Dum Spiro Spero


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I first heard of Kuching, Sarawak was the time I read a novel called Ghost Cave by Elsie Sze. A story that transcends three generations – a Hakka labourer ancestor embarked to Kuching to search for a better life during the nineteenth century, a young man who belonged to a communist guerrilla in the 1950s Sarawak fought in the jungles for his believed ideology, and a girl who traced her own roots and questioned her own identity while spending a time in the City of the modern-day. This captivating novel highlighted the rebellion we must each have to confront with at some certain points of our lives and only that we could eventually define ourselves who we are as humans. It also captures the importance of family and traditions that should be cherished and treasured.


Since I had read the book a few years ago I always wanted to go to Kuching. Since I had visited the place in late March it occupies a special place in my heart. There is no direct flight to Hong Kong to Kuching so I am thankful that my parents came along with me to take an international transfer flight and roamed around the City for this short but unforgettable five-day holiday. They were daunted at first because they always found something negative to say about a place and the availability of food spots which were unbeknownst to them. “The place is notorious for motorbike robbery”, “it’s very inconvenient not to have metro transport system.” However soon we got there, the disadvantages that are pointed toward this City were over-weighed by the laid-back aura there. Provided with the newly completed bridge being set as a backdrop to the waterfront esplanade the spectacle becomes really peerless indeed and my feeling was quite overjoyed.


One of my ultimate destinations was to see the Fort Margherita. Commissioned by the second white rajah, Charles Brooke, and being built in 1879, it initially served as a fort to fend of potential enemy and later transformed into a police museum before turned into a gallery which recounts and commemorates the Brooke Dynasty. In this case, the Fort oversees four generations of Sarawak governance. The Gallery mainly comprises of a few sections: (a) the start of civilisation of Sarawak, exploration of Borneo Island by European precedents and early life and exploits of James Brooke; (b) deprivations of the locals by Sultanate of the early Bruneian Empire, piracy operated by Dayaks, crushing of turmoil in Sarawak by James Brooke and his allies, and finally the proclamation of a new Kingdom by the first White Rajah Brooke; (c) Brookes’ governance, dissidents and uprisings against Brooke Dynasty; (d) centenary celebrations of Brooke Dynasty before WWII, Japanese Occupation; (e) Charles Vyner Brooke, Anthony Brooke, and anti-cession movement; and (f) Today’s Sarawak and Malaysia Borneo.


Some of the most interesting parts of the Brooke stories are the exploits of James Brooke and his setting sail on the Royalist. It is incredible how a veteran who had a bullet shot with a wound in the lung during his fight could be inspired by stories of the East while in Bath and had such an adventurous heart that made him the first White Rajah (which, could somewhat overlooked his controversial rule), Brookes’ wives, and post-war Sarawak on which how the anti-cession movement turned “dirty”, how the Sarawakians fought about their future and interests. It seemed like roles and identity are always the concerns that entrenched many Sarawakians all the time. While many displays are very interesting and gripping, some definitely give me a heart attack, like that badger encased in a glass. I didn’t expect a taxidermy on display at all!


However, I think this gallery is operated to commemorate Brookes and unfortunately only one side of the coin is shown. It should somewhat include more on the controversial sides of White Rajahs, for example, the massacres around the Dynasty, as well as the the effect and aftermath of colonisation as well. Apart from that, I also went to the Chinese History Museum, Sarawak Natural History Museum (although only the  building about history of Sarawak is open to visitors, but I never get tired to it), and Sarawak Cultural Village (only one hour and a half because the taxi cab is waiting outside).


The most surprising bit is that I’ve got to try Seafood Ngare at the Waterfront. If I had visited this city alone I would have doubted whether I had the heart to do it! After spending a few days in Kuching, I really enjoy being surrounded by the place and the people, and the motto of “unity”. My goal would be to return to this city someday, and hopefully to have learned much more about the history of Sarawak beforehand to be more culturally indulged in the beauty of it.



The Travelling Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

Despite appearances, I’m a pretty intelligent, well-mannered cat, and I worked out how to use the toilet right away and never once soiled the floor. Tell me not to sharpen my claws on certain places, and I refrain. The walls and door frames were forbidden so I used the furniture and rug for claw-sharpening. I mean, he never specifically mentioned that the furniture and the rug were off limits. (Admittedly, he did look a little put out at first, but I’m the kind of cat who can pick up on things, sniff out what’s absolutely forbidden, and what isn’t. The furniture and the rug weren’t absolutely off limits, is what I’m saying.)

I think it took about two months to get the stitches out and for the bone to heal. During that time, I found out the man’s name. Satoru Miyawaki.

9780857524195Five years ago, Nana, a stray cat in Tokyo, met his first and ever human friend whom he believed himself destined to belong to, and mutually endeared one to another. At first, their encounter didn’t start off smoothly without a doubt, because Nana was a stray cat who had gone through the fiercest and fittest theory of survival as well as several “carnage” on the streets. But staying with his owner, Satoru, Nana not only developed a “worldly wisdom” that was confined to the feline world but also experienced a nobility, once it’s in a humans’ heart, could be invaluable.

Then one day, Satoru, a young man who was in his thirty odd years, notified one friend after another that he would be setting off to make a visit along with Nana. First was an elementary school friend (now a photo studio proprietor), second a junior high school pal (farmer), third a couple (owners of a B&B / orchard field) who were his high school classmates – hence provided the titular cat on a silver van with his owner and an unforgettable journey on the roads of Japan. The third-person narrative recounted the inescapable helplessness, weaknesses and self-doubt that each of the friends they had at some points of their lives while sharing a friendship with Satoru, and how those points from then on transferred onto their adulthood with guilt, regrets, and remorse. Satoru and Nana, after some years, came to mend their wounds and help them confront and embrace the past.

One of the enchanting elements of the story is Satoru’s nobility. He never thought fate was miserable to him; he appreciated that little collateral’s beauty in life –  that things and people are intertwining to crotchet stories surrounding us that make lives meaningful; and while reading the book, my tears are always racing against the plot before it unveiling itself. It’s very overwhelming to lock myself into the aura of devotion and preciousness of love shared between Nana and Saturo; they deserved to have one another, and Saturo was a very likeable owner to be so incomparably observant and perceptive to Nana’s feelings that only pets are contained to do towards humans. “[A] proud cat like me wasn’t about to abandon his pal. If living as a stray was what it took to be Satoru’s cat to the very end, then bring it on.” I must say, I really like this book and while reading it, I have a feeling that I very much eager to be liked by none other creature than Cats; and I am proud to say that there was once in my life during my boarding school years a cat that I very much endeared to had licked my hand.

By the way, inspired by a novel I had read around two years ago, I’m travelling to Kuching, Malaysia within a month. It’s very exciting if those days I am spending in Kuching could be posted up here very soon! 🙂

I Say No (1884) by Wilkie Collins

books_isay_ybcw“Literature has hardly paid sufficient attention to a social phenomenon of a singularly perplexing kind. We hear enough, and more than enough, of persons who successfully cultivate the Arts – of the remarkable manner in which fitness for their vocation shows itself in early life, of the obstacles which family prejudice places in their way, and of the unremitting devotion which has led to the achievement of glorious results.

But how many writers have noticed those other incomprehensible persons, members of families innocent for generations past of practicing Art or caring for Art, who have notwithstanding displayed from their earliest years the irresistible desire to cultivate poetry, painting, or music; who have surmounted obstacles, and endured disappointments, in the single-hearted resolution to devote their lives to an intellectual pursuit – being absolutely without the capacity which proves the vocation, and justifies the sacrifice. Here is Nature, ‘unerring Nature,’ presented in flat contradiction with herself. Here are men bent on performing feats of running, without having legs; and women, hopelessly barren, living in constant expectation of large families to the end of their days.”

As the above paragraph indicates, many persons, who with an enormous passion for what they do, are often overlooked as anonymity and unacknowledged due to their failure of not attaining remarkable results regardless of the hardship they endure and the diligence they put in. I Say No: or the Love-letter Answered, in my idea, is that Wilkie, through the story, avuncularly and humorously gives a nod of encouragement to the persons, including us readers, who work persistently, morally and assiduously for their passions, and guides those stray suffered ones back on the right track of fortitude, perseverance, and hope.

“The passion of revenge, being essentially selfish in its nature, is of all passions the narrowest in its range of view.”

After James Brown received that letter replied with only three words – “I Say No”, the love-worn man incurred an unexpected death. Arrest warrant issued, people who were acquainted with James Brown were shadowed by his tragic death and each suffered mentally in a great deal. But four years after James’s daughter, Emily, was imparted by her beloved aunt that her father died of heart diseases, the “acknowledged” truth that Emily knows was later on challenged and concealed by her admirers, as well as a self-absorbed friend for different reasons. The good self-denying ones concealed it purely out of love and interests towards Emily. However, the merciless antagonist irrigated it as the seed of retribution: when obstacles were in the way, the revelation of the truth was used as shortcuts to achieve the means.

So some would say, what really happened to the mysterious death? “The wound could not have been inflicted, in the act of suicide, by the hand of the deceased person…” Based on this court hearing, it made the ending all the more of a anti-climax. The solution of the mystery was solely based on Emily’s trusting attributes and belief without any proof of evidence. Nobody including Miss Jethro, Mrs Rook, and Reverend Mirabel was blamed in the end. I thought Reverend Mirabel was the murderer as it seems like the authors of the contemporaries tend to attack the false philanthropy and pretentiousness of a person who induces an interesting and extreme contrast between his social position and character. But all Reverend Mirabel possesses was disconcert and fear. Mrs Rook, on the other hand, was only atoned for her sin of greed. Therefore this ending was a bit disappointing. I actually could not figure out why Wilkie chose to end the narrative in this way.

All in all, the case why I always adore Wilkie’s works is the way he masters the skills of dissecting characters’ emotional ambivalence, which makes long paragraphs a satisfying read. I Say No has a lot of paragraphs and element about indecisiveness, confusion, and puzzlement, and I somewhat enjoy it.



“Observant persons, accustomed to frequent the London parks, can hardly have failed to notice the number of solitary strangers sadly endeavoring to vary their lives by taking a walk. They linger about the flower-beds; they sit for hours on the benches; they look with patient curiosity at other people who have companions; they notice ladies on horseback and children at play, with submissive interest; some of the men find company in a pipe, without appearing to enjoy it; some of the women find a substitute for dinner, in little dry biscuits wrapped in crumpled scraps of paper; they are not sociable; they are hardly ever seen to make acquaintance with each other; perhaps they are shame-faced, or proud, or sullen; perhaps they despair of others, being accustomed to despair of themselves; perhaps they have their reasons for never venturing to encounter curiosity, or their vices which dread detection, or their virtues which suffer hardship with the resignation that is sufficient for itself. The one thing certain is, that these unfortunate people resist discovery. We know that they are strangers in London—and we know no more.”  – I Say No (1884), Wilkie Collins

A Portrait-Painter’s Story – a ghostly encounter unveiled to Dickens in 1861

HeaphyLast year I randomly downloaded an American podcast doing a Halloween special about the history of ghosts and supernatural writings in the nineteenth century. The hosts came across a ghost story which was published in a journal edited by Dickens, All the Year Round, in September 1861, entitled A Portrait-Painter’s Story.  I was intrigued by that time while I listened to the podcast and today I dug out some information regarding the curious anecdote of Dickens.

The story set against the backdrop during autumnal time in 1858. A portrait painter occasioned to get acquainted with a beautiful young lady who got in the carriage at the Doncaster stop and sat down opposite to him while he was travelling on a morning train from York to London.

The next few minutes were occupied in locating herself. There was the cloak to be spread under her, the skirts of the dress to be arranged, the gloves to be tightened, and such other trifling arrangements of plumage as ladies are wont to make before sitting themselves comfortably at church or elsewhere, the last and most important being the placing back over her hat the veil that concealed her features. I could then see that the lady was young, certainly pot more than two or three and twenty; but being moderately tall, rather robust in make and decided in expression, she might have been two or three years younger.

The protagonist was supposed to leave the lady to get on with his journey and interchanged at Retford Junction so as to meet up a Kirkbeck family in Lincolnshire. However, as soon as he arrived at the host’s house he against bumped into the mysterious young lady who stood near the chimney-place and warmed her feet. Since then several times did the mysterious young woman appear to him inadvertently and besought him to make some sketches of her with his own recollection. To ease the painter’s burden to his work, she also produced from her belongings an engraving of a woman  whom her family considered to be very much like her.

“Do you think you could paint my portrait?” the lady inquired.

“Yes, 1 think I could, if I had the opportunity.”

“Now, look at my face well; do you think you should recollect my features?”

“Yes, I am sure I should never forget your features.”

“Of course I might have expected you to say that; but do you think you could do me from recollection?”

“Well, if it be necessary, I will try; but can’t you give me any sittings?”

“No, quite impossible; it could not be. It is said that the print I showed you before dinner is like me; do you think so?”

“Not much.” I replied; “it has not your expression. If you can give me one sitting, it would be better than none.”

“No; I don’t see how it could be.”

Weeks later the portrait painter unexpectedly stayed with a family called Lute, which the story is brought to the climax in that the young lady, who actually named Caroline, “died near four months previously; that her father had never yet recovered from the shock of her death”. Through violent paroxysms, the father saw images of the deceased daughter engaging with the protagonist; and being taken care by the circumstance of fate and the portrait painter’s sketches, the once indisposed yet convalescing father could finally reunite with his beloved Caroline through the memories they shared with each other. “The portrait now hangs in his bedroom, with the print and the two sketches by the side, and written beneath is: “C. L., 13th September, 1858, aged twenty-two.”

Victorians those days were all obsessed with spiritual encounters, mesmerism, prophecies, premonitions, inexplicable fate and coincidences that befell upon them in life, just the same as we are today, which made supernatural and Gothic tales irresistible to the reading public (One example was that a young girl aged fifteen was suffered from fits and died horribly as she was much worried by Mother Shipton’s prophecy that the world would end in 1881). The publication of A Portrait-Painter’s Story soon aroused an incredulous response, especially from a miniature painter, Thomas Frank Heaphy (1813 – 1873). Heaphy wrote in a letter to Dickens attached with his own copy of the story  claiming that the incident, who Heaphy thought “originated” by Dickens, was more or less true – but he himself was the actually none other than the real “protagonist” who encountered this seemingly young and beautiful apparition. Dickens was much amazed and shocked by the coincidence displayed through the series of correspondence he had with Heaphy, especially as to the date that he himself inserted while revising the proof for the publication – “Why that date should have come into my head rather than any other I am profoundly unable to say.” The Story, according to Dickens’s account, was second handed to Sir Edward Lytton from a young writer named Edward Ward, and timely Mr Layard, a friend of his, also heard Sir Edward Lytton retold it in a gathering party.

Dickens thought the version of Heaphy’s was far more striking as well as superior and requested to procure Heaphy’s manuscript upon his approval to be published in the October issue of  All the Year Round. After Heaphy’s death several years later, his wife republished the later husband’s supernatural account enriched by the long-kept correspondences between Heaphy and Dickens.

As a side-note, we might not know what Dickens first reaction was while reading Heaphy’s letter. Enraged? Annoyed? Surprised? Shocked? He might be irritated that his dear fellows implicated him to his being accused of “stealing people’s ideas” again as he was not only once beset by these similar cases before. And never did he know that around four years later, he would incur a railway incident yet again, this time, which was actually a matter of life and death.

The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (1)

51zzcEgaQLL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_I have delved into the first few chapters of The Criminal Conversation of Mrs. Norton by Diane Atkinson. The Sheridan family shared some kind of erratic flight of passion in the aspect of love. Or in other cases, this was the misfortunes that many stage players shared in marriage lives, including Fanny Kemble, Mrs. Siddons.

At young age, both father and son (Richard Brinsley (“Sherry”) and Tom) eloped with singer Eliza Liney and budding novelist Caroline Henrietta Callander respectively, also declared man and life at Gretna Green. However both cases ended in all a muddle. Sherry, although fought two duels with Charles Mathews over Eliza Liney before marriage, he had a fling with notable women of the contemporary in spite of his nuptial status – poet Frances Anne Crewe and Henrietta Ponsonby. His wife Eliza Liney on the other hand had an affair with Duke of Clarence (afterwards William IV). Incidentally, before his succession as the King, William also had an actress lover Mrs. Jordan who had borne him more than ten children before the separation.

Elza Liney

Elza Liney

As of the son, Thomas Sheridan, he was sued for “criminal conversation” in 1807 after he was appointment as manager Drury Lane Theatre by his father, which his daughter Caroline later on incurred. This scandalous affair with Mrs. Elizabeth Campbell, the wife of a Jamaican plantation owner, that happened before his marriage with Caroline Norton’s mother, punished him off with the unpayable fifteen hundred pounds and thus sent him off to the Fleet prison.


The Crim. Con. Gazette, flourished in the 1830s.

I still haven’t sailed in the nuptial life of Caroline and George Norton, up to the point where they married at St George’s, Hanover Square in 1827 and set off to Edinburgh at galleried “Bull and Mouth” Coaching Inn. But I like the description of Caroline compared with the unpleasant George Norton.

“Her self-esteem was higher than considered seemly for young ladies and she could be ‘stormy-tempered with a reckless and specious tongue’. A combination of her mother’s gentle beauty and quiet literary prowess, and her father’s dramatic impulsive and love of showing-off, had given her a reputation as bossy, high-handed and an outrageous flirt…Caroline could also be magnanimous and generous in defeat, and was ‘uninterested in paying back old scores’ when the ‘ungovernable outburst of resentment against them had subsided’.” (p.43)

Sad Girls by Lang Leav

9781449487768When I read first few pages of this book, it does not start off convincing to me, because Audrey, the heroine of this novel, blurted out a lie because she only wanted to “create some kind of commotion, something to break the monotony”. It does not remind me of anything like it in the reality, and it does not quite catch on. But when I continue reading the plot, this novel turns out surprisingly attractive;  it resonates some books I had read in the past, for example, Paulo Coelho Eleven Minutes.

In Audrey case, she found Rad as her inseparable half, the one that “created the link that was lacking in the universe” (from Eleven Minutes) because of the passion in life they both indulged in – the love of writing and life. But most importantly, they connected because of the lie and sins, the pain they both evaded to feel in themselves but both shared. Love is conscious when souls are present, when coincidences hit hard. However in the beginning, Audrey’s dark secret of the lie she told could not unveiled to Rad because of its ugliness. That night she revealed it, one being too engulfed with sin she had committed and one being reluctant to accept the truth, both exiled themselves and embarked on a journey to reclusive places unbeknownst to one another. On Audrey’s part, she found a mentor who taught her to seek, enrich, and empty the soul; Rad, on the other hand, incurred failure during Audrey’s absence. Through this journey that dealt with self-doubts and desperation of sadness, souls were cleansed and emptied in order to prepare for a  more overflowing love.

  • “I followed his gaze upward, and we thought our individual thoughts, sending them out into the universe like parallel lines. At that moment, I felt a sense of something that was bigger than us, an inexplicable force that willfully drew Rad and me to this convergence, to this particular alignment with the stars. We were always meant for each other.”
  • “A deep realization reverberated through my body, like the ringing of a church bell. All at once, I understood why the pain of separation, that carving out of the insides, had to happen. I used to have this sense that I felt too much for Rad, that the feelings inside me would start spilling over and I wouldn’t be able to contain them. Now I knew why I had been hollowed out, why my insides were chipped away with a chisel and mallet. It was to make room for this new feeling, this love that was so vast, so expansive it could not have fit into the vessel I once was.”

Actually, on the point Audrey was homecoming and reached to a point of self-realization of what the definition of love was, I thought this was the time that the “ultima” finally achieved, that the novel about depression and suicide could finally turned out to be something more healthy. Unexpectedly, out of a bang! there is a shocking twist to the plot that novel ends up unwholesome and dangerous again,  similar to a relationship like Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. That I begin questioning whether Sad Girls has a good ending or not, and I do not know whether the Author intentionally has this ending in mind as she writes it along.

The novel ends with the paragraph “If you know what it’s like to want someone so much you would kill for them. If you know what it’s like to feel someone so deep under your skin you would sacrifice everything to protect them even if it screws up your own moral compass. That’s what love is”. Perhaps with these lines as well as the twist, the book becomes a more memorable read. But I am not really keen on this. On the other hand, I appreciate this novel for the fact that it reminds me of something I had read in the past. Some quotes from the conversations frequently breathes in and out and might make one jot down on a piece of paper. Some are beautiful, some related to a reader’s own experiences, some are insightful. I especially like the ones on writing, and I feel that the author is really treating this novel as part of her biography and put a lot of effort in it.

  • “An author’s first novel is always, at least in part, an autobiography.”
  • “I learned that writing is the consolation prize you are given when you don’t get the thing you want the most.” 
  • “I don’t think all writers are sad. I think it’s the other way around – all sad people write. It’s a form of catharsis, a way of working through things that feel unresolved, like undoing a knot. People who are prone to sadness are more likely to pick up a pen.”
  • “You can never relive a moment through writing. You can only retell it.”

Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss


41mGXz+lVxL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Suddenly, there is a brutal siren which wakes and lures one back into reality, a situation which instantly forces one to face and overcome his fear. Tidal Zone is a book full of emotions and sensitiveness and that is what it thrills me.

One such household waited for the arrival of two elderly sisters living next door who, believing that anything white was visible to the enemy pilot above, went out at night with colanders on their grey heads… [I] read of other instances of this belief; one woman, living in a village outside Coventry, responded to every siren by running outside to take white laundry off the line, as if the Luftwaffe had crossed the channel to bomb clean sheets, In the same village, an elderly man went around with shears chopping white blossom off fruit trees. I found these acts of superstition in some way reassuring. Not everyone, then, gathered with Spam sandwiches and a stiff upper-lip for a sing-song until the All Clear.

There is a historical story-line which works abreast with the main plot – the airraids, bombing and rebuilding of Coventry. Adam, the “anti-patriarchal” protagonist of the novel, “breaks down into pieces” while his daughter was admitted to the hospital in a loss of consciousness after two counts of incidents some years ago that Adam and his wife were in ignorance about his daughter’s uncertain but devastating illness. On one hand, while researching the cataclysmic bombing of Coventry, he failed to find the fear and brokenness in the residents. Instead, what he could dig out were their orderly manners, the ordinariness, with a bit of “fun” to live in the fear of mortality. “Normality” is the keyword that keeps popping up throughout the novel. He thought “living every day as if your last” – a phrase that is found ubiquitously in fridge magnets – is not in congruence with everyday intellects (this is the bit I find hard to understand); it is a roundabout way to say that we fear death.

  • OK, all right, phrases to which we cling, the comfort blankets or blindfolds of our time and place. There is no pre-twentieth century version of ‘OK’, which may or may not tell us that is a modern delusion that normality is not frightening, that it is normal not to be frightened. I personally don’t like depressing subjects, people say, as if mortality is a lifestyle choice, disease and violence and sorrow a matter of taste. 

“It’s the idea, Rosie-pose, that if you give people pleasure they won’t go looking for truth. You’d rather have a story about shiny apples and long dresses than listen to Dad talking about monarchy and power. Most people’d rather watch posh girls twiddling around with pastry than learn about what the food industry’s doing to our generation. There’s no point in history if it’s all just fantasy and self-congratulation.”  – Miriam

Adam is a character in the novel who craves for ideas relating to the past. There is the mental struggle and clash we could feel as Adam tries to confront, define, adapt and overcome the past with the present – Arts and Crafts Movement in the Cotswolds compared with its negative change towards modernity, the death of his mother, surrealistic, but there is the probability of it being connected with the health of his daughters. There is Adam’s Jewish ancestry, the inherent family values between the sexes and career slump he has to confront as a result of his pursuit of academic passion in his youth…the beautiful / poignant Past is always romanticised, crystallised and sanctified by the Present.

On the other hand, when it comes to the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral – the inspirations of West Screen, the baptistry window, the roof, and the tapestry that Basil Spence came about – of it being illustrated, healed and reconciled with history and remembrance work along with Adam’s healing of his heart really well. Although we could not deny the Past – that it is what shape us, that we and our emotions should accept its beauty, the evil; at the same time, we should not forget and lose the hopefulness for the present.

  • How could I wish anything other than what we had, since the slightest variation of the past, the slightest indulgence in fictional time-travel, would tamper with our extraordinary luck?

I wanted my daughter at home, her presence our benediction. As if I could no longer distinguish between an absent child and a lost one, as if I had lost what in babies is called object constancy, meaning the knowledge that something absent continues to exist out of sight and hearing. The acquisition of object constancy is said to be an important developmental stage. Mummy is not gone but elsewhere. Teddy is under the cot. The problem, it seemed to me in those days, is that object constancy is one of those lies we tell ourselves to make it possible to live. Important things may cease to exist when you look away.

The relationship and intimacy between Adam and his family is interesting. Adam’s family is challenging the patriarchal worldview, and Miriam is the reflection of the Family’s values. She is willing to differentiate herself. While Adam, although he might be forced to differentiate himself under forced circumstances; as a full-time staying home dad, he is devoted to his family wholeheartedly. Adam creeps over and opens his daughters’ door at night just to make sure he could hear them breathing. He is experiencing Miriam and Rose’s growth through their concerned health and letting it go. The conversations between Miriam and Adam are one of the humourous elements in the novel apart from the descriptions of the meetings held in the hierarchical academic institution.

I really like this novel. I like the cover portrait. I really like the heading of each chapter. The novel is relevant to a person with sensitive feelings who also like reminiscing the past and how one deals with it. Written in first-person narrative, it is full of emotions. The author spends a great deal of writing historical accounts of places about Coventry Cathedral, the Cotswolds, Cornwall and other places like Black Bear ranch, which are interesting as well as deep and insightful regarding Adam’s feelings and circumstances. The book deserves to be read again just so I can dig out something new and important.

I was of a roving adventurous temperament



(A Rogue’s Life, Wilkie Collins)

  • I was of a roving adventurous temperament, and I should have liked to go into the army. But where was the money to come from, to pay for my commission? As to enlisting in the ranks, and working my way up, the social institutions of my country obliged the grandson of Lady Malkinshaw to begin military life as an officer and gentleman, or not to begin it at all. The army, therefore, was out of the question. The Church? Equally out of the question: since I could not pay for admission to the prepared place of accommodation for distinguished people, and could not accept a charitable free pass, in consequence of my high connections. The Bar? I should be five years getting to it, and should have to spend two hundred a year in going circuit before I had earned a farthing. Physic? This really seemed the only gentlemanly refuge left; and yet, with the knowledge of my father’s experience before me, I was ungrateful enough to feel a secret dislike for it. It is a degrading confession to make; but I remember wishing I was not so highly connected, and absolutely thinking that the life of a commercial traveler would have suited me exactly, if I had not been a poor gentleman. Driving about from place to place, living jovially at inns, seeing fresh faces constantly, and getting money by all this enjoyment, instead of spending it – what a life for me, if I had been the son of a haberdasher and the grandson of a groom’s widow!
  • Whatever may be said about it in books, no emotion in this world ever did, or ever will, last for long together. The strong feeling may return over and over again; but it must have its constant intervals of change or repose. In real life the bitterest grief doggedly takes its rest and dries its eyes; the heaviest despair sinks to a certain level, and stops there to give hope a chance of rising, in spite of us. Even the joy of an unexpected meeting is always an imperfect sensation, for it never lasts long enough to justify our secret anticipations – our happiness dwindles to mere every-day contentment before we have half done with it.
  • Not knowing the name of it, and not daring to excite surprise by asking, I found the place full of vague yet mysterious interest. Here I was, somewhere in central England, just as ignorant of localities as if I had been suddenly deposited in Central Africa. My lively fancy revelled in the new sensation. I invented a name for the town, a code of laws for the inhabitants, productions, antiquities, chalybeate springs, population, statistics of crime, and so on, while I walked about the streets, looked in at the shop-windows, and attentively examined the Market-place and Town-hall. Experienced travelers, who have exhausted all novelties, would do well to follow my example; they may be certain, for one day at least, of getting some fresh ideas, and feeling a new sensation.

Heart and Science (1883) by Wilkie Collins


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Mouchy, Emile Edouard, 1802-1870; A Physiological Demonstration with the Vivisection of a Dog

Physiological Demonstration with the Vivisection of a Dog, by Émile Édouard Mouchy (1802–1870). (ArtUK.org)

“A Christian can’t be expected to care about beasts—but right is right all the world over. Because a monkey is a nasty creature (as I have heard, not even good to eat when he’s dead), that’s no reason for taking him out of his own country and putting him into a cage. If we are to see creatures in prison, let’s see creatures who have deserved it—men and women, rogues and sluts. The monkeys haven’t deserved it. Go in—I’ll wait for you at the door.”

A young person, possessed of no more than ordinary knowledge, might have left the old woman to enjoy the privilege of saying the last word. Miss Minerva’s pupil, exuding information as it were at every pore in her skin, had been rudely dried up at a moment’s notice. Even earthly perfection has its weak places within reach. Maria lost her temper.

“You will allow me to remind you,” she said, “that intelligent curiosity leads us to study the habits of animals that are new to us. We place them in a cage…”

Since the publication of Woman in White (1859), the master of sensation fiction examines moral issues and human weaknesses of the contemporary societies across Europe and the Atlantic. This time, Heart and Science, which has a subtitle named “A Story of the Present Time”, reflects Wilkie Collins’s doubts, or even inflicts severe reprimand regarding animal experiments and vivisection. Just as he quotes words of Walter Scott in the preface, “I am no great believer in the extreme degree of improvement to be derived from the advancement of Science; for every study of that nature tends, when pushed to a certain extent, to harden the heart.”

Knowledge for its own sake, is the one god I worship. Knowledge is its own justification and its own reward. The roaring mob follows us with its cry of Cruelty. We pity their ignorance. Knowledge sanctifies cruelty. The old anatomist stole dead bodies for Knowledge. In that sacred cause, if I could steal a living man without being found out, I would tie him on my table, and grasp my grand discovery in days, instead of months.

This novel might be drawing upon lots of arguments suggested by National Anti-Vivisection Society found by Frances Power Cobbe in the 1870s. “[W]hat proof there is that the effect of a poison on an animal may be trusted to inform us, with certainty, of the effect of the same poison on a man….a pigeon will swallow opium enough to kill a man, and will not be in the least affected by it; and parsley, which is an innocent herb in the stomach of a human being, is deadly poison to a parrot.” The Cruelty to Animals Act (1876) stipulates that a vivisection being licensed and made legal should be based upon the circumstances that objects were anesthetized throughout the test and used only once in the same experiments for purposes which are helped towards medical and scientific researches of human goods; however, the book confronts the law which reflects how society defines and visionalises the position of species that are categorised as inferiors  to humans (which is also resonant to the deplorable and voiceless state and treatment of fairer sex in relation to, e.g., Married Women’s Property Acts in Wilkie Collins’s previous novels), and questions our truest pursuits of knowledge – whether we could attribute this tendency of stocking and application of information to our inbred altruistic virtue of inquisitiveness and humility as a whole, or conversely, degeneration that is owing to avarice in egoism and reputation, which, again, could be alluded to concerns of human relationships between masses and individuals of the Victorian age as well, for instance, regarding the irony of telescopic philanthropy (self-congratulatory egocentrism) at the expense of households prevailing in literature.

after-the-ball-afred-stevens“‘Teresa, my well-beloved friend, – I have considered the anxieties that trouble you, with this result: that I can do my best, conscientiously, to quiet your mind. I have had the experience of forty years in the duties of the priesthood. In that long time, the innermost secrets of thousands of men and women have been confided to me. From such means of observation, I have drawn many useful conclusions; and some of them may be also useful to you. I will put what I have to say, in the plainest and fewest words: consider them carefully, on your side. The growth of the better nature, in women, is perfected by one influence – and that influence is Love. Are you surprised that a priest should write in this way? Did you expect me to say, Religion? Love, my sister, is Religion, in women. It opens their hearts to all that is good for them; and it acts independently of the conditions of human happiness. A miserable woman, tormented by hopeless love, is still the better and the nobler for that love; and a time will surely come when she will show it. You have fears for Carmina – cast away, poor soul, among strangers with hard hearts! I tell you to have no fears. She may suffer under trials; she may sink under trials. But the strength to rise again is in her – and that strength is Love.’”

Wilkie Collins emphasize the importance of Heart over Science, that is to say, the importance of “character”. Throughout his many novels, Wilkie Collins examines egoistic disposition of characters through their reactions towards the confrontation of circumstances. In Man and Wife (1870), Geoffrey Delamyn’s degeneration owning to the extremity of athleticism is shown through by the circumstances. This is also the case in Heart and Science regarding his pleasant didactic approach. Just as his preface says, to the readers in general, “from first to last, you are purposely left in ignorance of the hideous secrets of Vivisection. The outside of the laboratory is a necessary object in my landscape – but I never once open the door and invite you to look in. I trace, in one of my characters, the result of the habitual practice of cruelty (no matter under what pretence) in fatally deteriorating the nature of man – and I leave the picture to speak for itself, and that is Doctor Benjulia, a competitive specialist ambitious in rising to fame but being ignorant of human emotions and kindness, as well as Mrs. Gallilee, a “chatelaine” whose devotion to scientific discussions made her end up being a woman who sticks to nothing by all means. Last but not least, Mr. Le Frank, a gentlemanly looking but a nasty-in-heart and retributive piano master whose vanity and vindictive nature sets a trap on himself in the end. All these characters show that avid passion on one thing does not necessarily improve a person on his/her moral grounds. On the other hand, we have characters such as Mr. Gallilee, Teresa the Italian nursemaid, and Frances Minerva the governess, who implies that there exists universal affections among God’s creations. And among all, Miss Minerva, who resembles Marian in the Woman in White, is the most enigmatic and interesting character in the Novel who is the “goddess” exemplary figure in an unrequited love, with an echo to tragic Rosanna Spearman in the Moonstone. Provided with this hostile dichotomy, this is a duel of survival reality show between humans of avaricious quest of knowledge and humans whose hearts exist a selfless love.

Last but not least, I think Wilkie Collins could be deemed as one of the pioneers who discovers the connectivity of sexism and speciesism of his day. Many ideas, such as animal experiments, regarding the use of cosmetic products, is also relevant today. Heart and Science, to me, is a thought-provoking novel which deserves readers to delve deeply into. It is humourous and nonetheless a moralistic Victorian classic of how a criticism of a big idea could lead to and reflects many social perspectives and human relationships of the contemporaries.