Robert Browning, Emily Bronte and Authors/Poets With Controversial Works

​So recently I was browsing through Goodreads, no reason, just to kill time. While logging in, I was asked to cast vote in Goodreads awards. Most of the books (okay, all the books) nominated there I haven’t read yet. Only because in Bangladesh they’ll come a year or two later and at an affordable price. 

Anyway, I clicked to the previous years’ awards and found many many winner books who were and are bashed by readers for being clichéd or bad writing or just plain stupid. Some were given plenty of one and two starred reviews. 

So that got me thinking. Are good writing always put under mortar and pestle to be classified as “good books”? I mean how is it that some books manage to win awards based on readers’ votes yet also get one/two starred reviews from the same readers?

This took me back to Robert Browning, one of the poets I’m currently studying about. He was, throughout his entire life, been subjected to censure and controversies. He married Elizabeth Barrett Browning after famously eloping with her to Italy, then living there almost pennilessly. Then he also published a poetry book, Sordello in 1840, that was put under sooooo much censure, out of shame he almost forsook writing. Even later in life he didn’t want to take credit for writing it, had it not been under the threat of copyright issues. 

One of his contemporaries, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, said that (quoting from critic Daniel Karlin) “there were only two lines in it that he understood, the first- ‘Who will, may hear Sordello’s story told’- and the last line- ‘Who would, has heard Sordello’s story told’- and that both were lies.”

Thomas Carlyle said that (again quoting Daniel Karlin) “his wife had read throughout the poem without being able to discover whether Sordello was a man, a city or a book.”

Whoa! What an insult!

Another author who faced such harsh criticism was Emily Bronte. Her one and only novel, Wuthering Height, met some brutal brutal censure. Some are given below:

01) Paterson’s Magazine (USA), February 1848

“We rise from the perusal of Wuthering Heights as if we had come fresh from a pest-house. Read Jane Eyre is our advice, but burn Wuthering Heights.”

02) Graham’s Lady Magazine (USA), July 1848

“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.”

Eesh! Talk about harsh. Same almost happened with Moby Dick but in publication process. According to Wikipedia, 

“Within a year after Melville’s death, Moby-Dick, along with Typee, Omoo, and Mardi, was reprinted by Harper & Brothers, giving it a chance to be rediscovered. However, only New York’s literary underground seemed to take much interest, just enough to keep Melville’s name circulating for the next 25 years in the capital of American publishing. During this time, a few critics were willing to devote time, space, and a modicum of praise to Melville and his works, or at least those that could still be fairly easily obtained or remembered. Other works, especially the poetry, went largely forgotten.”

Wow! A classic was forgotten?

But this shows that sometimes classics are mistreated and misunderstood by their contemporary audience and critics. But that is not always the case. Not even most of the case. A lot of classics were instant bestsellers, such as Jane Eyre, all of Jane Austen’s works, Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, etc. to name a few. Hell, Shakespeare was pretty popular during his days. 

So why did those classics face such backlash?

If you notice the pattern, all the classics that faced backlash were way way way before their time. During Shakespeare’s time, people weren’t used to villainous women like Lady Macbeth. They were accustomed to soft, submissive women like Bianca or Miranda. During Victorian era, people weren’t used to revenge romance like Wuthering Heights, rather everlasting romance like Jane and Rochester. People weren’t used to reading book about a man’s obsession with whales. Heck, people in England and America weren’t too excited about whales like the Norwegians or the Finnish. 

So does that mean books currently facing backlash will be classics in future?

Dunno. 

Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Only time can tell. 

There were plenty of books published in the last millennium. Not all survived and lasted in the readers’ minds. Same will apply here. Nobody from the Victorian era thought people would love a book from a pedophile’s point of view, or that there would be rape romance or even erotica. You can never tell what might emerge as literary trend or most importantly, as literary movement. 

Literature, like life, is unpredictable. And that’s what makes its appeal so much more timelessly cool. 

Lady Macbeth & Anne Boleyn & Hurrem Sultan: Strong Women from Medieval Era, But Different Stories…Or Are They?

​Okay, so in today’s 205 course class, our teacher discussed with us about the main characters of Macbeth and I especially was enlightened about how deeply they were portrayed. Among all the characters, I related mostly with Lady Macbeth. I mean, I think we all (girls) did. She was vicious, ambitious, rude, harsh, mean and blah blah blah on goes the list of her negative traits. 

Then comes how she falls into depression and guilt and paranoia and eventually suicidal tendency. One thing ma’am said was how shocked the Elizabethan people were by Lady Macbeth’s portrayal. I mean, aren’t women supposed to be “soft as petal, submissive as pets and beautiful as full moon” (?). But Lady Macbeth wasn’t. She wasn’t soft, definitely not submissive and I don’t know if she was beautiful or not (though the most recent onscreen Lady Macbeth, Marion Cotillard is very pretty). But if you go past that, she was the best character among the others in Macbeth. 

Now, I’m not here to discuss about Lady Macbeth. I mean, not didactically anyway. After the class I totally forgot about Lady Macbeth until just a few hours ago when I stumbled upon The Tudors TV series on the internet and how Anne Boleyn was portrayed on the show. Come to think of it, she was the most emphasized queen of Henry VIII by the creators of the show. Now I read about Anne Boleyn’s portrayal by Natalie Dormer on Wiki and found interesting stuff about her. And while reading about her, I realized that Anne Boleyn was the real life Lady Macbeth meets King Duncan. How?

Lady Macbeth was ambitious, right? So was Anne Boleyn. Though her ambition was fanned by her father Thomas Boleyn and brother George Boleyn. Okay, so this part was tad similar to Lady Macbeth instigating Macbeth. But Anne Boleyn had more similarities with Lady Macbeth than Macbeth. 

Firstly because Lady Macbeth was ambitious. She went blind while trying to fulfill her ambition. And in the way, she just blatantly forgot about everything else. 

So did Anne Boleyn. She, with her brazenness, boldness and sharp tongue, made enemies while climbing her way to the top. In the show, she was bold enough to retort back to Catherine, Queen of Aragon, whose lady in waiting she used to be. Later, before her execution, Anne found no one by her side, not even her father. 

Secondly, Lady Macbeth, after becoming the queen, became paranoid, delusional, hysterical and eventually suicidal. So did Anne Boleyn. She suspected Henry of adultery (of course, she did and she was right). And not only that, she was scared of being assassinated by the Catholic fanatics because of instigating Henry to remove Catholicism and establish Anglicanism. She then went ahead and gave birth to Elizabeth I and then had two miscarriages. And Henry found Jane Seymour, his future third wife. 

Sure thing, like Lady Macbeth, Anne met her downfall. 

But was she truly deserving of that? Who knows? But what I did realize was she was also like King Duncan from Macbeth. See, King Duncan blindly trusted his life to Macbeth and paid the price. Like him, Anne blindly loved Henry, thinking her love for him will be enough to keep him faithful. But, black does not take any other hue. For Henry VIII, love wasn’t enough. Sure thing, she lost Henry, then her head. 

Now, reading about Anne also reminded me of Hurrem Sultan from the famous Turkish TV period drama, Magnificent Century. In a lot of way, Anne Boleyn is like Hurrem Sultan (I’m talking about the TV versions of them). They both rise from almost nothing to everything. And though Hurrem didn’t fall like Anne (because Suleiman, though a womanizer like Henry, wasn’t trying to be the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland and going “Off with her head!” mode), they both made enemies, they both loved their husbands blindly and to achieve the status as their wives, risked everything. In the end, King Duncan died, Anne Boleyn was beheaded and Hurrem romantically “breathed her last in the arms of Suleiman”. 

Bottom line, never feel blind emotion towards anyone as far as to risk your own damn life. People have a Red Queen of Alice in Wonderland inside them. 

Dr. Faustus and The Seven Cardinal Sins

Okay, so it’s been a long, long, long time since I last wrote a post here. But I’ve been busy. You know, studies and PitchWars and writing and participating in NaNoWriMo. Anyway, I was reading The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (not by choice, the damn Elizabethan plays and their diction of thou and thy and things like that). And while reading it, one scene struck me from others. It was scene VI, where after making a deal with the Devil, Faustus was busy studying stuff with Mephistopheles. 

At ime point, his conscience arrives and tries to get him back to the “path of righteousness” but in vain. The lust avd greediness in him win again. Anyhoo, Mephistopheles realizes what’s happening and so off he goes to fetch distraction for Faustus.

It was the introduction of the Seven Deadly Sins. Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Pride, Covetousness, Anger, and Jealousy. They, one by one, introduce themselves to Faustus and tell him about themselves. 
And almost like a kick in the groin, Marlowe was showing us how Faustus, despite meeting his own deadly sins, was unable to recognize them. 

Think about it. Faustus had it all. 

  • He had pride because he, at the beginning, was showing pride while pondering over which subject to choose to study in. Not only that, at some points, he boasts himself of being “a conjurer laureate” and vice versa. 
  • He had covetousness aka greed. He, at the beginning, considered taking physic or medical studies. Don’t get carried away, he did not want to take it to do good to others. He wanted it to “heap up gold and fame”. It was also this greed that made him do the deal. He also wished to have books of immense knowledge, gold and fruits in abundande from all over the world.
  • He had wrath for he often showed it to Mephistopheles who, at the beginning, tolerated it. When Benvolio taunted Faustus, he uses his magical power and grows antlers on Benvolio’s head. He also sets demons after the Old Man who advises him not to commit sins and thus angers him.
  • He had lechery for he sought Helen of Troy as his wife and when he wasn’t allowed to get married, he sought a whore. 
  • He had sloth for he, unlike Aristotle whom he revered, wasn’t that hardworking. Aristotle toiled away years after years in researching and studying and that was when he gained knowledge. Faustus wanted it overnight by dealing with the Devil. 
  • He had jealousy for he was jealous of the Emperor, the Pope and once even towards God. How stupid, right?
  • He had gluttony for he, on the last year of his life, arranges a feast with his students and others where he indulges in ‘food and wine enough for an army’. Wow! That’s a whole lot of gluttony!


And from this scene, you can clearly see two things:

01) How Lucifer and others were openly mocking Faustus and his stupidity and shallowness and blindness. He saw all the seven sins and learned about them. They were presented before him like courtiers to a king. Yet he didn’t detect those sins in his actions and thoughts. By this, Lucifer and his demons were ckeatlu mocking and taunting Faustus’s “wisdom”. 

02) How often we see our sims right before us yet are blinded by them so much as to not realize them. When we are yelling and screaming, we are busy yelling and screaming, not realizing how angry we are and how bad it is for us. When we are jealous of someone, we are busy envyinv them and wishing for their ill fortune. Not trying to banish it. 

Through this just one scene, Marlowe said it all. Exceptional, exceptional writing. I haven’t read Macbeth yet but I’m impressed. Damn the Elizabethan dictions but this was pure gold.

That is what writers do. That is what God do too with us. 

After all, isn’t God also a writer?