Wednesday, July 22, 2015

George Eliot is for grown-ups

One of the harshest indictments of contemporary society is that there seems to be no place in it for George Eliot’s novels. The Edwardians rejected Eliot as a sensibility against which they needed to rebel; she was the antithesis of the experimental styles and iconoclastic politics of modernism. But our society has not rejected her on esthetic or ideological grounds. Her moral seriousness simply doesn’t register on our cultural landscape; most people don’t have the time or patience to read her "baggy monsters."

Ironically, she still appears in the one place she ought not to be: the high school curriculum, which often insists on assigning Silas Marner to 10th graders (when it is not performing the greater error of assigning Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome). As Virginia Woolf observed, Eliot wrote novels for grown-up people. Our society and our relationships would be saner and better if more grownups read her.
-- Paula Marantz Cohen, “Why Read George Eliot?” Am. Scholar, v. 75 no. 2, Spring 2006, 129, 132.

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