If you're going to do steampunk-y Holmes, or fantasy Holmes, or vampire Holmes, or literary mashup Holmes (Alice in Dr. Jekyll's Laboratory Meets Sherlock Holmes), or whatever, please don't do so by half measures. Standard-issue Holmes pastiche with a light dollop of steampunk/fantasy/vampires/mashup/whatever makes zero sense in terms of fictional world-building.
To modern eyes, the most startling omission from the seventeenth century would be all of Aphra Behn. And Bunyan's The Holy War? Not The Pilgrim's Progress? (Perhaps he just assumed everyone would have absorbed PP by osmosis.)
By contrast, I suspect most of us would find his eighteenth-century selections pretty unexceptionable, the glaring absence of Tristram Shandy aside. Clara Reeve's The Old English Baron (yes, I've read it) is really the only novel that has dropped out, although not out of academic consciousness--it's the sort of book one needs to read, as opposed to needs to assign to hapless undergraduates. And I'm guessing most of us would send students to Humphry Clinker instead of Roderick Random. Once again, I note that it takes about a century before we can tell if a work will succeed over the long haul.
Of course, it's when we hit the nineteenth century that we see the century principle in action. Several of the novels have survived on syllabi and in academic discourse: Jane Porter's The Scottish Chiefs, for example, is an important precursor to Scott's historical fiction (as Scott acknowledged); similarly, it is not entirely unlikely for an undergrad or grad to encounter, say, the Edgeworth, Lady Morgan, Sand, or Ferrier novels listed here. Marryat still has a vogue among fans of sea-faring adventures. But many of these entries qualify as "material to read for doctoral dissertations and/or highly-specialized monographs" (e.g., the entries for G. P. R. James and Ainsworth). And, of course, some probably aren't even that (e.g., Crowe, Whyte-Melville). I mean...Valerius? Was he joking?
Americanists will note the presence of Hawthorne and Stowe but the absence of Twain and Melville.
It's odd that Reuben Sachs is on the list, but not Eliot's Daniel Deronda (the novel to which it responds).Silas Marner was popular at one point, lest we forget (as it's rather easy to do...). Grace Aguilar's The Vale of Cedars is, historically speaking, a more interesting choice: Aguilar was the 19th c.'s most famous Jewish novelist among Christian readers, but this is a more uncompromisingly "Jewish" novel than some of her other well-known works.
Speaking of Aguilar, there's a fair amount of religious fiction on the list, of varying stripes: the evangelical Cummins and Warner, the High Church Sewell, the sort of High Church-y (but eirenic) Charles, the Catholic Kavanagh, the Dissenter William Hale White, etc. Shorter's religious aesthetic appears to be lower-case catholic.
Anne Manning was still a "minor classic" by the standards of the Everyman's Library in the early 20th c., then vanished abruptly.
I count about thirty-odd women on the list.
Bulwer-Lytton is there, which should remind us all that he used to be considered an important novelist, not the inspiration for a bad writing contest. (As John Sutherland has pointed out on more than one occasion. No Bulwer-Lytton, no Victorian novel as we know it, really.) If you walk through the Chicago Cultural Center, you'll see Bulwer-Lytton enshrined in a mosaic as one of the world's great novelists, while Walter Scott hangs out with the poets instead.
From Shorter's POV, the 1840s seem to have been the glory years of the nineteenth-century novel.
I imagine that most of us would not immediately send Scott-newbies to Kenilworth.
Some of Shorter's readers might have blinked at Ruth as the representative Gaskell.
The average Victorianist, if they've read any Meredith, will have read The Egoist or The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (or Modern Love, if you want to count that as a novel), not Rhoda Fleming.
Charles Dickens, ed., The Haunted House (1859). A Christmas Book. Includes short fiction by Wilkie Collins, Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Adelaide Anne Procter (better known as a poet), George Augustus Sala, and Hesba Stretton (best-selling evangelical novelist).
ReadingTara Conklin's The House Girl and Matt Guinn's The Resurrectionist back-to-back turned out to be a slightly unsettling experience--as the two novels are, for all intents and purposes, the same book. Both are parallel-plot historical novels featuring a beleaguered white professional in the present and a much-more beleaguered slave in the past. In both, the slave is literate and possesses a unique talent (Josephine in The House Girl is an artist; Cudjo/Nemo in The Resurrectionist is an anatomist). In both, the white professional (a lawyer and a disgraced medical resident) trawls the archives to uncover how the slave's talents have been appropriated and erased by the white establishment. In both, the slave makes a break for freedom. In both, the researcher discovers multiple lost ancestors (both theirs and someone else's). And in both, the research project ultimately liberates the white professional from the grind of an oppressive institution, while belatedly restoring the once-lost slave's achievements to historical consciousness.
Suzanne Keen has argued that "the romance of the archive arrives at something labelled truth, recovers lost or revealed knowledge, and reassures the reader with the promise of answers that can be located, despite the intervening obstructions and obfuscation."1The House Girl and The Resurrectionist are equally invested in giving historical comfort through the power of quasi-magical archives, which contain secrets guaranteed to disrupt the status quo, whether that of the art world (The House Girl, in which Josephine's talents have been mistakenly ascribed to her mistress) or of medicine (The Resurrectionist, in which the medical school turns out to be deeply imbricated in racism and old boy networks). Of the two novels, The House Girl's archival adventures may be the more likely to cause experienced researchers to wince in non-recognition: Lina, our career-minded protagonist, has an uncanny knack for coming across letters that explain virtually everything, including Josephine's ultimately sad fate. Jacob, Guinn's protagonist, winds up having some similar luck with a blackmail-worthy photograph, but he has virtually no access to Cudjo/Nemo outside of the medical school's financial records, course listings, and a couple of photographs, and the most satisfying aspects of his tale remain entirely unknown to him (albeit not the reader). In each case, though, the white protagonist's historical researches function in the plot as a sort of belated atonement, substituting historical agency in modern narratives (look! they did something!) for withheld freedoms (and much worse) in the past. Even more disconcertingly, the primary beneficiary of this research is not the slave (for whom this all comes too late) or, necessarily, African-Americans (although Guinn at least gestures in that direction), but the crusading white protagonist: Lina liberates herself from the tyranny of "billable hours" and the implicitly misogynist culture of her prestigious law firm, while Jacob abandons his residency and regains his self-respect. Neither character has a fixed destination at the end; instead, they luxuriate in the privilege of choice, of an open-ended future. "She did not want six-minute increments and clients' whims to dictate how she spent her waking hours," Lina thinks; "she did not want to live a life ruled by reason" (366). Lina's ability to choose uncertainty sits awkwardly next to the concluding chapter, which flashes back to Josephine, "walk[ing] steadily, with purpose" (369) toward what she believes to be a station on the Underground Railroad (but which the reader already knows is now a trap); the reader cannot help noting the discrepancy between what Lina's archival work accomplishes for Lina and what it accomplishes, or fails to accomplish, for the doomed Josephine. For all that the narrative unfolds as a parallel plot, what primarily stands out is that the plots are not and cannot be parallel.
Indeed, The House Girl's modern plot is oddly lacking in African-American characters, given its parallel slave plot. The only two we encounter, Dresser (a high-flying executive who wants to launch an equally high-profile lawsuit demanding reparations for slavery) and Lina's coworker Garrison, inhabit a rarefied world of class privilege...and Garrison turns out to be a back-stabbing jerk into the bargain. (We hear about a couple others, most notably a Sudanese refugee whom Lina once represented during her request for asylum, and whose primary plot function is to embody a worthier world of humanitarian action.) Neither Lina nor the narrator ever spends much time reflecting on the plot's own segregation, and Lina herself appears to have little in the way of racial self-awareness. By contrast, The Resurrectionist dwells more explicitly on the problematic relationship between the medical school and the local African-American community, carefully noting the workplace segregation (the doctors are almost all white; the manual laborers far more likely to be black) and Jacob's own unconscious prejudices. That being said, Jacob's interactions with his housekeeper verge dangerously on the stereotypical, especially once he starts quizzing her for words of wisdom. For Nemo, a far more ambiguous character than Josephine, snatches African-American bodies for dissection. "Tell me something," Jacob finally asks, "why would he [Nemo] do that to his own people?" "What makes you think he had a choice?" Mary responds (236).
Although Josephine's lack of "choice" primarily plays out around her lost child--born out of rape by the master, her son is concealed from her and given away to a neighboring plantation--Nemo's more overtly puts him at odds with the local slaves, who fear him and whom he often scorns. The name, which he chooses for himself at his new owner's behest, simultaneously advertises his literacy and his nature as something of a Odysseus-like trickster; at the same time, as he thinks to himself, "[i]f not only his body and soul but his very name was at the behest of other men, why not become No Man?" (47). Unlike Josephine, whose attempts to seize agency result in tragedy, Nemo actively seeks out opportunities to resist both the whites and black Christians--the former for obvious reasons, the latter for counseling peace and resignation instead of rebellion. When Prince, a freed black preacher, confronts Nemo over his body-snatching, Nemo sneers that "[o]nly devil I know is white as a sheet, and yes, he walks around in the broad daylight. I works for him and you works for him" (106). (Prince's modern-day parallel, by contrast, breathes as much fire as Nemo would like.) Nemo's attempts to negotiate and subvert his captivity range from the theatrical (his elegant clothes) to the secretive (serving a Confederate alcohol that has been used to preserve a baby's corpse); at the same time, he also runs up against the limits of his ability to work against the system from within, most horrifyingly when he must decide what to do with a "dead" prostitute who, it turns out, is not. What does it mean to behave morally, the novel asks, if there is no choice? Unfortunately, The Resurrectionist soon slides over that troubling question, opting instead to let Nemo triumph in spectacularly Shawshank Redemption-ish fashion while, in the present, Jacob overcomes the almost parodically Old-Boyish network at the medical school and engineers his own moral victory. The ending is very Hollywood.
1 Suzanne Keen, Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 43.
In case you're wondering, Amazon promised me on the 15th that "within 24 - 48 hours," my Robert Elsmere would be disconnected from the other editions, thereby removing the one-star review (that has nothing whatsoever to do with my book). Alas, we appear to be trapped in some strange temporal distortion, as over a week has passed and the one-star review is still there. (Still, some nice folks have at least pointed out in comments that the review should not be on the page.)
On a more positive note, advanced proofs of Book Two have been spotted in the wild--or, barring that, on the Scholar's Choice table at NAVSA.
"I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father," our narrator sternly informs us at the beginning of John Boyne's This House is Haunted. The reader who believes the publisher's boilerplate and expects the novel to rework one or more of Dickens' own tales, however, will be sorely puzzled; although there are occasional Dickensian allusions, like the clerk named Cratchett (who turns out to be unacquainted with A Christmas Carol), the novel in fact yokes Jane Eyre to The Turn of the Screw. As in Jane Eyre, our heroine is a plain governess summoned to undertake a job at an isolated country mansion--a mansion that comes complete with a secret in the attic, no less. And as in The Turn of the Screw, the governess' charges are two slightly preternatural children, Eustace and Isabella (whose parents are, strangely enough, nowhere in sight), and the house is, as the title cheerfully says, haunted. Whereas most revisions of The Turn of the Screw--e.g., Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, A. N. Wilson's A Jealous Ghost, John Harding's Florence and Giles--go the "unreliable narrator" instead of the "actually existing ghosts" route, This House is Haunted is all about the poltergeists. And an endless run of Gothic cliches.
Spoilers ahoy, so I'll put the rest below the fold.
Once upon a time, a small professor spent many months working on a new edition of Mrs. Humphry Ward's Robert Elsmere. After much sighing, sobbing, moaning, and dire imprecations directed in the general vicinity of the universe at large, the small professor finished the edition. And it was useful. She hoped.
Then, one day, the small professor checked the Amazon page to see if Robert Elsmere had reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. (OK, perhaps not.) And there was one star on the page. And she became sad, because apparently she was a failure.
Except that she went on to read the review. Whereupon she discovered that: a) the review was written in 2007, six years before her own edition was published and b) the review was of a book published by something called Hard Press, of which she had never heard. And so she was still sad, except that now she was sad not because she had failed, but because Amazon had appended a review of an entirely different edition to her own book.
After that, the small professor girded her loins--however you do that--and set off to do battle. Or, at least, to find a contact address at Amazon that would allow her to complain. (Because sometimes people don't like your books--but it's very different when somebody doesn't like somebody else's book, and yet their review is slapped on your page.) And it was hard to find that contact address. But she believes she may have found it. So she complained, and awaited the response that she was supposed to receive within twelve hours.
Which, alas, she hasn't received. Being moderately charitable, she will assume that Amazon gives its customer reps the holiday off. In the meantime, her book still has somebody else's lone star.
UPDATE, 10/15: Problem possibly solved! Developments await...
A few years ago, I wrote an article1 about (many) historical novels about Anne Boleyn, using that theme as a way to think about the historical romance qua genre. Elizabeth Fremantle's Queen's Gambit dropped me right back into those novels and their narrative forms. Oh, the queen in question is Katherine Parr, to be sure, not Anne Boleyn, but Queen's Gambit's structure and its gender politics alike are virtually identical to those earlier tales.
Although Queen's Gambit is told in third person, Fremantle mediates the plot through the POV of three main characters, all Protestant or Protestant-leaning (about which more in a moment): Katherine Parr; the physician Robert Huicke (who has been turned into a gay man); and Katherine's servant, Dot Fownten. The straightforwardly linear narrative tracks Katherine from the mercy killing of her second husband, Latymer (an event not exactly present in the historical record), through her courtship by the Byronic and decidedly jerkish Thomas Seymour, her stressful marriage to Henry VIII, her misguided marriage to Seymour, and finally her death of puerperal fever. For effect, Fremantle ratchets up Katherine's various and sundry traumas: during her marriage to Latymer, an (invented) Catholic rebel rapes her stepdaughter and impregnates Katherine; she poisons Latymer as he dies horribly from stomach cancer; she is repeatedly left "bruised" by Henry VIII during their (repulsive) sexual encounters; and she has the bad fortune to witness Seymour in a post-coital state with the teenage Elizabeth (as opposed to something less sexual but still compromising). By the same token, Fremantle elevates Katherine's status as a friend to all living things, what with her mastery of herbal healing, her disregard for the niceties of social class (she's nice to the gardeners! she's friendly with her servant!), and, of course, her rather astonishing tolerance for gay men. (Huicke's sexual orientation seems primarily designed to display Katherine's ahistorical awesomeness, and demonstrates that Rules #3 and #4 are alive and well outside of the neo-Victorian novel.) Even what Katherine regards as signs of her own sinfulness--poisoning husband #2, plotting to murder Henry VIII--are represented as either not really sinful (Latymer has no other option besides dying in agony) or understandable given the circumstances (Katherine fears herself in danger again).
In other words, Fremantle translates Katherine into a standard-issue historical romance heroine--victimized by the patriarchy, but independent-minded and plucky--with a cosmetic dollop of Protestantism on top. However, like the Anne Boleyn novels, Queen's Gambit is an anti-romance, here with a conventional romance subplot pointing up the tensions in the main plot. Late in the novel, after Henry VIII has died but before Katherine gives in to Seymour's proposal, Katherine thinks to herself that she has "the sense that she has tasted freedom at last, has unfurled her wings, and that marriage would clip them again" (385). But, faced with Seymour's "hyperbole of romance," a still-guilty Katherine opts to swap the "lure of freedom" for "pleasure" on earth (385-86). Seymour is the traditional romance's bad boy, dangerous but sexually alluring, supposedly salvageable by the romantic heroine's heartfelt love. Moreover, he represents the possibility of Katherine's choice, of sexual self-determination after three marriages contracted under greater or lesser degrees of constraint. And in the historical romance, individual erotic freedom frequently stands in for all other forms of liberty. Nevertheless, like the Anne Boleyn novels, The Queen's Gambit denies the possibility of authentic choice under a court regime, where all emotional relationships are terminally infested by politics; as I put it in my AB article, unlike the conventional romance, in which the characters find true love after a few bumps along the road, in the antiromance "successful communication reveals the extent to which the 'discourse' created an illusionary ideal partnership--and thus lays bare the emptiness of politicized sexuality" (4). Katherine, whose class-busting behavior sticks out against her brother's "ambition" and the snobbiness of almost everyone else around her, believes that she can contract a marriage of her own desire and free will, whereas Seymour's years-long pursuit of her is a tactical negotiation intended to feather his own nest. "That man couldn't manage to get himself a Princess of the blood," sneers Elizabeth, "so the Queen was the next best thing" (429). In historical anti-romances such as this, romantic love and desire are delusional fantasies, bubbles easily burst at best, potential prisons (literal or figurative) at worst. To think of the "I" in terms of a freely-desiring self, that is, is the anti-romance's most dangerous error, especially for the heroine: the anti-romance heroine misunderstands her function as just one node in a larger network of power relations conducted among men (and, sometimes, more powerful women), and presumes an agency she does not actually possess.
By contrast, the novel offers alternative romance subplots that locate emotional possibilities elsewhere. In the successful subplot, Dorothy (Dot) Fownten finds love and domesticity in a cross-class relationship with a musician, William Savage--despite an initial bump (itself characteristic of the romance genre) when Dot belatedly discovers that William already has a wife. Once said wife is conveniently dispatched offstage, however, the wayward William proves himself suitably chastened, and Dot and William remove themselves from the immediate court atmosphere (only William, the professional man, still travels back and forth) to the literally and figuratively healthier air of the seaside in Devon. Here, Dot and her sister can "search for clams in the shallows with their skirts tucked up like farm girls" (444), moving back and forth between "ladylike" and "unladylike" behaviors in the relative freedom of life outside the court. To be free means to abandon not only power, but even proximity to power; the only happy woman is the one nestled away in the country, with a family to raise. By contrast, in the less successful subplot, Huicke, afflicted with a severe but unspecified skin disease, has a not-particularly happy relationship with Nicholas Udall (whose possible homosexuality has a bit more on the historical record to say for it). Along with (the soon-deceased) Latymer and William Savage, Huicke is one of the few "nice" men in a novel populated by male brutes (although his sketchy biography suggests that the niceness is about as accurate as the homosexuality), and like Katherine's lust for Seymour, Huicke's own desire for Udall seems out of proportion to the love-object's actual attractions. ("You disgust me with your reptilian skin" [198-99], Udall tells Huicke at one point, which one would think would be a permanent deal-breaker.) Seymour, Savage, and Udall all mirror each other, but of the group, only Savage willingly relinquishes personal ambition and selfish desire in order to marry a woman valued entirely for her innate qualities, whereas Seymour prioritizes politics and Udall rampant (and sadistic) sex. But then, the novel doesn't take an overly optimistic view of male sexuality, straight or gay: Huicke's monogamous instincts derive from his identification as both masculine and feminine (405-6), and he doesn't blame Udall for his "excessive promiscuity" because "he can't help it" (406). Given that even the "nice" Savage was happy to sex things up with Dot before the death of his wife, it's hard to avoid concluding that the novel takes Huicke's position seriously.
To put things another way, characters interested in being historical don't fare well at the novelist's hands. "We'd have our place in history," Will Parr excitedly tells Katherine when the king's desire for her becomes apparent (81), and Katherine's irritation with his "ambition" (81) later gives way to her own desire to "leave something behind on this earth, a legacy, to be seen by history as a one of the torchbearers for the new religion" (213-14). When Katherine's first book is published, Cat Brandon exclaims "[t]his makes history, Kit" (237), and Katherine is sure that her second will mark her out as the "Reformation Queen" (256). (Indeed, Fremantle elevates her importance by having her and not Anne Stanhope aid the imprisoned Anne Askew.) Nearer the novel's end, however, Katherine reflects that "Reform is happening anyway without her," and reproaches herself for imagining that she had been an "intrinsic part of it" (406). To desire world-historical status is a dangerous flaw; better to be Dot Fownten and William Savage. No wonder that the youthful Elizabeth comes off so badly.
But for all Queen's Gambit's warnings about the dangers of political ambition, this is a novel written very much from the point of view of the eventual winners in the Reformation sweepstakes. Although Queen's Gambit does admit some Walter Scott-ian nostalgia for the lost world of the shuttered abbeys, and hardly represents the aristocratic Protestants as embodiments of moral virtue, neither of these things is actually out of line with classic narratives about the English Reformation: Protestants have frequently been skeptical, to put none too fine a point on it, about the motives of both Henry VIII and his court, and have always been perfectly happy to denounce them for profit-mongering when it came to appropriating monastic lands. But because all of the viewpoint characters are Protestants, there is no "outside" to their uniformly vicious responses to the key Catholic players, like Gardiner and Wriothesley, both represented as physically as well as morally repulsive. Gardiner looks like he is "made of melting wax" (29)--a refugee from Raiders of the Lost Ark, maybe?--and even suffers from dandruff (180), while Wriothesley has "mud-colored eyes" (29), permanent sinus issues, and purses his lips "like a dog's arsehole" (307). Moreover, Protestantism consistently appears as purely commonsensical. "Reform has become a force for reason," Katherine tells Huicke (54), and she finds that the "idea of reform [...] seems so reasonable" (55); Dot finds "the whole idea" of transubstantiation "quite disgusting" (75), and Katherine mentally rolls her eyes at the notion that a "man of such acute intelligence" as the king could actually believe in it (143). Similarly, Anne Askew's devotion to her faith is clearly a heroic sign of her moral purity. By contrast, Mary Tudor is "rooted to the old beliefs in memory of her mother [...] Her loyalty is blind" (213-14). Protestantism offers the rational route of free thinking, free speech, and free science; Catholicism, by contrast, offers only the chaos of sexual and political violence. We have been here before, I think.
1 "The Fictional Afterlife of Anne Boleyn: How to Do Things with the Queen, 1901-2006," Clio 37.1 (2007): 1-26.
George Eliot's Daniel Deronda is looming on the relatively immediate horizon in the graduate seminar. But this Metafilter post on Paolo Bacigalupi and its links to some harshcritiques of The Wind-Up Girl put me in mind of something that, in retrospect, is perhaps rather odd about Eliot's novel: it is arguably more central to Victorian Jewish self-consciousness than most novels by Jews--certainly far more than is, say, Amy Levy's rejoinder to it, Reuben Sachs. Jewish readers of the time weregenerallyexcitedbyDaniel Deronda, some of them because of its political implications. (Excerpts from the novel were published in 1899 as George Eliot as a Zionist, and you can find "George Eliot Street" in cities like Tel Aviv.) It strikes me that there aren't that many parallels to this success, and especially not at this level of enthusiasm.
Many years ago, I was teaching The Tempest to some freshmen. A few of them complained that they couldn't "relate" to the play. At which point, I wanted to jump on the nearest desk and yell that THERE WAS NO POSSIBLE REASON ON THIS GREEN EARTH THAT THEY SHOULD "RELATE" TO THE TEMPEST. It's The Tempest, for crying out loud, not a docudrama about being a college student in upstate NY. Which brings me around to the novelist DavidGilmour, who doesn't teach women writers because "I’m very keen on people’s lives who resemble mine because I understand those lives and I can feel passionately about them – and I teach best when I teach subjects that I’m passionate about." Indeed, when asked if he needs to "relate" to the works on his syllabus, he explains that "I believe that if you want to teach the way I want to teach, you have to be able to feel this stuff in your bones. Other teachers don’t, but I don’t think other teachers necessarily teach with the same degree of commitment and passion that I do – I don’t know." Putting aside the not so passive-aggressive critique of those "other teachers" out there, the ones who don't "feel this stuff," this account of what it means to invest in "people's lives who resemble mine" seems to skip a few steps.
So, as those of you who have been putting up with this here blog for nearly a decade know well, I write about Christians. Thanks to demographics, I also teach Christians. (Because it's pretty hard to be a Victorianist and get away from Christians. Even the agnostics and atheists are still thinking in Christian terms.) Even this semester, when I'm teaching a course about Judaism in the 19th-c. novel, I've still got a whole lot of Christians going on. Now, in case you hadn't noticed, I'm Jewish (the name does tend to be a giveaway, I find). And yet, I get all excited and intense about "my" Christian novelists (despite their frequent lack of, er, aesthetic flair), and I suspect that one of my colleagues may have regretted asking why I thought Bleak House was one of the great English novels of the nineteenth century (let's just say "expounded at some length and with much gesticulation"). But my life most emphatically does not "resemble" that of any Victorian novelist I can think of--in fact, my life doesn't resemble that of any nineteenth-century Jews, male or female.
"Relate" and "resemble" posit that the objects of relation or resemblance are static, objective categories. Take, for example, "I relate to George Eliot," or "my life resembles George Eliot's." What does that mean? That you have a longterm liaison with a man who cannot divorce his wife? That you are a successful intellectual with no "respectable" female friends, a moral arbiter considered immoral by much of the genteel world at large? That you write great novels? That you're actually kind of conservative? That you read everything in sight? All of the above? What? Or have you imagined a relation or resemblance into being, a spark of connection that has something, perhaps, to do with Eliot, but just as much with what you needed to find in Eliot? And if you grant that, then perhaps you can grant that there are other ways of thinking about one's "relation" to a work or author that do not rely on mental mirrors in order to work?
For many academics,much of the "passion" is about the non-resemblance, the non-relation. Even those who may be like me are not, necessarily, like me. (I don't think I have much in common with Amy Levy, let alone Grace Aguilar.) Even recovery work still derives from an awareness of the strange: I can enter into figurative dialogue with that "lost" Jewish woman novelist, now found again, but I cannot flatten her circumstances and mine together into an indistinguishable pulp. Historical continuity does not necessarily encompass identity or more than token resemblance. I have nothing in common with Charles Dickens, and could really do without his antisemitism. But I could go on all day about Bleak House...and teach it all day, too. The space between myself and a work has just as much passion and promise, it seems to me, as does any comforting relation.