Wednesday, March 24, 2010

George Eliot

I have been immersed in a biography of George Eliot, The Last Victorian by Kathryn Hughes. And I had recently finished a biography of Jane Austen, not so interesting. Although I love the novels of Jane Austen as much as anyone, and could sit through some film treatments of her work over and over, her books did not have the same impact on me that George Eliot's novels have had. I had read The Mill on the Floss at a young age, along with Tess of the D'Urberville's by Thomas Hardy in my teens. But to tell the truth, I don't think I really appreciated them at that time.

When I read Middlemarch, at about the age of 40, I felt that it had been written about me. That if only I had read this book in my teens, then I would not have lived the life I lived. I later found some copies of George Eliot's books that had belonged to my grandmother - after my mother had died. Did my mother keep these novels from us girls? I'll never know. If we had been forewarned of the consequences of living within a patriarchal framework, would I have resisted? If you have not read Middlemarch, you might enjoy it. I will always wonder if Eliot's books were kept from me so that I would accept living within the confines of patriarchy more easily.

George Eliot's biography is fascinating. Under her real name, Marian Evans, she translated The Life of Jesus, by D.F. Strauss from German. Her life story is a spiritual and emotional journey through social and theological mazes that we find hard to imagine today.

In the Victorian era, about one third of women did not marry. They could not own property, could not get a university education or work in any profession except as a governess, and were dependent on the goodwill of a father or brother for a meagre income. The fight for more rights for women was fueled by this vast marginally employed workforce, women living at the whim of men who did not put them first in any way, shape or form.

Marian Evans was an exception. She was able to make a good living from her novels, and helped to support her common law husband, and his first wife and children. She also supported the first wife's many children by her lover. The laws were too complex to ever allow this couple to divorce so the first wife of Evans' common law husband, was never free to marry her lover. He didn't want her anyway, because he was preoccupied with supporting his own wife and children. Well, you have to read it for yourself.

This is the idyllic life of couples in a day where divorce was difficult. Wouldn't we like to go back to the good old days, when, if a woman was not as clever as George Eliot - clearly the most brilliant woman in England in her day, she might easily end up a prostitute, one of the few other occupations for women in patriarchal England.


Jane said...

Middlemarch is one of my all time favourite novels - I read it first when I was 18 and have read it regularly since then. Thanks for this post I shall try and get a copy of teh biography - sounds fascinating

Muff Potter said...

You might enjoy reading Veronica Franco's "Terza Rima 24."