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The Editor’s Notes: Chapters 14-15

In Analysis of Plot, Batavus Droogstoppel, Character Development, Max Havelaar, The Editor on 19/04/2009 at 23:19

                The other day my wife (my Marieke!) asked to read the newest drafts of the novel. Having just finished reviewing chapters 14 and 15 I could only hand over the pages with a heavy heart. Just as I expected, this morning I found Marieke bent over the manuscript, and very much upset. It was difficult to comfort her, for though I am no expert on the affairs in Java, it has become my opinion that what Scarfman has produced in his writings is truth, and that all the optimism we may have heard here in Amsterdam about Java is most probably not.

                Even Droogstoppel was affected, for he was still a man proud of his country, and it did not please him to hear that such ‘outrageous abuses’ were, and still is happening right under our King’s nose. The corruption, the half-heartedness, the cowardice of the residents and governors! It was enough to make Marieke stop buying salt for a week in protest. And she had not even read the whole of the writings.

                The lighter parts of these chapters deal with Havelaar’s kindness, and the German poem quoted as a testimony to his heart has sneaked into mine, and become one of my favorites. What worries is the foreshadowing at the end of chapter 14, where ‘dark clouds’ are mentioned to be fast approaching our hero. Even the end of chapter 15 is no less promising! Here the narrator creates a sense of frustration and hopelessness with his repeated exclamations: “What good has it done him?”  (page 237). I falter in my optimism, but I cannot help nurse a small ray of hope that our hero might succeed in the end, for at least his letter to Verbrugge shows his determination and sense of justice is unwavering. It also helps that it seems the people of Lebak are finding confidence and trust in him, as they recognize his genuine care for not only his duty as written in the oath, but for what is right as written in his heart.

                Havelaar is becoming a great protagonist. I have no doubt that readers will side with him, which I find very important as we are dealing with a very sensitive issue, and this novel’s success largely depends on how much our hero can persuade readers to believe in him. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I’m glad it was Droogstoppel who came across this manuscript first. In him we find the perfect tint of black to bring out the light in Havelaar.

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

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The Editor’s Notes: Chapter 13

In Analysis of Plot, Narrative Perspectives, Scarfman, The Editor on 19/04/2009 at 21:01

                I found this chapter to be a very sweet one. Now, Droogstoppel would probably shake his head at me for referring to a piece of digression as ‘sweet’, but I do find it a dear little excerpt in the novel, and furthermore I fully agree with the narrator’s notions on digressions in general.

                Apart from being a description of Havelaar’s new house and compound, this digression also shows us some ‘undergrowth’ in that it is interlaced with remarks and mentions of cultural and colonial matters. His note on the difference between not only the housing in Indonesia to those of Europe, but also the civilization, reminds readers to leave their assumptions at the door when reading this novel, for life in Java is, to most of us, unfamiliar in so many ways.

                Also in this chapter, a further mention of Mrs. Slotering, who is slowly becoming the most mysterious character in the story. Her reclusive tendencies (or discretions, as Tina puts it) are often charged on her being a ‘native child’ whose life as an Assistant Resident’s wife has made her ‘fond of exercising authority’.

                Anyway, on the editing end of things, as I’ve said, I’m quite happy with this little chapter, for the language, especially on the first part (on digressions and the two extremes) is beautiful and the imagery rich. I cannot help but admire a writer who can paint pictures with his words. I must say Scarfman has done very well in avoiding ‘coarse brushwork’ and ‘screaming colors’.

I’m quite looking forward to tomorrow, for I feel now we have really sunk our teeth into the story, and it can only get better from here on out! Anyone else feeling the rising action?

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

 

The Editor’s Notes: Chapters 11-12

In Analysis of Plot, Analysis of Structure, Max Havelaar, The Editor on 19/04/2009 at 19:21

So now we pick up again where we left off.  It’s true, these two chapters aren’t the most exciting. Even Frits showed signs of boredom – the thing that animated him the most was Havelaar’s musings on the beautiful women of Arles, which I have to admit, intrigued me as well. Havelaar was an interesting man; eloquent and well-read, and even funny, too! The stories of the stolen turkey, and his days in Sumatra, all had a certain self-deprecating charm to it which was emphasized by the way he mocked his own vanity and youth:

“Among other things, I considered it beneath my dignity to inspect pepper plantations, and that I should have been appointed governor of a solar system long ago.” (page 159)

Another interesting point of these two chapters is that it contains many excerpts of verses and stories, which helps add variation to the structure of the novel, and also builds Havelaar’s character. What I also appreciate, is how small characters and events have been woven subtly into each scene; from Miss Mata-Api to Si Upi Keteh, to the shy Mrs. Slotering next door. It gives the story a depth, like the layers of an onion… or perhaps an artichoke – coating the heart of the story and adding to its shape and flavor.

                Still, it did make me a bit uncomfortable, sifting through the banter, which was as often trivial as it was deeply rooted in serious matters, and deciding which was fit to be included in the novel. Stern helped much, and surprisingly even Droogstoppel, for his distaste for poetry and verse at least reined us in from over-contemplating the excerpts mentioned by Havelaar. Sometimes I am still unsure whether the reader would persist in reading through so much conversation, but I feel that the chapters are the way they should be now, for they do show you much about our hero and heroine.

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

The Editor’s Notes: Chapters 9-10

In Analysis of Structure, Batavus Droogstoppel, Frits Droogstoppel, Narrative Perspectives, The Editor on 19/04/2009 at 14:58

                These two chapters taught me 3 things.

1.       I will never go to a sermon by Parson Blatherer.

2.       Frits and Stern have really got it worse off than I do, for they have to deal with Droogstoppel every day while I only see him every other day.

3.       Droogstoppel’s an absolute idiot.

Pardon me, I must admit that number 3 is not exactly true, for, if anything, Droogstoppel is smart when it comes to being a coffee broker. But when it comes to being a human being, he has got nothing on Frits or Stern, or even, dare I say it, myself. At least my heart is sensitive enough not to be blinded by prejudices made here in Amsterdam of people there in Java, who’s lives we cannot imagine, and should not judge as blasphemous! So they may have a different faith – I do not approve of it, of course, for I am a man of God too, but I will not say they are bad people because of it, and I certainly will never blame their skin color for it! Frits and I have had many discussions on this. It’s interesting to see how defensive he has become over the Javanese, and it is nothing short of hilarious seeing Droogstoppel twitch in frustration when they begin to argue.

Another thing I’ve taken for granted is how very well Stern and I have been working these past weeks. He’s a good writer, and he understands the story well. Most of all he cares about it – and not just the coffee auctions part of it, but everything. This story deserves nothing less in a writer.

So, that’s what I’ve learnt, more or less. I only wish Droogstoppel could learn that a poem should not be taken literally, and that its beauty is much more than in its ‘jingle-jangle of words’. Stupid man.

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

The Editor’s Notes: Chapters 7-8

In Analysis of Plot, Analysis of Structure, Batavus Droogstoppel, Frits Droogstoppel, Max Havelaar, Narrative Perspectives, Scarfman, The Editor, Tina Havelaar on 19/04/2009 at 14:07

You know what really strikes me as interesting in regards to the narrative perspective of this story? The fact that Scarfman rarely ever mentions who he actually is. Never is his name mentioned, let alone his profession or his address, and though he seems to be quite omniscient about all the characters around him, there is no interaction between them. It is as if Scarfman, or whoever the narrator is supposed to be, is a ghost hovering above Max Havelaar’s story; watching events as they unfold, and at the same time providing clues and hints as to what may come in the future. He is at one moment spontaneous in his responses, and the next he has taken a step back from the story and acts as writer once again in addressing the reader and explaining terms or ideas which may be unfamiliar.

                He is also definitely a learned man; for his language is always rich and his digressions thoughtful and interesting. What’s also apparent is his tenderness towards Tina Havelaar! If I didn’t know any better I would have thought that Scarfman adored Tina a little more than is the norm, if you catch my drift. She is painted as a woman simple in taste and needs, poor in money but overflowing in generosity and understanding. But the most definitive feature of Tina’s personality is probably her unconditional love for Max, both ‘big’ and ‘little’. It still makes me smile each time Scarfman reminds us of their relationship by the nicknames: ‘her Max’ and ‘his Tina’. I’ve even started thinking about my wife as ‘my Marieke’ because of this!  

                Anyway, back to the story itself. In chapter 8 Scarfman had written a very long transcript of Havelaar’s first speech at his division’s council meeting. Through his words we truly saw for the first time glimpses of life in Lebak for the local population, and all the hardships and injustices that the authorities throw in the face of the poor Javanese. I would rather not talk about how disgruntled Droogstoppel was when I put my foot down and insisted the speech not be cut in any way. He said it was ‘excessive’ and ‘not relatable’ and that, basically, such overzealous drool would only drive readers away.

My theory is that he can’t stand the fact that the protagonist of this most important story was, as Scarfman mentions, very much a poet. And, he, a man of truth and honor, only a coffee broker, with no novel written about his life. In his jealousy he even pointed out with a laugh (several times) that Havelaar was poor, as if to say, ‘of course the man’s got no money, what can you expect from a poet!’

                Frits and I just ignore him, most of the time. I think we’ve both realized that no matter how poetic and emotional Havelaar’s speeches were, how much trouble he has gotten himself into financially, and how many people find him ‘peculiar’, the fact is, it is this uniqueness, this difference between him and other chiefs and governors, that make him a truly ‘good Assistant Resident’.  Maybe not quite a prophet, but a good man, definitely.

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

The Editor’s Notes: Chapter 6

In Analysis of Plot, Batavus Droogstoppel, Max Havelaar, Scarfman, The Editor, Tina Havelaar, Verbrugge on 19/04/2009 at 14:05

Finally! This is the chapter where story itself, the actual plot, really begins.

Straight away we get more Malay words, more Indonesian names, (which, I must admit, were a little bit confusing at the beginning, but it is out of the question to edit it out or change it) and, for the first time in Scarfman’s story, new characters. We are introduced to Residents and Regents, servants (maas) and horsemen, and last but not least, an Assistant Resident by the name of Max Havelaar.

Our protagonist.

One of the most important parts of this chapter is, I think, Scarfman’s beautiful introduction to the kind of man that Max is (pg 89). It is again very noticeable how different Scarfman’s writing (and also the kind of person he is) in contrast to our own Droogstoppel. Oh the irony! It makes me chuckle at first, but I realize now how sad it is that the Scarfman, a man who Droogstoppel portrays as inferior to him in every respect, even in honesty and respectability, pays more attention to being objective and truthful than Droogstoppel has probably ever done in his life. For example, look at what he says here after his description of Max:

“Granted, all definitions are difficult in themselves, they become even more so when it is a question of describing a person who greatly deviates from the everyday norm. No doubt this is why novelists usually make their heroes devils or angels. Black and white are easy to paint; but it is more difficult to produce the exact shades and nuances that lie between them when one is bound by the truth and may therefore not tint the picture either too dark or too light. I feel that the sketch I have tried to give of Havelaar is extremely incomplete.” – page 91

Ha! If only Droogstoppel was smart enough to realize that he’s guilty of this all – especially in his descriptions and judgments of Scarfman! It seems obvious to me that it’s Scarfman who truly understands what it is to be truthful – not Droogstoppel. And, also, he is so humble! He recognizes his limits, admitting that his descriptions of Havelaar is ‘incomplete’, while actually he has written almost 3 whole pages on the man. It’s much more modesty than I’ll ever see out of Droogstoppel, that’s for sure.

                All in all those three or so pages gave a description of a man who Scarfman not only admired but respected very deeply; despite the flaws which he does have – Max Havelaar is neither a saint nor a sinner, but a man who is clever, just, sensitive and experienced; a man of humanity. I must applaud Scarfman for not only attempting but succeeding in avoiding the black-and-white approach to characterization – the people we’ve seen in this chapter, from Regent Adhipatti to Verbrugge to Tina Havelaar, all seem rounded and firmly grounded in reality.

                Scarfman deserves more credit than he gets.

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

The Editor’s Notes: Chapter 5

In Analysis of Plot, Analysis of Structure, Batavus Droogstoppel, Narrative Perspectives, Scarfman, The Editor on 13/04/2009 at 12:14

                It was strange. Like going from a crowded dinner party into the broom closet under the stairs, it was a sort of relief, switching Droogstoppel’s narration for Scarfman’s. There is so much less… dribble. Scarfman’s voice is softer somehow; he does not smother the reader with a billion references to the first-person singular. I quite like the contrast.

                So we decided to go straight in to the story, with as little editing as possible. It was kind of like diving in at the deep end, but I think it’s good that the readers notice immediately the change in tone – something that tells them to straighten up in their chairs because what they’re about to read now is a story as important as any.  

                There was not so much editing to be done; Scarfman wrote with a straightforward, natural hand which made his sometimes long explanations quite bearable to read, for it felt like he was telling it to a friend. His opinions were clear, though not imposing, giving a sense of a man who knew where he stood, and was passionate but at the same time composed, in telling his story.

It was obvious that he sided with the Javanese. He did not praise them to high heavens, no – he recognized their faults as a collective who suffered from “excessive submissiveness” , and as individuals who possess such “princely carelessness”. But in spite of all the Regents who were not much more than robbers, in spite of all the poor who did nothing to change their situation, Scarfman wrote with a bitterness that could only come from one who saw the Javanese as the victims, and the Europeans, the Dutch, as the perpetrator.

It’s difficult for me to read it, and to comb through it like I have to. I don’t want to read that we are oppressing a whole nation this way. I don’t want to know that millions of people are starving because of us. Shouldn’t a poor country prosper under our King’s care? Why do I have this feeling that we are making slaves of a population? And why does Droogstoppel not seem deeply affected by this? All he cares is to make sure that all Malay words are translated correctly.

I’ve cut off the chapter at page 77, at the climax of the passage – where Scarfman has written with the most emotion and resentment. Besides, it has been a long chapter of much information. If any reader is going to understand the novel, it might do them some good to take a pause before we dive into the next section of the story.

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

The Editor’s Notes: Chapter 4

In Analysis of Plot, Batavus Droogstoppel, Scarfman, The Editor on 07/04/2009 at 18:25

You know, I have never actually met Scarfman before. But I’m almost certain I’d like the fellow. If anything, he’s very learned. Looking at the list of essays and dissertations he had written simply astounds me, and in this latest chapter even incites praise from Droogstoppel himself!

Going through the parcel together it became obvious to me that Scarfman is a very smart, thoughtful man who is curious and passionate about many issues, including, to Droogstoppel’s immense interest, the coffee trade in the Dutch East Indies. We decided it was best to include a few pages worth of the titles of Scarfman’s works into the novel, because if nothing else they will show to the reader what kind of person they will be dealing with for a majority of the novel. It also provides a different angle on Scarfman than we have heard from Droogstoppel, who insists on portraying him as a poor, lazy and immoral man, based on extremely superficial judgments made on his appearance and that of his family and home. I actually am intrigued by the descriptions of Scarfman’s Javanese wife, and her sarong and kebaya. Naturally I must admit that his living conditions mean Scarfman is not the most successful of men, and that would be of his own fault – but I wouldn’t go so far to say that it makes him less ‘good’ than you or I or Droogstoppel. I may be wrong – he may turn out to be a scoundrel – but Scarfman may just be the most traveled and experienced person I have met lately, and this deserves some respect, at least.

I’m becoming more and more invested in this novel. Scarfman’s story is intriguing – I have begun to read some of his essays and I find much interest and knowledge in his words. I am glad to see that Droogstoppel recognizes the significance of what he is writing, but he does exaggerate. This novel will impact Coffee brokers and sugar businesses, sure, but the King? I think we mustn’t get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.

One thing does irritate me to no end, though. I am thoroughly sick of reading about how much a man of truth and religion and respectability Droogstoppel is. It is in my opinion that a man of real class wouldn’t need to repeat himself to convince others of his virtues.

Anyway, it makes for a fascinating effect, as I’ve asked my wife to read the few chapters we’ve done and she has told me that she is as interested in the story as she is annoyed by Droogstoppel’s rants. And she still asks for more pages to read. That must mean some good, no?

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

The Editor’s Notes: Chapter 3

In Analysis of Plot, Batavus Droogstoppel, Frits Droogstoppel, Scarfman, The Editor on 03/04/2009 at 14:20

I think Frits’ poem is nothing short of lovely. Well, technically it is Scarfman’s poem, of course, but it was Frits who got his hands on it and decided that it was special enough to memorize and recite to Droogstoppel and family. Thank God he did it, too, for it was his foray into Scarfman’s parcel that began Droogstoppel’s interest in his other works. Naturally, however, Droogstoppel hated the poem before he even heard it. Anything to do with verse, and all interest goes out the window for him. He really is a strange character.  He is quite possibly the least imaginative and open minded writer I have ever worked with in my life.

                And again, I cannot help but notice his self importance! It seeps into every page, in the way he interrupts Scarfman’s letter and criticizes line after line – poor Scarfman was probably only trying to be humble, and yet Droogstoppel cannot look past his appearance and his job. The first mention of the word poet and Droogstoppel already resorts to onomatopoeia to express his disgust!

                Obviously as soon as Frits began actually reciting one of Scarfman’s poems in front of not only him but his friends and family, Droogstoppel seemed almost ready to shoot himself! He called it “nonsense” and deemed it “lies and tomfoolery”. Well, I’d like to see him try and write two lines with as much feeling as Scarfman did in his poem.

                Anyway, fortunately the publisher agreed with me on the poem and we convinced Droogstoppel to write it in the novel. It builds Scarfman’s character, if nothing else, and it really is a sweet story.

 

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

 

 

The Editor’s Notes: Chapter 2

In Analysis of Plot, Batavus Droogstoppel, Scarfman, The Editor on 01/04/2009 at 16:08

I received the draft in yesterday for the second chapter, just as Droogstoppel had promised. He may be proud, but at least he’s punctual.

He began this chapter by sharing what’s been happening in the world of Coffee Exchange, noting especially the competitive relationship between his firm, Last & Co. (I know it peeves him that his name isn’t displayed in this title), and another by the name of Busselinck and Waterman. I like how he constantly refers to the business as the ‘Change; as if it is the nickname of an old friend. It emphasizes his genuine attachment to his craft, and I’ll make sure to encourage his use of the term.

He goes on to explain the rather clever way he has pre-empted Busselinck and Waterman undercutting a valuable client of his firm: by inviting the client to make his involvement with Last & Co. more personal. How? Droogstoppel inserts some excerpts here of his letter addressed to said client proposing that his son join his company. Naturally he wanted to copy in the whole letter – but I discouraged it. Still, it made for some interesting revelations about his character. Who would have guessed that Droogstoppel, a man so virtuous and truthful, was equally as cunning?

Next he finally began to write about his meeting with Scarfman; an encounter without which this novel would have never been conceived. While describing the event, it is evident that Droogstoppel isn’t the most imaginative of writers; he refuses even to use an English word (‘shawl’) to describe what he judges is most definitely a scarf, or a sjaal in Dutch. So his language is really more straightforward than figurative, but it has its own charms, and it even works well when he addresses the reader directly.

Droogstoppel stops the story in its tracks again however, by digressing into his memory of the schoolfellow he refers to as Scarfman (a catchy and mysterious title) as he saves him from an angry Greek stall-owner circa 1833. The story does give us our first tastes of Scarfman’s character; he is noble and kind, or at least was as a child. In contrast, Droogstoppel’s subsequent impressions on Scarfman were nothing short of critical and even, dare I say it, judgmental.

I advised Droogstoppel to end his chapter at his account of their strange and unsettling parting. The tense atmosphere was made simply by the cliché of “a cold shiver ran down my spine” and the unfinished thoughts of an unnerved Droogstoppel. I was happy to leave the chapter at that, especially as the irony in the last sentence is almost too good! In Droogstoppel’s own words, he decided to end with “I hope nobody saw me.” What a line for a person who is as respectable and honest as he claims he is! His character as the narrator is beginning to take a more multi-faceted shape…

– The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam