Rereading and George Eliot

Inevitably, perhaps, distraction came during Book 3 of The Iliad. To admire dedicated rereaders, as I do, is insufficient inducement to compel me to turn to an old favourite again, not often enough to make me a Nabokovian good reader; “A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” I shall settle for dilettante reader status for now and promise to try better. Ellis Sharp’s Twenty-Twenty kept whispering my name, linked in my mind to Gabriel Josipovici’s 100 Days, both of which Steve listed as his favourite books of last year. I’ve been dipping again into the latter, rereading with great pleasure.

This afternoon I went to a bookshop to buy George Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life. Before adopting her nom de plume, Eliot taught herself Latin and spent a decade translating Spinoza’s Ethics, the first translation into English, unfortunately not published in her lifetime. Only after completing this project did she turn to writing fiction, Scenes being her first published collection of stories.

In a letter to Dr. Payne in 1876 Eliot wrote, “My writing is simply a set of experiments in life—an endeavour to see what our thought and emotion may be capable of—what stores of motive. . . give promise of a better after which we may strive to keep hold of as something more sure than shifting theory.” I am fascinated to explore how Eliot’s ideas found expression in her fiction. Clare Carlisle, in an interview, argued that Eliot is a philosophical novelist. My plan is to trace Eliot’s thinking through the fiction. This will, of course, involve rereading Middlemarch as I progress chronologically, if I am able to resist the distractions of a library with over six-hundred unread books.

8 thoughts on “Rereading and George Eliot

  1. Re-reading takes a lot of effort, I find, when there are so many unread ones calling your name. But I tend to think Nabokov was right and that we should make the effort to go back to those books which mean a lot to us.

  2. George Eliot was certainly quite the intellectual and Scenes from Clerical Life is probably the hardest to find of her works. Will be interested to follow you reading and rereading of her.
    I don’t reread very often nowadays, but last year I reread a bit more… and in most cases those were the best books of the year.

    • Her immersion in the work of Auguste Comte, Feuerbach and Spinoza is so intriguing, and all before she wrote a word of fiction. I’ve got the Oxford Classics edition of Scenes from Clerical Life. But I’ll read her translation of Ethics first and maybe her translation of Strauss’ Life of Jesus.

    • Apparently so, yes, but I’ve no direct evidence (yet). There is a book: George Eliot and Auguste Comte: Influence of Comtean Philosophy on the Novels of George Eliot, by David Maria Hesse

  3. Hi, I believe Dodd’s biography of Eliot, An Intellectual Life, deals with her relationship with Comte.
    Love the blog!

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