The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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May 7, 2011

More Geraldine, more Jane, more Virginia

And now back to our regularly scheduled reading....
Geraldine Jewsbury would certainly not have expected anybody at this time of day to bother themselves about her novels. If she had caught one pulling them down from the shelf  in some library she would have expostulated. 'They're such nonsense, my dear', she would have said. And then one likes to fancy that she would have burst out in that irresponsible, unconventional way of hers against libraries and literature and love and life and all the rest of it with a 'Damn it all!' or a 'Confound it! for Geraldine was fond of swearing.
After coming across Geraldine Jewsbury in my reading, I was hoping that I might find a picture of her, but I didn't. Though what I did find was even better -- 'Geraldine and Jane,' an essay by Virginia Woolf, from her second Common Reader.

It's delightful, wondering about her early life...
In the first part of the nineteenth century a woman of twenty-nine was no longer young; she had lived her life or she had missed it. And though Geraldine, with her unconventional ways, was an exception, still it cannot be doubted that something very tremendous had happened in those dim years before we knew her.
questioning why her novels were so controversial...
...The publisher was a little alarmed; but the scandal helped the sale, and Geraldine became a lioness.
      And now, of course, as one turns the pages of the three little yellowish volumes, one wonders what reason there was for approval or disapproval, what spasm of indignation or admiration scored that pencil mark, what mysterious emotion pressed violets, now black as ink, between the pages of the love scenes. ...
telling the story of the tumultuous, passionate, on-again, off-again friendship between Geraldine Jewsbury and Jane Carlyle...
She came on the 1st or 2nd of February, and she stayed till the Saturday, the 11th of March. Such were the visits in the year 1843. And the house was very small, and the servant was inefficient. Geraldine was always there. All the morning she scribbled letters. All the afternoon she lay fast asleep on the sofa in the drawing-room. She dressed herself in a low-necked dress to receive visitors on Sunday. She talked too much. As for her reputed intellect, 'she is sharp as a meat axe, but as narrow'. She flattered. She wheedled. She was insincere. She flirted. She swore. Nothing would make her go. The charges against her rose in a crescendo of irritation.  Mrs. Carlyle almost had to turn her out of the house. At last they parted; and Geraldine, as she got into the cab, was in floods of tears, but Mrs. Carlyle's eyes were dry. Indeed she was immensely relieved to see the last of her visitor. Yet when Geraldine had driven off and she found herself alone she was not altogether easy in her mind. She knew that her behavior to a guest whom she herself had invited had been far from perfect. She had been 'cold, cross, ironical, disobliging'. Above all, she was angry with herself for having taken Geraldine for a confidante. 'Heaven grant that the consequences may be only BORING -- not FATAL,' she wrote. But is it clear that she was very much out of temper, and with herself as much as with Geraldine.
and even telling a very Cranford-like story or two (that's just an association that I'm making, but read the part about the Mudies and see if you don't agree). 

The essay mentions a biography by a Mrs. Ireland, and a photograph ('There, in the only portrait we have of her, she sits reading, with her face half-turned away, defenceless and tender at the moment rather than cleaving the very rocks.') but these might be hard to find.  There will be more about her in the biography of Elizabeth Gaskell that I'm reading, and in the one of Jane Carlyle that I found at the library to read over the summer.

And I'm remembering that, though it's been years, I've read letters and other essays by Virginia Woolf and would like to read more.  I've always found her novels to be a little inaccessible, so except for To The Lighthouse, which I first read in college, have reread several times, and love, I haven't tried hard enough to read her fiction. I know I've read more about her than by her, but maybe the essays are a good way back?

{portrait by Vanessa Bell, and the story behind it, found here}

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1 comment:

lyn said...

I've always been intrigued by Geraldine & wanted to know more about her. Jane is also fascinating. Someone (was it Woolf?) said she was the best novelist of the 19th century who never wrote a word of fiction. I'd like to read more of her letters. I also like Woolf's essays & diaries more than her fiction although I've enjoyed what I have read just not enough to want to reread any of them.

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