Monday, 29 October 2012

North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell

Date of Reading: 16/10/2012
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Edited with an introduction by Angus Easson
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Place: Oxford
Year: 1982
Rating: 4/5

          Wow! At last Gaskell has succeeded where Dickens failed in 'Hard Times'. A romance novel set in the background of early industrial England is surely a daring achievement. Everything that matters to a superb story is at hand: the void between workers and masters, their lack of mutual trust which leads to strikes and proves fatal to both the parties and above all the presence of a saintly maiden who makes some change with the purity of her heart adds to the emotional appeal (it sounds Utopian, I know, but we need to think only of the reading pleasure).
          All in all the story is much similar to 'Pride and Prejudice'; situation is reversed though -- lady here is with pride and her man is prejudiced. Gaskell makes a striking contrast between the calm, beautiful countryside and the fast-moving, polluted city life. But she is not blind to the evils of the country or the much luxurious life of the workers in Milton. What they lack is a little bit understanding and consideration and that is where   Margaret Hale bridges the gap with her earnest spirit.
          After spending years of life with her aunt Mrs. Shaw and young cousin Edith, Margaret Hale comes back to live with her parents in the village of   Helstone. Her father is a clergyman there and they are quite at home with nature. But soon the position changes when her father turns into a dissenter and resigns his job. They move to the industrial town of Milton where Mr. Hale takes the vocation of a tutor. Margaret is averse to industrial settings but that does not prevent her from making a deep rooted friendship with Higgins family while her father finds a suitable companion in the rich mill owner, Mr. Thornton.        
           Once when Margaret tries to save Mr. Thornton from the mad strikers, he mistakes her gesture as a form of affection and proposes. Margaret, horrified at the idea, immediately rejects him. But Thornton can never stop loving her.            
               Frederick, her brother was in the Navy but as he led a mutiny against the ungenerous captain, he is an outcaste now. When Mrs. Hale lays dying he comes to visit in secret according to her wish but his abrupt leaving is noticed by Mr. Thornton and some others. He sees Margaret in the company of Frederick but mistakes them as lovers. Yet his intervention saves her from the awkward questioning of police on the death of Leonards who was struck by Frederick when the drunken man tries to capture him.
Elizabeth Gaskell
          Mr. Hale soon follows his wife and Margaret is financially protected by her godfather, Mr. Bell who owns almost all of Milton. After his death, as a heiress she resides with Aunt Shaw and cousin Edith.
          Meanwhile Mr. Thornton's position has sunk low as a result of the previous strike. His friendship with Higgins has improved his relationship with the workers, but a downfall cannot be helped. He comes to Margaret to give up his lease and she surprises him by accepting his hand.
--- Story is adapted by BBC as a serial in 2004, with Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret and Richard Armitage as Thornton.

Friday, 5 October 2012

My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk

Date of Reading: 18/03/2008
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Publisher: Vintage
Place: USA
Year: 2002
           Excepting 'Snow' , this is my favourite novel of Pamuk. The style is unique as expected of Pamuk, giving us the views of each character (even that of the murderer which contains the clues of guessing him) and  without knowing we are transported to the splendour and religious intrigue of sixteenth century Istanbul.
          Throughout the book the narration is in first person with chapter headings like 'I am a Corpse', 'I am Called Black', 'I am a Dog' etc. The beginning chapters could be a bit confusing, but once you get the hang of it, nothing will stop you from reading this splendid work. An author is in a sense a preserver, and Pamuk does pickle up Istanbul's treasured past and memories.
         Story begins with the speech of a corpse who introduces himself as Elegant Effendi, a miniaturist whose body decays at the bottom of a well. He requests to find his  murderer and bury his body.
         Black Effendi, the protagonist, returns to Istanbul after twelve years on the request of his uncle Enishte Effendi, to complete the book of pictures he is working on. Black has fallen in love with his uncle's beautiful daughter Shekure and in a way this has caused his exile at the age of 24. Shekure later marries a soldier but nothing is heard of him these four years. Her brother-in-law has an eye on Shekure and so she is living in her father's house along with her two sons -- Shevket and Orhan.
         On this return Black is determined to marry Shekure, but his uncle has other concerns. Sultan had commissioned him to prepare a great book of pictures celebrating the glories of his realm, in Frank (European) style. As figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this is a delicate task; Islam allows to portray a picture as Allah sees it to be.
          Murder of Elegant has increased the complications. Enishte is confident that one of the master miniaturists -- Butterfly, Stork, Olive -- is the real culprit. Task is now handed over to Black. Later Enishte also gets murdered. As it may force Shekure to return to her husband's family, they conceal the death until she procures a divorce and marry Black. After that the death is announced as a normal one. Black confesses everything to Sultan's treasurer and Sultan allows him three days to find the murderer.
         Master Osman, the head miniaturist identifies the picture of a horse found from the body of Elegant as Olive's. Olive tries to escape to Hindustan but on the way Hasan mistakes him as a friend of Black's and kills him. After 24 years of contented married life, Black passes away and his widow hands over the details to Orhan for his book.
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