Tuesday, July 26, 2011

George Eliot

My current reading is "Silas Marner" by George Eliot.

George in real life was Mary Ann Evans, born in Great Britain in 1819, died in 1880. When she was young, she aspired to be a philosopher but ended up later in life penning fiction. Her novels reflect her cerebral inclinations.  I like her because in an era of trumped up morality, she lived happily with a man who was married but could not get divorced. It reminds me of the plight of so many Filipinas, held in bondage by a morality hung over from the dark ages. Mary Ann did not let the State or societal pressures define how her private life would be lived. She followed her heart, not the witless constraints of laws crafted by men of lesser passion, or the snide gossip of small-minded people.
George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

I also like her because her words are intricate, each sentence requiring a pause to digest, re-read, think, and figure out. It is a slow read. Excruciating sometimes, to wind amongst the long, complex sentences rich with rare and unusual combinations of words.

Silas Marner was a broken-hearted weaver whose hoard of gold was stolen by a drunken rascal. In place of the gold, he was gifted a baby girl to care for.

Let me take a few of the lines from the book and reflect on them.

The Squire is the father of the rascal who stole Silas' gold.

"For the Squire's wife had died long ago, and the Red House [the Squire's house]was without that presence of the wife and mother which is the fountain of wholesome love and fear in parlour and kitchen; and this helped to account not only for there being more profusion than finished excellence in the holiday provisions, but also for the frequency with which the proud Squire condescended to preside in the parlour of the Rainbow [a pub]rather than under the shadow of his own dark wainscot; perhaps, also, for the fact that his sons had turned out rather ill."

If I had tried to say that, it would have come out something like: "The Squire had no wife, so his food, though amply provided to guests, missed the missus' touch. He also had enough leisure time carved out of neglect for his sons that he could hold court at the local pub with the condescension natural to one of presumed high birth. The sons bore no mark from that neglect outside, but inside was a different matter."

The beauty of Eliot's expression is that she doesn't just say the sons lacked a mother's love and therefore became troubled and troublesome. But that the entire family was thrown into an alternate path, and that path was not good. It is a painting she paints, of huge feasts of mediocre taste, empty though full. Just like the lives of the family, without the mother.

Here is another passage that reflects the author's incredible understated humor:

"Did you ever hear the like?" said Mrs. Kimble, laughing above her double chin with much good-humour, aside to Mrs. Crackenthorp, who blinked and nodded, and seemed to intend a smile, which, by the correlation of forces, went off in small twitchings and noises."

Well, I suppose LOL or ROFLMAO have their expediencies, but George Eliot's cut on the snorts and cackles of Mrs. Crackenthorpe cracked me up for about five minutes.

The drama of the written word is no better than when Silas Marner discovers his gold is gone:

He rose and placed his candle unsuspectingly on the floor near his loom, swept away the sand without noticing any change, and removed the bricks. The sight of the empty hole made his heart leap violently, but the belief that his gold was gone could not come at once - only terror, and the eager effort to put an end to the terror. He passed his trembling hand all about the hole, trying to think it possible that his eyes had deceived him; then he held the candle in the hole and examined it curiously, trembling more and more. At last he shook so violently that he let fall the candle, and lifted his hands to his head, trying to steady himself, that he might think. Had he put his gold somewhere else, by a sudden resolution last night, and then forgotten it? A man falling into dark water seeks a momentary footing even on sliding stones; and Silas, by acting as if he believed in false hopes, warded off the moment of despair. He searched in every corner, he turned the bed over, and shook it, and kneaded it; he looked in his brick oven where he laid his sticks. When there was no other place to be searched, he kneeled down again and felt once more all round the hole. There was no untried refuge left for a moment's shelter from the terrible truth.

Then, after all the duplicity and deceit, the darkness and despair, the struggles with sanity by a simple man with a good heart . . . we are introduced to Eppie, the throw-away baby who toddled on a snowy night onto Silas' hearth where he used to count his gold. Silas mistakes her hair for gold at first, but finds something much, much more valuable.

And from that moment on, we understand that George Eliot - Mary Ann Evans - knows of love.

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