I started the Jenny Uglow bio of George Eliot, who was christened Maryann Evans and subsequently assumed various pennames before settling on George Eliot. She is a daunting person, no doubt about it, not nearly as approachable as either Elizabeth Gaskell or Charlotte Bronte, and with a much deeper record of non-fiction works that reflect her intimidating intellect than has Austen. I've enjoyed Middlemarch immensely in the past, and am looking forward to rereading Silas Marner, Adam Bede and reading for the first time the rest of her novels and stories. I'm also planning on reading some of her essays, reviews, and poems as well in the course of reading the bio.
I had thought I might actually start by reading her translation of David Frederich Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, which was first published in 1846 under the title The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. I did manage to get a copy through interlibrary loan, but reading the introduction, hefting the tome a few times, and scanning the chapter headings convinced me that I simply did have the time, motivation, staying power, or background to tackle it. I will have to take the assertion by both Uglow and A.S. Byatt, editor of the collection of Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings, that it was "one of the most influential in changing attitudes to Christian belief and interpretation" in the nineteenth century.
I had visions of reading this translation because it was the first major work that she produced, and it seems to have had a profound impact on her life and work as a novelist. She took on the translation task at the urging of uber intellectual friends and immersed herself in it (i.e., translating over 1500 pages from German to English) for two years, beginning at the ripe old age of 23. During this time, she was nursing her father, who died in 1848. The stress of this time in her life is compounded when you realize that her father, a devout Evangelical, deeply resented her decision in 1841 to no longer attend church with him because she had ceased to believe in the doctrine and rituals.
Fortunately, Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings did contain a few excerpts that I did manage to read, and I think I might have gotten a germ of what it meant to her in the excerpt from 'Concluding Dissertation: The Dogmatic Import of the Life of Jesus' in which Strauss/Evans equates Jesus as divine to humanity (collectively) as divine, with Jesus as an allegory for humanity.
I have no wish to turn this blog into a place for theological debate. What I want to get to is an understanding of Eliot's point-of-view. In this case, I think authorial point-of-view matters because it clearly mattered to her. More than other authors, at least those I have studied, Eliot saw her work as art and she consciously tried to create the highest form of art that she could and understanding what she considered the highest form of art and what she considered divine is important, at least for me, when reading her novels this time around.
Now I think I can move on, return The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined to the library (whew!), and relax.
Now I think I'll go find a cup of tea and read some more of Diana Gabaldon's The Fiery Cross before I fall through the Looking Glass. That I can understand!