Saturday, 22 January 2011

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin AO4 Historical Context

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin  AO4 Historical Context
The international context in the early 1990s
The brutal wars in the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia-Herzogovina are relevant, as were the attitudes of Western governments towards them. Rape camps were established by Bosnian Serbs and the war between the Muslim populations was greeted with wringing of hands  by the West, even though the Serbs were behaving like nazis with “ethnic cleansing”.   There were also reports of some counter massacres by Bosnian muslim troops, too.
The UK context of the novel in the 1990s.
A context closely aligned to the theme of relationships is the decline of community. In the early 1990s when de Bernieres wrote his novel there was a  sense of nostalgia for a more innocent past in which communities thrived and people knew each other. In the UK home-ownership was increasing but the country was in the throws of a recession with house prices going down and many were in negative equity and under pressure to leave their homes.
People had become more selfish and selfishness was seen as a good thing by the Tory government as they promoted business and small businesses. The sense of  community was in decline: “there is no such thing as society,” Margeret Thatcher.
In the novel there is a strong sense of community at the beginning of the novel. It is close-knit and is seen in a particularly naive way with Velasarious and his cannon. Dr Iannis treats diverse members of his community in the opening chapter. They may be divided politically but the war unites this community against the enemies of Greece. The community actually grows with the Italians and La Scala and Corelli joining Pelagia and Iannis becoming a member of their family, especially when he and Pelagia fall in love. Carlo is accepted, too.
The novel then charts the erosion of this community through the death of Carlo, who is buried as if he was a Kefalonian Giant with Dr. Iannis, ironically adopting the role of ancient priest, reading a moving oration over Carlo's body. With this, the novel delves deep into its parallel, ancient Greek literary context. Other characters also signal  the fading of community: Corelli has to leaven his new-formed family and other characters die or are killed off: Mandras wanders wounded into the ocean and Kokolios and Stamatis are killed during the Civil War;  a changed and broken Dr. Iannis  later dies saving his family in the 1953 earthquake, while there is a real and symbolic destruction of the community in the village; later Dresoula’s death severs remaining ties with old values of the past. 
Younger characters, such as Antonia and her husband, are later seduced by the privileges and wealth that their education gives them as they become successful business people and leave their early political ideals of socialism behind. 
The position of women changes on the island from the description of them in the early chapters, especially Dr Iannia’s first chapter, to the later chapters. They become much more independent and break free more the cultural binds that holds them in check in the early part of the novel. Drusoula, for instance, becomes a tavern keeper. 
One of the main features of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is the growing independence of women, as long as they have the money and connections to finance being flappers, etc. Jordan Baker, whose name is a combination of impressive automobiles from the period is an example of an independent woman of the 20s who is described as being like “a young cadet’ and willing to cheat a little in golf and in life to get her own way. 
Only Alekos who was part of the original community and even then was apart, looks down, Olympian-like and ageless who has seen the changes in everyone, but has seemingly not changed himself.

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I teach Film, Media and English Lit.