‘The Beautiful and Damned’ : A marriage on the Rocks in the ‘Roaring Twenties’

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Beautiful things grow to a certain height and then they fail and fade off, breathing out memories as they decay.

This is the story of Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert. Anthony, the grandson of billionaire Adam J. Patch, falls in love with a beautiful Kansas socialite, Gloria. Together, they believe in living in the moment whatever the consequences. Security is assured as they merely have to wait for Anthony to inherit millions after his grandfather’s death. Meanwhile, parties need to be thrown and places visited to indulge boredom. Love has a place in the forefront when there exists ample money to be spent. Their marriage is turbulent and definitely toxic. It is often said to reflect the relationship of the author Scott Fitzgerald with his wife, Zelda. As Anthony frustratingly states,

Just as he still cared more for her than for any other creature, so did he more intensely and frequently hate her.

An illustration of Zelda Fitzgerald drawn by Chris Riddell in Matt Haig’s fictional novel ‘How to Stop time’

The one person who shines through the book is Gloria Gilbert. She shows a fierceness in spirit and in her capacity to be an equal to Anthony. Expressing sexual freedom often seen in the women of the twenties, she says, “A woman should be able to kiss a man beautifully and romantically without any desire to be either his wife or his mistress.” She lives by a philosophy of I don’t care“, living life on her own terms. Gloria is wild, self-centered, and indulges in a slew of romances and flirtations which is frowned upon by the society she lives in. When questioned about her choices, she answers,

Why should I lie? I’m not ashamed of anything I do.

Fitzgerald himself stated that Gloria was partially based on his wife, Zelda whom he also called “the First American Flapper.” Gloria’s attitude to life is reflected in Zelda’s famous statement,

I did not have a single feeling of inferiority, or shyness, or doubt, and no moral principles.

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An illustration from the first edition cover of the book

‘The Beautiful and Damned’ then, is an account of life in the “roaring twenties”. It was also called the Jazz age where wealth and beauty held esteem, the wine flowed high and life was lived in excess. But, this age also entertained glimpses of modern thought, individualism and artistic expression. In this context, lines like “the victor belongs to the spoils” is classic Fitzgerald in his element. People are slaves to ambition, money, and power but also display a certain freshness in thought. Other characters are also seen within this lens. Maury Noble is described as similar to Anthony, both being in love with generalities.” There is Dick Richard Caramel, who can write only by observing people. The book charts the rise and fall in the fortunes of these people where the graph of their life has no particular direction.

My Reading Experience…

In comparison to ‘The Great Gatsby’, the language in this novel is more difficult. It requires greater attention with the author coining words like ‘bilphism’ along the way. (Bilphism is a religious belief in the reincarnation of the soul) The chapters are longer. Futher, I felt a lull lagging at various points that seemed to show the boredom felt by the main characters. Ironically, the book got more engaging at precisely those moments when I wanted to throw it in frustration. For me, Fitzgerald always manages to hit the point home in the least imaginable way with a perfect ending to boot! I rate this novel 3/5.

Click the link below to know more about Zelda Fitzgerald:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/29/zelda-fitgerald-scott-film-tv

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For the love of Quidditch: A review of J. K. Rowling’s book ‘Quidditch through the Ages’

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No Spell yet devised enables wizards to fly unaided in human form…Levitation is commonplace, but our ancestors were not content with hovering five feet from the ground. They wanted more. They wanted to fly like birds, but without the inconvenience of growing feathers.

witch on a broomIt all starts with wizards wanting to fly! The book begins with the invention of the flying broomstick and how it changed the Wizarding World. The non-magical world too, felt this impact, to the point, that even now, muggles tend to think of witches with brooms. The excitement of being able to fly led to a cropping up of many rudimentary games in the middle ages. ‘A Quidditch through the Ages’ is a guide to the origins of this game dating the sighting of its first being played in the diary of an 11th century witch called Gertie Keddle. She was quite turned off by it describing some “numbskulls” playing “a dumb game” on ‘Queerditch Marsh.’ However, the game quickly spread through different parts of Europe and other parts of the world. This book conveys the fascination that it held for people where they rioted even if the smallest rules were changed and even composed whimsical verses on the game. Here is a translated verse written in the early 1400s by the poet Ingolfr the Iambic, given in the book:

“Oh, the thrill of the chase as I soar through the air

With the snitch up ahead and the wind in my hair

As I draw ever closer, the crowd gives a shout

But then comes a Bludger and I am knocked out”

What the book truly excels at is excellent detailing. There are diagrams of the pitch, hoop sizes, initial quaffles and bludgers. Most interesting to know about was the invention of the golden snitch due to the hunting of a bird species called ‘Snidget.’ Further, the book is a nerd’s paradise with information on rules, functions of players, and referees. It talks about various fouls and also features articles on it titled ‘Our Chasers aren’t cheating’ Rowling thought of the smallest precise details like quaffles being bewitched to drop very slowly towards the ground so that chasers have time to catch it mid-air. This can truly be appreciated by us cursed ones out there who were always tasked with fetching the ball in childhood games (One more reason to cry for being a muggle.) Besides this, various quidditch moves, teams and broomstick companies are described.

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A Quidditch Move called ‘Starfish and Stick’

The book has a foreword by Albus Dumbledore and is narrated by Kennilworthy Wisp who is given a distinct voice. Historical and statistical facts are accompanied with funny incidents and narrated in deadpan humor. This makes the book fun to read through and I give it a rating of 5 stars.

Click on the link below to read more on medieval games and other pastimes in the Wizarding World.

https://www.pottermore.com/features/beyond-quidditch-games-and-pastimes-in-the-wizarding-world


J._K._Rowling_2010About the Author

J. K. Rowling is a British novelist best known for writing the ‘Harry Potter‘ fantasy series. Rowling was working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International when she conceived the idea for the Harry Potter series while on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990.

After the completion of this series, she has written ‘The Casual Vacancy‘ She further wrote crime fiction novels The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm and Career of Evil under the pseudonym, Robert Galbriath.


 

Circe: Book Review

Circe by Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller is the author of the acclaimed book ‘The Song of Achilles’ which explores the story of Achilles and Patroclus and the love they bore for each other. ‘Circe’ released in April 2018 is her second book. A striking feature is that Miller’s narrators are minor characters from Greek mythology, like Patroclus and Circe. Originally, A Latin and Greek teacher, Miller refashions these mythological figures and breathes new life into them through her storytelling.

Circe, too attributes to her humble beginnings as a nymph. According to Circe, Nymphs, in the divinity scale of power feature only slightly higher than mortals.

“Brides, nymphs were called, but that is not really how the world saw us. We were an endless feast laid out upon a table, beautiful and renewing. And so very bad at getting away.”

The novel charts the transition of this nymph to the famous sorceress we know as Circe. Miller, then, gives Circe a chance to retell her story, to be more than the sorceress that has only been associated with turning men into swine. Exiled to the island of Aiaia, where her father, the sun Titan Helios defeated his own kind, she learns who she is away from her kin.  On this island, Circe slowly carves her own niche and stands her ground in a world where one may easily be struck down by a God’s whim.

‘Circe’ explores the concept of power in this context and what it can achieve. Women such as Medea and Pasiphae passionately feel the injustices done to them both by Gods and mortal men, but can only work within the confines of power they are allotted with. Pasiphae is a woman “to be kept in line” by her husband, yet her seething only leads to poison and destruction. Unlike them, the source of Circe’s power is not pain caused to others, but a strong will to fight for love – love for herself, for humans, and for her son. The very magic that she creates is not innate or a god gift, but the result of this will. It is a magic that requires constant toil and drudgery. She claims,

Sorcery must be made and worked, planned and searched out, dug up, dried, chopped and ground, cooked, spoken over and sung.”

An insight into her psyche shows the depth of Circe’s emotions to her experiences. Her interaction with Odysseus, Prometheus, Daedalus, Hermes and many more Gods, Titans and heroes alike, makes her more aware of the fact that there is no perfect ideal. While the Gods and Titans are immortal and consist of the potential to be kind and merciful, they are content with being ruthless. As for their earthly children, they, too come with their own flaws. Odysseus is wise but his deceptions know no limit to a point where he himself does not know what he wants. Jason cares more for his heroic legacy than for his own wife. Medea loves with a passion but commits fratricide for it. Yet, it is this mortal life that attracts Circe for it allows for change. Odysseus may be a prince of wiles and tricks, but Circe claims “He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none” After all, It is the dance of the human child Ariadne that gives her joy. It is Daedalus who she must save time and again only to lose him to his own mortality. It is this mortal capacity for transformation that propels Circe. It allows her multitudes. Circe is then, the woman who claims men’s lives for wrongs done by another or the jealous lover who will turn a beautiful maiden to the six headed monster, Scylla. Yet, she is also the same woman who learns to live with regrets or who will try to right her wrongs as best as she can. As she claims,

Yet because I knew nothing, nothing was beneath me

In such a world, Circe is not the goddess that poets sing bards for but the witch that Odysseus out crafted. Yet she laughs at such ironies, bearing even her losses with dignity. This does not mean that she gives up but choose the battles that she must fight.  At her core, her experiences show a woman struggling to understand the chains she is put into and to finally break free of them. Circe refuses to adhere to one state where being “a foolish gull” or “a villainous monster” are the only available choices for women. She learns that “A gilded cage is a cage after all”. However comfortable her exile is on the island, it is isolated and cuts her off from the rest of the world. It is a limit that she does not deserve. Circe strives to overcome these obstacles and is on the journey of her own metamorphosis, where she must choose a stance between mortality and divinity.

Checkout an excerpt from this book in this video by Bloomsbury Publishing