On this the 192nd anniversary of the birth of the greatest English novelist, let me offer, in slightly modified form, the tribute I have offered in years past. It is also the 115th anniversary of the birth of my late, beloved Aunt Ruth. In her life, that great lady embodied the qualities of a heroine of an Eliot novels.
A few years back in anticipation of Eliot’s birthday, I watched the BBC version of Silas Marner, perhaps her most accessible novel. The story got to me as the book always does. It’s odd I who love books so much and am moved cry so little when I read (yet tear up frequently when watching movies). Wwhenever I hear the story of the lonely weaver of Raveloe, however, whether in print, via the spoken word (i.e., book on tape/CD) or on screen, I am always touched, always lose it, so to speak it.
Ben Kingsley’s Silas plea to keep an apparently orphaned child who had strayed into his home, “It’s a lone thing; I’m a lone thing. . . . It’s come to me,” is the plea of every human being who has ever felt cut off from his fellows. Indeed, that line in quintessetially George Eliot who so understood human loneliness and recognized our need for the companionship of our fellows.
And how meaningful that companionship can we find it. Or how powerful the presence of someone who listens to our concerns and manifests sympathy for our plight.
George Eliot so delighted in the effect of a child on an adult with an open heart:
She [that child] was perfectly quiet now, but not asleep–only soothed by sweet porridge and warmth into that wide-gazing calm which makes us older human beings, with our inward turmoil, feel a certain awe in the presence of a little child, such as we feel before some quiet majesty or beauty in the earth or sky–before a steady glowing planet, or a full-flowered eglantine, or the bending trees over a silent pathway.
I rediscovered those words when I re-read Silas Marner a few years ago. When I opened the book I had just purchased containing the novel and some of Eliot’s short fiction, I did not quite arrive at the short story I had just begun. I plunged instead right back into the novel, starting this time in medias res, reading well over two chapters before sleep overtook me.
Such is the power of George Eliot’s prose, the images she invokes, the ideas she presents, the emotions she expresses. She helps us find words for our deepest thoughts and shows compassion for our everyday weaknesses. She seems to see into the troubles of all our lives and finds the balm in tender relations with our fellows.
And that was how I introduced my George Eliot birthday post: (more…)