Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Lacquer Lady, by F. Tennyson Jesse--analysis--Not a minor classic--a major one

Started reading The Lacquer Lady by F. Tennyson Jesse--

really beautifully written.

I first read it when I was age 11 or 12, before my father died, but I didn't understand it the way I do now.

I read a lot of things too early, before life and experience and even knowledge caught up with me.

The review on Amazon calls this book "a minor classic."

I don't think there is anything minor about this or about Maurice Collis' She was a Queen and Siamese White.

They are set in Burma, a small place, but they are not "small" as works of art and literature.

People so often mistake geographic area (subject matter) for substance or depth or complexity.

The Lacquer Lady is beautifully written from the get go.

There is conflict on every page--

between the 2 young women, one a half breed (based on real life Mattie Calogreedy)

between Fanny (Mattie's) yearnings towards sex and the Victorian society exemplified by the white close friend

between Burma and Britain

Upper Burma still under the monarchy and Lower Burma under the British

between Burmese and Western or English values.

Between the fictions and daydreams the young women make up in their heads and the drab reality.

When The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh came out, I did not read it, as my memory of The Lacquer Lady was still fresh after 50 years.

To date, 2 women from Burma, one of Persian ancestry, have told me their ancestor/s were ladies-in-waiting in the Burmese court, "with their little bundles."

So far I have not written this kind of novel as think there are too many Burmese lady-in-waiting novels, and I would rather write from the point of view of a major character in the historical drama.

Anyway, FTJ weaves in a great deal, about the voyage by steamship through the Suez Canal, a journey I also made in childhood that FTJ must have too, the class thing between a British ICS (Indian Civil Service) man and a fat merchant who flirts with the just pubescent woman.

The dust of Upper Burma, the creaking of the ox carts.

The "second class citizen" status of the kalar or foreigners in Mandalay.

I have only read about 2-3 chapters, so it can only get better,

I feel I got a real bargain for $12 including postage.

I paid $70 for She was a Queen, and $7 for Siamese White in 1997-8.

I am not planning to part with The Lacquer Lady till death do us part.


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