|August 10th||2:30-4:00||Amherst Room||Books 1-2|
|August 24th||2:30-4:00||Woodbury Room||Books 3-4|
|September 7th||2:30-4:00||Amherst Room||Books 5-7|
|September 14th||2:30-4:00||Amherst Room||Book 8|
(Perhaps the inspiration for David Levine’s caricature below?)
Comments on Eliot’s “ugliness” from an article by Rebecca Mead:
She was “a woman with next to no feminine beauty or charm or of countenance or person,” according to William Michael Rossetti, the critic and brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti. Grace Greenwood, the American novelist, described her as “exceedingly plain, with her aggressive jaw and her evasive blue eyes.” Henry James characterized her as “magnificently ugly, deliciously hideous.”
But James also noted an interesting phenomenon about Eliot’s supposed ugliness: when she began to converse, her expression was one of such tenderness and sympathy that it left her interlocutor with an abiding sense of beauty. “Behold me, literally in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking!” James wrote after his first encounter with her. Many others who met her made similar comments, including Lucy Clifford, a novelist, who said that Eliot did, indeed, look like a horse—“a strange variety of horse that was full of knowledge, and beauty of thought, and mysteries of which the human being had no conception.”
From The New Yorker, September 19, 2013
For anyone who finds the Introduction to our Penguin Edition of Daniel Deronda a disappointment, here’s a better one – it’s from the Oxford World Classics edition and is written by Prof. K.W. Newton. – Tom
Here’s an essay by Paula Marantz Cohen that appeared in the Hudson Review back in 2002. It does a neat job of showing how the so-called Jewish part of Daniel Deronda really is tied inseparably to the never is, but should be, called British portion. Along the way Cohen shows how Eliot reverses tried and true expectations of Victorian novels and Western commonplaces about how Christianity supersedes Judaism.
Riding plays such a big part in Gwendolyn’s life, at least in the first two books of Daniel Deronda, I thought it might be fun to see what her often mentioned riding dresses might have looked like. These pictures are taken from a website by Kate Tattersall. Take a look if you want a really detailed account of Victorian British women’s riding habits. Another good site on Victorian riding habits, this time American, can be found on the Victoriana Magazine website.
It may not be too early to post some essays about George Eliot from that fountainhead of literary opinion and gossip, The New York Review of Books. Perhaps the most relevant piece for us was written by Harold Bloom in 1985. In the course of reviewing Gordon Haight’s book of Eliot’s letters, Bloom devotes a couple of sections to an insightful discussion (it seems to me) of Daniel Deronda.
In a January 1969 number of the NYRB, Noel Annan discussed the (then) new biography, George Eliot, by the same Gordon Haight. For many years, I believe this was the definitive biography. A more general reflection on Eliot’s life and work, Annan’s essay would be useful to anyone wanting to read a bit more about the elusive author.
In 1996, Frederick Karl published a new “definitive” biography, George Eliot, Voice of a Century. Millicent Bell reviewed the book for the NYRB and her comments make interesting counterpoint to Annan’s essay of almost 20 years earlier.
A little to one side of the above discussions, in 1984 Gillian Beer wrote a book called Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction. The long title suggests some of the tendentiousness of Beer’s argument but also indicates why a critical review of the book (by David Joravsky) may have some interest for us. This is not the first time we have encountered George Eliot’s fascination with science, in general, and Darwin, in particular. Beer points out (and Joravsky agrees) that these interests form part of the woof upon which Eliot’s weaves Daniel Deronda.
Henry James wrote several reviews and essays about George Eliot, whom he admired and considered an inspiration. Two of his most famous pieces contain references to Daniel Deronda. His main review of the book (1877) took the highly unusual form of a short play – a “Conversation” between three readers whose views differ widely about the book and George Eliot. Then in 1885, upon the posthumous publication of the first biography of the writer, James wrote a longer essay evaluating Eliot’s work. (James famously considered Middlemarch, like Deronda, a failure, and, inexplicably to our tastes, regarded Romola as her masterpiece.)
I post below these two pieces of Jamesian criticism: as you might expect from the author, they are not short. Be aware that “The Conversation” reveals most of the plot of the Daniel Deronda and the more of the book you’ve read, the more sense you’ll make of the varied nuances of interpretation the characters discuss. Likewise the more you know of Eliot’s work generally, the better you’ll follow James’ commentary in his review of George Eliot’s Life as related in her Letters and Journals edited by her husband, John Cross.
Addendum 8/8: I’ve located a rather unusual piece by James – a short notice published in The Nation shortly after Daniel Deronda started appearing in serialized form. It’s a kind of literary “heads-up” alerting readers to Eliot’s novel and anticipating that it’s likely to be very interesting. I’ll place it first in the links below since it was the earliest of James comments about the book.
For the sake of completeness (but at the risk of acting like a graduate student in English), I’ll post here the very first piece of criticism Henry James wrote about George Eliot, an unsigned review of Felix Holt: Radical, published in The Nation in 1866. James was twenty-six at the time, had not yet published his first novel and had begun making a name for himself as a writer by turning out over two dozen book reviews. This partly explains his occasionally acerbic tone. I confess to be intrigued enough by the vitreol in parts of James’ review to track down a nicely-written (if, naturally, a bit pedantic) piece in The George Eliot Review that critiques James’ critique – and by so doing adds a few more insights into James’ relationship with his sometime Muse.
Henry James reviews ‘Felix Holt’ (1866) [3 (double) pages]
So Wodehouse’s usage first appears in 1838; and note how quickly the illustrative quotations start coming from American sources. I also like the earlier (16th-18th century) entries that lay the figurative groundwork for the later colloquialism.
And for those who enjoy browsing the OED, here’s a link to a slightly larger excerpt about “mitten.”
I’ve found a review of Benny Green’s centenary biography of P.G. Wodehouse, A Literary Life, by the distinguished critic, V.S. Pritchett, writing in The New York Review of Books in 1981. Pritchett presents what I think is a full and very sensible evaluation of Plum’s comedy, putting it into the historical context of “English Light Humour” … which includes Restoration Comedy, Gilbert and Sullivan, etc. Nothing especially new for us, except for the elegant and insightful way Pritchett writes. A couple of brief examples:
The age of lightheaded imperial innocence began to vanish after 1914 and we have grown up in the black laughter of outrage, enhanced by the obsession with sex. One can only say that laughter for its own sake [my emphasis] is never passé for very long: we still laugh at Goldsmith and Restoration comedy after a spell of sneering at their subjects, their oaths and delivery. …
The strength of Wodehouse lies not in his almost incomprehensibly intricate plots – Restoration Comedy again – but in his prose style and there, above all, his command of mind-splitting metaphor. To describe a girl as “the sand in civilization’s spinach” enlarges and decorates the imagination [my emphasis].
It’s a short review (four pages) and, I think, a quick read.
Note: Pritchett refers to a comedic novel, Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm (1872-1956), an Edwardian satirist who was a little older than Plum. Below is some information about him and his book:
Here’s another voice chiming in on Wodehouse’s “silliness”: in the New York Review of Books in 2013, Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviewed the same book as Leithauser and came to different conclusions. He repeats much of what we already know, but adds a few new twists.
Half-thoughts: Perhaps part of what we’re discussing here (pace Gary et al) is the difference between British and American attitudes about what constitutes “a sense of humor” (…or is it a sense of seriousness?) Lewis Carroll vs Mark Twain? Monty Python vs Woody Allen? … (I started to look through some James Thurber to see how he compared with Plum – and that’s when I thought of Woody Allen.) – Tom