arthur miller

Welcome Home: Books that Arrived in January & February 2012

“The good, the admirable reader identifies himself not with the boy or the girl in the book, but with the mind that conceived and composed that book.” ― Vladimir Nabokov

“Which literary character/hero/heroine do you most identify with?”

This is definitely a ‘frequently asked question’. Many readers I know identify with Anne from Anne of the Green Gables, Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice, some with Hermione, Ron or Harry from the Harry Potter series of books, others with the characters from the Lord of the Rings trilogy; etc, etc. Whoever you identify with, the fact of the matter is that most readers identify with someone. But being the weirdo that I am, I almost never have identified myself with any literary character. Rather I have identified with the people behind the words and the characters, the writers.

The author I most identify with is Emily Brontë. I grew up in a place that is quite similar to Haworth, Yorkshire. Not only do I have the same birthday as her but I also share a lot of her characters traits. Shyness and suffering from severe bouts of ‘social awkwardness’ are only two of them. I, of course, do not have her talent. She wrote about raw and unrestrained human emotions without the fear of meeting with the disapproval of the 19th century audience. She is probably one of the most honest writers I’ve ever come across.

Alright, enough of comparing myself with one of the greats of literature. Here are the books I bought in the months of January & February 2012.

January 2, 2012.

The Agony and the Ecstasy. Irving Stone.

The Day Of The Jackal. Frederick Forsyth.

The Railway Children. E. Nesbit.

Measure for Measure. William Shakespeare.

Cranford. Elizabeth Gaskell.

I have been wanting to read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy for a long time. I have seen this book on shop shelves but never picked it up till now. I have recently started it. Lets just say I shall reserve my judgement till I write my review of it.

The Day Of The Jackal, classic suspense from the 60’s. Do I need any other reason to pick it up?

I have been making up for lost time for the past two years. Growing up, I have missed out on a lot of children’s classics. Even though I may have enjoyed children’s books such as The Railway Children more as a child, I do still find joy in these books.

I bought Measure for Measure while participating on the Shakespeare Reading Month this January. I have always been kind of intimidated by the Bard but after breaking the ice with two of his comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, I felt much more confident. And Measure for Measure didn’t disappoint.

I have been watching this battered copy of Cranford lie neglected in a book shop for over a year now. No one seemed to be interested in it. I felt sorry for the book (yes, I quite often feel sorry for books) and having never read anything by Elizabeth Gaskell decided to bring it home.

Feb 18, 2012.

A View from the Bridge and All My Sons. Arthur Miller.

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is one of my all time favourite plays. I had been eying this Penguin edition of two of Millers most famous plays f0r a while. I hope to enjoy A View from the Bridge and All My Sons as much as his Death of a Salesman.

Five Best Books: Genre Reads

In this week’s 5 Best Books we are asked to list our Five Best Books: Genre Reads.

As everyone pretty much knows my favourite genre is mystery, more precisely Golden Age cosy mysteries. I am also rather fond of reading classics. I am very much tempted to do a mystery or a classic top 5 but have decided against it. Seriously, how many more lists can I make with Pride and Prejudice topping the list and Cards on the Table popping up here and there?

Instead I would like to do a list on another one of my favourite genres, plays. Not many people like reading plays. They find all the dialogue going back and forth to be too distracting.  I know of only three people, besides me, who like reading plays! So here’s to a frequently neglected genre that deserves more appreciation from the readers,

1.  L’Avare (The Miser) by Jean-Baptiste Molière– 

L’Avare (The Miser) is a satire written in 1668 by French playwright Jean Baptiste Molière. It was first performed in 1668, in which Molière played the central role of the miser himself.

The first time I read it, I started off intending to read only a few pages. But I ended up reading the whole thing in just two hours. It is so quirky and funny and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it!

2.  Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller– 

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller premiered in 1949 at the Morosco Theatre, New York City. The original production was directed by Elia Kazan and ran for 742 performances. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 1949.

I was and still am greatly impressed by how as the state of Willy Loman’s mind deteriorates the line between the past and present fades away. Towards the end the past and present begin to coincide with one another. This is not a happy play but still it remains a favourite because of Arthur Miller’s incredible writing and strongly portrayed characters.

3.  The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan– 

Sheridan’s first and arguably most famous play, The Rivals, was first staged in 1775. The play was an utter failure on its first night. Undaunted by this calamity Sheridan radically re-wrote and re-cast the play. The play’s second performance was a hit with the public and made the young writer an instant success.

I still laugh at the same jokes even after many re-reads. I particularly like the scenes leading up to the proposed duel between Jack Absolute, Bob Acres, Faulkland and Sir Lucius O’Trigger. Bob’s and his servant David’s nervousness about the duel is hilarious!

4.  The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde– 

The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, first performed in 1895 at London.

The Importance of Being Earnest is my favourite play written by Wilde. The dialogues are so witty that I cannot read even two pages without finding something funny and laughing out loud. An unbelievably crazy and highly quotable play.

5.  Mrs. Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw– 

Mrs. Warren’s Profession was a highly controversial play. It was banned by the Lord Chamberlain’s office on grounds of ‘glorifying’ prostitution. It was first performed at London’s New Lyric Club, a private club performance for members only and so in no need of censorship. In 1905 the whole crew and cast giving a public performance of it in New York City were arrested.

Interestingly, the play never mentions what Mrs. Warren’s profession actually is. We are able to draw inferences about it from the way the other characters of the play react to her and when she herself recalls the story of her youth. The Victorian society declined to acknowledge that such people (people like Mrs. Warren and her patron Sir George Crofts) exist. Even if they do such women were not to be discussed in public.

The atmosphere of the play is charged with intensity. Frank Gardner’s behaviour with Mrs. Warren and his relationship with her daughter Vivie and Sir Crofts’ attitude towards both of the Warren women are fascinating to watch.

I wouldn’t call this a light, entertaining play that one can read often. But I just find it to be a very interesting piece of literature.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller premiered in 1949 at the Morosco Theatre, New York City. The original production was directed by Elia Kazan and ran for 742 performances. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 1949.

Death of a Salesman is the story of unreal expectations and shattered dreams. Willy Loman, a salesman, approaching the dusk of his life, starts fearing that his whole life has been one big failure. He also secretly blames himself for the lackluster and unsuccessful lives of his two sons, Biff and Happy. With a blurring sense of reality he begins to slip between the past and the present, trying to figure out where it all went wrong.

I was and still am greatly impressed by how as the state of Willy’s mind deteriorates the line between the past and present fades away. Towards the end the past and present begin to coincide with one another.

Willy Loman, chasing the impossible and unattainable dream of greatness, remains convinced that greatness comes from personal appearance and popularity. To be well liked by everyone is all that matters.

Willy is so caught up with his own ideas of greatness and success that he fails to recognize himself (or his son) for who he truly is. The unrealistic goals he sets for himself and his sons, especially for Biff, ultimately blights everyone’s happiness and destroys their lives.

The way Willy leads Biff towards all the wrong things and all the wrong paths in life is really very unsettling to watch.

Willy’s wife Linda is kind and affectionate but ultimately a weak person. At one point when Willy is having a conversation with his dead brother Ben about the possibility of going to Alaska with him it is indicated that Linda may have held him back from moving forward in his life. Their younger son, Happy, is very determined not to notice the terrible dreariness of his life and tries to drown its futility with a lot of bluster.

Willy’s older son Biff is constantly idealized by his father. Biff was a bright young athlete in high school and was well liked (popular). But since then he has done nothing and that crushed his father more than anything else. He keeps wondering why Biff ended up where he is today. On the other hand, Biff, who once admired his father for being a great man is now disillusioned by him. He is angered by his father’s constant misconceptions about him and tries to show him the reality of their lives but fails. It is interesting how each of them put the other up on a pedestal and how their mutual disillusionment contributes to the other’s failure.

Arthur Miller’s writing is simply great. Saying anything less than that would be an insult.

In the end, it is not just the death of Willy Loman’s dreams that makes me sad but the fact that it could all have been prevented. If only he had focused on what he had and not on what he wanted to have, his whole family could have been saved from their slow descent towards the abyss of discontent and misery.

Death of a Salesman is a beautifully heartbreaking work of art It is possibly the best play I’ve ever read. A true masterpiece!

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