We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

"Independence" & "Development & Power:" Tales 3 & 4, New Delhi · 29 January 05

"Independence" (Tale 3) and "Development and Progress"
(Tale 4) are so rich in irony and content that to do justice
to them really demands extensive and detailed literary
analysis. If someone else wants to try it, please to go ahead.
That would mean studying Jhabvala’s typical language,
the nuances she uses in her irony to indicate to the
reader her position, and really to get the resonance you’d
have to place these two stories against a backdrop of her
other others. I’m not being deliberately obscurantist, only
accurate about the problems of discussing such texts.
She really is an Austenite author; the method is precisely
the same: suggestive, flexible, enigmatic. the "cool,
even cold" ironic distancing masks a deep core of
disillusioned feeling, disappointment, controlled (or
"regulated"—to use a word from a seminal Austen
critic) rage and romance. In her "Myself in India" she
describes a woman very like Sumitra or Kuku (grandmother
and granddaughter) and says she turns away from
such women to remain alone in her air-conditioned
room to write: they "set her teeth on edge" and drive
her to talk irrelevantly and inappropriately of the "horror"
they live on top of and of what use is this? ("It would
take too long, and anyway what is the point?"). Like
Austen Jhabvala uses writing as a desperate means of finding
"some mode of existence for her critical attitudes"
towards the outrages of everyday life which no one else
seems to find outrageous, at least in public.

Last night I mentioned Orwell. A few hours later and
it seems to me Graham Greene’s political vision is
much closer to the mark of Jhabvala. She might be
said to write a female companion book to his political
masterpieces (e.g., The Quiet American. _The�
Heart of the Matter_, The Third Man, _The Honorary
Consul_, Our Man in Havana). What I find exhilarting
about the second story, "Development and Progress"
in particular is Jhabvala has taken a female subgenre
and really make it make a large political statement.
People often want to claim this for Austen; alas, it’s
not so. The large political statement is (in line with
all her other books) deeply pessmistic about progress.

I love the ironies of the titles. Independence?
What independence? India is entangled endlessly
in its history as a British colony we see; the women
at the center are blind and compromised throughout.
Again we have an unreliable narrator at the center
of the first tale (first person tales apparently
are characteristically used by Jhabvala this way):
Harry will never understand, no, not he, persists
in seeing as "bribery and corruption" what is "nothing
but a judicious balancing of funds to keep the machinery
of government oiled and functioning.

The second title is equally ironic: just read that
closing paragraph: Pushpa is a central figure in
this tale. I was really struck by how she resembles
the way recent biographies of Mary Wollstonecraft
present her: humorless, a prig, utterly self-righteous,�
determined, complacent about her goals, drivingly
ambitious. Why? Because I don’t believe Wollstonecraft
could have been like that; had she been, she would not have
gone off with Imlay, or ended up a near-suicide and
dead in childbirth from an idealist like Godwin.
(I don’t include Tomalin or Holmes’s portraits of
Mary: they are accurate). But here she is, the
great "success" of the story preaching to her crowd
of deluded miserable women. I only type out a
bit as everyone else has the text:

whatever it was she said seemed to be what they
most wanted to hear [of course it was]. They
raised their faces higher, in adoration, in worship:
those who clutched slogans scrawled on pieces
of cloth held them up and waved them. Murmurs
of assent to everything she said … I have never
seen so many faces radiant with hope—all of
them worn by poverty, overworked, and undernourished,
some pockmarked through disease, others bruised
with beatings, a few with their noses cut off (the
ultimate act of cruelty from a vengeful husband ..)

Once I did put on the TV to wash Bush projecting himself
similarly to a crowd who looked like they belonged to the
cultural group Moore shot on camera in his film on
Bowling for Columbine from the high school at Flint,
Michigan and elsewhere. Silly Kerry lost because he
didn’t swill out whatever cant was wanted (to allude
to our other thread).

I’ll stop here and write separately some thoughts on each


Posted by: Ellen

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