Posts tagged george eliot
Posts tagged george eliot
My essay in the new issue of Open Letters Monthly is on The Mill on the Floss and spoilers:
Yet as every reader knows, something is different if you already know the ending—something’s lost or changed or constrained. Even setting aside the thrill of suspense and the pleasure of surprise (and are these really such childish desires?), an unread, unknown novel has an open-endedness that keeps us alert to possibilities—including interpretive ones. Unsure of the of the outline, never mind the ultimate direction, of the path we’re on, we have to pay attention to everything. We’re better readers as a result. After all, once we know for sure how things do turn out, it’s much harder to think about how they might have turned out, and then the full significance of the ending that we do get might be lost on us.
Take The Mill on the Floss, for instance …
Walking in Point Pleasant Park today, I couldn’t help but reflect that, pretty as the scene was, it didn’t move me the way walking around the sea wall in Vancouver does. George Eliot writes so beautifully about the ways our memories attach us to a particular landscape:
We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it,— if it were not the earth where the same flowers come up again every spring that we used to gather with our tiny fingers as we sat lisping to ourselves on the grass; the same hips and haws on the autumn’s hedgerows; the same redbreasts that we used to call “God’s birds,” because they did no harm to the precious crops. What novelty is worth that sweet monotony where everything is known, andloved because it is known?
The wood I walk in on this mild May day, with the young yellow-brown foliage of the oaks between me and the blue sky, the white star-flowers and the blue-eyed speedwell and the ground ivy at my feet, what grove of tropic palms, what strange ferns or splendid broad-petalled blossoms, could ever thrill such deep and delicate fibres within me as this home scene? These familiar flowers, these well-remembered bird-notes, this sky, with its fitful brightness, these furrowed and grassy fields, each with a sort of personality given to it by the capricious hedgerows,— such things as these are the mother-tongue of our imagination, the language that is laden with all the subtle, inextricable associations the fleeting hours of our childhood left behind them. Our delight in the sunshine on the deep-bladed grass to-day might be no more than the faint perception of wearied souls, if it were not for the sunshine and the grass in the far-off years which still live in us, and transform our perception into love.
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
“I am just and honest, not because I expect to live in another world, but because, having felt the pain of injustice or dishonesty towards myself, I have a fellow-feeling with other men, who would suffer the same pain if I were unjust and dishonest towards them… . I am honest, because I don’t like to inflict evil on others in this life, not because I’m afraid of evil to myself in another. The fact is, I do not love myself alone, whatever logical necessity there may be for that in your mind… . It is a pang to me to witness the suffering of a fellow-being, and I feel his suffering the more acutely because he is mortal—because his life is so short, and I would have it, if possible, filled with happiness and not misery. Through my union and fellowship with the men and women I have seen, I feel a like, though a fainter, sympathy with those I have not seen; and I am able so to live in imagination with the generations to come, that their good is not alien to me, and is a stimulus to me to labour for ends which may not benefit myself, but will benefit them.”
—George Eliot, “Worldiness and Other-Wordliness: The Poet Young”
“When the robbery was talked of at the Rainbow and elsewhere, in good company, the balance continued to waver between the rational explanation founded on the tinder-box, and the theory of an impenetrable mystery that mocked investigation. The advocates of the tinder-box-and-pedlar view considered the other side a muddle-headed and credulous set, who, because they themselves were wall-eyed, supposed everybody else to have the same blank outlook; and the adherents of the inexplicable more than hinted that their antagonists were animals inclined to crow before they had found any corn—mere skimming-dishes in point of depth—whose clear-sightedness consisted in supposing there was nothing behind a barn-door because they couldn’t see through it; so that, though their controversy did not serve to elicit the fact concerning the robbery, it elicited some true opinions of collateral importance.”
—George Eliot, Silas Marner
“Romola is a performance of which no other woman of genius among us would have been capable than precisely George Eliot.” (The Reader, London, 1863)
“There are noble things to be found in Romola, which will make the reader’s heart burn within him. It will be scarcely possible to rise from the perusal without being penetrated by the ‘joy of elevated thoughts,’ without feeling a desire to cease from a life of self-pleasing, and to embody in action that sense of obligation, of obedience to duty, which is, indeed, the crowning distinction that has been conferred on man, the high gift in which all others culminate. This is high praise; and a work that can produce this effect, if only on a single reader, has not been written in vain.” (The Athenaeum, London, 1863)
(Advertising copy from Harper & Brothers, NY, reproduced in the Broadview Reprint edition of Romola)
“When we have passed in review the works of that great writer who calls herself George Eliot, and given for a time our use of sight to her portraitures of men and women, what form, as we move away, persists on the field of vision, and remains the chief centre of interest for the imagination? The form not of Tito, or Maggie, or Dinah, or Silas, but of one who, if not the real George Eliot, is that “second self” who writes her books, and lives and speaks through them. Such a second self of an author is perhaps more substantial than any mere human personality; encumbered with the accidents of flesh and blood and daily living. It stands at some distance from the primary self, and differs considerably from its fellow. It presents its person to us with fewer reserves; it is independent of local and temporary motives of speech or of silence; it knows no man after the flesh; it is more than an individual; it utters secrets, but secrets which all men of all ages are to catch; while, behind it, lurks well pleased the veritable historical self secure from impertinent observation and criticism. With this second self of George Eliot it is, not with the actual historical person, that we have to do. And when, having closed her books, we gaze outward with the mind’s eye, the spectacle we see is that most impressive spectacle of a great nature, which has suffered and has now attained, which was perplexed and has grasped the clue—standing before us not without tokens on lip and brow of the strife and the suffering, but resolute, and henceforth possessed of something which makes self-mastery possible. The strife is not ended, the pain may still be resurgent; but we perceive on which side victory must lie.”
—Edward Dowden, “George Eliot” (Contemporary Review, 1872)