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Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot
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Scenes of Clerical Life (1858)

by George Eliot

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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
(29 July 2017, Oxfam)

Like other early books (that Jane Austen book from the other month springs to mind, and early Hardy in a way), this felt hard to get into, especially the first story, nad a bit over melodramatic, although the writer of the introduction of my copy seems to claim she’s realistic, not melodramatic. Because of the short story format, the characters are by definition not as well-established as in her novels, and although the web of society is there, it’s not fleshed out so much.

“The Sad Fortunes of Amos Barton” took a lot of getting past some old people visiting each other before we got to the story. There’s some good observation of our central vicar character, including sharp comments about how a tallow dip candle that belongs in the kitchen candlestick doesn’t match as well the silver candlesticks kept for best, and I liked Eliot’s boldness in concentrating on a fairly ordinary man and situation; her careful exactness on the effect of the gentry turning the head of a local vicar and the scene where the maid rebukes the fine lady are nicely done. There’s a weird bit of random criticism of the reverend’s hair, odd in a book that was apparently written from the life. We hover over house calls and clerical meetings in a style that will be familiar to those used to Eliot, and we also have a fair bit of her authorial voice and metafiction.

“Mr Gilfil’s Love-Story” gives us the back-story of someone mentioned in the first story, and as it’s told in flashback, we know it’s going to be a tragedy. It’s a bit odd and melodramatic, with Eliot really too far outside her main characters to make them attractive to the reader: she’s best on the controlling instincts of the old man of the family and there are some great scenes between the abandoned and new loves. Mr G is a truly, rather Iris Murdochian, good character and it’s interesting to see how Eliot develops him.

“Janet’s Repentance” is the longest of the stories and covers domestic violence (it’s very good on why Janet remains trapped in her awful situation) and alcoholism. I loved the narrator, an invisible but present figure who is there in church and chapel with Janet but then torments his younger sister with impressions of some of the characters. He reminded me of Murdoch’s narrator in “The Philosopher’s Pupil” – how can he see inside all the houses? Anyway, unfortunately there are too many women characters of a certain age to not confuse me, and the plot relies on having a fairly detailed knowledge/understanding of religious sects and divisions which is perhaps retreating further and further from the modern reader: Eliot does fill in the background but I was a bit confused there, too. Mrs Crewe and Mr Jerome are, again, selfless and good characters who work for the benefit of others, and this redeems the story.

So, sorry, George Eliot, this didn’t hit the spot for me. I’m sure many other people have read this and can change my mind … maybe. ( )
1 vote LyzzyBee | Jun 24, 2018 |
Loved it.
  ivanfranko | Jul 8, 2017 |
I found these novellas each quite different. "Amos Barton", the first and shortest was probably my favourite. Everyone in it was resolutely ordinary and nothing really remarkable happened, but it felt very true to life (and had a very sad ending).

I didn't like "Mr Gilfil's Love Story" at all and the fact that he was a clergyman was so peripheral to the story that it seemed a bit of a stretch describing the story as a scene of "Clerical Life". Tina had echoes for me of Miriam in "Daniel Deronda", but with homicidal tendencies. Her character didn't ring true to me at all, although Arthur and Miss Assher were all too convincing. The story was both boring and melodramatic.

Finally "Janet's Repentance" was the longest and had it all - domestic violence, alcoholism, fallen women. Despite George Eliot's rejection of organized religion, it was extremely sympathetic to belief lived out in compassion. I found Mr Dempster's death a bit convenient - it solved Janet's dilemma, which it would have been interesting to pursue. ( )
1 vote pgchuis | Oct 9, 2014 |
Eliot's first novel is actually three somewhat related novellas in pastoral settings and with more-or-less prominent clerics. While Eliot's promise is easy to see, this early attempt seems claustrophobic, perhaps due to its structure. The tone has the carefulness and inhibited language of many debuts, though her humor (and archness) often carry the day. The plots of the novellas are, in contrast, fairly overblown and unnecessarily dramatic. As a modern feminist reader I can't get behind Janet's forgiveness of her husband, which seems to reinscribe the woman's subservient role in the treacly way that Eliot typically reserves for offensively cute little children in subsequent novels. I am left with am impression of moral simplicity rather than the moral complexity I usually enjoy in her work. My overall impression is of wearing a corset laced just a little too tightly--I can't quite get a full, deep breath of Eliot. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 29, 2013 |
Eliot's first novel is actually three somewhat related novellas in pastoral settings and with more-or-less prominent clerics. While Eliot's promise is easy to see, this early attempt seems claustrophobic, perhaps due to its structure. The tone has the carefulness and inhibited language of many debuts, though her humor (and archness) often carry the day. The plots of the novellas are, in contrast, fairly overblown and unnecessarily dramatic. As a modern feminist reader I can't get behind Janet's forgiveness of her husband, which seems to reinscribe the woman's subservient role in the treacly way that Eliot typically reserves for offensively cute little children in subsequent novels. I am left with am impression of moral simplicity rather than the moral complexity I usually enjoy in her work. My overall impression is of wearing a corset laced just a little too tightly--I can't quite get a full, deep breath of Eliot. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 29, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
George Eliotprimary authorall editionscalculated
Billington, JosieContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gribble, JenniferIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lodge, Davidsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Noble, Thomas A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.
Mine, I fear, is not a well-regulated mind: it has an occasional tenderness for old abuses; it lingers with a certain kindness over the days of nasal clerks and top-booted parsons, and it has a sigh for the departed shades of vulgar errors.
We are poor plants buoyed up by the air-vessels of our own conceit: alas for us, if we get a few pinches that empty us of that windy self-subsistence!
He was more apt to fall into a blunder than into a sin.
Reader! did you ever taste such a cup of tea as Miss Gibbs is this moment handing to Mr Pilgrim? Do you know the dulcet strength, the animating blandness of tea sufficiently blended with real farmhouse cream? No—most likely you are a miserable town-bred reader, who think of cream as a thinnish white fluid, delivered in infinitesimal pennyworths down area steps; or perhaps, from a presentiment of calves' brains, yourefrain from any lacteal addition, and rasp your tongue with unmitigated bohea. You have a vague idea of a milch cow as probably a white-plaster animal standing in a butterman's window, and you know nothing of the sweet history of genuine cream, such as Miss Gibbs's: how it was this morning in the udders of the large sleek beasts, as they stood lowing a patient entreaty under the milking-shed; how it fell with a pleasant rhythm into Betty's pail, sending a delicious incense into the cool air; how it was carried into that temple of moist cleanliness, the dairy, where it quietly separated itself from the meaner elements of milk, and lay in mellowed whiteness, ready for the skimming-dish which transferred it to Miss Gibbs's glass cream-jug. If I am right in my conjecture, you are unacquainted with the highest possibilities of tea; and Mr Pilgrim, who is holding that cup in his hands, has an idea beyond you.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140430873, Mass Market Paperback)

George Eliots fiction debut contains three stories from the lives of clergymen, with the aim of disclosing the value hidden in the commonplace. The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton portrays a character who is hard to like and easy to ridicule. Mr. Gilfils Love-Story, brings forth conflicting value systems revolving around a young woman, Caterina, and two men. Janets Repentance is an account of conversion from sinfulness to righteousness achieved through the selfless endeavors of a clergyman.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:22 -0400)

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"'Many men write well and tell a story well, but few possess the art of giving individuality to their characters so happily and easily as you...'" "Thus wrote the publisher John Blackwood in February 1857 to a shy and ambitious new author, whom he had not yet met, George Eliot. Shielded by this pseudonym, Mary Ann Evans made her fictional debut when Scenes of Clerical Life appeared in Blackwood's Magazine the same year. These stories contain Eliot's earliest studies of what became enduring themes in her great novels: the impact of religious controversy and social change in provincial life, and the power of love to transform the lives of individual men and women."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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