Wednesday, 29 April 2015

READING REGINALD: THE FORM OF ‘WELL-MADE PLAY’



Previous explorations on the novels of Reginald Fernandes tried to understand the constituent elements that made a Reginald romans. Very briefly, the romans essentially had love between couples who were not equal socially and economically, this love underwent trials and tribulations, and culminated with a happy ending. Another important aspect of Reginald Fernandes’ writings was the role that magic played in bringing about this happy ending or union. While we had largely noted the content of the romans, there was very little said about the form or structure of the same. In other words, what was the logical manner in which the romans was written? This article would like to offer some comments about the same.


The novel that we will look at in order to better understand the form of Reginald’s romans is Tosca (1964). Very briefly, Tosca is a story of two women who look exactly the same. One is from a rich family and the other from a poor one. Tosca – the real one – from the rich family has virtues par excellence. Rita who looks like Tosca has a bad conscience, and is dishonest to the bone. It so happens that these girls shift places through the evil designs of Rita – or impostor Tosca. The whole novel is about how the real Tosca is restored to her rightful place, and justice done to her in the end.

In order to understand the logical manner in which Reginald wrote, one can profitably look at a form of theater called the ‘well-made play’. It is well-known how deeply connected Reginald was with theater through tiatr, and I have also made the argument that the Konkani romans gave and received from the tiatr as well. The Encyclopaedia Britannica has this to say about the ‘well-made plays’, “The technical formula of the well-made play, developed around 1825 by the French playwright Eugène Scribe, called for complex and highly artificial plotting, a build-up of suspense, a climactic scene in which all problems are resolved, and a happy ending. Conventional romantic conflicts were a staple subject of such plays (for example, the problem of a pretty girl who must choose between a wealthy, unscrupulous suitor and a poor but honest young man). Suspense was created by misunderstandings between characters, mistaken identities, secret information (the poor young man is really of noble birth), lost or stolen documents, and similar contrivances”. Such a genre of theater was popular in Europe and America during the nineteenth- and twentieth-century.

The first element of a ‘well-made play’ is logical exposition. This basically sets the scene for the story to unfold. In Reginald’s writings, this would be done in the first few chapters by laying the background of the main characters, like the girl coming from a rich family, who is also virtuous and the boy who is from a poor family as well as one who is honest. Also, Reginald would depict their deep love for each other. But in Tosca, however, it is the introduction of the lookalike characters from two different social and economic locations constitutes the logical exposition.

The next element comes in the form of an inciting incident. In this, an incident or a character is introduced that gets things moving. In most of Reginald’s writing, this role is played by an evil cousin, who generally wants to marry the heroine of the novel, so that he can usurp the wealth of her family. This inciting incident is generally a secret. The characters in the novel do not know about it, but the author reveals this to the audience or readers, making them interested in the plot of the novel. Very often one would find asides that Reginald as the narrator would offer in order to evoke sympathy, pity, or contempt for the characters in the minds of the reader.

In Tosca this secret is cleverly and deftly handled. You have the impostor Tosca – or Rita, who does not want her fraud to be revealed, on the one hand. On the other, you have the evil and scheming cousin Jacob, who tries to hide the fact that he is after the riches of Tosca’s family and also the fact that he had made Tosca’s parents consume a substance that would render them senile for some months. Both these characters have no idea of the ulterior motives of the other, though the readers come to know about it. The use of magic by Reginald comes within the ambit of the inciting incident, as this brings about a sudden twist in the plot, and also generates interest in the final outcome of the novel.

After the scene where the secret is introduced and/or as the plot progresses, the secrets are unfolded, the characters go through many ups-and-downs, such as getting kidnapped, being falsely implicated in a crime, going to jail, escaping prison, etc. The plot or the novel culminates in what is known as the obligatory scene. In this scene all the secrets are revealed and the happy ending is crafted. This is done in a manner that provides emotional satisfaction and closure to the reader or audience. In Tosca, this happens in a courtroom, wherein the impostor Tosca – or Rita is exposed for her fraud. Basically what is being done is that all the loose ends are tied together. This is also the part where marriage of the lovers is made known to the reader. There is a marriage in Tosca, too.

It can be suggested that Reginald operated within the ‘well-made play’ paradigm for once the loose ends are tied, he wastes not much time in describing how the marriage happens. Often one comes across his brief comments at the end of any novel saying that this is a good point at which to end the story as there was nothing much significant to narrate and it becomes obvious to the reader that the main characters have to be joined in holy matrimony.

Now within this form, Reginald always endeavored to give his own unique spin. He did this in the manner in which magic and a Goan cultural milieu was woven into his novels. This is where his genius lies.

For more Reading Reginald, click here.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 29 April, 2015)

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