Women's fiction and l'écriture-femme

East into Upper East: Plain Tales from New Delhi

by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Frida Kahlo, photograph, 1931

"A New Delhi Romance" and "Husband and Son": Tales 5 & 6 from New Delhi: A Sharp Critique of the Dreams of Motherhood (Parenting?); Christmas at the movies: Closer et aliae; Mozart Updated: Cosi Fan Tutti becomes Closer (as well as commentary on The Mother, Calendar Girls, Being Julia and Something's Gotta Give; "A New Delhi Romance": Jhabvala's cruelty/Excluding the "other" (and Austen Brought Back); Naomi Wolff's Promiscuities; Dipti: she dips; Dipti and Indu; Intrasex antagonism among women: Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul; Jhabvala and Space; Intrasex Antagonism Among Women/Lack of Space & Decent housing; "Husband and Son": Some grounds of interpretation: Larkin's "Reference Back"


February 5, 2005

Re: Tales 5 & 6: "A New Delhi Romance"; "Husband and Son": A Sharp Critique of the Dreams of Motherhood (Parenting?)

Dear All,

I've been thinking about the comment that Jhabvala presents us with situations which are lose/lose. My response to this (if the comment is a adversarial criticism) is she writes cool satire.

It is simply the business of the satirist to expose the follies and vices of humankind which are legion. The outlook behind satire is a complicated one about which many books have been written, some taking the modern psycholoanalytical approach (which examines the satirist's motives), others the sociological (satire as scapegoating), some the aesthetic (devices), with very few nowadays looking to the moral or ethical undergirding.

Jhabvala is somewhat unusual for modern satirists (but not unusual for women novelists who use satire) in keeping her claws sheathed (this image comes from Tomalin's literary biography of Austen's unsheathed tones in her letters). I like that in her; the concluding paragraph of "Development and Progress" is a rare over-the-top moment.

The defense of satire is ancient too, and comes out of a point of view that says the satirist is right, spot on, and if you feel the idyllic, comforting, benign and beauty in life is omitted, you are invited to go read intelligent pastoral-idyllic which reverses the formula with the bitter marginalized but yet there (as it's a response to the city): I've finally told myself that Patchett writes modern pastoral romances in the tradition of Philip Sidney whose Arcadia is fractured with death, misery and cruelty (Et tu in Arcadia?) but is nonetheless an Arcadia in comparison with the real world of experience.

Anyhow I like pessimism. I often feel it's the cheerful person who needs to defend herself. I don't enjoy humor when it's superficial you see.


As I began to read this week's stories, I noticed the opening paragraph of "A New Delhi Romance" is over-the-top saturnine. It ends on how Indu's son can easily come home from school "if his classes were canceled due to a strike or the death of some important politician." Both these stories seemed to me to be less cool, more angry: the wretchedness of Vija, her driveling husband reminded me oddly of a play by Chekhov, The Wild Duck (which I saw with my father when I was 12) where we have a sensitive feeble man who lives in the attic of a bunch of philistine types, but in Chekhov we are given insight into the poor man's mind; here he is a disgusting burden. A film I saw this summer (with Isabel), The Mother opens with an aging woman going to see her grown children with her husband whose weak state forces her to wait hand and foot on him all the while ignored and unacknowledged by her children. By the end of the movie, he's dead, she's had an affair, breaks with a cold older daughter, and is last seen packing a bag and going on a trip for herself. Jhabvala's Vija doesn't seem likely to take a pleasant trip she might enjoy any time soon. It's hinted at the end she perhaps succumbs to sexual release with the old man at the end -- as does Indu with Raja; Raja is a Bal (from A Backward Place) grown old. Why shouldn't he enjoy life? What a prig is Indu. And he does laugh and enjoy himself (for these reasons Judy clings to the devouring Bal in A Backward Place). And then Arun and his compliant girlfriend, Dipti (remember the look of joyful compliance on Barbie Doll's face?): true romance. Both Larkin's famous poems came to mind:

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he's fucking her and she's
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise.

I've read in several essays that in the US the most frequent place and time for a young teenage girl to lose her virginity is in her parents' house or the house of her boyfriend's parents in the afternoon. Here she learns to jerk off (excuse the vulgarity), here she is first shamed -- there was an article about this in the New York Times a while back where we were treated to the foolish girls asserting how wonderful such experiences are (the reporter herself didn't think so, but was showing what goes on among the 13 year old set nowadays).

Larkin's "This be the Verse" is even more appropriate:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

Except now it's reversed. You spend your life investing everything in the child; you imagine a child that never existed, and then you are confronted with the real young adult who is more a product of his or her interaction with the society you are engulfed by than anything else.

The kaleioscope has turned. The first two stories were about economics and social upbringing: how feeble is what we call education and inadequate to the case given the way the world works ("Expiation"), and The Way the World Works ("Farid and Farida"), with an accent on the indulged male, enigmatic homosexual introvert, "loving" couple, and desperation in a capitalist order. The second two presented political fables: you think you are independent; here's what you think is power (thus did I see Too's death); and here's your progress and development: cut off noses. I have described too often the picture of the Indian woman whose eyes were gouged out by her husband which appeared in the Washington Post (put there by an anonymous reporter) and was not going to escape that husband that night. It just stays in my mind that she had to stay with him, she was still with him. I am horrified. Not one person rescued her. It's not like there's been no time. The man is probably not omnipotent.

And now we get the men. We see them from the point of view of the women who have to endure them. It's as if we are now turning to that nameless narrator's wife of the first story and hearing what she's got to say about her life. I love it.

There's more to these portraits than sheer male-bashing (so to speak) since Jhabvala has by her previous four stories where she concentrated on amoral strong women (Farida, Sumitra, Pushpa) as seen through a third-person narrator, through the modern journalist granddaughter and rightly angry but no more admirable (as who can be admirable in this world?) daughter. In these previous stories she dramatized and visualized the amoral operations of capitalism as the controlling force over people's economic lives, and also dramatizes what happens to men in this order (the ashamed obtuse nameless narrator of the first tale, the weak Farid of the second and the vicious amoral successful man who gives the couple money and chases them for money and networking).

Jhabvala has pity for men as a well as women: those men who are not macho males, not thugs, not conniving performers end up sad sacks, hiding themselves, dependent on women whose strength is preyed upon, not acknowledged and whose emotional and personal fulfilment is stifled. This lack moral pattern undergirds the depiction of Judy and Bal (A Backward Place); we find it in Indu's relationship with her son and Vija's with her son and husband. You can get the occasional well-meaning but ineffectual Sanjay: he's ineffectual when it comes to changing the social order, but he might be okay to live with, to spend your life around: he's the old hero of romance newly seen.

Oh yes. Sanjay would be played by Jude Law (the man of integrity whom in Closer Julia Roberts choses safety and will know kindness and sanity with).

The satirist is a deeply emotional writer. They really do write out of pity. They are outraged by what fails to outrage everyone else. They are amazed others are not outraged. They can't stand the shrug of "perfect unconcern" (that's Austen's words for Lydia Bennet) or complacency or the determination to give a pleasant turn to what is deeply unpleasant. This in satire a form of cruelty.

The stories in this anthology are beginning to hang together to form a statement about the nature of public life in our time (peculiarly awful partly because of the blaze of media on it and a resultant incessant hypocrisy which goes deep into the souls of those on stage) and how this as well as women's position _vis-a-vis_ that public world (given the stereotypes they must obey, their inescapable biological roles and lack of power in private).

Let me say I have found brilliant emerging patterns to be discerned in Byatt's Sugar and Other Stories and three Matisse tales (the latter is obvious), Mason's Shiloh and Other Stories and an old book of short stories by Willa Cather. While it's convenient to have "the collected short stories" (which I do for Elizabeth Bowen and thus have her rarely reprinted tale of a demon-dracula lover who appears to the heroine during the London blitz) because this way you get them all for less and in one package, something is lost when stories are ripped out of their original context and arrangement. You can rearrange for a new pattern -- which is what Jhabvala attempted in her Out of India.

I know I wrote too much at length for the first four stories. Pray pardon me. The reason I wrote the way I did is I like too :): the greatness of a work of art is in its concrete details and you can only discover what the work means by delving them. Over on 19thCenturyLit I noticed Judy going through Moby Dick as if it were a 5 word poem. (I once did the same for Clarissa). But one can overdo as the critic, and then the context makes one appear aggressive. Still here are some details of the usual sort people put on lists about books about the characters.

I didn't like Vijay but was not sure this was what Jhbvala wanted. I suspect she wanted me to like Vijay. Perhaps I was supposed to feel for her having married beneath her and now ending up with this horror. This did remind me of Mrs Frances Price in Mansfield Park. But I couldn't care less about Mrs Frances Price either. Both women cling to these sons in a way that lets me know they value the stupidities of admiration from others.

I did like Indu very much: I too would explode at the fatuity and self-indulgence of the men she's surrounded by, be irritated by their mindless unexamined lives. I can see how she wants to scream and throw things at them. The exasperated trapped woman. But it's no use. They are what they are and can't understand why she's not enjoying life. There's a dark laugh for you. The closest Austen comes to this is Mary Musgrove (Persuasion), but Mary is shown young and Austen does not sympathize because forsooth Mary makes life worse for others, is herself petty, mean, stupid, with no larger ideals or alternatives within her. For exasperated women we need to go to Ibsen where they turn murderous; Trollope has one in the vituperative Emily Trevelyan (about which a very sentimental film was recently made [He Knew He Was Right], one which missed out Trollope's insight into the woman who despises the weak male and concentrated on the weak male alone). One needs iron to do justice to Indu to really grasp the feel of that final scene of "Husband and Son:: there she is in that filthy room with that beaten old man who sings a song to honey and celebrating life.

For intelligent iron I recommend an older film Laura and I watched together the other night: Leon (I'll try to write separately about this brilliant film).

Back to East into Upper East, Tale 6: How can you celebrate life under the circumstances we are asked to endure it? If of course you as a woman make the mistake of marrying the wrong man. Had Indu married Sanjay ... Or better yet don't marry at all: follow Kitty's choice. The old moral has been changed: it's not just marry wisely; now you may think to yourself maybe don't marry or have kids at all. Back to Larkin's "This Be the Verse:

"But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself"

Bitter yes. The whole truth no. But no work need tell us the whole truth. And if you want an antidote, go to Bel Canto, the beautiful song of the diva :). But know it's a cream puff and know why. For that you must study Jhabvala and writers like her.

How did others see these stories? How are you finding the whole volume now that we're half- way through?


Dear All,

Rereading my posting I realize I continually refer to Judy and Bal. These are the lead characters in Jhabvala's novel, A Backward Place. I'm finding more and more (at least in this set of tales) that A Backward Place presents some central paradigms for understanding Jhabvala.

So all references to Judy and Bal are to two characters who are young married people where the man is a weak indulgent type (Raju) preying on his wife's job; he dominates her and she has no way to escape him for her life in England was simply a lonely misery of another kind.


[Gentle Reader, if there are any: I put my review of Closer in here as I referred to it above and it's relevant:


December 29, 2004

Re: Christmas at the movies: Closer et aliae

In reply to my posting about the gift we had great fun as a group with, The Complete Book [and diskette set] of New Yorker Cartoons and a film we went to, Closer, directed by Mike Nichols, screen and original stageplay by Patrick Marber, Fran told us about her Christmas and asked about ours and the film.

We have added another film to our budget of enjoyed shared experiences: Being Julia, directed by Istvan Szabo, screenplay by Ronald Harwood, an adaptation of a short story by Somerset Maughn ("Theatre"). Isabel and I went to see this alone, but today she, I and my husband are to add to this ceaseless round of pleasure with a trip to the National Gallery which has a blockbuster exhibit of American painting from the later 19th through the early 20th century. If there is but one woman painter, I'll hope to write about this one on our list.

In the meantime, Closer. It's a film worth seeing. My husband saw it done as a play in NYC about 5 years ago with Natasha Richardson playing the heroine, Anna, the part that went to Julia Roberts. He thought Richardson presented the character more complexly, but agreed with the critics that Natalie Portman's personation of Alice/Jane and Clive Owens's of Larry stunningly effective (persuasive). There is a fourth central character: Dan was played by Jude Law who seems to me a lookalike for Jeremy Northam, who played Randolph Henry Ashe in the 2001 Possession; if I add that in the NYC production Ciarhan Hinds played Dan I hope I will have suggested that the archetype underlying Dan is that of the sensitive basically well- meaning and even kind (when not pushed too much) male, the semi-brother intelligent suave type Dirk Bogarde and (long ago) Cary Grant and Ronald Colman used to do regularly.

I can perhaps sum the feel and themes of the play up most quickly by saying that throughout the movie (and Jim says the play), the music from Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte may be heard. The most beautiful arias that Mozart ever wrote whose content dramatizes and meditates harassment of women by men, distrust of women by men, betrayal and treachery of men and women to one another, manipulation and semi-mockery, to put it in a word, lies rather than sincerity as the basis of most relationships between men and women continually played in the background of the strongest scenes of vituperative recrimination in the film. What seems to have shocked some people is this vituperative recrimination: repeatedly one pair of the intertwining (musical-bed changing) four either has sex or may have had sex; the woman in question (either Alice/Jane or Anna) is confronted by the male who is now her partner (either Dan or Larry) and Dan or Larry is in a humiliating rage, insults Alice or Anna based on a acute knowledge of her character flaws and deceits, and then proceeds to demand a full description of what the sex was like. This is forthcoming, but not before Dan or Larry imagines aloud what he supposes Alice or Anna did with Dan or Larry. The words are raw, frank, graphically pictorial. All the things people do are recounted.

Myself while I believe from my own experience as well as what others have said about their experience that raw hard fighting can occur between people which brings forth hard unpalatable truths of all sorts, I cannot quite believe and haven't experienced this sort of demand. It does go counter to my sense of people's pride. However, it certainly holds an audience's attention. It's a kind of natural development from the sort of emotional ravaging one found in American theatre at mid- and later 20th century, say The Death of a Salesman and even better as an forerunner, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The characters assault one another verbally in the above plays in order to break down barriers of lies and present naked vulnerable selves to one another in order to get the other person to admit to some truth or demand which is destroying the demander. Willie's delusions have controlled and destroyed Biff's life and Willie will not let go; he will not look at what Biff is and let Biff off the hook. So Biff ends, "pretend I died." Martha and George do come clean and there is a catharsis which leaves us exhausted but with the feeling that something or other has been achieved. Not so in Closer. One reason for this is we never know whether the stories about sex are lies. It may be that Anna has made up what Dan demands to know Anna did with Larry or Alice has made up what Larry demands to know what Alice did with Dan in order to shut the man up. He wants to believe she sucked the man's penis, had anal intercourse with him and liked it. Okay. She did. Satisfied?

The hard startling conversations (they move fast and are smart) are justified by the plot-design, character archetypes and themes of the play. This is a modern redo of Mozart's Thus Do They All, with "all" (now Tutti not Tutte). comprizing an examination of the weaknesses and egoistic appetites, delusions, and vulnerable emotional needs of men as well as women. What I came "away with" (to use the language of my students in their short talks) is the irreducible solitude of selfhood. We are all alone on the island of life no matter how close someone else gets. Frantic coupling just doesn't make the cut. Solitude and dependence on the self is our reality both in the inner worlds of our minds -- which are private and cannot be got at because we can lie.

This is given a metaphor which is ultra-modern. I think the most dislikable character is Larry: to me he's the shit of the film. (My two daughters, Laura and Isabel, concurred.) The ending (I think) validates my idea that Larry is the mischievous creep of the film -- though Dan is no hero of integrity; Dan gets back. Early on in the film we see Larry emailing Dan in a sex.com site. Larry pretends to be a woman and has "sex" with Dan through words. Larry then plays a nasty trick on Dan by telling him his name is Anna and sending Dan to the acquarium where Anna goes regularly in the hope of humiliating Dan and making life difficult for Anna. Motiveless malignity anyone? Larry also wants to spite Anna as Anna rejected Larry's advances in an earlier scene. My husband said that on the stage there were two huge computer screens on which the audience watched the supposedly sexually arousing words appeared. We know that people on the Net are finally not accountable to one another unless some mechanism is set up outside the relationship in cyberspace or some interaction has occurred which provides evidence that the person is at all like what he or she says he or she is. The anonymity and potential for cruel manipulation of cyberspace becomes a metaphor for relationships in this film -- except of course Dan does go and meet Anna, she is a good sport, and before you know it Anna and Dan are going out. Larry has been hoist by his own petard.

The film is comedic and there are amusing upswings now and again. The characters are not bored. They participate in glamorous and respected roles in upper class life. Dan is a doctor. Anna is a photographer who has exhibitions. Larry is a novelist -- failed; he writes obituaries for a living. Lies again :) And Alice/Jane. Well's she's a free spirit who seems the ultimate victim but emerges as the really hard survivor. I was struck by how this film (and several Isabel and I have seen this year, to wit, The Mother, Since Otar Left, Maria Full of Grace, and now Being Julia) ends not on a scene of loving rapture between man and woman or permanent satisfying union, but rather with the young woman walking steadily alone in a crowd, eating alone, hoisting her bag and moving on, off by herself.

The film -- and I suppose play -- does imply or assume the audience knows that the modern world and the way relationships between lovers work is counterproductive to permanence, demands that we not rely on anyone but ourselves to survive because the way social arrangements work today no one has to stick it with anyone. If someone choses to, and we have a pair at the end of this film who do so choose, whatever ecstasy or peace is gotten is intermittent. Basically you are choosing safety and peace -- all the while knowing there are no such things.

I've written on too long and have little room for Being JuliaL. So suffice to say Annette Benning does deliver a stunning good performance (for once); perhaps the role hit a chord in her inner self. It's another film of the type Helen Mirren did in Calendar Girls and Diane Keaten in Something's Gotta Give (the director and writer a woman, Nancy Meyers): we have the older woman given a sympathetic subjective treatment which is meant to flatter and please older women in the audience because she is presented as still sexually desirable to men (beats out younger girls) and seem to end happily enough for her. I preferred Calendar Girls because it lacked the smaltzy (awful) ending of Something's Gotta Give and is wittier and more ironic than Being Julia (there is an absurd worship of Julia going on), and less masculinist than each as in Calendar Girls having sex with a man is not presented as the beall of intense joy and fulfillment of women's existence.

Maybe that's what was really most bleak about Closer. It seems masculinist: the women are presented as jumping at the men like frogs in heat. But in fact when we look at their faces and they are forced to say "what they did," there is no romance and hardly any sense of pleasure or fulfillment. Better to take photos, go for an exhilarating walk.

Cheers to all,

NB: Michael Gambon is an important presence in Being Julia and worth seeing once again -- as when is he not? I did like The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover -- though it is only for strong stomachs.

Date: Wed, 29 Dec 2004
Subject: [Womenwriters] Mozart Updated: _Cosi Fan Tutti_ becomes Closer: Oops!
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

Alas alas! I reversed the male roles and also got the actors confused.

Larry was the doctor and was played by Clive Owens (who looked to me like Jeremy Northam); Dan was the shit and was played by Jude Law.

But then I could never tell the four lovers in Mozart's opera apart either.


Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2005
From: jgill Subject: Re: Mozart Updated: Cosi Fan Tutti becomes Closer

I can't add much to Ellen Moody's very detailed and incisive comments on the film "Closer" except to say that it is much "closer" to its audience than "Cosi," in which the action is staged by a the stage-managing Don and his maid and the disguises are virtually transparent. These devices of course provide the "distance" which facilitates comedy. On the other hand, I found nothing in "Closer" which is closer than the passions of "Come Scoglio" or "Per Pieta" or the tenor aria (the words elude me) which a friend of mine once described as a "musical wet dream" (though one scene in the movie comes pretty "close" to that).

Best Wishes, Jim Gill

Date: Sat, 5 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] "A New Dehi Romance"
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

Good Morning all -- hope this day finds you all in good health & spirits --

As you know by now and as Ellen has correctly observed, I read against the "grain" as it were -- so as to stay consistent (lol), here are my thoughts on "A New Delhi Romance":

I begin thinking about this short story not with the text itself, but rather, with the conversation it has with current events. Last night on "Now", Zainab Salbi talked about the state of Iraq with respect to women and their rights. She argues that women are worse off than they were before the war (why am I not surprised?) and that Iraq has the potential to become a completely conservative, religious state, and well, should that happen, egad, then women will be more oppressed than they were under Saddam -- (she notes that women of power i.e. professors, scientists, etc, etc have been assassinated one by one by the insurgents since US occupation.)

She continued her argument by noting that if women don't have a hand in formulating Iraq's new Constitution -- Iraq will cease to be "Iraq" -- I'm assuming she meant the traditions, values, and institutions that even under Saddam's regime still defined this culture. It's a profound statement.

When Salbi began her interview with the following quote "A strong indication of the health of the country is the status of its women (this is according not just to philosophers but the UN and World Bank)" -- parentheticals mine, I began to think about Jhabvala's project, or what appears to be her project within the collection we are reading. In some ways, this statement resonated strongly within the first six stories that we have read to date. In some ways, does Jhabvala's stories invite readers to consider the state of India around the retreat of England as dependent on the status of its females?

The stories, when read together, not only say that romance is dangerous, that change is dangerous, but they do seem to invite the reader to consider the struggles of women to hold onto their place, to change their place, to maintain hearth/home as it were when a country undergoes drastic change; and while, India's change from England's rule is a positive one versus the changes going on in Iraq (although we hope they will be positive -- Salbi painted a really grim picture last night), India's health, at least as presented in these short stories, seems quite dependent on the status of the female characters -- or at least we're invited to consider this argument, albeit as a subtext and between the lines.

"A New Delhi Romance" is not like the previous stories -- we are in a different social class, the main characters are two women, Indu and Dipti (again the old India up against the "new" India female) -- and what makes this story so different is the emotional incest, if you will, or maybe blackmail, Indu puts on her son, Arun. Indu has no power (she's fuming mad that she married beneath her -- and as we learn because of her sexual discretion -- ah, that same thematic issue -- from Karenina to Bovary to Chopin -- when girls f around -- they pay). And because she has no power her lack of power, or at least we're invited to consider this, allows her to behave in abusive ways. (It has been argued that sexism/racism is a form of "child abuse" -- that when children grow up hearing negative things or experiencing negative things about their race/gender -- they believe it -- and we all are aware that victims become victimizers -- not a justification, just a psychological observation.)

But it's not just Indu who has no power -- Dipti doesn't either -- we know she loves (or is in lust -- or loves to the best of your young ability) Arun (and Arun loves her to the best of his young ability). Dipti makes the choice not to marry Arun for her family's sake. "It's like selling yourself. It is selling yourself" (113).

And with that line we are invited to consider the health of India and the status of its women. What are we being invited to consider here? Quite a bit no doubt -- a no good husband/father who returns when he needs money and sex and Indu who obliges him perhaps out of a sense of duty, perhaps because she's human and horny; Dipti's mother, of a higher class, that is until her husband's business affairs cause corruption, must also suffer in the same way -- do things for the sake of the "marriage" that are derogatory to her ("At the same time, she blamed her mother for the way she submitted to this treatment, crouching under his furry like an animal unable to defend itself" (98); a son who wants to make the world better -- who wants to marry the girl he loves (against arranged marriages) but who is up against a society that is changing. The last line resonates loudly: "Giving himself over completely to make it up to all women for the shortcomings of all men" (114).

While melodramatic and probably semi-insincere, no doubt the line is the moment where Arun notes the fate and choices of the women in this culture. Further, with this statement, we are invited to consider that the "new" men represented by Arun will bring change -- again a male defining female roles. No doubt in "A New Delhi Romance" we see women from both ends of the social spectrum struggle to maintain their status -- and their status is not so great, so hence, if we accept Salbi's quote, then the state of India, at this moment, is not going so smoothly; the women are caught -- at least in this story -- and there is no "new" romance -- there is no romance at all - literally and figuratively.

This story is the saddest in the collection to date -- although, like the stories before it, the narrator's distance - - third person omniscient for the most part, only acts like a reporter -- the narrator is not involved within the emotional landscape of the story -- the facts, if you will, are what they are, and we, the reader, are left to do with them what we will. My thoughts, Valerie

Date: Sun, 06 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] "A New Delhi Romance": Jhabvala's cruelty/Excluding the "other" (and Austen brought back) Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

In response to Valerie,

Yes this is a third-person narrator and we find Jhabvala using free indirect speech to enter into the mindset and values of a particular character while remaining partly apart; she can move into and out of which character she pleases. We do see Dipti's parents from her point of view -- though it is apparently not one she has thought through: "Even in her own mind Dipti had veiled the scenes she had witnessed since her childhood ..."

I liked that the conclusion juxtaposed the final conversation and clash between Arun and Dipti and the yielding of Indu to Raju. Dipti does walk away from her abusive relationship and Indu doesn't. I was somewhat uncomfortable by the way Jhabvala had presented Dipti. It reminded me of the way Austen presents one of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice: Mary Bennet is savaged for her continual reading, her bookishness (of course I would notice this); she is mocked mercilessly for her stupidity over her books: she doesn't take anything from them;' she repeats cant; she is as narrow and bigoted as Mr Collins. Austen does show us and say that Mary is this way because she's what the world calls ugly, but nowhere except at the very end of the book (recalling Jhabvala's turn-round here) does she register sympathy and understanding for why Mary behaves the way she does. In a famous scene in P&P Mary is humiliating the whole family by playing the piano in front of a large group very badly and by keeping at it; Mr Bennet finally stops her by saying aloud in front of every: "That will do, child, you have pleased us long enough" (that's not his exact words, but it's close and I added the italics so the original intonation is in there). It's an excruciating moment and is seen from Mary's horrified scapegoating, but I've never been able to make up my mind whether Austen wants us to laugh with Mr Bennet mostly and enjoy his triumph.

Satire is a careless mode and things are pointed out swiftly for laughter, out of aggression on the part of the satirist, to release her antagonisms. Thus until the end of the story we get hardly any understanding -- and even then precious little -- why Dipti services this fatuous horror of a young man. She's a Barbie doll, deluded: we are to see Arun as such another as Raju. The story continually parallels them. Arun is growing up to be another self-indulgent appetitive person; whoever marries him will be his slave as Raju tried to make Indu. And still succeeds as what pleasure can she have (so he feels) except through his great penis and jokes. I brought up the New York Times article for there the reporter did bring in why young women submit themselves to this sort of pleasuring of men: mostly if you study the girls who do this they are craven for affection, acceptance, have been themselves undervalued and mocked. She is re-enacting her mother's subservience. What if she gets pregnant, Indu asks. He shrugs. What does he care? And the father: "Ah, don't spoil it for him?" Right. This small young man possesses this young woman and Indu knows -- Jhabvala expects us to know -- how much humiliation jerking someone off, and all the rest of it really contains. The smallness of pride is seen in Arun's triumphs as they once must've been seen in Raju's had Indu only been able to see it.

Dipti's selling herself at the end is just the same pattern endlessly repeating itself. What did Indu sell herself for? A silly idea of not valuing materialism and status which Raju's character has now taught her was stupid. Dipti sells herself for "love" every afternoon. Love? And now she will useleslly sell herself again. Really it's in character. If we had been told she dreamed of university, we would know she'd give it up. Her mother wouldn't defend her, and to her father she's another vagina to be sold. She has sold herself all along -- for what? She gives in; she doesn't get what she wants. We are given something to feel for her in that final line ("That's not what I want"), but not enough. What is emphasized in the scene as a whole is Arun's disdain for her as weak. No one knows this better than him. I go further and wonder what kind of intercourse they had. Why didn't she get pregnant?

I've been filling in far more than Jhabvala provides. We see Dipti mostly from Indu's exasperated point of view, but Indu is not strong. The narrator's point of view here is Jhabvala: and as Austen registers her scorn for people who read but cannot understand what they read and remain unenlightened and vain (Mary is given a pointed speech about vanity which boomerangs on her if she only knew it), so Jhabvala registers her scorn for weak young women. I imagine Jhabvala had plenty of self-esteem and wasn't susceptible to the kind of male bullying that succeeds when the girl is desperate for affection and status and some friend somewhere who just might be loyal to reciprocate. It's at such points in the text that I can understand why people who write about Jhabvala say she is not deeply sympathetic to women as a group, not feminist. I'd put it she is like so many women who come from the elite classes and herself was protected and thought well of and was in character strong incapable of really entering into such a character as the washrag young girl who is not valued by anyone. Why does Dipti give in to her parents? For the same reason she gave into Arun: she wants them to value her. What a fool; they will just use her as Arun knows he has. The insight into Dipti's delusions are seen, but not really pointed out sympathetically. Many a reader might walk away with the scorn for her people do for Mary Bennet. Indu herself does see that Dipti is parallel to her; that's why she is given the remark Dipti could get pregnant. But Indu is not allowed to see yet more deeply into why girls behave as Barbie Dolls serving men and turn around to serve the next powerful person in line.

Actually as I write this I see we are given more to feel for Dipti than I had thought. So thank you to Valerie for leading me to write this. That's what good about writing about what we read and going back to the text. Still I feel more might have been said on Dipti's behalf and had this been said Indu's misery been more clearly understand and exposed. There are not the nuances for sympathy for Dipti that there are for the women who yields in A Backward Glance. I found myself wondering if this was due to Dipti's giving in so solitarily and getting nothing from the world in status, losing status. Judy (in A Backward Glance) is married; Etta is a kept mistress and kept richly. Again I'm puzzled as to why Jhabvala seems to sympathize with wandering prostituted despised women as in this story we do see a valuing of status even including those the society admires no matter if they are not worth much for real.

I do agree that these stories are part of a conversation exposing what's happening to women in the non-western world in the past three decades. This is gone over quite thoroughly in the non-fiction and documentary mode in Nafisi's _Reading Lolita in Teheran_. Nafisi shows how women in the non-western world had been given the same status and rights in public as women in the west were and were increasingly getting rights and status in private; that's all gone in Iran: back to Sharia, back to being men's Lolitas.

I don't agree with the argument that people who don't "belong" to a group somehow oppress or have no right to write about that group. To me this is nationalism in its more dense and obtuse ways. When Styron wrote his masterpiece, Nat Turner, he was excoriated for showing the realities of the people who rebelled as well as their rebellion. What was wanted was more unreal sentiment in the manner of Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, more flattery. So they attacked him as not having the genes to look African. How dare he? Instead of seeing how he was endowing their cause with adult reality. There's a great essay by Baldwin talking about how the flattering representations of "the protest novel" do no good, just reinforce hatred and resentment: none of us have clean hands. There is a problem in the literary marketplace today, and many a non-western person sells his or her books pretending to be far more non-western than they are in origin in order to sell to reverse nationalisms. And then some of them write books which reinforce their's societies cruelties, justify them. At GMU they are hiring someone to be their new "Modern British" person: none of the three candidates have a name which is at all pronounceable. What matters is the name of the person, tokenism anyone? Actually deeper it's nationalism all over again, just another variety.

I've had this sort of thing -- we all do - happen to me. How dare you go into a church and admire the architecture (my sister-in-law who is a Vicar said to me sneeringly), after all aren't you an atheist? How dare you take my power from me? is what these complaints boil down to? How dare that guy write a book it was my "right" to write. How dare that black guy marry a white women, says some black women authors, and then the hatred is aimed at the white women. No one owns anyone much less based on a minority of our genes; cultural patterns only go so deep though we often experience them as the only reality in people's minds and hearts. Then every once in a while a "non-group" person writes a moving great book about the problems of a group, uses a pseudonym, and the book sells widely; the pseudonym doesn't hold and then everyone who hawked the book is mortified. It was a fake! No it wasn't.

Jhabvala is working to expose truth insofar as she sees it. Like her characters and like all of us, she can't get beyond herself all the time, but she does see that problem in herself and tries -- which I fear Nafisi for example didn't quite. I've tried this morning to show one area of Jhabvala's blindness and it's not there because of her genes, nor necessarily where she had her elite education. It's that elite status and her own strength that blinds her to Dipti -- though as Valerie pointed out we do have that last scene and occasional glimpses of Dipti's horror at the way her mother is treated -- though she's repeating it herself.

I hope others will join in. Valerie and I have jumped in each week one day ahead of time.

Cheers to all,

Date: Sun, 06 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] "A New Delhi Romance": Jhabvala's cruelty/Excluding the "other" (2)
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

I'll add again:

I should have made it clearer that Indu has herself her narrowness and blindnesses. Had someone else much better and decenter married her, would she have stayed with the idea that status doesn't count and it's wonderful to rebel against it? Nowhere in the story does Indu register an awareness beyond the situation she's in. She buys into the values of materialism and status in reaction to the exploitation of her and the smallness of the character of the man she married: his son is such another as he. Again like Dipti she doesn't look beyond; she can't.

In "Independence" and here again we have a third-person narrator because the central figure can't carry the pattern apparently disinterestedly and coolly enough -- in the way the unreliable narrator of "Expiation" seems to at first.


Date: Sun, 6 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] "A New Delhi Romance": Jhabvala's cruelty/Excluding the "other"
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

Good Morning and hope that this morning finds all in good health & spirits:

Thank you Ellen for your enlightening readings -- and they are, as always, useful. To continue the discourse -- or my two cents, whichever you prefer: some thoughts:

Ellen Moody wrote:

"Even in her own mind Dipti had veiled the scenes she had witnessed since her childhood ..."

This seems to me to be an important moment in the text. And as Ellen points out, there is an admonition that the story wants to point out: history will repeat itself. It has with respect to women and culture and the subjection/subordination of women. I agree with Ellen that women who find themselves in the position of Dipti usually do so for complex psychological reasons. Let me add to this: I think culture reinforces this subjection/subordination role. Here's my theory for what it is worth: As humans, we need (Maslov's hierarchy of needs) attention, affection, love, nurturing and the ability to mate as well as the ability to have sex. This is the body animal.

Okay, so we have these natural instincts. We live in a culture where we are bombarded with photos of scantily clad women; we have preteens (as someone pointed out a few weeks ago) buying sexy apparel because they want to be liked/loved and who do they see getting this affection? Women/teens in sexy apparel. It makes sense that girls/women do this -- often without thinking (because the desires on on a primitive level) because the body animal needs to be loved and if the only way to get love is to don certain apparel and act in certain ways -- what choices does one have?

Couple this reality with the fact that many of us, like Dipti, see our mothers in unhealthy relationships at worse or at times allowing themselves to be subjected to their partners for whatever reasons (often to keep peace and/or the family intact -- we all know what happens when women leave with young children-- economic consequences.) So, even if a mother eventually leaves an unhealthy situation, a female child (and a male chld has witnessed this so he thinks he can get away with unhealthy behavior) is likely to have witnessed her mother succumbing to some subjection prior to the moment when the mother leaves. And we learn through watching behavior -- it is one of the strongest learning methods -- among others, of course.

While I see Ellen's argument about "A New Delhi Romance" as satire -- and I hadn't thought about the story that way, but yes, I can see how it might be read that way, I didn't read it that way -- the story is too tragic to be satire, in my opinion, although Ellen's definition certainly applies to the story. I see the story almost as a Shakespearean tragedy -- although we could argue that his tragedies where satirical in some way. Nevertheless, because I am not trained in literature before the mid 1900's -- I cannot help but to read the text through that lens -- correctly or incorrectly, and this story seems to be a social comment about caste, society, and the subjection of women. I agree with Ellen -- this story is about materialism as well as the repetition of the vicious cycle of materialism as well as the subjection of women. And the satire element certainly adds a level of intrigue for me.

Finally, in response to Ellen's statement: "I don't agree with the argument that people who don't "belong" to a group somehow oppress..."

I agree. But nevertheless, it is an intriguing argument about appropriation and the text and how language creates culture, perception, etc. In some ways, Jhabvala's use of the third person is almost, at least to me, some careful acknowledgment of appropriation -- although I can't assume to know her intent and further, the third person POV has other uses in the story -- it is the narrator reporting what he/she (it's a genderless narrator but nevertheless a character - albeit a reporter character) sees. And it is interesting to note, that most of the narrators we have read to date in these stories have a strong "authorial" feel to them -- authorial in all levels of the word. So, appropriation or authority becomes interesting within the context of the narration of the stories.

One final thought, in some ways, in "A New Delhi Romance" the older generation of females subjecting the younger female generation -- and the subjection of women by women is something that needs to be talked about more, or at least in my opinion.

Again, some insightful readings, Ellen -- thank you, and I'm looking forward to reading how others have read the text -- always insightful, provocative, and useful.


Date: Sun, 06 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] Naomi Wolff's Promiscuities

IN response to Valerie,

I wanted to quote the scene from Naomi Wolff's Promiscuities where she tells of how she got down on her knees and sucked a guy's penis in front of a crowd of teeneages in a basement of one of their parents. (The parents were at work). This was liberation she was told. At that moment she knew it wasn't.

Alas she doesn't go into the complex psychology either. Jhabvala riled me a bit: she seemed to me to reveal how she never had any problem with self-esteem, much less female-self-esteem. I remembered George Eliot's scathing use of the phrase "woman's pride" with respect to another female character who gives in.

But aargh! I couldn't find my book. Books do not behave in our house. Whence another kind of rant:

About a week ago Jim and I discovered a book that had snuck in to our library. Not only that it alphabetized itself. The title is Perdido Street Station and the author China Mieville. Mieville's photo on the back presents him as a coarse teen-thug. Not a book either of us would buy. We asked Isabel if it was assigned by her fashionable English professor at Sweet Briar. No. (I believe his egoistic approach to teaching her literature put her off majoring in English -- as Pangloss says, "C'est tout pour le meilleur ... " but maybe not). We wondered if it was Laura's: but it's very long and would probably not have reached her radar as it's actually elite niche (radical chic) stuff, though to be fair on Wednesday she chose a great movie for her and I which I hadn't heard of Leon. I recommend it and hope to write about it later tonight.

Well we can't figure out how this flashy looking vulgar book got there.

And today Naomi Wolff's Promiscuities has gone missing. I had two copies. I was so charged by the candor and revelation of what women's liberation actually was to experience sexually -- sucking a young man's penis in front of a group of young people all laying about in a basement when the parents are gone to work -- that I gave Laura a copy. I wanted her to read it. To understand here was the embodiment of what Dworkin meant. I fear she left it alone in New York City (with Wally who will not keep it company). In effect homeless.

I don't think it will make its way here. But then what happened ot the second copy? Where did it go?

Jim thinks it's in one of the many piles and baskets of books which litter my workroom floor and are also on tables in the front room. But no. It's not in the attic either.

This is the real problem with books. They won't stay put. They misbehave.


Date: Sun, 06 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] Dipti: she dips
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

Valerie's point about language is well-taken. Language limits and shapes what we can say: it makes worlds. Thus Achebe finds himself stifled to write in English. The realities of power and money lead writers outside the European marketplace to write in English originally, not just translate their works afterwards. The Pacific Rim prize which tries to compete with Booker often ends up with quite similar books: in its rules it suggests the writer write his or her works in English originally.

Mahfouz, the Egyptian writer who won the Nobel, wrote a powerful insight essay on this for the _New Yorker_ shortly after he won his prize and was accused by people who lived in the same country as he as selling them out. The motives for such accusations are central to them. But he ignored this (tactically) and talked about the problems of translators and translations in our culture too, their invisibility -- which of course interested me.

All this to say that while Penny will probably tell us Dipti is a common name in India, like Pushpa it has allegorical vibes in English. She dips for men. Dips down. Drinks it (the sperm as it comes out). Pushy and Dippy.

I did think of a line that often shocks Janeites who turn Austen into cloudcukooland. She congratulates Mrs Musgrove on the death of her useless, and preying- upon-everyone else son Dick as a way of pointing out satirically that Mrs Musgrove's absurd unreal grief is unreal and how deeply we are hypocrites before ourselves. Her view of Dick is Jhabvala's view of Adun. And for those who've read MP, Raju is another Henry Crawford many years later -- except Crawford would've had the brains to take care of his property.


Date: Sun, 6 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] Dipti and Indu Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

On Sunday, February 6, 2005, at 07:37 AM, Ellen Moody wrote:

All this to say that while Penny will probably tell us Dipti is a common name in India, like Pushpa it has allegorical vibes in English.

I don't know how common it is (it's the weekend, I can ask my co-op friends tomorrow), but Dipti (like many Indian names) means "brightness," and specifically it can refer to the flame from a small ceremonial lantern. So, in addition to the English vibes Jhabvala may have intended (as with Pushpa), this name may carry additional Hindi vibes about a flame burning bright and fast, as Dipti is such a flame for Arun.

BTW, Indu means "moon"--it's the short version of longer names (Indukala, Indulekha, Indumati) that mean moonlight, fullmoon, etc., so it might be read as a truncated name--a name, like the character, that has lost something. It's also a cold, white light, to meet Dipti as a hot flame, reading in the metaphors of their names.

There's something in their relationship as older woman/younger woman that seems to reflect what I've seen of Indian mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships in general--much more frankly adversarial and territorial than we generally expect in the West. So beyond the generational older woman vs. younger woman dynamic Valerie identifies, I see also a more specific in-law tension between them, even without Arun ever marrying Dipti--they still share him, share living space, and share meals.


Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] Intrasex antagonism among women
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

In The Bookseller of Kabul Anne Seierstad makes explicit the theme of women preying on other women (adversarial, territorial), and especially the older woman or "first" wife on the later ones and younger women, daughters, and daughters-in-law. Seierstad puts this down to having an all-powerful male. Everyone is vying for his attention; everyone wants to curry favor, to be seen to be serving him. In Jhabvala's Heat and Dust the mother-in-law of the nameless narrator's landlord lords it over her daughter by serving the son hand-and-foot. In western culture where there is no such central power figure, human relationships around him do not become so twisted. I found in The Bookseller of Kabul the story of the daughter peculiarly painful and think I was expected to. The girl was deprived of any way to develop her real talents. All she was allowed to do was clean up garbage. She was kept in the back of the house, no one to talk to, and sneered at meanly by the oldest brother who himself was enraged by his father's exploitation of him. The father would not let him go to university because it suited the father to have the son keep the shop while the father travelled.

Thus (as can be seen) Seierstad makes a corresponding comment about the sons of such a man with respect to him and the older brother. Everyone preying on everyone else. Everyone getting back. It reminds me of how primogeniture operated in Europe before the French revolution and in England until the later 19th century. The theme of the younger son is found in many novels.

Another of her insights is how the economic and social structuring of these family-networked societies works to prohibit and thrown scorn upon open acts of kindness. But you can see the same kinds of violations and perversions in the novels of the 17th through 19th century where families are the central networking mechanism for material and prestige aggrandizement. I remember how in Austen's unfinished fragment, The Watsons, the four sisters prey on one another, are desperately betraying one another -- they must marry and they have so little material things to offer. That's another reason for the antagonistic relationships of women which is still with us but is as much outside families and more among cohorts, though one of the "great" themes of literature is the mother and daughter's struggle over the same man. And I've actually seen that in real life more than once: the man goes at first for the older woman, then he comes into the house, sees the daughter and has little trouble switching. He's such a prize or so needed.


Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2005
Subject: Re: [Womenwriters] Intrasex antagonism among women Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

This kind of antagonism seems to be particularly fostered by the Indian system of marriage whereby a bride becomes an often very subordinate member of the husband's parent's household and may be seen by the mother-in-law in particular as an interloper in her hearth and home and rival in the son's affections.

In a conversation with my Italian teacher a while back, she happened to mention that this kind of scenario is quite common in some parts of Italy, too, where a lack of affordable accommodation often makes it necessary for a young married couple to move in with the parents with similar accompanying tensions.

Having a one-track mind, when I saw your header I thought at first you were going to mention the intrasex antagonism between Sabine and Maud in the Brittany sections of Possession that we have just been talking about. Though postively disposed towards Maud at first, Sabine grows more and more hostile to her, partly because of Maud's own rebarbative attitude to her overtures and seemingly incomprehensible behaviour, but mainly because she comes to believe Maud is an interloper and rival for the affections of her beloved father (The general theme of trespass and intrusion is a very strong motif in 'Possession, by the way).

This is of course another common literary scenario in which it's the children who react with hostility to what they perceive as displacement.

Has Jhabvala been accused of misogyny in her often very negative portrayals of women and their inter-relationships? I've seen that Byatt has, for example.


Sorry, did an idiotic thing (not the first), kept saying Maud and Sabine and it should have been Christabel and Sabine, of course. All that doubling no doubt having its effect...


Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2005
Subject: Re: [Womenwriters] Intrasex antagonism among women
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

I'd agree The Bookseller of Kabul is an excellent book. The author has come in for some heavy criticism for "betraying" the family, which is an interesting label. Had she identified herself as an "undercover investigative journalist", as a man might have been more likely to do, then no one would be complaining.

And what she does is exposes the myth of the gentle, nurturing extended family - for which Germaine Greer, among many others - fell for. It is almost unbearable to think how many women - in the Middle East, on the Sub-continent, in southern Europe and (happily with decreasing frequency) in China and South-east Asia, are made near-slaves by the structure.

It has been read chiefly as a criticism of Islam, but I think it should be taken much more broadly.


Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] Jhabvala and space
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

I've been thinking as I read these stories (I'm half-way through the New York section) that it's no accident Jhabvala's husband is an architect--or rather, that it's no accident that she shows a continuing awareness of built spaces, how rooms work to shape human interaction, how location within a town signifies so much more than the practical concerns of distance; and mostly, how the (perceived) necessity of sharing space with people, whether we've chosen them or not, inevitably leads to conflict.

It's apparent from the first story: the room that Bablu and his friend share is explained in detail, the way the narrator and his siblings are split about whether to leave behind the old neighborhood. This week's stories, again, find territoriality within the home--when Indu finds the flower from Dipti's hair on her pillow, it brings down a cascade of thoughts, some of them nostalgic (the scent of the flower contributes here, as scent often does), some of them far from that. "Husband and Son" also involves domestic spatial arrangements--the husband lives on the roof, the wife indoors with her friend; that her window or balcony looks into the building where the dancing school is held becomes a key fact.

The New York stories bring these interiors out more--and also the mother-daughter antagonism we've already identified (very strong so far, in the first few stories there). If folks haven't looked in the table of contents at the titles recently, I'll just note that one of the stories in the second half is named "Parasites." In an Andrea Barrett book, I'd expect some entomological exploration from a story with that title; from Jhabvala, I'd instead expect something more about living space and how we share it.



February 8, 2005

Re: Intrasex Antagonism Among Women/Lack of Space&Decent housing

First yes, Jhabvala has been accused not so much of misogyny but of not being feminist, of lacking real sympathy for women's causes. Sucher writes that her screenplays pander, e.g., the film adaptation of A Room with a View, includes a cast of "slightly chubby, rather silly heroines ... opposite lean and twinkling heroes." Sucher points out that Jhabvala herself chose to adapt James's Bostonians which is misogynist when it comes to female sexuality that is lesbian and emancipated women. Gooneratne attempts to defend Jhabvala from the charge she's conservative by showing that Jhabvala does not erase the gender source of women's miseries: it's that one is a woman that cause the powerlessness or seeking revenge on other women once you get into power. I think this is right: the intrasex antagonism in Jhabvala is put down to women's own personal histories twisting, thwarting, perverting their healthier kinder impulses, histories they had because they were women. But Gooneratne is defending Jhabvala here because Jhabvala does need some defense.

I agree strongly with Natalie that the criticisms of Seierstad are obfuscating and if followed would prevent people from bringing out into the open what had been hidden for centuries. It's precisely this attitude which prevented women from telling how their husband beat them in the 19th century. You are betraying your family. More: the argument assumes the family is the male. The one betrayed is this allpowerful male. Are not the women in "his" family equally the family? She's trying to bring their stories before us and some of them wante this (particularly the genuinely oppressed young women), need it. Those talking about it seem to think the women don't count, the home is not the women's home too.

I also agree the book is about far more than Islam. I feel it was Seierstad's language which led me to think about the patterns of behavior in Europe when primogeniture reigned. She talks of how patterns of custom and habit can work to inhibit kindness, tact, decency, courtesy and encourage jeering and triumph and violence.

If GMU ever gave me a course I get every once in a while, 302SS: Advanced Comp in the Social Sciences, I'd do Nafisi with Seierstad.

An important theme in Jhabvala is the lack of decent affordable housing for most Indians. In her "Myself in India" she dwells on how several families must live together in tiny spaces. There is no government program to build houses; rents are fantastically high. This comes out strongly in the two novels, Heat and Dust and A Backward Place. The close promixity prevents loneliness of the kind the heroine Judy suffered when she lived in class-bound England, with its nuclear family arrangements, but it allows people to take advantage of one another so the indulged male (Bal) and his family will will live off another sibling and his family (Bal's wife and brother work to provide the money for the family's rent and food). We see how people curry favor and become instruments of other people in order to find a bit of clean space to sleep and live during the day.

Germaine Greer can be extraordinarily insightful and she has strong common sense, but every once in a while she goes over the top. Her book on non-western women reminded me of Mary Wortley Montagu's naive celebrations of harem life. Sometimes a woman writer will exhibit a strong tendency to want to idealize women's communities.


Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] Jhabvala: 'Husband and Son'
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

Hi everyone,

I'm a bit behind with Jhabvala, but have just read the second of last week's stories, 'Husband and Son', which is one of my favourites so far.

I tried to see if there was any critical discussion of this story on the web but didn't come up with much - however I did find a fairly brief mention by Samrat Upadhyay in an article from SINHA (Studies in Nepalese History and Society). This is a piece about a special issue of The New Yorker, devoted to Indian fiction in English, where this story first appeared:


Upadhyay writes:

Of the several pieces of fiction published in the magazine, the most impressive one is by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who shows that she still remains a master of the short story form. The story she tells in "Husband and Son" is of an aging married woman who befriends a young male dancer as her husband increasingly turns ascetic. The woman, through the young dancer, is transported back to the old days of her own romance with her then-young husband. Although the dancer ostensibly treats the woman like his mother, there are strong sexual overtones throughout their association. When finally the dancer leaves the area after a scandal with a tutoree, the woman realizes that the real target of her desire is her husband and not anyone else. "Husband and Son" is a beautiful story about misplaced desires and our perennial search for love.

I also felt that Vijay is being reminded of her own past and the lost relationship with her husband through her sort-of romance with the son figure, Ram. Something that struck me about this story is the way in which the title is entirely focused on the men, 'Husband and Son' - yet the lonely woman at the centre ot the tale, Vijay doesn't really have a husband or a son in the sense she longs for. The real son has no time for her except to check through the account books and lecture her on her spending, and the husband has withdrawn into his ascetic existence on the roof. It's also plain enough that both Anand and Ram are really after money - Anand wants it there in the bank, while Ram wants it as jewellery and trinkets.

Ram, the temporary son, only really shows her how much she has lost - although they are powerfully drawn together, they are always the old woman and the much younger man. Ellen quoted a couple of Larkin poems - this story also reminded me of another one, 'That Was a Pretty One':

Truly, though our element is time,
We are not suited to the long perspectives
Open at each instant of our lives.
They link us to our losses: worse,
They show us what we have as it once was,
Blindingly undiminished, just as though
By acting differently we could have kept it so.

It seemed to me as if that is what the young man does to Vijay - he shows her what she has, the weary relationship with that old man on the roof, as it once was. At the end she does turn back to her husband and they are still tender towards each other, as Upadhyay suggests in the reading I quoted above, but I think there is no feeling that they can really rebuild any kind of life together - too much time has passed and they have grown too far apart. They also never really understood each other - there is that jokey comment he made early on about women having only to bother about what to wear, where to go and what to do, which for Vijay becomes all too real and painful. All there is for her is to pour herself into a relationship with a man. As with Farid and Farida, the love between them is still there at bottom, but love isn't enough. I don't feel that Jhabvala casts blame either way in this story - this is just how it is between Vijay and Prakash.

Something I'm left wondering about from this story is just what happened to Prakash to turn him into this lonely figure, the old man. There are suggestions that he was once full of fire and then suffered - he was one of the leaders of opposition to British rule and then he was in prison. Jhabvala just hints at his past without filling it in, and leaves me wondering.

Just a few early-morning thoughts on this story.


Re: Jhabvala, "Husband and Son"

This is to thank Judy for her comments and for pointing out the paragraph on the story as it appeared in the New Yorker. I have a book of Larkin's poems, but it does not include the one Judy quoted.

I went back to see what had been said. I noted that Valerie and I both went into detail, but both concentrated on "A New Delhi Romance." I did mention "Husband and Son" but only to say that I felt I was supposed to feel for Vijay but couldn't. Under the impetus of Judy's reading the story as filled with compassion, I reread it. I can see it's filled with pity for the old man who loathed the corruption and worldliness, the fatuity of the way he was treated by the powerful and hangers-on. I'm still struck by Vijay's disgust: the free indirect speech of the third person narrator makes us see the old man from Vijay's eyes and the text is filled with lines like "his toothless smile that was so painful to her that she turned her eyes away." In his aging she sees him as obscene; the closing scene has vibes like this.

I'm leading up to the feeling I had and still have that Vijay is as vile as her cold worldly biological son only in a different way. The life she had with the older husband was for her based on the same values the people he rejected had. When she laughed she never thought about what he was laughing at -- nor his bitterness. She has no idea what he is retreating to. It's true she has been made to give up her position in the world because of him, that she is powerless (but for the son he would have gotten rid of their property and they would have been homeless, dependent on this son) and therefore pathetic, but she seems to be as appetitive and hollow as Sumitra. My demonstration for Jhabvala wanting us to see this is not just her attitude towards the husband and incomprehension of him, but how she treats Ram when she discovers he was telling lies. First, she should have know he was lying. I think we are supposed to see this (and thus that she is without perception once again), but even if we are not, she throws a cruel fit. That screaming fit is of a piece with how she has used him: as a sexual substitute, a pet. Instead of seeing that he was reaching out for something as she had (she wanted sex from him as a substitute for love or some contact as he has been led to), she abhors him. All she wants is for life to be a treat. The word "treat" echoes throughout the story.

I also suggest she is some of a caricature. It's improbable that a presence should be so without insight. Jhabvala has done that in order to withhold the definite information that Ram is guilty. But she wants the woman to be read as a naif imitating the strange perversions of social obligations and puzzled by the perversions people act out in response to these obligations. For example she just registers that the school now takes wealthy girls where once it took on illegitimate girls. I thought that a brilliant touch: it reminded me of our discussion of cosmetics. At the opening of the 20th century only unchaste women wore cosmetics, now all women do, and rich ones very sophisticated makeup.

We endow Ram and Anand with more depth but in fact we don't see them from within at all. We are clearly to dislike Arnand -- though but for him (an irony) she'd be in the street. So his way -- like Mr Collins in P&P is vindicated by what's called common sense in the society she must live in.

Yes there is a larger criticism of Indian society or society in general which deprives the woman of any understanding or never offers her any means of getting it -- though she is improbably imperceptive. This society is one which instead of creating a new Indian culture is anxious to imitate the English, and just takes on different snobberies. In that sense we are clearly to pity her: her life has been a blank waste except as a child eating sugar candies when they were being given out and giggling at the man who mocked its rituals and nonsense.

I thank Judy for writing because she has helped me to clarify or say to myself what is puzzling here. There is compassion and much pity for all the characters, but there is equally a very strong distaste for all of them. Both of us thought of or picked out Larkin poems, the same vision, but with a different emphasis in the perception. I think there is a norm being tacitly applied throughout and the real shaming that's going on and is directed at Vijay, the "old man," Ram and Arand is reinforced by the heavy penalty all are paying but Arand.

Effective morality depends on social exclusions -- whether you agree with the values the morality is enacting or not. We see Vijay and her husband excluded -- because he wants to be. We also see her reinforce exclusion cruelly on the (admittedly fatuous selfish indulgent drone type of a male, typical of Jhabvala) frightened and probably lost and homeless teacher.

I find a cold clinical identication of amorality going on throughout the story which is at odds with the apparent pity. Now I like that cold clinical identification and am tempted to see the pity as a mask in the same way I saw Nabokov using irony as a mask for him to release his sexual appetites. But I don't think so really. I think the story is at heart sincere -- so to speak -- not performative.

Jhabvala is angry yet feels very sorry for the deluded child-woman. I can't. I can feel for Indu because she has an understanding of what's happening and the story as presented can be seen as an attempt to raise standards. She's inviting us to wallow in "Husband and Son". There's something nasty in that honey. Rather like what Aunt Aida is said to have glimpsed in Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm.

I guess I'm saying that I think Judy is making the story to be pleasanter, nicer, kinder, easier than it is. At the same time I admit I know I'm probably supposed to pity Vijay more than I can. I realize I'm probably supposed to like her on some level. But she still wants sashay around in the admiration of those who rejected Ram. She threw him out screaming screaming screaming.

Or so I am thinking tonight. I do find the title intriguing: it's a reverse of many a 19th century tale where we have titles like "Wives and Daughters." Poor Vijay. Never had a chance because she was not given a husband she could understand and grow up a little with and now she has this heartless son and threw out her toy.

I do agree that Prakesh is a figure of real pathos. But we are not allowed to get near him. Jhabvala seems not to believe in the effectiveness of any public politics to do good (at least in these stories): maybe that's why she tells us so little.


Re: Jhabvala, "Husband and Son": Time

Another thought: is the theme of the story time's passing? If we look at the verbal space and details, it seems that most of the story focuses on Ram and Vijay and the present and Ram's troubles provide the climax and denouement.

Not that time passing is not there, but that it's more marginalized and a function of the comparison between what Vijay remembers of her happiness and what is now.

All the stories are complex pieces of art and it's hard to isolate these things. The story is suffused with a deep feeling of loss, snatching at things and then helplessness.


Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] Jhabvala, "Husband and Son"
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

Many thanks to Ellen for the detailed response to my posting on 'Husband and Son' and the further thoughts on this story. Ellen may well be right that I am making the story somehow nicer/easier than it is - I am aware there is a lot more there than I have managed to focus on, and will think further on the many points Ellen brought out, in particular about the satirical edge and the coldness of the narrator's voice. Still I do feel there is an undertow of melancholy and feeling of loss and loneliness running through the story.

I've read the story again today, and it seems to me that there are many references to time passing, and contrasts between how the couple's life is now, and how it was in the past.

One sentence which struck me was:

"To her regret, he never again wore the suits he had brought form England, but she kept them hanging in her wardrobe - they were still hanging there, and she touched them sometimes, stroking the sleeves of tweed and wool and sniffing at them for the last aroma of the English cigarettes he had chain-smoked."

This reminds me of scenes I have seen in films where a bereaved husband or wife clings to clothing of the dead loved one. Although here the husband is still alive, Vijay has still lost him in some way. I'm not sure quite what she is regretting here - partly perhaps the wealthy past and the relics of empire, but also there is the feeling of longing for physical closeness. Her husband doesn't want to touch her now, so she clings to his jacket.

Later, when Ram fondles her feet, she is reminded of how her husband used to do this. The memories keep on being woven into the present- day narrative.

I don't feel she is disgusted by Prakesh as much as sad for him - a line like "as threadbare with age as he was" suggests how thin and frail he seems to her. There is also the comment "... she understood him less and less but accepted him wholly in all his eccentricity."

I wouldn't defend Vijay's treatment of Ram, the way she turns away from him when she learns that he has slept with a woman, and lets her sexual jealousy lead her to abandon him. I think she does realise what she has done and does feel regret - but, of course, that is too late to help Ram.

All the best,

Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] Jhabvala, "Husband and Son"
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

On Monday, February 14, 2005, at 02:44 PM, judegeuk wrote:

I don't feel she is disgusted by Prakesh as much as sad for him - a line like "as threadbare with age as he was" suggests how thin and frail he seems to her. There is also the comment "... she understood him less and less but accepted him wholly in all his eccentricity."

I like this reading, Judy. I found the story melancholy, too. The passages you quote above suggest that it's too late for anything much to change between them--that not only does Prakesh *refuse* to relate to Vijay physically, he's probably no longer *able* to do so, frail (and perhaps mad) as he is. The clothes are the closest she can get--or maybe they're showing their age too, like Prakesh, wasting away in a closet, threadbare, maybe moth eaten, a shadow their former beauty. She must stay distant, perhaps both from a sensory revulsion AND from a genuine concern for his well-being--she wouldn't risk hurting him with an embrace, or alarming him with a close approach.

The dancing school here is echoed by mentions of traditional dance in one or two other stories in the first half--the revival of folk arts, classical poetry and dance-drama was hailed as a return to Indian arts in the wake of Independence--such schools sprung up as parents hoped their daughters would be the first of a new generation to embrace the beautiful elements of their own classical arts, without comparing them to colonial English imports. Like most ideals associated with the first flourishing of Independence, it didn't quite work out that way--and the school Vijay can see from her window (deck?) is more of the disappointing reality we've seen throughout the first half's stories.

Penny R

Subject: [Womenwriters] Jhabvala, "Husband and Son"
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

I found the poem Judy cited. I was confused over the title. "That was a pretty one" is the first half of the first line; the title is "Reference Back."

I did say when looking for some emphases on time passing I found "an intense sense of loss, snatching at things, and helplessness." Not of time passing itself (Vijah has no long perspective in her mind) so much as contrast between fragments remembered and the present. And the emphasis in the story line is on the present and Ram. That's where the action of the story lies.

On the passage Judy quotes, to me it's hilarious: note what Vijah is "stroking;:

"the sleeves of tweed and wool and sniffing at them for the last aroma of the English cigarettes he had chain-smoked."

I laughed in a kind of grimace.

Look at the actual words. What she misses is these English objects which have status in her eyes -- and those of the people she and her husband when young couldn't stand: "Her eyes blazed when he spoke of the necessity of throwing out the English ... all of whom, far from throwing out the English, only wanted to be like them and to be allowed to join their clubs."

She's absurd. She mourning over the filthy smells of cigarettes which the man chain-smoked. Think of the image, the smell, the rotting coat. Reductio absurdum. Jhabvala is sending up the English empire slyly.

Judy quotes a sad line about the husband but the one I quoted showed disgust. The old man at the end is shown as obscene: the language reminded me of Chaucer's description of old January leering over May (in one of his tales). There's even a ditty January sings.

Probably the crux of the interpretation depends on how we are to take this heroine. She lives at a distance from "the old man" (which is what she calls him) now. She remembers times of intense satisfaction, animal satisfaction and regrets intensely the loss of physical things with him: that's why the massaging of her feet is stressed. It seems he was in charge of her totally: when he goes ascetic, there's no sex anymore though "there had been several years before her menopause, and those had been difficult years for her." I just don't see any intense emotion in her towards anyone but herself. She resembles Indu in having given up high prestige and material things for a man -- in her case an idealistic one -- and now she regrets this intensely.

With Ram she has a sexual toy she can indulge her appetites over without endangering herself. She uses him; she doesn't see him clearly ever and then like the rest of the world ejects him. I see no regret in the final paragraphs when he calls him "Liar! Liar!" She didn't look at him as her son and she never wanted him to look at her like a mother. We are given not one thought in that last paragraph (p 131 of my edition) to suggest she feels any remorse or regret over him. He leaves with a red mark on his cheek. In this pair I see a replay of Mrs Stone and her young prostitute male -- who by-the-bye she throws out at the end too, only she really grieves though not for him. At the close of the story I see the first real relenting of Vijah towards her husband. She shows some affection, but it's because she's worried about what will happen to "me."

Over a half century ago, Wayne Booth wrote a book as classic as any of Leavis's: The Rhetoric of Fiction where he formulated the the phrase "unreliable narrator" in the way we used it today and argued that there was a real problem in the use being made of the figure and stance: one of understanding what the stance of the author is. He formulates a number of "signals" and devices whereby the reader can tell what the author wants us to feel (generally of course), but says this are easily misunderstood or not paid attention. He was right even if nowadays his assumptions about certainty and moral judgement are no longer our own (as he was a universalist of the I. A. Richards-Leavis close reading school). I'd say right this is one of those narratives in the book where the signals are not clear or mixed and muddled. I'd put this down to ambivalence in Jhabvala about the woman: she feels sorry for her though she uses her satirically.

One way I have been reading these stories which does seem to me to offer objective or signals of a sort is to look for the traditional romance archetypes Jhabvala uses. She has many of them. She's an astute manipulator of romance novels and knows what's she doing with these types. This goes back to my own theory of romance. For example, I'd say that the vulgar philistine woman who grates on the heroines nerves, is coarse, embarrassing, misses out important intangible things in life, is unself-consciously leeringly selfish is a common type going way back. The most famous of the earlier version is Mrs Elton in Emma. Since Fran has brought this romance up, I'd say we find this type again in Leonora Stern in Possession, and the relationship of Maud to Leonora parallels that of Susie to her vulgar Mother Bea (Golden Oldie, just as made-up and bejewelled and overdressed): both heroines are withdrawn, mortified by the woman, but also overpowered, and recognize -- ironically -- that she thrives in the world because she is so thick-skinned and obtuse, aggressive, and obstinate. Thus I read "A Summer by the Sea" as a play on this pair and that provides some grounds for interpretation. Susie is such another as Maud Bailey: we are to sympathize with both: their alienation and dependencies are justifiable, understandable. Whether one is better off with a Wolf (remember the man Maud has as the story opens) or a Boy is a matter of taste. In fact by the end of Possession Maud has opted for a Boy in the person of Roland Michell -- who was played by someone who plays the sensitive brother-hero in films.

In this story, "Husband and Son," we have a naif at the center. Vijah is very dumb -- improbably so. She's mindless, something of a caricature, but it's done subtly, slight enough so that the sleight of hand makes us endow into the tale sufficiently. (What Austen tried to do with Catherine Morland but felt she had not quite pulled off at the opening of the novel.) D. W. Harding has an essay on fully realized, rounded, two-dimensional and flat characters in Austen and other novels. Vijah belongs more to the two-dimensional type -- as does her "old man." Jhabvala has a fine gift for the precise detail for shadings of character played out on small stages, which we latch onto. These details are suggestive of humanity. Nonetheless they are often very funny as part of the tapestry of themes, and I'd say Vijah would not be out of place in a Thackeray caricature.

A second way is to return to the what the novelist herself says of her art outside it. Outside her art Jhabvala does not talk in reverential or sympathetic ways at all of the traditional arts of India or the new wealth and sophistication. She has no equivalent of Vijah (she can't), but she does of Sumitra and she says that when she encounters such people she is driven to want to talk to them in ways that fill the with "horror." They "set her teeth on edge." She shows sympathy for people genuinely engaged in trying to improve actual conditions of life for people in India and says these plus the people who can simply accept what's around them without getting coopted are acceptable to her. Only she can't pull that off. She can't accept what she sees. She says she turns away, shuts her blinds, turns on the air conditioner and writes.

Not only have feminist critics attacked her, she has been subject to a number of vitriolic pieces by Indian writers. For my part I like her lack of sentiment towards all. In Heat and Dust she has Indians selling their rich objects as quick as they can to equally mercenary English art dealers who would take fakes just as quickly -- as long as they can sell them.

So that's how I resolve or try to get beyond the use of an unreliable narrator.

Imagine this story told by the husband. After all it's Vijah who sees him as an imbecile. Imagine if we could have our author take us back in time in his memory to how he saw her when he retreated from the power corrupt types. Imagine it told by Ram.

Don't imagine it told by Arand :) If Jhabvala could get herself to enact this point of view, you'd probably end up with an ironic Ayn Rand tale.

I do think that Larkin is an apt poet to bring to bear on Jhabvala's fiction. I find myself remembering Graham Greene in his later political fictions.

Of course one must rely finally on one's own ear for tone and read out of one's character. We will all do differently there, but I have presented what I hope is a reasoned group of grounds for interpretations from the point of view of archetypes in the genre and Jhabvala's own vision as described by her to support my view -- which is that this story is a chilling unresolved piece.

Cheers to all,

Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2005
Subject: [Womenwriters] Jhabvala: "Husband and Son": Some grounds of interpretation: Larkin's "Reference Back"
Reply-To: WomenwritersThroughTheAges@yahoogroups.com

Hello Ellen and all,

Ellen Moody wrote:

First I did find the poem you cited. I was confused over the title. "That was a pretty one" is the first half of the first line; the title is "Reference Back."

Sorry about that - I was basically quoting from memory, though I did manage to find the passage on the web to check the wording, and I gave what I thought was the title.

Many thanks for your further thoughts on the story and the interpretations, and the reliability/unreliability of the narrator. I like the contrast you draw between Vijay's thoughts when she strokes the jacket and Prakesh's own comments on what he feels about the English and Indians trying to be English - I did feel there was satire of the Empire here, but couldn't quite work out how. The contrasting between the two passages draws this out.

I do still feel there is a suggestion that she regrets her dismissal of Ram -

"During the following days, there were times when she wanted to call him back. She had no idea where he had gone, and when she went to the school to find out, it was as if he had never been. A new teacher was taking his class, an ugly squat pockmarked man whom the girls teased till he lose his temper with them. Ankle-bells still tinkled, drums and lyres played, but now all this was unbearable to her."

Thank you also to Penny for the thoughts on the dancing school in this story.

All the best,

Jhabvala: "Husband and Son"

In response to Judy,

It was my fault not finding the poem. I was writing very late at night and somehow failed to register the first line in a first line index I looked at. I do like the opening stanza:

That was a pretty one. I heard you call
from the unsatisfactory hall
To the unsatisfactory room where I
Played record after record, idly,
Wasting my time at home, that you
Looked so much forward to.

Oliver's Riverside Blues, it was. And now
I shall, I suppose, always remember how
The flock of notes those antique negroes blew
Out of Chicago air into
A huge remembering pre-electric horn
The year after I was born
Three decades later made this sudden bridge
From your unsatisfactory age
To my unsatisfactory prime.

Truly, though our element is time,
We are not suited to the long perspectives
Open at each instant of our lives.
They link us to our losses: worse,
They show us what we have as it once was,
Blindingly undiminished, just as though
By acting differently we could have kept it so.

Very dry, no? Dry in tone until the end and then what we get is very muted emotion.

Yes the passage Judy picks out shows regret at the loss, but is again a self-regarding regret. She does not regret for Ram that he's in the streets; she has no sense of the hypocrisy that has been inflicted on him. No affection but a sense of the bad taste. There is a strong vein of disliking things in bad taste throughout Jhabvala. She has a distaste for vulgarity and the sordid. Note how once again (as in the passage about the jacket which still smells of chain-smoked cigarettes after all thes years) we get a detail which presents human beings as vile:

A new teacher was taking his class, an ugly squat pockmarked man whom the girls teased till he lose his temper with them ...

Ugly, squat pockmarked. And in case we are inclined to feel sorry for young girls who have to endure such ugliness, we are told they tease him. Nastiness all round here.

It's a matter of tact as you know. You have to be able to distinguish in a given utterance by intuition which is the narrator, which the character presented through free indirect speech and which part of a tapestry which itself is the meaning of the story.

I stepped back to suggest through looking at romance archetypes we see repeated in Jhabvala's and other women's romances from the 18th century until today and through looking at what she says about her attitudes and how we see her present Indian and modern customs and types in other fictions.

But maybe it's important also to suggest why such fiction is worthwhile -- what is its value. In a way I'm regretting the word chilling I ended my posting last night with. It implies something negative while I think these stories are strongly salutary. Looking at Larkin's poem, it's salutary not to present emotionalism since emotionalism is so often faked -- particularly in women's forms (melodrama) -- and used to wrap women in an imagined iron mesh. I'm also thinking about the article on Yourcenar I read this morning and her hardness of approach. It refreshes and frees us by waking us up to our own selfishness. Part of the story's strength is how utterly self- centered is Vijay -- and Ram. Here are the two lovers of romance seen for real. The story presents all the characters living in their own worlds, driven by their own egos, Prakesh too. After all he accomplishes nothing by retreating and had he given away all (not been stopped by the cold mean son), what would've been gained? What would he have gained by ending up in the streets? He wanted to cut off his nose to spite his face.

I'm writing another defense of ironical cool romance and Jhabvala's own strong sceptical stance. There's no soppiness in her stories. Even when the character is clearly to be sympathized with and is justifying emotionalism and defeat, our attention is called to the content or the argument of the character.


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