The Amazing Quest of Mr. Ernest Bliss

My Edition

Just done re-reading this book, mostly for nostalgia but also ‘coz I vaguely remember enjoying it the first time. My copy is one of the few books I have, belonging to my Grandpa who passed away several years ago and who first introduced me to the magical world of books! He was a dear – a ‘good’ man, you know what I mean? A man of integrity, honor, of solidity, so rarely seen in these ‘instant’ times. He loved books and had an extensive collection of both English and Marathi literature; he loved Reader’s Digest & Wodehouse (a love I have inherited :-)); played the flute sublimely; was a neat-freak and a great stickler for routine (Every evening at 5 pm, he wound every clock in the house, never missing a day until he fell ill.); and was the gentlest human being I have ever known. He loved me dearly as I did him and I miss him every single day.

The book is a gift he received from his regular bookseller and is a yellowed, hardcover edition, re-printed in 1969. It’s covered in plain brown paper (Grandpa always covered his books, in paper or plastic, to preserve them! We spent an evening every summer before school re-opened covering and labeling my texts and notebooks. I said he was a neat freak!), has that wonderfully wholesome old & musty old-book scent and the pages within are crackly, stained yellowish-brown with age. I love it! It was originally published in 1922. I think that was the year my Grandpa was born! Reading it now, is like having him close to me again – a sacred feeling. And so, on to the book!

The title is self-explanatory, it is the story of a Mr. Ernest Bliss (major symbolism in the name methinks), a rich, spoilt, insipid young man – sickly not from physical disease (except perhaps those complaints that result from an unhealthy lifestyle of excess), but from boredom and the dullness of a life lived without purpose or true intent. He visits a famous doctor, who insults him and refuses to shake his hand, while offering him a piece of advice that is destined to change his life. He challenges Bliss to give up his luxurious lifestyle, and earn his own living for a year, without touching a penny from his inheritance. An enraged Bliss takes up the challenge, makes a bet and stands to lose £25,000, if he fails in his task! What follows is an interesting year in the life of Mr. Bliss, who begins his quest with nothing more than £5 in his pocket and a stubborn resolve to win his bet! In that one life-changing year – he meets people from all walks of life, lives and learns the true meaning of poverty, discovers the value & importance of honest hard work & toil, understands the meaning of true friendship, and finally finds the happiness that comes from selflessness and true love! What’s not to like? A feel good book if ever there was one! 🙂

The book is a quick read, although 316 pages long in my edition. The language is a little cumbersome at first, I suppose it’s the style of the times, but easy enough to understand and get used to. The characters Bliss encounters in his quest are interesting, colorful and varied. From his worn-out but exceedingly kind land-lady Mrs. Heath, to the ever optimistic, hardworking Mr. Masters; from that sinister bird-loving blackmailer Mr. Cockerill to the suave swindler Fancourt, they all add pizzazz to his endeavor and teach him important lessons along the way. I looked up the author, E. Phillips Oppenheim and discovered that he was a best-selling, British writer of his time and a pioneer in the thriller genre. He was prolific and wrote several short stories and novels, including The Great Impersonation in 1920. He seems to have led a rather exciting, adventurous sort of life in England and abroad and perhaps, that’s why his character of Mr. Bliss is so well-etched. The book was also made into a movie of the same title in 1936, in which an old favorite of mine, Cary Grant played Bliss, in what I think is perfect casting! Grant has just the right balance of mischief, integrity and poise to play him. You can watch the movie here.

This book resonated with me, more now then back when I read it as a girl, probably ‘coz I’m older, certainly wiser and understand the nuances of life better. As August 15th draws close, it’s also got me thinking about freedom…its true meaning, how those who don’t have it crave it and does who do, never seem to value it enough but that’s another post. It’s just that Mr. Bliss, who in his quest for happiness, also achieved freedom from his self-imposed, pretentious, hollow lifestyle, is rather an attractive and inspiring role model for me at the moment.

We’ll see.

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