Books and Baked Goods 7

I know, it’s embarrassing. I don’t even want to know how many months its been since I dropped the ball. It was an accident! I took a a little break from blogging, and then when I came back I had psyched myself out of the book club posts. But I am determined to finish this, especially because the book starts getting really good from here.

As a sin offering, brandied cherry pie. This is really easy. Buy a bottle of brandy–it doesn’t have to be the good stuff–and pour it into a bowl of pitted cherries (enough for pie making.) The cherries should be submerged in the brandy. Cover and leave in the fridge over night. The next day, pre-bake your pie crust. I like this one, with the addition that I’ve found it doesn’t really help to skimp on the ice water. I’ve always needed more than recipes call for to make my crusts come together. But that’s me, in my kitchen, and your mileage will probably vary. The only really hard and fast rule of crust making is to keep everything cold, chilling and re-chilling at every step. Too rigorous an insistence on other instructions (for instance, my crusts never transfer into the pan in one whole foldable circle) will generally leave you with a crust that looks prettier than it tastes. The brandied cherries mean that this crust doesn’t need a lot of sugar. When the pie comes out of the oven, spoon in your now deliciously brandy-infused cherries (and you can even save the now cherry infused brandy!) Top with something delicious–a drizzle of dark chocolate, a dollop of whipped cream, maybe–and eat!

Since it’s been so long, here’s where we’ve been: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

I did chapters 40-50 here, to get back up to speed. On Friday I’ll try doing ten chapters again, from 50-60.

***************************************************

Why I love Mary Garth:

“If you made her angry, she would not raise her voice, but she would probably say one of the bitterest things you have ever tasted the flavor of; if you did her a kindness, she would never forget it.”

The intensity behind her flippancy is strange, and, I think, invites equally intense sympathy.

Speaking of which, the Vicar and Mary are so much better suited for each other than Mary and Fred! He comes so much closer to being her equal in sense, and is like her in complexity of character. But she loves Fred.  (For now at least.) Alas, such is life.

“It was certainly not her plainness that attracted [men] (and let all plain young ladies be warned against the dangerous encouragement given them by society to confide in their want of beauty).”

I can see why Mary’s wonderful capacity for bitterness is so believable.

Who is this Raffles character? Bulstrode seems to be the center of great intrigue.

52 is an amazing chapter. Let’s look at some passages.

“It would be quite unjust to him to suppose that he could have entered into any coarse misinterpretation of Dorothea; his own habits of mind and conduct, quite as much as the open elevation of her nature, saved him from any such mistake. What he was jealous of was her opinion…”

and

“He thinks of making an easy conquest and of entering into my nest.”

This is the charged language of a very sexual jealousy, and yet earlier we learn that Causabon is referring mostly to an intellectual rivalry. So we have this more of this weird reversal going on, where Dorothea tries to satisfy her longing for intellectual/spiritual fulfillment by entering into a sexual contract, and Causabon can only couch his cuckold anxieties in intellectual terms

Plenty of mystics and artists have described union with or devotion to Christ in in ardent, sexually connotative language. Dorothea recreates this pattern in a degraded way, stooping according to restrictions placed even on the shape of her goodness (we see the greatness of her soul is signalled by dress, and particularly how she is perceived by men), and submitting herself instead to a human idol.

The utter futility and unfittingness of this attempt at escape becomes apparent in Causabon’s engagement with her: there is nothing elevated about their relationship–he can only transpose sexual possessiveness onto the life of the mind.

(Unrelated: I love how Eliot presents the misunderstandings, rejections, and fears that come between people imperceptibly and insuperably in excruciating detail; how a momentary submission to resentment and harshness builds unlooked for wall of alienation.)

In the agonizing mockery of her marriage, her pain and anger and impotence, her eventual self-forgetfulness (dearly bought, not theoretical), Dorothea is growing up rapidly.

Her anger and indignation after her husband’s rejection seems a climactic or transformative struggle. It’s a violent and terrible storm of passion that leaves her sitting still in the dark for hours on end, and the the final resignation and submission she finally wrestles herself into are almost brutal.

I can’t think of any more vivid portrait of a marriage, miserable ill-judged, unhappy, probably doomed to unhappiness as long as it lasts, and yet sanctifying.

I was reading Flannery O’Connor the other day, and thinking about how the different ways the two authors approach grace, especially as they are both interested in Grace and Bad Stuff. Eliot’s grace is the animating fire behind many tiny movements that in no way mitigate, but ennoble and sustain people through lifetimes of grinding disappointment, failure, and misery.

Contrast this “And just as clearly in the miserable light she saw her own and her husband’s solitude–how they walked apart so she was obliged to survey him”

with this

“She put her hand into her husband’s; and they went along the broad corridor together.”

It’s a beautiful and horrifying picture of conjugal unity and conjugal grace.

Right, on to more mundane things!

Note that every time Rosamond encounters Dorothea, we are reminded of the differences in their castes.

“When one sees a perfect woman, one never thinks of her attributes–one is conscious of her presence.”

You know, this is probably a perfectly sensible observation about people in general, but somehow young Will Ladislaw annoys me indeed .

Because this! Again! “Mrs. Causabon is too unlike other women for them to be compared with her.”

On the other hand, this is probably true, and both Dorothea’s and Rosamond’s tragedy.

There’s a lot else going on these here–Reform! Ladislaw! His Polish, Italian, French connections are emphasized a lot in these chapters. All Catholic countries ( “Mrs. Bulstrode felt that his mode of talking about Catholic countries, as if there were any truce with Antichrist, illustrated the usual tendency to unsoundness in intellectual men.”), all very Not English (“mixed blood” and “general laxity”).

“Rosamond was expecting to have a baby, and Lydgate wished to save her from any perturbation.” Rosamond’s maternity only further infantilizes her.

Aaaand to wrap it all up, we have Causabon’s horrible, horrible, creepy, manipulative little request that Dorothea basically offer herself up as a sacrifice on his funeral pyre. And the best part is his horrible, creepy, manipulative way of asking, which is to NOT ASK directly until she has promised to do it. Because, Dorothea, can’t you “confide in the nature of my wishes?”

No, Causabon, no we can’t, because you are horrible and creepy.

But never mind, he’s dead.

OH wait, he’s still doing horrible things from beyond the grave. To wit, his codicil.

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