The hard life of a distinctive reader

Last Sunday, I and my best friend, who is also a bookworm, headed to my favorite bookstore. The bookstore was located in an upscale shopping mall in the heart of Jakarta. The mall is such a high class one that I go to the place because of the bookstore and its food court. Only the products at the two chains that are affordable for my pocket, LOL! Others are luxurious materials, too expensive for me.

My pal was coming back home bringing two novels, one of which was my recommendation; ‘Wuthering Heights’. I was happy she purchased the book. I told her the novel was by far the best novel that had ever been written. She trusted me.

She seemed joyful but I was not.

The bookstore is the only place in Jakarta where I usually find my treasures (best classics I have always been looking for). While I found it amazing the bookstore was still flocked by visitors since reading habit in Indonesia is saddening, particularly for imported books, I was disappointed that it didn’t provide various book titles from the Victorian Era that Sunday. It was displaying famous novels, the ones that had been reproduced into a lot of versions, such as Jane Austen’s popular books and those of Charles Dickens.

If not the popular titles, the bookstore sells overlooked short stories, which are not my thing. I prefer novels anyway.

I was sad because no more titles by Thomas Hardy other than those I had read; ‘Jude the Obscure’, ‘Far from The Madding Crowd’, and so on. I was hoping his lesser-known books were there, like ‘Two on A Tower’ or ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ yet they weren’t.

I have been longing for reading those unpopular novels by Hardy for quite so long. And I was not really surprised that I didn’t get what I wanted that day. The trouble being a classic reader like I in Indonesia is that I always feel like an anomaly.

Either my fellow bookworms are lovers of novels in Bahasa Indonesia or most of my pals are not avid readers, I always find it difficult whenever I want to read novels by my favorite authors. I can buy them online but for a conventional reader like I, coming to a good bookstore then looking for titles that I like is such a bliss. Looking at the many titles, admiring the books’ covers then feeling my eyes sparkle whenever I find books that I want to buy or new titles suddenly capture my eyes..

You can call overly dramatic but I always love going to a bookstore. It feels like I am about to have an adventure.

I almost bought ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ by Elizabeth Gaskell that day but I cancelled it because it was too pricey. Sadly, there was only one book at the shelf, which made me even more sober. I also almost purchased ‘Jane Eyre’ but the faces of Mia Wasikowska and Micheal Fassbender really disrupted my intention. The thought they were on a screen for a movie adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ was not my favorite.

I went home empty-handed. I preferred not reading books that didn’t completely fit my interests to being forced enjoying novels that were so-so. If you guys living in countries where reading is very common you guys are so lucky because in Indonesia, reading habit is quite alarming.

Most youngsters here tend love reading popular books, the kind of stories that ‘sell’ romance or motivation. Canon literature is an alien, especially those in English Language. Reading books in public parks is very rare here. Book clubs are scarce, too. I am happy with my reading preference though despite the fact that I have to struggle finding my desired novels.

Diving into the depth of Gothic literature in ‘Wuthering Heights’

cathy

After Catherine Linton dies, Emily Bronte inserts abundant scenes that combine fantasy and horror. Heathcliff imagines seeing Cathy in white gowns. The late is seen everywhere. The deceased follows him.

When Heathcliff is dying, his servant, Nelly Dean, tells the readers that her master once smiles while looking at empty space. It seems Heathcliff hallucinates. The atmosphere surrounding the days before his death is queer. Heathcliff shuts himself down, alienates from the family. He spends most of his days alone. He lives inside his mind.

While that fantasy already produces goosebumps because I strongly sense horror since then, Emily makes it even more frightening. According to Nelly, Heathcliff’s face looks strange as he approaches the day of his passing.

One of the scenes that shocks me is when on the part she finds his eyes black when he looks at her. Nelly even says Heathcliff becomes more like a goblin. The scene when he dies, too, is ghastly. Nelly finds his eyes staring at her as she opens the door where the deceased closes him off.

At first I think Heathcliff is still alive but, as Nelly proceeds, his hands are cold, he dies. My heart jumps as I try visualizing this. Scary.

The finale of the book puts the ghosts of Cathy and Heathcliff roaming around Wuthering Heights. The house they once live in is now left vacant.

The illusion world of Emily Bronte leaves me puzzled for they are hard to grasp. I know the scenes where Heathcliff seeing Cathy is definitely out of his imagination but Emily Bronte’s excellent writing skills make it as though they were real. The description is very smooth. Reading these parts confuse me as a non-native English speaker. At the same time, I can’t help feeling so astonished with Emily Bronte. The book, not thick enough compared to Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy’s, yet it is so wealthy, you can’t find it enough to use it as an object of study.

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The thin, visible border line among relationships in Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’

emma

Material and social issues are very visible in Jane Austen’s Emma. So tangible that someone’s status is widely recognized among people in Hartfield. I fancy people at that time can barely keep their secrets, particularly about money.

Take example of Miss Bates. Her social status as an old maid becomes very apparent. She seems worthless not because of her single hood but according to Emma Woodhouse, is more on her very narrow fortune. While a single woman who is wealthy and is well-educated can still has proper status among the society.

Reading the novel gives me clear insight on the gap between the rich and the poor, though they live in villages, remains wide. Also regardless their friendship. Let’s have a look at the relationship between Emma and Harriet Smith. Despite their closeness, it displeases me that Harriet is seen as if she were ‘below’ Emma’s class, probably because her father’s identity hasn’t been known until the novel is nearby the finale.

The friendship between Emma and Jane Fairfax tells clearer picture. Jane, an orphan who is later adopted by the Campbell family, befriends with Emma quite well. Somehow, Jane’ s unfortunate circumstances are still attached with her reputation although she is raised by a well-to-do family.

Although Emma can solve her envy to Jane, I sense Jane regards Emma more superior than she is. Emma’s high social status puts her above Jane. Also, I feel people have a pity on Jane when she decides to walk from home in the middle of the rain after picking up letters. Although Jane frequently says that is so fine with her, people insist on making this as a stupid, low-mannered act any women do. I myself think they act on their pity.

A striking contrast on the treatment towards the rich and those to the poor can be found along the reading process. Although I can sense how each and every character in the novel seems to know each other very well, the differences on material and wealth still speak much on how reputable they are. The difference of the interaction among characters are still defined by their class.

For instance, the interaction between Mr. Knightley and Emma is on the same level because they are both rich. The same goes between Mr. Weston and Emma and the contrast picture can be seen when Emma interacts with Miss Bates.

A man like Frank Churchill, for instance, can still be regarded as a good person despite the lies and secrets that he keeps away from the public. At this, I completely agree with the opinions of Mr. George Knightley. I suppose this because of Frank’s social status as the son of a rich person like Mr. Weston and the heir of his uncle.

I like the novel because it bluntly attacks the ill-manners of the high class people. I admire Austen’s way of describing how painful being low-income people despite their closed bond with wealthy ones, the truth that somehow hurts my feeling.

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Savoring the comedy of manners in Jane Austen’s Emma

emma-and-george

Emma is my first experience reading Jane Austen’s books. In one word I’d like to sum it up: I love the novel. It is very entertaining, comical, light, fun. Compared to works by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and Charles Dickens, reading Emma is such a joy. The kind of happily live ever after story that amuses me so much.

Reading the title is like watching a romantic comedy movie that though for movie-freaks this is ‘shallow’ film, still.. you need watching this kind of movie to loosen your nerves. And Austen has so many things to offer other than just the happy finale.

First and foremost, I’d like to say what I slightly dislike about the writing. As a huge fan of Hardy’s exquisite, sophisticated writing style, Austen’s does not quench me. It is too straight-forwarded, linear, simple. I don’t find many beautiful depictions about scenery, places, wise words and the like. That’s the minus part of the book.

The plus ones? Well.. a lot!

I really love the comedy of the manners in the book. A few instances that made me laugh are the scenes when Frank Churchill going all the way to London just to cut his hair! The most ridiculous one is when Emma rumbles about how Mrs. Elton trying to ‘fix’ Jane Fairfax. I remember I was at the train reading the part Emma wonders what if Mrs. Elton trying to Woodhouse-ing her! I was laughing for a moment. I didn’t care if other passengers were thinking I was nut or something.

The way Austen presents misconduct of the characters, most of whom are wealthy, is outstanding and witty. It seems like for some characters, such as Mrs. Elton, money can buy you house and carriages but it can’t guarantee you good behavior. Austen mocks, I think, each and every character in the book, even for Emma.

I like Emma, honestly. With all of her selfishness, all-knowing, prophecy, misjudgement, I think Emma is a very dear friend. She learns her mistake by comparing Harriet and Jane. I am happy reading on the part that it is Harriet who should be her best pal, not Jane. This, I can relate to myself on days when I tend to put more love to the one who ‘leaves’ me but disregard the friend who is always by my side. You can learn very precious lessons about friendship by looking at the relationship between Emma, Harriet and Jane.

How does Austen ridicule the heroine, then?

Austen makes fun of Emma’s presumption regarding the love life of Harriet. And if you read it carefully, all the lifelines seems going against her conjecture. The fact that Mr. Elton does like her in spite of her suspicion that he has a crush on Harriet is the first of all. Her judgement proves fruitless, too, when it comes to the traits of Frank.

Emma is made to laugh at her own falsehood. But thankfully, she accepts her flaws, mend them before it is too late. That’s how Austen creates one of the most lovable heroine who grows up and learns a lot from her own mistakes. So humanly and that what makes me so fond of her.

The bond between Mr. George Knightley and Emma is beautiful in unthinkable ways. What I like so much about this couple is how Austen opts to unite Emma and Mr. George Knightley, two people with big hearts. I prefer Frank, at first. He is handsome, talkative, sociable person. But as I learn how he is so messy about trivial things, such as getting furious after going out under the hot ray of the sun, I agree with Austen when she makes Emma’s romantic flame dies.

Don’t get trapped with people’ physical traits, that’s the conclusion.

While Mr. George Knightley is very gentleman. Although he speaks satirical, his judgement is correct like when he suspects something’s special is going on between Frank and Jane. Despite his firmness, Mr. George Knightley is an observant. If he is suspicious about something, he doesn’t act. He just knows, unlike Emma who chooses to believe her own suspicions. It is such a pity when he confesses that he is envious with Frank who still wins the acceptance of the people despite the fact of his secret engagement with Jane.

I call Emma as a girl with a big heart due to her relationship with Jane. She keeps on liking Jane, forgiving her in spite of the latter’s ignorance. Also, she forgives Frank although he mistreats her. When Mr. George Knightley and Emma does end up together, I think this is the best kind of love of all in the novel. Austen is very fair on this and the way their story unfolds is very beautiful.

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“Emma” by Jane Austen

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For Emma Woodhouse, her entire life is all about caring the people who are very dear to her heart. After her mother passes away and her sole sister, Isabella, marries to Mr. John Knightley, Emma focuses her life taking care of her father, Mr. Henry Woodhouse and her governess, Miss Anne Taylor. Given her situation as ‘the only child’ in the house for Isabella leaves the residence, Emma grows up as a blunt, sometimes selfish, independent woman. She is also very smart.

Miss Anne Taylor gets along with her very well, much like a friend instead of a governess. Things turn a bit sour for Emma when Miss Anne Taylor marries with Mr. Weston partly thanks to Emma’s matchmaking plans. At one point, Emma is joyful that her former governess is now happy as the wife of a respectable man like Mr. Weston. But on the other hand, she and her father feel lonesome. They miss her in their house again for Mrs. Weston is like part of the family.

As such, when Emma meets Harriet Smith, a 17-year old, unspoiled, kind-hearted girl, her heart melts. Emma loves her from the start and she wants the best for her, including in terms of Harriet’s love life. The successful matchmaking story between Mr.and Mrs. Weston inspires Emma to do the same thing for Harriet.

Philip Elton is the targeted man for Harriet, Emma says to herself. He is a fine, good-looking, rich young man, about 27 years old. Harriet would be a perfect match for him and the other way around. And so Emma starts encouraging her friend to consider developing special feeling to Mr. Elton. While on the way of working this out, Emma is astonished to have known that Mr. Robert Martin proposes Harriet. Emma doesn’t bluntly oppose the marriage proposal but as the back of her mind wants her friend to marry Mr. Elton, Emma opts neutral, leaving Harriet to take her decision. Emma says Harriet should be her own best judge.

Harriet, who is just 17 when at the start of the novel, says ‘no’ although truth to be told, she is a little bit unsure of that. On the plans Emma putting into work, Mr. George Knightley, the brother of Mr. John Knightley, warns her that Mr. Elton actually likes Emma, not Harriet. Emma despises the opinion, resume the plan of uniting Harriet and Mr. Elton. Things go smoothly until Mr. Elton confesses to her that his feeling is for Emma. Harriet is mere a friend to him.

Emma despises him then feeling guilty of Harriet. She believes she plays a part on her brokenheartedness.  Harriet is such a loving person, fortunately, that she slowly heals from the pain without any slightest suspicions that Mr. Elton has a crush on Emma.

While Harriet is on the process of moving on from Mr. Elton, something shocks Emma; Mr. Elton is bound to get married! In just few weeks after Emma rejects his love. He marries to Augusta Elton, whom Emma judges as finical woman who seems to know everything. Although at first Harriet is sad, she quickly moves on from Mr. Elton.

While Mrs. Elton is busy introducing herself to the public, one of which is by setting up gatherings, here comes the much-awaited gentleman: Frank Churchill, the son of Mr. Weston but carries the name of his uncle’s family who doesn’t have any children.

For Emma, Frank infrequently visits his family in Randall because of his ill-tempered aunt. But this makes no sense for Mr. George Knightley who believes it is Frank who can’t make up my mind. He is old enough to determine whether or not he is supposed to make time for his father and step mother.

Emma and Frank gets closer quickly. Emma falls in love with his good-looking, easy going personality. They can communicate very well. On the other hand, Mr. and Mrs. Weston does wish they both get married someday.

It seems that Emma leaves Harriet when Jane Fairfax visits her aunt, Mrs. Bates and Miss Bates. Jane gets a permission from the Campbells who adopts her when she was young. Jane stays for a little while with the family of her late mother. There, Emma recalls the days when she envies her for she is beautiful and smart. In between her schedules to get closer to Jane as the former realizes she no longer envies the latter and Frank, Harriet occasionaly appears.

Mr. George Knightley always what lies behind closed door. He suspects Frank and Jane have secrets that no one knows, a prejudice that meets opposition from Emma. Emma, on the other hand, continue develops feeling for Frank. Once she gets her heart broken when she feels something romantic is going on between Frank and Harriet. Though Emma feels sorrowful she supports the scheme anyway for she knows Harriet is a devoted woman, she is nothing as compared to her friend.

Emma starts encouraging Harriet to have feelings for Frank. As this begin rolling on, Emma finds herself get even closer to Frank. But this doesn’t last for too long. Some occasions make Emma starts disliking him because of his unlikely manner. For instance, Emma can’t believe how Frank behaves so unfavorable after arriving to a gathering after a very hot journey. He curses, he acts so childish.

While Emma begins distancing herself from Frank, she expects Harriet likes Mr. George Knightley after watching the two walking closer together. To this, Harriet agrees. Somehow, Emma feels something uncomfortable happening inside of her heart when Mr. George Knightley bids farewell.

From that moment on, Emma is certain she likes Mr. George Knightley. She, again, is so down knowing that Harriet is fond of him, too.

Jane is unwell. Emma visits her but to no avail. Jane rejects her coming and presents. With the help of Mrs. Elton, Jane is about to be a governess. Something that quite shocks Emma. Another news that shocks her as well is when Mrs. Weston informs her that Frank and Jane are engaged!

Emma is surprised by the news but she is no sad at all. She tells the Westons that she is no longer love Frank a few months before the information comes up. In short, the Westons finally accept Jane.

Emma sends Harriet to her sister so that she can be alone with her thoughts about Mr. George Knightley. It is known that he has loved her since Emma was 13 years old. It doesn’t take a long time to get everything’s settled. The problem is on Emma’s father who wishes Emma won’t get married as he doesn’t want to be left alone.

As this is resolved at the end, Mr. George Knightley brings news that Harriet is going to get married to Mr. Robert Martin. Emma and Harriet eventually reconcile. They marry the men whom they admire and feel comfortable with, respectively.

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No fourth try for Jane Austen’s books, not yet

jane austen-picture source www.janeaustenfestival.org

picture credit for www.janeaustenfestival.org

So, I have enjoyed so much reading Thomas Hardy’s masterpieces and currently have praised George Eliot’s ‘The Mill on the Floss’. Even, I put Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend’ in my to-be read novel. But there seems one big name is missing in my reading list: Jane Austen.

During my last several visits to Kinokuniya bookstore, I tried reading the first few pages of Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’ and “Persuasion” but then I was left unimpressed. How would I complete reading the novels if their initial pages have failed to move my feeling?

Don’t say I have never given you a try, Miss Austen. The fact is, long before I came to the bookstore I had read ‘Mansfield Park’ when I was in the university and the first experience turned out to be tiresome.

I still remember very well the afternoon when I went to the American Corner library of the Gadjah Mada University. Skipping a lot of titles, suddenly my eyes were set to “Mansfield Park” (because ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ were too widely discussed at that time ). I borrowed the book and read it afterwards. After a few days I returned the novel to the library. The novel is so boring. So many characters in a too circular plot within just a few pages. I was so confused.

Then, I stopped reading any of her works. Some years later, I was kind of rebuilding my relationship with the writer but this time around was through movies. It was the ‘Becoming Jane’ movie starring Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy that encouraged me to learn more about her. Indeed, I borrowed ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ DVDs from my pal not long after that. But the idea of reading both commonly-regarded masterpieces remained far away and it is still.

Surprisingly, ‘Becoming Jane’ is the one that I love the most compared to the other two. Aside from the fact that I like the coupling of Hathaway-McAvoy, I did not see anything special about the plots in the other two movies. I should really have read the books instead of enjoying the films to get ‘the feel’ of the stories. My bet!

Also, probably because ‘Becoming Jane’ tells the real tragic love story of the author that I remember it so well than the other two. Given those fair watching experiences about Austen’s novels, I decided to give it a second and third try. Even every time I visit the bookstore, I look at Austen’s titles and open some of them. ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ are the two titles that once attracted my eyes. Until now, I have no intention reading ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as I have known the plots coupled with the fact that I did not really like the film versions of the novels.

And as I have said earlier in the post, I got bored reading the first pages of ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’. Unlike the joyful experiences that I have with Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, Jane Austen remains the blur name that will be untouched in the near or even distant future.