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Download ebook: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

A funny reviewer at Goodreads sums up Pride and Prejudice in a few darn good lines:

“Girls need to marry. Girls can’t get married. Girls are sad. Girls get married. Girls are happy.”

That’s an honest-to-god review of Jane Auten’s classic. The reviewer’s words are proven and undisputed as Kevin Bacon would put it (as he did in A Few Good Men). Yet there is something more to the story. Ah, actually there is a lot more.

The Usual Lovers

Pride and Prejudice is an unforgettable love story with some typical tensions and stumbling blocks found in most romantic novels. However, Elizabeth and Darcy’s love story has some deeper elements as well. Their journey is filled with irony.

Elizabeth says she is not someone who rejects a guy only to accept him later. But this is exactly what she does with Darcy. While the first line of the novel states that “a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”, we find that a single woman needs a man of good fortune more desperately. Darcy detests the ill-bred behaviour of the Bennet family, but his own Aunt is no better. Elizabeth takes pride in her judgement, which results in her unjustified prejudice against Darcy.

Though there is no explicit symbolism in the story, the love story serves as a tool for social commentary.

Thou Art Proletariat

The importance of reputation and class in Victorian society is emphasised time and again. Though the middle class Bennet family socializes with aristocrats like Darcy and Bingleys, they are clearly treated as inferiors. The snobbish Mr. Collins is another product of the class system.

Do you think class is still a decisive factor today when it comes to relationships? Of course, a Paris Hilton is not going to marry a loser, but then how far can someone go beyond his own league?

Comedy of Wits

Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice against him make an intelligent story supported by lots of quotable quotes.

“I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.” — Elizabeth on Darcy.

Well said Liz.

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Classics Revisited: Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Franz Kfka Metamorphosis

What if you wake up one morning to find yourself transformed into an enormous insect? What if your life suddenly takes a frighteningly different turn?

Alienation of the Condemned

Kafka’s classic is a dark fantasy with some absurdist humor. Metamorphosis is an apparently simple but bizarre story, which works on so many levels that no one’s too sure how to interpret it. But the primary theme is alienation of an individual in a society that is too afraid to accept changes. Metamorphosis would remind you Camus’ The Outsider, which deals with the same theme.

Gregor’s (The protagonist) metamorphosis isolates him from the rest of the society, and he is no longer a part of the established system. A psychological barrier separates him from his family and the people around him. However, it’s later revealed that his metamorphosis and consequent alienation is an extension of a long term feeling.

Anarchy in the Universe 

The cause of Gregor’s predicament is never explained. A seemingly fair, dutiful fellow turns into a giant insect for no apparent reason. Kafka strongly suggests the existence of a chaotic universe, which functions in an illogical and chaotic manner. The absurdity of life is highlighted with surprisingly effective symbolism.

In Search of an Existentialist life

Pre-metamorphosis: Samsa’s  life is miserable because family, society, and duties are most important to him and in the process he neglects his own existence. He is little more than a machine.

Post-metamorphosis: Samsa focuses too much on himself and is cut-off from the society. His life lacks purpose and becomes absurd.

The poor fellow struggles to live a meaningful and balanced life; so eventually he ceases to exist. The existentialist philosophers would say Samsa was not an an acting, feeling, living individual but someone with confused priorities in a world that might look frighteningly meaningless.

You, Me & Samsa

Readers can easily identify with the trapped, estranged, and lonely Gregor Samsa. If Dostoevsky had written an allegorical work of speculative fiction, he couldn’t have portrayed a more embittered protagonist with a more realistic agony. At the end of the day, are we not feeling a bit like Kafka’s Samsa or Camus’s Meursault?

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Forgotten classic: La Morte Amoureuse by Théophile Gautier

theophile gautier la morte amoureuse

Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) was a French poet, novelist, and critic who profoundly influenced French literature of his time. He was an ardent supporter of Romanticism and was blessed with fantastic poetic imagination. This is best exhibited in Gautier’s gothic fiction — La Morte Amoureuse (Clarimonde), The Mummy’s Foot, and Avatar to name a few. He was held in high esteem by prominent literary figures like Gustave Flaubert, Baudelaire, Balzac, and Oscar Wilde. Gautier was the director of Revue de Paris from 1851-1856.

La Morte Amoureuse is a classic Gothic vampire tale with numerous references to Orientalism. It delineates the story of a priest named Romuald, who is seduced by a beautiful woman — Clarimonde. With time, it becomes clear that Romuald’s beloved is a vampire, who thrives on his blood. While alive, she was a courtesan living in Palace Concini — a place of great debauchery. Romuald, however, lives with no regrets. He ends up being a two-face: a priest during day and a lover to an undead at night. Finally, an older priest becomes aware of the situation, digs out Clarimonde from her grave, and turns her to dust with holy water. Clarimonde comes back to Romauld one last time that night and tells him he would regret this all his life, but won’t get her back. The vampire’s prophecy turns out to be true as Romuald lives with a broken heart for the rest of his life.

This novella is an established classic and is bound to leave an impression on the lovers of gothic literature.

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Book Review: On the Eve by Ivan Turgenev

A forgotten classic. A masterpiece by one of the best novelists of all time. A deliciously chewy book from the golden age of Russian literature. Ivan Turgenev’s On the Eve is a memorable experience that introduces you to a transcendental and aching tale, which touches the deepest part of your soul.

What’s it about?

Friendship and love, sacrifice and loyalty, idealism and philosophy

This is a love story with a historical background, told with consummate skill, moving inevitably to its sad conclusion. A small group of young Russian aristocrats deal with intellectual issues on the eve of the Crimean War. The protagonist — the twenty year old Elena — and two other men in her social circle search for answers through earnest philosophical discussions. The arrival of the fourth element — A Bulgarian revolutionary — to this friendly triangle suddenly makes everything unpredictable and life takes unexpected turns. You suspect a tragic ending all along, you feel a melancholy tone throughout and your apprehensions turn out to be true. “I sought happiness, and I shall find—perhaps death.” says Elena. But hope somehow remains alive and you don’t feel vanquished when the journey is over.

What’s so good?

This is not a spider web in terms of plot. But Turgenev’s flowing, seemingly artless prose keeps you mesmerized. You would recognize a faint atmosphere of rose water. On the Eve is not too passionate, yet it is beautiful in form and full of emotion. Even though the pace is not too fast, the story keeps you hooked right from the beginning.

This novel is rich in brilliant characterizations. You may not identify with the characters (who may seem a bit strange in 21st century), but you do feel for them and you do recognize their sad sentiments. And this is perhaps the only Russian classic with a Bulgarian revolutionary — Insarov — as a hero. He is a head-strong champion who wants to liberate his motherland from the Turks and eventually meets a tragic fate.

A historical fact

On the Eve is now considered as one of Turgenev’s major works. Surprisingly, it was not warmly received by the critics at that time and Turgenev’s reputation suffered a feedback after its publication. Being highly sensitive to the opinion of his friends and critics, Turgenev didn’t write much in the years that immediately followed.

Is it a “must read” novel?

On the Eve was written almost 150 years ago. But it hasn’t become irrelevant, nor has it lost its charm. You shouldn’t skip this book particularly if you admire vintage Russian novels. Continue reading

Classics & Cult Books / Reviews

Book Review: The Arabian Nights — New Translation by Malcolm & Ursula Lyons (Deluxe Edition, Penguin)

The All New Penguin Deluxe Box Set Edition of The Arabian Nights

The profoundly epic and delightfully whimsical Arabian Nights is not merely a book to be read; it’s a world to be experienced. There is simply no emotion that it doesn’t express; there is hardly any subject that it doesn’t touch. Love, lust, politics, art, war and peace… virtually everything is narrated in the pages of 1001 nights.

Now it’s time to say a few words about the translation issue.

Burton’s translation of Arabian Nights was written in bizarre English. Critics also accused it of being imperialistic and racist in flavor. To these you need to add odd Victorian slangs. The result was archaic text, which made reading a nightmarish experience and eventually lead to the decline in popularity of Arabian Nights in the West.

Mardrus-Mathers translation — Joseph Charles Mardrus, an Egyptian-French Doctor, took extreme liberties while translating 1001 Nights into French. He added a great deal of “naughty” elements to the stories and even invented new stories on numerous occasions. Mardrus managed to deliver a charming book, which critics still called pure “hoax”. E.P Mathers translated the French text into English with surprising dexterity. His clean, crisp prose and command on the language made this edition popular and has kept it in print even after eighty years. That’s quite something considering the fact that a large part of the book is not true Arabian Nights and is dangerously close to porn.

Malcolm & Ursula Lyons’ (both first rate academics) version of Arabian Nights is probably the best translation of the stories till date. It’s beautifully simple, clear and idiomatic. This Penguin edition is neither too prudish nor sleazy. It’s based on Calcutta II — the Arabian edition printed in India in early 19th century. This has to be the most beautiful 1001 Nights book — hardcover, elegantly designed with fine paper quality. It weighs on your wallet, but it’s worth every penny.

Reading the entire book (3 volumes) is quite a feat, but that shouldn’t be an issue. If a Sidney Sheldon novel is a 4 minute pop, then 1001 Nights is a half an hour symphony. Hey bookworms, just close your eyes and imagine Ali Baba, Sinbad, Aladdin and the sultry oriental women of medieval ages. Honestly, aren’t you getting excited? Continue reading

Classics & Cult Books / Reviews

Book Review: Great Short Stories of the World (Reader’s Digest)

Great Short Stories of the World (selected by editors of The Reader’s Digest) is a perfect book to introduce newbies to the works of classic short story writers. You would find some of the finest writers of early 20th century in this book. This book is bound to make you wonder how complete in itself a short story can be. And yes, it is a testimony to the fact that short stories can be as much fun as reading a novel.

This is a 800 page book with 71 stories (a dozen abridged by the editors) in it. Finishing it off at one go might ruin the experience. So come back to it once in a while.

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