Lynne Sharon Schwartz: The Introduction to MIDDLEMARCH

Self avoided reading the Introduction to MIDDLEMARCH (The Barnes & Noble Classics edition) until she got to p. 649. Because she wanted to come to her own conclusions about the characters and their fates (less than 200 pages to go!)

But now, self thinks it is safe. That is, her feelings and responses are firmly established and she will not easily be confused or swayed by reading someone else’s opinion.

Schwartz’s Introduction is a long one. But self is most struck by what she writes in her third paragraph:

Its twin supporting pillars are the protagonists, Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, each one as ardently ambitious as the author, each with an abundance of energy and a longing to do good in the world. Each is unhappily — in fact, wretchedly — married, each thwarted by chance and circumstance, but above all by the flaws of character that circumstance mercilessly elicits and nourishes. For all that, Dorothea and Lydgate are far from identical. Their differences are as acute as their personalities. Lydgate, the eager young doctor of progressive principles, enjoys the professional and social opportunities open to an educated, well-connected man. Dorothea, through her wealth and position, endures what Eliot calls the “gentlewoman’s oppressive liberty,” in 1829 a narrow field of operation indeed — the liberty to do nothing. Despite rigid local opposition, Lydgate can steer his energies into specific goals. Dorothea is afflicted by a “moral imprisonment,” “where everything was done for her and none asked for her aid.” Against that oppressive emptiness, her only weapons are her yearnings, her emotions, her high moral standards. With few practical means to achieve her vague ends, such assets can verge on the absurd.

To all of which self can only say: YES! YOU GO, LYNNE SHARON SCHWARTZ!

Stay tuned.

Fan Fiction for MIDDLEMARCH?

This evening, self began looking up fan fiction for George Eliot’s classic novel, the one she’s currently reading: Middlemarch.

She found not a single one.

But, in the course of her research, she found several highly literary books that have fan fiction. Here are a few (all titles beginning with the letter “M” because she doesn’t have time to search the whole alphabet for fan fiction stories!)

  • Lev Grossman’s Magicians
  • E. M. Forster’s Maurice
  • Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Kafka’s Metamorphosis
  • Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex
  • Moby Dick
  • Jody Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper

Fascinating, simply fascinating.

Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day, MIDDLEMARCH, p. 595

It is certainly trying to a man’s dignity to reappear when he is not expected to do so; a first farewell has pathos in it, but to come back for a second lends an opening to comedy . . .

MIDDLEMARCH: Dorothea, Heartbreak


Dorothea married Causabon, a man much older than herself. A tiresome man, who she thought she loved. And then — dear blog readers, you should know that such things never end well. Because, after two years, she met someone.

She was never anything but the proper wife. This is not Madame Bovary. George Eliot is a sort of anti-Flaubert.

She was English. That is the most basic and most fundamental difference. Don’t ever expect an English author to in any way resemble a French author! In self’s humble opinion, most of the tension in an English novel comes from a character not giving in to the demands of the heart.

This is what Dorothea tells that young someone on p. 517 of Middlemarch:

Sorrow comes in many ways. Two years ago I had no notion of that — I mean, of the unexpected way in which trouble comes, and ties our hands, and makes us silent when we long to speak. I used to despise women a little for not shaping their lives more, and doing better things. I was very fond of doing as I liked, but I have almost given it up.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Victory Can Only Come After Struggle

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, VICTORY, posted on Friday morning. Right after that came news (from Twitter; self’s news always come from Twitter) about the Paris attacks.

It seemed very ironic, that the photo challenge urged us to think of the positive. The terrorists made that all seem like such a travesty.

Nevertheless. Nevertheless.

Here are some pictures that self needed to look at today. Reminders of the positive.

The inaugural issue of Irish lit mag Banshee was celebrated at the most recent Cork International Short Story Festival, in September. Self was so glad she attended the launch:

It is a perilous venture, the field of literary magazine publishing. But the young women who edit BANSHEE prove that the dream never dies.

It is a perilous venture, the field of literary magazine publishing. But the young women who edit BANSHEE prove that the dream never dies.

One of the most life-affirming and redemptive characters of recent fiction is, in self’s humble opinion, the baker of The Hunger Games. She only caught the symbolism today: Hunting doesn’t feed the belly, doesn’t sate it, to the degree that bread does. In the purported love triangle of the trilogy, there was never really any other choice for Katniss: Peeta Mellark rocks.

Self will mourn the passing of this franchise when the final film opens on Nov. 20. J-Hutch, you did a great job bringing Peeta Mellark to life!

Self will mourn the passing of this franchise when the final film opens on Nov. 20. J-Hutch, you did a great job bringing Peeta Mellark to life!

Finally, one of self’s favorite reads in 2015 was Crab Orchard Review’s West Coast and Beyond issue, which included a haunting short story by Lucy Jane Bledsoe. Self brought the issue with her to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, this past summer. Whenever her writing energy flagged, reading a bit from the Crab Orchard Review never failed to revive her inspiration:

Several of the contributors from the West Coast & Beyond issue will be participating in a panel during AWP 2016/ Los Angeles, end of March.

Several of the contributors from the West Coast & Beyond issue will be participating in a panel during AWP 2016/ Los Angeles, end of March.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Our Dear Miss Dorothea Brooke: “Surely I am in a Strangely Weak Selfish State of Mind” (MIDDLEMARCH, p. 81)

The visit to her betrothed’s estate brings up a strange restlessness in Miss Dorothea Brooke. While dressing for her first public engagement as the fiancĂ©e of the pompous (ass) Mr. Casaubon, Dorothea asks herself the million-dollar question:

How can I have a husband who is so much above me without knowing that he needs me less than I need him?

This intelligent, passionate woman then proceeds to tie her thinking up in knots, thus:

Having convinced herself that Mr. Casaubon was altogether right, she recovered her equanimity, and was an agreeable image of serene dignity when she came into the drawing-room in her silver-gray dress — the simple lines of her dark-brown hair parted over her brow and coiled massively behind, in keeping with the entire absence from her manner and expression of all search after mere effect. Sometimes when Dorothea was in company, there seemed to be as complete an air of repose about her as if she had been a picture of Santa Barbara looking out from her tower into the clear air; but these intervals of quietude made the energy of her speech and emotion the more remarked when some outward appeal had touched her.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

That Fateful Moment When It All Comes Crashing Down: MIDDLEMARCH, p. 72

The old dotard Casaubon (HOW, self asks, how does one pronounce that simply ridiculous name?) has taken his future bride, Dorothea, to his rather meager estate (Remember Dorothea turned down a proposal from a young and attractive baronet, Sir James Chattam, in order to assert her preference for the much older and much sillier Casaubon). In the distance, they espy a figure, that of a young man lost in thought, wandering around with a sketchbook.

Dear blog readers, when a young man appears, attached to the estate of the much older man, and this older man is a silly and benighted person, who is bringing his young future bride for a first glimpse of his new home, there is only one way this can go down: Think Tennessee Williams. Faster than self can say “Desire Under the Elms,” Dorothea and her betrothed approach (What really clinches the deal is that the young man is toting around a sketchbook. Artists are crrrrazy. Crrrrazy attractive. Just ask the Bronte sisters)

Here is what transpires:

The young man had laid down his sketch-book and risen. His bushy light-brown curls (Think of Samson in the Old Testament! The appeal of the hair!), as well as his youthfulness, identified him at once . . .

“Dorothea, let me introduce to you my cousin, Mr. Ladislaw. Will, this is Miss Brooke.” (And what person can withstand a young man named Will? Certainly not self, who just this year fell in love with Will Herondale from Cassandra Clare’s Victorian Steampunk trilogy, The Infernal Devices!)

The cousin was so close now that, when he lifted his hat, Dorothea could see a pair of gray eyes rather near together, a delicate irregular nose (like Tom Hiddleston’s? The guy who plays Loki in those Thor movies?) with a little ripple in it (like Owen Wilson’s?), and hair falling backward . . . Young Ladislaw did not think it necessary to smile, as if he were charmed to this introduction to his future second cousin and her relatives, but wore rather a pouting air of discontent. (Heathcliff! Oh where art thou, Heathcliff!)

“You are an artist, I see . . . “

And self will pause here. Right here. So she can drive dear blog readers crazy with anticipation.

Stay tuned.

State of Self’s Novel-in-Progress

Self spent most of this year working on a novel about an 18th century priest who gets sent to a Philippine island to fight demons. It’s at 185 pages and she was extremely discouraged yesterday, thinking she probably had twice that many pages to write before she really knew what it was she wanted to say.

Then she went into one of her bookmarked food blogs, Kahakai Kitchen. And there is a review there of a novel called Water on the Moon, which is 244 pages. Hmmm, self thought: 244 pages seems do-able, at least it does to self. It would mean she only has to get 60 more pages in, and then she can review what her manuscript feels like.

Here’s the synopsis of Water on the Moon (Publisher: She Writes Press):

When her husband comes out as gay and an airplane crash inexplicably destroys her home, the mother of teenage twin daughters must rethink everything she knows.

In her debut novel, Water on the Moon, Jean P. Moore introduces readers to Lidia Raven, whose life begins taking seemingly endless wrong turns. Lidia and her girls miraculously survive the plane crash that destroys their home and are taken in by Lidia’s friend Polly, a neighbor with a robust collection of first-edition books who lives alone on a sprawling estate.

Struggling to cope with each of these life-changing events, Lidia discovers a connection between herself and Tina Calderara, the pilot who crashed into their home. In the months that follow, Lidia plunges into a mystery that upends every aspect of her life.

Dun Dun Dun! Sounds pretty interesting!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Ah, Middlemarch! Dorothea and Sir James Chattam, pp. 65 – 66

Self’s reading list is in complete disarray as the end of 2015 approaches.

It’s taken her an average of three months to get through one book.

She doesn’t have the slightest idea how to get through the behemoth of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. But every time she resumes reading, all she can think about is:


STUPID STUPID DOROTHEA! Believing she can have a happy marriage with someone three decades older than her, just because he quotes extensively from books! While there’s a perfectly attractive young baronet named Sir James Chattam who has fallen in love with her and proposed!

If self could, she would sprinkle emojis all over this post, such is her chagrin over early developments in this novel!

But even after Dorothea has turned down his proposal, Sir James is such a good sport that he maintains his friendship with Dorothea, and the most unlikely thing happens: a real friendship. Here’s how author George Eliot describes it:

Hence it happened that in the good baronet’s succeeding visits, while he was beginning to pay small attentions to Celia (Dorothea’s younger and much less bookish sister), he found himself talking with more and more pleasure to Dorothea. She was perfectly unconstrained and without irritation towards him now, and he was gradually discovering the delight there is in frank kindness and companionship between a man and a woman who have no passion to hide or confess.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Careful 2: The Habits of a Writer

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is CAREFUL.

Careful, according to The Daily Post prompt, can refer to many things: a photograph taken with care, a person being careful, or a task or detail requiring care.

The way this week has gone — dinner with Drew in Koreatown; a reception for Chamber Music Artists; Asian American Writers Workshop double book launch of Luis Francia and Midori Yamamura; and Penny Jackson’s play “Louise in Charlottesville” — and the pouring rain yesterday, self had absolutely not a spare moment. GRRRR.

But here are three pictures of what “Careful” means to self.

First, she never goes anywhere without her journal. She uses it primarily to make random observations.

Last night, on the train, a conductor seemed anal about the passengers’ “dirty feet.” Over and over, he admonished the passengers NOT. TO. PUT. DIRTY. FEET. UP. ON. THE. SEATS. Nearly drove self mad.

Upper West Side, New York City: Taking Notes in a Chocolate Shop on Broadway

Upper West Side, New York City: Taking Notes in a Chocolate Shop on Broadway

Her friend has a beautiful apartment on the Upper West Side. She is a writer, of course.

You can always tell the quality of a mind by the quality of that person's bookshelves. These belong to a friend who lives in the Upper West Side.

You can always tell the quality of a mind by the quality of that person’s bookshelves. These belong to a friend who lives in the Upper West Side.

Finally, Dog-Eared Books in Valencia. This is one of the mainstays, along with the science fiction bookstore Borderlands, that have called the Mission District of San Francisco their home for many years. With the loss of other mainstays, like Modern Times Books, self cherishes these last hold-outs before the yuppie deluge:

Dog-Eared Books, Valencia St., San Francisco: Murals on the exterior walls are painted with books.

Dog-Eared Books, Valencia St., San Francisco: Murals on the exterior walls are painted with books.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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