How much do you agree that the plot relates to Romanticism in a Postmodernist society
The plot of Captain Correli’s Mandolin interweaves two strands: the personal stories of a small number of members of an unnamed Cephollonian village, centring on Dr Iannis and his daughter Pelegia; and the public, historical story of the defeat by the Germans. It is the interplay between the two worlds which give the novel its peculiar captivating power and romantically moving qualities by depicting the struggle of war from the view of both strong political leaders, such as Mussolini, and the local Cephollonians.
The plot relates to romanticism in a postmodernist society through telling the story of the small individuals (focusing on the romance between Pelegia and Corelli) involved in a large scale world war. De Bernieres said himself: ‘I like to tackle classical themes in literature’. This can be seen in the multiplicity of genres in the novel (for instance love, war, comedy and tragedy) which can be defined as the two fundamental features of classical literature; Postmodernism and Romanticism.
The plot of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin focuses on the tragic love story between Pelegia and Corelli, who want to be together and yet are separated by the war. The story of lovers tragically separated by circumstances is a familiar one but, as in this case the remote setting and the skill of the novelist, to tell personal stories of the islanders and the plot of the historical war, make it seem fresh. For the postmodernist writer, the Second World War has become a fertile source in recent years, with personal pathos enhanced by the backdrop of horror of war.
The little known holocaust of the German slaughter of the Italians in 1943 gives an additional poignancy to the historical situation. This is touched on in the novel when German soldiers capture and open fire on Corelli and his fellow Italian troops. In the novel we see the wholesome personal philosophies of Captain Corelli and Dr Iannis who are opposed to the destructive political ideologies of Marx/ Lenin/ Hector or Nietzsche/ Hitler/ Weber.
This is typical of a postmodernist writer who rejects traditional and large-scale historical interpretation, such as Marxism, and suggests that small scale modest, local narratives are needed to restore humanity. They believe that little stories are strong enough to guide us. De Bernieres uses this skill as the novel is told from many different characters’ viewpoints which guide us through the war ranging from the political thoughts of a dictator, to the soldier’s love for his fellow comrades, the romance of a young couple, and a father’s opinion on the matter.
De Bernieres himself says: ‘History ought to consist of the anecdotes of the little people who are caught up in it. ‘ This quote sums up his postmodernist views. In some ways it seems that De Bernieres has fallen back on the trusted plot formula of a love affair fraught with opposition and against a background of war which would have appealed to nineteenth-century readers and opera lovers. The novel covers fifty years in the same location, which is a means in traditional novels of following the lives of several generations of the same family.
What is clearly influenced by late twentieth-century writing, however, is the form and structure of the novel: there is no strictly chronological plot, consistent viewpoint, or uniformity of style. Story and history can be conveyed in other modes than the standard technique of omniscient narrator in the past tense with interludes of character dialogue. A postmodernist text is a multi-dimensional collage which reveals that there are many ways of seeing, depending on who you are, where you are looking from and your social and historical conditionings.
A good example of this is the heroic character Carlo. Six chapters are narrated by Carlo titled ‘L’Omosessuale’ we see how he falls in love with Francesco and yet none of the other characters are aware of his true feelings. In keeping his secret, he proves by his writings that people are not what they appear to and that therefore history is impossible. One postmodernist aspect of the book’s structure, is de Bernieres’ determination to make the plot cover four generations. This requires the reunion of Corelli and Pelegia to take place in 1993, fifty years after the massacre.
Critic Haig Utidjian says: ‘It is frustrating for the reader to know that Corelli returned to Cephallonia every year, but never asked anybody whether Pelagia was really married or whose the baby was until they were both in their seventies’. The fact that Pelegia and Corelli were not reunited and left lonely throughout the duration of their lives proves to be unsatisfying. In my opinion de Bernieres used this rather dubious device to show the admirable character trait of Corelli, as he would not wish to upset Pelegia’s life if she had married someone else.
In contrast the film consists of the lovers being reunited while they were still young and healthy. The happy ending is more pleasing to the audience but it is very clichi?? d and not exactly realistic. The Romantics champion the cause of the rebellious individual and of the little man who stands up to giants. This can be applied to many characters in the novel. For example, Dr Iannis, who is a small old man in body but a strong saviour in mind, is described as thinking he is ‘Socrates who can fly in the face of the custom’. He enjoys an argument and the loss of his voice is a symbol of free speech stamped out by oppression.
His memory is overburdened with the horror of the darkness of war and the barbarianism of his fellow countrymen, but he remains an altruist to the end, never sacrifices his principles and modern ideas. The setting for romantic writings are almost exclusively outdoors and in unspoilt countryside. This can be applied to the novel as it set on the beautiful Greek island of Cephallonia. Before the war the island is described as being ‘covered by dense vegetation and plentiful natural beauty including beaches and spectacular caves’.
However we can not fully rely on de Bernieres’ portrayal of Cephallonia. This is due to the fact that he only spent a fortnight there writing the novel in Britain, relying on the accounts, inevitably partial, of Greeks. Romanticism can also be seen in nature. Love can be expressed with a flower and memory can be attached to a tree since nature symbolises aspects of the human heart. For instance, the olive tree growing outside the Doctor’s house is a universal symbol of peace in the form of the olive branch.
It is also the essence of the unchanging Greek and Italian landscapes; it is claimed that trees to be found in Greece today date from the era of Homer himself. In ancient Greece the olive was revered for its longevity; the bed of Odysseus and Penelope is made from a living olive tree. Carlo is buried among the roots of the olive tree ‘in the soil of Odysseus’ time’, and olive wood is used for the funeral pyres of the massacred Italians, just as it was in The Odyssey for the Greek heroes of the Trojan War.
It is also, more generally, associated with continuity between past and present, joy, the pastoral idyll, nature as a provider, and Christianity (Arsenios’ cross). It is the ‘entwined roots’ of the olive tree to which Dr Iannis refers as a metaphor for enduring love. Music has always been used to represent emotions and personally I associate the art of music with romance because love is often used as a topic in the work of many musicians. Corelli uses his musical skills on the mandolin to show his true feelings towards Pelegia. In chapter twenty-seven we see how music brings the two destined lovers together.
When Pelegia first hears Corelli play the mandolin she has an epiphany as she realises that music is ‘an emotional and intellectual odyssey’. This clichi?? d romantic interlude is undermined by the doctor turning it into a comedy. The mandolin is a good example of romanticism within the novel as it is a metaphor for peace and harmony, and the life-enhancing opposite of a gun (‘armed only with his mandolin’). It also represents the music as the highest pursuit of civilisation, and one which transcends cultural and national differences because it is a universal language.
Being female in aspect (Corelli names it Antonia) and visually beautiful; it serves as a reminder of romantic love, stringed instruments being a traditional tool of courtship. In addition to this the mandolin makes magical sounds, and can perform miracles as in Greek mythology; it literally binds Corelli together when its strings are used as surgical wire to save his life, remaining part of him thereafter. Known in Greece as the bouzouki, it is a favourite and traditional instrument in both Italy and Greece and serves as a link between the two countries.
All in all the use of the mandolin is a romantic symbol in a postmodernist world. This is due to it being a universal instrument used in the love story between Correli and Pelegia. For many years the early romantic writers resisted traditional rules in the creation of ‘faction’, a mixture of fiction and fact, as demonstrated by the use of both real historical and fictitious characters. The novel happily juxtaposes Mussolini with Corelli and Metaxes with Mandras, as if they were equal participants in the historical process.
Some minor characters’ names are real, such as Myers and Gandin, and some are not, like all the Cephallonians. Although many people have claimed to be or have known the ‘real’ Captain Corelli, de Bernieres is adamant that he had no such person in mind. Some may say that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin does not relate to romanticism in a postmodernist society because the novel is itself a history, it includes history, it is about history. History is the theme which binds the novel together.
My argument is that history is merely used as a tool in the novel to show the true personality. War brings out the worst and best in people and history is needed to make sure that the readers are fully aware of the horrific circumstances. All the events and beliefs are either personal or political, and characters are judged by what they value. For example Mandras becomes a villain when he joins communism -a would be rapist of Pelagia and Greece and an actual murderer. He is the reverse of a fairytale prince in that he turned into a ‘toad’; he ‘lost his soul’ to history and war.
Fairy tales were favoured as plot sources by Romantic writers who appreciated the mystery created by such events as finding an abandoned baby on a doorstep or an anonymous letter. Pelegia wishes for a time-machine, Iannis needs a giant to open a trap door, and both miraculously appear. There are many such events in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which is based on a series of sudden disappearances and unannounced or disguised returns, promises made and anniversaries observed. There are feats of great strength and moments of torture; things lost and things found.
These elements are in ironic counterpoint to the harsh realities of domestic life or the hollow gesture of political leaders, as well as serving to trick the reader into expecting a fairytale ending for Pelegia and Corelli. Mysticism is one of the elements of the Romantic philosophy, which propounds the view that not everything can or should be explained by logic or science; some apparently surprising events, such as coincidences and miracles (which are part of general human experience for the observant, receptive person) should just be seen as the symbolic workings of the natural order.
De Bernieres has denied that there is any magic in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (although he used it in previous novels), but some critics have claimed that unnatural coincidences and patterns are evident in the novel, and cite the opening of Carlo’s grave as a prime example. The superhuman strength of both Carlo and Velisaros also represent mysticism. They are both giants with big hearts who display miraculous amounts of endurance and faith. Mysticism is also shown through the miracle healing and resurrection powers that Dr Iannis performs on many occasions, though he is not a trained doctor.
For instance saving Corelli’s life after he is badly wounded from a gun shot. It is a Christian concept and an expression of altruism; it represents the life force and is a gift of the gods. It employs ancient Greek herbal remedies, thus operating in partnership with nature and the environment, and illustrating the ability of humans to survive and recover, again representing romanticism. In Romantic literature there is an overwhelming sense of ethemereally, of the transience and ravages of time, which steals youth, destroys innocence and betrays hopes.
For this reason there is a preoccupation with the ideal of an early and beautiful death in order to avoid the horrors of old age with physical and emotional decay. This is a theme in the novel as Mandras dies romantically, returning to Nature, innocence and a state of former beauty; Carlo dies a young soldier saving the man he loves. He has a heroic death when he steps in front of Corelli and takes the bullet. Additionally, the ‘eternal triangle’ is applicable to the war situation as well as to the rival lovers, since Germany and Italy both want Greece and are prepared to fight over her.
This provides material for inevitable tragedy, since someone has to lose and much conflict and heartache will be produced along the way. Mandras and Antonio Corelli are suitors and soldiers competing for the hand and love of the attractive maiden Pelegia. Traditionally the reader takes the side of the forbidden rival who is beloved rather than the one with prior or more orthodox entitlement. This can be applied to the novel as Corelli is a much more likeable character than Mandras.
In conclusion it is quite clear that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin relates to Romanticism in a Postmodernist society. The novel features both romanticism and postmodernism in the form of a love story set against the background of war. These two literary features fully evoke the readers’ response and there is something for everyone. It can be said that the novel is more history than story, but history is needed to tell the full story and show the horrors of war on both the big and the little man.
Even the epigraph of the novel tells us that it is a romantic postmodernist text. It is a poem by Humbert Wolfe called ‘The Soldier’ which tells the story of ‘young’ soldiers ‘tall and slim’ who died in the war and were forgotten. It says ‘they smile in the face of death….. and were robbed of their quiet paradise’, here the poet is describing how brave the soldiers were and that they died young in war, again this can be placed under the romantic genre.
Therefore love becomes more vulnerable and precious against a background of hostilities, and war becomes more threatening and poignant when a relationship is at stake. War is political, love is personal, but there universal and perpetual human experiences can become confused or intertwined, and are two sides of the same coin, for instance, ‘Pelegia’s March’ unites the martial and the lyrical. Love and war evoke emotions in the characters, including disappointment, enmity, revenge, joy, triumph, pathos and heartbreak. Both are beyond the normal rules of justice: all’s fair in love and war.