Posts Tagged ‘George Eliot’
November 22, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
Today, George Eliot’s birthday, let us pay tribute to the sad chapter in our collective history when, in 2012, someone stole the author’s portable writing desk from the Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery in Warwickshire. Having seen no updates in the ensuing year, we are left to assume that both thief and papier-mâché secretaire are still at large, and that some greedy literary mogul is gazing upon it as we speak. But as Miss Evans herself might have said, “It is surely better to pardon too much, than to condemn too much.” May it bring inspiration.
September 11, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
August 9, 2013 | by The Paris Review
Just this morning, I read eagerly through Sam Anderson’s profile of Gary England, Oklahoma’s “benevolent weather god,” in a preview from this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. I’ve heard a lot about England—chief meteorologist for Oklahoma City’s Channel 9—over the years from my husband, a native of that lonely corner of the state where the panhandle begins (his hometown of Woodward was hit in 1947 by one of the state’s worst tornadoes). England’s a hero in that part of the country. “It’s Friday night in the big town” is how he would start his end-of-the-week broadcasts, and though I wish Anderson’s article had given us a bit more of England himself, it’s a bittersweet, if subtle, encomium to a bygone time in which weather forecasters weren’t entertainers as much as they were, well, weather forecasters. —Nicole Rudick
It sounds pretty soft, doesn’t it, a book about reading Middlemarch. Might as well write a book about loving the Beatles, or how Proust can change your life. But Rebecca Mead is tough-minded and has a reporter’s impatience with mush. In My Life in Middlemarch, she gives us several unlikely things at once—a lively reading of George Eliot’s novel, an intimate portrait of Eliot herself, and a book about the consolations of getting older. As Mead shows, this is one of Eliot’s great themes, for as Eliot told her diary, “Few women, I fear, have had such reasons as I have to think the long sad years of youth worth living for the sake of middle age.” —Lorin SteinRead More »
August 8, 2013 | by Pamela Erens
George Eliot’s Middlemarch has been my favorite novel ever since one summer nearly thirty years ago, when I read it on the recommendation of a Victorian literature–obsessed college friend. I’ve read it twice since then, which might not seem like a lot for a favorite book, but it is nine hundred pages long, and its richness holds me for many years at a time.
I love Middlemarch, published in 1872, for many reasons. I love Eliot’s gently intrusive narrator, her aphoristic habit of mind, her asides on medical research and philanthropy and manners. She can be extremely funny at times, a fact often overlooked by impatient readers. But Eliot’s wonderful narrator appears in her other great books as well—Daniel Deronda and Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner—so why is Middlemarch my best beloved?
Perhaps it has to do with the fact that this particular novel, more even than Eliot’s others, is all about people trying to be good—out of religious belief or a desire to improve the lot of the common man or the love of a woman or in expiation of past badness. The attempt is portrayed as difficult, almost killing at times, and many of the characters fail at it spectacularly. The novel is set against the backdrop of political do-gooding: the great British reforms of the late 1820s and early 1830s, which greatly expanded the number of Englishmen (not women, of course) who could vote. It was a time when the concept of the good itself was beginning to have a more democratic and less aristocratic connotation.
At the center of the many story lines in Middlemarch (marriages, deaths, legacies, falls from grace) is Dorothea Brooke, a nineteen-year-old orphan with a decent inheritance who has dreams of doing some great work in the world. At first she wants to improve the cottages of the tenant farmers who work on her uncle’s estate. Her plans are not met with much enthusiasm; those around her are the sort who think things are fine just the way they are. Courted by a local landowner who is considered a very good catch, she instead decides to marry a much older scholar whom she imagines to be some sort of genius. She will be his helpmeet; she’ll learn Greek and Latin so that she can help him guide his magnum opus into the world. Unfortunately her new husband, Casaubon, turns out to be a dry and humorless pedant who over time crushes Dorothea’s every impulse toward joy and intimacy. She, knowing she is bound to him legally, and feeling bound to him morally, fights against her resentment and loneliness, and although she no longer believes in his talent or his project, gives over her days to providing the lowly secretarial aid he demands. Read More »
July 2, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
April 4, 2013 | by Katherine Hill
The packet came in the mail. My first MFA workshop would be led by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. So I did what any good writing student does: I bought and read one of her books. I remember humming along through Disturbances in the Field, deeply engaged with Lydia, a Manhattan pianist who understands her life through the lessons of the great philosophers. “Heraclitus was right,” she says. “No sooner is a position established than it erodes. The solid earth under our feet melts into water, evaporates into air, and is consumed in fire. I moved from one family to another.” The mood is heady, the details exquisite. Here, I thought, is a novel unhampered by plot: a capacious, intelligent book about the endless trouble of being smart and a woman, of being with other people and alive. A book that showed me how to write sentences, and how to live a life of the mind. Twenty-three in Brooklyn, I took constant, exuberant notes.
But then, halfway through, like a guillotine, the plot falls into place. Something irreversible occurs in Lydia’s life, something devastating. And despite the book’s description, despite the many, many narrative clues, I was shocked. Suddenly, I had in my hands an entirely different book. The armor of ideas Lydia had been forging no longer fit the shape of the world; somehow, she’d have to recast it. Schwartz was even more masterful than I’d thought.
Mildly daunted, I made my way to Bennington, where I met the author herself: a small, dignified woman who clearly didn’t suffer fools. Somehow, I managed to call her Lynne. As a teacher, she turned out to be quite compatible with her book: broad-minded yet blunt, rigorous yet humane. Unsurprisingly, she’d read everything—because, as she often insisted, the only way to become a writer was to read and live and write. Like Lydia, she could always call up just the right book for any situation.
Lynne wasn’t the first writer I’d known, but she may have been the first with whom I kept up a regular correspondence. I learned recklessly from her recommendations, and from her own books, too. In her memoir of bibliophilia, Ruined By Reading, she cautions that “the writer is born of our fantasies. Reading her book, we fashion her image, which has a sort of existence, but never in the flesh of the person bearing her name.” And yet, I really did know this person, which had to count for something. We traded childhood stories, discovered a mutual affection for Daniel Deronda and Natalia Ginzburg, shared news of births and deaths. She was known as one of the bad cops at Bennington, famous for being tough on her students. Well, if this was bad, I wouldn’t waste my time with good. Read More »