Friday, June 26, 2015

Discovering George Eliot

 george eliotI remember my mother telling me that she didn't appreciate SILAS MARNER until she read it as an adult. Maybe that's why George Eliot never made it on the reading lists for AP English in High School or for any of my liberal artsy classes throughout College. Or maybe it's a function of her gender, still working against her after all these years. Whatever the case, I had to wait until after college to discover her on my own, just as I had with Virginia Woolf and Carson McCullers and Eudora Welty.

I'd read SILAS MARNER and thought it good, but it's MIDDLEMARCH that has made  me a devotee, with its rich complexity of human experience, wrought in compassionate yet unflinching detail. And now, I'm reading MY LIFE IN MIDDLEMARCH, by Rebecca Mead, and finding there is so very much more to love about George Eliot as a person, too.

Her life is a reminder to me that lives can, do and have traveled many and varied roads, and that human beings change and grow and shift over time. In today's age of social media's curated lives, it's easy to fall back on the notion that there is a "right" kind of life to have - the kind portrayed in the media and then reinforced by our own hands through our culled and cropped and sanitized facebook posts. George Eliot was complicated and shifting, a brilliant, ugly, opinionated working woman, religious and then not, a stepmother of sorts, living for years with another woman's husband as if he were hers and his children were hers, a woman moving fiercely and confidently through a man's world, grabbing hold of her identity, opening herself to belief, experience, love, change. Her work is full to bursting with the varied truths of human life, forcing us to look at and understand a full tapestry of characters shaded in grays, not black and whites, characters whose lives are not writ large and grand but march in the middle (which I believe is the intent of that title).

I am tremendously excited by the prospect of reading her other works, more excited, at the moment, than I am about working on my own writing. Perhaps I am beset a bit by the humility that always overcomes me when I stand face to face with truly great literature, and then look back at the dwarfed image of my own work. But writers read, and become better writers in the process, and I can think of no better mentor, just now, than George Eliot, nee Mary Ann Evans.

Popular Posts