George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss

I’ve enjoyed reading Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte and Louisa May Alcott this year but based on what I’ve read, in my humble opinion, the Nineteenth Century Female Author to beat all Nineteenth Century Female Authors is George Eliot. I felt this way after I read Silas Marner back in 2013 and immediately went out and bought The Mill on the Floss. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to read it but I’m glad I finally did. I can’t wait this long to read more of Eliot’s work.

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From the beginning, Eliot’s own narration drew me into the story and I knew she wouldn’t disappoint:

Ah, my arms are really benumbed. I have been pressing my elbows on the arms of my chair, and dreaming that I was standing on the bridge in front of Dorlcote Mill, as it looked one February afternoon many years ago. Before I dozed off, I was going to tell you what Mr and Mrs Tulliver were talking about, as they sat by the bright fire in the left-hand parlour, on that very afternoon I have been dreaming of.

As I’ve spent a significant amount of time thinking about this novel since I finished it, the one thing I come up with as to why she is my favorite of the above mentioned authors is that her narrative and characters are so subtle and nuanced and yet she’s able to realistically surprise the reader by having characters respond in ways one wouldn’t have expected.

Like the heroines of the other authors, Eliot gives Maggie Tulliver an intelligence and strong will that pushes against and surprises her family and society, usually to their disappointment. Her brother Tom treats her in a less than noble manner while children but the reader (and Eliot herself, I believe) has to give a little admiration to Tom as he makes a tireless and ultimately successful endeavor to win back their lost family property and respect. The chorus of arrogant Aunts on Maggie and Tom’s mother’s side constantly chide Maggie for her nonconforming ways but eventually stand up for her when Tom feels he needs to banish her from the family.

As she develops a wonderful friendship and almost-romance with the shy and deformed Phillip Wakem, Maggie surprised me by getting caught up in the ways and words of the dashing Stephen Guest. Even Stephen Guest doesn’t fit the mold of “mean rich guy”; he reminds me more of Laurie in Little Women.

Then there is the finale that is arguably anything but subtle and nuanced. I firmly believe that many stories are worth reading even if one knows how they will end and The Mill on the Floss is one of them but I won’t reveal the ending. However, I couldn’t help feel that Eliot had given hints (subtle ones) along the way of how the story would wrap up. It was kind of like a literary de ja vu.

I’ll just say that of the three men between which Maggie’s devotion is torn, the one she ends up with is a fascinating choice.

What are your thoughts about George Eliot? Which of her novels have you read and how would you compare her to other popular Nineteenth Century Female British authors?

 

 

 

 

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The Final TBR Triple Dog Dare Update

TBR Final Dare

The final TBR Triple Dog Dare is sponsored by James at James Reads Books and here’s my final update. The Dare requires participants to read only books that they already have during January, February and March.

As I’ve said in previous updates, the number of books I’ve read during the Dare has not been staggering; however, I’ve read some books that have been on my shelf for a long time and thoroughly enjoyed them:

1.) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (on my shelf)

2.) Voices in the Night: Stories by Steven Millhauser (borrowed from the library prior to the beginning of the Dare)

3.)Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (on my shelf)

4.) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (on my shelf)

I just finished Jane Eyre yesterday so look for a post about Volume the Second in the next couple of days.  In addition, I read the beautiful story “The Turkey Season” for the April edition of The Alice Munro Story of the Month so a post about that will be coming up soon.

Next up is Andy Weir’s The Martian and after that I’ll begin a book I just got in the mail: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings -J. R. R . Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski.

So how did you do with the TBR Triple Dog Dare? And what’s up for you post-Dare?

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The TBR Triple Dog Dare Update

TBR Final Dare

The final TBR Triple Dog Dare is sponsored by James at James Reads Books so I thought I would post an update. The Dare requires participants to read only books that they already have during January, February and March. While I can’t say the number of books I’ve read so far is anything to post about, I will say that I’ve become very inspired to read the books that are already on my shelf.

I’ve read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and am almost finished with Steven Millhauser’s collection Voices in the Night: Stories. The Millhauser book I am counting even though it’s from the library. I’ve had it since before the beginning of 2016. I planned on reading Jack London’s Martin Eden, also from the library; however, it had to be returned before I got a chance to read it (I couldn’t renew it). So the London novel will have to wait until the spring.

Next up will be the Bronte sisters. I’ve had Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre on my shelf for years. It’s high time I read them.

“Lazy Laurence” – Chapter 39 of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

I’ve finished Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women; however, instead of a wrap-up post, I’m posting about one last chapter that stood out to me. Chapter 39, called “Lazy Laurence”, finds Laurie in Europe after his marriage proposal to Jo is turned down. Prior to the chapter, Laurie finds Jo’s sister, Amy, the youngest of the March girls, in Nice with her wealthy Aunt.

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This entire chapter is one long conversation between Laurie and Amy. Alcott manages to put so much into this conversation, yet she doesn’t overdo it. It’s just right. She continues to make Laurie very likable even if he has just a tinge of arrogance. Amy tends to have a little bit of arrogance, herself; however, during this conversation we see both of them come to terms with themselves – or at least start to.

Alcott gives this scene in Nice a certain combination of sophistication and coziness. At times, shadows fall across the faces of Laurie and Amy and at other times, small twinkles appear in their eyes.

The flirting between the two doesn’t get old. It’s humorous and touching without being sappy such as when Laurie asks Amy how she wants to sketch him:

“How provoking you are! I don’t approve of cigars, and I will only allow it on condition that you let me put you into my sketch; I need a figure.” (Amy)

“With all the pleasure in life. How will you have me? full-length, or three quarters; on my head or my heels? I should respectfully suggest a recumbent posture, then put yourself in also, and call it, ‘Dolce far niente'”. (Laurie)

Ah yes! “Dolce far niente” – so much can be said in moments of “sweet idleness”.

 

 

 

“Literary Lessons” – Chapter 27 of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

“Literary Lessons”, chapter 27 of Little Women, is another gem of a chapter. As I’ve become a lover of short stories over the years, I find appealing Louisa May Alcott’s ability to write each chapter as a short story yet continue to tell an overarching story as the chapters are connected together.

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It’s both a pleasant surprise and a little funny that Jo gets her story published after she rips it apart and makes it what everyone else in her family thinks it should be. I was also thrilled when she got payed $300 for it. While that seems a lot of money for Civil War times, I always find it good when an artist-even a fictional one -is able to make a living.

I think, though, that Alcott asks in this chapter how much art should an artist sacrifice for the sake of making a living. And, as with any question like this, she doesn’t give a concrete answer.

For myself, I’m able to see both sides in Jo’s dilemma and I’m glad that Alcott seems to find humor in the situation even if she might have been expressing some frustration in writing this chapter:

“Not being a genius, like Keats, it won’t kill me,” she (Jo) said stoutly; “and I’ve got the joke on my side, after all; for the parts that were taken straight out of real life, are denounced as impossible and absurd, and the scenes that I made up out of my own silly head, are pronounced ‘charmingly natural, tender and true.’ So I’ll comfort myself with that; and, when I’m ready, I’ll up again and take another.”

And again check out Hamlette’s post about this chapter and the subsequent discussion.

As I continue reading Little Women, I’m missing Laurie, the boy next door, while he’s away at college.

“Castles in the Air” – Chapter 13 of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has been enjoyable reading over the holidays. Because of the holidays, I haven’t made as much progress as I would have liked but if it takes a little longer, that’s all right. So far it’s been worth it.

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As I’m making my way through the novel, I’ve had a few thoughts about what to write. There is, of course, the proverbial “fear of my man card being taken away” for reading this; however, it hit me the other day that those who would question my manhood for reading Little Women have probably already questioned my manhood for reading – period.

So we can move on.

One aspect of the novel that has stood out to me so far is the manner in which Marmee will occasionally teach a life lesson to one of her daughters and it seems as though it’s actually Louisa May Alcott, herself, teaching life lessons to her readers. Ordinarily, I find this type of didacticism irritating; however, Alcott makes it work by not having too much of it and keeping it to the point. And no matter how one might regard these from a literary standpoint, the life lessons are ones worth learning.

I like the characters and find the book full of charm and fun and insight; however, for me, the novel went to a higher level when I reached chapter 13 which is entitled “Castles in the Air”.  In this chapter, Laurie, the boy next door, joins the March girls outdoors while they are working on reading and writing projects. As Laurie joins in the conversation, the five kids ramble about their dreams and what their perfect life would look like. These perfect lives become their “castles in the air”:

“We’re an ambitious set, aren’t we? Every one of us, but Beth, wants to be rich and famous, and gorgeous in every respect. I do wonder if any of us will ever get our wishes,” said Laurie, chewing grass, like a meditative calf.

Alcott puts together such a realistic conversation between the teenagers with nothing contrived or manufactured. They argue a little but what caught my attention is that they truly listen to each other. They discuss what sacrifices they might need to make for their dreams and those circumstances for which they might have to sacrifice their dreams. It’s a chapter that I would want my kids to read (two of my daughters have read it). And the decision Laurie makes at the end? Very moving.

I at least plan for one more post when I finish the novel but, who knows, there could be another chapter like this one that I have to post about before the end.

Hamlette over at The Edge of the Precipice has excellent posts about each chapter of Little Women from her Read-A-Long last year. Here’s her take on “Castles in the Air”.

 

 

 

 

Louisa May Alcott: The Brothers

DEAL ME IN – WEEK 12

J♠  J♠  J♠  J♠   J♠  J♠  J♠  J♠

…he belonged to neither race; and the pride of one, the helplessness of the other, kept him hovering alone in the twilight a great sin has brought to overshadow the whole land.

I selected the Jack of Spades for Week 12 of my Deal Me In 2015 project and read Louisa May Alcott’s short story “The Brothers”.  This is the second story I’ve selected in a row that deals with racism in the United States and my first story this year from the Nineteenth Century.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here.  Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

(photograph obtained from Goodreads.com)

Unlike last week’s story, Langston Hughes’ “Red-Headed Baby”, in which Hughes primarily shows the story happening as opposed to telling it, Alcott’s story is almost all “telling” from various points of view.  This may be why Alcott’s story is not as well-known and not considered as strong; however, I still think it works and found it worth reading.

The primary point of view is from an abolitionist nurse during the American Civil War who finds herself taking care of a Rebel Captain.  Alcott skillfully creates a strong character as the nurse determines in her mind that though the soldier stands for everything she is against, she will do her best to not let him, or anyone else, die.

A freed slave is hired to help the nurse until he discovers the Rebel Captain.  At that point, the former slave tells the nurse his story and the troubled background he shares with the patient. It’s more difficult for the slave to share the same strength of character as the nurse, but the nurse persuades him to move on. Through the story of another freed slave several months later, the nurse discovers the outcome of her attempt at reconciliation.

At times, Alcott – through the voice of the nurse – becomes a little preachy, explaining things to the reader that most readers would not need explained.  Of course, that could also be from the fact that I’m reading this story 150 years after it was published.

This is the first of Alcott’s work that I’ve read and it makes me want to read more.  Other than Jane Austen, Alcott seems to be one of the more popular “classic” authors around the blogosphere.  She’s most famous for her novel Little Women which I bought recently for my youngest daughter but have not read myself.  I might have to make that a priority this year.