This week I’ll take a break from my series on feminist texts from the 1970s and return to another thread from a while back: “What I’m Reading.”
As a procrastinatory strategy, as a soul-restoring exercise, and as a way of approaching my current project via some back roads, so as to catch an idea or two unawares, I am reading and re-reading some Victorian novels. A few weeks ago I was keeping company with Charlotte Bronte; last week I walked down memory lane with George Eliot, re-reading Middlemarch a couple of decades after my first stroll through its pages. How the view alters.
People love to argue about “greatests” – what else are canon wars? (don’t ask) – but I think I’d be on pretty solid ground to affirm that Middlemarch is the greatest novel in the English language. It is a whole world, round and full. If you haven’t read it, I commend it to you. George Eliot’s voice is wonderful company.
And it’s familiar, even if you’ve never read it before – it will sound familiar, I think, to students of American thought. It sounds like nothing so much as William James. Or, rather, William James sounds an awful lot like George Eliot. I’m not sure if it’s a question of the “influence” of Eliot on James’s thought so much as a question of “confluence,” as Eliot and James seem to be floating along together, kindred minds, in the same flood tide of the stream of consciousness.