As Tedra Osell has noted at Crooked Timber, Ta-Nehisi Coates has been posting sporadically about his experience reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch for the first time. (Osell also helpfully provides links to Coates’s posts on Middlemarch).
I have enjoyed reading Coates’s attempts to wrestle with what it is about Eliot’s prose that makes it so, well, wonderful, I suppose. For instance, in his post “Greedy of Clutch,” Coates explains that he believes it is his lack of grammatical knowledge that renders him only able to appreciate “the beauty of this sort of writing on a rather unspeakable emotional and spiritual level.” Continue reading
Rubens, Teresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove, c.1614
Many of us from The Floating Academy attended the annual Victorian Studies Association of Ontario conference this weekend. The conference’s theme — “Manipulation: Victorian Variations on Hands, Handling, and Underhanded Behaviour” — was taken up in various illuminating ways by the day’s speakers (including our own Gregory Brophy) but one key thread that emerged through all the papers was a critical identification of hands with agency. In addressing this concept of agency, or, in some cases, control (as in the case of Thackeray’s puppetmaster, which Peter Capuano discussed in his interesting analysis of the relationship between text and image in Vanity Fair), the day’s speakers often highlighted the ambiguity inherent in the concept of agency.
I found James Eli Adams’s talk, “The Dead Hand: George Eliot and the Uses of Inheritance” particularly compelling in this regard because he added a new layer to my understanding of the image of Dorothea Brooke as a “foundress of nothing” in Middlemarch:
“Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centering on some long-recognizable deed” (4). Continue reading
Lauren Goodlad’s paper at the latest NAVSA conference in Montreal, “The Mad Men in the Attic: Seriality and Crypto-Identity in Narratives of Capitalist Globalization,” got me thinking once more about the importance of detachment, unbelonging, and cosmopolitanism within Victorian thought. More specifically, Goodlad’s presentation inspired me to reconsider George Eliot’s novel Felix Holt, the Radical (1866).
In The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence (Chatto & Windus, 1970) Raymond Williams called Felix Holt a turning point not just in Eliot’s work, but in the history of the novel for its sustained engagement with what Williams named “the crisis of the knowable community.” In the eponymous protagonist, Williams argues, Eliot represents the tension between individual and communal identity “as a problem of relationship: of how the separated individual, with a divided consciousness of belonging and not-belonging, makes his own moral history” (84). Continue reading
I’ve been reading too much Wilkie Collins lately, and not even the good stuff such as The Woman in White and The Moonstone, but also the lesser-known works from the 1850s through to his last published novel in the late 1880s. I’ve now read, I think, every Collins novel, in addition to much of his shorter works of fiction and journalism. I’m exhausted and overloaded. Reading excessive amounts of popular Victorian fiction skews your sense of the world. Continue reading
As our George Eliot month comes to a close, I thought I would post a link to an interview with Prof. Rohan Maitzen, in which she discusses Eliot’s Middlemarch. It is Eliot’s masterpiece (I don’t think that is up for debate, is it?), and Prof. Maitzen is full of wonderful insights about the novel.
As English lecturers, we often have to remind our students to move from emotional to critical readings of texts. I once had a student who had trouble discussing Dickens’s Great Expectations in our tutorials because she hated Pip so much. Despite working to develop a critical voice over the years, I certainly have emotional reading experiences and am pleased that after reading countless Victorian novels, they still make me laugh out loud or cry. The moment in Adam Bede that I find most affective is when Dinah comes to see Hetty in her prison cell and Hetty, after showing no emotion or real awareness of her circumstances, breaks down and embraces Dinah: Continue reading
1) Why do we retain the pseudonym when discussing George Eliot/Mary Anne (etc.) Evans but not when referring to other Victorian writers like Currer Bell/Charlotte Brontë?
2) Why is Eliot’s (supposedly unattractive) appearance mentioned so frequently in Eliot criticism?
Just a quick note to mention that even Melvyn Bragg is joining in on George Eliot month! This coming Thursday, January 28, Melvyn will be discussing Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe (1861) with Rosemary Ashton, Dinah Birch, and Valentine Cunningham on BBC Radio 4′s In Our Time. Be sure to listen in!
I have noticed an interesting affective moment that recurs again and again in George Eliot’s fiction. The typical scene involves the struggle of a man to resist his attraction to, and involvement with, a woman he knows he should keep his distance from. Then, despite his good intentions, he witnesses her tears and instantly loses his head in a passionate capitulation to his desire. Continue reading
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Williams’s library in London, where the Eliot-Lewes library is held. I was doing work on Philip Wakem’s hunch back and hoping to find some very exciting underlining in the books she read on the physiology of the spine. I’m not sure what I was imagining—maybe something like “spinal curvature!! fascinating.” Oh dear. Most likely I was looking for Eliot to guide me through the mass of medical literature I was quickly becoming mired in with no clear way of figuring out what was important. I was just too early on in my work to tell at that point. Continue reading
I am reading Eliot’s Adam Bede for the first time since I read it in graduate school, in a class that focused on Victorian representations of masculinity and the male body. And it certainly is a novel that seems to revel in describing the body of its hero, Adam. Eliot’s narrator begins the novel in the Bede brothers’ workplace, recording the sonorous voice of one of the workmen: Continue reading
George Eliot, 1877, Sketch by Princess Louise (Image from Ellen's Moody's website)
For the month of January, all of the posts here at the Floating Academy will be focused on George Eliot’s work, life, and critical afterlife. To get us started, here are a few links to comprehensive websites for all things Eliot related:
1) George Eliot @ the Orlando Project
The Orlando project (University of Cambridge) brings together a wealth of information on British woman writers. Their Eliot page provides a range of materials from her letters, journalism and fiction to biographical information about her education, career and family life. (Subscription required)
2) George Eliot @ the Victorian Web
The George Eliot page at the Victorian Web contains a range of articles on her life and work, including a basic bibliography of important works of Eliot criticism.
3) George Eliot in Warwickshire
The BBC’s Coventry division website has an interesting photographic tour of George Eliot’s life in Warwickshire. If you click on the “Images” link, you’ll find photographs of Eliot’s various homes and schools and a few portraits.
The winter I settled in to write my dissertation a couple of years ago was also the winter I took up knitting in a big way. Maybe it was the Ithaca winter, maybe knitting was an outlet for dissertation stress, or maybe it was just the pleasure of doing something tactile and tangible after sitting at a computer all day. At any rate, I kept chugging away at both the writing and my first sweater all winter long. By the time spring came, I had a scarlet sweater with a few holes in it and one arm longer than the other, and a couple of dissertation chapters that I hope cohered a little better. Continue reading