Dan Sandman

Archive for August, 2016|Monthly archive page

35: Kim by Rudyard Kipling

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 26/08/2016 at 12:00 pm

Kim by Rudyard KiplingKim is an orphan street boy from the marketplace of Lahore with deceased Irish parents. One day, he meets a wise lama from Tibet who is searching for an enchanted river to wipe away all of his sins. In his own search for a Red Bull, Kim joins the Lama on his quest for the river, becoming the holy man’s disciple or chela. But simultaneously, the divided adventurer is working for a horse-dealer with connections to a secret network of spies. After encountering a colonel from the British army, Kim is pushed into receiving a public school education and becoming a sahib (European gentlemen).

Kim (1901) is perhaps what is called in German a Bildungsroman, which roughly translates into ‘education novel’ or rather ‘novel of education’. It is also a ‘coming of age’ story, dealing with the problems that arise from the adolescent Kim’s conflicted identity. Kim is many things: an orphan, a chela, a spy, a sahib; and advantageously navigates the world by adopting different roles.

I think Kipling created Kim to introduce his Victorian readership to the complexities of Indian society. He spent much of his career focusing on India, but here he creates a hero who represents the various pressures placed upon a boy growing up in a colonized nation. It does not take a huge leap of imagination to draw a parallel between the torn interests of the character Kim and those of the country India itself.

Should I write 5,000 words for my MA about Kim or Don Juan by Lord Byron?


34: Forty Years On by Alan Bennett

In Books, Comedy, Fiction, Plays on 19/08/2016 at 12:00 pm

Forty Years On by Alan BennettYou probably won’t have come across Alan Bennett’s 1969 play Forty Years On. It was his first West End show and follows similar themes to The History Boys, dealing comically with our anxieties about the British education system. In this early work for the stage, the target for Bennett’s satirical pen is the old British public school system, as characterized by the old-fashioned school Headmaster (originally played by John Gielgud). The comedy builds around the staging of a play within a play, of which the somewhat clownish headmaster keeps interrupting to criticize its lavatory humour. As becomes apparent, large parts of the play appear to be based around the headmaster’s life-story, revealing a darker side to the private schooling of young boys.

Upon first reading, what stands out is Bennett’s knack for writing funny lines. His approach to laughter is erudite, often drawing on his wide reading of literature and sound knowledge of wartime history for the basis of his comedy. The best lines are well put together in terms of syntax, with each word having a precise function. These jokes are intelligently placed to draw us to the playwright’s themes, which reveal an intellectual concern for Britain’s flawed education system; an arguably unfair set of divided organizations, dubiously created to reproduce the British class system.

Mr. Bennett has said that not in favour of independent schools. Like myself, he would like to see them abolished, something which our politicians are unlikely to push forward. Unfortunately, the British people continue to live in an unfairly stratified country reinforced by our schooling. But I am an optimist, and suggest that nothing is stopping us from working hard to build bridges between people from all walks of life.

Along wiser paths.

33: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 12/08/2016 at 12:00 pm

A Passage to India by E. M. ForsterBy 1924, E. M. Forster had made his name as a successful writer of social comedies which wittily poked fun at the British class system. This was the year that he published A Passage to India, Forster’s much celebrated book about British colonial rule. Like his previous works, it reads well as a comedy of manners. Forster is brilliant at exposing the misunderstandings between differing social groups, here aiming his pen at colonial India.

Forster is very good at structuring his novels. He usually begins a chapter with a paragraph which either describes a place or presents us with a philosophical viewpoint on which to judge the following scene. Such scenes often centre around social gatherings, for example the ‘bridge party’ held near the beginning of the novel. Forster is then able to present his characters with awkward situations that challenge their social positions within an inflexible class system.

I am looking forward to reading more of this novel. So far, I have become very interested in the character Aziz and his mixed feelings towards the British. The blurb on my paperback states that this comedy will expose ‘the racism inherent in colonialism’. It appears that a book can now be marketed as an exposé of colonial racism, perhaps a sign that being critical of British rule has become popular.

What do you think?

32: A Room with a View by E. M. Forster

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 05/08/2016 at 12:00 pm

A Room with a View by E. M. ForsterPolite society must have been difficult to navigate in repressed Victorian England. Whom should marry for love and whom for social standing? How should one deal with one’s servants? What does your appreciation of Ruskin say about your views on socialism? Oh dear, life for social climbers can be such a slippery slope!

But fortunately, English literature has produced E. M. Forster to help us dissect the manners and foibles of those puzzling times gone by. With great wit and a good ear for conversation, Forster creates entertaining social comedies which take us into the drawing rooms of the Victorian middling classes. Tea is served, gossip is shared and the wrong end of the stick is oftentimes produced. Written six years before the Great War, A Room with a View is a devilishly amusing novel which sharply exposes the mechanisms of a particular group of people, as Jane Austen had done a century earlier. And as in Austen’s famous novels, the narrowness of the middle classes is reflected by the novelist’s inability to discuss the working classes in any meaningful way whatsoever. The silent majority are simply there to pour the tea, being treated as if they weren’t complex human being themselves.

I have enjoyed reading this relatively short novel, and I think it works well as a casual summer book with a fairly good plot that moves along at a decent pace. Readers will be encouraged to laugh at many of the characters, of which Forster is a skilled creator. In terms of genre, it might be worth thinking of this book as a romantic comedy, which is further evident when we look at the film version starring Helena Bonham Carter.

It will certainly pass the time rather nicely.