Monday, June 09, 2008
Summer Reading Project: Adam Bede
Adam Bede was George Eliot’s first full-length novel. It was published pseudonymously in 1859.
As many people as are interested will read Adam Bede. We can start with the instalment plan proposed below, which begins with about 50-60 pages a week and builds up a bit as things in the novel get more exciting. The idea is to complete the specified chapters by the date given. If it’s too fast or too slow, we can change it. Each week a simple message will be posted here at The Valve inviting discussion of the reading so far. Everyone is welcome to contribute. People who have their own blogs can post there and provide excerpts and/or links over here if they want. If this approach proves too open-ended and those involved would like more structure (e.g. posts to respond to, or questions to initiate discussion), we can consider how best to do that. Initially, though, let’s just see what people want to talk about. Lurkers especially welcome! Blogging is not meant to be a spectator sport.
By the given date, we’ll aim to have read at least the chapters specified.
June 17 Book 1 Chapters 1-5
June 24 Book I Chapters 6-11
July 1 Book I Chapters 12-16
July 8 Book II (Chapters 17-21)
July 15 Book III (Chapters 22-26)
July 22 Book IV (Chapters 27-35)
July 29 Book V (Chapters 36-48)
August 5 Book VI and Epilogue
August 12 General Discussion
Some related links are provided below the fold.
The Victorian Web’s George Eliot page
George Eliot Resource Page (Mitsuharu Matsuoka, Nagoya)--includes information about the George Eliot Fellowship
BBC Warwickshire George Eliot Photo Archive
George Eliot biography (from a nice student project at the University of Virginia)
Adam Bede searchable etext (Princeton)
Adam Bede etext (Adelaide)
“George Eliot" by Virginia Woolf
Buy the Book:
The dates are—when the reading of that part is supposed to end? Start? When people are supposed to post?
Thanks for doing this.
Rohan, this is great! Ordering my copy as we speak.
"With a single drop of ink for a mirror, the Egyptian sorcerer undertakes to reveal to any chance comer far-reaching visions of the past. This is what I undertake to do for you, reader. With this drop of ink at the end of my pen, I will show you the roomy workshop of Mr. Jonathan Burge, carpenter and builder, in the village of Hayslope, as it appeared on the eighteenth of June, in the year of our Lord 1799.”
Let’s see how much I can find to naively write about the first paragraph, before reading anything else.
The first sentence starts out elegantly, encapsulating a writer’s pretension to represent the world with their work. It ends jarringly, though, because the method of divination through ink-pools was classically used to see visions of the future. People didn’t go to diviners to see the past. Therefore the beginning feels sabotaged somehow, limited by the writer’s lack of scope (Egypt is “exotic” and therefore not necessary to get right), especially in conjunction with the picky specification of village name, date, dating system, but no country. I gather that one is supposed to assume England, of course, which now seems provincial, not imperial, as a mode of thought. The sorcerer must be specified to be Egyptian, the carpenter and builder is of course English.
There is something that feels like it might be writerly condescension here, too. “This is what I undertake to do for you, reader”—yes, I got that. Thank you for doubting my ability to grasp your image. Of course it could be writerly self-deprecation—the sorcerer shows far-reaching visions, while the author is going to show a workshop in a village. A “roomy” one, yes; there is an echo of “far-reaching” in microcosm.
Thanks for doing this.
I know I have the body of a weak and feeble professor, but I have the heart and stomach of an administrator.... (Let’s just keep this our little secret, though.)
PS: Thanks, now the rest of us already feel behind.
Feel behind? Through the mastery of comment box style kung fu, I can write two paragraphs instantly about any subject. Three paragraphs, however…
Could you redo that, Rick, but evaluating the paragraph positively this time?
I could, John, within certain limitations. My original tossed-off evaluation was based on elements of word choice, and even factuality, that having noticed I can’t now un-notice. Of course, someone else could argue that they weren’t important in comparison to other considerations, or were a misinterpretation, or indeed that looking at a first paragraph in isolation was a silly thing to do.
But my original is not unrelievedly negative, so turning it positive would involve accentuating the positive parts, which basically comes down to putting more trust in the author. In that kind of reading, problems with the text are transformed into ironies intended by the model author. That’s the exact trick attempted by Harold Bloom in his The Book of J, in which he explains the various childish things that Yahweh is depicted as doing in the J text as the ironies of a sophisticated, aristocratic woman writing just after the pseudo-Enlightenment glory of Solomon’s court.
So, a more positive evaluation would quote the paragraph, then:
The first sentence starts out elegantly, encapsulating a writer’s pretension to represent the world with their work, and in a mark of immediate, subtle irony describes the Egyptian sorcerer as seeing the past. The method of divination through ink-pools was classically used to see visions of the future. This mis-description signals what the author is attempting: instead of far-reaching visions of exotic Egypt, a description of a past within living memory, a bucolic scene so ordinary that while its village and year can be specified, it can be assumed to be England.
“This is what I undertake to do for you, reader” is then partially ironized. The author is indeed going to bring a vision of the past, not a far-reaching past, but a nearby one, and is going to show this ordinary scene as being as full of interest as any scene anywhere—the “roomy” workshop is an echo of “far-reaching” in microcosm. It’s an opening statement of artistic intention that is subtle enough to masquerade as scene-setting.
Well, we weren’t looking for ironic appreciation, but just for straightforward naive appreciation.
If you don’t think that you’re up to the job, we’ll keep looking for someone more versatile. In our shop we don’t have a place for prima donna two-trick ponies.
Straightforward naive appreciation, but also deep and profound, not just stupid. And not faux-naif either.
Yellow flag: “pretension.”
That was an extraordinarily helpful couple of comments.
This thread is taking a turn that rather undermines the collaborative tone I’d hoped for, not least in the hopes of motivating more than the usual small cluster of contributers to join in...can we at least defer the snarky in-fighting? Or is that a truly naive question?
Sorry, Rohan. Old - and even not-so-old - habits die hard.
What struck me about that opening phrase is simply the image of swirls of ink on the surface of a pool of water. It is an image, and we are being asked to see. (We’re also told that it’s a mirror, which does what? Reflects.) At the opening phrase of the third sentence we’re given a very different drop of ink, one at the end of a pen. That drop will inscribe lines on a piece of paper, not diffuse swirls, but deliberate shapes. And yet, through those shapes one will see.
And that’s what happens in the second paragraph. As scene is presented. And other senses are invoked, the sun is warm and one smells scents of pine and elder-bushes. . . .
Apology accepted—wait, it wasn’t directed to me. Never mind.
Bill, what you’re describing is exactly a pretension: “through those shapes [letters] one will see.” Adam Bede is from near the beginning of literary realism, so it’s a fine pretension for it to have. But given another century and a half of literary studies, it’s also fine to describe it as one.
Rich: How are you using “pretension”?
All five meanings of the word presented at this dictionary entry seem to me to be appropriate.
OK. I can see 2, but not the other 4. The opening address to the reader is a ritual formula. By now rather old-fashioned, but a formula nonetheless. I see nothing pretentious about it. It’s like saying “how do you do?” when introduced to someone. You’re uttering a formulaic greeting, not asking for their current medical, psychiatric, and financial situation.
So...did we figure out whether the dates in the post were the due or beginning dates for the reading...?
I can’t read Rohan’s mind, but I’d assume they’re dates by which the indicated material will have been read.—BB
I can’t read Rohan’s mind, but I’d assume they’re dates by which the indicated material will have been read.—BB
From the post above: “The idea is to complete the specified chapters by the date given.” So, by June 17, we’ll get through at least Chapters 1-5, by June 24, at least to the end of Chapter 11, etc. Hope I’m being clear enough this time...my mistake was probably not putting that line at the head of the actual schedule. Here’s a thought: I’ll go do that.
Do we want a spoiler policy? I’ve already read the book (though some years ago), so I don’t care whether or not anyone mentions anything I haven’t yet gotten to this time around. But others might not want to be tipped off.
Bill, the formulaic greeting to the reader used to involve addressing the Muse, and if I described that as an invocation the description would be no less accurate.
But there is more than age-old formula going on here. If anyone else wants to discuss literary realism’s particular pretension towards representation as if in a mirror, I’d be happy to. It’s going to come up again during the course of Adam Bede, I think it’s safe to say. It’s an ambition that I’d be happy to characterize as “an allegation of doubtful value”, “a claim or an effort to establish a claim”, “a claim or right to attention or honor because of merit”, “an aspiration or intention that may or may not reach fulfillment”, or a vanity.
Do we want a spoiler policy?
I always use a “no spoilers” policy when I’m teaching long novels, partly because I hope curiosity about what happens next will be motivating to students, and partly because it makes us slow down and pay attention along the way. So I thought about proposing one here, but I remembered having read this thread and I got anxious.
literary realism’s particular pretension towards representation as if in a mirror
I think it’s also safe to say that even in Adam Bede we’re dealing with a “realist” who is very clear that she is offering representation, not unproblematic reflection. Even in this first sentence, the emphasis is on using tools or devices to conjure up images--on mediation. But since Adam Bede is certainly a novel in a realist mode, starting the discussion by objecting to that mode in a general way as a pretension or a vanity may not be the most productive strategy for finding out what the novel has to offer as a particular example?
It’s not that I’m invested in an attack on realism. Pretension can be a good thing. A writer without vanity probably has nothing to say. But people don’t generally still take realism to be a viable project now in the same way that they did at the beginning of it. I don’t see any way to discuss the novel through an evaluative lens without mentioning that, at least in passing.
Prehension (3b) is also a good thing.
I’ve been reading the Adelaide etext linked to above, but I don’t think it’s quite reliable. I came to the following sentence --
“Her manner became less calm, her utterance more rapid and agitated, as she tried to bring home to the people their guilt their wilful darkness, their state of disobedience to God—as she dwelt on the hatefulness of sin, the Divine holiness, and the sufferings of the Saviour, by which a way had been opened for their salvation.”
-- and was wondering whether there really was a missing comma between “their guilt” and “their wilful darkness”, a sort of ecstatic nonpunctuation intended to bring out her shift into a quicker register. But the Google PDF etext has the comma. (Also, it rather amusingly has underlines and markups; couldn’t they have found a non-marked-up copy to scan?)
The Princeton searchable etext linked to above hasn’t been loading for me. Does anyone else want to recommend a better one?
Rich, I’m sorry to hear the etexts aren’t that good. I’ve only ever gone to them to find passages in a pinch, as I have several editions of the novels, and they’ve always seemed OK, but I never looked that scrupulously. I haven’t been able to turn up other etexts. I can ask over at the VICTORIA listserv and see if anyone has a suggestion.
Rich, on your specific question about the comma, my hardcopy edition has one, but I’ve seen that same passage without the comma. I know nothing about the history of the text, but it’s possible that some contemporary editions had the comma, some didn’t, and the modern editors choose as they will. Project Gutenberg has a version which you can read online or download as an ASCII file:
On the matter of that comma, the Gutenberg text doesn’t have one there. But it’s better than the Princeton text on at least one formatting issue (verse in the text).
Review of Adam Bede from The Atlantic Monthly, October 1859:
From Book One, Chapter 1 of ABD:
The concert of the key presses and the low mumbling of voices was at last broken by Seth, who, saving the file on which he had been working intently, placed it in his My Documents directory, and said, “There! I’ve finished my dissertation today, anyhow.”
The grad students all looked up, and Adam said to Seth, with a sharp look of surprise, “What! Dos’t think thee’st finished?” Seth waited interminably for Microsoft Word to reopen the file. “What’s a’wanting to it?” Seth said with answering surprise tempered by dread. A loud roar of laughter went up from the other onlooking students. Adam, smiling slightly, had to break it to him, “Why, thee’st forgot the footnotes.”
The laughter broke out afresh as Seth contemplated another year or two of documenting his sources. The others turned back to their grinding labor, but one of them, Weirdy Ben, was bent on making sport of Seth, enlivening the drudgery of his own years with success in nitpicking.
“Why, ‘tis an important comma, that one!” cried Weirdy Ben. “Is it part of the text or ‘tisn’t it?”
“Nonsense!” said Adam. “Let it alone, Ben. Some text hai’ it, some don’t, and if they don’t, it was likely a slip ‘o the pen or ‘o the printer to begin with.”
Ben, however, had now got the “red light” in his eye, and was seized by unholy inspiration. “It’s the Mark of PKD!” he declared. “Why, that comma changes the way we’d read the whole book. Is this a writer hu’d skip a splice for effect, or not?”
“‘’Tis anachronistic rot-” Adam said firmly, striding up to seize Ben.
“But it changes how we read the text!” raved Ben. “Did you know there’s a whole book of fanfic that uses PKD as a character, written after his death?”
“Let it alone, will you?” said Adam sternly, shaking Ben by the shoulder. “Let it alone, or it’ll shake the wits out of your body.”
[to be, hopefully, not continued]
That’s hilarious--too good to be ‘below the fold,’ really.
I’m waiting for the part where Adam goes to hear the Theory Lady give a lecture.
So, Chapters 1-5. Here’s a few notes:
“Why, you and me, dear friends, are poor.”
A strange example of what we’d now call consciousness-raising, as if the poor people of the district won’t realize that they are poor people talked about in the Bible until Dinah tells them.
“[...] the voices of the Methodists reached him, rising and falling in that strange blending of exultation and sadness which belongs to the cadence of a hymn.”
I can never keep track of exactly which variety of free indirect discourse this is, but I always find it to be aesthetically troublesome. The author is telling us that a blend of exultation and sadness belongs to the cadence of a hymn. Not that the observing character feels that way, not that the author feels that way, but that this is simply a fact. No, not simply a fact, or it would be implied by reference to the cadence of a hymn, and wouldn’t need to be spelled out —a descriptive assertion, slipped in with authorial, well, authority. A cheap and rather trashy maneuver.
“He was but three-and-twenty, and had only just learned what it is to love—to love with that adoration which a young man gives to a woman whom he feels to be greater and better than himself. Love of this sort is hardly distinguishable from religious feeling.”
Well, at least all you need is a slight reversal of direction to make this into something like all those mystical tracts about one’s passion for Jesus.
“It is too possible that to some of my readers Methodism may mean nothing more than low-pitched gables up dingy streets, sleek grocers, sponging preachers, and hypocritical jargon [...]”
But these Methodists are all right, Author assures us, because after all they are “not indeed of that modern type which reads quarterly reviews and attends in chapels with pillared porticoes”. In other words, not middle-class? Compare with, from Chapter 5:
“But whatever you may think of Mr. Irwine now, if you had met him that June afternoon riding on his grey cob, with his dogs running beside him—portly, upright, manly, with a good-natured smile on his finely turned lips as he talked to his dashing young companion on the bay mare, you must have felt that, however ill he harmonized with sound theories of the clerical office, he somehow harmonized extremely well with that peaceful landscape.”
As an incitement to Jacobinism that sentence works very well, I think. Mr. Irwine does no good for anyone except in the sense that he does not cause harm—a more angry person, or even more of a busybody, would have started off a repression of the Methodists. But this reluctance to use unjust authority isn’t part of some system, it’s a matter of character, character that is an organic outgrowth of his place in society. His character is infused with right wing sentiment, in other words.
If I had been willing to read more (i.e. any) secondary work about Adam Bede, I’d find out more about contemporary politics. It was published in the same year as A Tale of Two Cities, so I’d guess that something was going on.
I don’t have the heart to go through Chapter 4 and 5 in such detail, but there are some interesting things—the author’s disquisition on how people are really annoyed by family members in Chapter 4, the humor about Joshua Rann’s attempt to be an informer in Chapter 5. But there are a lot of apparently unconnected major events going on at once, for a realist novel, aren’t there? Later on, wasn’t there more an attempt to make a sort of chain of circumstance?