Wednesday, December 02, 2009

George Eliot and The Book of William and Book Blog Holiday Swap

We woke up to six inches of powder this morning. Love winter. Love snow. Fell on ice in parking lot this afternoon. Still love winter, not so crazy about black ice.

To begin with the last item in the post title, I want to thank my lovely Secret Santa whose gift arrived today. I know this sounds so girly, but I did squeal and shout for family members to come and see the single best Secret Santa gift I have ever very own Jane Austen action figure!

I have known about and lusted after these for years now, and my Austen shelf now boasts one. Thanks also for the terrific Literary Christmas card (the kids particularly liked "Eleven-Year-Old Wizards Flying" though my favorite is "Two Diverging Roads"). The crafty Christmasy bookmarks are also appreciated and will be treasured. What a great idea, this Book Blogger Holiday Swap! Thanks, Santa!

Now on to what I'm reading. I started two wonderful books this week, and anticipate reading them slowly.

The first will take the longest as it's Jenny Uglow's biography of George Eliot. It's a far smaller book than Uglow's bio of Gaskell, and hence not nearly as detailed, particularly in the part covering Eliot's first 25 or so years. According to the introduction, Uglow originally wrote the book in the 1980s and then revisited it in 2007. It may be small be it is still dense with insights that are beautifully expressed. Here is my favorite passage so far:

George Eliot's fictional world seems so weighty and ballasted by details of landscape, behavior, intricate social codes and practices but, like the stable Warwickshire community she grew up in, and like the carefully packed routine of her early life, it is a structure built on sand. What gives her fiction its eternal appeal is the balance of forces experienced by her heroes and heroines within the books, and by the author herself, who knows that the solidity of her meticulous realist novels, like the social systems they demonstrate, is mere illusion, created by the sorcery of words. p.40

I was astounded to learn that Maryann Evans (aka George Eliot) by age 25 had "a firm base for her evolving personal philosophy and a public reputation as the translator of Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, one of the most influential books of the century." I had to resort to Wikipedia to read up on David Strauss and his The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. I also called my library and requested a copy via interlibrary loan. All along, I had assumed the first Eliot book I would read would be Scenes of Clerical Life, but I can't very well do a full read of Eliot without starting with her translation of Das Leben Jesu, can I?

The second of my new books is The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World by Paul Collins. It's a joy to read, pure and simple. Instead of being divided into chapters, it's divided into Acts and Scenes, which is kind of cute.

Act I is about how the First Folio came into being--i.e., how fellow actors and colleagues of Shakespeare's, John Heminge and Henry Condell, rounded up the various plays they knew to be Shakespeare's and arranged to have them printed in a folio. Collins writes movingly about how this action on their part is really the only reason we know about Shakespeare, as many of the plays weren't wildy popular and had disappeared from the stage by the time Shakespeare died. In the course of describing the birth of the First Folio, Collins imparts tons of info about the 17th century publishing trade.

Fun Fact: the Great Fire of 1666, which diarist Samuel Pepys chronicles so well, not only destroyed many of the copies of the First Folio, it also almost entirely wiped out the country's booksellers and publishers. "The newly printed Third Folio fared worst of all; innumerable unsold copies went up in flames, ironically making the Third a rarer Folio today than even the First."

Fun Fact: the Second Folio, produced nine years after the First, corrected nearly seventeen hundred errors that were in the First, which comes out to about two per page...not bad, according to Collins.

I'm not planning on racing through this book, reading and savoring it is just too enjoyable.

Now it's time for me to try to squeeze in episode 12 of House of Elliot before the witching hour.


  1. Cool! I put the Jane Austen action figure on my Christmas List the other day, haha...Also, The Book of William sounds excellent.

  2. My sweet husband tracked down a Jane Austen action figure AND a Charles Dickens action figure for me one Christmas (a few years ago now).

    I confess they are my favorite Christmas presents of all time! Including the pearl earrings he had bought me the year before and the ipod speaker system he bought for me the next year.

    And thanks for the tip about Uglow's Eliot biography, I'm almost done with her Gaskell biography so I'll have to check that one out.

  3. Ooh, Jane Austen is nothing if not a woman of action. I am glad her figure reflects that :-)

  4. A Jane Austen action figure! She looks like she all set to do some serious writing :)

  5. I am so jealous - you've got snow and a Jane Austen figure! I love snow, but we rarely get any at this time of year. I am just going to have to drop some serious hints to my family on the JA figure!!!

  6. OMG *beautiful* picture of that snowy tree and cool gifts!

  7. What a wonderful gift! Ha! I also squealed and made family members come and look as I opened my gift (but of course, I was the only one geeking out happily). Happy holidays!

  8. What a terrific gift! Lucky you, Santa was great at choosing! As usual, it is a pleasure to drop in and read you. Interesting reads George Eliot and William Shakespeare.BTW, still eagerly it hasn't got lost. You know, international mail, Christmas time... But, of course, you'll know as soos as I get it.
    I wish you the best of Sundays, Jane!

  9. oops! part of my message was deleted!
    I'll try to add what's missing and to clarify:
    "BTW still eagerly waiting for your INTIMATIONS , I hope it hasn't got lost ..."

  10. I want that Jane Austen figure! I hope my hubby will remember the huge hint I dropped about a few months ago. Probably not--I should probably drop an even bigger one soon!

  11. Action figure! Sweet! I sent your lovely book off as a gift to my santa recipient! I know she'll find it so lovely!

  12. I had so much fun reading everyone's comments--the Austen action figure is really hit! Every Janeite should one :)

    More snow last night, and more on the way tonight...picture postcard pretty in Colorado these days. Stay warm everyone, and Happy Holidays :)

  13. I have the Jane figure, too. :-) It's great!

    And, OMG! I just Secret Santa sent me your book! (I was like...why is that name familiar). :-)

  14. I have been eyeing that Shakespeare book. Sounds like one to seek out! I'm glad you are enjoying that.

  15. Christina - thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy Intimations!

  16. Sounds like your Secret Santa did a great job-what fun gifts!