Sheila Kaye-Smith on George Eliot

I am psychic.  You don’t believe me? You should.

At my mother’s funeral, which was attended by warring factions, the priest swung the censer and it broke. The assistant had trouble picking it up:  it was hot.   I knew this was the work of my mother’s ghost: she was upset by the strife. The family members  were stationed on different sides of the aisle, some glaring in the shade; with a few exceptions, they were rude at the cemetery.  They were furious about the will –how they hated to share!–just as in Middlemarch and War in Peace.  I was the only one who noticed my mother’s ghost, but certainly some must have felt it.

I am also psychic in the choosing of books, which are often startlingly related to each other.   For instance, I recently reread Adam Bede and mentioned here that I read it as a child.  And then I picked up All the Books of My Life, by Sheila Kaye-Smith, and lo and behold! she writes about Adam Bede, which she had been forbidden by her mother to read until she was 21.  She knows it would have appealed to her as a child.

George Eliot was better suited to the heaviness of my mind [than Dickens], but grown-up intervention had robbed me of the very book that would have suited me best.  The characters and the story are better adapted than in many of the others to a young reader’s perceptions, the comedy is unobtrusive and the tragedy obvious.  Instead I read Silas Marner and found it completely uninteresting.

Nothing was banned at my house, but I had a similar experience with Eliot .    At my grandmother’s house, I read Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss, but could not understand Eliot’s other books.  Adam Bede is such a vibrant novel, actually one of her best.  I liked the drama, and the preacher Dinah’s standing by the shallow, beautiful  Hetty, an unmarried pregnant girl accused of infanticide who is not sympathetic until she runs away, trying to find the father of her child.  Dinah stands by her in prison and brings out Hetty’s good qualities.

Kaye-Smith would have liked Adam Bede, but had problems with Middlemarch as a 16-year-old

I followed The Mill on the Floss with Middlemarch, a book which of course I ought not to have read till much later…. The slow careful building up of the characters of Dorothea and Casaubon never amounted to anything I could understand or appreciate….  Indeed I knew that I was bored and felt disappointed with myself for being so…

I, too, found Middlemarch a slog as a teenager.  It was only later, in my twenties, that I appreciated it.  But for all the perfections of Middlemarch, may I admit that I still prefer Adam Bede?

By the way, you can read my posts on Sheila Kaye-Smith’s novels The End of the House of Alard and Joanna Godden here and here.