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b Walter Launt Palmer1854-1932) Sunshine and Snowstorblog
Walter Launt Palmer (1854-1932), Snow and Sunshine (1909): we have several snow-y letters coming up

Dear friends and readers,

A snowy letter. So is the next.

Three months have passed, and according to LeFaye and the evidence of this letter itself Jane did visit Henry in late November after all. We will recall by early November she had been eager to go for 3 weeks, apparently she did go after all and LeFaye thinks one thing she did was contact Egerton over the coming publication of MP in May. We have no letters from this time, no sign of it anywhere, and no mention by Jane. Henry and Jane are clearly getting along but why the letters were destroyed we can only guess. At any rate she went home and did not return until spring.

In this letter Austen appears to have the proofs of Mansfield Park — or at least a copy for Henry to read. She is reading The Heroine, and presumably in the throes of early composition of Emma. She goes to the theater to see the great Kean, enacting Shylock in a new psychologically sympathetic way. She visits with Henry’s friends. She hears from Cassandra: poor Cassy stayed at Chawton after all – and was de-flea-ed. Jane discovers she is without her trunk of small clothing items so she must borrow or re-buy.

After reviewing this letter (with Diana Birchall), I attempt a comparison between Burney’s journalizing letters and Austen’s — this comes out of my reading of Burney the last month or so.

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bowen-owen-1873-1967farnhamblog
Farnham, 19th century print

Diana went over Henry and Jane’s itinerary according to the map:

“A gap in letters of three months. We left her at Godmersham in November; Christmas is long past, she has gone to see Henry, and is staying with him in Henrietta Street. She has just arrived: Cassandra was wrong to think of them at Guildford last night, they stayed at Cobham. Cobham is 20 miles
southwest of London, and 10 northeast of Guildford, which shows us their route from Kent. Earlier they went through Farnham, which gives a picture of their mode of carriage-traveling, from village to village. Everything at Cobham was comfortable, and it is pleasant to think of the party sitting down to a “very nice roast fowl.” We don’t know why she could not pay Mr. Herington (a Cobham grocer, Deirdre guesses)”

I too was happy for Henry and Jane they “had a very nice roast fowl” (she likes to eat), “very good Journey, & everything at Cobham was comfortable,” but it would seem to have detracted from the atmosphere that she could not pay her bill. What bill was this? I assume Henry paid for the food and lodging. It was over £2, the amount sent by Mrs Austen which is now returned as useless. So she’s not a rich lady, is she? Why is Cassandra to “try her luck?” Is there some dispute over the amount? So we are still in the Bath world of tiny amounts — people made fun of the 1995 S&S film for having Emma-Elinor worry over the price of sugar and meat. It was true to Austen’s continuing experience.

But they did not begin reading until later, Bentley Green not far from getting back to London. Is it a proof of MP he has? If so, how do they have it? It is improbable that it’s a copy for selling, for then it would be put on sale. A MS? not likely as the revision process would make them a mess unless this was a copied out fair copy. Sigh. (Partly over the idea that this fair copy was not saved if it was one.)

AnnaMasseyasMrsNorrisblog
Anna Massey as the scolding Mrs Norris (1983 MP)

“Henry’s approbation hitherto is even equal to my wishes; he says it is very different from the other two [P&P and S&S], but does not appear to think it at all inferior. He has only married Mrs. R[ushworth]. I am afraid he has gone through the most entertaining part. – He took to Lady B[ertram] & Mrs. N[orris] most kindly, & gives great praise to the drawing of the Characters. He understands them all, likes Fanny & I think foresees how it will all be.”

AngelaAsLadyBertramblog
Angela Pleasance as the self-absorbed Lady Bertram (same production)

People talk to please. Henry says he foresees how it will be to please. He sees (Austen says it was kind in him) that she labored hard over Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris — so we see how the hard comedy of the novel is what she is conscious of. For Fanny-haters, note she is pleased he “likes Fanny.”

Her doubt in herself is seen in her comment on Henry’s reading, but more than that is suggested by her her comment: “I am afraid he has gone through the most entertaining part.” If you go to my calendar, you will find the calendar of the book shows what we have falls into three distinct parts:

1) Sotherton, the play, 2) the aftermath of Henry breaking off and then Mary stuck there, he returning to fall in love with Fanny, her growing up and ball, and the proposal, with the 3) last section in Portsmouth that forms an sub-epistolary novel suddenly not fitting the 1806-1809 calendar of the rest of the novel at all, but one for 1797-98.

My calendar shows (like as several other studies before me have done) the play sequence was written at a different time from the courting, and the real result of the play, Henry and Maria’s encounter in London and elopement part of the text written at the time the play was written. So the middle section (Henry going off, return, Fanny and Mary’s difficult friendship, his courting and falling in love with Fanny, the Ball, the trip to Portsmouth) are later interwoven stories filling the book out to 3 volumes and making it into a conventional novel about a nearly coerced marriage (between Henry and Fanny) which was luckily avoided.

Austen here shows she thinks the earlier material will be much more entertaining for her reader. It’s brilliant, the play within the play, the salaciousness, the investigation into the nature of love and marriage in Inchbald’s Lovers Vows as in the speeches rehearsed by Edmund and Mary, maybe too she liked the Sotherton sequence leading into it.

Diana’s comment: “If he foresaw all that, he had the cleverness of a Frenchman or an elf, because people have been debating for two centuries about alternate endings to MP!”

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ModernEditionsmaller

Diana: Austen adds that she finished The Heroine last night and was very much amused; she wonders James did not like it better. . This is a novel by Eaton Stannard Barrett, an Irish lawyer and poet. The subtitle at the time JA read this was “Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader,” and was changed in a later edition to Adventures of Cherubina.

My commentary: The Heroine by Barrett was an influential book on other books beyond Austen’s, Austen used the previous text from MP to help her give structure and patterning to Emma. See my Barrett’s The Heroine. The Heroine is a deeply conservative, nay reactionary text in the tradition of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (as pointed out by Gary Kelly among others)

I’m not surprised Austen’s oldest brother, James, didn’t like it. He writes sensitive melancholy landscape poetry.

I leave those who are interested to read the plot-outline of The Heroine and how it parallels Emma’s (destructive finally) friendship with Harriet and how Cherry-Emma learns a lesson and to depend on the sensible male Stuart-Knightley.

What it’s not is a parody of Radcliffe. There are allusions to Radcliffe’s book but what is sent up is not her style rather the outlook which makes important the heroine’s sensitivity and the whole exploration of sex is dismissed. From my blog:

“The text is presented as a series of letters from Cherry to an unnamed correspondent and begins as a transparent parody of Pamela. The style is nothing like Radcliffe; the prose is simple and direct. These really could be renamed Chapters as there is little use of epistolarity, but the mode combined with the obvious caricatured presences does has the effect of ironic distance.”

Austen is ever the partisan and just cannot see what is in front of her if she is herself involved — or she refuses to (as in the case of Byron in the next letter where she seems to shut her mind, snap it goes.) She is endlessly jealous of Radcliffe as a rival. Barrett is burlesquing many books, and the kind of attack he mounts would also skewer her Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park too. He is at his funniest when at the opening when he alludes to politics of the day (as in the idea that while other characters can appear in his hell, Junius remains invisible). Again my blog:

Barrett is enormously well-read in romance; my edition by Sadleir includes pages and pages of allusions from major (Goethe’s Werther) to minor and popular books (Children of the Abbey). If anything Radcliffe is a minor presence in his book; he may be thinking of her when he writes against “impassioned sensibility … exquisite art … depicting the delicate and affecting relations between the beauties of nature and the deep emotions of the soul” that seduce female readers sexually (“voluptuous languor”), but his text is far more like Walpole’s Otranto. Barrett’s hostility to the gothic, though, is undermined by his fascination with it — though he does not go so far as to enact it quite in the way of NA.

Austen also enjoyed The Female Quixote where the heroine is similarly taught a lesson against reading women’s romances and how she must depend on sensible men. FQ is exquisitely funny when it parodies later 17th century French heroic romance, but it has nothing to do with the gothic; about a third of the way into the book Charlotte Lennox can no longer keep up the burlesque, and her text becomes a domestic courtship romance.

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Arnaud the sleigh 1776blog
A. d’Arnaud, The Sleigh. 1776. Image @Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide

Back to the trip where Diana enjoys the line: “I was very tired, but slept to a miracle, & am lovely today.” I agree Jane is luxuriating and the allusion to Mr Knight (rich, he left Godmersham to Edward let’s recall) is to the rich way she feels herself traveling. “Bait” means to refresh the horses. They are wiped down, allowed to rest, given water. The next passage shows us they went on with the same pair.

They arrive, the upper servant, Mr Barlowe, knows his place, Austen unpacks, sends out letters to friends with the letter P (I feel like Mrs Jennings because LeFaye is no help. She does not like the Papillons, makes fun of them. My guess is single women of the type she has been visiting and visited by in towns she stays at for years.)

It is snowing. – We had some Snowstorms yesterday, & a smart frost at night, which gave us a hard road from Cobham to Kingston; but as it was then getting dirty & heavy, Henry had a pair of leaders put on from the latter place to the bottom of Sloane Street. His own Horses therefore cannot have had hard work

I like that Jane is aware of how the horses did suffer. Though they did not change horses, he paid for two more to pull them. She remembers there is a slaughtering colonialist war going on in Portugal and Spain — though she does not use this term she does show interest in it again and again throughout the letters though her reactions are not exemplary (how wonderful we know so few who are dead, her attack on that general). For those who don’t know about this war it was deadly and had slaughter after slaughter; Goya’s paintings and famous May 2nd comes from it. (A busy year Diana puts it — so too this year in Syria and Afghanistan — the latter a real equivalent. Bigland’s book (see letter 90) read aloud by Jane by the way includes a large section on European politics; and the stuff on Paisley connects too.)

So I take the unusual explicit reference to the weather (but remember the last letter registered the cold) as part of her awareness of the world around her. Horses overworked in the wretched raw March snow, men dying still not so far away.

Her “veils” reference is not so decent. She is making fun of how lower class people are getting above their station by wearing fancy hats with veils. She watches for them and takes pleasure in the women’s attempts to get above their stations because she feels so secure in hers.

All this brings to mind some worry Cassandra had yesterday and Martha Lloyd. Not exactly rich and easy Martha’s life (as we’ve seen) — that’s the association. Austen’s letters move by association. Jane hopes Martha had a pleasant visit to them or somewhere else and thus Cassandra and Mrs Austen could sit down to their beef-pudding without too much guilt. This cold and train of thought brings on the misery of the chimney sweep to her mind. She says she will think of his cleaning the chimney in Chawton tomorrow.

About the end of the first page, she turns her attention to London. Crowds are enormous for Edmund Kean. It’s probably worth it to say a new style of acting was coming in: not so much more naturalistic, but more willing to open up the inner vulnerable psyche. That’s what Mrs Siddons and it led to Shylock being presented no longer as this comic or vengeful villain, but a sympathetic outsider. This was only the beginning, but it was important. You can see a reflection of this in Scott’s Isaac of York in his Ivanhoe.

Diana comments:

“A good play for Fanny. She cannot be much affected I think,” she comments. Fanny is now aged twenty, and I suppose Aunt Jane is looking out for her, to see that the impressionable girl won’t take in anything she shouldn’t – which is pretty rich coming from someone who’d been reading Les Liaisons Dangereuses when she was several years younger than Fanny!”

I don’t see what one text has to do with the other> Why Fanny cannot be much affected by this play and therefore it’s good for her to watch is a puzzling statement. If Austen means to suggest she is aware Fanny is not exactly a sensitive original type when she watches a play then why is it good for her to watch this one? It had not yet been interpreted to be anti-bigotry.

Mrs Perigord was Madame Bigeon’s daughter who had left her husband (probably over his abuse of her). She cannot have much money so it’s important that Austen pay this bill for a willow for hat-making and she does. Muslin was delicate material and Austen has not yet allowed it to be dyed although “promised” by others several times. She probably means she wouldn’t let them. Why are people wicked for dying cloth? It may be a joke, word play as Diana says, with the underlying idea that white is pure:

Diana:

“Now comes another quote I love, and it is rather startling to see it in context of a fairly prim and prosy paragraph; we are suddenly moved to remember that the maiden aunt is Jane Austen, capable of anything. For Mrs. Perigord has come, bringing some Willow, and she mentions that “we owe her Master for the Silk-dyeing.” Jane, however, protests that her “poor old Muslin has never been dyed yet,” despite several promises. And then she says: “What wicked People Dyers are. They begin with dying their own Souls in Scarlet Sin.” This can only be written for the pleasure of the word play, the fancy.”

I don’t get it as dyes come in all sorts of colors.

In the evening Austen tore through The Heroine and Henry read more of MP “admiring Henry Crawford” only “Properly” “as a clever pleasant man.” This does sound priggish — she is saying that he does not admire Henry Crawford as a rake or cad who uses women (the way a man might).

The last sentence suggests that Austen is telling only the good things that are occurring or occurred that night or over the days: we have seen many times that Cassandra wants upbeat stories and what is not upbeat given a virtuous turn or told not at all. This is the best she can produce about their evening is another way of paraphrasing this.

And now a paragraph about Henry’s friends and business associates who naturally are invited — and just as naturally may well refuse. Performative behavior is nothing new.

I suggest by-the-way that Fanny Price and Henry Crawford would not do as partners because Jane does not herself find Henry that congenial nor he her. That’s (Jane and Henry Austen’s relationship) an undercurrent in the novel. All her novels are rooted in her life-story. She is attracted to Henry, he is amusing, but her dream life declares it would never do. — unlike dear Frank.

Austen does not expect John Warren and his wife actually to come. The implication of the next sentence is that she at least (and maybe Henry) regards this socializing as an affliction. It’s said in a jok-y way: “Wyndham Knatchbull is to be asked for Sunday, & if he is cruel enough to consent, someone must be sent to meet him.” The Knatchbulls were upper class people and Wyndham a learned man from Oxford (in Arabic no less). Fanny Austen Knight would marry into this family and become a Lady.

From The Loiterer I’d say Henry was a reader and fit into Oxford so I assume this joke is for Austen’s benefit who is not keen on social life. Then Kean mentioned with a sarcastic voice, as if she’s repeating other people’s cant. I do think LeFaye guess may be right: that Henry’s friend may have played in a performance as Frederick. I think it’s the MP Frederick referred to, so it may be that the friends joked that Tilson or Chownes was a Frederick-Henry Crawford type (rakish).

At the end of the paragraph we see Austen still cannot get over being someone who moves about in her own carriage: she is to call upon Henry’s friends this way: “Funny me.”

The next fortnight tickets for all good seats gone at Drury Lane but Henry means to buy ahead for when Cassandra comes. He does seem to like Cassandra; she was his choice when he was ill.
A pathetic vignette occurs right after a mention of Sarah Mitchell who LeFaye has discovered had an illegitimate child. So a servant whom Cassandra has had to hire (and didn’t like this at all): Jane wonders what “worst thing” has been forced upon Cassandra.

Well Cassy springs to mind. Let us recall how badly Cassy did not want to be left with her Aunt Cassandra. Well she was left and is apparently treated as someone with fleas. No wonder she was not keen to stay. I feel for the child who had wanted to be with her parents. There are not many beds at Chawton we see and she got her aunt Jane’s.

Then Austen answering some joke about grotesque looking people; Austen is alive to people’s bodies and she says she has not seen anyone in London with quite Dr Syntax’s long nose or as montrous as two figures in a comic afterpiece burlesque.
The whole paragraph is to me distasteful, unfeelingly jocular.

And so the evening comes to an end.

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18thcenturytrunkblog
A still extant modest 18th century trunk

The following morning she reports her trunk has still not come. A loss of her clothes could not be a small thing to Austen. Apparently she did not bring a second set of small things with her in case the trunk was lost or stolen, and now she may have to borrow “stockings & buy Shoes & Gloves for my visit,” but she says (ironically) that by writing about it this way (berating herself for her foolishness) that will make the gods relent and it will show up. There’s nothing the gods like more than people admitting to learning lessons

There’s a decidedly irritated undercurrent here starting with the mention of the “Warrens, or maybe it goes back to where Austen admits she is not telling what happened in the evening that was not good.

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Lady writerblog
19th century drawing of a “lady writer”

I’ve been reading Burney’s diaries and journals and thought I’d end today’s offering with a comparison. Austen’s letters contrast to Burney’s journals which are far more formal, self-conscious, fictionalized in part. Austen is immersed in life and reflecting it in her words. In some ways I much prefer Austen’s though concede the general public would find Burney’s “more entertaining” to use Austen’s diplomatic phrase

It’s sometimes said that Boswell’s Life of Johnson, huge as it is, once you see all Boswell’s journals emerges as an interlude where a secondary hero takes the stage, but it is no different in feel or outlook from the rest. I suggest that Fanny Burney’s novels — huge as 3 are — and her plays too — might be considered as interludes, special episodes in the 50 volume book that was her life. It’s easy to discover there’s a preface to Cecilia not printed in the present editions, but found in the diaries and journals, a previous partial manuscript of Camilla extant in the diaries and journals; you might say the novels spill over into the journals or the novels spill out. The plays are notoriously life-writing spilling out expressionistically. Burney saved the drafts of her plays.

By contrast, Austen’s novels not interludes or continuations in a new spirit within her epistolary writing; I have (I think) demonstrated that both S&S and P&P were originally epistolary (and so have others) and think parts of MP were epistolary, but they are no longer. The novels do not spill out of the letters, anything but … at least as we now have the letters. Once her book was published, Austen did not save her drafts. Perhaps she had only one fair copy or two at most and Burney had many more. Burney appears to have been given so much more time and liberty to write.

One problem we are having reading these letters is Austen is journalizing just as surely as Burney, loving to put down her life. But Austen appears not to have had as much time to work out her vignettes, she gets them down rapid-scapid. Austen died young and when Burney’s husband died (November 1817, a few months after Austen), she worked for 23 further years elaborating her 50 volume + work.

That Austen is aiming at the sort of thing Burney was but didn’t have the time or life span to work it out expresses one we have such trouble going over these letters. It’s like we have drafts of letters. And of course our editor is not only not up to it, she doesn’t want to help us for real. I had really meant to go through this letter thematically not chronologically (section by section), but it seems to me demand the step-by-step or sentence-by-sentence approach. I will however as in the previous two letters reprint the text in the comments.

An interesting parallel: Austen has one beautiful fair copy of a text prepared as if a presentation copy; clearly she wanted Lady Susan to last. So Burney did precisely that with one of the plays her father and “Daddy Crisp” repressed (Witlings?)

Of course it might be Austen poured herself into the novels while Burney poured into the life-writing. We don’t know this for sure as we are missing the majority of the letters and all but a few drafts.

I was amused to discover in A Scribbler’s Life, a one volume excerpt from the 40 volume set (before the court journals came out and emphasizing the earlier years) that Burney as a girl would “always have the last sheet of my Journal in my pocket, & when I have wrote it half full — I join it to the rest, & take another sheet.”

These pockets are great bag-like things inside one’s skirt — no need for a handbag and reticule just for show.

The niece who described Austen at Godemersham in the visit we’ve just read about (her hair long and black) also said that she remembered Austen walking about with her writing desk at Godmersham. It is somewhere in the family papers.

A comparison: for both the life of a courtier is a death-in-life.

Ellen

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SalaamBombayblog
Mother and child: Rekha Golub (Anita Kanwar), a prostitute and Manju Golub (Hansa Vithal), daughter of Baba (Nana Patekar, the film’s handsome brutal pimp)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve just finished my paper for a coming ASECS conference, Diasporic Jane: images of displacement, exile and homelessness in the Austen films

1AreYouHomelessNoAreYoublog

where I successfully demonstrate the not so paradoxical truth that Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility when turned into a film has yielded a plethora of images of displacement, exile, and homelessness, and Austen’s matter fits today’s Indian and transnational cinema because of her character types, and gender and class norms (e.g., Prada to Nada; Aisha)

I begin here lest I need more justification that my Austen blog as a place where I discuss women’s art. I await Nair’s Austen film: she’s not done one yet, but I don’t doubt it’s coming. This is a blog on Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay, and some thoughts prompted by a couple of adverse poor reviews and one thoughtful long essay by Irving Epstein in this film in the context of others about street children and the realities of educating children and giving far more of them a decent chance to fulfill themselves for real in our culture. At its close I justify (with Epstein) showing films in classrooms and suggest they can reach many people in ways books alas don’t. My title alludes to a particularly egregious example of pseudo-thought and examination of serious gender and sexual issues in films about family life.

I’m not wrong to say Salaam Bombay is a stunning gem of filmic art. For storyline, the making of, Guardian contextual review, and imdb. Besides Salaam Bombay, so much that I see in film or TV looks like pap that I watched. It reminded me the worst thing about Hollywood’s dominance is its films replaces great local movies which tell real lives and truths with glamorized cotton-wool.

It’s the story of one streetchild — boy Chaipua (Shafiq Syed) — heartlessly ejected by his mother from their circus home, who survives, with vignettes and substories (sometimes disconnected) about how he manages this, mostly through the film with the help of a half-crazed drug addict, Chillum (Raghuvir Yadav) who dies near the end of the film and whose death, brought on by Baba, Chaipau revenges.

ChillumChaipuanblog
Chillum deteriorating badly

Perhaps it is most interesting as a study in dependency. Character after character begins as the dominant one in the relationship, the tutor say, and ends up the dependent. Perhaps this is a relationship of most concern to women as it’s what often happens to them in marriage.

We experience with Chaipua what he does, see what he sees. And with little vignettes of all the people around him. It ends with Chiapua, having escaped the orphanage (risking his life as it’s covered with barbed-wire and high walls), back in the streets alone, having been separated from the prostitute, Rekah, whom he tried help flee her pimp, Baba, when he shrugs off the loss of their daughter who she says was the center of her life. Rekah and Chaipau are parted from their suitcases too by a mindless crowd worshipping imbecilic looking statue. We see him sitting again on a wall as the film ends.

The most chilling scene of the film is one where on a terrace Baba makes Chillum dance frantically by hitting his poor feet (in rags of shoes) with a whip while Chillum has in his hands hot tea he and Chaipau are selling to others for money. Chiapua is befriended by the prostitute, Rehka, who loses her child to an orphanage where the people running it scorn her.

childremoved
The authorities have the right and power to remove her child

irritatedofficial
The irritated official who has no intention of giving Rehka back her daughter

How indifferent the world is not only to these children but the women who are their mothers — the children are snatched away as in the Australian film on Rabbit Fences.

The vignettes of women are so telling; casually we see Baba who is tempted simply to throw Rekah and his little girl off a terrace, decide not to; he could have gotten away with this murder. Who would care? The violence of people to one another in India is startling in all the Indian films I’ve seen. The woman he lives with is intensely relieved; the child is her daughter and was terrified for the moment, some instinct told her how much in danger she was.

The film is filled with images of women and children, from brothel madams and young virgin prostitutes to more middling to glimpses of super-rich upper caste ones.

persuadinggirlintoprostittuionblog
After a bought virgin girl has been punished for weeks, Baba comes in with kindness and gifts to seduce her into prostitution

ShafiqSyedblog
Now seen by Chaipua on the way to a client

A pathetic moment: we see Chaipau paying a man to send letters home to his home; played by Irfan Khan (of Namesake and Slumdog Millionaire fame), we see that after the boy leaves, he pockets the money and tears up the letter. He cannot get the letter to the mother, the boy’s address is unreal:

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I turn to the film criticism I’ve found. As with Gurinder Chadha’s Bhaji on the Beach, I was startled to find that academics loathe the film, are scathing about it!
For example, an attack direct called “Haraam Bombay!” by Rustom Bharucha, Economic and Political Weekly, 24:23 (Jun. 10, 1989): 1275-1279. Nair is accused of everything awful: complacency, voyeurism, appealing to our emotions without prompting analysis; using stereotypical stories of prostitutes, pimps, obvious scenes of cruelty — obvious. I wondered if the source of this is the perverted kind of nationalism which wants to deny all flaws to a culture, or simply misogyny towards women’s films. Nair has made since pandering films and that Namesake has its flaws (which it takes from those in Lahiri’s book), but she’s made great films too (Hysterical Blindness), and this seemed to me perverse at many points.

Not all were angry. Julie Gillespie shows that the Broadway music, The Secret Garden (1991), and by Marsha Norma (with many women in the crew) the movie by Agnieszka Holland, The Secret Garden has images very like those found in Salaam Bombay (“American Film Adaptations of The Secret Garden, The Lion and the Unicorn 20.1 (1996) 132-152).

The one I want to call attention to is by Irving Epstein, “Street Children in Film,” (Curriculum Inquiry, 29:3 [Autumn, 1999]: 375-388) is about how the filming of the children in Salaam Bombay resembles the filming of children in other street children movies. The other two are Kids, directed by Larry Clark, written by 19 year old Harmony Korine (a girl), and Pixote directed by Hector Babenco (probably Slumdog Milionaire too). Epstein writes that in all 3:

“the street” and “the child” become focuses of social criticism of three types of states: consumerist, authoritarian, and neocolonialist. In each film, street life is used as a metaphor for the way in which the state expresses its authority … the directors’ share gendered views of children and childhood innocence, and see the street as offering its inhabitants the
opportunities for pleasure and liberation, along with suffering and dependency …

I know that as a teacher I acted as an agent of the state and some of the worst aspects of my job were where I was acting out authoritarian behaviors to get them to do the work, with an implied promise that they would be justly rewarded outside the classroom too. Untrue I knew.

Epstein says

90 million children between the ages of eleven and fifteen … are forced into regularly contributing to the international workforce. Ten million children under the age of seventeen systematically exchange sex for money; millions of others, having been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic and displaced as victims of war, have turned to the streets for their survival. The existence of street children is not limited to the developing world, as the North American experience with homelessness attests …

Police brutalize and girls are regularly raped by those placed in positions where they are supposed to help them.

But we are civilized in the classroom, controlled and I tried hard to make it an ethical courteous compassionate social space. Street-life is an extension of the state, its brutality, its unacknowledged amoral hedonism. Both Kids and Pixote are also accused of gender stereotypes.

Epstein says that all three films present pessimistic conclusions regarding the potential amelioration of the suffering experienced by their characters in the streets and the institutions offered by the state; the adults they meet are corrupted, brutal or helpless to give them any permanent aid to improve their condition.

I’d add that although Austen has children centrally dramatized in Mansfield Park, and is in her letters resolute in her lack of interest in children until her nieces and nephews grow into early adulthood; nonetheless she is (as it were) theoretically centrally concerned with the education of children, because she had this idea that their upbringing made them the adults they are. She does not sufficiently take into account the history of a moment, the cultural milieu but looks to what went on between parents and teachers and children, siblings and those immediately in the household.

Fannycannothelpitblog
Maria and Julia are told by Mrs Norris that Fanny cannot help it if she is so stupid and cannot read a map (1983 MP)

As with The Secret Garden, Austen presents only an ironized refuge (private, expensive, class-based) as a solution and struggling and enduring otherwise.

Thinking about it, classroom cultures do not help much either; if softened inside the classroom, once the student leaves, he or she is thrown to those dogs (21st century capitalism, neo-colonialism, sexism, racism) again. Ideally teachers ought to admit that their authority comes from other sources and exists for other reasons than the curriculum of the classroom.

I see the power of the visual image as I see it in the Austen and all other movies I’ve been studying and just loving. Epstein suggests that maybe films can induce some lasting awareness and provoke and critique beyond being emotionally satisfying. He asks if we can do more and actually effect some good in active forms of social and political commitment.

Ellen

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Dear friends,

I saw this extraordinary film, Sabiha Sumar’s Silent Waters about a week ago and want to say something about it before it fades away.  The DVD comes with a Human Rights statement, Film Notes by Human Rights watch, a director’s statement, and q and a on human rights.  Its purpose is to show how male violence forms and ends up aimed at women because woman have no recognized rights in custom.  That she also wants to show the pernicious resutls of having societies where there is no opportunity for educational or other adult fulfillment for most of the population may be seen in this article, Sabiha Sumar: Workign for the Arts and Woman’s Rights by Laila Kazmi and how she gets no help from Pakistan or most of its people: No support from Pakistanis at Home

Early scene of Ayeesha (Kiron Kher) and her son, Saleem (Amir Ali Malik, in movie — before he turns against her.

We begin with Ayesha, a middle-aged Muslim woman who is living with her cherished son, Saleem; she has bad dreams whose content is gradually unmasked and unexplained thus:  she is alive today because in 1947 when the murdering and riots broke out between Muslims and Hindus, she fled those in her family (Sikhs) who targeted her for murder (they wanted to force her to jump into a deep well). I have heard this before: Sikh men murdered "their" women lest they (these men) "lose" their honor because of the new union of these states: the idea is a confused unarticulated one: somehow other men will rape them or get hold of them or the Sikhs will "lose" "their" women. She flees the well her relatives mean to throw her down and meets that night with a kind Muslim man who attracted to her offers to marry her right there. She does.

Fast forward and the husband is long dead and she has few connections or abilities to find her son a good job.  (We are now experiencing this form of finding a job in the US where less and less can one find one based on one’s abilities, certificates, institutions, and there’s a turn back to this family-network, nepotism, cronyism ancien-regime style).  He has exquisite talent playing the flute, but there is no money for lessons, no place in university or training for him; there is not school he can go to which will enable him to get a self-respecting job.  She has managed to find one for him, from a far-away male relative working behind a grocery shop.  Well the boy just hates this prospect as his horizon.  He is all she has. She works hard to make food for him and keep their house quiet, clean, peaceful.

He begins to involve himself with a gang of thugs who rationalize their lust for power, bullying others, drive to control women by their religion and hatred for Hindus.  He gains intense self-esteem in this group but it’s dangerous and they are densely frightening people.  One result of an intricate series of events is it’s discovered that his mother is a once Sikh woman after these thugs attack the Sikhs and the Sikhs defend themselves. At first I had felt for the Sikhs as vulnerable and under bigoted racial attack, but I soon learned their behavior towards women was as dismissive and exploitative as that of the Muslims.  They think they own women the way the Muslims do — as an animal, a trophy, a symbol they can destroy if it loses its value and makes them despised.

Even after all this time, the Sikhs want Ayeesha back as theirs; this Sikh shows the necklace she had been wearing is a Sikh one; she is rightly afraid they will proceed to kill her. Better later than never..

The son insists his mother go to a marketplace and declare she is Muslim so she will not be taken by the Sikhs and he can hold up his head in front of his thug-friends,, but this is dangerous and she won’t.  We begin to see that she hasn’t gone for water for herself all these years.  She has kept herself apart (very like Mary Lady Mason of Trollope’s Orley Farm or one of Austen’s heroines).  Slowly she is ostracized as men tell "their" women to avoid her; she loses a group of girls she has been informally tutoring  in tolerance. Her son begins to hate her for this, hate her.  The son has moved from liking his mother going out to a wedding, to his resenting her school for girls where she teaches them tolerance from the Koran:

The son also had a girlfriend who early on in the film we see kiss on camera (very daring for an Indian film); he enjoyed her company and conversation. Now he becomes alienated from her as a liberated woman for he knows his gang of friends would not approve.  In reality he and the gang are jealous she goes to women’s college. He then becomes disgusted by what charmed him: her physical appearance and gaiety. He needs to be with his gang of male friends first and foremost and must not risk their disapproval. One scene has these thugs coming up to the local women’s college, and trying to brick up the girls by making the wall around the school much higher

At its close the movie fast forwards past its 1981 locale (when most of the action takes place) to today where this apparently more middle class girl (she was in a  woman’s college) is a successful older career woman watching TV and she sees this woman’s son on TV as part of a fanatic group.  .

We see one of Ayesha’s friends try to stay with her; we see the son’s girlfriend try to help her, but they are so threatened themselves. We see how important she was to her pupils and the girlfriend’s college is to the girls. 

Ayeesha and a wavering but still loyal friend.

I leave everyone to imagine the quiet devastating end, which is swift. Silent waters. She jumps in a well rather than be killed or inhumanely treated by Sikhs or harassed and driven from her home to wander the streets. A swift simple shot. There she is in the distance standing on the rim of the well. And then she’s gone. Forever.

As opposed to Jane Campion’s  Bright Star, this story moves along quietly and its content makes us feel after a while that we must stay silent while the. The story and characters carry themselves. I loved her many speeches, the tone she took. At the opening of the film she tells a friend when others want nothing to do with us (or want to hurt us) or some beloved or needed person dies that one must let things and people go. The tone was plangent and accepting.   She stood bravely alone for much of her life since this husband died and we see her stoicism and enjoyment of little things in life:  meagre food, talk with a pleasant person (her son’s girlfriend).  Something she said reminded me too of Andrew Davies’s Elinor who when she is told Edward is married, tries to keep sane and calm and says, there’s nothing new here, nothing we weren’t expecting, it’s just as we supposed and so there’s nothing new to grieve for.

Needless to say (not always a bankrupt phrase), this is a feminist pro-woman classic.  Women are victims.  The film-maker shows us how useless it is to argue against this sense of male honor (they can’t listen past their huge egos and desperate lack of self-esteem) and how it is used to frighten women, and especially when young girls.

The film is in Urdu and shows some of the characteristics of all Indian films. There is dancing — fully integrated — at the opening we get to one of these frightening weddings.  Everyone is dressed super effeminately and the bride made into  an elaborate fetish.  There is the characteristic or typical plot structure of South Asian films: the opening horror, and then cut to a first half which is more pastoral, and then cut to the second where a modern world (not necessarily filled with modern thoughts sometimes more savage as this one) is contrasted. This one ends in despairing loneliness, stasis, death for the heroine..

Towards the end she is losing heart and falling sick, doesn’t want to get up out of bed and face the day.

Not one to miss and a director, Sumar Sabitha, whose work is really worth watching. While reading and watching many female films and plays we decided their women’s communities shows girls hostile to one another, and they true hurting people are not sympathized with. Sumar shows us how relationships stagger when they are broken up and how dangerous it is when one hafl of humanity must cater to a suspicious other.  Indian cinema can be superb:  see my blogs on Bend it Like Beckham, Water, and Fire and on Lagaan, Guru, and Bombay; Mississippi Marsala and Charulata.

The books to read this one with are Asnie Sieierstad’s The Bookseller of Kabul, Shirin Ebadhi’s Iran Awakening, Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Things I’ve Kept Silent About.

Ellen

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Dear Friends,

This term I assigned Lahiri’s The Namesake to my classes, and thus read it for fourth time, and from a set of audio-cassettes listened to Sari Choudury read it aloud beautifully a second time. I found I liked it much more than I had previously, partly because I’m beginning to understand it better.

Tabu as Ashima at the close of the film: now grown middle aged, a widow, she rests on her strength and memories (Namesake)

I’ve come to realize her subject elaborated, developed, explored is people who are outcast in some way (sometimes caused by their own gifts and personality within), who don’t fit in and have trouble with the identity their culture gives them or the one they acquire.  Until recently most novels about immigrants coming into the US would be about poorer people and how they struggled to assimilate and succeed in a worldly sense too. By contrast, neither Gogol or Moushumi in Lahiri’s The Namesake has trouble getting into a good American school and becoming a respectable professional; They have equally complicated problems in assimilating in other aspects of social life lead to their decision to marry and the break-up of the marriage.  Finally the new generation finds their identity in books and their fields of study. The old one slips away (Ashoke) or finally breaks free (Ashima, whose name means without borders).

Her book belongs to a tradition of subjective narratives. While her central consciousness is a young male she writes from the perspective of a woman and (in the words of Terry Castle) “a certain strengthening awareness is passed—from woman to woman —through the genre of the novel itself." Paradoxically, the last part began to fall off when the character to the fore was a woman type I usually can’t identify with: Moushumi. 

Zuleika Robinson as Moushumi receiving phone call from lover, Dimitri (Pierre in the film), her mother-in-law, Ashima i the next room

The first third of the novel was the traditional virtuous heroine, suffering: Ashima, the wife in the traditional marriage.  The last third is the woman who breaks her marriage deliberately by having an affair and keeping her life apart from her loving husband, Gogol. I found myself furious oddly the first time because she seemed so cold; I felt sorry for him: I hadn’t liked her as amoral somehow and so easy in life. Yet the second time I read it I realized in some ways she was me; I was gripped by her story and what she would do next. I couldn’t’ predict.   I was dialoguing with Lahiri through this book, and also looking at two women: Ashima and Moushumi. I could never be Ashima nor Moushumi — two extremes I was dialoguing with the author through.

Jhumpa Lahiri, recent photo

Lahiri was born in London, but grew up in Rhode Island, with a teacher and librarian for parents, upper class Indians, Bengalis to be exact, just like in the book; she went to Barnard for a degree in English and then studied creative writing as a graduate student, and now lives in New York City.  Attracted to Calcutta from whence her family comes. 

Most of the stories are about Indian immigrants in the US; but some are about Indians in India, or Indian-Americans returned to India, or Anglo-Americans interested in India, or…well, the national categories are themselves part of the complexity she’s trying to explore and explode.  Most of the stories are about women, or couples, or young girls.  Two that last long after reading are about outcast/displaced women in India, and their uneasy relationship with the communities surrounding them.  There are comic touches, but they’re not funny stories; they’re carefully constructed, beautifully told, realistic accounts of the ways human beings come to identify themselves, or not, with a family, a culture, a nation, a place on the map.

I’ve read all three books thus far: Interpreters of Maladies (short stories), and Unaccustomed Earth, which I think shows a growth in power and realism from Namesake; it’s even better, shows the hardnesses of people to one another which not really found in Namesake; Jhumpa is her nickname (pet name), not her formal name (good name).  The characters find adjustment to life itself and real people’s emotions and dreams an obstacle to finding meaning for themselves.  They can’t get accustomed to earth. We see parents and children at intense odds, with the parents wanting freedom and to pick a new partner late in life and leave the child; with breakups of arranged marriages

There is much allusion to different and other books and culture in the novel. The most obvious is to Gogol’s "Overcoat," the story Ashoke was reading in the train when it crashed, and which saved him because his hand moved near a page and it called attention to him. Akaki Bashmachkin, returns to the earth and steals back his overcoat from the powerful official.  He is a shy, humble, easily bullied clerk who is kindly, dutiful, and therefore ridiculed by everyone; he saves a long time to get himself an overcoat; it is very cold in Russia. Having finally achieved his overcoat, he goes to a party (so full of himself), allows drink to befuddle him and leaves; his overcoat is brutally stolen from him on the way back; he can get no help from the police, and grief-striken he tries to get a powerful man in a department to find the overcoat and arrest the thieves and fails. He dies.  Then his ghost appears on the streets of St Petersburg grabbing coats from people; the important personage is on the way to his mistress’s house, assailed by Akaki as a ghost and terrified.  He rushes home and ever after is not such a foolish snob as he had been.  Early on in the story a fuss is made about Akaki’s name: and the mother after rejecting all sorts of possibilities chooses his father’s name, alas it means shit. It’s a remarkable story which combines satire and mockery with great tragedy, a critique of society and human nature which is devastating.

Irrhan Khan as the young Ashoke reading "The Overcoat" on the Indian train

Ashoke is right about this story: you could say the heights of comic anguish and tragic despaire are there, the presentation of social life as cliques run by strong domineering types (of which Gogol is not one). It’s as if instead of getting into her book through the characters she shows us, the abysses of grief, loss and displacement one can know, she alludes to it through the book that means so much to Ashoke. In Ashoke we have an early encounter with death, saved by Gogol’s Overcoat and it makes him want to flee the old country and set up life in a new safer one. He is a man apart like Akaki. We don’t see enough of him within.

Lesser allusions to Sand’s He and She: Moushumi reads and Gogol is drawn to. Dimtri goes round reading Man Without Qualities; Moushumi when young reads Pride and Prejuduce, now she’s read so much French (or pretends to); Ashoke read Graham Greene’s The comedians.  Intellectual education means a lot in this novel: it saves Ashoke and he goes to the US for it; Gogol and Moushumi find themselves; worlds to belong to, Ashima rereading her magazine at the opening, becomes a part-time librarian. The joke is she shelves, but does not read books. She organizes other lives but does not have an individualized one of her own.

I’ve become aware that one discreet way Lahiri widens her domestic drama about the rich Indian and US elite is to cite these and other books. Graham Greene’s Comedians, which after Gogol’s Overcoat is Ashoke’s favorite book. The Comedians is a late devastating farce on the brutality of US foreign establishments, darker than LeCarre’s Tailor of Panama (which in part derives from one of Graham’s books). Moushumi reads Sand’s Elle et Lui (She and He, about her and Musset): it’s a book about the importance of a shared inner life for a pair of lovers — which Moushumi never seems to have with any man. It seems the problem is the lack of respect for one another against the skrim of the larger society.


Ashoke and Ashima (Tabu)

Gogol taken by architecture, the Taj Mahal, finds himself in Italy too

Sal Penn as Gogol entranced

There are problems with her presenation of with arranged and romantic marriage plot-designs: some flaws:

What makes the importance of arranged marriages in Indian and other traditional cultures is it’s what’s held onto to keep the family system intact. The whole idea is to make a large family system where it’s in the prudent interest of the individual to conform as the whole family supports the individuals in it.  You can only keep this up if the older people get to choose the new members. The younger ones may have a veto, but they cannot pick someone who the parents or family group would not see as advantageous to them socially and financially.  I stress how in Indian such marriages don’t break up, but that they do in the US and Lahiri was idealizing.

Gogol reacted against arranged marriages and his Indian culture but could not find it in himself to like upper class American culture which (without the big family group) can be lonesome, anonymous, end in broken relationships and depend on things, money, prestige items for individuals.  That after all Ashima really assimilated better than he did. She created a new family; he could spend time with Maxine, but not enter into her world and follow it the way Moushumi does with Donald and Astrid in Brooklyn.

Moushumi’s sexual infidelity is something people are uncomfortable talking about except to call it "cheating."  But she is there, alternates with Gogol, and I think is a contrast to Ashima and we are not supposed to dislike her. Myself I did for her coldness. I think she reflects aspects of Lahiri just as strongly as Gogol, and Ashima.  Lahiri has said she took a pet name because people couldn’t pronounce her formal or good name — as Moushumi’s name is hard to pronounce.  We are not told enough about Ashoke. Like Decclan in Toibin’s Blackwater Lightship he is kept from us, the painful center of the novel, the man who after coming near death, left India.

In Gogol and Nikil and later Moushumi and his sister Sonya, we see assimilation the ideal, but we see in Gogol and Moushumi this breaks them.  Gogol struggles with and against both his Bengali and American heritage: he goes for upper class whites and yet doesn’t know how their families work; see them as individuals living alongside one another.  He keeps his distance from his father while his father is alive because it’s a threat — he loves the man too much.   To go for a Bengali girl was to try for a ready-made solution his own lifestyle didn’t fit.  Moushumi was even more unbalanced:  forbidden dating and white men, she becomes overweight; she opts out of stupid American vulgar culture too; she finds herself in Francy but only through abject sex (promiscuity). She tries the upper class white life but is rejected by Graham who can’t bear the Bengali tight model. She thinks she can accept the Bengali ways but finds herself bored silly with Gogol.   Her identity is through her French studies; for Gogol he combines a distanced approach to Bengali culture and his mother with an identity as an architect loving Italian architecture.

I’ve realized I was misreading the book and found myself very much liking the promiscuous secondary heroine. Her problem like the young hero’s is they are so conflicted they almost have no identity. ON top of that she’s a young woman; to obey is repression; to take a Bengali husband, never to date, to obey her parents completely.  She has much more to contend with and the only way to overturn it is to become extreme in the other direction, i.e., promiscuous.  The novel is the problems and conflicts of assimilation on a rather profound level.  the book also shows the young man and woman trying to free themselves of the group.

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Ashoke and Ashima with Gogol, the first baby

On some flaws or problems in the novel. it’s a contrast between arranged and romantic marriage. We see this looming large, and there it’s very revealing too, with the proviso that

            she does not herself show that the purpose of an arranged marriage is to make a family alliance which then can be used to network and in the story of her upper class characters lives (who get very good positions high in university and semi-glamorous jobs, like curating textiles at the Metropolitan Museum) and she presents their getting jobs as if it’s the easiest thing in the world.  In other words, she avoids the hard stuff that causes such arrangements. Also that sometimes people marry for such reasons and then they don’t manage to get that great niche.

        She also makes the arranged marriage couple good and kind of tenderly loving people so avoids the central problem: a lack of compatibility is only part of the reason for hard core misery: if you get stuck with a cold, abusive, indifferent, or mean-tongued person for exmaple, it’s not the incompatibility of intellectual interests that’s the problem.  It does matter terribly who you have sex with and how their temperament affects yours and vice versa, can you do things together beyond taking care of children and a house.  Ashima and Ashoke find their meaning in continually going out to others; they don’t stay with one another in small circle that much.  As in Anne Chanan’s A Good Indian Wife, we have an arranged marriage and it goes well, because Ashima believes in it and Ashoke is a gentle tender man. But we do have a woman pulled out of her culture and set in a place she has no understanding of or ties. But she is the strong one of the pair

Unfortunately Maxine and her parents, Lydia and Gerald, are a caricature of upper class New Yorkers. So too Donald and Astrid.

Lahiri stays away from Sonia too.

    For me problems in the book include keeping Ashoke away from us; my own problems in sympathizing with Moushumi. Not enough of them. 

    In comparison to J. L. Carr (A Month in the Country which I read with my classes this term), and like Patchett in Bel Canto, Lahiri is something of an escape because than escape (which Lahiri allows) I find myself in these books confronting messy cruel life where there was nothing redemptive or consoling. There is because some of the characters stay together in Bel Canto and most of them in Namesake. They stay together in A Month in the Country but it doesn’t always help.

Landscapes analogously used; along with emphasis and use of food show how much this is a woman’s book.  Here is a remarkable moment in the film, Nair gives away how alienating she finds Christmas decorations, all neon on lawns: Ashima in the center just received news of husband’s death, somehow made more jarring by unreality of these commercial absurd lights

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Technique and structure:

Structure of consciousness in story: in A Month in the Country we had a first person narrator in retrospect; in Bel Canto a third person narrator telling the story as a flashback who is detached and ironic; here we have a third peson narrator but she enters into the consciousness of her characters so we see and feel the world from the point of view most predominatly of Ashima and Gogal (Nikhil), a few important moments for Ashoke, a couple of extended pieces for Moushumi.  We never see the world from Sonia’s point of view. 

This is not the same as the first person because the author is not there, and leaves us to be at a distance from Mr Birkin; here the author moves in and out of the characters, and sometimes uses free indirect speech which can have her comment gliding into the character and also next to the character.  It was first done very successfully by Austen in Emma. She’s not the first to do it; others had in 18th century novels, but Emma is the most controlled and obvious and one still most read from earlier period.  We are going to have another third person where the novelist moves in and out:  Daisy Miller (Mr Winterbourne)

Chapter 1, 1968: Ashima’s consciousness, pages 10-22, Ashoke’s (and we learn of this devastating motivating train accident). Ashima’s consciousness lasts until p. 66
Chapter 2, pp. 22:   boy is born, Gogol, still 1968.  On p 66 (Chapter 4) we make our first move into Gogol’s consciousness as a young boy and that lasts until p. 159. 
Chapter 3, 1971, p. 48:  On p. 73 we first meet Moushumi, reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen rather than watching TV conventionally.  I suggest  is used to characterize one of the younger heroines as both highly intelligent and quietly subversive. She reads it at a young age.  It’s a kind of joke.
Chapter 4, 1982, p. 78.   I’m not so sure how to take the reference to "The Overcoat" where story is retold to Gogol and he hears this jaundiced account in school, pp. 89-92.
Chapter 5, p. 97: Still Gogol.
Chapter 6, 1994, p. 125  Still Gogol.
Chapter 7, p. 159: sudden return to Ashima’s consciousness, with Gogol’s returning upon the event of Ashoke’s death, p. 169 and we stay heavily with Gogal until p. 246 (Chapter 10 given wholly over to Moushumi), with two exceptions: 
Chapter 8, p. 188.  Between pp 211-14, we have a brief glimpse of Moushumi, and a few few pages of her consciousness, pp. 211-14
Chapter 9, p. 219. Also of p. 219 the narrator moves back and forth from Nikil to Moushumi as we begin to see she is hiding from him her dissatisfaction. We see his with her friends, but it remains a minor irritation supposedly.  It’s not told from her point of view so much as we slip into her mind and out of it and are given a feel of her detachment.  Gogol from pp,. 229-45.
Chapter 10, 1999, p. 246-67.  Here we have the opposing consciousness, Moushumi’s. I’m uncomfortable because she’s such a liar.
Chapter 11, p. 268.  Back again to Gogol on p. 268-73 and we feel very much for him as pathetic
Chapter 12: Ashima pp.l 273-79, and it ends on the quietly lost Gogol, pp. 280-91  He has lost his overcoat too.   Same kind of desolate atmosphere as "The Overcoat"

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The family (Gogol a boy, Sonia in the carriage)

Imagery

Imagery of the novel is important:  Lahiri is into things; the surface of her book dwells on things and whatever is the fashion of the moment. Skeins of images: what happens on trains. How houses and landscapes reveal aspects of their characters and where they individually are in the plot-arrangement.  Trains: Ashoke nearly dies and decides to go to the US; Gogol meets Ruth, travels to her, at night leaves Bridget, reads on the train in the movie at the end.  Airports there too, to the US, to India, to Cleveland (to death). Babycarriages.

The point is ephemera and our landscapes matter; they define and shape us.  The food, shoes, what people wear, and trains and modern buildings and houses and landscapes as opposed to traditional ones back in India.

Houses and landscapes: each figures forth some portion of the character’s journey and by the way they behave in the house, and their attitude towards it tells us a great deal about them.

       The small cold apartment in Massachusetts where Ashima is taken to:  dismays, disappoints, not what she dreamed was US, and yet she tells relatives only good things;
        Pemberton Road (as in Pemberly), the suburban house, the dream house for middle American, they do not move and she begins to create world of Bengalis around them, no grass at first, all new, no history;
        The homes of relatives in Calcutta, no privacy, no air conditioning, how miserable the children.  As Ashima reread her magazine, so they reread their books and listen to records.
        Gogol’s tiny apartment in NYC as bare of personality as his father’s in Cleveland: they are alike in their lack of imposing themselvse on environment; urge to go within;
         Maxine’s parents’ apartment, an ideal to Gogol, only Maxine a child in it and they don’t look to see for her comfort (in summer); the lakehouse again an ideal, but Maxine in a shack and after all the Bengalis would have been miserable. Ashima and Ashoke need a living world of continual presences to be together in;
       Gogol and Moushumi’s upscale apartment at odds with their Bengali wedding, a crack in ceiling;
        Donald and Astrid ‘s brownstone undergoing expensive renovation again something of a caricature of upper class whites in NY.
         No house for Ashima at end; Ashoke slipped away into death; Moushumi returns to her French books and identity, Gogol to his archectural worlds (and Italy) and no longer threatened to his father in The Overcoat.

I’ve written about the film by Mira Nair on my previous blog.  There I omitted how the movie makes something of an intense ghostly presence of Ashoke at its close (resembling the ghost story aspect of "The Overcoat.") ; its scenes are rearranged so as to keep Ashoke before us in the minds of the characters, like the one where Ashima with Sonia in her arms watches Ashoke walk Gogol out to the end of a barrier in the ocean and tells him how you can come to the end and see there is nothing beyond.  It also (I now realize) in the way of Indian movies, begins with a crash, a scene of terror, and then builds a contrast between traditional ways of life, especially in India and modern (in both India and the US — there appears to be no traditional family life in the US in this film, a result of the book’s caricature of upper class white family life, the only family life beyond that the Bengali families we see).

Ashoke with Gogol as a child

One of my students wrote two good essays on it which I’ve put on line:  Fathers and Sons (about the novel); the use of landscape, past, and dramatic scenes in the film. Natalie Friedman’s "From Hybrids to Tourists: Children of Immigrants in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 50:1 (2008) is an stimulating essay.

Gogol and Moushumi (Zuleikha Robinson) upon their marriage

A fun scene: Moushumi and Gogol rise and begin to dance Bollywood style in their white robes and then fall on one another and go to bed to make love.

Ellen

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