Sunday August 19, 2018

Love, Romance, and fiction

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By Vikas Datta

It is that time of the year again when love and its expression is on everyone’s minds – and makes for a range of spectacles ranging from the touching to grotesquely ludicrous from both those who celebrate Valentine’s Day and those who deride it. But this is a fairly recent social phenomenon, and any serious, fairly wide-ranging reader has already come across any aspect of love that can be conceived – and they don’t have to be aficionados of the romantic genre.

Let alone its role in real life, love, taken here in its most conventional sense of romance, is a fundamental force in literature – and can be seen in various guises and stages that would bewilder the most amorous of us. It often drives the plot (or subverts it), and accounts for quite a bit of motivations of characters and their choices, actions and decisions, even if they are not those directly involved, and can be driving a totally different genre.

Not only the most famous detective in fiction, Sherlock Holmes is also the most noted bachelor, always making light of love – one who “never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer”.

But of the dozen stories in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1892), eight have a motif or motivation of love right from the first (“A Scandal in Bohemia”) to the last (“The Adventure of the Copper Beeches“), especially “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor”, in which Holmes figures out a mystery which is actually a complicated love story but also displays understanding, though being unsuccessful in placating the distressed party.

Holmes can also simulate love well enough when needed, once ending up engaged – to a housemaid – but with an ulterior motive. (“The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton“).

Love can even crop up unexpectedly, and help the protagonist achieve the outcome they were striving for. Was it apparent that a bachelor of the most regular habits and schedule, who embarks on a most singular adventure after accepting a bet at his club, would end up hitched at the end? This also enables him to find out that he has not lost his wager.

Phileas Fogg finds he had succeeded in traveling “Around the World in 80 Days” (Jules Verne, 1873), when he decides to marry Aouda, an Indian princess he had saved from being ritually immolated with her dead husband during his eventful journey, and tries to fix an appointment with a clergyman for the wedding.

“The course of true love never did run smooth,” says a character in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and a break-up between love partners – and the eventual (but not always) reconciliation, is a common component of love stories, and is frequently melodramatic. What if it comes in a way that leaves you in splits?

Say, the hero has left the supposed villain sweltering in a Turkish bath to rescue the heroine he suspects is confined against her will but she doesn’t appear grateful, or the parties make up in a cupboard in which they have been sent as a punishment by their former nurse, who still believes (and treats them) they are children.

For this, we must dip into the hilarious corpus of P.G. Wodehouse. These stories – “A Slice of Life” and “Portrait of a Disciplinarian” respectively – figure in “Meet Mr Mulliner” (1927), where you can also find what atypical actions love can lead you to do in “The Romance of a Bulb-Squeezer”.

And then who is the most successful love champion you could find in fiction? Going by the sheer number of carnal exploits, it is that arch-scoundrel, a cad and lecher, Sir Harry Paget Flashman, a bit player from “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” who gets his own series courtesy George Macdonald Fraser.

At one stage, Flashman, who gets embroiled in almost all major events of the 19th century, counts up his sexual conquests, “not counting return engagements”, and reaches a total of 478 – and at the moment is a dungeon in Gwalior during the 1857 Indian revolt! Since he is is just at a little over a third of his long and eventful life, it must have been considerably augmented, and would include two Indian maharanis, queens of Ethiopia and Madagascar and an imperial concubine who would later become the empress of China. The fictional ones range from assorted noblewomen, African-American slaves, and a daughter of Apache chief Mangas Colorado.

You could find much more extraordinary happening – to paraphrase Shakespeare, there is more in books and stories that can be dreamt in your philosophy. So celebrate Valentine’s Day as you like, but include reading a book. (IANS)

See these excellent collection of Romantic fictions from Amazon

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“A Suitable Girl”: Most Awaited Novel By Vikram Seth, Finally Published

Seth suffered from writer's block after his break-up

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"A Suitable Girl": Most Awaited Novel By Vikram Seth, Finally Published, flickr

Hardly has any novel been awaited with as much curiosity and anticipation in recent times as Vikram Seth’s sequel to the monumental “A Suitable Boy” (1993). Five years on, since he was first expected to deliver the manuscript, the novel is still to see the light of the day. But what seems like a saga of missed deadlines can very well — far from our eyes — be a masterpiece in the making.

“The more I talk of her, the more shy she becomes,” Seth had told this correspondent in 2015 about “A Suitable Girl”, the novel-in-waiting.

Seth, as his literary agent David Godwin puts it, has been known to take his time with his books. The prolonged delay, however, was not acceptable to Hamish Hamilton (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and he was asked to return an advance payment of $1.7 million when the deal was called off. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, an imprint of the British publisher Orion, then acquired the novel — and it was scheduled to release in 2016.

But a flying bird — a friend and confidant of the writer — says that he is now giving the “final touch” to the novel and that one can expect “the big announcement” soon.

Seth released a collection of poems titled “Summer Requiem” in the meanwhile. In the collection, he traces the immutable shiftings of the seasons, the relentless rhythms of a great world that both “gifts and harms”. Composed as they were while he was (which he still is) writing the sequel, several poems in the offering open doors to his mind, or perhaps they may be preludes to the larger narrative that he is weaving.

“I have so carefully mapped/the corners of my mind/that I am forever waking/in a lost country,” he writes in the opening poem. Interestingly, Seth’s companion to “A Suitable Boy” will be a jump sequel — the characters have travelled from the 1950s and it will be very much a novel set in somewhat the present times.

novels By Vikram Seth
novels By Vikram Seth, flickr

In its title poem, he mourns that the “liberated generation lives a restrained youth,” and then adds: “I must forsake attachment”. On another occasion in the book, readers find him lamenting over “the peaceful love” that the narrator has “never found”. In another short poem “Late Light” he writes: “Outside the great world’s gifts and harms/ There must be somewhere I can go/To rest within a lover’s arm/At ease with the impending snow”.

Reportedly, Seth suffered from writer’s block after his break-up with French violinist Phillippe Honor but that was a long time ago and was reflected in “An Equal Music”. He has moved on or has he not?

Nonetheless, it has been about five years since “A Suitable Girl” was first expected to hit the stands but the wait is surely worth it. As writer-politician Shashi Tharoor says about his good friend’s technique — that “Vikram Seth draws an entire roadmap of his novel, planning every minute element in great detail” — the sequel, thanks to all the anticipation and the pressure on the writer, may actually be a masterpiece in the making, as sublime as its counterpart and yet set in the time of its readers.

Vikram Seth is a recipient of the Padma Shri, Sahitya Akademi Award, and among several other prestigious honours, the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman. He has been widely translated and is among leading novelists on the global stage. He has published three novels — “The Golden Gate” (1986), “A Suitable Boy” (1993) and “An Equal Music” (1999) — along with several collections of poetry such as “Mappings” and “All You Who Sleep Tonight”.

Also read: Here is all the reason for Bookworms to look ahead for the upcoming year: A List of the Best Stories and Novels in 2017!

Seth — an openly gay man — is also one of the prominent faces of the campaign against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality. (IANS)