Tartuffe

Title: Tartuffe

Author: Molière

Translated by: Charles Heron Wall

In search for something light and slightly different to what I usually read, I picked up a collection of Molière’s plays. Having heard that Tartuffe was his most famous and influential play, naturally it was the one that I started with. (Plus it intrigued me even more after I found out it was actually banned from being read or performed for a good five years!).

Tartuffe is a comedic satire on hypocrisy. The play centers around Orgon’s household members and Tartuffe. Orgon is blindly devoted to Tartuffe; a seemingly religiously devoted character whom Orgon found on the streets. The rest of the household hold their own suspicions and believe that Tartuffe is more interested in Orgon’s wealth than the religion. The plot focuses on Orgon’s family trying to convince Orgon of Tartuffe’s true nature and the aftermath of Orgon’s realization that Tartuffe is not quite who he professes to be.

“Appearances are oft deceiving, and seeing shouldn’t always be believing.”

The whole play was beautifully written; the dialogue was just incredibly amazing, making the interactions between the characters enjoyable and interesting. Humour had been brilliantly injected throughout the play. (So much so that I chuckled out loud occasionally much to the amusement of others). Although this was a light comedic play, there is still a hint of darker undertones such as hypocrisy and the battle between emotion and reason.

It was fascinating to see how the play revolves around the theme of hypocrisy. Tartuffe is obviously the main hypocrite – he asserts that he is pious and holy but in reality he is seen to be lustful and greedy. It was even more remarkable to see that those who believe and hang on to every word start to become hypocrites themselves. The biggest example being Orgon himself, who goes on to commit sins against his family (most notably against his daughter and son). The ideas conveyed in the play about hypocrisy are both timeless and universal.

“How do you fail to see it, may I ask?
Is not a face quite different than a mask?
Cannot sincerity and cunning art,
Reality and semblance, be told apart?”

Another theme that crops out throughout the play (though probably not as prominently as hypocrisy) is the idea of emotion vs. reason. Tartuffe uses emotion through his words throughout the play, in order to fool the other characters. On the other hand, both Dorine and Clement employ reason and logic to combat Tartuffe. However, it is seen that logic and reason only cause Orgon to make a host of reckless decisions that can be argued as being emotional. Furthermore, Molière hints at the dangers of emotion through Mariane and Valère’s subplot in the play. Seeing the context of when the play was written (The Enlightenment) actually seeping in to the play made it even more delightful to read.

“But he’s quite lost his senses since he fell
Beneath Tartuffe’s infatuating spell…”

The ending for me was slightly abrupt. Even though everything had been tied up, the way the issue had been resolved made me a little dubious – it felt too miraculous. In short, it felt like a solution had literally appeared out of thin air. Having said that, I’m sure there was a reason as to why it was written the way it was.

I would definitely want to watch this play being performed on stage at some point in the future. In the meantime, I shall be dipping in to more of Molière’s works and hope you do the same!

Happy Reading,

Saz

 

Strangers on a Train

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Title: Strangers on a Train

Author: Patricia Highsmith

Published: 1950

Being a massive fan of mystery and crime novels (particularly those featuring Poirot and Sherlock), I was somewhat confused as to why I had not read this particular psychological thriller sooner (especially considering it is considered a classic). Eager to waste no more time pondering this, I quickly scooped it off the shelf and started to read.

The premise of the novel is how two strangers cross paths on a train. Guy Haines, a successful architect and Charles Bruno, a troubled and possibly insane person. Bruno proposes that they both solve their personal problems by carrying out the perfect murder. Bruno will kill Guy’s wife and Guy will murder Bruno’s father. By doing so, both will have the perfect alibis as the police will see both murders as being motiveless and nothing can link them together as Guy and Bruno are just two strangers on a train. What could possibly go wrong?

“Hey! Cheeses, what an idea! We murder for each other, see? I kill your wife and you kill my father! We meet on a train, see, and nobody knows we know each other! Perfect alibis! Catch?”

The novel itself starts off slowly, with very vivid descriptions about the appearances and thoughts of the characters before coming to the main plot line. Personally I welcomed this as it set the scene nicely and made me feel more familiar with the characters. A variety of characters are presented, some that you instantly cannot help but dislike and others, which you feel a mix of emotions towards.

Both Guy and Bruno  are very complex and skilfully depicted by Highsmith. The main first part of the novel focuses more on Bruno and the reader gets to explore his mindset. For me, it was fascinating to be able to explore the mind of a deranged psychopath. The calmness and self-assurance that he carried kept me spell bound and made his part of the novel a real page-turner. It both fascinated and made me feel a little sick when hearing his thoughts when he was deciding how and when to kill Miriam. It was also interesting to see how Bruno felt so detached from reality. His obsessive nature with Guy was also remarkable; the way he insists that he would never betray Guy and that they have some bond between them – they are brothers in a (twisted) sense.

I have to say that I was relieved when the second part of the book switched to Guy’s perspective. For me, Guy was a little more complex in some ways than Bruno was. Firstly, he seems to be confused within himself how he felt towards Bruno – whether to see him as a friend, an annoyance or a deadly enemy.

Secondly, Guy seemed to have an internal struggle about murdering Bruno’s father. This was absent in Bruno – he seemed to have no qualms about taking a life. Highsmith did an amazingly brilliant job at depicting this struggle and showing how Guy eventually resolved that internal fight. It was truly incredible to see the torrent of Guy’s emotions throughout the book. It was definitely interesting to see whether he would succumb to his ‘dark side’ or not, but more than that, it was more about the journey in making (or not) that decision.

The whole novel was built around the concept that anyone can commit a murder when confronted with the right circumstances. To say that being a killer is not a dispositional aspect but rather a situational one made me shiver. That concept was seen to be present across the whole novel, subtly in the background.

“… Any kind of person can murder. Purely circumstances and not a thing to do with temperament…”

Another theme that really intrigued me was the idea of duality. How opposites reside together and are incomplete without one another. (This strongly reminded me of ‘The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde). Highsmith emphasises this very notion by the very contrast of Bruno and Guy. On one hand there is Bruno who blurs the moral lines, does not feel guilty and seems to be incapable of a pure love. Yet on the other hand is Guy, someone who has moral standards, is shaken by guilt. More so, it was immensely surprising to see a merging of personality towards the end of the novel.

Overall, the writing was brilliant and the insight in to these characters’ minds was just amazing. At points it did seem to drag a little (mainly towards the end) but character development and presentation was just mind-blowing and so skilfully portrayed. What also stuck out to me was how different this novel was from other crime novels. Normally a murder is committed and the reader follows the detective’s investigations, whereas here it was the complete opposite, which I greatly enjoyed. It was so original and refreshing to say the least! The writing itself was so vivid and descriptive with precise detail that most of the time it felt I was there with the characters. The final thought that this novel left me with was; is there such a thing as a perfect murder?

I have never read anything like this and immensely enjoyed the experience. This was one of the few books I also managed to finish within one sitting and like any addicted bookworm kept convincing myself that I’ll put it down after one more chapter. This is a book that truly deserves to be labelled as a crime classic.

Happy Reading,

Saz