On sensibility in The Man of Feeling

I read Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling a few weeks ago now and I really have been unable to stop thinking about it, moreover I am struggling to work out why that is the case. There were differences in the form with it being a manuscript and with their being large sections of the text missing; being written in the 18th Century there were large differences in the language. But I have read similar books before and this one really stood out.

The novel has a slightly confusing synopsis, so I apologise if I get confused here. The manuscript is found in a cottage that used to belong to Harley, The Man of Feeling, and has been used as gun wadding, hence why there are large sections of the text missing and it seems completely fragmented the entire way through. It is then compiled by an unnamed character and published. The text itself has been narrated by a third person, someone who seemed to have appreciated Harley and his moral perspective on life and documented it. The chapters are individually episodes in Harley’s life as he travels from Scotland to London in search of a better financial situation, but ultimately returns home bankrupt.

Sir Brooke Boothby, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby

Sir Brooke Boothby, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby

What I really liked was the way that the text commented on sensibility, which was an important cultural attribute on the 1700’s. To be considered a man of sensibility or feeling was to possess refined emotions and intellect in order to use them. Crying in public was not seen as feminine or embarrassing like it is today, but a cultural aspiration of many men. Harley the protagonist cries at many moments throughout the novel as he witnesses injustices. Interestingly the Victorians, who had the binary opposite attribute of the stiff upper-lip considered this to be a comedy, and an index of tears was compiled at the back of the book for people to reference.

This was what has really troubled me when deciding what to write about this book. I am undecided whether this is idea of sensibility is good or bad, and whether it is applicable to our 21st society. I cannot imagine a man in the City of London walking past a homeless man and offering to hear his life story. Yes, granted Mackenie’s novel is a satirical critique of sensibility but it remains entirely ambiguous throughout. Yet I don’t think it would be a bad thing if people showed more emotion.

In a world that is becoming increasingly isolationist and lonely I think that perhaps what it really needs most is a reintroduction of sentimentality on a small scale.

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‘Terrorism’ and the Woolwich Attack

Yesterday (22/05/13) a British soldier was hit by a car and then brutally and aggressively murdered by the people who had run him over with what looks like a meat cleaver in Woolwich, London. The men who killed him asked people to film the incident and did not make any attempt to run, but simply bided their time before the police and back-up could arrive. On the film, the man is heard to say “Allahu Akbar” which instantly led the case to be considered and publicised as a terrorist attack.

Woolwich attack, suspect on street

Now, I am not going to pretend that I am an expert on politics or religion, or foreign policy or that I even have a detailed understanding of the relationship that Islamic countries have with the West. But I was horrified that people jumped to the conclusion that this death was a terrorist attack. The man on the video said that God is Great. The video also shows him saying:

“We swear by Almighty Allah, we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. The only reasons we killed this man is because Muslims are dying daily. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We apologize that woman had to see this today, but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you.”

But how can you define terrorism?  The brutal decapitation of a civilian in Woolwich by a couple of men or the brutal killing of civilians in an Islamic country by the West? It just seems to me that “Terrorist Attack” is thrown around a lot, and almost acts as a propaganda weapon. The means to which the West think that all Muslims are plotting to destroy the West and what it stands for.

Bollocks.

Granted there have been horrific and devastating events around the world caused by terrorism, the UK, the IRA nationalists, the US, in the name of democracy, communism, fascism. They are all the same. Terrorism seems to be an umbrella term for most kinds of violence, which has in more recent years transformed to represent just the ones caused by Muslims. An article published on the Guardian asked the same question about defining terrorism and suggested that one answer could be “any act of violence designed to achieve political change.” If people are still insistent on using the term terrorism then it should be broadened out to include the West, because what the EDL did to the Mosques in Woolwich in response to the attack is surely terrorism too? Surely the government should also think about increasing security around Mosques and not just the Barracks if disgusting reactionary events like this continue? The Islamic community have said that they have nothing to do with this incident and that they hope it won’t detriment their livelihood in Britain.

EDL

What I found even worse was the reaction that it provoked across the country. Nick Griffin would have been proud with some of the responses the death caused. Facebook statuses claiming that it was all because the country has let too many immigrants in and that they should be sent ‘back to where they came from’ if they can’t learn how to ‘belong’ in our country. Honestly, if you go around posting statuses like that then you clearly don’t belong in this country because last time I checked it was pretty cosmopolitan. The recent census data shows how the demographics of London have changed recently and is only one example of many.

Sadly I can’t think of a way to make this end well. I think the future seems to look relatively bleak in terms of race, religion and terror. Although, it was reassuring that the majority of the facebook statuses and tweets that I read yesterday were of a similar opinion to me. That people who jump to conclusions about people because of their race are simply nothing more than racists. It is clear that the two men were sick. Why does terrorism even have to be thrown into the bag?

Morality in All Change Please by Danielle West

Yes, it is time, I have finished All Change Please, and honestly it was such a good book I found it hard to stop reading it once I reached the final 100 page stretch. Only being able to read it on my laptop was sometimes a pain, but I struggled through – although I say it was a pain, I was going to read the novel regardless of what form it came in, so I guess it doesn’t matter particularly.

The book focusses around the lives of three women who are all grieving after their friend Laura suddenly passes away, and it follows them through their lives after the funeral and shows how they cope with her death. It was great to read a book that was set in London and so I found it entirely relatable, the crowded tubes, the disgustingly and yet beautifully unreliable weather, millions of tourists and the good old iconic red bus.

Tube disruptions. Again.

Tube disruptions. Again.

What I really liked was the three-way narration. The skipping between Ophelia, Kat and Elise while they all lived their different lives that were all linked through their friendship and their grief. The lives of the women all developed differently at and different speeds and intensities which made the book even harder to stop reading. Once you would reach the end of a section about Ophelia, there would be an indent and you would want to read how Elise had got on at her job interview. Furthermore, the repetition of Laura and her presence in the three lives was very interesting. She appeared at times when they needed a shoulder to cry on most. Someone to tell them to get a grip and man-up. At times when there was the most tension and conflict she appeared.

This leads me on to the morality question that is developed throughout. Each of the friends dealt with Laura’s death differently. Life re-evaluation occurred. Travel. New jobs. Reuniting and reconciling with old friends and family. There were times in the novel when I was really taken back by the issues that face everyone. Death is a guarantee and is unavoidable, but it is taken for granted that it won’t happen to most people until old age finally gives in during a peaceful night.

What is your greatest regret?

Does everything happen for a reason?

Have you settled for mediocrity?

How do you define happiness?

I don’t want to give off the wrong impression. This book has a few pessimistic moments, moments that make you evaluate your life and the path you are travelling down while the characters are doing that too. But there are moments of hilarity, cringiness and the quotidian lives that we all know so well. It is a novel about three women who are coping with the loss of a friend who was such an important part of their lives, that even after she has died, she is still impacting the decisions that they make for the better.