Monday 30 March 2009

The gods of the hearth exist for us still

A long time ago, I took a graduate course devoted to George Eliot and it's remained one of my favourite courses ever taken. Being introduced to Eliot opened up a whole new world for me because she was just such a ridiculously perfect writer (mind, I haven't read Romola, which I'm told has some weird translation issues). I don't mean perfect in that Fielding's Tom Jones way, where there are absolutely no loose threads left anywhere though. (I did enjoy Tom Jones, very much, but it was very neat, which I'm not sure is an unmitigated good.)

No, for me Eliot is perfect because her writing is so good and so human and unlike Dickens, whom I certainly adore, she never uses the narrative equivalent of loudly proclaiming and gesturing wildly to drive home the importance of any given moment or event. She quietly and clearly lays it all out and trusts us to get it.

And Silas Marner, which inexplicably is the first Eliot I've read in 10 years!!!, is perfect in the way I remember the other Eliot novels I've read being; indeed, perhaps more so. This is why I read - to sometimes have the pleasure of engaging with books this beautiful in both subject and execution.

A gesture towards a plot spoiler - careful!
Silas Marner is what my down east peeps would call a come-from-away in small town Raveloe. He just shows up one day not knowing anyone and begins plying his trade as a weaver. People find him strange but necessary because of the work he does, and he spends fifteen year collecting money, which in the face of his almost complete lack of human interaction becomes the focus of all his passion. He ends up being robbed of all of it and he almost loses his mind...but then he's given something much better. I won't say anymore because while surprise isn't what makes this novel amazing, it won't hurt either.

I'm looking forward to reading Romola, which wasn't on the syllabus of the course I took. I'm also looking forward to Middlemarch, which was on the syllabus but which I didn't read because the font in the copy I had was too small and I needed new glasses and trying to read it was giving me migraines and I was too broke to get either another copy or new specs and someone had the book out of the library and...and. Sigh. It's a big blot on my reading and grad school credibilities, I know. I know! But I'll try to make up for it soon. Mea culpa.


Nan said...

Gosh, it was nice reading this. I haven't read any Eliot in far too long. I think I liked Adam Bede the best, but I did love Middlemarch.

Rohan Maitzen said...

Romola does contain the great blooper "'You are as welcome as the cheese to the macaroni,'" which an Italian friend tells me is, in the original language, a more, well, successful idiomatic expression than it sounds in English! But the novel has some tremendous parts, and Romola herself is a fabulous character. I'll look forward to hearing about your experience of reading Middlemarch--and I'll also put in a good word for Felix Holt. What I find is that "lesser" George Eliot is still far more interesting and rewarding than most other writers at their bests.

Sarah said...

I confess I have mixed feelings on Eliot, I love Silas Marner but find some of her longer works rather too quiet and clear.

I might have to revisit Middlemarch, The Mill on the Floss or Daniel Deronda and see if that opinion changes.

verbivore said...

My first Eliot was Middlemarch, but I listened to it, which just isn't the same experience as reading it myself - I loved it and eventually checked the book out from the library on the way home from my commute one day so I could finish it that evening. I've got Silas Marner on the shelf for a read sometime this spring.

Meytal Radzinski said...

I've read three Eliot novels and I think all three are positively brilliant ("A Mill on the Floss", "Daniel Deronda", and of course, "Silas Marner"). I've tried twice to get into "Middlemarch", but something about it always makes me set it aside again and put it in the deferral pile. It's not that I don't want to read it, I just can't find that right spark that came immediately in the other books. I think I might put "Middlemarch" off even longer and jump straight to "Romola" as well. It might be a good head-clearer.

As for the potential spoiler, my edition of "Silas Marner" sort of gave away a lot from the back. Just as my edition of "A Mill on the Floss" (actually borrowed; I sadly own neither) revealed to me through skimming the introduction a couple of unfriendly scenes from the end. I thankfully managed to forget most of them.

Bookphilia said...

Nan: Ah, thanks! I'm going to be making up for my other Eliot deficiencies in the (for me) near future I think.

Rohan: I have read Felix Holt - in my Eliot class which you may not realize was taught It was a long time ago and I wasn't generally known as Dreamqueen then. :) I've loved everything I've read by Eliot so I'm annoyed with myself for taking so long to get back to her.

Sarah: I can see that. There are points in my life during which I know I wouldn't have appreciated those qualities in writing.

Verbivore: I'll look forward to your review of Silas Marner!

An Anonymous Child: The copy I read of Silas Marner also revealed a lot - luckily it's not the kind of book that requires the reader to be surprised to be affected. If it had been, I would have had to write a strongly worded letter.