Posts Tagged ‘George Eliot’
April 10, 2014 | by Diane Mehta
Rebecca Mead, Jill Lepore, and a new direction for biography.
Feminism, Paula Backscheider explains in Reflections on Biography, transformed the study of history. “The arresting power of women’s deepest feelings, their comments about their own bodies, and the stark force of their drive to work” are part of the new candor, she says. And there are new things to consider: “How do you do justice to boundary-breaking acts, such as learning to read, or, as with [George] Eliot, not marrying?”
It was thanks to feminism that the relationship between biographer and subject took on a new life—for women to tell other women’s stories, they had to find ways to reconstruct those women’s lives. Ordinary women and their domestic lives became respectable subjects. Their diaries, letters, photographs, and other records could be taken seriously as evidence. Minor details, even in non-events, nuance the undertaking.
Reading Rebecca Mead’s intimate and scholarly My Life in Middlemarch, her memoir about George Eliot’s masterpiece, got me thinking about this shift in biography. What is it that compels one woman to explore the work and personality of another, often with centuries between us—and what are we trying to say? Read More »
February 12, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
This afternoon at one, join our contributing editor (and, of course, daily Daily correspondent) Sadie Stein for a live Web chat with Rebecca Mead, hosted by Jezebel. The topic: What Would Dorothea Do? In honor of Mead’s engaging new book, My Life in Middlemarch, they’ll be discussing, as Sadie says, “George Eliot, Dorothea Brooke, what the novel can teach us today, plus life, love, and, yes, sex in Middlemarch.”
It promises to be a lively and enlightening discussion about a lively and enlightening novel. For my money, whenever I make eyes at someone, which, as you can imagine, is almost constantly, I still think of a line from Middlemarch: “They were looking at each other like two fond children talking confidentially of birds.”
And whenever I confront the dubiety of my future: “Even Caesar’s fortune at one time was, but a grand presentiment. We know what a masquerade all development is, and what effective shapes may be disguised in helpless embryos.—In fact, the world is full of hopeful analogies and handsome dubious eggs called possibilities.”
And whenever I encounter a physically unattractive person: “It is so painful in you, Celia, that you will look at human beings as if they were merely animals with a toilette, and never see the great soul in a man’s face.”
And whenever I’m too hungover to pull up the window shade: “We must keep the germinating grain away from the light.” (I think of myself, you see, as germinating grain.)
If you haven’t read Middlemarch, you still have a few hours to catch up before the chat. In all honesty, though, you should read Middlemarch. Believe the hype. It is the best.
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 »