It is time to be awakened

Can you smell the spring in the air? It is a faint whiff of warmth promising warmer, longer days to come and for the greens to sprout. It is a sign of the life’s continuation and abundance of chances for us to grow and change and mature.
Spring is on its way!

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Classics Club Challenge #7: Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility (Wordsworth blue)Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen

published in 1811
First read in the summer of 2009
(without understanding its context, nuance or richness in characterization)
Real perusal on February 19th – 23rd 2015

I daresay I have met my favourite book of all world in Sense and Sensibility.
I had failed to perceive a lot when I was 15, which had as much to do with the deficiency in the language as with the immaturity of the mind. I dare not say I see and understand each valley and every hill of this novel now that I am nearing 21.

Sense and Sensibility is not, as I had assumed all these years, just a portrayal of oppositions. Elinor as a voice of the reason, calm and civil and unaffected and dull. Marianne as the bursting sea of emotions, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, hysterical and dramatic.
In my opinion, Marianne and Elinor are not to be seen as two opposing poles. We all are affected by both traits to varying degrees, just as Elinor’s objective mind can be influenced by a flood of emotions or Marianne’s feelings governed by tact. I do not condemn Marianne for wanting to be honest and thus choosing to remain silent rather than lying. She is an intense person, and intensity doesn’t necessarily equal bad. The defects of her temperament and philosophies come only to light when they influence her behaviour towards other people. The novel, in my mind, is not about vilifying sensibility, but how it might – and usually does – effect the owner’s empathy and civility. Because she feels in extremes, Marianne is quick in judging people and failing to allow them to change or move up in her esteem. She sees the vulgarity and gossip-loving nature of Mrs Jennings and Sir John and makes up her mind that because of their vulgar manners, they are unable of possessing any positive trait. On the other side, her temperament mirrored almost exactly in Willoughby blinds her to everything else and she does not care about hurting other people’s feelings by careless and cutting remarks.
We see the contrast between Elinor and Marianne because while they both have similar reactions to and judgments of the same people, they act differently on their opinions: Marianne huffs and turns away from the society because her compulsion to honesty dictates her to act on her feelings; Elinor acknowledges the ridicules and selfishness of some people, feels a thorough dislike for some of them, but forces herself to act within the rules of the society and civility because her compulsion to adapting to the society dictates her to compromise and mask her true sentiments in a cloak of polite impartiality. And even though she perceives, she does not judge idiocy; she does not condemn people because they are thoughtless and can see events only through their own eyes. I especially like Marianne’s description of civilities as “the lesser duties of life” (Chapter 46) – and there she and her sister are finally in accord.
Elinor’s virtues of keeping her distress in check, accepting what is and moving on, seeing things in an objective manner without romanticizing them are acknowledged by her family only later in the book. They find it commendable that she kept her unhappiness hidden as to not make them unhappy as well. A funny thing; a friend of mine said exactly the same thing to me. She masked her unhappiness behind her smiles and refused to talk about it – the why and what and how – and said she didn’t see why she should involve me in her unhappiness. Sadness itself does not make me feel sad. It makes me feel helpless and empathetic. It was rather her refusal to share it with me that made me sad. I am willing to acknowledge, however, that forcing openness when the other person is not ready to be open can do more harm than good. Maybe I require too much honesty. I do not judge or condemn my friend; I was a little hurt, perhaps, at first. I hope someday she will have enough trust in our friendship to allow me and herself to share her burdens with me.

I personally see more of myself in Marianne. I used to feel with a great intensity during my teenage years and once I’d vowed in my diary that I’d rather feel too much than to be calm and tranquil and insipid. While I have learned to value and cherish the calmness of mind, I have yet to master the calmness of manner as I am still quite impatient with people whose company adds such little value to me. Am I being condescending? Yes. I also acknowledge that I myself am seldom a good company for most people. I am absent-minded and self-centered. I am my own best company, and I struggle to censure myself or to change my behaviour. While it is true that living in total isolation is neither possible (for most of us) nor the best way of living (for most of us? Surely there are some exceptions to everything.), I can fake politeness even though – admittedly – I cannot master it as well as Elinor does.

As John Dashwood says, “there is a vast deal of inconsistency in almost every human character” (Chapter 41), and himself of all people! Anxious for his half-sisters and his stepmother to be well and comfortable yet reluctant to bring these comforts about himself, nay, even finding all sorts of self-justifications as to why he himself just simply cannot spare anything while willing, judging and urging other people to do his duties.
How about Lady Middleton, who is not terribly fond of Elinor and Marianne because they don’t fawn over herself and her children like Lucy and Anne (or is it Nancy?) do, and yet worrying about her image of gentlewoman of good manners?Of Lucy Steele’s small mind and selfish phoniness I have nothing to beautify. Elinor might pity her but I cannot be as generous. I dislike people who lie, deceive and flatter, and I’ll be as open and frank as Marianne to judge them as harshly as I like.

These thoughts and many more have passed my mind while I was reading Sense and Sensibility. I must and will revisit it many times to come. If there is one part I am thoroughly dissatisfied with, it is that everyone who pities and loves Colonel Brandon thinks he deserves a reward for all his past afflictions, and that that reward is supposed to be Marianne. Of course, they do not force her to marry him; but I genuinely dislike that line of thinking, of using someone else entirely for their own reason of “rightness”. They did not act upon their wishes (much) and yet I must censure them for thinking such thoughts, and encouraging such thoughts to flourish.

People, knots of relationship, sexual chemistry

At first I stayed because I had promised myself I’d stay at least two hours. Then I didn’t want to be seen as the “serious Asian” so I stayed an hour longer. Then I was having fun, so I stayed another hour.

During the first phase, this really nice and naturally affectionate girl asked me whether I have a boyfriend (she having assumed that I was heterosexual), which I denied. She has a boyfriend who doesn’t seem to appreciate her love & affection as much as he ought (but not ending the relationship either) but then again, all my information is second-hand (although a quite reliable source). Anyway, then came a guy who is pursuing the same academic interest as I. We could have swapped horror stories, told inside jokesz whatever, but the general atmosphere (and his overall behavior) dictated that we don’t talk about university stuff. So we didn’t.

During the second and third phase, I notice the boy – sorry, young man, whatever – paying close attention to the girl/young woman. Now I don’t know whether there was anything behind it. But I fleetingly wished they would fall in love so that she can have a healthy, happy relationship.

But who am I to dictate about relationships? I’ve never been in one, and never made any attempt to. Most of the time I don’t feel comfortable enough around people to be completely myself. And if I do around certain people, it is too comfortable and there is no sexual tug whatsoever. Or it’s the wrong kind of uncomfortableness.
I don’t know a shit about relationships, romantic or otherwise. Unless circumstances are conveniently arranged for me, I am not capable of establishing and keeping a relationship. I just don’t care enough, I guess. But then again, the other parties don’t either, so we are all to blame, if we want to play the blame game.

I want to meet someone I can have intellectually stimulating conversation with and who at the same time shares a strong sexual pull with me. I still believe it is possible. I just don’t know when.

Batch Review #13

The Jane Austen HandbookThe Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England
by Margaret C. Sullivan

This book is awesome, people! If you like reading classics but have always felt that you were somehow missing out some insider information, you need to read this! The Jane Austen Handbook gives you background information of the social and economic circumstances of the Regency era, and the next time you read an Austen novel (or any other Regency novel), little details will suddenly make sense!

The book has a small format (it’s as big as my hand) and about 200 pages. It’s divided into four sections – Jane Austen’s World, A Quick Succession of Busy Nothings, Making Love, The Best Company – and each subjects has many subjects that are covered by two pages or a bit more.
For example – how to ensure a good yearly income; how to provide for your daughters & younger sons; how to spend each season; how to write a letter; how to get around (aka transportation)
how to keep house; how to treat the sick; how to dress; how a lady might spend her leisure time
how to indicate interest in a gentleman without seeming forward; how to marry off your daughter; how to be a bride; how to elope to Scotland
how to pay a morning call; how to behave at a dinner party; how to attend a ball; how to converse with your dancing partner

And yes, since the book is titled as The Jane Austen Handbook, you guess correctly when you assume that this book will reference a lot to Jane Austen’s works. It is preferable to have read at least some of them first, but not a must. For instance, there is a two-page article titled ‘Who Died & Made Mr. Collins the Heir of Longbourn?’ or ‘Worst (And Funniest) Proposals in Jane Austen’s Novels’.

The language is easy, there are visual aids enrich the text, the layout is elegantly old-fashioned. Recommended for Jane Austen fans & people interested in the Regency era.

Night BrokenNight Broken (Mercy Thompson #8)
by Patricia Briggs

This time, a disaster storms into the Columbia Basin Pack (or whatever the name of the local werewolf pack in Tri-Cities is) in the form of Christy aka Adam’s ex-wife and her stalker. Even though we know how pathetic, selfish and deceptive Christy is, apparently the rest of the pack (that is everyone except for Mercy, Adam, Jesse even though she is strictly speaking not in the pack, and a couple more werewolves) lacks the insight.
So the focus is back on the pack, which is awesome, and Mercy struggles to be at ease with Christy’s presence without giving up her place as Adam’s mate. Keeping her place in the pack is harder than ever, especially because most of the pack members want Christy back. Gah. I am occasionally frustrated that the pack never wants to fully accept Mercy as part of the pack (and what’s more, second-in-command).

I enjoyed Night Broken more than Frost Burned, mostly because CANTRP makes me grumpy – all the politics. We also meet the Coyote again! And find out more about his sort of magic. Tad and Kyle are also more or less steady companions and we have new characters, some of whom are going to be a permanent fixture in the series. (Although Fire Touched seems to be the last book in the series. Oh man, I’m sad.)

All in all, even though the highlight of the series for me remains Bone Crossed, Mercy Thompson is, like, the only long urban fantasy series that doesn’t decline in quality in the later books. And I feel some of the threads getting ready to be knotted in the final installment (unless the author makes another contract for more Mercy books!).

The Classics Club (7)

This is the seventh update on my TCC Challenge! I am one year and four months in (accordingly I have three years and eight months left) and have just finished my sixth (out of fifty) book! Here is what happened since my last update…

#1 I read Book No. 5: A Little Princess.

#2 I read Book No. 6: Persuasion.

#3 I plan on starting North and South in vague future!

Well, this is the shortest update ever. One thing I have to remark is that I finished these two classics really quickly – few days each, as opposed to the months it took me to finish Emma, mainly because there were no reading gaps! I just picked these up, and stuck through them until I was done! It helped that they were only 200 pages each whereas Emma was a 400-pages-read.

Classics Club Challenge #6: Persuasion

Persuasion (Wordsworth black2)Persuasion
by Jane Austen

published posthumously in 1818
First read February 5th – 8th 2015

Since there are quite a number of families involved, kindly allow me to sort them out at first:
Elliots of Kellynch Hall: Sir Walter Elliot, his deceased wife Lady Elliot, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Anne (protagonist) and Miss Mary, later Mrs Musgrove; cousin William Elliot, heir-apparent; Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Anne move to Bath
Musgroves of Uppercross, a neighboring estate: Mr and Mrs Musgroves as family patriarch/matriarch; their children, Charles (who married Mary), Henrietta, Louisa
Hayters: Mrs Musgrove’s family by birth; Charles Hayter is a cousin of Charles, Henrietta and Louisa’s
Crofts: Admiral Croft and his wife; tenants of Kellynch Hall; Mrs Croft is a sister of Captain Wentworth’s
Harvilles from Lyme: Captain Harville and his wife are friends of Captain Wentworth’s
and many more characters who are connected in an intricate way.

My last full-length Jane Austen novel. It is a bittersweet sentiment indeed. Reading Persuasion was a most enjoyable reading experience when it comes to reading classics – excluding children’s classics, I can’t remember ever reading a classic so quickly – devouring, really – and without being bored at all. I think reading Margaret C. Sullivan’s The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England contributed to that enjoyment a lot. It’s the little details that flesh out the overall story. Thanks to this handy guide I could understand why Mary Musgrove was miffed when the Crofts hadn’t offered to take any letters with them to Bath, or why she relished in it when they did offer and said that now she could write as much as she wanted to. The casual mentions of bathing and Pump Rooms were no longer foreign to me, nor the daily routines of Regency ladies.

Alas, I am getting ahead of myself.
After having read all six of Jane Austen’s “mature” full-length novels with varying degrees of understanding, it is my opinion that Persuasion is quite different from the others. The sometimes comical, often amused observations of the society and its inhabitants were rather pushed into the background. It’s emotionally charged, quite direct in its narration and story development, and more forthright and honest. It was – very raw.
The narration observes and remarks at Anne Elliot’s vain and selfish family members – Sir Walter, Miss Elizabeth, Mrs Mary – who are concerned with ranks and superficial etiquettes, etc. Even Lady Russell, who is a dear friend of Anne’s and has her best interests at heart, tends to judge people from their surface – their initial mannerism, their looks, their sense of propriety, etc. In contrast we have the Musgroves at Uppercross, a family by marriage (Anne’s younger sister Mary married Charles Musgrove) that is a bit chaotic and less – refined? – but warm and affectionate. But all of this is cloaked in Anne’s internal agitation of having to face her ex-fiancé eight years after she had broken off their engagement, and the tension between them when they do come face-to-face.
Unraveling that tension is really exquisitely done. Like a frustrating knot in a thread coming slowly and patiently undone, buried resentments and feelings, along with rational and reasonable approach disengage and entwine them, and it all ends in – what else? – a passionate reunion.

Around the stories of two people and their shared past, present and future are other interesting threads adding to the story. Or rather, Anne and Frederick’s story often doesn’t feel like it’s the main plot. Maybe it isn’t, and it wasn’t meant to be. Because around and underneath and over it are all the other things Persuasion has to teach us: deception in characters, being blinded by familiarity and superficial impressions, vanity, money-managing problems, hopes and pitfalls of love, snobbery (and lots of it!), walking the line between much-craved solitude and being rude to company, and this one interesting dialogue between Anne and Captain Harville:

Anne: “We [the women] certainly do not forget you [the men] so soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit. We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us. You are forced on exertion. You have always professions, pursuits, business of some sort or other, to take you back into the world immediately, and continual occupation and change soon weaken impressions.”
Captain Harville: “Granting your assertion that the world does all this so soon for men […], it does not apply to [NAME REDACTED]. He has not been forced upon any exertion. […]”
A: “True, very true; I did not recollect; but what shall we say now, Captain Harville? If the change be not from outward circumstances, it must be from within; it must be nature, man’s nature, which has done the business for [NAME REDACTED].”
Cpt H: “No, no, it is not man’s nature. I will not allow it to be more man’s nature than woman’s to be inconstant and forget those they do love, or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe in a true analogy between our bodily frames and our mental; and that as our bodies are the strongest, so are our feelings; capable of bearing most rough usage, and riding out the heaviest weather.”
A: “Your feelings may be the strongest, but the same spirit of analogy will authorise me to assert that ours are the most tender. Man is more robust than woman, but he is not longer-lived; which exactly explains my view of the nature of their attachments. […]”
[…]
Cpt H: “We shall never agree I suppose at this point. No man and woman would, probably. But let me observe that all histories are against you, all stories, prose and verse. […] I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”
A: “Perhaps I shall. […] It is a difference of opinion which does not admit of proof. We each begin probably with a little bias towards our own sex, and upon that bias build every circumstance in favour of it which has occurred within our own circle […]. I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives […] so long as – if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean, while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.”
Persuasion, Volume II, Chapter Eleven

Interesting theories (a letter disproves Anne’s latest theory immediately afterwards, by the way) but I dare say I am not the only one who reads other allusions between the lines! Gender inequality! Gender roles! Gender privileges!
The situation has changed so much since 19th century – women can and do work alongside men, even though we still suffer from hidden inequality and prejudices. I wonder whether Anne’s theories would still be applicable.

All in all, I can only recommend you to read, feel and think about Persuasion and what it offers.

P.S.: Here is a video review of Persuasion by Claire (readingbukowski) that made me curious about the book in the first place – a year and a half ago. It’s funny how we use the same words to describe the feelings inspired by the book (she talks about the letter specifically) – “passionate, forward, raw, truthful”. She gives a more extensive overview of important themes portrayed in the book.

Hello, Spring!

Happy Imbolc! Today marks the beginning of the Spring, which means I have officially left Winter behind me! Somehow I always feel a huge relief and bubbling anticipation around this time of the Year. I know I will be complaining about the relentless heat soon and will be wishing for the wintry cold, but for now I am celebrating the steady ascent of the Sun’s hours in my day.

This rather gloomy, exhausted phase between Samhain and Imbolc claims me each Year. It used to annoy me and I tried to be someone I did not feel like being. Now I am trying to see it from a different perspective. Like the seed that needs to rest in the ground before it can sprout up, I will use the Winter to lay low, recharge, and gain insights about my life. I am going to think of this phase as a part of my life, and not some “phase I need to go through”. Maybe it is even fitting that a Year starts with (dark, slumbering) reflection and recuperation.

It is Monday morning at around half past eleven, and I am sitting at my kitchen table in my pjs with a mug of tea and a plate of bread & ham on my right, and a carton of yogurt on my left. My apartment is relatively dust-free thanks to yesterday’s cleaning frenzy. There are no stacks of dishes piling up in the sink, only two jeans and a T-Shirt strewn around, and soon I am going to take out the trash, change the recyclable jars and bottles at a super market, and do a bit of grocery shopping.

I want to take this opportunity to say that this Year, I want to learn more about paganism, starting with the books I already have in my house – I will make a Monthly Reading Theme out of it!