The Fortunes and Misfortunes and Absence of Strength of Moll Flanders

English: Brereton Hall Grade 1 listed 16th cen...

English: Brereton Hall Grade 1 listed 16th century building – front elevation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I began this year with a promise. I was to watch the many movies and read the many classics that I had placed on a list that I had drawn up when I was only eighteen. Well it took me a while to get started but last week I picked up a copy of the first book on my list. That book being The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders.

Anybody who is a lover of classic literature already has an understanding of what the book is about. With the many television and movie adaptations that have been made of the novel over the years, it only stands to reason that most would have knowledge of what the story details. In short, the novels author, Daniel Defoe, famous also for his tale of Robinson Crusoe, tells the tale of a lady he later calls the original moll. She is a woman whose life is so criminally active and scandalously shocking, that any reader would be taken aback by what they saw within the pages of the book. Defoe later went on to state that the piece was actually based on memoirs he found within his possession. With this being the case, many have speculated that the novel is in fact based on a true story. Although this is questioned to this day, the author was right in stating how the book would shock when first published in 1722.

The story of Moll Flanders is not a light-hearted one. Born to a thief in Newgate prison, her life is a continuous journey of twists and turns, ups and downs, highs and lows. Coincidence features heavily but in a sense helps complete the circle of life which is her own. Her romantic encounters begin when she is eighteen and in love with one brother but marries the other. He soon leaves her a widow. She later marries a spend thrift, a gentleman, her own brother (by mistake and coincidence). She falls in love with a highway man, marries a banker, becomes a thief and a prostitute, but later repents and goes on to live out her life finally at peace and with the wealth she has always wanted with the man she loves. Oh yes, this tale is jam-packed with plots to make your head spin, tales to make you cry and exploits to make you draw your breath in astonishment. However, what this classic lacked for me was the ability to make me feel any empathy for Moll.

I do not know why but regardless of whether things were going right or wrong for her, I simply just did not care. The amount of crazy occurrences that filled her life, and I just could not be bothered. I literally finished reading the book, simply because I had started it. My problem with Moll is not that she delved into criminal activity, or lay on the wrong side of the bed, (quite literally) but rather she seemed to have no true conviction to be anything. Yes, she wanted to be rich and so set off at an early age to con and trick any wealthy man into becoming her husband. And, (even though it may sound wrong) I applaud her for that. The reason for my praise is because this is the only real aim Moll ever had in her life, and one she worked hard towards. However, everything else that happened to her seemed to simply be what life brought her way. She became a great thief, because that is where life took her. She became a prostitute because that is where life took her. She went to America, because that is where life took her. I would have empathized so much more with a woman who aimed at becoming a great criminal, or aimed at being the best at the oldest profession known to man, or who aimed at going away and making life better for herself. I totally understand that the book was written in a time when women had to simply deal with the life they received, but if Moll was able to have the intentions of becoming a con woman to bag a rich man, and worked towards it, could she not have made a conscious decision to become the other things also? Circumstance does have an effect on life, but Moll was ruled by circumstance.

I would hate to think that my feelings towards the protagonist may be because this version of a strong woman was penned by a man in the 1700’s, but to my thinking, a strong woman is a strong woman throughout. She makes decisions. She says, ‘yes, this is what I am going to do!’ A strong woman always has intention, no matter how low or unobtainable that intention might be, it is always there. Moll simply lacked that, and with her being the main protagonist… the book for me was lacking…..

I have waited years to read this classic and in all honesty, it let me down, but I will not be swayed from my endeavour and I will continue down my list of classics. The next being The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. Until next time.

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Cloud Atlas. A Cinematographic Ray Of Sunshine?

cloud atlas

cloud atlas (Photo credit: psd)

Ben Whishaw.  One of those great new talents to emerge from Britain (well in my opinion anyway). Ben Whishaw. The reason I found out about a major movie project called ‘Cloud Atlas’.  Due to the fact that Ben had (again in my opinion) given such stellar performances in the BBC’s ‘The Hour’, (now cancelled), Criminal Justice and also the latest instalment of James Bond  ‘Skyfall’, in which he played a younger version of Q, I was sure I would love this mega block buster. The fact that names such as Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and other Oscar winners and nominees were listed as co-stars made me want to see the film even more.

Now I am one of those people, (who are not liked by many, but that’s ok, ‘cause I’m a lone wolf, a maverick, a renegade, a rebel… yeah right!) who believes in reading the book before watching the movie. On finding out that Cloud Atlas was indeed a novel which was later turned into a movie, I tracked down the text and read it. Written by the British author David Mitchell I must say that I could not put it down. The text truly is a complicated piece of literature which tells six full stories within the one piece.

The first story is that of Adam Ewing, situated within the Pacific Ocean in 1850. The second story is that of Robert Fobisher, (who Whishaw plays in the film). Fobisher is an English musician whose story begins in 1931. The third story is that of Lisa ray. In 1975, Ray is an investigative journalist in California who is looking into reports that a nuclear power plant is not safe. The fourth story is the comic relief of the book. It tells the tale of 65 year old vanity press publisher Timothy Cavendish.  Whilst the fifth story charts the story of clone Sonmi – 451 and is set in Nea So Copras, a futuristic state. Lastly, the sixth story makes up the central part of the novel. It tells the story of Zachary who is to be found with his family living within a post-apocalyptic society. Within the novel the sixth story is the only one allowed to run all the way through. The other tales are broken up and woven between one another. Each starting and stopping at fundamental key points.  The beauty of the piece being that even though this is the way that the book flows, Mitchel never allows you to feel lost within the maze of stories. In turn it allows the reader to comprehend the message that regardless of race, gender, class and time, somehow we each influence and have bearing on all others. It gives credence to the idea that whatever your actions are now, it has reverberations on those to come. I was in awe when I had completed the book and I could not wait to see the film.

Don’t you just hate those people who state things like, ‘The book was so much better than the film’…. Well sorry… but….

I do not know if it is because such an intricate body of tales, interlaced so well together just simply cannot be translated visually onto the cinematic screen or if the screenplay adaptation was simply weak but ‘Cloud Atlas’ the movie paled considerably  next to the novel.  The quality of acting and the star power should have been able to save it, however even with great performances given by all involved, I believe the piece had already failed before production had begun and the first scene shot. The director’s decision of having the actors play diverse roles from one story to the next was a stroke of genius. It also went to concrete the idea of the linkage of lives through time. Sometimes they would play the main protagonist whilst within other stories they would simply have a bit part. A round of applause must also be sounded for the films make-up artists, whose prosthetics had some of the actors unrecognisable as they played their roles. Regardless of which, the movie still fell short. It simply left me unmoved.

In all, I found Cloud Atlas the movie very disappointing. The Times even lists it as the number one worst movie of 2012. I do not know if I would go that far. There are many who did a lot worse, and who are stronger contenders for that title. However, it was a let-down. I do not wish to deter anyone from going to see the movie however. The costumes, cinematography, acting and make-up alone are worth the effort, but if you are one who requires the presence of a working script to hold a movie together, Cloud Atlas simply will not be your thing.