George Eliot Notes

/ Literature /

George Eliot Silas Marner

Lots of my undergraduate classmates were like my father: they’d already read a couple of Austen novels and a half dozen Dickens novels, not to mention Scott or Stevenson, long before freshman year. I’d read lots and lots, but not the standard stuff: I read science fiction, Damon Runyan … Mad comix … I somehow passed through Columbia without ever having read a single paragraph of George Eliot. About her worthiness as a classic I had no opinion. In graduate school I read Middlemarch for the first time, then The Mill on the Floss: likewise, the first. Others in the classes at NYU seemed as stupid as paint, white plastic gorillas in Star Wars … But: they’d probably turned the pages of Middlemarch since puberty.

Anyway, there I was: twenty-four or so years old, trying to swallow these humongous Victorian novels at a pace their authors never intended: helpless in the utter fraudulence of the extended-school system of an utterly fraudulent mercantile state: that insists on robots instead of people. The universities hadn’t yet rejected my offer of an internet, hadn’t yet rejected my reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the state hadn’t yet sabotaged my attempts to support the convivial implications of Jesus, but had, the universities and the state, since the 1940s, rejected me: as an individual, as an intelligence, as a potentially honest person: all in the context of Christians ignoring Christ, the way Jews had ignored God … no end to the Russian-egg nest of fraud.
(Or, there is an end, an obvious end, too unflattering for us to acknowledge it.)

Well, I’m pre-smitten with Tolstoy, I’m a little resentful of the adulation heaped on Eliot: as a wise woman, a writer who can listen to and portray “the grass growing.” I read the Mill on the Floss second. I recall at no point pausing to think, this is great prose: or any such thing.

Meantime, my then best friend in such matters, Phil (the army buddy who suggested that we get the PhD-union card and submit to the rule of morons, so we can eat and be friends and teach our own teaching – a nice kleptocratic synecure) gets into his own PhD merrygoround at Rutgers … but:
When Phil takes his Orals, his committee’s first question is: “Which novels of George Eliot have you not read?”
And Phil’s (truthful) answer was, “None”!
Gulp, went his committee (probably none of them being qualified to give quite that answer).
Ergo: Phil has read all Eliot novels, I’ve read two: badly.

So last week Jan and I watch a DVD of a BBC effort at Middlemarch. Yesterday I comb the library for a copy, so we can immerse ourselves in some of the scenes. But all the Sebring library has on the shelf is Silas Marner. So: the other night we read Silas Marner chapter one.

And now I’m so crazy about it, about Eliot’s prose, pace, mind … that I want to read all, slowly.

Here, I’ll try to make just one point:
Silas is a weaver. He’s a member of some damn sect, dozens of such dwelt in the villages that filled George-Eliot-country in the early days of the industrial revolution, through 1832: colonial Calvinism. (Catholicism had put millions on the wrong foot; Calvin corrected a minor point while going further astray on dozens.)
Silas has a friend, of nine years.
Silas has a fiancée: she doesn’t seem to like him, but so what: no body likes anybody.
Silas is sitting at the bedside of a neighbor, the neighbor at death’s door while holding their church’s treasure. His friend is supposed to relieve him half-way through the watch. Silas his fellow know is subject to blackout fits. He wakes, the treasurer-neighbor dead, his friend never shows up: except to slander him for theft as well as neglect. His congregation casts lots to determine his guilt: (wisely) not trusting the law.
Silas accuses his friend of being the true thief.
Silas finds himself judged and shunned by a majority apparently incapable and unwilling to see the facts: which in this case, he alone knows: and Silas stands up against this holy majority and declares their God as well as them, liars, frauds …
And damn if the false friend doesn’t marry the awful girl!

Jesus! and now the novel will follow; he becomes the more human in his suffering.
And now I appreciate the more George Eliot’s reputation for supposed ugliness: her boyfriend too! Jeez, I would have loved to have seen that pair in their society’s bosom.

Now I see better where Thomas Hardy comes from !!! Mayor of Casterbridge!

One additional for now detail I love: the narrative identifies Silas’ insult to God as a “blasphemy.” I disagree, entirely: it’s his society he’s blaspheming against; not any god! At least not any worthy good: any real god should be on Silas’s side; if it’s not, then the hell with the god.

Then, more:

2014 08 07 Jan’s in Nova Scotia, I’m reading further in Silas by myself, wonderful. Speaking of supposed “ugliness”:
“The pretty uns do for fly-catchers—they keep the men off us.” Said by the ugly aunt, written by the ugly Eliot. What a great woman! what a great novelist.

It’s instructive how much of Eliot’s vocabulary I double check the dictionary, wikipedia, Google for. Poverty has subtracted Victorian diction from my battered mind.

prose samples: I’m a bad un to live with folks when they don’t like the truth.

It’ll be fine fun to see how you’ll master your husband and never raise your voice above the singing o’ the kettle all the while. I like to see the men mastered!”

a clergyman should be a pale-faced memento of solemnities, instead of a reasonably faulty man whose exclusive authority to read prayers and preach, to christen, marry, and bury you, necessarily coexisted with the right to sell you the ground to be buried in and to take tithe in kind; on which last point, of course, there was a little grumbling, but not to the extent of irreligion …

The communication was necessarily a slow and difficult process, for Silas’s meagre power of explanation was not aided by any readiness of interpretation in Dolly, whose narrow outward experience gave her no key to strange customs, and made every novelty a source of wonder that arrested them at every step of the narrative.

human beliefs, like all other natural growths, elude the barriers of system.

deep affections can hardly go along with callous palms and scant means

Things look dim to old folks: they’d need have some young eyes about ’em, to let ’em know the world’s the same as it used to be.”

Files acting up yesterday, I lost a string of quotes: of course that’s after I’d already neglected a bunch of other great quotes!

Bateson’s Beauty

2014 08 12 Gregory Bateson opened Mind and Nature with a question about life, the universe … entropy: if everything is ugly and getting uglier, bad and getting worse, tangled and getting more tangled, then how come there’s still beauty, quality …
(How come we’re still alive … and want to stay alive?)

I finished Silas last evening. Eliot threw in a little lagniappe, a little something extra, at the end: the little detail that’s as great as anything: had she left it out we wouldn’t have noticed, wouldn’t have missed it; but …

Silas left the bosom of his Calvinists, fell unknown, unappreciated into another English neighborhood (conventionally Anglican). Worked without cease, accumulated gold … got robbed! again! Clenched himself and stayed isolated.
But a neglected girl child with golden hair wanders into his cottage, he find her at his hearth: keeps her, loves her, cherishes her: for sixteen years.
Not only, finally, is he content, but his stolen gold is found and returned. The girl’s biological father, the squire, now wants to acknowledge her, adopt her … is so grand he’ll even allow her to still see Silas …
The girl says Silas is my only father, I’ll marry my working class fiance, so fuck of.

Happy ending: but, we’re not quite done.
Silas and his “daughter” pack a bandana like gypsies and visit the place of Silas’s former misery. The little Calvinist community of Salem-like “saints” is gone! wholly replaced by an ugly gray factory spewing out new miseries!

A million things have gone wrong; but one thing has gone right!
Man “ought” to be extinct but in fact is thriving (or at least is overpopulated). Silas, wronged and more wronged, is content, and thriving! is retired! and loved!!

So: England became the England we know, as we know it did. But, almost invisibly, there’s been a small miracle.

Wonderful, wonderful.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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