4 feb. 2008


George Eliot. Adam Bede. 1858.

This is my new favorite novel so far (of the five I've commented on so far.) I haven't finished it yet so I can't give away the ending.

Adam Bede is young, strapping pragmatic country carpenter admired of everyone in a 30 mile radius. He has only two flaws: he loves the vain, superficial and attractive Hetty (infatuated in turn with the dashing young squire Arthur, a well-intentioned person who will never have to face any consequences for his actions) and he beats people up. Methodism, a kind of late 18th-century liberation theology, is sweeping through the countryside. Adam's gentler brother Seth is a Methodist in love with Dinah, an earnest rousing woman preacher meant to be the polar opposite of Hetty.

Eliot, of tolerant spirit, warns the reader not to judge these characters too harshly. I love those Victorian asides to the reader! That earnestness tinged with tolerant irony! That sentimentality in which the author does not quite believe.

Competence, embodied by the eponymous hero, is almost the highest ethical value in sight--aside from tolerance itself. Competence is identified with a pragmatic sense of mathematics, of judging things correctly. The angle is either square or not. So his mistaken judgment of Hetty must have some consequences: here he is off in his calculations.

Murdoch is the same kind of novelist, ceteris paribus, but I am always relieved when I turn back from her to George Eliot. Victorians wrote better Victorian novels than anyone else could later.

Coming soon: Faulkner, more Murdoch.

3 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

Such a pretty pink little thing.

Long ago, my wife and I read Adam Bede out loud to each other. That was great fun.

Tom dijo...

Funny, Silliman links an interview with Grace Hartigan today about Frank O'Hara:

"Do you have a favorite story about or memory of Frank?"

GH: "We’re sitting in front of the fire during a hurricane at [painter] Fairfield Porter’s house reading out loud George Eliot."

Tom King

Jonathan dijo...

Yeah. And she used to sign her painting "George Hartigan."