Sunday, 29 January 2017

No. 708: Book Review: A Passage to India By E. M. Forster

E. M. Forster’s novel of 1924 is fundamentally a zeitgeist, depicting the tension of the British Raj during the early twentieth century. Exploring relations between the British and their Indian subjects, A Passage to India is a masterly portrait of a society caught between conflicts of an imperialist regime and the ripple effects of these engrained biases upon political, cultural, social and economical interactions of the two racial classifications.

The plot focuses upon three leading characters: Adela Quested, Cyril Fielding and Dr Aziz. When British-born Adela Quested and Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they are each ‘desirous of seeing the real India’ (p. 18), frequently denied to them due to the insular prejudice of the English ex-patriots residing in India. Upon meeting Mrs Moore in a mosque, Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim, becomes a figure of intrigue for the women; he agrees to guide the women around the “real India” they seek. However, during an excursion to the Marabar Caves, a mysterious incident occurs which results in an ensuing scandal involving Dr Aziz. This scandal rouses the violent passions and bigotry amongst both the local English and indigenous Indian communities of the Chandrapore region. This event becomes a subject of huge contention between two tribes of people residing in India under the British Raj. 

Forster’s novel is quite literally a snapshot of British-Indo relations in the past. Forster based the text
upon his own travelling experiences across India, and therefore is his own experience of India under the British Raj. Relations between the British and Indians are under a lot of strain within this text, there is a huge amount of prejudice, distrust, condescension and blame. Each race believes themselves superior. There are few exceptions to that judgmental perspective: for instance, each of the protagonists appears to openly defy these naturalised views, at least in the beginning of the novel. However, over the course of a life-changing event involving violation and accusations, stereotypes and racial preconceptions are reinforced.

Perhaps what strikes me most in A Passage to India is that the reader becomes acclimated to the slow unfolding nature of the knitted quilt of life in Chandrapore. Then, in a sudden, intellectually technical and thrilling move, Forster quite literally pulls apart this quilt fragmenting the reality the reader has come to know. The mastery of this storytelling technique is to admired. One could liken the experience of reading to that of skiing – the first half is climbing the slope in the ski lift and viewing the stunning landscapes around you, but suddenly as you embark down the cliff, you realise you’re on a black slope and all sense of security is thrown out the window.

I think the text is successive in a number of ways; it is stylistically and mechanically beautiful, the writing style is thrilling and compelling to read; and yet I believe there are certain elements that prevent a five star rating. In my opinion, the ending of the novel felt rushed and in a sense “Disney-ified” – everyone reached a moralistic ending, despite the harsh realities each had endured in their pasts. It seemed as if Forster wanted all of the characters to have a happy ending to reinforce his
overarching message, but this then detracts from the fictional diegesis he has presented. He wanted to educate his readers about the difficult relationships between racial groups in India, to establish the major issues to enable greater understanding and implement change. The argument presented is that redemption and friendship are possible after the tirades of a colonial agenda, demonstrating that power imbalances fuelled by racial profiling hinder noble relations. Whilst this is an inspiringly optimistic message, I think interactions between an oppressed and oppressing class are not so simplistically intersecting and forgiven. There is great tension prevalent in these associations, which include immense baggage that Forster is sweeping under the carpet.  I think for me, this forgiveness was too much to expect from any oppressed person, there was too much of the “happily ever after” sentiment, but I do respect Forester’s theory and attempt to break down colonial boundaries.

In conclusion, I think that this is a text that everyone should read. In light of the current post-Brexit, Trump-ruling world; this is a text that asks readers to challenge racial preconceptions and notions of ruling colonial influences over the native underdog. This is an incredible lesson to provide and that is why I would recommend all read this and ready themselves for the rollercoaster ride of emotions occurring at the crux of the text.


#APassagetoIndia #EMForster #novel #literature #race #ethnicity #British #India #writing #intelligent #dichotomies #opposites #challengenorms #Chandrapore #fate #blame #reading #literaryblog #blogger  #reader #powerofreading #pov #booksarelife #booksareliving #wisdom #difficultsubjects #challenge #feedback #bookchat #goodreads #goodbooks #fourstars

Sunday, 8 January 2017

No. 902: Book Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

A novel that is known to many but read by a lot less. Many people would recognise the characters of Cathy and Heathcliff or would be able to picture the wild Yorkshire moors which act as the backdrop of Wuthering Heights, or perhaps they may even recognise some of the famous quotes. Rereading the novel at the age of twenty-four, recently turned twenty-five, has enlightened and engaged me in a way that reading throughout my teenage years did not quite manage.

Brontë's style is quite like the subject matter of her story. The narrative tracks the lives of Heathcliff and Catherine, who is essence, were fated to be inextricably connected, but due to the pomp and circumstance of social status during the Brontë era, their fated life together became a muddled mess. This transgression from “what could, and should have been” is fundamentally what distances this novel from being the quintessential marriage plot text.

Renowned as a love story, Brontë's tale challenges the thematic structure of the love story. She undermines this tradition, by creating protagonists that, while you may route for them to have whatever happy ending they may be capable of, they are denied this in light of their status as anti-heroes. Everything in the manner of Brontë's writing style is targeted to distance the reader from endorsing a utopian conclusion for Cathy and Heathcliff.

The story begins with a framing narrative where a Mr Lockwood has rented Thrushcross Grange, situated in a remote area of Yorkshire, amidst the evocative moors prevalent throughout the tale. upon visiting with his landlord, Mr Heathcliff, Mr Lockwood establishes a rather poor first impression of Heathcliff. At the conclusion of this first acquaintance, Brontë begins in her denigrative and regressive beastly descriptions used in regard to Heathcliff throughout the course of the text. Consistently Heathcliff is distanced from humanity: animalised both physically and metaphysically. The nature of animalistic language metaphorically illustrates Heathcliff's moral deficiency during the entire narrative, and this all begins with a rather simple characterisation of Heathcliff's as similar to the 'misbehaviour of a pack of curs' (p. 12).

Within this very devolution of Heathcliff's humanity, Brontë establishes the very literal question mark the hovers over Heathcliff throughout the entire novel. His immediate description by Mr Lockwood follows as:

'He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman - that is, as much as gentleman as many a country squire, rather slovenly perhaps yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure - and rather morose. Possibly some people might suspect him of a degree of under-bred pride - I have a sympathetic chord within that tells me it is nothing of the sort; I know, by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to shoes displays of feeling - to manifestations of mutual kindliness.' (p. 10-11)

Mr Lockwood as the driver of the secondary framing narrative, provides the perspective of Heathcliff for the reader. As readers, we are innately required to trust in Mr Lockwood and his viewpoint of the world, which slowly unfolds as we read on. This places the reader upon unstable terrain similar to the likes of The Great Gatsby and Lolita. Unreliable narrators offer a capricious narrative climate due to a number of reasons, similarly to The Great Gatsby's Nick Carraway and Lolita's Humbert Humbert, Mr Lockwood is a character within the story and therefore will always be somewhat biased based upon his personal interactions with the character, his own agenda and inherent ideological status. Furthermore, once Brontë establishes the tertiary narrative level prevalent throughout the crux of the novel, that of Nelly Dean's reported narrative to Mr Lockwood, the narrative destablishes further. As Nelly Dean is an actively involved character throughout each stage of the reported tale involving the lives, and deaths, of Heathcliff, Cathy and Linton, she provides highly biased narrative and clearly shows favouritism for specific “heroes” within the course of her own associations with them.

One cannot imagine the world of Wuthering Heights without picturing those evocative
moors. The Yorkshire Moors are a famous example of the implementation of pathetic fallacy such as 'a violent wind, as well as thunder' (p. 67). Pathetic fallacy is effective in the case of Wuthering Heights (which in fact is another case of pathetic fallacy), as the backdrop to the novel is mirrored in the landscape. The aggression and anarchy of the natural environment echo the narrative and character progression, or perhaps more appropriately, denigration. For instance, the former 'violent wind' followed scene where Cathy has received a marriage proposal from Edgar Linton and is discussing with Nelly Dean whether to accept him despite her love for Heathcliff. As she weighs this choice, Heathcliff overhears that she will never be able to marry him as '"would degrade [her] to marry Heathcliff"' and that if "'Heathcliff and [Cathy] married, [they] should be beggars?"' Overhearing this rejection from Cathy based upon his lowly social status, essentially torments Heathcliff, and this is thus echoed in the burgeoning storm surrounding them.

Whilst the novel is ingrained in romantic phrases and declarations, Brontë in a highly intellectual move, establishes the text as a direct antithesis to the fulfilling nature of quintessential Romantic tradition. Where customary Romantic texts will permit unions between the two leads, and conclude with an emotionally satisfying conclusion, such as exemplified within the works of Jane Austen, where all characters are paired off or in some way reach a moralistic conclusion, the nature of Wuthering Heights denies that ultimate satisfaction. Cathy's dilemma is the fundamental crux of the novel, and this unfulfilled relationship has a resultant ripple impact on each and every character featured within the text.

One cannot escape the devastatingly romantic language used by Cathy and Heathcliff when describing their feelings for one another. Whilst they are both abhorrent human beings, often cruel, manipulative and in essence self-serving to a vindictive degree, they were destined to be together and are victims of the machinations of class hierarchy entrenched in their time. Heart-wrenching language such as the following examples quite literally indicates the painful nature of the deep love shared between Heathcliff and Cathy:

'"Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same..."' (p. 64).

'"If all else perished and he reminded,  I should still continue to be; and, if all else remained and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn to a might stranger."' (p. 65).

'"I have not broken my heart - you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine."' (p. 125).

'"Be with me always - take any form - drive me mad! Only do no leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"' (p.129).

In summary, Brontë's novel juxtaposes elements in a manner that is both intellectually and aesthetically beautiful. Whilst the story may not contain the epic and satisfying endings of which we as a reader have become accustomed to through the likes of reading Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen, the text elevates the typical romantic plot line to a status of new reality. Love in this story, is not a case where soul mates that are destined always end up together. Emily Brontë presents her readership with a Black Mirror-esque view of the typical Romantic period text, unflinchingly looking into the roots of a romance and the impact of social expectations and hierarchal discourse upon those connections. In a world where a romantic gesture has been denigrated to a swipe right or wolf whistle, this text permits the reader to venture into a world of heartbreak and epic adoration, and in spite of the irredeemable nature of Cathy and Heathcliff's characters, the reader can experience long lost love amidst a truly remarkable landscape. With elements of the supernatural juxtaposed to the paradigmatic realism any reader of Wuthering Heights is in for an exciting depiction of a different time. I would thoroughly recommend this text to anyone, not only because it is a book on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, or because it depicts a metamorphisis of the typical marriage plot and this mutated creature lays beyond the reader captivating any seeking a new and emboldening experience.


#WutheringHeights #Bronte #novel #literature #epiclove #epicromance #lovesomuchithurts #beautiful #writing #intelligent #dichotomies #opposites #challengenorms #CathyandHeathcliff #fate #marriageplot #reading #literaryblog #blogger  #reader #powerofreading #pov #booksarelife #booksareliving #wisdom #bronte #challenge #feedback #bookchat #goodreads #goodbooks #fourstars