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Sunday, 19 March 2017

On sex and different kinds of relationships

Don't you wonder about the porn industry sometimes? I do. Because porn is something I would never do, it's curious why people get into it and how it affects them and who can stay for a long time. Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends: Porn and the follow-up 15 years later Twilight of the Porn Stars offer some great insights into the porn industry, especially the male performers, and its impact on the performers' personal lives and relationships. Sex is an intimate act; it may not necessarily involve as much emotion as cuddles, holding hands, or forehead kisses, but it's not merely physical, and over time it can get complicated. And we can see in the Theroux films that it does.


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Today there are myriads of different kinds of sexual relationships. As the regular readers of this blog belong to other generations, I'll define them, to the best of my understanding. 
1-night-stands need no explanation. 
Hook-ups are meet-ups for sex. Hook-ups are different from dates. 
Booty calls are calls for sex; and people you ring up for sex. The way I understand it, booty calls are the people you call to come over only when you're free and horny instead of making arrangements like you actually like each other, then each returns to their own life. 
Fuck buddies are people that meet regularly to have sex. There may be a bit of small talk, but fuck buddies are regular sex partners that don't do anything else together. It's just sex. These are people that have a good time in bed, but either have little else in common or choose not to do anything together to avoid attachment and complications because for some reasons they don't want a serious relationship. 
Friends with benefits are friends that also have sex. That means that, unlike fuck buddies, friends with benefits can hang out and do other things together. The difference between this kind of relationship and a serious relationship is the absence of romantic feelings on at least 1 side, and the freedom. There is no exclusivity. 
If that term sounds too cold and detached, lover is another option. Lovers, I think, can be similar to fuck buddies or friends with benefits, but the term suggests more passion involved, and more intimacy. But like fuck buddies and friends with benefits, people who are lovers can have sex with someone else. 
(These terms tend to be used interchangeably, but I think there are nuances, they're not exactly the same). 
On my part, I've tried all of these things. And now I'm in a serious relationship. A conventional monogamous relationship. 


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An open relationship is a concept I don't get. People can do it if they want, and as long as both are comfortable with it, I have no objections. I just don't get it. What's the point of being in a relationship with somebody if you also have sex with other people? What makes it different from friends with benefits? 
(I'm lucky that my boyfriend is a great guy and we have a lot in common, in terms of Weltanschauung, interests, politics, religion, etc. and he also has a similar view on sex and relationships). 
There are only 2 cases in which an open relationship makes sense: 
The couple have long periods being away from each other, and both have high sex drives. 
or The couple would like to have some fun, such as threesomes. 
In the 2nd case, that would make them close to swingers. The difference between the 2 is that swingers are couples that have adventures and have fun together: orgies/ sex parties, threesomes, partner-swapping, etc. whereas an open relationship is where each person is off doing their own thing. 
In my opinion, swinging makes more sense. It's not my thing, but I can see why it's great for people who consider themselves free-spirited and want to have some variety and spice up their relationship by having some adventures, and it's for like-minded people to have fun together. An open relationship must be built on trust, but when a person is having sex with someone else, the other partner isn't present, and who knows, over time, this person may grow attached and develop feelings for someone else. In a way, it's like cheating in the open. I respect people who do it, but personally I don't get it. 


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On the other side are people who don't realise the importance of sex, or sexual compatibility. 
Nowadays, premarital sex is no longer a taboo except in very conservative places, so people choosing to remain virgins till marriage is a lot less common and often because of religion. Personally, I openly support premarital sex. What if there's a problem? What if there's no compatibility? What if there's something you want to try but your spouse doesn't want to do it because he or she finds it weird or unhygienic or whatever? 



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And then there are people who don't realise the importance of dating, and of experience. 
I have a rather close friend that is Muslim, and the more I talk to her, the harder I find it to understand Muslims' "rules" for sex and relationships. 
Normally this is what people do: you date, to get to know someone, then either you have sex and start a relationship or get into an official relationship and have sex, then over time, if it doesn't work, you break up and find someone else, if it works, you want to get married, so you get engaged, and get married. 
(Except when you choose to remain virgins till marriage, as mentioned above).
Sometimes people start with sex, then date, and follow the same order. Sex, or, to be precise, how you behave in bed, does reveal a lot about your personality. 
For Muslims, you meet or get introduced to somebody, then you get engaged in order to go out with them and get to know them, i.e. you get to know them after getting engaged, and if it works, you get married, and after that have sex, if it doesn't work, you break the engagement. 
I think experience is important. I learn over time. And as I meet different kinds of guys, I can compare, and see that certain things are not OK. 


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Should I write more about sex? 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Louis and the Nazis and Nazi Pop Twins- In praise of Louis Theroux

Except for a bit of Kate Chopin once in a while, I haven't read much literature recently. I've been watching films, especially documentaries, and have 2 new heroes. 
One is Kieslowski. 
The other is Louis Theroux. He's just brilliant. I've just watched some of his extreme documentaries, like The Most Hated Family in America and America's Most Hated Family in Crisis about the Westboro Baptist Church, or Louis and the Nazis about skinhead leader Tom Metzger and some other Neo-Nazis. Louis Theroux approaches his subjects, open about who he is and what he believes in, but he has the ability to make people talk, and reveal themselves. After watching Louis and the Nazis, I watched the follow-up Nazi Pop Twins by James Quinn, and the weaknesses of Nazi Pop Twins only show how much better Theroux is. He states his beliefs from the start, whereas James Quinn manipulates his subjects, and whilst Theroux comes close to his subjects and wants to understand them, including the ones with most extreme, hateful thinking, Quinn always seems to draw a line, to keep a distance from his subjects, and with too much voice-over stating his own opinions, seems to want his audience to react in a certain way to the people in Nazi Pop Twins instead of letting his subjects reveal themselves and leaving the freedom to the audience. 
Moreover, in his films, Theroux is calm and cool, and always polite. That doesn't mean he hides his stance. 1 of my favourite Theroux moments is in Louis and the Nazis, when 2 Neo-Nazis keep asking whether he's a Jew, and he refuses to answer, because it doesn't matter- it's scary for some time, because they insist on it and express their contempt and hatred of Jews, but he sticks to his principles. But he's always polite and calm. He has a faux-naive persona, like he doesn't know anything, and in that way makes people talk. When Theroux disagrees, he does it by asking questions and suggesting, and trying to make people think and see the faults of their arguments or their own inconsistencies. That again is another difference between him and Quinn. Nazi Pop Twins falls apart in the last, say, 15 minutes. Quinn becomes overtly critical, and openly attacks the woman in the film. 
But what I love most about Theroux is that, when he makes films about people who are "different", especially those with hateful point of view and rhetoric, he always tries to find the humanity in his subjects. And that's wonderful. 



Bonus: Here is an article I've just come across that praises Louis Theroux. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

100 films I've just watched

From February 2016 to March 2017  
In bold: films I consider good 

1/ Trumbo (2015)
2/ Never Been Kissed (1999)- again
3/ Play It Again, Sam (1972)- again
4/ Roman Holiday (1953)- again
5/ Carol (2015)
6/ Casino Royale (2006)- again
7/ Spotlight (2015)
8/ Brief Encounter (1945)- again
9/ Hail, Caesar! (2016)
10/ Death and the Maiden (1994)
11/ 21 Grams (2003)
12/ The Mummy (1999)- again
13/ The Green Mile (1999)- again
14/ Giulietta degli spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits- Italy- 1965)
15/ Amores perros (Mexico- 2000)
16/ Sex, Lies, and Videotapes (1989)
17/ Reservoir Dogs (1992)- again
18/ Biutiful (2010)
19/ För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor (All These Women- Sweden- 1964)
20/ The Wrong Man (1956)
21/ What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
22/ Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
23/ Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
24/ Stalked by My Doctor (2015)
25/ Moby Dick (1956)
26/ The Jungle Book (2016)
27/ Blitz (2011)
28/ North by Northwest (1959)
29/ The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)
30/ No Way Out (1987)
31/ Whiplash (2014)- again
32/ Monsieur Lazhar (2011- Canada)
33/ Madame Bovary (1991)
34/ The Pink Panther (1963)
35/ A Shot in the Dark (1964)
36/ The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
37/ Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) 
38/ Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) 
39/ Rear Window (1954)- again
40/ Belle (2013)
41/ Frenzy (1972)
42/ Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy (1976)
43/ Dial M for Murder (1954)
44/ High Noon (1952) 
45/ The World of Henry Orient (1964)
46/ Interiors (1978)
47/ The Maltese Falcon (1941)
48/ The Conversation (1974)- again
49/ Love and Friendship (2016)
50/ Bananas (1971)
51/ Red Eye (2005)- again
52/ Charade (1963)
53/ Stardust Memories (1980)
54/ All That Jazz (1979)
55/ The Nice Guys (2016)
56/ Lo sceicco bianco (The White Sheik- Italy- 1952)
57/ Sleeper (1973)
58/ Dead Ringers (1988)
59/ Jason Bourne (2016)
60/ Unfriended (2014)
61/ Dangerous Minds (1995)
62/ Le journal d'une femme de chamber/ Il diario di una cameriera (Diary of a Chambermaid- Italy, France- 1964)
63/ The Age of Adaline (2015)
64/ Concussion (2015)
65/ Sully (2016)
66/ The Matrix (1999)- again
67/ ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives- Thailand- 2010)
68/ Ace in the Hole (1951)
69/ Mulholland Dr. (2001)
70/ اسامه‎‎ (Osama- Afghanistan- 2003)
71/  Иди и смотри (Come and See- Soviet Union- 1985)
72/ Taxi Driver (1976)- again
73/ Pulp Fiction (1994)- again
74/ ואלס עם באשיר‎‎ (Waltz with Bashir- Israel, Germany, France- 2008)
75/ 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)- again
76/ 乱 (Ran- Japan- 1985)- again
77/ Witness (1985)
78/ The Act of Killing (2012)
79/ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
80/ The Others (2001)
81/ La La Land (2016)
82/ Manchester by the Sea (2016)
83/ Jackie (2016)
84/ We are Poets (2011)
85/ Trois couleurs: Bleu (Three Colours: Blue- Frace, Poland, Switzerland- 1993)
86/ Trois couleurs: Blanc (Three Colours: White- France, Poland, Switzerland- 1994)
87/ Trois couleurs: Rouge (Three Colours: Red- France, Poland, Switzerland- 1994)
88/ La double vie de Veronique (The Double Life of Veronique- France, Poland, Norway- 1991)- twice
89/ Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009)
90/ The Imposter (2012)
91/ Blackfish (2013)
92/ Humpback Whales (2015)
93/ Moonlight (2016)
94/ Supersize Me (2004)
95/ The Most Hated Family in America (2007)
96/ America's Most Hated Family in Crisis (2011)
97/ Man on Wire (2008)
98/ The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
99/ Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
100/ Room 237 (2012) 

Monday, 27 February 2017

Oscars 2017

My fb post last night: 





That sums everything up. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Kieslowski's Trois couleurs

Some directors create stunning-looking films that say nothing. Some directors can say nothing by image, using voice-over or a character's speech as a shortcut.
8 1/2 was the film that changed my view on cinema and made me truly realise the power of the medium, as I watched Fellini tell a story and communicate ideas through image. Now I've discovered Kieslowski, another master of visual storytelling. 

o 0 o

Close-up of the lower part of a car. An odd sound implicating trouble with the engine. A little hand from a car waving a blue candy wrapper. A little girl in the backseat facing backwards, looking bored. A car accident. Close-up of some feather fluttering, indicating someone's breathing. Extreme close-up of an eye, with the reflection of a doctor. And so on. Kieslowski doesn't reveal everything right away- his effective use of close-ups and extreme close-ups makes the opening sequence of Bleu a puzzle, in which each shot contains some clues.


o 0 o

Blue. Liberty.
Julie is "liberated" after her husband and daughter are killed in an accident. She then sells the house and everything and moves away, trying to free herself of history, memories and pain. But she can't. The past is always with her. Julie can be free only when she comes back, accepts it, and reconciles with it.


o 0 o

Blue. Sadness.
Of the 3 films, Bleu is the saddest.
But it ends on a hopeful note. 


o 0 o

Different from Blanc and Rouge, Bleu is internal- the film mostly focuses on Julie's mind.


o 0 o

Each of all 3 films has a dominant colour, but in Bleu, Kieslowski not only uses blue props but also uses blue lighting (filter), which, combined with music, symbolises the past that keeps haunting Julie.


o 0 o

In Bleu, there is 1 close-up shot of a sugar cube absorbing coffee. Julie concentrates her thoughts on a mundane thing right before her, not noticing her surroundings, as a way of coping with her tragic experience and avoiding dwelling on her pain. 
At the same time, it means she just lives in the moment, focusing on the very thing she's doing. Nothing else matters. Just be. 


o 0 o

Kieslowski does something unusual in editing: sometimes in a shot of Julie, there's a fade to black, then back to the same scene. Ellipsis? A punctuation of sorts? I see it as a fall- a fall into her thoughts, out of the present moment. Then back to it. 


o 0 o 

The 3 films are very different, in subject and tone, but the core spirit is the same: in spite of everything, Kieslowski chooses Life. 
1 of the most thought-provoking scene in Blanc is when Karol accepts a man's request to kill him, which he can't do himself- he shoots at the man with a fake gun, then, saying it's a blank, the next one would be real, asks whether the man is still sure he wants to die. The man says he's not sure, and in the end, chooses to live. 


o 0 o 

Of the 3 films, Blanc is the bleakest. 
I may say it's the weakest instalment, but I don't quite know what to make of it, and perhaps simply don't grasp its meaning. 
The key thing is how to understand Blanc and the idea of equality. 

o 0 o 

Rouge is the warmest. 
If Bleu questions the idea of freedom and Blanc is an ironic take on the concept of equality, Rouge deals with fraternity unironically. 

o 0 o 

Like Bleu, Rouge is the kind of film that makes you feel intensely alive, makes you more alert, more aware of things around you. 

o 0 o 

Rouge is about chance, and happenstance, and fate, and the interconnectedness of all things. 
Bleu makes you wonder if the person closest to you has another life you never know about. Rouge makes you wonder if there's anyone around you like Valentine and Auguste, who constantly cross paths but never really meet. 

o 0 o 

But not only chance, Rouge is also about choice. Valentine and Joseph Kern may meet by chance, when she runs over his dog, but she chooses to make some kind of connection with him, and he chooses to take action, to change himself. 

o 0 o 

Red is Fraternity. 
Red is blood. Love. Passion. Anger. Fire. Destruction. Love. Life. 

o 0 o 

Some people may dislike the coincidences, especially the ending, noting the artifice, but Rouge should be seen as a meditation rather than an exercise in realism. The film is so beautiful, not only visually, and the philosophical questions it raises outweigh the feeling that it's contrived. 

o 0 o 

Trois couleurs is not meant to be watched once. The films, especially Bleu and Rouge, are something I'd come back to, often. For Kieslowski's talent, especially the interesting camera angles. And for his humanity. 

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Random thoughts on The Awakening

1/ Unlike Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina and Effi Briest, falling in love with another man, for Edna Pontellier, is linked with an awakening.
2/ The realisation that Edna's a human being, an individual, that she wants independence.
3/ The realisation that she now no longer cares about social conventions, and wants to live for herself.
4/ It sets her free, makes her feel more alive.
5/ To live, to go for a walk, to look, to listen, to feel, to smell, to taste, to absorb everything that life can offer, to paint, to love, to give, to yearn for more.
6/ Except that it doesn't set her free. Only Edna's mind is free. Her being is tied and trapped by conventions and duties and social expectations.
7/ Arobin can't make her happy. Edna may be, in a sense, physical, but doesn't have the vanity of Emma Bovary to be content with his flattery and caresses.
8/ Robert Lebrun might not make her happy either. He doesn't have the courage to stand up for love and defy society. I'm afraid he doesn't even understand her.
9/ But even if he did, Edna would still be trapped.
10/ She's doomed, defeated. Or is her death a rebirth?





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Kate Chopin's work is full of symbolism: sleep, the sea, swimming, image of children, the lady in black, the lovers, birds, serpents... 
I wonder if there's any meaning behind the bonbons. The word appears 9 times.


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From chapter 6, when Edna has her awakening:
"The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace."
From the last chapter, some time before the final moment:
"The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude. All along the white beach, up and down, there was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.
[...] 
The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles. She walked out. The water was chill, but she walked on. The water was deep, but she lifted her white body and reached out with a long, sweeping stroke. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace."
(my emphasis) 


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Who is the man standing naked "beside a desolate rock on the seashore" in chapter 9? 


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Does anyone wonder about the colour white in The Awakening? 
"[Madame Lebrun] was a fresh, pretty woman, clad always in white with elbow sleeves." 
"[Mr Pontellier] fixed his gaze upon a white sunshade that was advancing at snail’s pace from the beach." 
"One would not have wanted [Adele's] white neck a mite less full or her beautiful arms more slender. Never were hands more exquisite than hers, and it was a joy to look at them when she threaded her needle or adjusted her gold thimble to her taper middle finger as she sewed away on the little night-drawers or fashioned a bodice or a bib." 
"[Edna] stood watching the fair woman walk down the long line of galleries with the grace and majesty which queens are sometimes supposed to possess. Her little ones ran to meet her. Two of them clung about her white skirts, the third she took from its nurse and with a thousand endearments bore it along in her own fond, encircling arms. Though, as everybody well knew, the doctor had forbidden her to lift so much as a pin!" 
"The two women went away one morning to the beach together, arm in arm, under the huge white sunshade." 
"She wore a cool muslin that morning—white, with a waving vertical line of brown running through it; also a white linen collar and the big straw hat which she had taken from the peg outside the door. The hat rested any way on her yellow-brown hair, that waved a little, was heavy, and clung close to her head.
Madame Ratignolle, more careful of her complexion, had twined a gauze veil about her head. She wore dogskin gloves, with gauntlets that protected her wrists. She was dressed in pure white, with a fluffiness of ruffles that became her. The draperies and fluttering things which she wore suited her rich, luxuriant beauty as a greater severity of line could not have done." 
"Edna Pontellier, casting her eyes about, had finally kept them at rest upon the sea. The day was clear and carried the gaze out as far as the blue sky went; there were a few white clouds suspended idly over the horizon. A lateen sail was visible in the direction of Cat Island, and others to the south seemed almost motionless in the far distance." 
"She thrust a bare, white arm from the curtain which shielded her open door, and received the cup from his hands." 
"Some one had gathered orange and lemon branches, and with these fashioned graceful festoons between. The dark green of the branches stood out and glistened against the white muslin curtains which draped the windows, and which puffed, floated, and flapped at the capricious will of a stiff breeze that swept up from the Gulf." 
"At an early hour in the evening the Farival twins were prevailed upon to play the piano. They were girls of fourteen, always clad in the Virgin’s colors, blue and white, having been dedicated to the Blessed Virgin at their baptism." 
"The people walked in little groups toward the beach. They talked and laughed; some of them sang. There was a band playing down at Klein’s hotel, and the strains reached them faintly, tempered by the distance. There were strange, rare odors abroad—a tangle of the sea smell and of weeds and damp, new-plowed earth, mingled with the heavy perfume of a field of white blossoms somewhere near. But the night sat lightly upon the sea and the land. There was no weight of darkness; there were no shadows. The white light of the moon had fallen upon the world like the mystery and the softness of sleep.
Most of them walked into the water as though into a native element. The sea was quiet now, and swelled lazily in broad billows that melted into one another and did not break except upon the beach in little foamy crests that coiled back like slow, white serpents." 
"She had been walking alone with her arms hanging limp, letting her white skirts trail along the dewy path." 
"Will you get my white shawl which I left on the window-sill over at the house?" 
"The whole place was immaculately clean, and the big, four-posted bed, snow-white, invited one to repose. It stood in a small side room which looked out across a narrow grass plot toward the shed, where there was a disabled boat lying keel upward.
[...]
Edna, left alone in the little side room, loosened her clothes, removing the greater part of them. She bathed her face, her neck and arms in the basin that stood between the windows. She took off her shoes and stockings and stretched herself in the very center of the high, white bed..." 
"Edna bit a piece from the brown loaf, tearing it with her strong, white teeth." 
"The youngster was in his long white nightgown, that kept tripping him up as Madame Ratignolle led him along by the hand." 
"Edna had returned late from her bath, had dressed in some haste, and her face was flushed. Her head, set off by her dainty white gown, suggested a rich, rare blossom." 
"The house was painted a dazzling white; the outside shutters, or jalousies, were green." 
"A maid, in white fluted cap, offered the callers liqueur, coffee, or chocolate, as they might desire." 
"She stood on the front veranda as he quitted the house, and absently picked a few sprays of jessamine that grew upon a trellis near by. She inhaled the odor of the blossoms and thrust them into the bosom of her white morning gown." 
"The tan of the seashore had left her face, and her forehead was smooth, white, and polished beneath her heavy, yellow-brown hair."
"Madame Ratignolle looked more beautiful than ever there at home, in a neglige which left her arms almost wholly bare and exposed the rich, melting curves of her white throat." 
"[Madame Lebrun] was still clad in white, according to her custom of the summer." 
"[The Colonel's] hair and mustache were white and silky, emphasizing the rugged bronze of his face." 
"She touched his hand as she scanned the red cicatrice on the inside of his white wrist." 
"But Mrs. Highcamp had one more touch to add to the picture. She took from the back of her chair a white silken scarf, with which she had covered her shoulders in the early part of the evening. She draped it across the boy in graceful folds, and in a way to conceal his black, conventional evening dress. He did not seem to mind what she did to him, only smiled, showing a faint gleam of white teeth, while he continued to gaze with narrowing eyes at the light through his glass of champagne." 
"'I’ve been seeing the waves and the white beach of Grand Isle; the quiet, grassy street of the Cheniere; the old fort at Grande Terre...'" 
(that is spoken by Robert, then Edna says something similar) 
"Edna ate her breakfast only half dressed. The maid brought her a delicious printed scrawl from Raoul, expressing his love, asking her to send him some bonbons, and telling her they had found that morning ten tiny white pigs all lying in a row beside Lidie’s big white pig."  
"His face grew a little white." 
"Madame Ratignolle was in the salon, whither she had strayed in her suffering impatience. She sat on the sofa, clad in an ample white peignoir, holding a handkerchief tight in her hand with a nervous clutch. Her face was drawn and pinched, her sweet blue eyes haggard and unnatural. All her beautiful hair had been drawn back and plaited. It lay in a long braid on the sofa pillow, coiled like a golden serpent. The nurse, a comfortable looking Griffe woman in white apron and cap, was urging her to return to her bedroom.
[...]  The woman was possessed of a cheerful nature, and refused to take any situation too seriously, especially a situation with which she was so familiar. She urged Madame to have courage and patience. But Madame only set her teeth hard into her under lip, and Edna saw the sweat gather in beads on her white forehead..." 
"All along the white beach, up and down, there was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water." 
"The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles. She walked out. The water was chill, but she walked on. The water was deep, but she lifted her white body and reached out with a long, sweeping stroke." 
The word "white" appears 43 times (my emphasis). 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The narrator of The Awakening

After Effi Briest, I'm reading another work that also deals with adultery- The Awakening
As Tom at Wuthering Expectations has just written about the different layers of meaning in Kate Chopin's work (here and here), I don't expect to get much out of my 1st reading, and probably won't write much. 
I'm just going to poke at it. 
Like this line in chapter 8: 
"Robert went over and seated himself on the broad sill of 1 of the dormer windows. He took a book from his pocket and began energetically to read it, judging by the precision and frequency with which he turned the leaves." 
This is Kate Chopin's style- she reports and describes everything without comment; the narrator doesn't intrude. But that sentence is interesting, like the narrator isn't omniscient and doesn't know the character but only stands there and observes. 
Now look at this line in chapter 9: 
"It was growing late, and there was a general disposition to disband. But someone, perhaps it was Robert, thought of a bath at that mystic hour and under that mystic moon." 
What do you think of that sentence? 

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Effi Briest, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary (3)

5/ I’ve finished reading Effi Briest.
My view on Fontane’s writing, up till the last chapters, remained unchanged: his tendency to refrain so much, to stop when he should be going further and digging deeper, reduces the drama, the emotional impact of the story. Too steady, he avoids dramatic scenes and can’t quite depict the emotional turmoil and pain and strong emotions as Tolstoy can. Too detached, his style doesn’t have the pervading sadness of Flaubert’s.
Then something happened in the last chapters. I close Effi Briest with deep sadness. Somehow, in some way, Fontane makes me care for her, as though for a real person. In How Fiction Works, James Wood writes something like Isabel Archer is rather vague as a character, she becomes real by Henry James’s genuine and deep interest in her. Perhaps that’s the way with Effi. The story is so haunting because Effi is so young and suffers so much, and because even in the end she dies believing she did wrong and deserved what she got.
6/ The bit about Roswitha is a subtle touch, making Effi’s parents’ behaviour a lot more heartless and harder to sympathise with.  
7/ This is perhaps the saddest line in Effi Briest, about Innstetten: 
“There was a lot of good in his nature, and he was as noble as anyone can be who lacks the real capacity for love.” 
No. Saddest are these words Effi says in her deathbed: 
“… you said I was still so young. And of course I am still young. But it doesn’t matter. In the good old days Innstetten used to read to me in the evenings; he had very good books, and 1 of them had a story about someone who had been called away from a festive dinner, and the next day asked what had happened after he left. And the answer was ‘Oh, all sorts of things, but really you didn’t miss anything.’ You see Mamma, these words stuck in my mind—it doesn’t matter much if you are called away from the table a little early.”
What can be more heartbreaking than that? 
Fontane doesn’t write much, but the resignation in those lines is poignant.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Effi Briest, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary (2)

3/ Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary and Effi Briest are often classed together as adultery novels. But that’s misleading. 
Only Anna Karenina is really about adultery. I mean the Anna strand, pretending the Levin strand doesn’t exist. The novel as a whole, if it’s forgivable to simplistically identify a unifying theme for a something as rich, broad and complex as Anna Karenina, is about the search for happiness and the meaning of life, and 2 kinds of love. 
Madame Bovary depicts adultery—Emma has not 1 but 2 affairs, but committing adultery is only a conventional way to rise above the conventional. The novel is really a depiction of, and attack on, philistinism. Emma, Rodolphe, Leon and Homais are all philistines. 
Effi Briest isn’t really about adultery either. There’s hardly an affair, even. Fontane’s decision to keep it to a minimum might be an artistic choice to leave everything to the reader’s imagination, or a personal evasion of a difficult task, but now I start to think that by making it subtle to the point of being easily missed, Fontane wants to stress that it’s a minor thing, insignificant and devoid of meaning, nothing to dwell upon, and thus, Innstetten’s overreaction to the discovery appears ridiculous and even laughable, if it were not so tragic. 
Effi Briest is more about the bad marriage (how ill-suited Innstetten and Effi are, especially considering that he used to be in love with her mother, which is rather creepy), and about society and the absurd ideas about morality and honour. 

4/ In the introduction to Effi Briest, Helen Chambers draws our attention to the title: 
“… Flaubert’s title Madame Bovary suggests that the problem, the central concern is the marriage, the turning of Emma into the wife of someone whose bovine name proclaims his character. The marriage fails to satisfy her, but equally she fails to assert a separate valid identity as Emma. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina articulates the conflict inherent in the simultaneous existence of the private individual Anna, who experiences true love and passion, and the social role as Karenin’s wife. Effi Briest is quite another matter. Effi’s problem is that she cannot complete the socially required metamorphosis from Fraulein von Briest to Frau von Innstetten, for this would entail a denial of her self, her natural, playful exuberance, the self-confident magnetic personality we see in the games in the garden on the 1 hand, and on the other her risk-loving nature, the propensity to let herself be carried away, her desire for the out of the ordinary, her unpredictability. As her mother says, she is ‘altogether a very odd mixture’. That she remains Effi Briest at the end of the noel, a fact explicitly asserted by her instructions for the wording on her gravestone, is a sign that although she has succumbed physically in the draining conflict with the rigid forms of society she has managed to hold on to her own inner integrity, she has not lost her self. She has not been sacrificed like Anna to a grand passion. Her affair with Crampas was not a crucial emotional experience, it was merely a symptom of her need to preserve some area of freedom and spontaneity; nor has she been sacrificed like Emma to romantic notions and an egocentric personality. She has been sacrificed—and the motif of sacrifice runs through the narrative from the gooseberry skins’ watery grave at the beginning to the sacrificial stones by Lake Hertha and beyond (Chapter 24)—to a set of conventions which Wullersdorf and Innstetten recognize as empty ‘this cult of honour of ours is idolatry’, without being able to extricate themselves from the power of ‘that social something which tyrannizes us’ (Chapter 27), but she has not relinquished her irreducible sense of her own independent identity. That she finds her way back to being Effi Briest—a unique, beautiful name free of its aristocratic ‘von’, its social indicator, in her chosen, natural setting in the garden of her youth is an assertion of a triumph of a kind. It is an ambiguous one, for she has not survived to grow into mature adulthood, but the fact of her death constitutes an accusation levelled at a society whose warped logic it has exposed.” 
Effi Briest is, in some ways, closer to Madame Bovary than to Anna Karenina. Stylistically, like Flaubert, Fontane stands outside and describes happenings and actions, like a camera, whereas Tolstoy describes scenes but constantly slips into the character’s mind. Thematically, whilst Anna and Vronsky do love each other, Effi and Emma both suffer from ennui, and in both cases, their affairs aren’t about love. 
The chief difference is that Effi is a free spirit and suffers in her marriage with a man who tries to stifle her, whereas Emma mistakes her own sentimentality for a romantic and passionate nature, suffers from delusions, and causes her own downfall.  

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Effi Briest, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary

1/ France had Madame Bovary, Russia had Anna Karenina, Germany had Effi Briest
However, if Flaubert dissects his Emma and contemptuously puts on display all of her sentimentalism, shallowness and philistinism, and Tolstoy can now and then be harsh towards his Anna, Theodor Fontane openly loves his heroine. Effi therefore is a lot more likeable, even lovable. Anna and Emma we can see clearly, thoroughly, but they're characters that evoke lots of strong emotions, characters that readers, at least I, have to struggle with, on a personal level. With Effi, it's different. Fontane writes of her innocence and rich imagination, of her vivacity and love of life, of her free spirit, and above all, of her youth- she's still a half-child; then he writes of her loneliness, fear, doubt, and pain, making us love her and care for her as though for a real person. 

2/ Effi Briest is a rather well-rounded character. However, like Emma at Bookaroundthecorner and Himadri/ Argumentativeoldgit, I have a problem with the novel: Fontane always refrains and leaves things unwritten. Not all writers spell out everything. Jane Austen writes enough. Flaubert keeps it subtle. Henry James prefers to hint, and suggest. I myself have praised Henry James's subtlety: the jumps in The Portrait of a Lady (and 2nd post) and the things that are left unsaid, as well as defending the ellipses in the novel as not simply "disguising a deficiency". But Fontane refrains too much. It's not just that the sex in Effi Briest isn't described, which is fine (even if the 1st time the affair's consummated is easy to miss), but the whole affair isn't there, and most importantly, Fontane keeps Effi at arm's length instead of bringing her close to the readers and entering her mind, and except for a few small observations now and then such as Effi blushing when Crampas appears or her husband vaguely noticing something different or Effi overreacting to Roswitha's familiarity with Kruse, he withholds from us her thoughts and feelings. That reduces the emotional impact. 
At the moment, I'm on chapter 21, when Innstetten has just been promoted and Effi's about to go to Berlin to find an apartment. Hopefully Fontane would describe more once her life takes a tragic turn.