|Author with a
yen for whopping titles
By Carl Muller
We have all read Robinson Crusoe, haven’t
we? Daniel Defoe was 58 when he published it in
1719. Four years earlier, he was, as he called
himself, “an expectant of death, adding that, his
one desire was to even all accounts with this world;
that the only inheritance he had received from his
father was character, and he wished to die with that
as his peaceful possession.
But, oh boy! He really did pack in the titles of
his novels! What would you say of the original title
of Robinson Crusoe. “Mind you, he wrote only Part
One and the second Part was sent to the publisher
four months later.
Turning to the title page of the original, I found
something to smile about. What was Foe trying to do?
(he made Foe into Defoe long after he was born).
Running over it, I wondered. Here lay everything I
would like to see popping up in the text. He had
deprived readers the opportunity of savouring the
text, telling them of what they could expect to
read. Here it is, as entitled:
The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of
Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight
and Twenty Years all alone on an Uninhabited Island
on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great
River of Oroonoque; having been cast on shore by
Shipwreck, wherein all the Others Perished; With an
Account of how he was at last as Strangely
Delivered by Pirates: Written by Himself.
Sounds rather overdone? But the book was snapped up
and, by the time Part Two came in, the publisher had
run into the fourth edition. You see, all this was
very new to the readers. When Defore began Robinson
Crusoe, it was, to him, a new life as a novelist. He
also had a wife and six children to care for, but
that did not stop him getting a hang of what and how
he should satisfy- or satiate, his public.
Part Two was not as convoluted in title, and this
time, the publisher decorated the bottom of the page
with what he called his “mark” - a sailing ship.
This was Defoe’s title:
The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; Being the
Second and Last Part of his Life; and at the Strange
Surprising Events of his Travels round Three Parts
of the Globe - Written by Himself - To which is
added a Map of the World in which is Delineated the
Voyages of Robinson Crusoe.
For all the work, however, Defore received
little. His publisher made both reputation and
fortune, although he was a young man who did not
live long enough to enjoy his success. You see,
Defoe decided to then pack in collections of moral
essays that also have something to do with Crusoe.
One of these essays is titled:
Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising
Adventures of Robinson Crusoe with his Vision of the
Angelic World - Written by Himself.
This was first published in 1720, and in the
meantime, the publisher, revelling in the money he
was pulling in, added an engraving of Crusoe as a
front piece to the first edition and another in-text
ornament - a lion - to Part Two.
Before I get onto the Crusoe story, allow me to
toss you a few more titles:
June 1720: The Life, Adventures and Piracies of the
Famous Captain Singleton: Containing an Account of
his being Set Ashore in the Island of Madagascar,
his Settlement there with a Description of the Place
and Inhabitants: Of his Passage thence in a Paraguay
to the Mainland of Africa, with An Account of the
Customs and Manners of the People; His Great
Deliverance from Barbarous Natives and Wild Beasts;
Of his Meeting with an Englishman, a Citizen of
London amongst the Indians; the Great Riches he
Acquired and his Voyage back to England. As also
Captain Singleton’s return to Sea with an Account of
his Many Adventures and Piracies with the Famous
Captain Avery and others.
Wow! The man seems to have spent more time
‘nutshelling’ his novels than writing them!
The story of Robinson Crusoe was undoubtedly
suggested by an incident that had caused much
interest in London in 1712-13. There was a Scottish
sailor, Alexander Selkirk, onboard one of the ships
cruising with Captain Dampier in the South Seas.
Selkirk quarrelled with the Captain, officers and
crew and, by general consent and his own wishes, was
offloaded on the island of Juan Fernandez in 1704.
He was given a gun, powder and shot, to make his
life bearable, and he remained alone, and with a
mounting temper, on the island for nearly
four-and-a-half years. He was taken off by a sea
captain, Woodes Rogers in 1709, and came back to
England in 1711. Rogers wrote of his rescuing the
stranded Selkirk, in an account of his own voyage,
and Selkirk became a most interesting character for
a few years.
So you see, Defoe had his stories cut-and-dry,
and his fiction really could not profess to be so.
And he became quite rich, as he continued feeding in
more and more, with hardly the time to take a deep
breath. Let me give you some examples:
1. The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr.
Duncan Campbell, a gentleman, who, though born Deaf
and Dumb, writes down any Stranger’s Name at First
Sight; and their future Contingencies of Fortune.
2. The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll
Flanders; Written from his own Memorandums.
3. Religious Courtship: Being Historical Discourses
on the Necessity of Marrying religious Husbands and
4. A Journal of the Plague Year: Being Observations
or Memorials of the Most Remarkable Occurrences as
well, Public and Private, which happened in London
during the Last Great Visitation in 1665 - Written
by a Citizen who Continued all the while in London
5. The Complete English Tradesman; In Familiar
Letters, directing him in all the Several Parts and
Progressions of the Trade.
6. Defoe’s Political History of the Devilo.
It was in 1729 that his health broke down.
Of course, to read Robinson Crusoe is to follow the
well known tale of his rescue of a cannibal savage
being pursued by his enemies, and whose was the
first human voice he had heard in 25 years. Let me
leave you with this extract:
He came running and laid himself on the ground ...
At last he lays his head flat upon the ground, close
to my foot and sets my other foot upon his head ...
to let me know how much he would serve me as long as
he lived ... In a little time I began to speak to
him and teach him to speak with me; and first made
him know that his name should be Friday, which was
the day I saved his life. I likewise taught him to
say Master, and then let him know that was to be my
(Oh, by the way, having told you of Defoe,
it’s not easy to leave out Lemuel Gulliver, is it?
Let me get on to this as “Swift-ly” as possible.)
|Did She, or Didn’t She?
Sir Christopher Ondaatje reminds us of the
controversy that still surrounds the authorship of
Beryl Markham’s two books, West with the Night and
The Splendid Outcast
“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book West with the
Night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never
would have suspected that she could and would put
pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log
book. As it is, she has written so well and
marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of
myself as a writer ... (she) can write rings around
all of us who consider ourselves writers. I wish you
could get it and read it because it is really a
bloody wonderful book.”
- Ernest Hemingway, Author
West with the Night is one of the most poetic books
ever written about Africa and deserves to be placed
in the same respected category as both Out of Africa
by Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) and The Flame Trees
of Thika by Elspeth Huxley. It is not surprising
that National Geographic ranked it as one of the
best eight adventure books ever written. And indeed
it is. The book was published in 1942 when Kenya was
known as British East Africa, and recounts not only
Beryl Markham’s life as a bush pilot in the early
1920s and 1930s but also her incredible experience
in 1936 when she became not only the first woman,
but the first person of either sex, to fly the
Atlantic Ocean solo from East to West (the “wrong
way”). Most of the flight was in total darkness,
against the wind, and over unbroken ocean. It was an
It is also not surprising that a number of people
agreed with Hemingway’s statement that he “never
would have suspected that she could and would put
pen to paper” ... except perhaps to keep up her
flyer’s log book. Errol Trzebinski has written in
her 1993 biography The Lives of Beryl Markham that
West with the Night was written by Raoul Schumacher
– her third husband. But in my opinion, and that of
Mary Lovell, the author of Straight on Till Morning,
Beryl Markham wrote the major part of her memoir in
the Bahamas. Schumacher was never in the Bahamas at
the same time as his eventual wife. It is much more
likely that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a good friend,
fellow pilot, and author of The Little Prince,
helped Beryl Markham start her extraordinary
autobiographical memoir. He certainly discussed
plans for Miss Markham’s work with her; just as
certainly that Raoul Schumacher, a very able editor,
helped with the editing of Beryl Markham’s
manuscript. Miss Lovell herself has written that
“there are some surviving papers of manuscript that
bear Raoul Schumacher’s handwritten edits, and Beryl
herself acknowledged his ‘help and encouragement’ in
a foreword to West with the Night.
Curiously, and more recently, in the 1980s, Mary
Lovell, Beryl Markham’s official biographer,
discovered that the aviatrix had also written or
collaborated on several other short stories which
had been published only in magazines (Ladies Home
Journal and Colliers). These stories were published
in 1987 in a collection under the title of The
Splendid Outcast. Of the eight stories in the book,
three have been identified by Mary Lovell as being
positively by Beryl Markham, but that one of the
stories was written by her friend Stuart Cloete, and
the remaining four ghost written by Raoul
Schumacher, her husband. Of course, this revelation
only causes further suspicion as to whether
Schumacher was more than just an editor of West with
the Night. The writing styles are very much the same
and very similar to some short stories that he
published under his own name. Nevertheless all the
exotic stories collected in The Splendid Outcast are
gems of African adventure, of horses, and of flying.
They are dramatic, of limited length, and give added
insight into a fearless, impetuous, and
Whether Beryl Markham actually wrote West with the
Night, or whether she wrote only a part of the
manuscript, is I feel totally irrelevant. It is her
story, and the book is a masterpiece. Similarly, it
is immaterial to me whether she wrote only three and
collaborated on the other five stories in The
Splendid Outcast. Both books, written in the 1940s,
are remarkable works of autobiography.
When West with the Night was first published in
1942 by Houghton Mifflin in Boston it received a
great deal of critical acclaim and, initially
anyway, enjoyed good sales. However, its popularity
soon faded and went out of print for forty years.
When George Gutekunst, an American restaurateur,
discovered the book through a library system in 1980
he (with novelist Evan Connell) convinced North
Point Press, a tiny California publisher, to publish
the book again (ISBN 0-86547-118-5). It was
immediately called “a lost masterpiece” and reached
heights of critical and popular success far above
the success of the first edition. By the end of the
1980s questions of authorship damaged both the
critical reputation and sales of the book.
Nevertheless the book has now sold well over a
million copies and has never since been out of
print. It also allowed Beryl Markham to enjoy again
the literary acclaim she deserved, and to live out
her few remaining years in comparative comfort.
Mary Lovell visited Beryl Markham in Nairobi shortly
before she died in 1986 and interviewed her for her
biography Straight on Till Morning. During these
extensive interviews she discovered that there were
more short stories, some of which had only been
published in American magazines. The Splendid
Outcast, an anthology of eight African stories
recounting personal experiences by Beryl Markham,
was compiled by Mary Lovell and published
posthumously in 1987 by North Point Press in
California (ISBN 0-86547-301-3); and by Century
Hutchinson, London, also in 1987 (ISBN 009-172604
2). The unexpected collection is a further
revelation of the daring character of a gifted
(Sir Christopher Ondaatje is the author of
Journey to the Source of the Nile, and Hemingway in
Source: The Sri Lankan Anchorman, Toronto, Canada
Polanski’s ‘The Ghost Writer’
By Peter Marshall
You don’t have to be political minded to
spot the obvious characterisation in Roman
Polanski’s new political thriller starring Ewan
McGgregor and Pierce Brosnan.
McGregor plays a ghost writer (left nameless in the
movie) brought in to help write/edit the memoirs of
former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan)
after his original ghost drowned in mysterious
Brosnan’s persona is a pretty obvious reference to
former British PM Tony Blair, and in the course of
time McGregor realises – after finding some hidden
files dug up by his predecessor during his research
– that the ‘all presentation, no substance’ Lang was
heavily involved with the US’s CIA since his days at
Lang is also being investigated by the International
Criminal Court over allegations he assisted with the
transit of British citizens to be interrogated (or
should that be tortured) by the US intelligence
As he uncovers more and more of this political
conspiracy theory, the fact that the Cambridge
student with a flair for acting, who claims to have
gone into politics after falling in love with his
politically active future wife (played brilliantly
by Olivia Williams) the obvious anomaly that Lang
seemed to go from having no interest in politics to
serious political activist at a stroke, seems to owe
more and more to the influence of his CIA chums at
university than any inherent interest in one day
calling Number 10 Downing Street his home.
Most of the action takes place on an island off
the coast of America where the memoir is being
written (the fact that the US is one of the few
countries that does not recognise the authority of
the ICC in the Hague which therefore has no
jurisdiction in the country is another reason given
for his presence on American soil) and as the death
of the original writer looks more and more like
murder, so does the inference that Brosnan’s
character is little more than a CIA stooge (as one
character says “can you think of a single decision
in the past ten years as PM that hasn’t benefited
the United States?”).
Again, you don’t need to have keenly kept your
finger on the pulse of world politics to spot the
comparisons to Britain and America’s so called
‘special relationship’, particularly in reference to
the Blair administration’s readiness to stand by the
US and take part in the invasion of Iraq. So too,
the CIA is once again suggested to be one of the
world’s shadier secret services both in its intent
and influence and the thinly cloaked reference to
Blair’s character assassination as being that of an
intelligent and articulate actor/orator with little
real substance (along with his own personal agenda)
is as blunt as it is engaging, thanks largely to a
good turn by Brosnan.
The story is certainly successful in keeping your
attention and does build the tension rather well. It
is also a topical comment regarding recent political
affairs which will especially appeal to those with
little love for US foreign policy or Blair’s
decision to send the UK’s own military into Iraq.
There are certain flaws in the film. Most notably
the fact that much of it is set on an island with a
climate much like the British Winter doesn’t exactly
give the thriller much in the way of colour - in
much the same way as the British Winter does little
to lower national suicide rates – nor is it dark or
sinister enough to add any nourish tension to the
proceedings despite the movie being otherwise well
On the whole, McGregor does a good job in his
central performance as the ghost writer, and the
screenplay is pretty tight too, though sometimes
lacks any inherent feeling of there being a threat
to McGregor’s character.
The fact that some of the evidence of Lang’s furtive
goings on are clumsily obvious (a couple of pretty
important pieces of information in the whole
conspiracy theory are easily gleaned from a quick
search on Google) begs the obvious question of how
the press failed to spot the same inferences that
most investigative reporters would spot with their
These annoyances apart, the film still holds your
interest to the end and is proof that despite recent
events in his personal life which must have taken
their toll on the film (regardless of whether you
disapprove of his conduct in this very real saga, as
I must say I do) it shows that Polanski can still
make a darn good film even in his seventies. Though
this will hardly rank alongside his masterpieces
such as Chinatown and The Pianist, on the whole it’s
an engaging and intelligent thriller that keeps your
attention with the added entertainment value of the
‘art imitating life’ portrayal of a former British
PM by Brosnan along with the associations it holds
with recent political events in the Middle East.
challenge for Udayakantha
Popular film-maker Udayakantha Warnasuriya takes a
challenge with his new film Challengers. So much so
in meeting the demands of bringing out a forceful
story based on youth. Indeed, it is a theme
Udayakantha has a penchant to touch on as he makes
out. In saying so something that Udayakantha
emphasises is that his past films too have
accentuated on the life of contemporary youth.
Following are excerpts of an interview with him.
Q: What prompted you to make Challengers?
My films were always novel and my past films too
like Rosa Wasnthaya, Asai Mung Piyambanne and Hiri
Poda Vessa were based on youth. The latter one dwelt
on the ties between parents and children, and as
youth how they face life. I think Challengers seems
to be an advance step of this in propagating a
message. Parents are determined to give their
children the best under whatever circumstances. It
may be through love and affection or advice.
Challengers further dwells on the subject. It is
woven around a father, Esela Randunu, a professor in
his rank who tries his level best to direct his only
son in the right path of life. Ranuk, the
mischievous small fellow, on reaching the bloom of
his youth meets charming Sharanya who makes him
emotional and loveable. But a family friend of
Sharanya, Kishan too is interested in her. Ranuk
thinks it’s a challenge to win her, but his father
makes him understand that that alone is not life;
that his education, profession and other
achievements are more important where he has to
shape his life in a better way.
Q: What did you feel while working with youth?
I was happy and overjoyed, reminiscing my youth. But
on the way it was a tough task.
Q: Introducing youthful Sheshadri as the main
I think it is one of my best introductions. She is
beautiful, cute, with the necessary acting talent.
She looks like an Indian actress with twinkling eyes
and a charming smile.
Q: Speaking about Roshan and Pubudu?
Personality-wise Roshan takes it from Vijaya
Kumaranatunga and Ranjan Ramanayake. He is very
decent and quite innocent. Pubudu is easy to work
with and keen to be very lively in his character.
Q: About the music? Is it a new concept or a
variation? And your introduction of superstar
It’s a variation. The film has seven songs. For the
first time in the history of the Sinhala cinema
several musicians handled the music. Music of the
film is an additional attraction. Superstar Surendra
Perera makes his debut as a playback singer with a
heap of popular and upcoming singers.
Q: The supporting star cast and the technical
Everyone did their best. Wasanthi Chathurani, Lucky
Dias acting as parents, and the new star cast as
well. Jayanath Gunawardene’s camera picking were
splendid, especially the dance sequences. Indian
choreographer, Cool Jayanth was specially taken to
train and direct the dances, which is a combination
of Sri Lankan and Indian dancing taking into
consideration the culture of our dances.
Q: Selection of locations other than scenes
shot in Colombo?
The Kukule Ganga Resort was a wonderful location for
shooting. Nilaveli Beach and Nuwara Eliya also added
Q: Was Challengers a challenge?
Yes, of course. It was a challenge.
Q: When are you planning to release the film?
Either end of this year or early next year in the
EAP circuit including Savoy cinema. This is a
cinemascope film produced by Sunflower Films
utilising modern DTS sound systems. (Log into:
www.challengesmovie.com for further details).
Q: Your films achieved a remarkable success
with fame and popularity and made record with many
I always fulfilled the needs of the audience by
giving what they liked. I have a passion for the
cinema. As such, I intend giving something
remarkable and valued to remain in the hearts of my
sincere fans in each of the films I make.