Mandolin & Birdsong

The following sample essay on Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. The two novels I am going to compare are ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ by Louis De Bernieres and ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks. In this comparison I am going to concentrate on how each author presents the theme of love in the midst of war. ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ is a novel about the impact of World War Two on Greece as a country and relationships that survive, begin or fade away as it is tested to the extremity of war.

The relationship between Pelagia and Corelli, begin as the circumstances of war bring them together in a situation where they should despise each other.

If it was not for these circumstances, they would never have met and this love affair would not have developed into a true, long lasting love between two people from countries that are at war against each other. ‘Birdsong’ in comparison, begins four years before World War One.

The novel is divided into sections: before, during and after the war, and focuses around the relationship that Stephen and Isabelle share and the repercussions and consequences of this sexually explicit affair.

Unlike Pelagia and Corelli’s relationship, war separates Stephen and Isabelle before it even begins, therefore their love does not last a lifetime, as a true love should. Their relationship is more about the physical act of love rather than the emotional aspect, which Pelagia and Corelli depict. Both affairs share an element of passion, lust, naivety and also the need of secrecy, which comparisons can be made.

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In ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ the central theme is undoubtedly, war.

Even before the novel begins we are presented with a pessimistic and gloomy poem about war, “The Soldier” by Humbert Wolfe, which emphasises the fact that the novel treats war as a main theme and additionally, he is setting the tone. After reading the novel, the reader realises that all of the events that occur in it are in some way or another originated because of the war. True love is another major theme in the novel.

Love is portrayed as a secret shared between the two characters, as an enclosed experience from the barriers of society and a love that can only be repressed as something forbidden, even before they meet their love is condemned by the Duce. “I really cannot countenance the idea of men of Italy setting up house with native women and diluting the purity of blood … I just won’t have love affairs. ” – The Duce. Pelagia lives in Greece who is at war with Italy, and Corelli enters her life as a soldier and an enemy to her country.

Consequently the love shared between the characters is forbidden because society will call Pelagia “A fascists whore. ” When Corelli comes to stay at Dr Iannis and Pelagia’s home, emotions begin to run high because of the war and the tension it has created between their countries; they gradually begin to fall in love by making each other laugh as a way of overlooking their differences, “With him she would always remember that she laughed. ” At first Pelagia did what was expected of her by society by detesting Corelli, but soon the hatred turned to frustration as the true emotions that are repressed emerges.

The scene in which Pelagia and Corelli, share their first kiss, is surrounded by nature. The events which lead to the kiss are quite humorous, as Pelagia has got her hair caught amongst briars and thorns and Corelli comments on the fact that she is in a “very vulnerable position. ‘ As Corelli is de-tangling Pelagia’s hair, they become quite physically close which leads to the first kiss, making them close in more than just a physical manner. The language used to depict the kiss, describes a sequence of physical love, “He took her hand gently in his hands, and touched at the tears with his lips….

Hungry and desperate, filled with light, they could not draw away from each other. ” This portrays their love to be real and intimate in a non-sexual manner. As they share this “unpatriotic and secret kiss” it is “infinitely enclosed” from the outside world and all barriers are broken, but still forbidden and a risk they cannot do in public. This scene also has humour portrayed through the language used as Pelagia and Corelli return home as it reaches dusk, “Their combined booty shamefully and accusingly failed to reach the quota reached by Lemoni on her own. ”

This lightens the situation and breaks away from the tension created in the build-up to the kiss, it also breaks away from the harsh reality of war that surrounds them. Love is presented as an escape from reality of life, which is almost like a comic relief in the novel. The love shared between Pelagia and Corelli is physical and passionate, but in a different way to Stephen and Isabelle, who are literally physical and passionate with each other. Another reason why their relationship is secret is because Pelagia is already betrothed to Mandras, who is away fighting for Greece.

Their love is idealistic and mainly infatuation portrayed through the structure as a stream of consciousness split with Pelagia’s views and Mandras’s views on their relationship. Pelagia’s views are mainly of erotic love, “When he kisses me I want to reach round him and take a buttock in each hand. ” There is no passion or romance, but mainly physical attraction. She also doubts whether Mandras is right for her, “he is not a serious fellow, and it gives me doubts. ” These doubts are continuous as she finds faults in Mandras and she almost regrets the engagement.

There is hardly any romance since Pelagia feels very little love for Mandras, “she imagined Mandras had died … she also felt relief. ” Mandras’s view on their relationship is that Pelagia would be his ideal wife, who will cook and clean for him, but this is something Pelagia is against. This shows a lack of understanding for each other. It is when Mandras returns from war and his appearance has changed, that Pelagia falls out of ‘love’ which in turn proves there was only physical attraction between them.

Colour imagery is used very subtlety throughout the novel, A Greek love of the colour of virginity had caused many of them to be painted white” This is quite relevant due to the fact that Pelagia waits forty years for Corelli to return to her, throughout this time and until the end of the novel she remains a virgin, as she was always waiting for him to be one with whom she shares this intimate experience. At one point of the novel when Corelli is wandering around the ruins of Argostoli, De Bernieres reflects upon his view and essentially one of the underlying messages of the novel, Little Girls as innocent and sweet as this had died for nothing in Malta, in London, in Hamburg, in Warsaw.

But they are statistical little girls. ” He exposes his intentions in depicting war as he did, by saying that the little girls ‘died for nothing’ which is a comment on the futility and meaningless of war. The contrast of love and war arises, as the language used by De Bernieres is very graphic and very gory in the decriptions we get of certain deaths, which is where ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ and Birdsong’ are quite similar.

He presents us with the people behind the numbers, the humans with feelings, emotions and desires. The author’s style when depicting the death of Carlo and the appearance of a corpse is quite exaggeratedly violent: “Carlo’s back as ragged and appalling holes burst through from inside his body, releasing shreds of tattered flesh and crimson gouts of blood. ” And “The pieces of skull looked grey and were coated in membrane and thick blood. Some of the fluid was right red and some of it was crimson. He was still alive. ”

Here De Bernieres uses impacting images aided by the slightly onomatopoeic sounds of words to add to the effect of repulsion to the description, “thick blood”,” tattered flesh” and ” gouts of blood. ” This contrasts with the earlier love scene’s between Pelagia and Corelli quite drastically, which was portrayed as humorous and innocent. Faulks takes a different approach to De Bernieres in many ways. First of all there is the idea of romancticsm which is present for the majority of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’, but in ‘Birdsong’ this does not entend to the scenes of horror on the battlefield.

Stephen experiences love and loss before the war begins and this colours his view of the world and his place in it throughout. Faulks uses the highly explicit love affair between Stephen and Isabelle, at the beginning of the novel in order to provide a clear contrast when, six years later in part two, we find Stephen is now known as Wraysford and in a trench. This is where Faulks begins to differ, he takes us into the world of trenches and miners who were brought in to dig tunnels under enemy trenches. The battle scenes are very effective and they bring the experiences of the soldiers to life to the reader.

The relationship between Stephen and Isabelle too, begins as a secret that if discovered could be quite disastrous. In comparison to Corelli and Pelagia, Stephen and Isabelle’s relaionship is very physical and passionate in a sexual way not a sensual way, which is not only graphically depicted through their actions, but also in the language used by Faulks. In Stephen’s first meeting with the Azaire family, Madame Azaire is the first member of the family he notices and she is the first one who addresses him as “Monsieur” and then shows him his seat.

Tension is already beginning to build up between these two characters as they both begin to avoid each other’s eye, “In return he avoided hers,” It is almost as if they do look into each other’s eye, they would never be able to stop, it is clear to the reader there is an attraction beginning to develop here. This is then followed by Faulks’ first description of Isabelle, which shows her to be a restrained and pure character through the use of colour imagery, “Sweep of her strawberry chestnut hair, caught and held up off her face. She wore a white lace blouse. Her purity is then contradicted by the fact that she wore a “dark red stone at the throat” which shows that beneath her exterior lies danger, passion, lust and seduction ready to explore and live in the danger of a secret love affair. Throughout Part One of the novel, Stephen has great difficulty in keeping his eyes off Isabelle, it is clear to the reader how Stephen feels about her, but it is not completely clear as to how Isabelle feels. The first time Stephen and Isabelle are alone, is in the garden where she is pruning a group of rose bushes.

She greets him formally as a way of stopping him get close. Stephen attempts to help her with “no plan of action” he starts to snip at a few dead flowers. This is almost as if he is cutting away convention, so that their passion can flower as rose thorns are harsh and if you don’t cut them back you can get hurt. Colour imagery is also used here as symbolism for the passion ready to erupt, “The brown petals of formerly white rose fell away. ” The pruning away of the rose, which metaphorically is Azaire, allows it to be replaced by red, dangerous, passion, with Stephen.

Stephen then confronts Isabelle, as he “grabbed her hand” and as he does this, blood rushes to her face and her “eyes filled with alarm” this is not because she is afraid of him, but afraid of what might happen between them. Stephen is then slightly relieved as he has finally acted up on the feelings he has been trying to repress from emerging. Isabelle tries to laugh it off and asks him to let go but, “There was not much pressure of withdrawal from her hand itself to accompany her words. ” This is because she wants to pursue Stephen, but cannot because she is scared of Azaire and his power.

Isabelle is still trying to stop the inevitable from happening, but even as Stephen is walking away she is still thinking about him and shakes her head “As though in defiance of an unwanted feeling. ” Blood is a constant theme throughout the novel, as well as representing the passion and love between Stephen and Isabelle; it is also used in the war scenes, to describe deaths of the soldiers that fought. Isabelle later returns and tells him to “come to the red room” which again is hinting at the passion, which is about to be explored through the colour imagery of the ‘red room’.

The language that Faulks uses in describing what happens in the red room is quite graphic and explicit, which is just as he does in the war scenes later on. The portrayal is of very physical sex, but it is emotionless. “She was starting to shake and tremble… he was driven by frantic haste… shudder in long rhythmic movements… a sensation that was impossible to sustain… The sensation broke and flooded her again and again” The language is very graphic and shocking, which the audience would not anticipate as this type of language is generally not expected in a war novel.

Even though the war has not begun yet, the language used in describing the intimate love scenes between Stephen and Isabelle, is just as violent and powerful as the war scenes. Isabelle realises that she is pregnant, “no blood came” and as the blood has gone, the doubts return and morality becomes an issue, which marks the end of the sexual passion and affair that she has shared with Stephen. The experience of trench warfare is made extremely vivid, which is where ‘Bidsong’ and ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ begin to differ quite noticibly.

This is because ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ is set in World War Two where trench warfare was not used to the same extent as in ‘Birdsong’, which is set in World War One. The terror of life at the front and in the underground beneath it, is quite drastically portrayed by Faulks, the horror is depicted objectively through the eyes of the characters, particular Stephen Wraysford. Faulks also vividly evokes the dread of constant noise from the barrage and bombardment, the fear of gas attack and the terror of life or death in the trenches, When there was a battle or a raid, they expected to die…. There was a continuous awareness that any moment could bring death. ”

Faulks notes that the reason that shellfire made the soldiers so nervous was because they had seen the damage they were capable of causing, he uses overpowering imagery to demonstrate the horror and wastefulness of war. “A direct hit would obliterate all visible evidence that a man ever existed: a lesser one would rip him to pieces. ” Faulks’s writing reflects a desire to paint the details of love and war as graphically and realistically as possible.

The nature and length of war led people to question many things; the motives of Generals and Politians, this is reflected in both’Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ through characters of Mussolini and Metaxas as well as in ‘Birdsong,’ The main difference between ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ and ‘Birdsong’ is that ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ has the love story running throughout, it is humorous and romantic, but also serious and gruesome in parts, especially when it concerns death of soldiers. Birdsong on the other hand is more objectively written and does not let love get in the way of war, by being sectioned away from the war parts of the novel. Both novels portray war as being futile and senseless and putting the lives of millions of brave men and innocnent people in risk, in essence, for the sake of it. The consequences of this are brought about very clearly in the texts by showing death in a crude and violent way, which emphasises how fragile humans are.

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Mandolin & Birdsong. (2017, Jul 27). Retrieved from

Mandolin & Birdsong
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