Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vanity Fair(1847) - by William Makepeace Thackeray

Vanity Fair was a book published as a serial rather than in a single book form (this was done in 1847-1848, and was typical of that time, since Charles Dickens also published his classics in serialized form). Vanity Fear was written by William Makepeace Thackeray, and was based on the story of 2 different people in society - one who will do anything to get ahead in life, without morals; and the other, the exact opposite, one who believes in the goodness of life and is unwilling to believe that others could be dishonest. The title of the book, Vanity Fear, is taken from an earlier work, John Bunyan's allegorical story The Pilgrim's Progress, published long before in 1678, and supposed to represent a place called Vanity, where there is a ongoing fair that is meant to represent man's attachment to worldly things, and supposed to represent the sin of man. The book was seen as a bitter satire of society, as showcased in the quest of one of the anti-hero (or anti-heroine, to be more accurate), who is cunning, and uses all her qualities to work her way up in life.

The story takes the life of 2 opposite people, who are close friends early in life. These 2 women are:
Becky Sharp - She is apparently (on the face of it) what an ideal woman would be. She is smart, intelligent, sings well, plays the piano well; unfortunately, this is accompanied with a sense of morals that are absent, and no conscience. She wants to achieve higher things in life, and will do whatever it takes for this to happen, including playing with people.
In direct contrast to her is the other main character of the story, Amelia Sedley, who is not so outwardly smart, trusting of people even when it has been pointed out to her that others are not always to be trusted, and in some cases, unable to really appreciate those who care for her. This is a property that prevents her from taking the best that life gives to her, including the love of a person who is devoted to her, but whom she could-shoulders throughout the book.
The story is about the complete lives of these 2, with Becky trying to marry up (but failing to win her way around those women who see through her, and who played a part in dis-entitling her husband when he married her. In this case, it is the rich and elderly aunt of her husband (Pitt Crawley), Miss Crawley, who used to favor her nephew till the time that he married Becky Sharp. Becky is unable to use her charms and guile to get her husband back into favor, and lives with her husband a life devoid of riches, where they manage to live by manipulating money all around her.
On the other hand, George Osborne was always engaged to Amelia, but faced huge pressure to back down when her family lost their money. He finally married her, but in the face of opposition from her family, and consequently lost his money. And there was Dobbins, a friend of George who always admired Amelia, and who made it clear after George died, but who Amelia always ignored. It is a fascinating book, about the rise and rise, and then fall, or more accurately, about the just rewards.

Vanity Fair (1947-1948), a bitter satire about society written by William Makepeace Thackeray

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1993)

Isaac Asimov wrote a huge amount of science fiction over the years, and is known for many of his books such as the Empire Series, and most famously for the Foundation Series. The 3 main Foundation books were the 'Foundation', 'Foundation and Empire', and 'Second Foundation'. It was later, in order to try and fill more details, that Asimov wrote more books for the Foundation, that include books that were both prequels and sequels. The last such book that he wrote was called 'Forward the Foundation', and was released in 1993, a year after Asimov died. Forward the Foundation was a sequel to 'Prelude to Foundation', carrying on with the story of Seldon's search for how to develop the story of psycho-history.

In end of Prelude to the Foundation, Hari Seldon learns that Otto Demerzel, the powerful advisor to the Emperor 'Cleon 1' is actually a robot. He solicits Demerzel's help for continuing the research into psychohistory, and Forward the Foundation continues into that effort, and is meant to show 4 different time stages in Seldon's life. The novel starts 8 years from the end of Prelude to Foundation, as Seldon gets more involved in politics, helping Otto fight off attempts, and then moves a further 10 years down the line. Demerzel has vanished, and Seldon is now First Minister. However, after the assassination of Cleon 1, Seldon slowly starts losing his family members. His wife, Dors, is killed when trying to save him from an assassination attempt, his adopted son (the 12 year he met in Prelude to Foundation) dies elsewhere in another violent act, his assistant Yugo Amaryl dies of over-work, and it is left to Seldon and his grand-daughter Wanda to try and set a process in place to guide events when Seldon is no more. And so starts the story of 2 different Foundations, one of the physical base, and the other, a society of mentalics.

Forward the Foundation (1993) by Isaac Asimov

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Emma by Jane Austen (1815)

Jane Austen wrote many books, with her most famous books being Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), and Mansfield Park (1814). Emma came after these 3, and has taken its time to become famous. Further, since Jane Austen chose to write her books anonymously, her books started becoming famous long after her death, with a biography by her nephew, written more than 50 years after her death, that awoke more interest in her. It was only in the early half of the 20th century that she started being acknowledged as a classical writer, and now her works are very famous. Jane Austen remained unmarried, dying at the relatively young age of 42, from an affliction that was not particularly known at that time, but which is now suspected to be Addison's disease or Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Like her other works, Emma was also a critique of the society of that time, where a woman's standing was supposed to be based on marriage, and it would be this marriage that would decide her economic and social security; even though her works have a strong touch of comedy to them.

Emma is essentially a novel that describes the life of a 21 year old girl called 'Emma Woodhouse'. She is not worried about finances, being comfortably off; however, she starts to believe that she is good at match-making and guiding who should marry whom, something that causes a lot of temporary changes in the lives of people around her; in the end, however, everybody settles down happily, including her. There are a number of characters in the novel, and you will need to read carefully to ensure that you don't miss any of the turns and twists of the story.
Emma lives with her father, and has just returned from the marriage of her former governess Miss Taylor, and since she had introduced Miss Taylor to her husband, Emma feels that she has a gift for match-making. One of her closest friends is a person called George Knightley, who is from the neighboring estate, as well as the brother of her sister Isabelle's husband. He is perhaps the only one who is able to criticize actions taken by Emma when he feels that she is wrong. Who is the first person on whom Emma tries out this ability of hers ? It is her new friend, the 17 year old Harriet Smith, who is very sweet, but not very bright.
And here starts the main story. Harriet has got a proposal from a rich farmer called Mr. Martin, but Emma has decided that Mr. Martin is not good enough for Harriet, she would be more suited to the local vicar, Mr. Elton. And then, the unthinkable as per Emma happens - Mr. Elton realizes that Emma is a better catch, and proposes to Emma. Her friends had realized that this would happen, but not Emma. When Emma tries to direct Mr. Elton to Harriet, Mr. Elton makes it plain that he considers Harriet below him, and leaves the place for a while.
The story introduces more characters, and spins around the lives and marriages of these folks, and is fairly interesting.

Emma (1815), a book on England in the 19th century by Jane Austen