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[xmca] Re: Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot

the miracle of empathy catches the special quality of her writing, David.
The bit I picked seemed
particularly apt to the issue of primal sociality that Larry has been
getting us to stop and notice.
She illuminates it.

On Thu, Nov 25, 2010 at 7:37 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>wrote:

> Perhaps it is not so amazing that Gaskell understands the pretenses of
> genteel poverty. She had four daughters, and a husband who was a Unitarian
> minister and not particularly good at making money. So it was her practice
> to buy cloth at an expensive store, have it professionally cut, and then
> teach her daughters to sew their own "store-bought" clothes.
> But the really amazing thing is how she writes, from the inside, about
> real, working class poverty, hunger, starvation, disease, death...and
> violent revenge. In 1847 Gaskell lost her only son to typhoid fever while on
> holiday in Wales. Her husband advised her to take up novel-writing as a
> distraction.
> He probably regretted it. The novel she wrote, "Mary Barton", was so
> clearly sympathetic to Chartism and even communism that her husband's
> parishioners burned it publically and her best friends wrote withering
> reviews (Marx and Engels, on the other hand, said we learn more about the
> condition of the working class from her than from any number of works of
> political economy).
> Sure enough although there are many, many deaths, mostly of working class
> children. But there is only one portrayal of a middle class character who
> has lost a son: a cruel, tight-fished mill owner called Mr. Carson. And it's
> John Barton, the heroine's father, who is the murderer on a mission from an
> illegal trade union, in revenge for the son's strike-breaking
> activities. John Barton is, as Gaskell said, "the character with whom all my
> sympathies went"; Gaskell originally wanted to call the novel "John Barton"
> and was persuaded not to by the publisher.
> Raymond Williams remarks on this miracle of empathy:
> "It is significant that the creator of John Barton, ‘The person with whom
> all our sympathies went’, drew back, under pressure from her publishers and
> in her own understandable uncertainties, from full imaginative
> identification with the act of conscious violence against an oppressor: the
> explicit and untypical expression of the power of a new working class
> organization. But that she can enter as far as she does into a world of
> necessary class consciousness, while never losing touch with the individual
> people who are forced by systematic exploitation to learn this new way of
> thinking, is profoundly impressive and is a true mark of radical change.
> (219) "
> Raymond Williams, *The Country and The City*
> Now, of course, neither John Barton nor Elizabeth Gaskell can be said to
> have "radically changed" the actual social conditions that "Mary Barton"
> describes. But Gaskell really did change the novel forever: she was the
> first person, LONG before Mark Twain, to do a systematic LINGUISTIC study of
> working class dialects and to try to write in them. And she was also the
> first to use the "conversations" of domestic fiction to write about
> non-domestic issues, a technique she perfects in her revisitation of the
> industrial themes, "North and South".
> Shortly before she died, she was accused of writing another book under the
> pseudonym George Eliot. She a note to the real author joking that it was a
> shame to leave so much brilliance uncredited and so much credit unclaimed,
> so the next time the book was credited to her she would accept the credit
> with pride
> Mysteriously, she signed the letter "Gilbert Eliot". I always assumed that
> Gilbert was the mischievous twin brother of George, but now I think the
> relationship was one of fairly direct paternity.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> --- On *Thu, 11/25/10, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>* wrote:
> From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
> Subject: [xmca] Reflexive, culturally mediated, sociality
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
> Date: Thursday, November 25, 2010, 8:32 AM
> Some time back Larry and others were focused on primal sociality in highty
> coordinated
> interactions. Even longer ago, David Kel suggested that we read Elizabeth
> Gaskell. Wow,
> was he ever right! Amazing.
> I recently read a scene set about, say, 1840's rural England. Gaskell
> depicts poor folks maintaining
> a traditional, ostensibly prosperous, life world in the face of the coming
> pressures of industrialization. In this scene,
> a woman is having a party. As befits her situation, at the high point of
> the
> festivities she is
> seated comfortably in a special spot of honor and attention, but in small
> ways, the author
> has told us about all the hard work she has done to make this
> accomplishment
> "pass" as
> an expression of her genteel accomplishments in life. The author ends the
> description of this
> event by writing that the hostess "who now sat in state, pretending not to
> know what cakes were
> sent up, though she knew, and she knew that we knew, and we knew that she
> knew that we
> knew, she had been busy all morning making tea-bread and sponge-cake."
> There, I think we have a beautiful description of culturally mediated,
> reflexive, community and
> the degree of intertwining that deep reflexivity seems to promote. The
> Gaskell novels I have read
> all excel at providing an almost micro-ethnographic sense of the richness
> of
> feeling/experience
> within small, mostly face to face, English, communities.
> And consistent with the picture that Larry is seeking to fill out.
> mike
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