Silly novels by lady novelists

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silly novels by lady novelists

Silly Novels by Lady Novelists by George Eliot



British author George Eliot, 1819 - 1880

Lively, perceptive essay by English author Mary Ann Evans writing under the pen name George Eliot. Here are a batch of direct quotes along with my comments. To extract the full impact and flavor of the authors elegant words of wisdom, Ive included a link to her essay at the bottom of my review. I had great fun doing the write up. Hope you enjoy reading.

“The heroine is usually an heiress, probably a peeress in her own right, with perhaps a vicious baronet, an amiable duke, and an irresistible younger son of a marquis as lovers in the foreground, a clergyman and a poet sighing for her in the middle distance, and a crowd of undefined adorers dimly indicated beyond.” ------------ Writing novels with the female reader in mind; writing novels with the formula that sells. One clear fruit of these George Eliot era silly novels are the thousands of mass market romance novels with their covers in vivid ruby, mauve, raspberry, rose and coral, usually placed on separate racks in bookstores or libraries.

“Her eyes and her wit are both dazzling; her nose and her morals are alike free from any tendency to irregularity; she has a superb contralto and a superb intellect; she is perfectly well dressed and perfectly religious; she dances like a sylph, and reads the Bible in the original tongues.” ------------- The idealized stereotype - the perfect fit for a silly novelist’s main character and a Hollywood movie director’s star. Don’t these people ever have issues with skin rash or acne or bad teeth?? No! Never happen.

“Or it may be that the heroine is not an heiress—that rank and wealth are the only things in which she is deficient; but she infallibly gets into high society.” ------------ Yet again another formula that works time after time, right up to our modern day with movies like Maid in Manhattan and Working Girl.

“We may remark, by the way, that we have been relieved from a serious scruple by discovering that silly novels by lady novelists rarely introduce us into any other than very lofty and fashionable society.” ------------ Nothing close to Charles Dickens’ Hard Times or Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle; no sweatshops or hours spent working out in the fields under a harsh sun since good looks and a good figure are needed ingredients for a juicy romance - all requiring leisure and freedom, a life undergirded by money, the more the better.

“We had imagined that destitute women turned novelists, as they turned governesses, because they had no other “ladylike” means of getting their bread.” -------- In other words, women back in George Eliot’s day were excluded from the majority of professions within business, science and the arts, therefore, as a fallback or last resort, women wrote novels. Not exactly the formula for outstanding literature.

“It is clear that they write in elegant boudoirs, with violet-colored ink and a ruby pen; that they must be entirely indifferent to publishers’ accounts, and inexperienced in every form of poverty except poverty of brains.” ---------- Ouch! As one of the greatest English writers and novelists, George Eliot fumes at all aspects of silliness in silly novels.

“It is true that we are constantly struck with the want of verisimilitude in their representations of the high society in which they seem to live; but then they betray no closer acquaintance with any other form of life. If their peers and peeresses are improbable, their literary men, tradespeople, and cottagers are impossible; and their intellect seems to have the peculiar impartiality of reproducing both what they have seen and heard, and what they have not seen and heard, with equal unfaithfulness.”------------------- According to George Eliot, these silly lady novelists are living in La La Land creating cardboard characters so flimsily constructed their writing commits an injustice to all, from the makers of prose and poetry down to the makers of cardboard.

“The most pitiable of all silly novels by lady novelists are what we may call the oracular species—novels intended to expound the writer’s religious, philosophical, or moral theories.” ----- Even today, such novels abound – for me, coming immediately to mind: Embrace the Serpent and The Campaign by literary luminary Marilyn Quayle, wife of former Vice President Dan Quayle. Judging from the reviews I read of these two novels, Ms. Quayle has clean, upstanding, wholesome, conservative types representing the forces of good doing battle against those swinish, evildoing liberals.

“Thus, for Evangelical young ladies there are Evangelical love stories, in which the vicissitudes of the tender passion are sanctified by saving views of Regeneration and the Atonement. These novels differ from the oracular ones, as a Low Churchwoman often differs from a High Churchwoman: they are a little less supercilious and a great deal more ignorant, a little less correct in their syntax and a great deal more vulgar.” ----------- The church novels George Elliot notes here are undoubtedly the forerunners of variations on “Christian” literature, that is, novels as the framework for promoting one’s religion.

“Ladies are not wont to be very grossly deceived as to their power of playing on the piano; here certain positive difficulties of execution have to be conquered, and incompetence inevitably breaks down.” ------------ Hey, if you lack the talent and technical skills to participate in other arts, things like playing the oboe or performing in a Shakespeare play, no problem, you can always write a novel!

“Happily, we are not dependent on argument to prove that Fiction is a department of literature in which women can, after their kind, fully equal men. A cluster of great names, both living and dead, rush to our memories in evidence that women can produce novels not only fine, but among the very finest—novels, too, that have a precious speciality, lying quite apart from masculine aptitudes and experience.” --------------- Fortunately this is recognized as true more today than ever – a great novel is a great novel, regardless if written by a woman or man. And many are the women who have written great novels, not only in England but spanning many countries across the globe.

The Essays of George Eliot are available online: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/28289...
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Published 15.12.2018

Michele Roberts Reading Silly Lady Novelists?

In the essay "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists," Eliot criticizes several genres of novel that she believes to be of little to no literary value and which cause harm by encouraging melodrama in women and a belief in men that education does not improve women.
George Eliot

"Silly Novels by Lady Novelists"

The essay can be seen as a negative manifesto: an argument for what fiction should not do. This, like her later novels, puts into practice many of the ideas she expresses in her critical writing. The heroine in this is beautiful, virtuous and supremely intelligent. The novel ends happily, with the heroine making a splendid marriage to a man she adores. The heroines in these novels are usually highly educated, but their education only makes them self-satisfied and tedious. Eliot therefore suggests that those who read silly novels will come to the conclusion that women do not benefit from education — even though, as she reminds her readers, there have been some truly great female writers. In Adam Bede , George Eliot sets out her commitment to realism as a literary genre — a commitment she would continue to develop over the course of her career.

Nor are these first steps in her wonderful intellectual progress any the less, but are all the more noteworthy, for being first steps. She was associate editor of The Westminster Review from to George Eliot is the greatest of the novelists in the delineation of feeling and the analysis of motives.
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Information

Silly Novels by Lady Novelists are a genus with many species, determined by the particular quality of silliness that predominates in them—the frothy, the prosy, the pious, or the pedantic. The heroine is usually an heiress, probably a peeress in her own right, with perhaps a vicious baronet, an amiable duke, and an irresistible younger son of a marquis as lovers in the foreground, a clergyman and a poet sighing for her in the middle distance, and a crowd of undefined adorers dimly indicated beyond. Or it may be that the heroine is not an heiress—that rank and wealth are the only things in which she is deficient; but she infallibly gets into high society, she has the triumph of refusing many matches and securing the best, and she wears some family jewels or other as a sort of crown of righteousness at the end …. We are aware that the ladies at whom our criticism is pointed are accustomed to be told, in the choicest phraseology of puffery, that their pictures of life are brilliant, their characters well drawn, their style fascinating, and their sentiments lofty. No sooner does a woman show that she has genius or effective talent, than she receives the tribute of being moderately praised and severely criticised. Gaskell have been treated as cavalierly as if they had been men. And every critic who forms a high estimate of the share women may ultimately take in literature, will on principle abstain from any exceptional indulgence toward the productions of literary women.

Silly Novels by Lady Novelists are a genus with many species, determined by the particular quality of silliness that predominates in them—the frothy, the prosy, the pious, or the pedantic. But it is a mixture of all these—a composite order of feminine fatuity—that produces the largest class of such novels, which we shall distinguish as the mind-and-millinery species. The heroine is usually an heiress, probably a peeress in her own right, with perhaps a vicious baronet, an amiable duke, and an irresistible younger son of a marquis as lovers in the foreground, a clergyman and a poet sighing for her in the middle distance, and a crowd of undefined adorers dimly indicated beyond. Her eyes and her wit are both dazzling; her nose and her morals are alike free from any tendency to irregularity; she has a superb contralto and a superb intellect; she is perfectly well dressed and perfectly religious; she dances like a sylph, and reads the Bible in the original tongues. Or it may be that the heroine is not an heiress—that rank and wealth are the only things in which she is deficient; but she infallibly gets into high society, she has the triumph of refusing many matches and securing the best, and she wears some family jewels or other as a sort of crown of righteousness at the end.

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1 thoughts on “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists by George Eliot

  1. Silly Novels by Lady Novelists are a genus with many species, determined by the particular quality of silliness that predominates in them — the frothy, the prosy, the pious, or the pedantic.

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