Monday 20 February 2012

The Woman of Rome - the life of a good whore

Adriana is a whore, but a good one. She has taken a very difficult profession - to satisfy sexually men, who provoke contrary feelings in her. And Adriana is very good at putting aside her own disgust while simulating passionate love. Adriana derives sensual pleasure from money - getting paid for her sexual activities brings her pleasure. And yet, Adriana has an enveloping personality, one that assumes good in all people, one that doesn't judge others and herself, and one that accepts her life the way it is without complaining. Are we to judge her?

Alberto Moravia, one of the most prominent Italian authors, creates an amazing novel about sexuality, social alienation, existentialism, and morality through the eyes of a Roman prostitute in the 1940s. When we first meet Adriana, she is posing as a model for various artist in Rome. Her mother, a poor woman of little virtue, is convinced (as is Adriana herself) of the immense beauty of her daughter. She believes Adriana can use this beauty to advance in life and to get from men anything she wants. Judging the mother is easy if we don't take into account her hard life. A model herself, she had to give up her dreams when getting pregnant and to reconcile to a life with a poor man with no prospects. Her only purpose in life is to make sure her daughter doesn't go the same way. At the beginning the 16th-year-old Adriana is a naive young girl, who dreams of finding a husband, having children, and leaving in a clean white house. Her dreams of a calm and ordinary life seem very close to reality when she meets the charming Gino. Their love affair is about to reach marriage, when Adriana discovers a shocking secret. Her world is shaken; she turns to the only profession that her beauty can bring her - prostitution.

The oldest profession in the world is hardly the easiest, as most people would think. It takes a great personality not to succumb into the dirt and the immorality and to remain a good person. It also takes a great personality to accept your faith and to be happy with life. And it takes an immense amount of self-control and courage in order to please men you despise. Adriana possesses all of this and more. Indeed, she feels extreme pleasure of getting money from her clients. She is aroused by violence. She sleeps with men while her mother is in the other room. And yet, Moravia magically portrays her as a saint. The cliche of the good whore is no longer a cliche when it comes to Adriana. She is compassionate, warm, and understanding. She attracts men not with vulgarity but with character. She manages to seem something good and respectable in everyone. She is forgiving and understanding. She doesn't hate people that steal from society, even people that steal from her. She accepts, forgives, and welcomes any form of human flaw. She is not jealous of other people's successes and most importantly she accepts herself the way she is. Maybe I was born to satisfy men, maybe this is the purpose of my body, she says. And why should I change if that is how God intended me to be?

How many of us can actually admit of being satisfied with ourselves. We constantly compare our lives to other people's, we are jealous of their success, we keep trying to change ourselves to some form that society has imposed to us. We love to judge others; we love to judge ourselves. When hurt, we hate and seek revenge. We blame others for our misfortunes and we are never happy with what we have. And most importantly, we fail to see that there is something good in everyone, from the whore to the killer. In that sense, Adriana is a saint, as close to Mary Magdalene as it can possibly be.

The prostitute also has a heart - she also can fall in love. Adriana meets Mino, a radical student who spends his days writing pamphlets and organizing meetings against the Fascist government. Their love story is hurtful and painful. Mino commits to Adriana despite his will in order to punish himself. And she, with all of the warmth of her heart subordinates to his desires. She is ready to beg, to drag in front of him, to humiliate herself. And yet, Moravia doesn't make us despise her. Instead, we admire Adriana for her strength. Because it is exactly what it takes - a woman's strength to love someone, to accept his failures, to put up with his behavior, to understand how his past and present affect his actions towards you, and to have the patience to slowly but surely pull him towards you. This is what only a woman with an admirable personality, with enduring patience, and with a warm heart can do.

Moravia is one of those authors who you should read before you die. He has successfully placed himself in the shoes of a woman; he becomes Adriana and thus we become Adriana as well. At first I was astonished that a man can write from the point of view of a woman. Moravia, however, understands the heart of women better than some female authors do. On top of that, his men characters are enchanting as well. The weak fraud Gino, the Fascist policeman Astarita, the killer Sonzogno, and the depressed radical student Mino are all absorbing characters. Villains, sexual addicts, liars, they are all attracted to Adriana in a different way and they all play a special role in her life.

When I started flipping the pages, I was both impatient to keep reading and prompted to stop. The novel is full with disaster, treachery, betrayal, and sexual abuse. Yet, I started living with the characters and in them. Rarely I have read an author who is so good in portraying characters that at the end of the novel I feel I have known forever. I wanted it to end and I didn't want it to end. I wanted the villains to be hurt and yet I felt some compassion for them. One thing didn't change - I loved Adriana from the first page to the last. She will remain one of the greatest woman characters I have encountered so far and Moravia - one of the most influencing and enchanting storytellers.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins or how glad I am I am not a woman in the 18th century

I am glad I am not a woman in the Victorian society! I am glad I have the right to choose whom I marry, to own property, to get my salary, and to tell my husband to f*ck himself if he is a drunkard who beats me. Yes, I still get the inferior judgements by men. I admit the only two things I know about my car are how to drive it and how to put gas. I don't want to learn anything else. I don't want to be a man in women shoes and I still believe I am born a woman not to fight my way up like a madman, but I am born to live my own life the way I like it, still being taken care of. I also get the "weird" looks when I tell I want to do investment banking. "It's a man's job and a man's world". To be honest, I don't get offended by these comments. I don't feel overly feministic, I don't insist men treat me as equal to them. I am not equal to them. I am a woman. I should be taken care of, I should be let NOT to understand stuff like where the hell do you put liquid in your car or how you change your tiers, I don't understand football and I never will. The only thing I do, I drink beer. So far with my manly habits.

My "problems" seem minor compared to the place of the woman in the Victorian society. Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins explores the inferior position of women in 18th century UK and the problem of irregular marriages in Scotland. Just like in The Woman in White, the amazing Collins portrays strong women and villainous men. With a slight note of English humor (which you will find amusing only if you are actually fond of English humor) Collins criticizes a society found on prejudice, hypocritical moral, and outdated rules, that positions the woman as a servant, as an addition, as a doll, but never as an equal to the man.

Blanche and Anne are best friends. Just like their mothers carrying the same name were. Anne's mother becomes a victim of the Scottish law regarding marriages and is abandoned by her husband. Years later her daughter becomes a victim of the same law. Anne is beautiful, clever, and admirable. She just makes a mistake. Like all of us. She falls in love with the wrong man and gets pregnant. Geoffrey Delamayn is the symbol of the newly born English man - a muscularly cultivated creature with absolutely no thought capital whatsoever. With a slight touch of irony and sarcasm, Collins portrays the shift in an entire nation from admiring the clever to admiring the strong. Put into an undesirable situation, Anne is forced to escape her home waiting for Geoffrey to marry her. A complication arises when Blanche's fionce visits Anne at the inn she is hiding to deliver a message from Geoffrey and introduces him as her husband. This is rather unsurprising as a single woman in the Victorian age was not supposed to be staying alone anywhere. Here is where the troubles for the main characters begin.

Collins actively criticizes the law of irregular marriages in Scotland, according to which a man and a woman become a man and wife by simple acts such as promising to marry each other, claiming to be man and wife, or even staying alone together. The woman is not protected in any way from men. She is an inferior creature, born to take care of the man, to raise children, and to be beautiful and quiet. In this society Anne stands out as a strong and independent woman, who faced with the realisation she might be married to her best friend's fiance, flees all through England alone and sacrifices her life and dreams to resolve the misunderstanding.

Collins' infatuation with the role of women in Victorian society is admirable. In The Woman in White he again depicted a woman being a victim of a unscrupulous and dangerous man. Similarly, in Man and Wife, Anne must fight against the greed and stupidity of Geoffrey, the ambiguity of the law, and the prejudice of people from higher classes. The most amazing character in the story is indeed sir Patrick, Blanche's uncle. He is exactly what an English gentleman must be. Witty, sarcastic, yet extremely clever and resourceful. His remarks regarding the state of the English society mimic Collins' opinion - people have focused on the outside rather than on the inside; they have stopped thinking and have only started fighting; they obey an obviously stupid law and they allow women to be placed unprotected in an undesirable situation.

I simply adore Wilkie Collins. Not only because he writes about one of my favorite historical times (i.e Victorian age in the UK) but also because he possesses a perfect combination of English humor, thin sarcasm, and straight-to-the-point criticism that make his novels a must read. Himself never been married, the author openly opposes the Scottish (and to be honest any law of) marriage in 18th century UK because simply put it deprives the woman from any rights but imposes on her many obligations. A side story to the main plot is the shocking destiny of Hester Dethridge, a woman from a lower class, married to a drunkard. He gets her money, than beats her, than gets drunk. The viscous cycle is repeated over and over again and is actually protected by the law. Women have to suppress to it, die, or kill. It is the way it was, though, back then. I am happy that my only problem now is men laughing at me when I ask them "How do you change the grease in the car?"

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Words of Wisdom Vol.2 (In Bulgarian!)

Recently, I got a comment on one of my blog posts that the level of my English is terrible. To be honest, the comment went something like that "Oh, God, this is some bad English." Of course, it is. What do you expect from an Eastern European like me, who has studied only 3 years in the UK (in bad English, OMG!) and who is now studying in France (in the same bad English!). I cannot go on with the difficulties I have with this terrible language, called English. I have to memorize all of my lectures without knowing what they are about. I don't have any friends because they all speak this terrible language (English is it?) and I simply cannot memorize the words needed in social conversations. I don't read in English (ok, I don't understand it) and I write in this blog thanks to the generous help of Google translate (God bless it!)

So now, since I don't know English at all, I am going to post a blog in Bulgarian. I am sorry for all of my English speaking readers (if there are such since obviously I don't speak their language!).

Now to the serious part. The second part of Words of Wisdom (i.e memorable quotes I have written down) comes in Bulgarian because I do mostly read novels in Bulgarian. Hence, most of the quotes I love, are indeed in my mother language. Yes, I know I can go through the fuss of translating them but that ruins the whole point of it. I picked them up exactly because I liked the way they sounded in Bulgarian. So if you are not a Bulgarian, you better close this window now because I promise you, there is no way you can understand what I am talking about (with the slight exception of you being a Russian or a Serbian with an extensive knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet).

"Това е бедата на хората, които винаги казват истината. Смятат, че и другите са като тях."
"Ловецът на хвърчила" - Халед Хосейни

"Как безупречна изглеждаше любовта, а след туй дойдоха белите."
"Ловецът на хвърчила" - Халед Хосейни

"Тя каза: Толкова се страхувам.
-Защо? - попитах аз, а тя отговори: Защото съм толкова безгранично щастлива, доктор Раоул. Плаши ме това щастие.
Пак я попитах защо и тя рече: Позволяват ти да бъдеш толкова щастлив само ако се канят да ти отнемат нещо."
"Ловецът на хвърчила" - Халед Хосейни

"Вие сте прекалено нещастна, за да бъдете хубава"
"Биография на глада" - Амели Нотомб

"Оставете любовта на мира. Използвате я за оправдание, за защита, за мотивация, за всичко. Любовта това, любовта онова. Поредната масова психоза. Бедно и не на място ми звучи думата "любов" на всяка крачка. Любовни подбуди - чисти и неегоистични? Хайде стига толкова. Любовта не е чаршаф да я постилате всеки ден с повод и без повод. Когато ми кажеш, че го правиш от любов, чувам нищото."

"...тази млада жена, която толкова дълго е страдала мълчаливо, тази добра жена, която отказва да повярва, че е добра, защото само добрите се съмняват в добротата си и това повече от всичко ги прави добри. Защото лошите, те си знаят, че са лоши, докато добрите не знаят нищо подобно. Те цял живот прощават на другите, но не могат да простят на себе си."
"Мъж на тъмно" - Пол Остър

"Но не трябва да обичаме така пестеливо и набързо сякаш от страх, че после можем да обикнем по-силно."
"Доктор Живаго" - Борис Пастернак

"Да се "вселиш" в едо момиче така че изцяло да го завладееш е изкуство, а да се "изселиш" от него - шедьовър. Последното обаче до голяма степен зависи от първото."
"Дневник на прелъстителя" - Сьорен Киркегор

"Мисленете, казва един мой приятел, мисленето е нещо много трудно и не може всеки да дилетанства в него както си иска. Той никога не би седнал да изсвири соната за фортепиано, защото не може. Ала всеки смята, че може да мисли и се хвърля да мисли безспир."

"-Закъсали сте. Мисля, че Ви се е появила душа.
-Това е много опасно.
"Ние" - Евгени Замятин

"Откакто се помня умирам от глад. Произлизам от заможна среда, вкъщи никога не е липсвало нищо. Това ме навежда на мисълта, че моят глад е специфичен - той е социално необясним. Нека уточня също, че гладът ми трябва да се разбира в широк смисъл - ако беше просто глад за храна, положението нямаше да е толкова сериозно. Впрочем съществува ли само глад за храна? Може ли стомашния глад да не е израз на един общ глад? Под глад разбирам ужасяващата нужда от нещо, изптивана от цялото същество, мъчителното усещане за вакуум, стремежът не толкова към утопичната насита, колкото към простата реалност - там където няма нищо, да се появи нещо.
"Биография на глада" - Амели Нотомб

"Проблемът на света е, че глупавите са самоуверени, а умните винаги се колебаят."

"Имах чувството, че хората идват и си отиват, раждат се и умират, но книгите са вечни. И като малък мечтаех да стана книга. Не писател - хората мряха като мухи и писателите не правеха изключение. Но не и книгите. Колкото и систематично да ги изтребваш, винаги има вероятност някой екземпляр да оцелее и да продължи да се наслаждава на живота от някоя лавица в ъгъла на забравена от Бога библиотека."

"История за любов и мрак" - Амос Оз

"Ние сме построили тази клетка наречена цивилизация, понеже имаме способността да мислим, а сега трябва да мислим понеже сме хванати в собствената си клетка."
"Пилето" - Уилям Уортън

"-Никога не съм се влюбвал. В това е моето нещастие."
-Аз пък никога не мога да остана влюбен, а това е по-страшно."
Фредерик Бегбеде

Thats all for now. I have many more, most of which are Erich Maria Remarque's. I feel, however, he deserves a separate post, simply because he is great.