So, in the meantime, I thought I’d read a bit about George Eliot because, well, I avoided Victorian-related classes in college because I was sure I would hate them. Which, I guess, is not the case.
Anyway, after reading the Wikipedia article (I know), I found a lovely essay Eliot wrote called “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,” in which she complains about the female writers of her day. It’s actually pretty funny. She says that there’s a common misconception that poor ladies write novels to pay the bills, and that should make up for at least a bit of their general crappiness. That’s not the case, though: it’s usually rich, idle women doing the writing, and they’re “inexperienced in every form of poverty except poverty of brains." They suck at writing and at life: “[T]heir 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.” There are, of course, women who actually can write (“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.”), and of course Eliot counts herself in that number, though it appears that she fit into the idle class, too. No mention of that, of course. But I digress. She says that one of the most significant reasons for so much shitty output from female writers is that, unlike playing a piano, you can write badly and not know it because writing is so freeform:
No educational restrictions can shut women out from the materials of fiction, and there is no species of art which is so free from rigid requirements. Like crystalline masses, it may take any form, and yet be beautiful; we have only to pour in the right elements—genuine observation, humor, and passion. But it is precisely this absence of rigid requirement which constitutes the fatal seduction of novel-writing to incompetent women. 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. Every art which had its absolute technique is, to a certain extent, guarded from the intrusions of mere left-handed imbecility. But in novel-writing there are no barriers for incapacity to stumble against, no external criteria to prevent a writer from mistaking foolish facility for mastery.I need to read more about authors. I’ve never had an interest in history (again, I know), so I’ve shied away even from Wikipedia articles. When I was in college, getting me to read the biography blurb in a Norton Anthology before reading the actual piece was like pulling teeth. And the essays in the back? Yeah, right. Thus, I’ve read a lot, but I don’t know anything about who wrote anything. I have a feeling I’m missing out.