Heart and Science (1883) by Wilkie Collins

Tags

, ,

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 Characters. 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.

Underground Airport (Excerpt of Yuki Chan in Brontë Country by Mick Jackson)

Tags

,

“The fundamental mistake in airport design, Yuki believes, is that everything is so goddamned white. There is altogether too much light, both natural and artificial. The notion persists for some reason, that, since the passengers are about the head skyward, a sense of space and whiteness is what’s required, to get everyone in the mood. But Yuki considers this to be a grave, grave error. In truth, the airport customer is preparing for a period of confinement, in what is essentially a fast moving tunnel. One’s pre-flight, airport-bound hours are a process of surrender. We grow quiet. We withdraw to ourselves. And no wonder. We are about to pass through a portal. What’s required, Yuki feels, is warm, dark spaces. Something womb-like. Airports should, in fact, be underground.

“Another of Yuki’s bugbears regarding modern-day airports – and one of the first things she will set about remedying once appointed – is having to travel the thirty or forty miles out to where the planes arrive/depart from the city after which the airport is named. Such a ridiculous waste of time. Yuki’s plan is to create a new generation of airports situated directly below the world’s major cities. Once the air traveller arrives at his/her destination and passes through immigration he/she will simply step into an elevator and, moments later, stride out into: the Champs-Élysées, Times Square, Sydney Harbour, or the lobby of whatever hotel they happen to be staying in.

“Sure, this will entail a good deal of digging, but Yuki believes that people are willing to rise to a challenge, particularly one with such evident benefits. She’s equally confident that there already exist large and noisy machine capable of doing the necessary earth-removal. If not, she is prepared to invent such a machine in any spare time she can conjure up between her regular job as a Leading Fashion House Designer and her weekend post creating a new generation of subterranean urban airports. She has already completed two or three rough sketches.

“Most of the Excavation will be spent creating the vast cavern necessary to house the airport. The tunnels/corridors down which the aeroplanes will fly need not necessarily be that wide. Just big enough to accommodate a plane’s typical wingspan, plus an extra metre or two. But oh, yes – quite, quite long. At the point of entry Yuki envisages a sort of slash in the earth, somewhere just beyond the city’s perimeter, As the plane approaches its destination there is bound to be a little nervousness among the passengers. But the people enjoy a tiny bit of nervousness now and again, don’t you think? The captain’s voice will come over the speakers: ‘Ladies and gentleman, we are now approaching London Scar. Please fasten your seat belts, super-tight.’ Then – just imagine – dropping, dropping. Peering out of the little windows to see the ground rising up to meet you. Children standing over their bicycles, open-mouthed. Then suddenly – POW! – the sky is gone, and the whole plane is swallowed up by Planet Earth and all you see are rocks and soil through the windows. And you are flying underground!”

Yuki Chan in Brontë Country, Mick Jackson

Ten Sorry Tales by Mick Jackson

Tags

,

Ten sorry tales.jpgThis book would be one of the points that browsing randomly at bookshops or libraries would constantly give you a surprise. I picked up this book by Mick Jackson for its intriguing illustrations and cover, and when I got to the first page, it comes near to the top of my list. Each tale is impressive and unforgettable. They are quirky, eccentric; and I really agree with the back cover which says “the stories are nevertheless rooted in our own, all too recognisable world”. Irs story opens with certain characters and issues in bad conditions which all of us actually had, would have, or will come across at certain points of lives; and as the plot goes on, it unexpectedly swirls into bizarre tale.

Take “Lepidoctor” for example (I was so unimaginative and gullible at one time that I thought this term was real and existed in the nineteenth century). Doesn’t that installation art at the gallery described in the tale remind me of Damien Hirst’s Butterfly? (when I first heard of this art piece some years ago I was literally flabbergasted by it, in which case I think the author unlocks every human of this latent phobia. Butterflies are so beautiful aren’t they? Not! They are evil creatures in disguise!)

Vivid blues, emerald greens and luminous turquoises all shimmered together in the two huge wings of a single vast butterfly which was so big it practically filled the whole of  one wall…The creature somehow managed to be both beautiful and monstrous at the same time. It was only as he walked towards it that he saw how that massive butterfly was actually made up of several hundred real butterflies which had been carefully arranged into something like a huge mosaic.

From then on the catastrophic and terrifying image of the butterflies which was once deep within readers’ mind transforms into a shocking and “handsclapping” scene in the end imparting the moral and Nature’s revenge. It is not a whirlwind plot yet so destructive, dark and impressive, I feel like playing an interactive role instilling some emotions whilst reading the story.

In another tale “Alien Abduction“, it challenges my regular mindset about this concept, and it implies my lack of imagination. The story again starts with a familiar circumstance – children sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher’s “tirade”. Within short intervals a student’s imagination and creativity comes into play. The plot sounds far-fetched; some proses are heartwrenching at times and somewhat cuts slightly open into readers’ heart as well as in other rales.

This book has such a personality – funny, eccentric, but dark. Illustrating ironies of the rich, limning the plights of the isolated, retired, bereaved, and the mournful lot; but their sorry conditions actually foretell satisfying and illuminating culminations concluding each of their self-seeking journey (and probably for the readers). In this case, I am sure readers with active and busy minds would certainly be entertained and kept occupied with this book; not without mentioning that deserves a re-read. A remarkable reading experience indeed and I am hopefully to read more books by this author!

Death and Mr. Pickwick

Tags

,

“Suddenly he sat up. He opened a notebook and wrote down: ‘What if the gullible man not only believed the preposterous stories to be factual – but he travelled in search of similar stories, believing himself to be on a scientific expedition? Suppose he sought such nonsense because he thirsted for “useful knowledge”!’ (p. 204)

515vomDjgdL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgDeath and Mr. Pickwick is a faction endeavouring to bring up the justice which once has been dismissed in the case of Robert Seymour (1798 -1836), who was the illustrator for the first two serial installments of The Pickwick Papers and also believed to be the originator / mastermind of the Novel rather than Boz himself. Regarding my familiarity with Pickwick Papers, I read that around three years ago and left with very vague memories except the court case of Mrs. Bardell against Pickwick, tales of the Convict’s Return, the Talking Chair, and the hallucination of the drunken clown. However I was intrigued by Death and Mr. Pickwick mostly because it is set in the nineteenth century and has 800-page long which is intended to resemble the ramblings of Dickens’ work. Apart from that, I am always especially interested in books which concern the personal and lesser-known life of Dickens; for example, A Girl in Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold – a novel which focuses on the lamented love and marriage between Catherine Hogarth and Dickens with Catherine’s perspective. Not without mentioning The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin, which is a brilliant biography imparting the life of Ellen Ternan, a gaslight fairy and much-concealed mistress of Dickens.

night-and-morning

Night and Morning. Robert Seymour

“The caricature of Seymour is in itself an article and Seymour has shown how insignificant are dashes of our pen compared with the superhuman digs of his iron-veined pencil.” (p. 245) – Gilbert à Beckett

1431736772235-cobhamwoodandmausoleumautumnmausoleum

Darnley Mausoleum near Cobham Hall (picture from National Trust)

The author of Death and Mr. Pickwick is a great raconteur. This book is a cornucopia of tales leaning in the Georgian era,  which offers brilliant Pickwickian backdrops. There are special mentions of wonderful eccentrics such as Anne Siggs, Bristol Riots, sensational penny-dreadfuls such as the Red Barn Murder and Burke and Hare, the tale of immoral and monstrous killing of Chunee the elephant, and so forth.

Pray remember the poor debtors having no allowance

engraving – Pray remember the poor debtors having no allowance

As well as that, there are stories of how certain pubs and inns originated across England (e.g. George and Vulture), fascinating accounts of sundry locations among London and other counties: the legend of Prince Bladud, White Hart Inn (Bath), the Golden Cross Inn (London), printing houses operated by Hannah Humprey; last but not least, with Seymour’s eyes, we happened to meet Moses Pickwick, a proprietor of a coaching business operating between Bath and London, who is the modern muse behind the Pickwick Papers. Many are animated into sets of whimsical drawings by Seymour under days’ toil. Not without mentioning Ely Stott, Caroline Norton, Joseph Grimaldi and notable lot of the nineteenth century who incessantly inspired Dickens continuing to write Pickwick. I was very voracious and was indulged in these interesting historical accounts and details while reading the book.

walking-by-steam-robert-setmour-p1-x640

Walking by Steam

seymour-shaving-by-steam.jpg

Shaving by Steam

14435296_10154629362249470_4745220790126975019_o

“Browne saw that one short-sighted old engraver, who had the decency to return the nod, was at work on the muscles of an arm, meticulously giving it depth by a succession of close lines – the engraver himself may have looked undernourished, but the biceps on the steel was surely fashioned in the gymnasium. Another engraver, a cloth specialist, used the alternation of closely and widely dispersed lines to indicate the way a cloak hung, while yet another specialised in sky, and was just passing the plate to a specialist in trees…whatever their pictorial concern, all held the burin steady, turning the plate this way and that on a small leather cushion, making their hard-won furrows, building up a picture detail by painstaking detail…” (p. 556)

“There was no short cut to mastery of etching, only the long road of practice: the acid ate his cuffs, his throat was sore from fumes, his eyes smarted and his fingertips turned a shade of yellow…During the day, he pinned tissue paper over his window to soften the light and see the lines better in the wax. After sundown, he filled a bowl with water and placed it before his oil lamp to diffuse the illumination. Eventually he would lie down, and close his eyelids. By that time, he could barely see from the strain of concentration and the soreness of his eyes.” (p. 178)

What Death and Mr. Pickwick overwhelms and touches me in between the pages are the steam-driven power and restlessness of those talented bodies with their stubbornness and lifelong attachment to their arduous tasks –  James Gillray, Joseph Grimaldi, Robert Seymour, Robert William Buss, as well as Mr. N., who appeared in the later story. To me, “Passion” and “Mission” are the spiritual essence which encompasses the book. It is filled with pleasant and atmospheric aura for readers in experiencing historical figures being inspired and haunted by missions in a lifetime. Some work hard and see the accomplishment and adulation of the day; some toil but only get the disappointment and be incessantly stumbled by the failure and amateur criticisms for the remaining of their lives. Still, their hearts stay on in the work they love, which, in this case, echoes very much with the author of Death and Mr. Pickwick who in his effort spending twelve years’ time researching and gathering materials to compose this book, as well as having found the long-neglected tombstone of Seymour in Islington and let that be restored at the Dickens’s Museum, that to me is an incredible achievement.

“I sometimes think, Mr Seymour,” said Boz, “that artists turn to caricature because in the distraction of laughter views will not notice so readily the weaknesses and deficiencies in draughtsmanship.” (p. 529)

One of the most gripping plots is the disputes between Seymour and Boz. From the drawing of portmanteau to the not-so-much authorised tale approved by Seymour of the clown’s hallucinations retold by Dismal Jemmy, Seymour is triggered by Boz of the bitter argument with Gilbert à Beckett earlier on the subject of the appointed illustrations for Figaro in London hence leading to his fatal suicide which he once attempted twice before. But Death and Mr. Pickwick does not end here. It continues to pick up important dates and events related to people who once connected with Pickwick Papers and how this 19th century masterpiece keeps influencing the twentieth century Britain since the day it was introduced to the world. Yes, some changes go on, old ways and things could be eliminated, but hopefully Pickwickian spirit stays on.

To most characters in Death and Mr. Pickwick, Death is a speechless protest. It is depressing, it is tragic. Perhaps it is also the way to reminisce the soul and the excited mind (some see this mad) each had awaken to pursuit their passions once upon a time in the mortal life.

The Evil Genius (1886) by Wilkie Collins

Tags

, ,

9781551110172“Is there something wrong in human nature? or something wrong in human laws? All that is best and noblest in us feels the influence of love – and the rules of society declare that an accident of position shall decide whether love is a virtue or a crime.” – Mr. Sarrazin

Wilkie Collins possesses every nuance of insights into human nature, relationships, and societal system of his day. Beginning with Man and Wife (1870), Wilkie Collins boldly emphasizes the missions which encompasses his sensation novels. For example, in Man and Wife (1870), he deals with a series of distinctive and disputable court cases of irregular marriages in Victorian Ireland and Scotland mingled with the issues of Athleticism prevailing in contemporary society. Through the Law and the Lady (1875), he looks into the loopholes of Scots law concerning the court verdict of “not proven” instead of “guilty” and “not guilty”. Tracing the influences of circumstances upon characters, Wilkie Collins dexterously contrives one sensational plot after another with such delicacy that each novel richly dissects how characters of his contemporaries apply their inherent vices/virtue to make themselves compatible with/struggle to get free of the traps of fields such as medicine and health which constantly shape the peerless Victorian Britain.

“It cannot be supposed that a woman who enjoyed even a comparative, chequered, and uncertain happiness at home, would change her social position as a respected wife; her daily and hourly communion with her children; for the chance of obtaining a legal order occasionally to visit her children in the custody of others! – It is monstrous to represent that as a temptation, which can at best be but a slight mitigation of misery.” (Caroline Norton – The Separation of Mother and Child by the Law of Custody of Infants Considered)

In the Evil Genius (1886), a novel dedicated to William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), Wilkie Collins uses the distinctive marriage acts in Scotland as a backdrop of the story. Going through the substantial legal reform of ecclesiastical to civil marriages in Victorian England in 1836, custody act in 1839 and divorce act in 1857, the petition of divorce alone was applied by the wife only when her husband committed adultery with combinations of “cruelty, bigamy, incest, or bestiality”. On the other hand in Scotland, adultery alone was sufficient enough to be granted a divorce on the feme covert‘s side, added to this, the wife also anatomically gained access and custody to her legitimate child. With this knowledge, we are introduced to a middle-class family in Scotland. Saddened with the marital fault committed by the husband- Herbert Liney – with the governess, Sydney Westfield; Catherine, wife of Liney, separates from Herbert and later makes a resolution to divorce him with the help of the lawyer, Mr. Sarrazin.”When I was left in the solitude of the night, my heart turned to Kitty; I felt that any sacrifice of myself might be endured for her sake. It’s the remembrance of my marriage, Mr. Sarrazin, that is the terrible trial to me…Those whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder. Is there nothing to terrify me in setting that solemn command at defiance?…My child is my one treasure left. What must I do next? What must I sign? What must I sacrifice? Tell me – and it shall be done. I submit! I submit!” 

“The stealthy influence of distrust fastens its hold on the mind by slow degrees. Little by little it reaches its fatal end, and disguises delusion successfully under the garb of truth.”

The novel portrays the secular reaction from society, the circumstances of the exposure and “social suicide” that the wife has to endure and commits are reflected by other characters including her neighbours, the mother (the evil genius Mrs. Presty), brother-in-law (Randal Liney) and the suitor and philanthropist, Captain Bennydeck. Though granted to untie the knot, Catherine is reprimanded and unfairly disadvantaged by the Lord President at the court of not fulfilling the conjugal duties to help her husband prevent against the temptation of the governess; Mrs. Presty contrives to allude to the others that Catherine is a widow by protecting her daughter’s reputation from a second marriage. Interestingly, Mrs Presty is like the view of Wilkie Collins’s reading our minds- that we consider ourselves the “evil genius” and stickler of righteousness in asserting opinions of people’s characters and behaviour around us. It is to be noted that isolation and hostility could be found in the divorced wife other than the sinful couple. On the other hand, Wilkie Collins delineates the poignant life and distrust shared by Sydney Westfield and Herbert Liney, that readers are admitted to the guilt and penitence of the sinful husband after the separation with his wife. It is to be believed that a series of misunderstanding and a flight of passion and a need for paternal love from Sydney contribute to this affair.

“…Clap-trap, you innocent creature, to catch foolish readers! When do these consistently good people appear in the life around us, the life that we all see? Never! Are the best mortals that ever lived above the reach of temptation to do ill, and are they always too good to yield to it? How does the Lord’s Prayer instruct humanity? It commands us all, without exception, to pray that we may not be led into temptation. You have been led into temptation. In other words, you are a human being. All that a human being could do you have done – you have repented and confessed. Don’t I know how you have suffered and how you have been tried! Why, what a mean Pharisee I should be if I presumed to despise you!” 

What makes the Evil Genius delectable is that this story is  a morality tale with a bit of reflection of the importance of a nuclear family at the time, and place an emphasis on mortal creatures. Although society is set with a standard of moral rightousness, it’s not merely a dichotomy of what is good and evil, but it is fulfilled with a message that individuals are able to be concerned as an entities that are able to forgive and be forgiven. The definitions that Bennydeck gives in his philanthropic institution of “the Home” could actually be applied to the domestic sphere.

The Home

“There is no discipline,” he answered warmly. “My one object is to be a friend to my friendless fellow-creatures; and my one way of governing them is to follow the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Whatever else I may remind them of, when they come to me, I am determined not to remind them of a prison. For this reason—though I pity the hardened wanderers of the streets, I don’t open my doors to them. Many a refuge, in which discipline is inevitable, is open to these poor sinners already. My welcome is offered to penitents and sufferers of another kind—who have fallen from positions in life, in which the sense of honor has been cultivated; whose despair is associated with remembrances which I may so encourage, with the New Testament to help me, as to lead them back to the religious influences under which their purer and happier lives may have been passed. Here and there I meet with disappointments. But I persist in my system of trusting them as freely as if they were my own children; and, for the most part, they justify my confidence in them. On the day—if it ever comes—when I find discipline necessary, I shall suffer my disappointment and close my doors.”

Wilkie Collins, The Evil Genius (Chapter XLIII – Know Your Own Mind)

The Two Destinies by Wilkie Collins

Tags

, ,

  • “Man!” returned the Sibyl, “you speak lightly. Have I spoken lightly to You? I warn you to bow your wicked will before a Will that is mightier than yours. The spirits of these children are kindred spirits. For time and for eternity they are united one to the other. Put land and sea between them – they will still be together; they will communicate in visions, they will be revealed to each other in dreams. Bind them by worldly ties; wed your son, in the time to come, to another woman, and my grand-daughter to another man. In vain! I tell you, in vain! You may doom them to misery, you may drive them to sin – the day of their union on earth is still a day predestined in heaven.”
  • It was only when my unknown Mary was parted from Van Brandt – in other words, it was only when she was a pure spirit – that she felt my influence over her as a refining influence on her life, and that the apparition of her communicated with me in the visible and perfect likeness of herself. On my side, when was it that I dreamed of her (as in Scotland), or felt the mysterious warning of her presence in my waking moments (as in Shetland)? Always at the time when my heart opened most tenderly toward her and toward others – when my mind was most free from the bitter doubts, the self-seeking aspirations, which degrade the divinity within us. Then, and then only, my sympathy with her was the perfect sympathy which holds its fidelity unassailable by the chances and changes, the delusions and temptations, of mortal life.

Just like Brasil, this book, added with some supernatural elements, works delicately concerning the isolation of every character alongside the geographical locations set in the United Kingdom –  Saint Anthony’s Chapel in Scotland,  and Shetland. I am particularly interested in Miss Dunross and it is hardhearted of readers not to sympathise with her. She is also one of the marginal but influential characters among other Wilkie’s novels to influence the protagonists’ decisions, to keep the pace moving and steer the plot along. This is another exciting and gripping work which I am fairly impressed with.

Kar-lol-ogy

Tags

, ,

514TcTPSlBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“It’s not Karr…it’s Karl…”

In winter 2014, I read the Moaning of Life by Karl Pilkington, which I think is light-hearted and warm as if I am listening to a grumpy but friendly man moaning about life and journey at the pub. I thought he was just a man full of tales about acts of eccentric people and the reflections of their hectic lives resulted from the process of urbanisation. He was a man full of observations that city people often overlook.

Two years passed and I have known so much about Mr. K. Dilkington after listening to the Podcast with features like “Monkey News”, “Karl’s Diary”, “Educating Ricky”, “Rockbusters” etc.. His thoughts, which I find, like a matter of contagion from Ricky Gervais’s hysteric laugh, so ridiculous, so ludicrous, so far-fetched, but imaginative, I’ve never thought of a pointless talking from a human who is considered ignorant could sound so funny and interesting in this way. In the podcast, I especially find it hilarious in Ricky’s response on Karl’s findings like “you’re talking shite again” or “it’s simply ramblings of a madman”. Of course, who would have thought like him that the protagonist of Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton is a man in a wheelchair? And what’s more idiotic than “Alien gives man a beard”? Sometimes his points are interesting and philosophical, which trigger good conversations with Ricky and Steve; for example, in the parody of BBC’s Desert Island Discs, he decides to bring nothing but a dictionary with him so he keeps his brain active, makes his imaginations and thoughts run wild as to have a talk while not being annoyed with himself if gaining better vocabs and language capabilities. In this case, the aspects of thoughts and conceptualisation in the brain turn back to the debate about the unity between mind, body and brain. It is this contrast between a round-headed buffoon with IQ of 85, who only had GCSE history of E grade with two “quick-witted” men who studied literature and political science that make this show interesting.

Karlology is the second book I read by this Manc maniac. I thought he would talk more about his education and childhood. Instead, this is a book which is about him embarking on different trips and sightseeing in London as if based on various subjects in school in order to know better at his age – V&A Museum, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, the Tower of London, the London Aquarium, and so forth – to fill the 200 odd pages. Again, what I find most amusing are his observations of the English eccentricities, his anecdotes about his neighbours and some wild thoughts on evolution of nature.

“The universe is 93 billion light years across”, was the opening line of the Atlas of the Universe…I must have been standing looking at the pictures for a while, and I got so into it that I didn’t hear the old fella who I’d seen earlier come shuffling behind me…I started to look at the other books on the shelf while still holding the universe book in my other hand for him to carry on reading. He didn’t stop mumbling…, passed the universe book to him, and then moved to another aisle. Whenever I heard his breathing close by, I moved on. It was like playing a real-life game of Pac-Man, moving up and down the aisles to get away. It’s amazing that the universe is so, so big and yet I couldn’t get away from the heavy-breathing man.” – (The Day at the Library, Karlology)

This book is funny, but not that amusing compared with him mumbling in his montone voice and dry expressions. However, I would take a break from Karl Pilkington and turn to big chunk of literary reading.

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

Tags

, ,

somnambulist“My eye was drawn to the far right-hand corner where the shadowy silhouettes of two men were following at a distance, as if fearing to wake her in case she fell. But, I suddenly knew there must be a third man, and I couldn’t believe I’d not noticed before…a second shadow fell over the path, right next to her own, thrown down by the light someone else must be holding, towards which she steadily progressed, and in two or three steps she would surely be saved by whoever was waiting, just out of the frame…”

9895397 (1)

This book is quite an enjoyable rendition of a Victorian sensation novel to me, flourished with backdrop of Wilton Music Hall and references of some famous people and acts of the Era, for instance, George Leybourne with his famous song “Champagne Charlie” and the “contrivance”  of spiritualism. Indeed, this is a difficult read to me at times, with literary references existing throughout the book which kept racking my brains out deducing the symbols and metaphors that the author implies; and acknowledging at times that my English level was incompatible and a hindrance. Still, I could feel the passion and the message that the author conveys in her novel. I think like the same with the painting, the Somnambulist by Millais, everything has two sides of a coin. With the secrets exhumed along in the plot, we could be on one hand appalled towards characters with their misdeeds but feeling their emotions and motivations drive every action and thought in one’s prespectives which resulted in unbearable fates, consequences and conflicts in connection with one another. With that said, it is an enjoyable journey for novel-aholics to dissect strengths and weakness of humankind, and undoubtedly to practice a kindness of empathy in a hostile world when sinful characters in a book voice out a painful confession to us jury so as to seek acquittals and sympathy, like Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, or Jezebel’s Daughter by Wilkie Collins with his absorbing epistolary writing.

There are interesting matters not related to the book connected to my reading experience. One is the character of Cissy (Mrs Stanhope), the once famous stage singer who returned to perform Acis and Galatea. When I read the first few pages, she reminds me of an actress named Mrs Jordan (1761 – 1816), one of the mistresses of William IV due to the fact that they were both unmarried but calling themselves “Mrs”. Indeed, many contemporary strolling players and theatrical performers need to endure a series of unfortnate events. They both shared high-profile of glamour and glitters on stage but untold tragedy and misery down under. Only Mrs Stanhope has an affair with the proprietor of the Samuel’s Emporium but not the King.

Another matter is the indiscreet act and obsession towards Cissy Stanhope in view of Nathaniel Samuels. This “cringing” fascination, which would be regarded as abnormal pedophiles to date, was prevalent phenomenon of the Victorian time. This relationship reminds me of a biography of Effie Gray by Suzanne Fagance Cooper that mentions a trgic life of one of the Pre-Raphaelite muses and sister of Effie Gray, Sophy. In this biography, the author underlines that the illness Sophy endured throughout her life – anexoria – was triggered by subscious mind of staying in puberty and physical innocence just like her irresistible protrayals in paintings. She died at a young age of 38. Just like the biography, this novel also implies the unspeakable truths and misery underneath the “fairer sex” of the time playing with readers’ minds. I actually feel a kind of prejudgement while reading it when the author in the beginning seems to emphasize the innocuous and virginal physicality of a 17-year-old Phoebe. In this case, I tend to have views towards her own behavior similar to Maud Turner because Pheobe grows an excitable affection toward the opposite sex in a physical way with the revealing sex scenes, which is nothing but opposition of vice to me. However, as it grows out, I could also feel suppression as regards the unfair treatment of men in the physical contact with the “weaker sex”, that the actions are crude indeed.

With the view of her niece and heorine of the story, Phoebe Turner, the curtain rises, going along the novel, her psychological development is underlined along the journey and in this case finding that the secrets are hidden underneath and all that glisters is not gold. What I am also overwhelmed and immersed regarding the Somnambulist is the faith of unversalism and salvation in the story, just like the name of “Stanhope” (Stand hope). It might not always be a religious case, or Christian universalism of the “Hallelujah Army” mentioned in the story and the rivulary between Maud Turner and Cissy Stanhope on one’s advocation of mericful and philanthropic acts against her sister who rots in Hell because of her lascivious vice and theatrical career, but the acknowledged belief of Victorian authors that concatenation of muserable consequences are disguises of silver lining; while the act of valour and virtue are instilled in oneself, blessings will come in the end with the ultimate enlightenment of a brighter hope and strength.

All in all, I think it might be a fair choice to read this book alongside Victorian classics, as you might develop some deep thoughts in mind after reading it.

Effie (1)

Tags

, , ,

Effie GrayEffie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais by Suzanne Fagence Cooper is an impressive research about this fascinating and legendary “love triangle” of the contemporaries. I would like to accumulate more information as regards the concept and idea of the Pre-Raphaelite art beforehand; apart from that, this is a satisfying read being ample to resonate and interconnect with themes and ideas on some novels I have read by Wilkie Collins alongside other Victorian social novels, and non-fiction on notable lives of Caroline Norton, and Josephine Butler in these years. I found that these authors and activists were definitely the vanguard in expressing state and welfare of Victorian women. This biography makes the concerns for women in the nineteenth century alive on paper, and elaborates the state of females according to their domestic and social spheres. Particularly, I could sense the ideologies and perception shaped by both sexes of the time that contributed to the birth of passive and vulnerable Victorian women in real life.

Passivity of body and mind of a married Victorian women

I watched Effie Gray the movie around a year ago. I thought the court case and content of the annulment in 1854 was not detailed enough. The movie also deliberately makes John Ruskin such a villain and put Effie into the incarceration that trod her life and youth for the whole six years, with Effie saying that “he never touched me“. Not until I read this biography do I realize the brevity of this procedure was due to the fact that Ruskin never argued and vindicated his case. Nevertheless, I find the essence of passivity is underlined in this sentence in the movie as well as the book regarding the “weaker sex”.

“I often think I would be a much happier, better, person if I was more like the rest of my sex in this respect.” – Effie Gray

First of all, I don’t want to say who it was to blame, and suspecting that “there is hardly a girl’s school in this Christian kingdom where the children’s courage or sincerity would be thought of half so much importance as their way of coming in at a door; and when the whole system of society, as respects the mode of establishing them in life, is one rotten plague of cowardice and imposture…” – lines from Of Queen’s Gardens, written in the 1860s, was implicitly stating the flaws of girls including his former wife. Effie might be marrying Ruskin for his fame and intellect, she could be as frivolous as that of what her father-in-law had stated; on the other hand, Ruskin, who was full of idealized thoughts and ideology, could be so frustrated that Effie did not live up to his expectations of fulfilling wifely duties. Whether it was because of (a) Sexual impotence, (b) married during Lent term, (c) avoiding intercourse to get prepared for travelling through the continent, or (d) Ruskin’s disappointment of the desire of female body that actually underlined the reasons for the unconsummated marriage, the reason was uncertain.

However, it should be noted that in the case of Effie’s side, her mother kept being confined fifteen times (only eight survived childhood) until she was 47, and with her life being in a state of indisposition (she was even contracted cholera once) reflected the heavy occupancy and poignancy of domestic duties, or the maternal martyrdom, that women need to assume of the time. As in many case, including the marriage of Dickens’s family, fulfilling maternal love and duties constitutes a Victorian marriage. (It reminds me of the views of Margaret Sanger that “endless childbearing was ‘tyranny'”, that women should have a say to control her own body so as to lay the “key to the temple of liberty”). In this case, the courageous and monumental act of Effie to seek for an annulment provided additionally on the ground of her publicity. A married women should be traditionally regarded as unassuming and submissive to her husband, but it involved her initiation to undergo procedures to prove her virginity in this marriage on both the women’s moral and physical aspects, and it was rare in this case of women to seek a separation from the husband even in the case of violence and adultery (even in 1857).

Apart from that, the resentment endured by both families as being told from the correspondence throughout these six years of their in-law son and daughter echoes the clinging relationship of Mrs Thornton towards John in North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – her son ended up being her only ownership under the entity of the feme covert of the marriage. He was her only expectations of accomplishment and hopes. (Child Custody Act, Caroline Norton)