Category Archives: Literature

Sylvester

Going down memory lane, I stumbled across something I wrote some years ago… Indeed, a book review about Sylvester’, one of my favorites from Georgette Heyer. Perhaps one day I should add more tributes to that master of Regency romance and ‘their cynical Lordships’, but until then, I leave you to read a short recollection of the book ‘Sylvester’.

Sylvester, Front & Back Cover (Arrow Books)
Sylvester, Front & Back Cover (Arrow Books)

 

The trials of arranged marriages are heartfelt. But what happens when the head of the noble household of the Raynes travels to the wilds of Wiltshire to offer for his childhood bride? If the bride is a headstrong, hoydenish miss, revolting against the conventions of teachings of womanhood; quite simply, utter disaster. Such is the cleverly constructed plot of one of my favorite novels of all times; ‘Sylvester’ by Georgette Heyer. This brilliant artist of societal portrayal in its humorist and gayest of forms manages to steals hearts yet again in ‘Sylvester’.

Sylvester, the head of his household at Chance was born to responsibility, wealth and privilege. His earliest days were spent under the aegis of an honor-obsessed uncle, old matrons and tutors who drilled in him the vestiges of obligations, pride and dignity. Losing what was close to him at the mere age of twenty-six years, Sylvester sets out on his mission to find a suitable bride who would take care of his disabled mother, his orphaned nephew, and provide companionship for his widowed sister-in-law. As per Heyer’s conventions, it is not a simple journey for Sylvester. He finds out from his godmother that he and Phoebe Marlow were destined to marry since their birth, as the plan was made and much cherished by both their mothers, who were best friends. But leading to the death of Miss Marlow’s mother, and her father’s second marriage to a rigid lady not liked by relatives, the plan was pushed away, and eventually forgotten. Now Sylvester, with determination and purpose, heads out to Miss Marlow’s estate, but finds her completely inappropriate to his taste. To a man of Sylvester’s birth and handsome looks, accentuated by cynically arched eyebrows, Miss Marlow was but a wraith of a girl, brown skinned and utterly dominated by her mother-in-law. What this unusual exterior hid, of course, was spirit, and the soul of an artist of great satirical skills, which expressed themselves in the form of writing. Miss Marlow, who had taken a dislike to Sylvester on occasion of her visiting London before, was extremely angered and insulted to find Sylvester as a house-guest for the weekend, especially when his purpose was made clear to her.

Undeniably, no girl wants to be overlooked ‘like a filly’, according to Miss Marlow. Thus, her scheme of running away, all the way to London to her grandmother’s protection, emerges. Aided by her childhood friend Tom Orde, she accomplishes this journey, but not without its mishaps, to find out that her grandmother is actually Sylvester’s godmother, who sent Sylvester to Wiltshire for the same purpose of offering for Phoebe Marlow!

It is Heyer at her best indeed. With sophisticated plot development, and the const ant arrival and departure of much loved characters, she keeps me enthralled to the pages of her novel. Laughing one minute, and anxious the next, I feel like I’m whirling around in the twisters of Heyer’s world with every page I turn. Sylvester is no doubt one of her masterpieces, and one of the all- time winners of Regency literature.

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A Breath of Fresh Eyre

Jane Eyre (2011)

Rendering a classic text onto film is risky, more so if said text has already been turned into a film before. Comparisons are bound to follow, in one , long, whiny trail of what’s-better-in-this-one and what’s-worse. I myself have been a disgruntled participant in this procession on many occasions, and had been looking forward to the new cinematic version of Jane Eyre with expectations kept willfully low, when it pulled a Bertha Mason and surprised me.

It was a sincere, beautiful rendition of the eldest Bronte’s claim-to-fame novel. And here is why:

  • The atmosphere. It is deliciously chilling, in perfect keeping with the Gothic spirit of the book, and is so tangible at points that it gives you goosebumps like few new thriller flicks do. From the opening sequence, Cary Fukunaga keeps you on tenterhooks. Those shots of the vast, hostile wilderness with the lone figure of Jane positioned variously in them, and the resemblance they bear to the dark, Romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, and those tragic strains of a violin or piano accompanying the swellings in the story do the trick. Rochester’s ominous secret, the madwoman-in-the-attic bit, is also used well for atmospheric bonus. As in the novel, the filmmakers feed the audience’s terror by playing on the unseen, giving us little helpings of muffled laughter and mysterious creakings until we’re full with a typically Bronte-ish repast.
Jane Eyre (2011)
‘Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon’. Caspar David Friedrich. 1833
‘Moonrise by the Sea’. Caspar David Friedrich. 1822
  • The chemistry. After very long have I seen the kind of romantic oomph that Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender provide. Their ages are just right. Rochester was a lot older than Jane, and – this is important – neither of them was described in the novel as stunningly beautiful. Each had an elusive attractiveness, so thank HEAVENS they refrained from dolling up Wasikowska too much, or turning Fassbender into some Adonis. Toned down and mysterious, both act superbly, all the while channeling an energy that is more powerful because it is kept latent for the better part of the film.
Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender as Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester
  • The supporting cast. Judi Dench just adds a gold star to any film she’s in, doesn’t she? Having seen this paragon decked out regally as Queen Elizabeth or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, you can hardly envision her as the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. But she pulls off the role as if it had descended to earth, custom-made with an apron, just for her. And that one line (‘How very French!’), the only haughty delivery from her throughout, is definitely worth watching for all of us who love her deep-set, British curtness. Dench having been duly eulogized, an honourable mention should also be made of actor Jamie Bell, who plays a nice, staid St. John Rivers.
Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax