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  1. #1
    The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove Subteigh's Avatar
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    Default George Eliot

    (born Mary Ann Evans) of Middlemarch etc.


    She is magnificently ugly — deliciously hideous... in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end as I ended, in falling in love with her.
    Henry James, letter to Henry James Sr. (10 May 1869)

    What is remarkable, extraordinary — and the process remains inscrutable and mysterious — is that this quiet, anxious, sedentary, serious, invalidical English lady, without animal spirits, without adventures, without extravagance, assumption, or bravado, should have made us believe that nothing in the world was alien to her; should have produced such rich, deep, masterly pictures of the multifold life of man.
    Henry James, Atlantic Monthly (May 1885)

    Have you read anything beautiful lately? Do make sure somehow to get hold of and read the books by Eliot, you won’t be sorry, Adam Bede, Silas Marner, Felix Holt, Romola (Savonarola’s story), Scenes of clerical life. You know we gave the 3 underlined ones to Pa on his birthday last year. When I get the time for reading, I’ll read them again.
    Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo van Gogh (3 March 1878) The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh

    What I’m getting at, among other things, is that Eliot is masterly in execution, but above and beyond that is that extra something of singular genius of which I would say: perhaps one improves by reading these books — or, these books have the power to invigorate. I recently re-read Eliot’s Felix Holt, The radical. This book has been very well translated into Dutch. I hope you know it — if you don’t know it, see if you can’t get hold of it somewhere. There are certain ideas about life in it that I find outstanding — profound things said in a plain way — it’s a book written with great spirit, and various scenes are described exactly as Frank Holl or someone like him would draw them. It’s a similar conception and outlook. There aren’t many writers who are as thoroughly sincere and good as Eliot.
    Vincent van Gogh, letter to Anthon van Rappard (21 March 1883) The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh.

    Perhaps you thought that George Eliot was the author of Middlemarch. No: according to Professor Eagleton, the phrase “George Eliot” signifies nothing more than the insertion of certain specific ideological determinations -- Evangelical Christianity, rural organicism, incipient feminism, petty-bourgeois moralism -- into a hegemonic ideological formation which is partly supported, partly embarrassed by their presence. [...]
    The idea is to downgrade the notion of individual genius, as if George Eliot’s personal contribution to the writing of Middlemarch were somehow accidental, the more important thing being the “specific ideological determinations” she embodied. The main point of all this is that nothing is what it seems; or, as Professor Eagleton puts it in Criticism and Ideology, “there is no ‘immanent’ value”: everything in the realm of culture is determined by something outside culture–namely (catch that whiff of vulgarity?) the oppressive economic relations of capitalism.
    Roger Kimball, summarizing and objecting to Terry Eagleton's assessments, in "Was Jesus Christ a Palestinian insurgent?" (2007)

    You see, it was really George Eliot who started it all… It was she who started putting all the action inside.
    D. H. Lawrence, quoted in D. H. Lawrence: a personal record Jessie Chambers Wood (1935)

    Folks will want things intellectually done, so they take refuge in George Eliot. I am very fond of her, but I wish she'd take her specs off, and come down off the public platform.
    D. H. Lawrence, letter to Blanch Jennings (22 December 1908)

    Once, when she [Eliot] was asked which real-life person had been the inspiration for Casaubon — a man whose "soul was sensitive without being enthusiastic; it was too languid to thrill out of self-consciousness into passionate delight; it went on fluttering in the swampy ground where it was hatched, thinking of its own winds and never flying" — she tapped her own breast.
    Rebecca Mead, “Middlemarch and Me,” The New Yorker (14 February 2011)

  2. #2
    Hedgehog in the Fog myshkin's Avatar
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    Default George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

    I agree with EII! From Eliot's letters and descriptions of her person, I gather she was fairly private with herself. All accounts agree on the point she was "modest, sincere, and composed." More negatively, some described her as self-absorbed, plain, and "lacking in impulse, doing nothing on the spur of the moment".

    “Visits from friends and from those who are likely to become friends I am very fond of, but I have a horror of being interviewed and written about...”
    — George Eliot to Lord Houghton, 9 April 1878

    “I shall carry to my grave the mental diseases with which they have contaminated me. When I was quite a little child I could not be satisfied with the things around me; I was constantly living in a world of my own creation, and was quite contented to have no companions that I might be left to my own musings and imagine scenes in which I was chief actress. Conceive what a character novels would give to these Utopias. I was early supplied with them by those who kindly sought to gratify my appetite for reading and of course I made use of the materials they supplied for building my castles in the air.”
    — George Eliot to Maria Lewis, formerly her teacher, 16 March 1839

    “If there was any sincerity (an indispensable qualification) in the person with whom she came into contact she strove to elicit his best, and generally disclosed to him something in himself of which he was not aware. I have never seen anybody whose search for the meaning and worth of persons and things was so unresting as hers. The traveling American was not very interesting, but even from him she managed to extract whatever gave him a title to existence.”
    — William Hale White, 'George Eliot as I Knew Her', in Last Pages from a Journal with Other Papers

    “She said it was much better in life to face the very worst, and build one's cottage in a valley so as not to fall away, and that the very worst was this, that people are living with a power of work and of help in them, which they scarcely estimate. That we know by ourselves how very much other people influence our happiness and feelings, and that we ought to remember that we have the same effect upon them. That we can remember in our own lives how different they might have been if others, even good people, had only conducted themselves differently.”
    — Anne Thackeray Ritchie, to Richmond Ritchie January or February 1873 or 1874, in Thackeray and His Daughter: The Letters and Journals of Anne Thackeray Ritchie, with Many Letters of William Makepeace Thackeray

    “It was often in her mind and on her lips that the only worthy end of all learning, of all science, of all life, in fact, is, that human beings should love one another better. Culture merely for culture's sake can never be anything but a sapless root, capable of producing at best a shriveled branch.”
    — J.W. Cross, Life, III

    “There are some of George Eliot's schoolfellows living among us now, but their recollection is somewhat vague. From those whom we have questioned, we gather that their famous schoolfellow was a shy and reserved girl, with a profusion of light hair, puffed in front, above strongly lined, almost masculine features. [...] A reserve, which was not the result of pride in her intellectual superiority, but rather of modest diffidence and shrinking sensibility, prevented her from forming any close friendship among her schoolfellows.”
    — Alfred L. Scrivener. 'George Eliot', Nuneaton Observer and District Advertiser, 31 December 1880

    “Her self-control, leading to evenness of temper was marked. Only once did I see irritation, not unjustified, a little too much manifested. Conscientious and just in all relations and consequently indignant against wrong, she was nevertheless so tolerant of human weaknesses as to be quickly forgiving; and, indeed, was prone to deprecate harsh judgments. This last trait was I doubt not in part caused by constant study of her own defects. She complained of being troubled by double consciousness – a current of self-criticism being an habitual accompaniment of anything she was saying or doing; and this naturally tended towards self-depreciation and self-distrust. I thought I saw in her many, if not all, of the needful qualifications in high degrees – quick observation, great power of analysis, unusual and rapid intuition into others' states of mind, deep and broad sympathies, wit and humour, and wide culture.”
    — Herbert Spencer, An Autobiography, 2 vols

    “There was perhaps little at first sight which betokened genius in that quiet gentle-mannered girl, with pale grave face, naturally pensive in expression; and ordinary acquaintances regarded her chiefly for the kindness and sympathy that were never wanting to any. But to those with whom, by some unspoken affinity, her soul could expand, her expressive grey eyes would light up with intense meaning and humour, and the low, sweet voice, with its peculiar mannerism of speaking – which, by-the-way, wore off in after years – would give utterance to thoughts so rich and singular that converse with Miss Evans, even in those days, made speech with other people seem flat and common. Miss Evans was an exemplification of the fact that a great genius is not an exceptional, capricious product of nature, but a thing of slow laborious growth, the fruit of industry and the general culture of the faculties. [...] Nothing once learned escaped her marvellous memory; and her keen sympathy with all human feelings, in which lay the secret of her power of discriminating character, caused a constant fund of knowledge to flow into her treasure-house from the social world about her.”
    — 'George Eliot's Early Life', Pall Mall Gazette, 30 December 1880 (author untraced)

    “My mother was a little girl at school in Coventry when Mary Ann Evans was one of the older pupils, and long before "George Eliot" became famous, had constantly related to her children traits in the character of a schoolfellow whom, even then, her comrades felt to be quite different from themselves... In her classes for English composition, Mary Ann Evans was, from her first entering the school, far in advance of the rest, and while the themes of the other children were read, criticised, and corrected in class, hers were reserved for the private perusal and enjoyment of the teacher, who rarely found anything to correct. Her enthusiasm for music was already very strongly marked, and her music master, a much-tried man, suffering from the irritability incident to his profession, reckoned on his hour with her as a refreshment to his wearied nerves, and soon had to confess that he had no more to teach her. In connection with this proficiency in music, my mother recalls her sensitiveness at that time as being painfully extreme. When there were visitors, Miss Evans, as the best performer in the school, was sometimes summoned to the parlour to play for their amusement, and, though suffering agonies from shyness and reluctance, she obeyed with all readiness, but, on being released, my mother has often known her to rush to her room and throw herself on the floor in an agony of tears. Her schoolfellows loved her as much as they could venture to love one whom they felt to be so immeasurably superior to themselves, and she had playful nicknames for most of them. My mother, who was delicate, and to whom she was very kind, was dubbed by her “Miss Equanimity.” A source of great interest to the girls, and of envy to those who lived further from home, was the weekly cart which brought Miss Evans new laid eggs and other delightful produce of her father's farm.”
    — The child of a schoolmate. 'Our Monthly Letter to Friends Abroad', Our Times (writer untraced)

    “One of her schoolfellows, who knew her at the age of thirteen, confessed to me that it was impossible to imagine George Eliot as a baby; that it seemed as if she must have come into the world fully developed, like a second Minerva. Her features were fully formed at a very early age, and she had a seriousness of expression almost startling for her years... She stood aloof from the other pupils, and one of her schoolfellows, Miss Bradley Jenkins, says that she was quite as remarkable in those early days as after she had acquired fame. She seems to have strangely impressed the imagination of the latter, who, figuratively speaking, looked up at
    her "as at a mountain." There was never anything of the schoolgirl about Miss Evans, for, even at that early age, she had the manners and appearance of a grave, staid woman; so much so, that a stranger, happening to call one day, mistook this girl of thirteen for one of the Misses Franklin, who were then middle-aged women. Being greatly in advance of the other pupils in the knowledge of French, Miss Evans and Miss Jenkins were taken out of the general class and set to study it together; but, though the two girls were thus associated in a closer fellowship, no real intimacy apparently followed from it. The latter watched the future "George Eliot" with intense interest, but always felt as if in the presence of a superior, though socially their positions were much on a par. This haunting sense of superiority precluded the growth of any closer friendship between the two fellow-pupils. All the more startling was it to the admiring schoolgirl, when one day, on using Marian Evans's German dictionary, she saw scribbled on its blank page some verses, evidently original, expressing rather sentimentally a yearning for love and sympathy. Under this granite-like exterior, then, there was beating a heart that passionately craved for human tenderness and companionship!”
    — Mathilde Blind

    “She thinks one individual may change a whole house, & society of people that way – & she said she would like all young people to have hopefulness of what was waiting for them – something glorious or happy for what everything they had to do every day would really fit them – O me – she made one feel a minx – that was the worst. I think she's much more like a man than a woman – but Mr. Burne says I'm wrong. It seems to me such a very masculine & powerful mind – I think she's much more a philosopher than an artist – & a philosopher of that school who have summed up the universe & made of it. She's very sad now – she says she feels quite hard & insensible & she's trying to work & to interest herself in every way – it did look a dismal house rather & that poor thing quite alone in it – I suppose she's had a luckier life than most people after all – I was thinking all the time of that dismal Brontë life, & then George Eliot seemed very rich. I don't think she is moved by worship much – is that like a woman or like a man I wonder – I don't believe it touches her much – She asked me to come & see her again, but I felt such a Minx I don't think it's any good – I daresay she'd help one if she knew all about one – but then that's just it – no one ever can even if one wanted them – if you would tell your heart I don't think you could, & I wouldn't & couldn't – Now is that all wearisome – it's so difficult to repeat & it all sounds platitudes I know, & yet she talked very well & freshly – & she put her hands on my knees & her face quite close & looked with good eyes at me – but I felt rather as if she were in Abraham's bosom because of the intellectual gulf between which nothing can really bridge over, however much they long to come down to us – I don't know if being in love does, but nothing else short of that sympathy could, I'm sure —”
    — Frances Homer, Letter to Mary Gladstone Drew

    “George Eliot was certainly not the only famous writer of her time to protect her privacy, but she may have been alone in guarding it so fiercely that meeting her seemed an event of mythic proportions. [...] So completely did George Eliot distance herself from 'newspaper chit-chat', as she called it, so consistently did she withhold information even from standard reference sources, that she managed to ensure distrust of everything printed about her personal life by declining to offer anything in its place.”
    — K.K. Collins, George Eliot: Interviews and Recollections

    “[...] her subtle, incomplete replacement of outspoken revolt by patient kindliness, spiced with a perfect contempt for feigning, fawning or flattery; her interest in fashion and fashionable gossip, tempered with indifference to both; her pain in being recognized, offset by her pleasure in being appreciated; her joking laughter, which quite suddenly unseats her self-conscious gravity; her distinctly nonimperial respect for alien social traditions; the room in her heart for the transparent needs of children, with freezing retraction from any presumption of entitlement; and above all, the way her plaguing lack of self-confidence moves in step with an endlessly energetic, assured, and daunting focus. 'She received me with dignity' recalls the American playwright Steele MacKaye, “...took my letter, read it deliberately, and then for the first time looked intently at my face, at the same time extending her hand to me with charming frankness. In another moment I was perfectly at home and forgot everything in the presence of this charming woman, for she is the most fascinating and the ugliest woman that I ever saw in my life.”
    — K.K. Collins, George Eliot: Interviews and Recollections

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    Yes EII

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