Wilkie Collins – My Soul Asylum

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The Cliff Path, by Edmund Leighton

I haven’t read Wilkie Collins’s works for a while, as there are some books I think I have been wanting to read for long, I have accomplished some of them, but some are still left on the shelf. Honestly as reading those novels, the emotions are not as strong as reading Wilkie Collins’s stories. There is always a time I feel I need to go back to the basics and get to read some of his books again; especially recently I am finding myself at lost, feeling listless when I am back home. I do not have much social life, do not know where to go to and what to do apart from my assiduous nature to work, work, work.

When in solitude, I resort and correspond myself to the characters of Wilkie Collins’s works. He is an irreplaceable author and occupies a significant portion in my reading world. Some characters are too Eccentric and feel at ease only on their own. Being of course the essential and indispensable existence of the books, the stories which are full of sensation and mystery would not be so much fascinating and absorbing without them. On the other hand, on an emphatic scale, they are eagerly waiting to have someone who is willing to delve into their minds and understand their poignancy. As a reader, eccentricity in Wilkie Collins’s stories is one of the most tantalizing aspects and always ends up to be my favourite part of the plots. I get to know and feel the characters through their confessions, their monologues and epistolary writings. Rosanna Spearman and Ezra Jennings from The Moonstone, Hester Dethridge from Man and Wife, Sarah Leeson from The Dead Secret, Miserrimus Dexter from The Law and the Lady, Miss Dunross from The Two Destinies, and so forth. They are always alone, they are phlegmatic, full of regrets, and they long to love and admire a person, to be forgiven of the sins that had committed in the past, to be accepted and respected by whoever that is tolerant enough and has a big heart. As a quote from one of Wilkie Collins’s novel, everyone tends to have a time who is prone to be alone, to observe the aura and the surrounding atmosphere. It is impossible of a person who had grown up and been in solitary moments is not stirred in emotions by the eccentric characters that Wilkie Collins protrays. Being in solitude is the moment in real life that you can develop an unique self.

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. (I Say No, Wilkie Collins)

Reading Wilkie Collins’s stories, you read about Reconciliation. That is why you always have a good feeling when reaching the end of the stories. In Hide and Seek, there are regrets for readers, of course, that the unrequited love on the aspects of man-and-woman endearment between Madonna and Zack is not fulfilled in the end though it is compensated with the most affectionate tenderness. However, more importantly, it is the comradeship between Matthew Grice and Zack Thorpe that should be considered and regarded as the best solution in the story. The friendship is subtle in the beginning but grows into a passionate nature in the end emphasizing with that astounding secret they share. Even between The Two Destinies, the common feature of reconciliation in the end is similar – the separation, the rumination, the abandonment of oneself into an unknown place, and finally, the undying, limitless love, and the recognition of one to another. There is no wordy decoration, the recognition of love is simple, straight-toward and without pretension. That is why I always adore Wilkie Collins’s writing.

The time came; and on either side, the two comrades of former days — in years so far apart, in sympathies so close together — lived to look each other in the face again. The solitude which had once hardened Matthew Grice, had wrought on him, in his riper age, to better and higher ends. In all his later roamings, the tie which had bound him to those sacred human interests in which we live and move and have our being — the tie which he himself believed that he had broken — held fast to him still. His grim, scarred face softened, his heavy hand trembled in the friendly grasp that held it, as Zack pleaded with him once more; and, this time, pleaded not in vain.

“I’ve never been my own man again” said Mat, “since you and me wished each other good-bye on the sandhills. The lonesome places have got strange to me — and my rifle’s heavier in hand than ever I knew it before. There’s some part of myself that seems left behind like, between Mary’s grave and Mary’s child. Must I cross the seas again to find it? Give us hold of your hand, Zack — and take the leavings of me back, along with you.” (Hide and Seek, Wilkie Collins)

Another essence is the Empowerment in Wilkie Collins’s stories. Talking about empowerment, I mean a woman’s empowerment, a progress of self-realization and enlightenment, a consciousness that a heroine can believe herself as she has the ability to execute her power, to achieve and accomplish, and an ability to be her own self. A heroine can also be reticent and sufficient to protect and defend what she thinks is right, which it should not be regarded as sacrifice but a moral act. For instance, in The Law and the Lady, isn’t Valerie the propeller to assert her husband’s innocence against the notorious verdict of “not proven” in that case? In Man and Wife, Anne Silvester is a strong character who is initially teeming with ambivalence of whether to submit or to defend the dignity of herself against the protagonist’s control which she finds that the harmful relationship has been eclipsing her own free will. In the end, she toughens herself. The disposition of the heroines in Wilkie Collins’s might not be uncommon in his contemporaries, but it is the enlightenment of a woman who is resilient and satisfied at the same time that she could decide her life on her own. It is not important to focus on whether a woman could set to be free from a man’s life in the end, but it is important that a woman has a story, has a past, can think proactively, and gets to have an opportunity to explore and execute her power.

The first instinct of girls in general, on being told of anything which interests them, is to ask a multitude of questions, and then to run off, and talk it all over with some favourite friend. Rachel Verinder’s first instinct, under similar circumstances, was to shut herself up in her own mind, and to think it over by herself. This absolute self-dependence is a great virtue in a man. In a woman it has a serious drawback of morally separating her from the mass of her sex, and so exposing her to misconstruction by the general opinion. (The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins)

I might not be focusing on Wilkie Collins’s works on literary aspects, but these are some of the reasons for my love of his works; that he is considerate and treats every character as an individual, which also includes us readers. It is his contrivances of genuineness, virtue and beauty to compose a story that moves me.

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My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Book One)

91DOVo+2dtL“You’re my brilliant friend, you have to be the best of all, boys and girls.”

There is so much to dip in and dig out from My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante in this first book of the Neapolitan Quartet. In the story, the two playmates (Elena and Lila) were indispensable to each other; gradual transition and changes upon themselves were reflected furiously, relationships and point of views were prevalent; nervous conditions and circumstances were rioting and gnawing on the girls as they grew up at different stages as the plot was being developed. This is a very riveting and passionate story on childhood and adolescence that touched heavily on reality and reflected by norms. I admit I have not read many books in my life; apart from Wilkie Collins’s works I have never come across such a book which made my heart go racing through the pages. There was a euphoria to read this book and treasure it.

I was absolutely engrossed with the friendship in the story. The girls were not always individually but also assiduously exploring dimensions of expressions and empowerment together. The doubts and insecurity about themselves and the world that they lived in provided the backdrop of rivalries in different aspects not only against men but also between the themselves – They implicitly competed against each other on schooling, on physical aspects, perhaps also on love. Between them two were not the palpable fights, but was the not-so-harmonious rivalry in which social norms and insecurities about themselves set in to make someone closest to herself the competitor of and superiority of another. In this case, the ambivalent feelings to the one endeared and compatible to herself with that undertone of rivalry implied that the friendship itself was always in need for rebalancing.

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Love the caps taken from this adapted drama on HBO 🙂 Photo from The New York Times

She let me shine with a vivid light, she encouraged me to become more and more disciplined, more diligent, more serious. When Lila stopped misbehaving and effortlessly outdid me, the teacher praised me first, with moderation, and then went on to exalt her prowess. I felt the poison of defeat more acutely when it was Sarratore or Peluso who did better than me. If however, I came in second after Lila, I wore a meek expression of acquiescence. (p. 47)

Classes and studies are part of my favorite highlights in the book, especially the scene of that class competition between Lila, Elena, Enzo, Alfonso, and Nino. It is some kind of victorious feeling to read about the two main heroes answering teacher’s questions and emulated the boys of other classes with their smartness.

In the beginning of their friendship, Elena could not stand solitude a minute without Lila. Not with her parents and anyone guiding and inoculating her to copy one’s exemplary actions and to learn the good of another person of the same age, it was more of a voluntary and confused curiosity and fascination towards a girl who outstripped her academically in effortless strength and cleverness. Lila was a rebellious girl but she quickly became the new favorite student in the teacher’s class for her intellect. Her disposition entered into Elena’s mind and could not get her out of sight from the age of six. She somehow insinuated Elena to exert the secret and peerless strength, namely, endurance and diligence, in studies and in everything. Up until teenage years, Lila’s perseverance to be an autodidact in Latin and Greek that she borrowed books from the library illustrated the disposition rather to be seen as a betrayal and emulation upon the other as seen in Elena’s view in the beginning, but it was also a will, and an inquisitiveness, as Elena also found that, it was in fact the sharing of knowledge and tutelage from Lila that made her studies in school more complete and meaningful, rather than a grudge, a humdrum. It was a spark of light to be with Lila until she could have the self-indulgence and pleasure to study.

Blood. In general it came from wounds only after horrible curses and disgusting obscenities had been exchanged. That was the standard procedure. (p. 35)

At early stages, what also triggered her to stick to Lila was the agile legs of this little friend’s. Elena could not stand her mother – the hostility she first confronted in her little world. She had this kind of Little Hans in Freudian theory that by sticking to Lila’s pace, Elena could soon forget and escape her mother’s limping legs, her eyesight and control in her mind, to find her own soul asylum and security. As the friendship grew and getting to know Lila more, Elena fascination towards Lila grew stronger – when she was with Lila, “every disobedient act contained breathtaking opportunities”, (1) Lila’s rebellion towards the teacher actually led to her being discovered the intellectual capacities; (2) Lila’s stone fight with child bully and school repeater Enzo ultimately won over his admiration and respect; (3) the “expedition” to knock on Don Achille Carracci’s door proved that he did not appear to be the “fairy ogre” everyone was talking about in the neighborhood. In fact, Lila’s fearlessness and rebellion unintentionally embroiled and involved Elena in various incidents that led Elena discover another facade of the neighborhood which had gone unnoticed before; moreover, Lila provided her a shelter and a safe haven of which that her home had been wanted amidst the little tragic stricken world of violence, poverty, and insecurity. Elena at first envied Lila, but later got fascinated with, submitted and subservient to this slender and bony friend’s enigma – with them together, there was nothing to be afraid of. Elena desired to make Lila exclusive to herself without intervention, to be insulated from the outer world, although clearly this was not to be the case as they grew up.

As I watched, I understood conclusively that soon she would lose completely her air of a child-old woman, the way a well-known musical theme is lost when it’s adapted too fancifully. She had become shapely. Her high forehead, her large eyes that could suddenly narrow, her small nose, her cheekbones, her lips, her ears were looking for a new orchestration and seemed close to finding it. When she combed her hair in a ponytail, her long neck was revealed with a touched clarity. Her chest had small graceful breasts that were more and more visible. Her back made a deep curve before landing at the increasing taut arc of her behind. Her ankles were still too thin, the ankles of a child; but how long before they adapted to her now feminine figure? (p. 142)

As Elena had said, she loved correlations of the little convergence and divergence between herself and Lila; how one was always in joy could be in sorrows of another, even in physical aspect. It was not a pretentious or impressionable step, but Elena was exploring the ideas of how growing up would play a role upon herself and others. When Elena transited to teenage years, she felt a nuisance to this matter. The body let her see a different light but it turned out to be a dreadful feeling to see herself on the mirror. On the other hand, it was her first period that she found common grounds with other girls in the neighborhood. Physical aspect, not a choice within her control, but could be regarded as one’s properties, a liberty and sovereignty though it is tragic and pessimistic amid the environment surrounded by violence and patriarchy. On the other hand, Lila was still a wild and bony playmate. The crowd pressure put on Elena was making her proud that Lila was disoriented but it was until a time later that Elena felt the anguish that as her body grew, she did not own a man’s respects. When Lila was not in a desperate need for love, Elena started to imagine romance with other boys, and she got more male pleasure gaze. Girls’ jealousy of physical attraction is part of the rivalry in the book. However Elena also had a emphatic and symbiotic connection to Lila’s body, while she helped bathing and cleansing her friend’s body before the wedding, so that Stefano could “sully her in the course of the night”, the “only remedy against the pain I was feeling, that I would feel, was to find a corner secluded enough so that Antonio could do to me, at the same time, the exact same thing”.

We thought that if we studied hard we would be able to write books and that the books would make us rich. Wealth was still the glitter of gold coins stored in countless chests, but to get there all you had to go to school and write a book. (p.70)

Lila seemed to know, in the beginning, education was the way to climb upwards on the ladder of social mobility; however, she might not have the same opportunities as Elena. Elena’s parents did not entirely encourage Elena’s studies as regards the fees and expenses of schooling but she somehow had it; Lila, on the other hand, as the family business was under the strain, the norms regarding gender at home and outside was severe, although Lila had intellectual inspiration, she had not a chance to pursue. When Elena got to the teenage years, schooling and education became a matter of what Elena aspired to under the praises and encouragement, and was soon warmed to a pleasant habit that lead to her academic achievement. On the other hand, schooling and education was what Lila chased at the very beginning as an inquisitive child, she found the pleasure much earlier than Elena (was always ahead of Elena in everything); but also one of the reasons for that was to get out of the poverty cycle, nonetheless she failed of not having the opportunity, and it slipped through her fingers.

“The beauty of mind that Cerullo had from childhood didn’t find an outlet, Greco, and it has all ended up in her face, in her breasts, in her thighs, in her ass, places where it soon fades and it will be as if she had never had it.” (p. 277)

From then on, Little Women was no longer valid to apply to herself. Accumulation of wealth became something according to Lila a metamorphosis achieving through the family business. That might be an evasion of not having the same opportunity as Elena in schooling and education, but more importantly it was the endeavors to succeed in the family business as in a way to strengthen herself, to be more unyielding to the underprivileged circumstances which she was facing, and more so, to desperately constrain and undermine the destructive disfigurement of her beloved brother as well as the family (dissolving margins, p. 176).

But to Lila, she has ever-changing features and decisions to undermine the forces of dissolving margins,

“He’s rich,” I said to her finally. But even as I said that I realized how the idea of the riches girls dreamed of was changing further. The treasure chests full of gold pieces that a procession of servants in livery would deposit in our castle when we published a book like Little Women – riches and fame – had truly faded. Perhaps the idea of money as a cement to solidify our existence and prevent it from dissolving, together with the people who were dear to us, endured. But the fundamental feature that now prevailed was concreteness, the daily gesture, the negotiation. This wealth of adolescence proceeded from a fantastic, still childish illumination – the designs for extraordinary shoes – but it was embodied in the petulant dissatisfaction of Rino, who wanted to spend like a big shot, in the television, in the meals, and in the ring with which Marcello wanted to buy a feeling, and, from step to step, in that courteous youth Stefano, who sold groceries, had a red convertible, spent forty-five thousand lire like nothing, framed drawings, wished to do business in shoes as well as in cheese, invested in leather and a workforce, and seemed convinced that he could inaugurate a new era of peace and well-being for the neighborhood: it was, in short, wealth that existed in the facts of every day, and so was without splendor and without glory. (p. 248)

At this point, I am still trying to analyse and expanding the ideas of dissolving margins in Lila’s case. I would need to find out more in the next three volumes.

“The mind’s dream have ended up under the feet.” (p. 314)

To believe that a man was kind, was ambitious and adamant in his voice, that he was always denying in his actions to be the victimized offspring of a murdered father, and was determined to instill the atmosphere of prosperity and “new era” brought Lila to be married to a new rising grocer at the age of sixteen. In the end of the first book, Elena could be seen as herself getting some intellectual achievement and even surpassed Lila. The expectations she had for Lila failed as she increasingly longed to get out of the neighborhood. The ideas of wealth, the marriage between Lila and Stefano, were the turning point that Elena started to get more observant and awareness of what her heart craved to pursue under the shadow of Lila. But I know even as that, Lila should not be abandoned by Elena; whatever Lila had become could not change how Elena viewed Lila: she could still be the one to astonish and inspire Elena like she was as a child. She was not losing the illumination, she was not fading and being contaminated but only looking for ways to adapt, change, invent, and empower herself as well as Elena.

As reader, I hope that when reading the second volume, my emotions would not get affected by Elena’s narratives with her irascibility toward Lila, and not to take sides with any one of them – whatever happened to the friendship, nobody would be the one being held culpable but it was the circumstances that were too hostile and inevitable for them to have made such decisions. I hope to find Lila more lovable, more affectionate towards Elena, and find out how Lila perceived Elena as her most “brilliant friend”, although rivalries and conflicts would still be setting in.  I am very much looking forward to reading the second volume.

Intro

This is the reason, some say, that horror stories are popular. Because it’s through such disturbing tales that we confront our fears and our greatest fear is not the death of our loved ones, which is heart wrenching in itself, but our own finite time on earth.”


“Each Story is like my own child, brought to life from the musty dark chambers in my mind, draped in cobwebs where grotesque creatures merrily creep.”


“It’s best late at night when we won’t be disturbed. Find a quiet corner. Let a single light bulb burn. Let the rest of the room be shrouded in darkness and all is quiet outside but for a faint howling, almost mewling sound, in the distance.

Start turning these pages.

Then you and I, ah, we can be such good friends again.”


Horror Stories, Tunku Halim

My Penang Memories

I spent four whole days in Penang in mid-March for my off days from work. Always after spending time in solitude in a place I’m travelling, I quickly get used to the rhythm, pace, weather, and sound. Penang is doused in my memories; its people and history that make the place interesting are difficult to get them erased off from mind. Especially, the friendly and accepting locals, their helpfulness and an aura of sangfroid and contentment in attitude really warm my heart. In this post, I would share some memories which I have been gifted from Penang.

  • A book I bought – Horror Stories by Tunku Halim

But I had to face my fears. I knew that. It was logic against superstition. Science against primitive fears. The illogical wasn’t going to scare me, no matter how hard it damn tried.

I was not familiar with any authors from Malaysia. This is an interesting book as it digs into a world of folklore and urban legends that are notoriously known in Malaysia. I would never know what “orang minyak”, “pontianak”, “toyols” are without a chance of reading this collection of short stories. Also, there are references that sprinkle a touch of the Malaysian culture, such as “balik kampung” – the return of homeland during festive seasons for itinerant workers. My favourite ones include Four Numbers for Eric Kwok and The Width of a Circle. Plane Load proves a promising start that has me eyes bulging and racing through the pages as the story concerns a clever twist of a pharmaceutical conspiracy and deals with a bit of claustrophobic tension. However, it gives way to some explicit sexual content in the end that really annoys me. Most stories in this book really puts me off as sex and lust always prevail in the plot, although these elements are primitive desires and it equates a primitive fear which exists in human mentality. I agree with some reviewers on goodreads, but probably I would give a few more marks. I have to say there are more gems in the Bookstore and I regret I haven’t given myself much time wandering around!

  • Rich background history with a tour in the Colonial Penang Museum

This museum has a rich collection of antiques and rarities which were owned by the affluents of the time. Of course, there are many great museums in the world but this one impresses me a lot. In fact, I was the only one who walked in the Museum and I got the tour guide there all my myself:-D See the ship in that picture? It was made by hundreds/thousands of cloves. Cloves were invaluable in the olden days, the only path to purchase this spice was to get it imported from Indonesia. It was until the time David Brown (1778-1825) successfully experimented in cultivating cloves alongside nutmeg that this spice finally became popular.

I really adore this work by William Morris as well as all the stained glass windows found in the Museum.

I’ve got my memories of what the tour guide said beng jotted down on my notebook. Next time I would come to the Museum and make another visit along with the Old Protestant Cemetery!

  • The lovely nature sounds up on the Penang Hill

I forgot to take a photo of the quote that birds are the nature givers of a free concert when I was walking in the park. Indeed, strolling on the hill proves that nature is a great consoler. It frees our worries that agitate us when living in the concrete jungle. I loved listening to the sounds of the creatures up there. It was an unlucky day; I was not able to see the black squirrels and dusky leaf monkeys but I felt satisfied with the time I spent there.

It’s not until this trip that I consider visiting Bako / Gunung Gading National Park in future. I’ve never realised I could be interested in the wildlife before!

  • Mosquito bites and tanned skin

Although locals are friendly and benign, mosquiotes are cunning there. I had wore long sleeves in my sleep and put on repellant in case of mosquitoes wandering around in the hotel room. They did not bite me during the nights because they were to prepare for my alarm calls in the morning. One of them bit me on the wrist and one on my thumb in two consecutive mornings. Very very clever indeed. Also, the sunlight is fierce! But I do like travelling in tropical countries. The cold weather somewhat sags my mood of sightseeing.

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All in all, I am thankful of what Penang has given me. The only regret is that I should not have gone back to the hotel so early as I hadn’t got enough time to check out the cafes and bookshops. I will be back George Town!

The Legacy of Cain (1888) by Wilkie Collins

Millais, John Everett, 1829-1896; The Twins, Kate and Grace Hoare
The Twins, Kate and Grace Hoare, by John Everett Millais

“I resigned myself to recognize the existence of the hereditary maternal taint, I firmly believed in the counterbalancing influences for good which had been part of the girl’s birthright…With the great, the vital transformation, which marks the ripening of the girl into the woman’s maturity of thought and passion, a new power for Good, strong enough to resist the latent power for Evil, sprang into being, and sheltered Eunice under the supremacy of Love.”  – The Governor

The Legacy of Cain, a book with a name of biblical connotation, written by Wilkie Collins in his late years, is another novel carried out with a “mission”. This book actually tries to elaborate some of his published works that he touched on before; but the main theme here is the argument over the term of hereditary moral characteristics (nature). One’s reputation is important, once ruined it is irretrievable, which will then be passed on to next generations. Its reputation is not confined to pecuniary deterioration as in other novels of the contemporaries, but it is actually the ruin of moral character. It might be genetically shared and looked down upon by the general public. Wilkie Collins explicates that this might not necessarily be the case. In many Victorian novels, many protagonists forbear and defeat destitution through diligence and fortitude. In Legacy of Cain, under the general stigma regarding the passing of motherly sins and characteristics to the daughter, positive nurture and upbringing however prepare heroines to forbear future obstacles. Most importantly, it is of her individual cultivation of good and inner strength which assist her to confront the hardship in the end. In general it is individual virtue and peace of triumphing the bad and public stigma.

“There are inherent emotional forces in humanity to which the inherited influences must submit; they are essentially influences under control – influences which can be encountered and forced back. That we, who inhabit this little planet, may be the doomed creatures of fatality, from the cradle to the grave, I am not prepared to dispute. But I absolutely refuse to believe that it is a fatality with no higher origin than can be found in our accidental obligation to our fathers and mothers.”  – The Governor

One of the obstacles in The Legacy of Cain is human emotions. The intense plot constitutes a sisterly competition for the love of a handsome but a weak gentleman of a respectable background. It echoes a resemblance of the charismatic preacher, Mr Miles Mirabel in I Say No.

The story-line and characters induce a bit of interaction and guesswork for readers. For example, I keep guessing who is the daughter of a ruined mother as well as the adopted one in the family. Of course, it is a test which tempts and reveals to readers that their judgement are not always the truth. Eunice is the simple-minded character in the beginning. She is more impressionable than her sister, Helena. Helena, on the other hand, shines and always contrives to win others’ heart over Eunice with her cleverness and beauty (You might have guessed it correctly who the adopted daughter is! But you know, once you are indulged in Wilkie’s narratives, it is not easy to see 🙂 ). This didactic approach might remind readers of Man and Wife, in that case, athleticism – the revival of manly virtue is set to compete against personal nourishment of virtue in good and kindness. In Legacy of Cain, it is the artifice of beauty against the unblemished virtue of humility in competition of love and confrontation of obstacles.

To compete for one’s love turns out ugly; it derives an emotional force which overrides hereditary morality, and is one of the most tainted, fatal and incurable flaws existing in human nature – an emotion of jealousy. Jealousy is the tool in the story which induces one’s rage, fury, and desperation so as to unveil mortal masquerades and to see clearly of the counterbalancing and conflict of intrinsic good and evil in an individual’s heart and character. In Eunice’s case, she lets jealousy subside instead of linger. She chooses the “giving-up-and forgiven-all” attitude to her sister Helena as well as to her lover. It might be an exemplary virtue which is always exhibited in many pure female characters in Wilkie Collins’s works – the considerate, and caring ones in the family, a character who has gone through a process to enlightenment and self-realisation to become a better person – it might be heart-wrenching; however, readers who are familiar with Wilkie Collins’s stories would know him to be a considerate author as he always gets you a warm feeling to know that fate is destined to restore true lovers in the end.

I hope Penguin, Oxford and other publishers could do more Wilkie’s titles with introduction and explanatory notes. I am running out of ideas!

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

women talking.jpgWomen talking consists of deep dialogues under the situation of not being perturbed and disturbed by the authority of patriarchy. The book sets its background in a Mennonite colony, in which the author responded to the true-event of a crude crime in the style of a fictitious account. Between 2005 and 2009 girls and women of a Mennonite colony in Bolivia were put into unconscious state at nights and raped by the men of their community. When the women explained the wounds and pain the next day to the elder members and bishop they were deceived that those being marks of punishment from the sins they committed throughout their lives and the women should repent their reckless and devilish acts.

The main plot of the book centers around a group of female of two families holding a secret meeting in the loft dealing with the aftermath of the crime while the men in the city are trying the bail out the perpetrators who are awaiting on trials – not long after the men’s return, the bishop will demand an answer from the women whether they publicly forgive the men, stay in the community and live as normal; otherwise women would have to face excommunication. In the case, women need to decide the future before the men’s imminent return from the city.

The meeting is recorded by August Epp, a Mennonite who was excommunicated along with his parents during childhood. He was educated in England but incarcerated in jail for what he had done during the street protest against a bill passed in the British Parliament. After the imprisonment he is convinced to return to the community and being reintroduced under the Bishop’s watch. The Mennonite women are all victims of the Incident, in front of them are three different options, (1) Do Nothing; (2) Fight or (3) Leave. Three options were each debated in the meeting conducted through the mother dialect of Plautdietsch (Low German) and translated in English on package paper by August Epp.

“Ona asks the children if they know what a sea is, and they stare at her with four enormous blue eyes, sea-like. Ona describes the sea as another world, one that is hidden from us, one that lives underwater. It is the life in the sea that she defines as the sea, and not the sea itself. She talks about fish and other living things.”

Although the context of Women Talking is based on the aftermath of a tragic and depraved incident in a community, there are some interesting conversations arising from the book. At first I am not sure if I have absorbed wholeheartedly of the meaning of the words, but somehow I gradually grasp some ideas of the dialogues. They are somewhat philosophical and thought-provoking.

At one point of conversation, the women are contending whether they should be fighting or leaving to confront the cruelty of the men, and if there are any precedents to support the argument. Women responds that animals, like horses, would evade but some would fight in return – most examples are surrounded with animals’ behaviour in the farm as these are the creatures women often see in the homeland life. Following the discussion, one woman would rebuke – if we are compared to animals like pigs, horses, dogs or raccoons, we would not enter the gate of heaven as there are not much labouring and feeding going on in the eternity.

There is also another argument regarding the option of “Leaving”, what is the appropriate age range for the boys to leave with women? Would there be possible harm unforeseen in future if boys/men who were willing to follow the women? Would all this be a pretence of the men if they follow the women under the consent set between both sexes and a lie for the women taking charge of decision in the new land? How are we assessing the best option knowing that we actually are using our intellect and peace in mind rather than driven by hunger and fear like other animals do? Varied situations and hypotheses are being discerned and discussed between women talking in the meeting, they are endless, and some unanswerable; counted clocks being a dumb catalyst to propel and urge the women back to ponder the three options again practically.

As the meeting progresses, some beautiful notions come up in the book. It is actually showing that although the women in the community might also be the sticklers of belief to other members that “outsiders”, like readers, might disapprove, but the option they finally choose is reflecting an uncultivated and unwrought notion of “love” and “faith” in humanity that is without any intervention of a third-party’s influence, and is inbred in every life. The option and the reasons for it is in a nature no way regarded by outsiders as an act of resignation, and entirely not expounding the idea of forgiveness vulgarly –  the women would not “Do Nothing” under this situation, and they would not “Fight” as both acts are flouting pacifism. They are conscientious objectors, and they need to reflect pacifism through “Leaving” – to protect the children and the weak, to be acknowledged, and to think. – Consciousness is resistance, that faith is action. (p. 214)

Another beautiful idea is the relationship between August Epp and Ona. August Epp was excommunicated during boyhood, his mother passed away while he was incarcerated in prison and father disappeared during the time in England when he was a boy. Ona, on the other hand, was impregnated by the violent incident. Both are victims of the “Mennonite experiment”. But it is the tragic past which tied August Epp with the Bishop that makes the relationship with Ona more intimate. August Epp is suicidal because he is secretly known of his indelible past that he feels guilty being born. But in Ona’s eyes and perspective, Epp is the message of goodness and hope to both the community as well as her future in a physical form.

In Epp’s conversation he has had with Ona, faith can always be restored. The rudiment of love is that it is a subject of supreme and unknown nature that God has taught individuals to reflect in lives rather than instilling strict rules for individuals to obey in solidarity to prove that you Love God. Also, the concept of “action” is important in the book, one should change other than being indulged with the past.

I think this book is not mainly written to us readers to judge whether being kept from and secluded from the patriarchal world under a religious belief, like Anabaptism, is a harmful notion to women / believers, but the focal point is that through the world of the women on this account, we should grip the idea of how to treat ourselves in our world, learn to deal, confront, and accept the past, of how to be resilient and  convert ourselves into good use.

The Mystery of Charles Dickens: A Tale of Mesmerism and Murder by John Paulits

9781780921778Between 1844 an 1845, during the time of Dickens’ excursion with his family, he was acquainted with the de la Rues in Genoa. Emile de la Rue, a Swiss banker, confided to Dickens that his English wife Augusta was having troubles with facial tics and sleepless nights. Taught by Dr. Elliotson in London, Dickens returned to Genoa and underwent sessions of mesmerism to put Augusta into a trance-like state, so that she could be cured during the process of awakening and dreaming. However, the One and Only Dickens, the Great Original, the master that all men great and small who gravitated towards this resplendent being, was defeated in this one and only circumstance. During the trance, Augusta divulged to Dickens that she was actually haunted by a “phantom” in her subconscious mind, and little was known by Dickens that twenty-five years later, in doing the justice to the Swiss banker’s wife, and having a righteousness in mind to uncover the deepest depth of a gruesome truth in writing the Mystery of Edwin Drood (what excitement to find out this name is a play of anagram!), the inescapable jeopardy was awaiting Dickens to meet his accursed end.

“You have caused these attacks. You are the source of these attacks. Do not sit there and act as if your wife’s attacks are but a small price to pay to possess the likes of you! You talk as if you were some rare and precious prize. What you have done is to destroy the woman’s peace of mind, her health, and her stability.”(p. 122)

The Mystery of Charles Dickens is one of the most interesting books I have read. One of the aspects which makes this book unforgettable is that there is a great juxtaposition drawn between the nuptial/familial affections of Dickens’ and that of de la Rues. Some dialogues actually remind me of the biographies and fiction I read about Dickens with his wife Catherine.  In Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold, Catherine is also portrayed as an insecure wife, suffered from indisposition and stuck in a rotation of birth-giving confinement. In truth, before the separation in 1858, Dickens even made his instructions to set up a partition wall in the bedroom and accused of Catherine being suffered from mental disorder. In The Mystery of Charles Dickens, Catherine is more belligerent and acrimonious to Dickens, perhaps used to illustrate Dickens being the restless and unique character in search of the truth and justice in this mystery. But still, both Catherine Dickens and Augusta de la Rue were victims in a way that their misfortune was self-disguised as blessings that they believed the total darkness of their lives was illuminated by a rare and precious light like their husbands, but the truth is that the relationships were actually a deception, a psychological detriment, and they were only seen as impressionable beings.

“Dickens seemed now to control the very respiration of his audience. There were passages where taking a breath, making a disturbance, however slight, would have been a sacrilegious impossibility.” (p.138)

On the other aspect, Dickens, when put onto paper in fiction, biographies, and projected on screens as the protagonist of possessing restless and inquisitive mind, is a character who makes one very excitable to dissect, devour, and admire in words. “Dickens’ command over his audience amazed de la Rue. The Room no longer seemed a collection of individuals but had become one attentive thing, pushed, pulled, driven, frightened, amused, and entertained by the man in the small circle of light.” (p. 138) I really enjoy reading these kinds of enlivened passages in the book narrating Dickens with his reading desks, citing aloud his works during his farewell reading performances on stage, and every time he has read the murder scene of Nancy by Sikes in Oliver Twist, Dickens was described as being too exhausted and overwrought that he needed to stagger off from the stage being flanked by two men in assistance.

Vengeance plays a major part in the book. There is Dickens’s vengeance against Emile de la Rue’s immoral filth that he needed to make it come alive in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (admittedly I still haven’t read it), and on the other side, Emile de la Rue’s mistaken vengeance against Dickens for ruining his life and hopeful possibility to attain a high social status in London is ubquitious in the story. Emile de la Rue’s sinful tramps around Rochester is especially making one feel really tense while reading it, even better than the mesmerising chapters on Augusta (I find some dialogues quite humourous, especially the bits when Dickens was convinced he had a great pair of visual rays that could subdue Augusta). Emile was really one of a rogue in the book, and those chapters make me really want to explore Gad’s Hill once in a lifetime. (Although I think it has been turned to a school for a long time but I really hope someday I could visit this place).

By the way, Dr Elliotson is also another interesting person in the book, apart from him being an expert of mesmerist, little did I know he was also an eminent phrenologist. But most importantly, he actually underwent a successful operation of amputating a patient’s penis using mesmerism as an anesthetic. So, one must get hold of this book to dig more information!