Thursday, March 18, 2010

333. Adam Bede - George Eliot

History: The first novel written by George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans), was published in 1859. The plot is founded on a story told to George Eliot by her aunt Elizabeth Evans, a Methodist preacher, and the original of Dinah Morris of the novel, of a confession of child-murder, made to her by a girl in prison.
Plot: The story's plot follows four characters' rural lives in the fictional community of Hayslope—a rural, pastoral and close-knit community in 1799. Adam Bede is a local carpenter much admired for his integrity and intelligence and Arthur Dinnithorne is in line to inherit a large estate and is currently a Captain in the military. They have been friends since boyhood. Unknown to each other, both are in love with Hetty Sorrel, a 17-year old orphan who works on a dairy farm run by her uncle and aunt. Of the two men, Hetty falls in love with Arthur, and the sophistication and wealth he represents, but due to class differences there can be no chance of a marriage between them.
In the first half of the novel, the dominant impact of Adam Bede is that of an extremely realistic portrayal of working-class England in the rural Midlands. The novel abounds with long descriptions, meticulous detail, and hard-working characters who only occassionally pause for relaxation. Their speech is captured in rough dialect, enlivened with the homey aphorisms of Mrs. Poyser (Hetty's aunt). People are what they do: Adam the carpenter is strong, sturdy, and upright. Hetty, introduced in an extraordinary scene in the dairy (ch. 7), seems as pliable as the butter she is making. Arthur, the military man, becomes a predator.
The other main character in Adam Bede is Dinah Morris, a Methodist preacher. (Until 1803, the Methodists allowed women to preach in public.) She makes her dramatic entrance in the second chapter, preaching outdoors to the faithful and the merely curious, and George Eliot includes a large part of Dinah's compassionate, charismatic, captivating sermon.
Dinah Morris floats in and out of the novel. Adam's brother Seth is in love with her, but she feels that marriage is not in God's plans. When Adam and Seth's father dies while staggering home drunk from a tavern and falling in a river, Dinah comes to their home to comfort their mother.
Events take a tragic turn when Arthur seduces Hetty (in a scene we don't see) and she later discovers she is pregnant, communicated to the reader in the author's necessarily circumspect language
When Adam interrupts a tryst between them, Adam and Arthur fight. Adam knocks Arthur out and thinks he has killed him. Arthur agrees to give up Hetty, writes her a letter telling her to give up on him, and leaves Hayslope to return to his militia. After he leaves, Hetty Sorrel agrees to marry Adam (she is pregnant but neither the reader nor Adam knows this). Adam thinks all is well, but shortly before their marriage, in desperation, she leaves the village in search of Arthur. She tells Adam and her family she is going to see Dinah, but instead goes to the address he put on the letter, over 100 miles and 1 weeks journey. She spends all her money, but she cannot find him, for his company has been sent to Ireland. She is penniless, but unwilling to return to the village on account of the shame and ostracism she would have to endure. She considers suicide, but chickens out.
At this point in the novel, time has progressed to Adam and Mr. Irving, and a letter received that Hettie is in prison in a nearby town, awaiting trial for killing her own child.
Adam is in shock, but Hettie refuses to see him. At the trial, she is found guilty, however does not admitt anything. It is only after Dinah visits her in a heart wrenching momemt, as Hettie is facing death and admits to Dinah what she has done. She did deliver her baby with the assistance of the woman running the boarding house where she was staying. In her confused and frantic state, she kills the child by abandoning it in a field, where it dies of exposure.
When Arthur Donnithorne, on leave from the militia for his grandfather's funeral, hears of her impending execution, he races to the court and has the sentence commuted to transportation, or imprisonment.
Arthur decides to leave the village, and his wealth as punishment for his own action, a decision of his own making. As the months go by, Hettie and her crime become a passing memory. Dinah stays with her family, but, as the reader learns, is very attracted to Adam. Adam's mother clues Adam into this, and Adam decides he is in love with her too, but because she is so religious, is afraid she will never marry him. However, they do, marry and live peacefully ever after.
Review: This is a feminist novel. Like The Scarlett Letter or Beloved, it is about the fate of women in the hands of men, or the culture that contains them.
Eliot’s view of human nature is complex. She does not preach, and she does not offer flat characters with whom it is impossible to sympathize. Instead, she offers real characters, whose motivations are sympathetic even when the motivations are tainted. Throughout the Adam Bede novel, assessments against another person’s negative actions are a condemning aim of the novel. Eliot contrasts the inner and outer beauty of the characters by portraying that external beauty may be more recognizable and superficially preferred to inner beauty, but it obviously is not the most desirable. This is made clear with Hetty’s lack of individual integrity; she is the more physically beautiful and those around her are often fooled or blinded by her appealing looks—Hetty’s true personality is that of immaturity and self centeredness. Adam, however, wrongly assumes she is a good person because of her appearance. The contrasting feelings for Dinah are more real because of being drawn in not only by beauty, but more importantly, by her inner character.
In George Eliot's moral universe, actions have consequences. Not because of fate, or karma, or divine retribution, but as a result of simple Newtonian mechanics. Hence, when something awful happens in one of her novels, it makes sense to examine where the characters went wrong. Surely Arthur Dinnithorne shouldn't have used his rank and privilege to lure Hetty into seduction. That we can all agree on. But Adam needed to be more involved. A more reticent courtship than the one he pursued seems hard to imagine.
I find it hard to blame Hetty, particularly with what we know today about such cases. In the context of the times, I suppose her big flaw was not knowing her place in the world, and how hopeless it was to try to escape upwards. But it's tough to stay focused on class boundaries when pretty things are dangled in front of your eyes by the village hunk. Surely a little more education would have helped Hetty, and the author agrees: "Hetty was quite uneducated — a simple farmer's girl, to whom a gentleman with a white hand was dazzling as an Olympian God." Yet, the local schoolteacher who helped Adam become educated is so misogynist that accepting Hetty as a student would have been inconceivable.
Eliot continually discredits those members of the artificial ‘nobility’ who deride the simple pleasures of the lower classes. The party gathering is a microcosm of everything distasteful about class prejudice; however, the empathy of the novel lies with the common people. In fact, the narrator encourages people to enjoy life’s simpler pleasures and not turn their noses up at characters or people just because they are of a lower class. Eliot is concerned and bothered with the many obvious external phoniness that presents appearances without substance or significance; she contrasts this shallowness with the individual’s lack of inner virtues that penetrate below the surface. Human nature is seen as a quintessence of the world or the universe.
Opening Line: “With a single drop of ink for a mirror, the Egyptian sorcerer undertakes to reveal to any chance comer far-reaching visions of the past.”
Closing Line: “So there is,” said Dinah. “Run, Lisbeth, run to meet aunt Poyser. Come in, Adam, and rest; it has been a hard day for thee.”
Quotes: “He was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow.”
“We are apt to be kinder to the brutes that love us than to the women that love us. Is it because the brutes are dumb?”
Rating: Excellent.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

332. The Lover - Marguerite Duras

History: The Lover is an autobiographical novel, published in 1984.
Plot: In 1929, a 15 year old nameless girl is traveling by ferry across the Mekong Delta, returning from a holiday at her family home in the town of Sa Đéc, to her boarding school in Saigon. She attracts the attention of a 27 year old son of a Chinese business magnate, a young man of wealth and heir to a fortune. He strikes up a conversation with the girl; she accepts a ride back to town in his chauffeured limousine.
Compelled by the circumstances of her upbringing, this girl, the daughter of a bankrupt, manic depressive widow, is newly awakened to the impending and all-too-real task of making her way alone in the world. Thus, she becomes his lover, until he bows to the disapproval of his father and breaks off the affair.
For her lover, there is no question of the depth and sincerity of his love, but it isn't until much later that the girl acknowledges to herself her true feelings.
Review: The book is a dreamy postmodern fantasy of escape through sex from madness and provincial bigotry. The escape is that of the French girl from her mother who lives a life of despair, self-deception, depression, jealousy, and dementia. The surrender is to the passion and wealth of an elegant Chinese man with a limousine, a financier who smokes opium, who has been to Paris and knows its refinements, especially in the matter of making love.
The most remarkable aspect of the story is the strength of character of the young woman who is its central figure, her amazing capacity to retain love for people who are weaker than she is.
She loves her mother, a manic-depressive uncomprehending in her meanderings through life, unaware that she is decaying in the heat and humidity and humiliation of her existence, and that everything she touches decays with her. She has adopted a noble air, an ungainly farce. In the haze of her existence, she is able only for a moment to give a half smile when she notices her daughter has dressed herself in an interesting fashion, one that might even merit praise. But praise is not forthcoming. In the blankness she inhabits-- in the hole of despair out of which she cannot climb-- her bitterness turns to sadism and she undresses and beats her teenage child.
Duras treats the mother's madness ironically, with a melancholy understanding and generosity of spirit that dispels revulsion and arouses pity. The mother is not loathsome, but innocent, a victim. She has been done in by the harshness of the world, and her daughter is strangely sympathetic.
But while the girl merely abides her mother, she loves her younger brother poetically, without reserve, though with some sadness and condesension. He is beautiful but not bright, romantic but dull-witted, but terribly fragile. Sadly, she knows, her brother, in all his wild, mysterious appeal, is like a glorious blossom that blooms overnight, then dies the next day.
The girl also loves her older brother, no matter that he's brutal, corrupt -- a crude, dissolute man, stupidly dependent on his mother and sister -- a wastrel. And still she loves him, even as she fears him, because, in a different way, like his mother and his brother, he is helpless.
The girl loves the man who possesses her, her lover. Their love is erotic, immediate, carnal, unrestrained. It is physical, tumultuous, and devastating. Their love encompasses the sweating of bodies, tears flowing out at orgasm, and the rumpled, spent sheets of sex.
The girl loves other young women, especially the beautiful, remote, 17-year-old Helene Lagonelle. This love eclipses all her other loves, even that for her younger brother. It is the aching, gnawing, impossibly unfulfilling love of desire.
Opening Line: “One day, I was already old, in the entrance to a public place a man came up to me.”
Closing Line: “Told her that it was a before, that he still loved her, he could never stop loving her, that he’d love her until death.”
Quotes: “The story of my life doesn’t exist. Does not exist. There’s never any center to it. No path, no line. There are great spaces where you pretend there used to be someone, but it’s not true, there was no one.”
“We’re united in a fundamental shame at having to live.”
Rating: Okay.

331. Unless - Carol Shields

History: This is the last book written by Carol Shields before she died in 2003, published in 2002.
Plot: The novel is narrated in first person by 44-year old writer and translator, Reta Winters. The book proceeds as a linear series of reflections by Reta, elliptically coming to the thematic center of the story: the seemingly arbitrary decision of Reta's college-aged daughter Norah to drop out of university and live on the street with a cardboard sign affixed to her chest that reads "Goodness".
Norah sleeps each night and has meals each day in the Promise Hostel, a safe, well-kept shelter for the homeless. Her street corner is highly trafficked and efficiently patrolled.
Norah's two sisters, Natalie and Chris, visit her every Saturday afternoon, bringing gifts and necessities. Though Norah refuses to speak, Tom, her father, makes the trip down every Friday morning to sit silently beside her in a folding aluminum chair. Reta regularly drives by the intersection.
Although the novel does not in any way proceed like a mystery, the reasons for Norah's departure from the normal world are Reta's primary motivation in writing. In parallel, her relationship with her French mentor, Danielle Westerman (a Holocaust survivor and poet) drives much of her narration and view of herself.
We follow Reta as she visits the local Orangetown Library, populated by duo librarians, Tessa and Cheryl. We accompany Reta to her Tuesday morning coffees with her three close friends, Annette, Sally and Lynn. We travel with Reta on a disastrous, but hilarious East Coast book publicity tour where three customers show up for a signing at one Washington, D.C. bookstore, none at another. We see her do battle with a brash young, nitwit editor from New York who wants to completely alter her novel in progress, making the female heroine a man. (Reta is a strong feminist, and this emerges throughout.)
The striving-to-be-earnest editor arrives at Reta's home just as the family is leaving to visit Norah who has been hospitalized for pneumonia. The editor is left with Louise, Reta's 86-year-old mother-in-law.
The novel deals extensively with the role of women and in particular, women's literature. Late in the novel, Reta starts to break from herself and write in character as a disenfranchised female writer. The underlying theme is that the lives of women are underwritten, ignored, and dealt with as "trivial" by the literary establishment. Reta's grief over her daughter's state makes her very inwardly focused on the process of writing. A reflection of this is shown in the title of the book and the chapter titles. "Unless" and the chapter titles ("therefore", "else", "instead") are all words that are used to couch the fragmented manner in which life fits together.
In the end, Norah was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia. They noticed that her hands had been burnt severely, apparently happening several months ago. Looking at news clippings, they put together this history. A muslim woman had set herself on fire on that same block, Norah had witnessed this and had tried to put the flames out with her hands. This is what caused her to go to the street and beg. She recovers at her parents house, Reta finishes her book, and things get back to normal.
Review: Shields is writing about a writer who often shares with the reader thoughts about her writing. And, because Shields, herself, is such a fine writer, the feeling is one of a rare and privileged look behind the scenes at a simple, yet sophisticated theatrical production. (Summer theater in the Berkshires comes to mind, or perhaps, with a nod to Canada, plays staged at the Stratford or Shaw Festivals.)
It's also about a mother's anguish, her concerted attempts to make some kind of sense of it all, and the fracturing effect on a whole family as they try to cope, groping towards each other for comfort yet often retreating into numbing distraction.
Its narrator, Reta Winters, is a bundle of contradictions: a loving but somewhat controlling mother who is both angry and afraid, desperate to force some order into this chaos, yet sensitive enough to search deeply for underlying reasons. This woman cannot and will not rest until she has figured out why a bright girl like Norah, her whole future ahead of her, would renounce the world in a bizarre kind of passive penance.
Though Unless is in large part about Reta's barely tolerable psychic pain, it begins so mildly that we are hardly prepared for the novel's central crisis. Where is the howl of anguish? Ah, but the anguish is there; it's just that Reta has an abiding need to hold it at arm's length. How does she do this? With words, words, those powerful weapons that both express and obscure the truth.
Unless is deeply grounded in the writing life, so much so that one of Reta's first tasks is to neatly and numerically list her accomplishments in the literary field. She has done quite a bit: translated the works of a distinguished French feminist named Danielle Westerman, written acclaimed short stories for presses with names like Pink Onion, even published a modest hit, a "light" novel called My Thyme Is Up, leading to the inevitable call for a sequel which she will call Thyme In Bloom.
If chanting all these accomplishments is supposed to act as an incantation against horror and despair, it doesn't work. Again and again Reta compulsively drives by the street corner where a mute, glazed-looking Norah hunches, collecting her alms from strangers:
In fact, the tension between safety and risk (Reta's cozy, inviting home as counterpoint to the merciless danger of the street) forms one of the underlying bulwarks of Unless. This theme works its way deep into the story (not to mention Reta's psyche) like yeast through a loaf.
Ironies abound in Reta's narrative. Well-meaning friends who have no idea of Reta's inferno of impotent rage counsel her to count her many blessings. She has two other teenaged daughters, after all, both bright and delightful; and then there is her nice husband Tom, a perfectly respectable doctor with a little hobby. (Never mind that his study of trilobites can be completely obsessive; doesn't this just prove that Reta and Tom are a good match?)
There are other contradictions. Though she translates the works of an outspoken feminist, in so doing she chooses a respectable, yet subordinate role. She writes a clever, "safe" little novel that does modestly well and does not begin to touch on her volcanic rage; in fact, writing the sequel provides a timely distraction from all she is going through. (So much for "Write what you know.") And yet, alarmingly, she rages against the enduring social restrictions that relegate women to the realms of mere goodness (that word again), while shutting them out of greatness.
Not only that Reta firmly believes, or has convinced herself, that this repressive system has somehow cracked her daughter's sanity, causing her to give up on a full life and retreat into passivity. Though being in touch with herself is not Reta's strong suit, here she comes uncomfortably close to an awful truth. Norah did not have to look to the unfair world for her discouragement; all she had to do was look at her mother. Reta's central tragedy is not the loss of her daughter, but her inability or unwillingness to reach for true greatness by taking the kind of bold, uncomfortable risks real artists must take.
Complicated stuff, but because this is Carol Shields, there is never a false step or a wrong note. And Reta does have ample grounds for her complaints. She writes a series of letters that crackle with righteous anger to pompous male literary pundits who barely seem aware that the human race has two genders (though in true Reta fashion, she never mails them). She has encounters, some of them frankly hilarious, with self-important (male!) stuffed shirts who believe they have the inherent right to be arbiters of literature, all the while revealing their meanness with every gesture.
But just when we're sure we know the novel's main thesis (women are oppressed by the patriarchy!), Shields cannily throws in a female character, Gwen Reidman, who is even more insufferably self-important than all those arrogant males Reta rages against. Worst of all, she doesn't even seem to see it. Gwen was in charge of Reta's old writers' group, but now she has taken to wearing turbans and calling herself Gwendolyn (and the connection to the poet Gwendolyn MacEwan is not coincidental).
Shields is light-years ahead of Reta in her perception and ends the novel with the sort of twist that reveals even more ambiguity and paradox.
The best novelists don't solve or resolve anything, but force us to sit with the contradictions. It isn't an easy or comfortable task, and Unless is far from a cozy read.
Opening Line: "It happens that I am going through a period of great unhappiness and loss just now."
Closing Line: “It is after midnight, late in the month of March.”
Quotes: Unless is the worry word of the English language. It flies like a moth around the ear, you hardly hear it, and yet everything depends on its breathy presence. ... Unless you're lucky, unless you're healthy, fertile, unless you're loved and fed, unless you're clear about your sexual direction, unless you're offered what others are offered, you go down in the darkness, down to despair.
"There is a bounteous feast going on, with music and richness and arabesques of language, but she has not been invited. ... How can she go on living her life knowing what she knows, that women are excluded from greatness, and most of the bloody time they choose to be excluded?"
Rating: Excellent.

Monday, March 15, 2010

330. Cancer Ward - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

History: This book was first published in 1967, and banned in the Soviet Union in 1968. The novel is partly autobiographical. The character Oleg Kostoglotov was admitted to the hospital from a gulag, similar to Solzhenitsyn, and later subjected to internal exile in the same region of the USSR. Oleg is depicted as being born in Leningrad, while Solzhenitsyn was born in Rostov.
Some Uzbek landmarks are mentioned in the novel, such as the trolleyline and Chorsu Bazaar. The zoo Oleg visits is now a soccer field near Mirabad Amusement Park.
Plot: Cancer Ward examines the relationship of a group of people in the cancer ward of a provincial Soviet hospital in 1955, two years after Stalin's death. We see them under normal circumstances, and also reexamined at the eleventh hour of illness. Together they represent a remarkable cross-section of contemporary Russian characters and attitudes. The plot focuses on a group of cancer patients as they undergo therapy. The novel deals with political theories, mortality, and hope — themes that are often explored either through descriptive passages or the conversations the characters have within the ward, which is a microcosm of the post-Stalin Russian Communist government.
Also explored is the effect life in the labour camps will have on a man's life, as Oleg Kostoglotov, the main character, is shocked to discover the materialist world of the city outside the cancer ward. Oleg is in exile in Ush-Terek, in Kazakhstan. Bureaucracy and the nature of power in Stalin's state is represented by Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov, a "personnel officer". The corrupt power of Stalin's regime is shown through his dual desires to be a "worker" but also achieve a "special pension". At the end, Rusanov's wife drops rubbish from her car window, symbolising the carelessness with which the regime treated the country.
Kostoglotov begins two potential romances in the hospital, one with Zoya, a nurse and doctor in training, though the attraction is mostly physical, and a more serious one with Vera Gangart, one of his doctors, a middle-aged woman who has never married, and whom he imagines he might ask to become his wife. Both women invite him to stay overnight in their apartment, ostensibly only as a friend, after he is discharged, because he has nowhere to sleep — his status as an exile makes finding a place to lodge difficult.
His feelings for Vera are strong, and seem to be reciprocated, though neither of them has spoken of it directly.
After wandering around the town, he decides against going to see either woman. He does find the courage to go to Vera's once, but he has left it so late in the day that she is no longer there, and he decides not to try again. His cancer treatment has left him impotent, just as imprisonment and exile have taken all the life out of him; he feels he has nothing left to offer a woman, and that his past means he would always feel out of place in what he sees as normal life. Instead, he decides to accept less from life than he had hoped for, and to face it alone. He heads to the railway station to fight his way onto a train to Ush-Terek. He writes a goodbye letter to Vera from the station.
Review: In this public institution, people from all levels of society find themselves in the same predicament, struck down by a disease that terrorizes and enervates them. The doctors in the ward do their best to keep their patients’ hopes alive, and in some cases treatment seems to be remarkably effective.
We are introduced to the very sympathetic ward-mates chapter by chapter, learning each of their stories, what brought them to the ward as well as their dreams for the future when they are finally cured.
Solzhenitsyn integrates politics into this equation, with heavy doses of irony and sarcasm. Through the strained relationships between the men, doctors, nurses and families, we see the cultural and political forces that were in effect in the post-war Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn puts the relationship between a nurse and her patient so beautifully when he writes "Strange living threads, like a woman's long hair, linked her to this patient and entangled her with him. She was the one who felt pain when the threads were tugged and broken."
Surprisingly, the inmates of the cancer ward manage to retain so much hope, despite all they live through. A simple meal, a good book, a beautiful woman, a spring flower on a tree all these symbols of life are highlighted and glorified.
Opening Line: "On top of everything, the cancer wing was Number 13."
Closing Line: "An evil man threw tobacco in the Macaque Rhesus’s eyes. Just like that…"
Quotes: “What can divide human beings on earth once they are all faced with death?”
“You can’t know everything in the world. Whatever happens, you’ll die a fool.”
“We are so attached to the earth, and yet we are incapable of holding on to it."
"Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There's something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of the universal spirit. Don't you feel that?"
"The meaning of existence was to preserve unspoiled, undisturbed and undistorted the image of eternity with which each person is born."
Rating: GOOD

Thursday, March 4, 2010

329. Fanny Hill - John Cleland

History: Published in 1749, it is the first known erotic novel. It was written while John Cleland was in debtors prison. One of the most prosecuted and banned books in history, it has become a synonym for obscenity.
Plot: The book is written as a series of letters from Fanny Hill to an unknown woman, with Fanny justifying her life-choices to this individual. Frances "Fanny" Hill is a 15-year-old girl with a rudimentary education living in a small village near Liverpool. Shortly after she turns 15, both her parents die. Esther Davis, a girl from Fanny's village who has since moved to London, convinces Fanny to move to the city as well, but Esther inexplicably abandons Fanny once they arrive. Fanny meets Mrs. Brown, a short, obese, rich woman who gives Fanny lodging. Fanny must share a bed with fellow lodger Phoebe Ayres, who seduces Fanny into having lesbian sex the first night.
Unfortunately Mrs. Brown runs a brothel and Fanny is forced to spend an evening with an elderly, impotent, obese man. The man attempts to rape Fanny but fails. Fanny falls into a fever for several days. Mrs. Brown, realizing to her shock that Fanny was not a prostitute but rather a virgin—and that Fanny's virginity is still intact—decides to try to sell Fanny's sexual favors to the exceedingly rich Lord B.
Fanny recovers and spies on Mrs. Brown having sexual intercourse with a muscular, handsome, wealthy man. Fanny masturbates while watching them. That night, Phoebe enlightens Fanny about sex, child-bearing, anal intercourse, and other sexual practices. The next day, Fanny and Phoebe spy on another girl, Polly Ayres, having sex with a muscular, handsome, exceptionally well-endowed young Genoese merchant. Afterward, Phoebe and Fanny engage in mutual masturbation. Six days later, Fanny meets the 19-year-old wealthy nobleman, Charles, and they fall in love instantly. Charles helps Fanny escape the brothel the next day. They go to an inn outside London, where Fanny has sexual intercourse with Charles for several days. Charles takes Fanny to his flat at St. James's, London, and introduces her to his landlady, Mrs. Jones. For many months, Charles visits Fanny almost daily, making love to her.
Fanny works hard to become more educated and urbane. After eight months, Fanny becomes pregnant. Three months later, Charles mysteriously disappears. Mrs. Jones learns that Charles' father has kidnapped his son and sent him to the South Seas to win a fortune. Upset by the news that Charles will be gone at least three years, Fanny miscarries, falls ill, is nursed back to health by Mrs. Jones, and sinks into a deep depression.
Mrs. Jones tells Fanny that the now-16-year-old girl must work as a prostitute for her. Mrs. Jones introduces Fanny to Mr. H., a tall, muscular, hairy-chested rich man. Fanny unwittingly drinks an aphrodisiac, and has sexual intercourse with Mr. H. Fanny concludes that sex can be had for pleasure, not just love. Mr. H puts Fanny up in a new apartment and begins plying her with jewels, clothes, art, and more. After seven months, Fanny discovers the Mr. H. has been having sex with Fanny's maid. Fanny resolves to seduce Will, Mr. H.'s muscular, curly-haired, 19-year-old servant. Will has an extremely large erection: "...not the plaything of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a Maypole, of so enormous a standard, that, had proportions been observed, it must have belonged to a young giant. ... In short, it stood an object of terror and delight."[8] A month later, Mr. H. catches Fanny having sexual intercourse with Will, and stops supporting Fanny.
Fanny is taken in by Mrs. Cole, the mistress of one of Mr. H.'s friends, who also happens to run a brothel in the Covent Garden neighborhood of London. Fanny meets three other prostitutes, who are also living in the house:
Emily, a blonde girl in her early 20s who ran away at the age of 14 from her country home to London. She met a 15-year-old boy who, being sexually experienced, engaged in sexual intercourse with virgin Emily. Although the two lived together a short time, Emily became a street prostitute for several years before being taken in by Mrs. Cole.
Harriet, a brunette and an orphan raised by her aunt, had her first sexual experience with the son of Lord N., a nobleman whose estate adjoined her relative's.
Louisa, the bastard daughter of a cabinetmaker and a maid who entered puberty at a very young age and began engaging in extensive masturbation. While visiting her mother in London, Louisa began masturbating in her mother's bedroom. The landlady's 19-year-old son caught her and made love to the 13-year-old girl. Louisa spent the next few years having sex with as many men as she could and turned to prostitution as a means of satisfying her lust.
A short time later, Fanny participates in an orgy with the three girls and four rich noblemen. Fanny and her young nobleman begin a relationship, but it ends after a few months because the young man moves to Ireland. Mrs. Cole next introduces Fanny to Mr. Norbert, an impotent alcoholic and drug addict who engages in rape fantasies with prostitutes. Unhappy with Mr. Norbert's impotence, Fanny engages in anonymous sex with a sailor in the Royal Navy. The unfortunate Mr. Norbert soon dies, however. Mrs. Cole then introduces Fanny to Mr. Barville, a rich, young masochist who requires whipping to enjoy sex. After a short affair, Fanny begins a sexual relationship with an elderly customer who becomes sexually aroused by caressing her hair and biting the fingertips off her gloves. After this ends, Fanny enters a period of celibacy.
Emily and Louisa go to a drag ball, where Emily meets a bisexual young man who believes Emily is a man. The truth is discovered, and the man makes love to Emily in his carriage. Fanny is confused by her first encounter with male homosexuality. Shortly after this incident, Fanny takes a ride in the country and takes a room at a public tavern after her carriage breaks down. She spies on two young men engaged in anal homosexual intercourse in the next room. Startled, she falls off a stool and knocks herself unconscious. Although the two men have left, she still rouses the villagers to try to hunt the two men down and punish them.
Some weeks later, Fanny watches as Louisa seduces the teenage son of a local woman. His erect penis is even larger than Will's, Fanny believes. The boy, clearly a virgin, engages in somewhat violent, brutal sex several times with Louisa. Louisa leaves Mrs. Cole's a short time later after falling in love with another young man. Emily and Fanny next are invited by two gentleman to a country estate. They swim in a stream, and the two men have sex with the girls for several hours. Emily's parents soon find their daughter, and (unaware of her career as a prostitute) ask her to come home again. She accepts.
Mrs. Cole retires, and Fanny lives on her savings for a while. One day she encounters a middle-aged man of 45 who looks 60 due to his very poor health. The man falls in love with Fanny but treats her like a daughter. He dies and leaves his small fortune to her. Now 18 years old, Fanny uses her new wealth to try to locate Charles. She learns that he disappeared two and a half years ago after reaching the South Seas. Several months later, a despondent Fanny takes a trip to see Mrs. Cole (who had retired near Liverpool). A storm forces Fanny to stop at an inn along the way, where she runs into Charles: He had come back to England but was shipwrecked on the Irish coast. Fanny and Charles get a room together and make love several times. Fanny tells Charles everything about her life of vice, but he forgives her and asks Fanny to marry him, which she does.
Review: Along the way Fanny is invariably cheerful, and enters into every -- well, almost every -- new encounter with boundless enthusiasm. To say that she's a woman of pleasure is complete understatement: She is the original
Happy Hooker. Her heart may belong to Charles, but the rest of her belongs to anyone who can pay the rent. Many can, and do, and no one has more fun than Fanny. She also learns a few things about men, and women, and life:
Hard-earned wisdom, but wisdom all the same. "Fanny Hill" is more than 2 1/2 centuries old, and at times its language is a trifle dated, but in matters of the human heart and body it is as up to date as anything you'll find in "The Playboy Advisor," and a whole lot more fun.
Written while Cleland was in a debtors' prison and published in two volumes in 1748 and 1749, Fanny Hill caused a storm with its tale of a young and beautiful country girl who, through a series of misfortunes, ends up being forced to work as a prostitute.
A favourite of many an English literature undergraduate, it chronicles a cornucopia of sexual practices, including lesbianism and sado-masochism, and led to the arrest of its author who was charged with corrupting the king's subjects. It is seen as the first erotic novel in the English language.
Fanny Hill traces the heroine's rise from humble beginning to becoming a high-class "specialised" prostitute.
Opening Line: "Madam I sit down to give ou an undeniable proof of my considering you desires as indispensable orders."
Closing Line: "I shall see you soon, and in the meantime think candidly of me, and believe me ever."
Quotes: "And now his waistcoat was unbuttoned, and the confinement of the breeches burst through, when out
started to view the amazing, pleasing object of all my wishes, all my dreams, all my love, the king member indeed!"
Rating: Good.

328. Pilgrims Progress - John Bunyan

History: Published in February, 1678. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of English literature, has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been out of print.
Plot: Christian is the protagonist of the allegory, which centers itself in his journey from his hometown, the "City of Destruction" to the "Celestial City" atop Mt. Zion. Christian finds himself weighed down by a great burden, the knowledge of his sin, which he believed came from his reading "the book in his hand," (the Bible). This burden, which would cause him to sink into Tophet (hell), is Christian's acute, immediate concern that impels him to the crisis of what to do for deliverance. Christian meets Evangelist as he is walking out in the fields, who directs him to the "Wicket Gate" for deliverance. Since Christian cannot see the "Wicket Gate" in the distance, Evangelist directs him to go to a "shining light," which Christian thinks he sees. Christian leaves his home, his wife, and children to save himself when his attempt to persuade them to go with him fails. Two men of Destruction City, Obstinate and Pliable, follow Christian to persuade him to return and are unsuccessful. Pliable then decides to accompany Christian on the path, until the two land in the Slough Of Despond—whereupon Pliable extricates himself and goes back to the City; Christian is rescued from the slough by Help, who pulls him out.
On his way to the Wicket Gate, Christian is diverted by Mr. Worldly Wiseman into seeking deliverance from his burden through the Law, supposedly with the help of a Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality, rather than through Christ, allegorically by way of the Wicket Gate. Evangelist meets the wayward Christian where he has stopped before a life-threatening mountain, Mount Sinai, on the way to Legality's home. Evangelist shows Christian that he had sinned by turning out of his way, but he assures him that he will be welcomed at the Wicket Gate if he should turn around and go there, which Christian does.
At the Wicket Gate begins the "straight and narrow" King's Highway, and Christian is directed onto it by the gatekeeper Good Will. In the Second Part, Good-will is shown to be Jesus himself. To Christian's query about relief from his burden, Good Will directs him forward to "the place of deliverance."
Christian makes his way from there to the House of the Interpreter, where he is shown pictures and tableaux that portray or dramatize aspects of the Christian faith and life. Roger Sharrock denotes them "emblems."
From the House of the Interpreter, Christian finally reaches the "place of deliverance" (allegorically, the cross of Calvary and the open sepulchre of Christ), where the "straps" that bound Christian's burden to him break, and it rolls away into the open sepulchre. This event happens relatively early in the narrative: the immediate need of Christian at the beginning of the story being quickly remedied. After Christian is relieved of his burden, he is greeted by three shining ones, who give him the greeting of peace, new garments, and a scroll as a passport into the Celestial City — these are allegorical figures indicative of Christian Baptism.
Atop the Hill of Difficulty, Christian makes his first stop for the night at the House Beautiful, which is an allegory of the local Christian congregation. Christian spends three days here, and leaves clothed with armour (Eph. 6:11-18), which stands him in good stead in his battle against Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation. This battle lasts "over half a day" until Christian manages to wound Apollyon with his two-edged sword.
As night falls Christian enters the Valley of the Shadow of Death. When he is in the middle of the valley amidst the gloom and terror he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm, spoken possibly by his friend Faithful.
As he leaves this valley the sun rises on a new day.
Just outside the Valley of the Shadow of Death he meets Faithful, also a former resident of the City of Destruction, who accompanies him to Vanity Fair, where both are arrested and detained because of their disdain for the wares and business of the fair. Faithful is put on trial, and executed as a martyr. Hopeful, a resident of Vanity, takes Faithful's place to be Christian's companion for the rest of the way.
Along a rough stretch of road, Christian and Hopeful leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow, where a rainstorm forces them to spend the night. In the morning they are captured by Giant Despair, who takes them to his Doubting Castle, where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The giant wants them to commit suicide, but they endure the ordeal until Christian realizes that a key he has, called Promise, will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key, they escape.
The Delectable Mountains form the next stage of Christian and Hopeful's journey, where the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as "Immanuel's Land".
On the way, Christian and Hopeful meet a lad named Ignorance, who has the vain hope of entering the Celestial City even though he believes in work's righteousness. A ferryman named Vain Hope ferries Ignorance across the River of Death, only for Ignorance to be turned away from the gates of Celestial City and cast into hell.
Christian and Hopeful make it through the dangerous Enchanted Ground into the Land of Beulah, where they ready themselves to cross the River of Death on foot to Mount Zion and the Celestial City. Christian has a rough time of it, but Hopeful helps him over; and they are welcomed into the Celestial City.
The Second Part of The Pilgrim's Progress presents the pilgrimage of Christian's wife, Christiana; their sons; and the maiden, Mercy. They visit the same stopping places that Christian visited, with the addition of Gaius' Inn between the Valley of the Shadow of Death and Vanity Fair; but they take a longer time in order to accommodate marriage and childbirth for the four sons and their wives. The hero of the story is Greatheart, the servant of the Interpreter, who is a pilgrim's guide to the Celestial City. He kills four giants and participates in the slaying of a monster that terrorizes the city of Vanity.
The passage of years in this second pilgrimage better allegorizes the journey of the Christian life. By using heroines, Bunyan,n the Second Part, illustrates the idea that women as well as men can be brave pilgrims.
Review: The Pilgrim's Progress is not an apologetics book, and perhaps its true value lies in that. Rather than attempting to present a view of the faith palatable to outsiders, Bunyan unflinchingly depicts what lies at its heart: a morality based on fear, a vengeful god who values meaningless symbolism more than conscience and rational thought, and at the end, a fiery hell of eternal torture for all nonbelievers. All the while he condemns disbelievers for their dogmatism and refusal to heed the truth, apparently without recognizing that the attitude he seeks to instill in his readers is the very mirror image of that. Though the superficial components of such dogmatism may differ, the hostile and violent refusal to abide or even permit dissent is the same. Every chapter reinforces this view, whether through more subtle measures such as associating doubt with whispering demons or sadistic giants, or through the explicit presentation of Hell as an ad baculum argument, warning of grievous and painful doom for all those who do not believe exactly as the author does, down to every fine detail. Although many Christians have justly recognized and rejected these immoral and intellectually deadening tactics, the fact remains, unfortunately, that they come straight from the Bible. That book does indeed threaten dissenters with torture, does indeed call for dogmatism and the out-of-hand rejection of other views,and does indeed elevate outward symbolism over the contents of the heart. As far as moral lessons go, we can do far better than this.
Perhaps a better allegory would be an atheist's journey out of the intellectual darkness of superstition into the paradisal country of the truth?
Opening Line: "As I walk'd through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, the jail, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream."
Closing Line: "Shall it be my Lot to go that way again, I may give those that desire it an account of what I here am silent about; mean-time I bid my Reader Adieu."
Quotes: •"And behold there was a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful."
•"Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions than ruined by too confident a security."
Rating: Awful.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

327. The Castle - Franz Kafka

History: Kafka began writing The Castle on the evening of January 27, 1922, the day he arrived at the mountain resort of Spindlermühle (now in the Czech Republic). A picture taken of him upon his arrival shows him by a horse-drawn sleigh in the snow in a setting reminiscent of The Castle. Hence, the significance that the first few chapters of the handwritten manuscript were written in first person and at some point later changed by Kafka to a third person narrator, 'K.
Kafka died prior to finishing The Castle and it is questionable whether Kafka intended on finishing it if he had survived his tuberculosis. On separate occasions he told his friend Max Brod of two different conditions: K., the book's protagonist, would continue to reside and die in the village; the castle notifying him on his death bed that his "legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there", but then on September 11, 1922 in a letter to Max Brod, he said he was giving up on the book and would never return to it. As it is, the book ends mid-sentence.
Although Brod was instructed by Kafka to destroy all his works on his death, he did not and set about publishing Kafka's writings. The Castle was originally published in German in 1926 by the publisher Kurt Wolff Verlag of Munich. It was republished in 1935, and in 1946.
Brod had to heavily edit the work to ready it for publication. His goal was to gain acceptance of the work and the author, not to maintain the structure of Kafka's writing. This would play heavily in the future of the translations and continues to be the center of discussion on the text. Brod donated the manuscript to Oxford University.
Brod placed a strong religious significance to the symbolism of the castle. This is one possible interpretation of the work based on numerous Judeo-Christian references.
Plot: The narrator, K. arrives in the village, governed by the castle. When seeking shelter at the town inn, he gives himself out to be a land surveyor summoned by the castle authorities. He is quickly notified that his castle
contact is an official named Klamm, who, in the introductory note, informs K. he will report to the Council Chairman.The Council Chairman informs K. that, through a mix up in communication between the castle and the village, he was erroneously requested but, trying to accommodate K., the Council Chairman offers him a position in the service of the school teacher as a janitor. Meanwhile, K., unfamiliar with the customs, bureaucracy and processes of the village, continues to attempt to reach the official Klamm, who is not accessible. The villagers hold the officials and the castle in the highest regard, justifying, quite elaborately at times, the actions of the officials, even though they do not appear to know what officials do or why they do it; they simply defend it. The number of assumptions and justifications about the functions of the officials and their dealings are enumerated through lengthy monologues of the villagers. Everyone appears to have an explanation for the official's actions that appear to be founded on assumptions and gossip. One of the more obvious contradictions between the "official word" and the village conception is the dissertation by the secretary Erlanger on Frieda's required return to service as a barmaid. K. is the only villager that knows that the request is being forced by the castle (even though Frieda may be the genesis), with no regard for anyone in the village, only Klamm. Pepi and Jeremiah quickly come to their conclusions and do not hesitate to state them.
The castle is the ultimate bureaucracy with copious paperwork that the bureaucracy maintains is "flawless". This flawlessness is of course a lie; it is a flaw in the paperwork that has brought K. to the village. There are other failures of the system which are occasionally referred to. K. witnesses a flagrant misprocessing after his nighttime interrogation by Erlanger as a servant destroys paperwork when he cannot determine who the recipient should be.
The castle's occupants appear to be all adult men and there is little reference to the castle other than to its bureaucratic functions. The two notable instances are the reference to a fire brigade and that Otto Brunswick's wife is self declared as from the castle. The latter builds the importance of Hans (Otto's son) in K's eyes, as a way to gain access to the castle officials.
The functions of the officials are never mentioned. The officials that are discussed have one or more secretaries that do their work in their village. Although the officials come to the village they do not interact with the villagers unless they need female companionship, implied to be sexual.
Review: The Castle is about alienation, bureaucracy, and the seemingly endless frustrations of man's attempts to stand against the system.. One interpretation of K.'s struggle to contact the castle is that it represents a man's
search for salvation. According to Mark Harman, translator of a recent edition of The Castle, this was the interpretation favored by the original translators Harman feels he has removed the bias in the translations toward this view, but many still feel this is the point of the book. Fueling the biblical interpretations of the novel are the various names and situations. For example, the official Galater (the German word for Galatians), one of the initial regions to develop a strong Christian following from the work of Apostle Paul and his assistant Barnabas. The name of the messenger, Barnabas, for the same reason.
In The Castle, one of Kafka's last works, the setting is a village dominated by a castle. Time seems to have stopped in this wintry landscape, and nearly all the scenes occur in the dark. K. arrives at the village claiming to be a land surveyor appointed by the castle authorities. His claim is rejected by the village officials, and the novel recounts K.'s efforts to gain recognition from an authority that is as elusive as Joseph K.'s courts. But K. is not a victim; he is an aggressor, challenging both the petty, arrogant officials and the villagers who accept their authority. All of his stratagems fail. Like Joseph K., he makes love to a servant, the barmaid Frieda, but she leaves him when she discovers that he is simply using her. Brod observes that Kafka intended that K. should die exhausted by his efforts, but that on his deathbed he was to receive a permit to stay. There are new elements in this novel; it is tragic, not desolate. While the majority of Kafka's characters are mere functions, Frieda is a resolute person, calm and matter-of-fact. K. gains through her personality some insight into a possible solution of his quest, and when he speaks of her with affection, he seems himself to be breaking through his sense of isolation.
Opening Line: "It was late evening when K. arrived."
Closing Line: "It was difficult to understand her, but what she said..."
Quotes: "To be precise, one is desperate. To be more precise, one is very happy."
Rating: Difficult.

326. Smiley's People - John Le Carre

History: This book was published in 1979.
Plot: Maria Andreyevna Ostrakova, a Soviet émigrée in Paris, defected to the West years ago having left behind a daughter named Alexandra. Ostrakova is persuaded by a Soviet agent (Kursky, also known as Oleg Kirov) that her daughter may be permitted to emigrate and join her in Paris. Ostrakova eagerly applies for French citizenship for her daughter, but time passes with no sign of Alexandra and no further contact with "Kirov." Ostrakova realises that she and her real-life story have been used, probably by the KGB, for some unknown reason. She therefore contacts General Vladimir, a former World War II Soviet General who was secretly an agent for the British due to his patriotism for his native Estonia. After his eventual defection, "the General" became the leader of a pro-Estonian independence group with dubious usefulness to Western intelligence agencies but nonetheless a hero among the Russian émigré community living in the West.
Vladimir immediately realizes that Ostrakova was unwittingly used to provided a "legend", i.e. a false identity, for an unknown young woman through a scheme personally directed by KGB master spy Karla. He also recognises that the operation is wholly unofficial, because Karla uses untrained and blundering Soviet diplomatic personnel rather than trained KGB intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover.
Vladimir attempts to contact "Hector" (Toby Esterhase), his old handler in the British Secret Service, but is rebuffed as Esterhase is now retired from the Circus (the London headquarters of British Intelligence). He nevertheless sends his agent and confidant Otto Leipzig to interview Ostrakova in Paris, and sends another friend's son, Villem, to Hamburg to collect vital proofs from Leipzig. He then contacts British Intelligence again. This time he insists on speaking to his former senior case officer "Max" (George Smiley), not realising that Smiley himself is retired. The Circus is sceptical and uncooperative.
Meanwhile, Vladimir's activities have been betrayed by Karla's network of informers within the Russian émigré community. Vladimir is professionally assassinated while on his way to meet with a young and inexperienced handler from the Circus, evidently by a Moscow agent.
New Circus head Saul Enderby and Civil Service undersecretary Oliver Lacon are certain that the General was merely an obscure ex-agent seeking attention, and want to quickly bury the matter and protect themselves and the Circus from any scandal. They call George Smiley back from his forced retirement to evaluate the situation in the hopes that he will quickly clean up the incident and bury any links to the Circus. Unlike those currently in authority at the Circus, Smiley takes seriously Vladimir's claims about valuable information and begins to investigate rather than sweeping the issue under the rug. Close to the spot where Vladimir was murdered, he discovers the negative of a compromising photograph of Leipzig and another man, which Vladimir had hidden just before his death. He recalls that Leipzig had often used Kirov, a venal amateur agent who was susceptible to blackmail, as a source of information, and surmises that Kirov is probably the other man in the photograph.
Soviet agents meanwhile bungle an attempt to kill Ostrakova. Smiley fortuitously recovers a letter from Ostrakova to the General from a postman outside Vladimir's run-down flat. He then consults with former Circus researcher Connie Sachs, obtaining some background information on Kirov and also on Karla. In particular, Connie recalls old rumours that Karla had a daughter by a mistress whom Karla had deeply loved but ultimately turned against him and was sent to the Gulag on Karla's orders. The daughter, Tatiana, grew up with a disappeared mother and a father she never knew; she became mentally unstable (demonstrated by "acting out" through repeated petty crime and rampant promiscuity) and was subsequently confined to a mental institution.
Smiley flies to Hamburg, where he hopes to learn the rest of the story. He tracks down Claus Kretzschmar, an old associate of Leipzig and owner of the seedy night club where the photograph discarded by the General was taken. Kretzschmar gives him directions to find Leipzig, on a boat in a gypsy encampment; but Soviet agents have found Leipzig first, torturing and killing him. Smiley's postmortem search of Leipzig's boat uncovers what Karla's agents did not: the torn half of a postcard hidden underwater in an old shoe. His discovery is witnessed by several people, and his rental car is severely damaged by the gypsies. Smiley rushes to finish his work in Hamburg before the German authorities and Soviet thugs close in on him. Here Smiley appears as the spy of old (his first assignment was in Germany before the war according to Call for the Dead) and a master of tradecraft.
He takes the half of the postcard to Kretzschmar, who matches it to the other half and gives Smiley a tape recording made at the time the photograph of Leipzig and Kirov was taken, and the photocopy of Ostrakova's first letter which Vladimir had sent to Leipzig. Smiley reads the letter and flies to Paris, fearing for Ostrakova's life. With help from his old friend and former lieutenant Peter Guillam, now serving out his days in the British Embassy in Paris, Smiley gets Ostrakova to a safe place. He also learns that Kirov has been summoned back to Moscow, and has probably been killed for his indiscretions.
Smiley then returns to London where he meets in secret with Enderby. The transcribed tape of Kirov's confession to Leipzig shows that Karla is secretly diverting official funds (US $10,000 every month) and misappropriating resources through the Soviet embassy in Berne, Switzerland, using a commercial attache named Grigoriev. This money and resources are all going to the care of Karla's daughter who, using the faked citizenship of Ostrakova's daughter, has been committed to a high-end Swiss psychiatric facility. Smiley explains that if British Intelligence can obtain proof of this relationship, they may have the information necessary to blackmail (or "burn") Smiley's nemesis Karla and force him to defect or face disgrace and possibly execution. Unexpectedly, Smiley obtains approval, and secret and deniable funding, from Enderby to mount an operation to secure the evidence from Grigoriev and close the trap on Karla.
While Smiley does research at the Circus, Toby Esterhase, the former head of the Circus's "lamplighters" (covert agent operations) section, sets up a team in Berne to keep Grigoriev under surveillance. Smiley then visits his estranged wife, Ann, and makes a point of cutting all relations with her, deliberately shedding his illusions (Karla previously described Ann as 'the last illusion of an illusionless man') as he prepares to face down his greatest foe. Smiley recognises how ruthless he must become if he is to be Karla's nemesis.
On arriving in Berne, Smiley learns that, like Kirov, Grigoriev is untrained in spycraft and hopeless at concealment. Esterhase's team soon gains ample evidence of his unofficial handling of funds for Karla and his affair with one of his secretaries. Although Grigoriev is normally accompanied everywhere by his formidable wife, Grigorieva, he makes an informal trip into Berne by himself one Sunday and is bundled into a car by Esterhase and his helpers. He is then subjected to Smiley's expert interrogation, and given the choice of cooperating and defecting, or being returned to the Soviet Union in disgrace with the prospect of a lifetime facing Karla's and Grigorieva's wrath. Grigoriev quickly confesses all he knows of the arrangements regarding Alexandra's care and the details of the visits he makes to her.
Although it is unnecessary, Smiley visits Alexandra, who is being treated for mental disorder in an institution run by an order of nuns. Among her "symptoms" are her insistence that she is actually called Tatiana, and is the daughter of a powerful man who can make people disappear but does not actually exist.
Smiley then writes a letter to Karla, which Grigoriev passes on instead of his usual weekly report on "Alexandra's" condition and the minutiae of her treatment. The contents of the letter are unknown but Karla is evidently faced with a choice between defection, or his own and his daughter's destruction.
In a final scene reminiscent of the opening scene of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Karla, posing as a labourer, defects using a walk-bridge at the Berlin Wall. Unlike Karl Riemeck in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Karla does not panic during the crossing and makes it safely to the Circus's waiting car. Before crossing over into the waiting arms of western agents, Karla drops the cigarette lighter he had purloined from Smiley years ago, a gift to George from his unfaithful wife Ann. Given the opportunity, Smiley fails to pick up the lighter—another sign that he has become that which he resisted for so long.
Karla is finally defeated, but the similarity of Smiley's methods to the cold and ruthless techniques of Karla himself robs Smiley of any apparent sense of triumph in the book's closing sentences.
Review: Le Carré strips away the romantic glamor of a "spy novel" and deals with the heart of espionage, people. Much of the book is consumed by talking, storytelling. There are long passages, chapters long, where one character reveals or reviews their knowledge for Smiley's benefit. He works over his own information, revisiting old case files, and interviews other people extensively. He talks to former associates and colleagues, some of whom he had sworn never to see again. In doing so, he pieces together the story which will lead to the final showdown with Karla, a shadowy figure at best who seems to have outlasted Smiley in the spy business.
At times the dialogue feels tedious, as some characters attempt to hide or restrict information. Much of the story you must figure out for yourself.
Opening Line: "Two semminly unconnected events heralded the summons of Mr. George Smiley from his dubious retirement."
Closing Line: "Did I?" said Smiley. "Yes. Yes, well I suppose I did."
Quotes: "Blackmail is more effective than bribery."
Rating: Okay.

325. Shirley - Charlotte Bronte

History: This is the second novel published by Charlotte Bronte, in 1849. The novel's popularity led to Shirley becoming a woman's name. Before the publication of the novel, Shirley was an uncommon - but distinctly male - name and would have been an unusual name for a woman.
Plot: The novel opens with Robert waiting for machines to be delivered to his factory, machines that will let him employ even fewer people than earlier. Robert stays awake all night with company, but the machines are never delivered, smashed in the way by angry workers. Robert is a mill owner who is more ruthless about his workers than any other mill owner in town, but he needs to be so since he has inherited a business in debt, a factory that was already mortgaged and inefficiently run by his father. His elder brother became a private tutor and Robert took it upon himself to make the factory a profitable venture. Although he is determined to become successful in order to restore his family's honour and fortune, Robert's business difficulties continue, due in part to the continuing labor unrest, but even more so to the Napoleonic Wars and the accompanying Orders in Council which forbid British merchants from trading in American markets.
Robert is very close to Caroline Helstone, who comes to his house to learn French from his sister. Caroline worships Robert and he likes her too. Caroline’s father is dead and her mother had abandoned her, leaving her to be brought up by her uncle, the local priest Revd. Helstone. Caroline is penniless, and this leads Robert to keep his distance from her, since he cannot afford to marry for pleasure or love, he has to marry for money if he has to get his factory going again.
Caroline realizes that Robert is growing increasingly distant and withdraws into herself. Her uncle does not sympathise with her ‘fancies’ and because of her limited financial resources, she cannot leave the place, which is what she longs to do. She suggests taking up the job of a governess but her uncle dismisses it and assures her that she need not work.
Caroline cheers up a great deal, however, when she meets Shirley. Shirley is a landowner, an independent heiress whose parents are dead and who lives with Mrs. Pryor, an old governess. Shirley is lively, cheerful and full of ideas about how to use her money, how to help people and very interested in business concerns. Caroline and Shirley soon become very close friends; especially since they both dislike social hypocrisy and wish they could so something significant with their lives. As Caroline gets closer to Shirley, she notices that Shirley and Robert get along very well, which makes her think that they would end up marrying each other. Shirley likes Robert, is very interested in his work and concerned about him and about the threats that he keeps getting from his earlier employees, whom he laid off. The text shows both good and bad old employees, at times showing the real suffering of those who were honest workers and can no longer find good work, and at times showing how some people use losing work as an excuse to get drunk, fight with their previous owners and incite other people to violence. Shirley uses her money to help the poorest of the lot, but she is also motivated by the desire to prevent any attack on Robert, a motive that makes Caroline both happy and unhappy.
One night, Caroline and Shirley conclude from the behaviour of Robert and others that an attack is imminent, they go the mill together to warn Robert. They come too late and have to hide near the mill. But Robert is already prepared and he mounts a counter-attack. He successfully defeats the men and gets the ring leaders arrested, the whole encounter being witnessed by Shirley and Caroline from their hiding place.
After this incident, the whole neighbourhood is convinced that Robert and Shirley shall wed, the anticipation of which causes Caroline to fall sick. Mrs. Pryor comes to look after her, and realizes that Caroline is pining away. Every Tuesday, Caroline sits by the window sill, no matter how weak or tired, to catch a glimpse of Robert on his way to the market. Mrs. Pryor makes it a point to see what it is that Caroline looks out for, she now knows the cause of Caroline’s sorrow but is helpless; she continues her vigil in the sick room even as Caroline worsens daily.
In the meantime, Robert leaves for London without any concrete reason. Caroline thinks that even the glimpse that she got of him every Tuesday is taken away from her, and she feels that she has ‘nothing left to live for’ since there is no one who cares whether she lives or dies. Mrs. Pryor then reveals to Caroline what she has so far kept a secret – namely that she is her real mother, that she had abandoned her daughter because her daughter looked exactly like her husband – a husband who tortured her and made her life miserable. She did not have a lot of money and when her brother-in-law offered to bring up the child, she accepted it, took up her maiden name of Pryor and went off to become a governess. Caroline now has a reason to live – her ‘mamma’ and she begins to recover slowly, since she knows that she can go and live with her mother.
In the meantime, her uncle and aunt visit Shirley. They bring with them their son and his tutor. This tutor is Louis Moore, Robert’s elder brother – and he had taught Shirley when she was younger. Caroline is puzzled by Shirley’s behaviour towards Louis – the friendly girl who treats her servants as her own family is always haughty and formal with Louis and never seems to forget that he is a lowly tutor with no money of his own. Two people fall in love with Shirley and woo her, but she refuses both because she does not love them. Her uncle is surprised by this behaviour and wants her to marry someone respectable soon. The viscount of the area falls in love with Shirley and she likes him too, though she does not respect him and does not want to marry him. The neighbourhood, however, is certain that she will not refuse so favourable a match. The relationship between Shirley and Louis, meanwhile, continues to be ambivalent – there are days when Louis can, with the authority of an old teacher, ask Shirley to come to the schoolroom and recite the French pieces that she learnt earlier, and days when Shirley will completely ignore him through the day, not even speaking to him once even when they have breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same table. At the same time, when Shirley is upset, the only one she can confide in is Louis. When a supposed ‘mad dog’ bites Shirley and makes her think that she is likely to die early, no one can make her reveal what it is that makes her so sad. It is only Louis who insists and who gets the whole incident out of her, and Shirley makes him promise that if she is to be put to death because of rabies, it be his hand that delivers that final injection.
Robert returns one dark night, first stopping at the market and then returning to him home with a friend. The friend tells him that it is widely speculated that Shirley is to marry a rich man and asks him why he left when it seemed so sure that Shirley loved him and would have married him. Robert replies that he had assumed the same, and that he had proposed to Shirley before he left. But Shirley had at first laughed, thinking that he was not serious, and cried when she discovered that he was. She had told him that she knew that he did not love her, that he asked for her hand not for her but for her money and this decreased her respect for him. When Robert had argued that Shirley had shown concern for him, been open with him from the very beginning and discussed his business matters at length with him, she had said that she had esteem and affection for him, but not love and now even that esteem and affection were in danger. Robert walked away from that room filled with a sense of humiliation, even as he knew that she was right – that he had ignored his affection for Caroline and sought Shirley out primarily for her money. This self-disgust drove Robert away to London and he realized there that restoring the family name was not as important as self-respect and he had returned home, determined to close the mill if he had to, and go away to Canada and work hard and make his
fortune. Just as Robert finishes his narration, his friend hears a gunshot and Robert falls from his horse – the workers are finally avenged.
The friend takes Robert home and looks after him, and after a turn for the worse, Robert slowly gets better. A visit from Caroline revives him but she has to come secretly, hiding from her uncle and his friend and his family. Robert asks for Caroline’s forgiveness and tries to tell her what had happened with Shirley, but she stops him and tells him that she has forgiven him and that she got some idea from Shirley and does not need to know any more. She also predicts that Shirley is in love too, and that she is not ‘master of her own heart’. Robert soon moves back to his house and persuades his sister that the very thing the house needs to cheer it up is a visit by Caroline.
When Shirley refuses the viscount’s offer of marriage, her uncle is enraged and has a fight with her, after which he decides to leave the office. This mean that Louis will have to leave too, which emboldens him enough to make his declaration – he proposes to Shirley, despite the difference in their relative situations. Shirley agrees to marry him, though she has moments of indecision and panic at the thought of giving up her independence. The novel ends with Caroline and Shirley marrying the two brothers, Robert and Louis, respectively.
Opening Line: "Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England."
Closing Line: "I only say, God Speed Him in the Quest."
Quotes: "At last, however, a pale light falls on the page from the window: she looks, the moon is up; she closes the volume, rises, and walks through the room. Her book has perhaps been a good one; it has refreshed, refilled, rewarmed her heart; it has set her brain astir, furnished her mind with pictures. The still parlour, the clean hearth, the window opening on the twilight sky, and showing its 'sweet regent', new throned and glorious, suffice to make earth an Eden, life a poem, for Shirley."
Rating: Okay