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.




A year of great books


Welcome to my new blog on books!

Last year, I focused my reading on contemporary fiction- my favorite books were Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia (an immersive retelling of Virgil’s Aeneid); Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (an unlikely, comic tale that reminded me of the film Forrest Gump); and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (a bittersweet novel on connections in our global village). I read Shakespeare’s play King Lear, but no classic novels (at least according to my Instagram and Facebook timelines).

This year, I plan to read a mix of current and classic fiction and record them in this blog so I’d remember them. For the classics, I’m getting inspiration from Slate Academy’s A Year of Great Books: every two months, book club members get to vote for a candidate in a list presented by Slate’s literary critic Laura Miller. For January to February 2016, she gave the following intriguing choices, none of which I’ve read yet: Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment; Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman; Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre; and Gustave Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education.

To my surprise, my favorite bookshop had copies of all four books. Moreover, the book that I was most drawn to, Tristram Shandy, is downloadable as a free e-book. This novel also got the most votes from Slate book club members.

This is how Miller describes Sterne’s novel:

An almost indescribable comic novel—witty, bawdy, and a tremendous amount of fun—it features the most famous blank page in all literature, and other “postmodern” devices that were not rediscovered until the late 20th century. “Nothing odd will do long,” wrote Samuel Johnson. “Tristram Shandy did not last.” He was wrong.

This afternoon, I stopped reading when I reached this famous blank page (or two blank pages, pp. 31 and 32, in my copy). The book is almost 700 pages long, so I’d need to read around 20 pages a day (or 100 pages each weekend) to finish it by the end of February.

The narrator Tristram Shandy spends the first 30 pages of the book describing his conception- the evening when his parents made love. His tone is light and chatty and he digresses into stories about other people, in much the same way that “chismoso” or gossips tend to free associate, without clear logic nor direction.

Sterne’s book provides fun relief from reading the contemporary fiction/ autobiography My Struggle Book 1 by Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard that I’ll describe in a future post.