There comes a sense of accomplishment when someone points out, with grace and kindness, a weakness in your life and you go about fixing it.
Admittedly, I have come to a serious attempt at a literary life a little late in life; but it was not for a want of trying. I have been an avid reader most of my adult life. I have written pretty much daily since I was a child of eight or nine. While Univerisity passed me by in my teens I was able to reclaim that dream in my late forties and once again at fifty, and this autumn I return to complete my undergraduate literary and creative writing studies.
Now, while maintaining some sort of formal study may not be everyone’s interest I have always embraced self-study and yearned for guided, formal study. When I graduated from University of Oxford in 2016 (where I undertook to study part-time in English Literature over a two-year period) one of my professors suggested a reading list for the interim period until I could complete my undergraduate studies.
One of the goals my professor set me was to read Geroge Eliot. We did not study her while I was at Oxford. But, I was aware that I should have read her before and during and I did not realize the importance of this assumed requirement. To be very honest, I only came to know of Eliot during my MA studies in 2011. When people talked of Middlemarch (1871-72) I felt a blush rise on my face; embarrassingly so I had not read this novel until this past spring.
In an effort to catch-up, I have made it my business to read as much George Eliot as I could in-between other authors; mostly new writers which is one of my great loves. It is with some sense of happiness I can tell you that I completed Middlemarch which was an enlightening and dramatic read. I gained much from the political and rural insights and the circular plot line and emotionally profound threads of character development.
I was engrossed by Felix Holt, The Radical (1866) for its similar political and rural enlightenment; Felix Holt was a vivid character among a paler society. Eliot crafts male character with deft care.
What captivated me most about Adam Bede (1859) was the eponymous character. Like Holt, he was lucid. Bede’s plight also moved me. I appreciated the portrayal of the countryside with its heartbeat resounding through every season and the skill in which Eliot infused the landscape of the trials and tribulations of Adam Bede with the female characters who enveloped his life.
Daniel Deronda (1876) was a surprising plot. I was intrigued by Eliot’s use of religion as a vehicle for plot and character development.
The Mill on the Floss (1860) introduced me to an author who is masterful at dialogue and weaving main and subplots to compassionate effect. The sibling relationship between brother and sister and the triangle of conflict with a third character made for emotive and tense reading.
It is Silas Marner (1861) that I chose to dwell on today; I just completed the novel from this autumn’s reading list for Birkbeck, University of London. George Eliot has this great gift of portraying men in relation to the opposite sex, family and community life. Slowly slowly, she builds up Marner to be a wronged man, a recluse, a frugal man on the edge of society and in one unexpected move she changes his life and reveals a character with a rich interior and a depth of feeling that won my heart.
While George Eliot won my literary heart with Adam Bede, she owns it now with Silas Marner. With Marner she gives the reader the opportunity to witness the true potential of every man; but more than that, the true desire and need of man. When I say man, I mean human being for I feel that what Eliot reveals, and offers us, is applicable to the potential and breadth of love and compassion inherent in men and women.
As a student of life, of literature, of intellectual nourishment, one always feels hungry; hungry to know more; hungry to read more; hungry for more time to accomplish more.
One good classic always leads me to another. My need to consume literature seems unending as too, my admiration for nonfiction and now fiction, and my love for the Arts. I hope I always feel this way. And why not, there is always something new and good to discover, read, learn and share.
This summer with George Eliot as my inspiration I felt compelled to review selected works of Jane Austen (1775-1817) and Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). I seem to gain every time from Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1874); both on the page and on the screen for we have been blessed with some recent beautiful, well-crafted and superbly acted TV and film adaptations of these two particular novels.
My hunger for literature is constant. While some students may find themselves consuming more food than most due to the high level of expectation and strain they put on themselves during term time and especially before exams, I have also met people who profess to exist miraculously on little food or nearly none due to their nerves or an unusually (or blessed) active metabolism regardless of how many hours they are sedentary reading and writing. Sadly, I am not of that ilk; I often hunger for food as a comfort at any time of day or night for when I am in the midst of reading or writing or study or deadlines the line between day and night blurs, and I convince myself to read more and write more I need to eat more to fuel and sustain some sort of pace. For, there never seems to be enough time to read enough and write enough. And, I do not mind admitting I used to see physical food as a means of comfort during those many hours of solitude to progress towards the goals and targets I set myself.
What a pleasure it is to report that after investing in guided meditation this summer, I feel myself entering a new era of restraint regarding physical nourishment. As my literary nourishment increases – and my writing output sustains a new daily beat and focus – my hunger for food I sincerely do not need has abated.
If my former predicament resonates with you. When you find yourself reaching for food you really don’t need, pause for ten breaths and ask yourself What is it I really need at this moment? But don’t feel you need to tell me. Just enjoy yourself, even if it’s not a book or time to write.
Photograph credit: Vintage photograph of girl reading a book, thanks to Pinterest.
BBC on George Eliot:
The Guardian Online:
Birkbeck, University College London
An example of the type of courses available at the Continuing Education Department at University of Oxford: