Totally brilliant and original, what a voice, a narrative and an insight into a woman's desire for fulfilment.
If you have read or were considering reaTotally brilliant and original, what a voice, a narrative and an insight into a woman's desire for fulfilment.
If you have read or were considering reading Marlon James Booker winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, then this is the Yin to his Yang, this is the feminine yearn to his masculine desire.
Zora Neale Hurston tells the story of Janie, a girl raised by her Nanny, who was an ex-slave and therefore wanting to protect her daughter and grand-daughter from the things she feared, which amounted to marriage to a man with land or money or to live in the wings of a good, white family. Unable to protect her daughter, who was raped by her schoolteacher, her focus moves to Janie, whom the daughter leaves her with. And as soon as adolescence beckons she arranges for her to marry an older farmer with land. Janie dreams of love and fulfilment and doesn't find it in marriage and is reprimanded by her grandmother for her romantic notions.
She moves on and marries Joe Sparks who takes her to a new town in Florida, a town built by black people for black people. It isn't as Joe expects, so he sets about continuing its creation, getting himself elected as mayor and becoming a wealthy man. His wife Janie becomes a showpiece, working in the shop, but he curtails her interactions with the community, thwarting her ability to be herself, even making her cover her hair due to his jealousy.
Finally, her quest will become fulfilled, though not without its share of lifes ordinary and extraordinary sufferings, when she meets Tea Cake and they manage to ride lifes rollercoaster of events and emotions, working together to deal with the demons and living their dream.
Zora Neale Hurston's depiction of Janie's life provides a wonderful insight into the character and consciousness of a woman of her era, drawing from her own experience, though the character of Janie has a different personality to Hurston, providing a look not so much into the experiences, but of the yearnings and emotional life of women, their quest for fulfilment and self-discovery and though it's not without obstacles, allows a little light to shine on those moments where her life does reach that bitter-sweet destination, leaving wisdom in its wake....more
Rachel Cooke in this Guardian article The subtle art of translation reflects on the importance of the right translation and relates her memory of readRachel Cooke in this Guardian article The subtle art of translation reflects on the importance of the right translation and relates her memory of reading Bonjour Tristesse.
a novel I have loved ever since I first read it as a teenager, and whose dreamy opening line in its original translation from the French by Irene Ash – “A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sadness” – I know by heart.
She decides to splash out and buy a new copy to read and chooses the Penguin Modern Classics version translated by Heather Lloyd.
Some days later, in bed, I began reading it. The shock was tremendous, disorienting. “This strange new feeling of mine, obsessing me by its sweet languor, is such that I am reluctant to dignify it with the fine, solemn name of ‘sadness’,” went the first sentence, which sounded to my ears a little as though a robot had written it.
For a while she continued to read it, telling herself it was stupid to cling to one version, as if it were a sacred thing, however she gave up, it may have been an accurate translation but it lacked the magic of that fist reading experience. She ends by saying that if you tried this story and hated it, to please have another go and entrust yourself to Irene Ash's gorgeous 1955 translation.
Having read that I had no hesitation in going straight for the Irene Ash translation and was transfixed from the very first pages, totally put under the spell of this charming little novella.
Cecile is looking back and recalling the summer she was seventeen, when she and her father spent 2 months on the French Riveria near St Raphael, having a blissful holiday. He is a widower who doesn't lack for female company and she has just finished school and lives a life of privilege and indulgence, her father imposing few if any limits on her, they are in a sense like children both of them in adult bodies.
Cecile is surprised to enjoy the company of a young man Cyril, preferring the company of more mature men and her father's friends, and discovers she quite likes the attentions of this young man who is falling in love with her and she with him.
It should have been a perfect summer, but things change when an old friend of her mother's, Anne arrives and she and her father announce their intention to marry. Although it is actually something Cecile feels is right for them and she adores Anne, part of her resents what signifies to her the end to the playful era she and her father have indulged, for Anne's presence in their lives will certainly bring order and sensibility.
Yes, it was for this I reproached Anne: she prevented me from liking myself. I, who was so naturally meant for happiness and gaiety, had been forced by her into a world of self-criticism and guilty conscience, where, unaccustomed to introspection, I was completely lost. And what did she bring me? I took stock: She wanted my father, she had got him. She would gradually make of us the husband and step-daughter of Anne Larsen; that is to say, she would turn us into two civilised, well-behaved and happy people...
Tears came into my eyes at the thought of the jokes we used to have together, our laughter as we drove home at dawn through the empty streets of Paris. All that was over. In my turn I would be influenced, re-oriented, remodelled by Anne. I would not even mind it, she would act with intelligence, irony and sweetness, and I would be incapable of resistance; in six months I should no longer even wish to resist.
She embarks on a plan to provoke a change in this happy little situation, instantly regretting it, but unable to halt the progress of a development she has initiated.
It is a simple storyline, but what makes it incredible are the adept insights Cecile has into herself and her behaviour and to all those around her. She acts irresponsibly as if she is unable to help herself, but with a certain equanimity, it is as if she stands outside of herself and narrates events and what is driving each character to act their part in her little drama, which will escalate into tragedy.
Utterly engaging, I was riveted, loved that ability her character had to understand the personalities around her and her own flaws, despite being unable to stop the mischief she provoked, not to mention that this was written when the author was only 19 years old. ...more
Voyage in the Dark is one of Jean Rhys's early novels, about Anna, a young woman, who like the novelist, finds herself suddenly uprooted from her islaVoyage in the Dark is one of Jean Rhys's early novels, about Anna, a young woman, who like the novelist, finds herself suddenly uprooted from her island home in Dominica, whisked off by her stepmother Hester, after the sudden and premature death of her father. There is little left to support her and so she must find her own way in London.
'He was a planter my father. He had a big estate when he first went out there; then he sold it when he married Hester and we lived in town for another four years and then he bought Morgan's Rest - a much smaller place.'
Hester, her stepmother is a woman who feels hard done by, she married Anna's father and lived for a while in Dominica, clearly under certain conditions and was quick to return to England after his death, resettling herself in the North, sending Anna south to find a job to support herself, effectively abandoning her.
Not only did she not understand how that place and the way of its people were an intrinsic part of Anna, she openly disapproved of her contact with the black servant girl Francine and would act to remove her influence, the one person who had made Anna feel safe, happy and more at home than anyone else, a woman she could relate to but never be like. All that, now but a memory from her past.
I knew that of course she disliked me too because I was white; and that I would never be able to explain to her that I hated being white. Being white and getting like Hester, and all the things you get - old and sad and everything. I kept thinking, 'No. ... No. ...No. ...' And I knew that day that I'd started to grow old and nothing could stop it.
She finds a job as a chorus girl in a travelling theatre and while staying in a seaside town, she and a friend meet two men, one of them Walter, stays in touch, they embark on an affair and for a while he supports her financially - another relationship with conditions, though one she adapts to and finds favourable.
However it prevents her from pursuing employment, she spends days not leaving her room, waiting to hear from him, descending into melancholy and depression, having left the joy, warmth and colour that had been in her life on the island for a dismal English existence far from the expectations of the mother country she had dreamed of from afar.
'I'm sure it's beautiful,' Walter said, 'but I don't like hot places much. I prefer cold places. The tropics would be altogether too lush for me, I think.' 'But it isn't lush,' I said. 'You're quite wrong. It's wild, and a bit sad sometimes. You might as well say the sun's lush.' Sometimes the earth trembles; sometimes you can feel it breathe. The colours are red, purple, blue, gold, all shades of green. The colours here are black, brown, grey, dim-green, pale blue, the white of people's faces - like woodlice.
Voyage in the Dark is a melancholy read, it's a kind of coming-of-age that happens to people not because they have attained a certain age, but as a result of living outside the familiar, whether it's moving from the countryside to the city or from one country to another and Anna suffers perhaps even more than many migrants, because she looks and almost sounds like she comes from within the English culture, yet is indeed a foreigner and completely alone, without a community or family to commiserate with. She wouldn't fit in, even if she were to find others born in Dominica, because there too, they had lived in a rapidly disappearing world, a post colonial community without a purpose. While young and living on the island, she experienced little of the world's (of England's) perception of them, something hinted at in the way her friends would laugh at her, without her understanding why.
I have read a few books by authors coming from the islands and they remain some of my favourite books; Jamaica Kincaid's The Autobiography of My Mother, Maryse Conde's Tales from the Heart: True Stories from My Childhood, Simone Schwartz Bart's The Bridge of Beyond, however they differ significantly from the work of Jean Rhys, because there is a much stronger sense of belonging, acceptance and inevitability in their storytelling. They aren't a product of white colonialism, they have been affected by it, but they know where home is, that is where they stay and live and learn and struggle, their isolation is only ever temporary, for they are part of a community whether they want it or not.
Jean Rhys through her character Anna, feels what it is to be like those women who belong and wanted to be part of it, yet she also aspired to live an English dream, only to discover it was an illusion, that she must lower her expectations, make sacrifices and rely on talents never dreamed of in her previous life, to secure her position, one that exists at a much lower class than she'd imagined being part of.
It is ironic, that she will experience the subservient, misogynistic role of the mistress, a metaphor perhaps for the role her own family and the generations before them inflicted upon the local population of the islands they inhabited. She will feel and experience that discontent that sits alongside silent acceptance of the role of the lesser, the disempowered, as women to men, as slave to master.
Interestingly, many of the reviews focus on the feelings evoked in her first love affair, for me the stronger, more poignant feelings portrayed, were the loss of her childhood innocence, her home, her family - the affair was something she fell into, exploitative on both parts, and sad in that it didn't follow the path of new, young love, she falls straight into a pattern she will likely repeat, dependence on the experienced, older man, who wants a pretty plaything not a mate.
Written in a simple, easy reading style, the story seeps into your skin and leaves the reader somewhat bereft and disillusioned by the inevitability of it all, knowing that while Anna's story ends at the beginning of her life in England, some will already know that Jean Rhys's life continued in a similar vein and that she would rarely if ever find contentedness in her continuous search for a place and a person that could make her feel loved and at home like Dominica and Francine did....more
Two Serious Ladies introduces us to two characters Christina Goering, daughter of a powerful industrialist, now a well-heeled spinster, adrift and borTwo Serious Ladies introduces us to two characters Christina Goering, daughter of a powerful industrialist, now a well-heeled spinster, adrift and bored with her comfortable, predictable existence and Frieda Copperfield, married to a man who pursues travel and adventure, dragging his wife (who funds this insatiable desire) out of her comfort zone, to the untouristed, red-lit parts of Panama, where she finds solace and digs her heels in, at the bar/hotel of Madame Quill, befriending the young prostitute Pacifica.
Christina, referred to as Miss Goering and Frieda, Mrs Copperfield, acquaintances, meet briefly at a party and will come together again briefly at the end, both having had separate life-changing adventures, driven by a latent, sub-conscious desire to radically change their situations, both of which come about in a random, haphazard way.
Miss Goering invites a companion Miss Gamelon, to move into her comfortable home and at the party where she encounters Mrs Copperfield, she meets Arnold. Though she doesn’t particularly like either of these characters, when she decides to sell her palatial home and move to a run-down house on a nearby island, they agree to come with her. Neither are enamoured of her decision, to remove them from her previous comforts, which they were quite enjoying.
“In my opinion,” said Miss Gamelon, “you could perfectly well work out your salvation during certain hours of the day without having to move everything.”
“The idea,” said Miss Goering, “is to change first of our own volition and according to our own inner promptings before they impose completely arbitrary changes on us.”
Once on the island, still restless, she abandons her invitees and takes the ferry to the mainland, opening herself up to whatever random encounters await her, as if seeking her destiny or some kind of understanding through a series of desperate and reckless acts.
Mrs Copperfield seems less to seek out the depraved, than be attracted by a perceived sense of belonging, she spurns the comfortable, pretentious trappings of the Hotel Washington, declines to go walking in the jungle with her husband and instead takes the bus back to the women she has met at the Hotel les Palmas whom she feels an affinity with, despite their lives of poverty and prostitution being so far removed from her own. She recognises they possess a kind of freedom and strength she lacks; in their presence, she begins to feel energised and empowered.
It is a strange book at first, it requires finishing and reflecting upon to figure out what it was all about. It is recounted in a straight forward style, we observe the actions of the two women without reflection on their part, making it necessary to unravel their intentions, which inevitably becomes a matter of reader interpretation, to find the meaning, if indeed there is any.
For me, it was clear the women lacked something significant in their lives, in their existence, even if they were unable to articulate it or even search appropriately for it, they sensed something missing in their lives of privilege and sought it among the downtrodden. They were experiencing an existential crisis.
Bowles takes two female characters from a similar social class (similar to her own) dissecting a woman’s presence and existence in society in a form of confrontational daring that was liable to elicit both scorn and eye-brow raising in her own time and continues to provoke a certain amount of bemusement in our own.
“I know I am as guilty as I can be, but I have my happiness which I guard like a wolf, and I have authority now and a certain amount of daring, which I never had before.” – Mrs Copperfield
Reading it alongside the life of Jane Bowles, was a pleasure, I enjoyed reading it and taking the extra time to understand the context within which it was written....more
The book started out as an assignment she completed in 1936, when she was an unemployed zoologist and freelance writer for the U.S. Bureau of FisherieThe book started out as an assignment she completed in 1936, when she was an unemployed zoologist and freelance writer for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. Asked to write an introduction to a brochure on marine life, she submitted an essay entitled “The World of Waters” neatly typed by her mother, as all her manuscripts would be.
The next day Carson sat in Higgins’s Washington D.C. office waiting for his verdict.The government ichthyologist knew at once that it was unsuitable. What he was reading was a piece of literature. Carson never forgot the conversation: ‘My chief…handed it back with a twinkle in his eye. ‘I don’t think it will do,’ he said. ‘Better try again. But send this one to the Atlantic Monthly.’
The essay was a narrative account of the countless sea creatures that cohabit in and underwater and introduced her two most enduring and renowned themes: the ecological relationships of ocean life that have been in existence for millenia and the material immortality that embraces even the tiniest organism. It was the essay that spawned a classic in nature literature.
Under the Sea-Wind is structured in three parts, and in each part, we view the sea and sea life from the point of view of one of its inhabitants.
In Part One, Edge of the Sea, written for the life of the shore, and inspired by a stretch of North Carolina sea-coast, we meet a female sanderling she names Silverbar, it is Spring and the great Spring migration of shore birds is at its height and concludes with the end of summer where the movements of birds, fish, shrimp and other water creatures heralds the changing of the seasons.
She describes the terror of the shore birds as they hide in the beach grass from the noisy, boisterous migrating flocks that briefly occupy their territory; the terrible snow storm that will freeze hundreds of egg embryos, where only the fittest and strongest survive; the way the birds lure a fox away from their nests and the day the parents finally abandon their young, their job complete.
Part Two The Gull’s Way, is dedicated to the open sea, a parallel time period in the open ocean and here we encounter Scomber the mackerel, following his journey from birth through infancy and youth in a quiet New England harbour, only to join a school that follows its instinct into the great sea where numerous predators await. As the fish move from one location to the next, trying to outwit predators, including man, the sea becomes the scene of a thriller and Scomber the mackerel, our fugitive!
Part Three River and Sea is written in the deepest, darkest, fathoms, we follow Anguilla, the eel from the far tributaries of a coastal river pool, downstream to the gently sloping depths of the sea, ‘the steep descent of the continental slopes and finally the abyss’.
After 10 years of uneventful river habitation, the eels are drawn by instinct downriver returning to their place of birth, a deep abyss near the Sargasso Sea where they will spawn and die. It is the most remarkable journey, as is that of the newborn spawn originating from two continents, who float side by side and drift towards those same coastal rivers their parents swam from, a voyage of years and over time the two species will separate and veer towards their continent, the US or Europe.
Rachel Carson writes about the sea, the sand, the birds, fish and the smallest of creatures and organisms in a way that makes us realise how little we observe of what is occurring around us, though we may stand, swim, float or fish in the midst of it. For the sea, its shore and the air above thrum like a thriving city of predator and prey of all sizes and character, constantly fluctuating, its citizens ever alert to when it is prudent to move and when it is necessary to be still.
Original, enthralling, it opens our eyes to much that we do not see or understand, I am in awe of shore birds, mackerel, eels, the sea, streams, rivers, ponds and the interconnectedness of them all.
Enchanting indeed! I knew what to expect from Elizabeth von Arnim having already read Elizabeth and her German Garden and I recognise the same tracesEnchanting indeed! I knew what to expect from Elizabeth von Arnim having already read Elizabeth and her German Garden and I recognise the same traces of character in her four ladies that have gone off to Portofino for a Ligurian holiday here.
San Salvatore, the villa where they will spend their month becoming acquainted with each other as they are virtual strangers before this "women escaping husbands and other drudgery" holiday, acts like a magic spell slowly infiltrating the stiffness, solitary natures and self-absorbed natures of four women who begin to blossom like the spring blooms they are surrounded by.
And as that process begins its transformation, they are ready for the unexpected visitors, which could easily have turned to tragedy, but instead the author, who too was bathed in the magical beauty of this beautiful costline of Italy while writing, allows them to indulge their newly awakened states and dwell in it till the end.
Charming! And now looking forward to reading the contemporary take on this newly published Penguin Classic, Brenda Bowen'sEnchanted August.
My complete review,including details of the Elizabeth Arnim conference coming up in Sept 2015 put on by the Katherine Mansfield Society, here at Word by Word....more
More than just a reading experience, this has been a journey, from seeing the incredible theatre production, to listening with my French students to aMore than just a reading experience, this has been a journey, from seeing the incredible theatre production, to listening with my French students to a BBC audio adaptation for English learners, to the original text writtten by Mary Shelley, that continues to inspire them all.
Sad, tragic, poignant, it displays our passion and our flaws, the best and worst of human nature, of curiosity, neglect, exploitation versus caring and the inevitablity of death.
The book starts out with letters written by a Captain R Walton, who is in St Petersburg preparing to leave for an excursion of discovery to the North Pole, to his sister Margaret in London.
Like Victor Frankenstein, the young scientist he will rescue from an ice floe in the Arctic and whose story he will listen to day after day while trapped in the ice, Walton has a thirst for knowledge and an agitated spirit that pushes him forward in his quest. He wishes to make his mark on the world and make a difference. Like Frankenstein he has immersed himself in studies of logic and now desires to achieve something of magnitude, having already failed to become a significant poet.
His prose is now dedicated only to his sister Margaret, through whose letters we will learn of Walton's failed voyage and the story Victor Frankenstein will narrate to him, as he too gives up his pursuit of the Creature that was to be his mark upon the world, one that had already made a difference, though in ways he never dreamed of and lived to regret.
Upon hearing the voyager's naive hopes, Victor Frankenstein shares his own story in an effort to try to thwart Walton from following his ideals into what may become yet another foolhardy madness.
"Unhappy man! Do you share my madness? Have you drunk also of the intoxicating draught? Hear me; let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips!"
The story he tells is of his own youthful thirst for knowledge, his fascination with science, alchemy and existence itself. His obsession with creating life above all else, with no forethought of the consequence of such an act, his fear and neglect of that which he created and the terrible consequences wreaked upon him, his family and those closest to him as a result.
Victor Frankenstein grew up in the countryside of Switzerland, in a kind of reverie, with his adopted sister Elizabeth whom he always viewed as a gift, initially from his mother who brought her into the family and eventually as his future bride. But first he wished to fulfil his destiny, that alchemy of existence, he wanted to create a sustainable life-form.
He pursued it with zeal, neglecting all else, only to run in fear of what he had done, until it pursued him, confronting him. The Creature forced him to listen and hear of the curse he had inflicted on him, by making him in such a way that all humanity would abhor him, sentencing him to a life without love, without friends, unknown.
"I expected this reception," said the daemon. " All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends."
Victor Frankenstein listens to the Creature and is moved from the desire to kill his creation to consider creating another, a companion, the only chance he may have to live in harmony in this world, for to be alone has driven him to madness, murder and mayhem.
The book, while framed at both ends by the letters from the explorer to his sister, the middle part is split into three, the first and latter parts as told by and from the perspective of Victor Frankenstein, while the middle part recounts the Creature's tale of exile and in doing so gives voice to the creature.
Throughout his years of exile, his interactions with others teach him to survive, to communicate and slowly to understand the capacity and flaws of humanity. With understanding comes grief, he knows what is possible, that which will always be unreachable for him, a creature that thinks and is capable of acting as one of humankind but who will always be hated, rejected and worse, hunted to extinction.
"I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me; I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge. Oh, that I had forever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!"
An astounding read and such a pleasure after the introduction I had via the theatre and audio play. It's true I'm not a great reader of the classics, but when they are given an alternate context and serve as inspiration in the way this creation has, I can't help but read in awe the achievement that continues to inspire such great works in themselves....more
A somewhat nostalgic memoir of childhood in a Cotswold village, remembered from when the author is about 3 years old, surrounded by sisters and siblinA somewhat nostalgic memoir of childhood in a Cotswold village, remembered from when the author is about 3 years old, surrounded by sisters and siblings, the father having long abandoned the family and leaving his housekeeper who became his wife to raise the children of his first marriage and the four he gave her.
Rather than a tale of struggle and poverty, in Laurie Lee's hands, it comes across as a bundle of memories and anecdotes that celebrate village life, sibling love, old lady madness and making the most of it.
Laurie Lee paints a picture of village life that is vivid and alive with character and memory as if it happened today. He tells it all but never loses his respect for any of the inhabitants, even at their most villainous, he narrates their history with compassion and mild regret.
His narrative captures the passing of time, the slow encroachment of city life and innovation that will ultimately kill that old village way of life that encapsulated them all, from the Squire down to the struggling newborn. He does so by sharing the stories and anecdotes of others seen through his eyes, rather than turning his gaze inward.
A wonderful narrative of a not so distant time, lost forever.
A novel of Paul Baumer, a now 20 year old German soldier, he and his friends are pressed by their schoolmaster to join up early, to fight in WW1.
HereA novel of Paul Baumer, a now 20 year old German soldier, he and his friends are pressed by their schoolmaster to join up early, to fight in WW1.
Here he narrates his journey, their comradeship, their fear, their daily survival. Their small joys often centred around food, their occasional escape, a mild wound or a leave pass and thoughts of how they might ever continue a life other than this if ever there is a peacetime. It is something few can imagine and most don't want to, it isn't relevant.
I read this on Armistice Day, 11 November, the day that an armistice was signed in France between the Allies and the Germans in 1918, commemorating the end of hostilities in WW1.
Although it is fiction, it read like a true account and the author was indeed a soldier in WW1. It is a remarkable book, it shares both the physical and mental aspects of youth at war and their slow realisation of its personal consequences. It is tragic, sad and true and there is an element of hopelessness, that even though we can come to understand what will happen to those affected by war, there is little to be done to prevent it, whilst we as humanity continue to choose it as a method of punishment, it is certainly not a method to achieve peace, perhaps just a temporary quiet....more
A tour de force, not a word wasted, and so much more than is written is understood. I feel as though I watched it happen, not read about it. Nothing pA tour de force, not a word wasted, and so much more than is written is understood. I feel as though I watched it happen, not read about it. Nothing passive about reading Steinbeck.