The quagmire of romantic literature

I read my battered and worn copy of ‘Gone with the wind’ for the nth time this week and I did the same things I do each time. I wept at the same parts, laughed at the same jokes and got irritated by the same people. And I was happy at the end of it all. And yet I wonder if reading these great epic romances is worthwhile in the world that we live today. I remember at college, one of my colleagues telling me that it was high time I got married and stopped waiting for my knight in shining armor,riding in on a white horse.This from a man who we considered coarse and very superficial, with no sensibilities at all.  To say I was thunderstruck would be an understatement. You see, it was so true, even though I had never exactly put it in those words to myself, but I was waiting for a knight to rescue me from the drudgery of life. Well, thankfully for me I did get swept away by my knight but the point remains that it is such an unrealistic criterion in today’s world to expect a knight, a castle and a happily ever after. And the only thing I can blame such ideas on is the ‘great love stories’ like GWTW. I mean I was lucky to bump into a man who believed in the same nonsensical notions as me, but who else does that nowadays. In a fast paced world, where people change partners with an eye on convenience, job qualifications, work locations apart from all the cliches of caste and family, who has time for romance. It’s almost  cruel to let children read books like these and grow up looking for prince charming in such a cynical world.

And yet, if anyone gave me the choice to grow up without my beloved copy of ‘Gone with the wind’ and other equally mushy novels and classics I would never be able to accept that generous offer. My books made me the person I am today and without them I would be lost.

As for the characters in this novel, I loved Melaine. Always. From the very first time I read the book, I wished I was like her. Kind, generous, loving, with such a sweet temper and love for all. Unfortunately I am not such a person at all. After careful consideration I have decided I might fit into the role of one of the Tarleton sisters pretty well, with a little bit of India Wilkis thrown in. For a long time I believed that a person as sweet as Melly could not exist, until I bumped into a girl who seemed to be moulded out of the pages of the book. She is one of my dearest friends now for almost a decade now and is still just as adorable and innocent as ever.

Scarlett O’Hara tends to irritate me with her behaviour a lot of the time. She is just so self absorbed and silly at times and unbelievably superficial for too great a part of her life. Her obsession with Ashley almost makes one wish somebody gave her a tight slap for once. But then who am I to judge. The girl came from an era when they were expected to flirt and catch beaux and ultimately a husband with a good income, so self absorption must have been akin to survival. Her spirit for survival almost takes my breathe away and must be admired and saluted. The American society at that time with all its strictures and rules seems so orthodox and restrictive towards women and her constant struggle to break out of its bonds and then to be embraced into it again is heart- wrenching. The Americans got it from the British who brought it to our great country to further restrict the growth of Indian women following the oppression of the Muguls. And of course all of it can be traced back to their religions, which considered women the lowest form of human life as opposed to our civilization that worshiped the female form as a source of life. Our only fault is that we are a peace loving race after all is said and done. As are our sister religions of Buddhism and Jainism. The book mirrors a certain culture and must force comparisons with those followed by its readers which is always a healthy way to expand your minds.

It is a great story by a great storyteller even though the storyteller was unashamedly and almost at times unknowingly racist. Her belief in the superiority of the whites is so blatant it makes me cringe at times, but then nobody is perfect. Her study of human interactions at the individual level and in social group are thought provoking and true in every society, anywhere in the world.

She did dream up the perfect man in Rhett Butler, who has turned out to haunt the heart of any woman who has read the book even once. The perfect lover. Almost. If you disregard Mr. Darcy.

The description of the civil war in the book which also follows General Lee through his victories and failures is almost as good as a history lesson for any who are not familiar with it. As is the post war scenario of the reconstruction of a defeated state.


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