Dance of pain and pleasure

tundo and jane eyre

Among the books that I borrowed from College of the Immaculate Conception in Cabanatuan City were the Filipino social realist novel Ang Tundo Man May Langit Din (Even Tundo Has a Piece of Sky) by Andres Cristobal Cruz and the British Gothic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I once heard a CIC professor complaining about the meager resources of the school’s libraries- I was surprised because I’ve often found on their shelves gems to read such as these.

I read Cruz’s novel- the chapters were first published in Liwayway magazine from 1959 to 1960- while reading Tristram Shandy so I could immerse myself in my own language and in images with which I was familiar. The protagonist of Tundo, Victor del Mundo- a working student-turned-teacher- could have been one of my classmates in college: he reminded me in particular of my classmate Florin Hilbay who also grew up in Tundo, topped the bar exams, and is now the Solicitor-General. In the first chapter, Victor walks from the printing press where he works to Quiapo, Raon, and Quezon Boulevard, places that I explored much later in the 1990s and 2000s, but nonetheless still fit Cruz’s descriptions. I remember my Waze app telling me last year I was passing through Tundo- Manila’s most densely populated district- but I don’t remember setting foot on its streets (I associated it, perhaps incorrectly, with gang wars). I was therefore fascinated by the novel’s setting- Victor’s gritty neighborhood in the 1950s- and the rough, yet very human, characters who appear therein.

I finished reading Tundo on February 27 and Tristram Shandy on March 1. A couple of days later, I began reading Jane Eyre, the second selection of Slate Academy. I’m now halfway through Charlotte Brontë’s engrossing tale of the thoughts and feelings of an abused orphan who grew up to find her identity and her place in the sun in northern England in the early 19th century. Just like in Tundo, the love story in Jane Eyre involves lovers- Jane and Rochester- from two different social classes. Jane is a governess- the tutor of Rochester’s foster child- and she calls him her “master.” In Tundo, however, the class roles are the other way around: the male protagonist Victor is pursued by his wealthy classmate Alma.

I’m struck by how similar courtship is represented in these two novels: as an exquisite dance of pain and pleasure.

Throughout their courtship, Victor loves to tease Alma until she becomes angry and pinches his arm.

In the middle of Jane Eyre, Rochester makes Jane cry by making her think that he is about to marry the rich Miss Ingram- by making Jane jealous, he is able to make her confess her affection for him.

“I tell you I must go!” I [Jane] retorted, roused to something like passion. “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?-a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!-I have as much soul as you,-and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, or even of mortal flesh:-it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,-as we are!”

In both novels, the protagonists face rigid class systems that prevent them from immediately realizing their dreams. Tundo ends on a happy or at least hopeful note and- romantic that I am- I hope Jane Eyre does too.

 

 

Online book club

tristram

Last Tuesday, after returning from the beaches of Caramoan to Manila, I finished the last volume of Tristram Shandy. I didn’t want to bring my tablet into which I’ve downloaded the eBook because of the long bus journey. Instead, I brought a paperback copy of Ang Tundo Man May Langit Din which I finished reading by the sea. I’ll discuss this Filipino social realist love story in a future post.

Tristram Shandy was a difficult read because its 18th century British English is different from my 21st century Philippine or International English. Also, unlike the Penguin edition, my eBook doesn’t have endnotes that explain Sterne’s allusions and jokes. I was able to understand some of them however with the aid of SparkNotes online (back in high school, the popular albeit secret reading guides were by CliffNotes that I discovered are now also online). While reading the novel, I came to appreciate my mentors in literature, literary criticism, and creative writing- they introduced me to texts I probably wouldn’t have read on my own and, by fulfilling the role of intellectual guides, helped me interpret them.

My favorite part of Sterne’s novel- it shows this clergyman’s bawdy sense of humor- is one of the narrator’s many digressions: the tale of Slawkenbergius at the beginning of Volume 4. Slawkenbergius is a traveler with an exceptionally long nose who becomes the leading authority on noses. In the context of baby Tristram’s near-castration by Dr. Slop in Volume 3, however, “nose” could mean either the part projecting above a man’s mouth or that below his hip. When Slawkenbergius passes through Strasburg, its townspeople burn with curiosity about his “nose.” A woman says she wants to touch this “nose” so she can determine how hard it is. And nuns couldn’t sleep at night because its image is planted in their minds!

A 2005 film on the filming of a movie on the novel Tristram Shandy (it’s being self-referential like the novel) is here.

After finishing the novel, I decided to complete the yearlong project, so I finally enrolled in Slate Academy. I was able to post comments in the book club’s forum and see those in its private Facebook group (with 223 members and counting). Also I was able to read essays by various experts who had posted them over the past two months for the members’ private viewing:

  • Introduction: Which Edition Should I Get?
  • How Modern Is Tristram Shandy?
  • Tristram Shandy‘s Amazing First Sentence
  • Literature’s Greatest Mansplainer
  • In Praise of Uncle Toby
  • How Tristram Became a Bestseller
  • A Triumphant Failure

It’s like a large English class that’s being conducted online! Since there are no exams and work is not graded, however, it would take self-discipline and a self-imposed structure to complete the six novels this year.

Laura Miller and The Slate Group head Jacob Miller discuss the above four books in the podcast here.