Saturday, June 29, 2013

Irving stone , the novelist - a Tribute from a lover of Literature

One of the authors that I have loved and grown up reading is Irving Stone, the author of several wonderfully researched and exquisitely written Biographical novels that have helped bring to life the complex, tortured inner lives of many a genius. Books like "Lust for life"; that chronicles the maniacal and suicidal creativity of the great impressionist Painter Vincent van gough, or "The agony and the ecstasy" - again the life and work of arguably that most complete artist Michelangelo, or the "The president's lady" - which unveils the complex relationship between President Andrew Jackson and his controversial wife Rachel, or "The passions of the mind", an intimate novel that delves into the mind of Sigmund Freud as he postulates the principles of Psychoanalysis , or "the Origins" - the superb chronicle of the astute and dedicated brain of Charles Darwin as he travels and observes aboard the ship "The beagle" to formulate the theory of evolution: all his books have educated and entertained the minds of millions of readers between the 1940's -1980's. The most riveting part of Stone's work was his ability to recreate the period in which his tales were set and a magical ability to intersperse fact with fiction. As one reads his novels, it would be quite difficult to distinguish between what is believably true and truly unbelievable. Without losing focus on the biographical details of his subject, Stone manages to convince his readers that while chronicling geniuses , it is not important to get all the factual details in order; but rather be able to convey the sense of inner contradictions and possibilities ,that could have produced such men and women in a particular age and time.

Stone nearly worked for eight to ten years on every novel that he wrote; very much like his contemporary- James michener, investing enormous amount of his time researching the subject that he wished to write upon. His Novel "Lust for life" was primarily based upon the letters exchanged between Vincent and theo (his brother), and for book on Michelangelo, Stone spent many years in Italy, trying to understand the life of the tormented genius in his natural habitat. Fortunately, Stone was not against lending his story lines to films as well. In fact, Some of the movies that were based on his novels were phenomenal successes. Who can forget the majestic performance of Charleton Heston as Michelangelo, or the heartbreaking portrayal of Vincent van gough by Kirk Douglas in their respective film adaptions. Stone co-wrote the screen play for these films and hence was able to preserve the purity of the tale.

I penned this article today only because I am currently reading one of Stones's lesser known and much criticized work "Love is eternal", where he unfolds the strange relationship between Abraham Lincoln and his paranoid, yet tenacious wife, Mary Todd. They were an unusual couple, unsuitable for each other is every way, but their opposing characters complimented and propelled the political career of Lincoln. History may vindicate Lincoln to be a self made man, but Stone raises the important question of Mary's role in channeling Lincoln's indomitable energy and strength of purpose towards a desired goal. The weakness of this book is that it is mostly fictional and less factual, and that is because ,both Lincoln and Mary were intensely private individuals, united only in their cause of political emancipation of America. Mary ardently believed to the point of insanity that her husband was the only possible choice to become the President of the United states of America, when there were stalwarts like Chase, Bates or even Seward in the fray, whose pedigree and education put them way above Lincoln for that hallowed position. None could reason with Mary on this conviction of hers. Their private lives were so wrought with petty arguments, disputes and outbursts; but in public they presented an unified face, where their differences dissolve and all that is left is the single thread of determination to win against all odds.

This is the story the Stone etched in the pages of his book "Love is eternal". Not surprisingly, the book is not in print anymore and so are many of Stone's other works. If we are fortunate, we could find one in a dusty corner of a library or a second hand book store for a throw away price. Nonetheless, Stones enduring contribution to literature is his revival of biography in form of Fiction accessible to educated public. I would not be far from the truth when I write that he made Michelangelo's painting of Sistine chapel or Van gough radical interpretation of the "flower vase" more appreciable for a non specialist. That to me is a great achievement.........

God bless............

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