin Lima commenting on the deleted scenes. I’m most fascinated by the behind the scene look at how the songs and the musical scenes are produced.  It’s fascinating to watch how choreographers have to coordinate hundreds of performers involving gymnastic troops, stilt walkers, eclectic groups of dancers and multicultural musicians in the “That’s How You Know” scene in Central Park.  I’m most impressed to find a few of them are veteran dancers who had appeared in the classic movie West Side Story (1961) and one was a chimney sweeper in Mary Poppins (1964)!  I’m thinking…Can I even get out of my bed when I’m at their age?

Great family entertainment for the Easter break coming up.  In a world of dysfunctional relationships, no wonder I am enchanted by a movie painting couples reconciled, yes right in the divorce lawyer office, and lovers united after swashbuckling adventures in the hustle and bustle of New York City. 

Just don’t remind me it’s only a fairy tale.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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

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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.

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Becoming Jane (2007)

I’ve delayed watching this movie till now.  I wanted to avoid all that hype about Jane Austen.  Even as a JA fan, I’ve hesitated jumping on the Austen bandwagon of what I suspect to be mere commercialism.  Well, after a few months waiting for the dust to settle, I went into a second-run movie theatre this crisp October day with very little expectation, and was pleasantly surprised…I thoroughly enjoyed the movie!

Becoming Jane

As I mentioned in my reply to a visitor who had left a comment on my WWAW post, like many of life’s simple pleasures, a movie does not have to be ‘deep’ to be enjoyable.  However, simplicity does not mean superficiality.  Becoming Jane is heart-felt story-telling.  It has many witty renderings especially carved out for Austen readers, like the mirror images reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice.  The first part of the movie moves along breezily with its humour; but it is the sombreness in the latter part that makes the story so poignant.

Based on the recorded short-lived courtship between Austen and a young lawyer named Tom Lefroy, the backdrop of the movie has its historical accuracy:  the Austen family, Jane’s close relationship with her sister Cassandra, the inequitable social environment wherein Jane as a female, had to write anonymously, and the torment that one had to face having to choose between marrying to survive and marrying for love, and suffer the social disgrace and financial ruins resulting from it.

Other than the basic background, the movie never intends to be a serious, historically grounded account.  It is pure fiction, and as one of the contemporaries of Jane Austen the Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe says in the movie,  it is the imagination, and not real-life experience, that gives rise to story-telling.  From this spirit evolves the beautiful story of Becoming Jane, purely imaginary, idealistic, noble, and yet painfully poignant.  The movie leads us ever so subtly to realize the bitter taste of love over the sweetness of romance.

The simple script will not work if not for the great acting, or understated acting rather, of all its cast members.  Anne Hathaway has once again robbed the Brits of a coveted role, yes, an American playing one of the best-loved British authors (The other one I’m thinking of is Renée Zellweger playing Bridget Jones). James McAvoy is comparable in his charm as Tom Lefroy.  The supporting roles are all played by excellent veterans like Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Ian Richardson, and James Cromwell.  Anna Maxwell Martin as Cassandra provides immeasurable support to Hathaway.  I was deeply affected by her lead role as Esther Summerson in the BBC production of Bleak House (2005).  Here once again she has demonstrated that her acting is superb.

I have enjoyed the cinematography, the costume, the music, and yes, even the disheartened twist at the end.  I came out of the movie theatre contented.   So what if the story is pure speculation.  Sometimes it takes the imaginary to lead us to look more directly at love, life, and the choices we make.   Maybe that’s why we are always drawn to stories, fiction … and movies.

~~~3 Ripples