“We can never go back to the past.”
This novel is unique and positive for Eileen Chang. The hero and heroine are the only positive roles who have healthy characters and are seldom seen in her other works. They are kindly, innocent and hard-working compared to other roles.
This novel ‘Half a lifelong romance’ is the first long novel for Eileen Chang. It is connected tightly with another novel ‘Eighteen Spring’. Eileen Chang was not satisfied with the traditional and common happy ending of that book. After she went to America, she revised the ending and removed politic elements. Finally this book was born.
‘Half a lifelong romance’ talked about a sad love story in Shanghai. The hero and heroine could not be together for old social prejudices. Many years passed, when they came across each other, the heroine said very sadly to the hero, ”We can never go back to the past.”
In old Shanghai of 1930s, Manzhen Gu, Shuhui Xu and Shijun Shen worked together. Manzhen loved Shijun.
The love between Shijun and Manzhen was opposed by Shijun’s mother. His mother thought Manzhen did not deserve Shijun. Manlu, Manzhen’s elder sister, became a dancer to care for the whole family when young. Later Manlu married to Hongcai Zhu. After marriage, Zhu Hongcai exposed his nature. Manlu wanted to have a child to catch his heart but failed. She made an evil plan. With Manlu’s help, Hongcai Zhu insulted and imprisoned Manzhen. Thinking that Manzhen “married”, Shijun sadly married with a woman from a rich family. Manzhen fled after giving birth to a boy. But after knowing Manlu died, Manzhen went back to care for her child.
Fourteen years passed, Manzhen came across Shijun. But they knew they could never go back to the past.
It is a good tragedy which is thought-provoking and can make us think more on social problems and human nature.
With regard to linguistic features, Zhang Ailing followed her usual language style, a little sad and cold. This is a very appropriate and excellent way for a tragedy. When Gu Manzhen told Shen Shijun they could never go back to the past, the cold feeling is deep in readers’ mind.
It is successful for this book to reveal the not brave part and weakness of people’s characters. None of the love stories told by it were perfect and happy-ending just like our life sometimes. The way she described the dark part of human nature made people surprised, who had been accustomed to the single mode of literature.
The plot of the sad love stories is pretty good. In this novel, Manlu was afraid to leave Zhu Hongcai’s house for her disability to have a child. Under the background of old society, females were scary to be abandoned by her husband. After she knew Manzhen was loved by her first love Yujing and her husband Zhu Hongcai, she was jealous. She thought she paid her youth and chastity for her family including Manzhen but Manzhen “robbed” all she wanted. She cheated Manzhen and let Zhu Hongcai insult Manzhen. This plot was well designed and showed the tragedies of female’s fate and revealed the social problem deeply.
The theme was also thought-provoking. Its name was very sad and obviously told the story’s theme. The love between two people needs luck and their insisting. You should do the most important thing and seize the opportunity. Cherish the people beside you and pursue the happiness that you can obtain because the pills for regretting are nonexistent. And it was excellent for the book to criticize the old ideas such as equal marriage and problems such as females’ low status in that era.
It seemed that the structure was not well organized. Using two love stories to support half a life was not enough. The chapter, in which Manlu cheated Manzhen and let Zhu Hongcai insult Manzhen, was good but it ended too quickly. Many years passed with only several words. This kind of narration was not even and it appeared top-heavy. If the author could condense the part about love and unfolded the details of the years when the main roles were separate, it would be better. Though the chapters were independently great, the whole structure had some problems. It advanced the plot too abruptly. For example, it lacked some necessary foreshadowing when Manzhen married Zhu Hongcai and Manlu’s psychological state changed. The whole story lacked wholeness.
As a whole, this is an impressive tragedy which leaves us a sad ending and makes us more aware of the social problems and human nature. It is believed that we will go further in the road of improving society. This book had its own eternal value.