Monday, May 24, 2010

In Which I Confess, Digress, And Then Mess With A Victorian Novelist Because I Really Hate The Whole Irony Thing Anymore

In a cruel twist of Irony, I found a paperback copy of The Mill on the Floss as I was cleaning out my storage cabinet at school. I first read it approximately one hundred years ago--in my junior year of college--while taking a class called The Victorian Novel. It was taught by a professor named Dr. Robb, who I promptly fell deeply and madly in love with for no apparent reason other than the fact that he was profoundly intelligent and I loved the Victorian novel. (I didn't find him physically attractive; he looked exactly like Mike Farrell, who played BJ Hunnicutt in the TV series M*A*S*H.) Here is a perfect likeness.

But I digress.

As you can see by my sidebar, I started rereading the book. Big mistake. In the intervening hundred years, I had forgotten what a downer those Victorian novels were. And this one, written by George Eliot (a pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans) is really, really laborious and unrelenting.

So, I feel as if I have to vent a little bit in this, a sort of open letter/rant to George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans:

Oh, George Eliot. Were you and Thomas Hardy and maybe a Bronte or two sitting around one night in a damp, draughty house with nothing to do but deprive yourselves of creature comforts? And once that got old, did one of you say, (a la Percy and Mary Shelley and Lord Byron), "Let's each of us write a really sad, sorrowful, unrelentingly grim tale, the heroine of which will be a dark-haired girl whose life is nothing but tragic irony"? And all of you did?

And you know me: I had to read that whole damn book until the very end, even now, when I am feeling just a little bit like a dark-haired Victorian heroine myself.

Luckily, I found this. It puts everything into a little bit better perspective. Enjoy it!


  1. It's funny--I think The Mill on the Floss is (I'm sorry, Nance) the only Victorian novel I liked. I mean, I of course hated the ending, but George Eliot displayed a pretty great sense of humor before that, I thought. Or maybe I was just Victorian-novelled out at the time and anything seemed like a refreshing change.

  2. That video was HILARIOUS. I was a big Bronte fan back in the day, meaning my youth. I tried again recently, and either my brains have dripped out my ears, or I've just lost my lust for that slow type of writing.

  3. Lol they should make make a toy like that. I'm sure those books are MUCH better than that teenage vampire shit that >18 year old girls are literally obcessed over. It disgusts me. That and their obcessions with the jonas brother, miley cyrus and justin beiber. Its just ridiculous. Why cant we go back to the 80's? Well at least being out of school gives us a reason to safety dance! And a long summer! Oh by the way, I loved the Sylvia Plath poem on the final. So beautiful.

  4. Oops. I meant to say "< 18 year old"

  5. Oh my goodness, I have got to get those Bronte dolls! I really do like my Brontes, Anne being my favorite. I loved The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I've not read any George Eliot and my only foray into Hardy was Tess, though Far From the Madding Crowd has been gathering dust on my bookshelves for years.

  6. S--I absolutely adore Jane Eyre, which I read for the first time in 8th grade. I have reread it probably eleven billion times. I'm not so much of a fan of Wuthering Heights because I don't find Heathcliff to be at all endearing or interesting or anything, and I spend an inordinate amount of time wanting to wring Catherine's neck. I don't think I ever read any of Anne Bronte's work; perhaps that needs correction this summer. I read Tess and almost slit my wrists several times. Hardy should have stuck to poetry all along. He wrote women just terribly.

    Nick--Victorian novels require very careful and deep reading. They are old-fashioned, of course, much like The Scarlet Letter. For most young people, they're just hopelessly outdated--even though they deal with some timeless themes and were scandalous literature in their day. Now, Sylvia Plath, on the other hand, is still very popular. You can Google her and find a lot of her poems on the Interwebs. Enjoy discovering her rather eerie confessional style of poetry. I like "Mirror" also. Another one I really like is "Mushrooms.", I still love the Victorians when I'm in the mood. As I mentioned above, I love Jane Eyre, and despite my irritation with it this time around due to bad timing, I still love The Mill on the Floss. Never been a huge Austen fan--I find her writing really dense and overwrought. One book I can recommend for a good Victorian read, esp. for its depiction of the status of women of the time period is The Odd Women by George Gissing. Not many people have heard of it, but I think it's wonderful. And you're right: The Victorian novel is S-L-O-W. Lots of narrative digression, direct address of the Dear Reader, descriptions of scenery, etc. I could explain why and get very academic here (a la dear Dr. Robb), but I'll save it unless anyone is really interested.

    Tiana--Oh, no...don't get me wrong. I do very much like this book. It's the reason I saved it. I rarely keep any paperbacks, and I saved it and The Woodlanders by Hardy, both. I like those two very much. I just really read it at the Wrong Time, you know? And you know those Victorians. It's all Death and Grief and Sorrow and Crushing Irony with them, and for the heroine, it has to be Tragic Sacrifice For Redemption. You can't read Victorians unless you are ready for that. Sigh. With regard to the ending, even George knew its flaws and hated it. She commented once, "the tragedy [of the ending] is not adequately prepared. This is a defect which I felt even while writing the third volume, and have felt ever since the MS left me." I think the ending is rather a deus ex machina one, but I agree that her sense of humor is obvious in this novel. Her scenes of dialogue with the Dodson family are hilarious, and when Bob the packman speaks, I usually grin throughout his entire speech.

  7. Best vid I've seen in weeks. So lit. Go, lit vids!

    The end for me came with 1) Tess and 2) Jude. Mostly Jude. Jude honestly finished me off. But I love Jane Eyre. Reader, I married him!

    I want those dolls! Wait! Where is their hapless brother, the painter/tutor Branwell? Not fair, you could play decline and dissipation games with him.

    And you really, really can get an excellent Oscar Wilde Action Figure (complete with green carnation) at a novelty website called Archie McPhee, which has wonderful, horrible stuff. Even zombie sets. I bought Oscar and [non-literary] Annie Oakley for my friends.

  8. I read "Mushrooms" but I can't grasp what exactly it's about. I read some of her other poetry too. I liked it. Confessional poetry is the only kind that I can manage to write and have it mean something.

    I actually liked The Scarlet Letter. I also liked To Kill a Mockingbird, Old Man and the Sea and The Crucible. Catcher in the Rye was too.................pretentious and it seemed like it was almost trying too hard to be edgy. The Great Gatsby was alright but I found it to be much too dragged out. I did like the ending though. It was unpredictable.

    Also, I've always thought that books read in school are analyze and picked apart much too much. I find it hard to believe that authors think that much about single words and occurences.

  9. That video, too funny! Who comes up with that stuff?!?!

    I have several Bronte books on my Nook :)

  10. ummmm....what's going on over at Stuff, the Chinese are taking over?

  11. Nina--Sigh. Thanks for the heads-up. It's been You-Know-Who's turn to post over there for a LONG TIME now, and so I haven't had it on my radar. And, for some reason, Blogger/Google hasn't been emailing me comments posted over at Stuff. I just went over there and cleaned things up a bit.

    I'm glad you've got some Bronte classics on your newfangled reader thingy. Just make sure you read them when you're in the mood for some grim deprivation. LOL.

  12. sputnik--I am an unabashed admirer of Oscar Wilde, who is such a "quotatious" individual. (I stole that new word from, of all people, Shaquille O'Neal.) The Archie McPhee website was recommended to me ages ago by a fellow English teacher. Isn't it a wonderful place to browse and chuckle? I'm at the stage where I seriously do NOT need another tchochke in my life, no matter how wonderfully witty it may be, but it is a tempting site. For the rest of you, here is a link.

  13. Nancy8:20 PM

    I enjoyed reading the Bronte Sisters,Jane Eyre (the best)and some Jane Austen (Sense and sensibility and Pride and Predjudice)but the writer who takes the cake is Eleanor Hibbert (1906-1993).

    Never heard of her? That is because she wrote under many names;one of which was Victoria Holt.

    Most of her books started out with: It was a dark and stormy night at Greystoke Manor; and from that line on she had you turning pages.

    I loved all of her books when I was younger. Especially " On The Night of The Seventh Moon". This book had everything; romance,
    mystery,intrigue and Loki the God of Mischief. What more could you ask of a novel?

    Did you ever read Victoria Holt, Nance?

  14. That video is hilarious! Have a great weekend Nance! ; )

  15. Once in a while I decide to read something I absolutely loved as a teen or college student, and damn, I can't get through it. I guess it's not only students who have lower attention spans. And there are some novels, I could never get past page 7 ---perhaps something by James Joyce. In high school I had a list of "100 Books to Read Before College" and I made a good stab at reading all of them, but I could not plow through most of Dickens or the Brontes today. I tried reading a Jane Austin last year. I found her female protagonist so annoying, I couldn't finish it. Of the novels on that list, I could probably only get through something by Twain now ---but I am a big Twain fan, and at least there is humor to keep me interested. But frankly, I prefer his social commentary and books about Twain to his novels these days.

    I'm glad I read those classics when I did, but today I prefer something like Lee Child's Jack reacher books or else non-fiction.

  16. CJ--I find Austen tedious in the extreme. Dr. Robb had us read "Persuasion" and later, I read "Pride and Prejudice" after a student got me "The Jane Austen Book Club" (an author autographed copy) as a present. I appreciated Austen's p.o.v. and attempts at humour, but find her a shadow of Eliot in that regard. I've always loved Twain, but the Americans are just a different breed of writer on the whole. I still love me some Bronte, though. Can't help myself. So tragic and so...emotive.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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