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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I was thinking about clubbing these two Novel Cure Challenge Reads together and it only made sense – considering how similar the protagonists are. Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary are bound to be clubbed. I remember reading and rereading these books for the longest time and somehow in a very strange way, I could relate to them. I am not married. I am not a woman. There has been no instance of adultery then, of course, but still there is some affinity which I cannot name or pinpoint. I am only too glad to have reread these books. They certainly brought back a lot of memories.

We all know (or at least most of us do) how it works out for these feisty women. Both stuck in unhappy marriages. I think it would be apt to call their marriages boring, or rather the men they are married to. Charles Bovary almost comes across as a dullard who could not care less about Emma’s youth or her desires or what she wants from life. Anna Karenina on the other hand has everything she could want, but somehow the all-consuming love is just not there, till she meets Count Vronsky.

Emma’s life is ridden with men – her father, her husband, her neighbour, the greedy moneylender, the pharmacist, the pharmacist’s assistant, and her two lovers. She knows it will only end in disaster and yet she wants it all, just like Anna. Anna knows the Russian societal norms and yet she will go to any length to get what she wants. Both these nineteenth-century heroines risk it all, for there is only one life to live. All they want is passion. They want love and they just keep searching for it, everywhere they can. Even if it means they have to end it by giving up their lives. Every time I have read these books, I wished they would come out of it alive and they don’t. I know it but I want to believe that everything works out for them, though it does for some time. These novels were also written in times when both countries, Russia and France were going through changing times. Maybe that is why they were considered so radical for their time.

I have never intended to read these classics with a lot of analysis. For me, they are just testimonies to what I connect to relate to – all the unrequited love, the trapped lives dictated by hypocritical societies and the alienation of the self, despite being loved and surrounded by many.

The anguish of the women comes through superbly in both these books and to me what is also surprising is that these books were written by men. Men who were very strong in their own way and manner and extremely eccentric as well, not to mention, womanizers – maybe that is why they could capture the feminine essence with such aplomb in both these works.

The translations again, when it comes to classics such as these matter the most. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Anna Karenina) and Lydia Davis (Madame Bovary) have done more than just a wonderful job with the words and their interpretation. I think for me most of the time loving these two classics have come from these translations. And yes I also think that perhaps there is no cure for adultery. You have to go through it. There is no moral ground. Anything for happiness, I think.

Next Up in the Novel Cure Challenge: Patience by John Coates

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My Top 10 Fictional Heroines

Yes! Yes! and Yesses some more…I have been waiting to write this post for a very long time now and finally I will, about my Top 10 Heroines in Fiction. They are brash and sassy and know no boundaries. They are independent and live on their terms and conditions. They know no rejection or fear, and yet they love with a passion unknown to men. These are women I have admired growing up and love them to tiny bits. Here goes:

1. Catherine Earnshaw: No where can I find such a heroine who is mad with love for Heathcliff and yet hates him with a vengeance. She hopes he dies at one point in the book and regrets it so much. Catherine is a woman of contradictions and vulnerability – the irony kills me everytime I read “Wuthering Heights”. She is free spirited and beautiful, but can also be spiteful and arrogant. She is a wild animal and sees herself only with her one true love – Heathcliff.

“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and [Edgar’s] is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.” -Catherine Earnshaw, Chapter IX

2. Dominique Francon: She is a smoldering siren. The one who Roark rapes and she loves it. She is the woman behind the sole standing man, Howard Roark. I believe she is the fountainhead of the book, who wants to keep everything sacred in her man, who rather destroy him herself than let him be taken advantage of by the world. Such is Dominique Francon.

I wish I had never seen your building. Its the things that we   admire or want that enslave us, Im not easy to   bring into submission.

3. Miss Havisham: There is nothing more beautiful in a character than unspeakable obsession. The bridal dress is never removed. She is waiting for her groom to the verge of madness. The random nature of her revenge is not so random after all. She drives Estella to hate men. I love this character. She is a lady with a heart and its broken.

4. Becky Sharp: She lives up to her name. Her wit and sharp edge of sarcasm makes Vanity Fair a delicious read. She is witty, sexy and sandy-haired. Becky is from an impoverished background and makes no qualms about it. She is hungry – for rich men and power.

Revenge may be wicked, but it’s natural

5. Anna Karenina: From the time we are first introduced to her on a railway coach to the time she has an affair with Vronsky to her ultimate death at the very station where she first lands in the book, Tolstoy knew she would be his greatest heroine and she was. No one can touch the honesty of Anna.

6. Madame Bovary: Alright, bring out your little black books and please do not let them be provincial as Madame is in the house. It must have been difficult to please three men in one book, but not for this one. She epitomised beauty, slander, sexual desire and above all the act of being human. You go girl!

7. Emma: Jane Austen’s Emma is so very human. She is always plunging into such embarrassing mistakes – and yet they’re the mistakes one longs to make oneself, like telling the tediously garrulous Miss Bates to shut up. And, bless her, she is truly ashamed when she does, because she is actually very nice. Nicer than I am by a long way.

8. Sumire: She is not known to many (just like the way she would have liked it). She wants to be a writer and gets lost for the love of a woman. She is passionate and does not know how to dress well. She is the object of affection of K who can never have her. Loosely put, she is the best. You have to read Sputnik Sweetheart to believe what I am saying. Trust me.

9. Scarlett O’Hara: Try as I might I cannot ignore this cat. She had it all – the style, the attitude and the ambition. She wanted what she got, well most of the time. She could make clothes out of curtains and look stunning. According to me, Scarlett could have done anything. Anything at all.

10. Holly: Who can forget her at all? I for one cannot. From being Lulu Mae to Holly – the life of a party, to a call girl who has to but make her money. Holly Golightly was everything that Capote ever wanted to be and he made her come alive in more than one way.

You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds…. the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long.  You’re sad, that’s all.  But the mean reds are horrible.  You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of.  Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is. 

And these are my women…No not jezebels. They are only human, in their defense…You’re always a woman to me…