A Stick on Fire
- Clarkey: A Portrait in Letters of Mary Clarke Mohl 1793-1883 by Margaret Lesser
Oxford, 235 pp, £15.00, September 1984, ISBN 0 19 211787 4
- George Eliot and Community: A Study in Social Theory and Fictional Form by Suzanne Graver
California, 340 pp, £22.70, August 1984, ISBN 0 520 04802 4
In her first public writing after her elopement with George Henry Lewes in 1854, George Eliot compared the position of women in England and in France: ‘in France alone the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language, making crisp and definite what is elsewhere heavy and blurred.’ And, writing under cover of anonymity for the Westminster Review, she declared that one reason for the achievement of women in France is ‘laxity of opinion and practice with regard to the marriage-tie ... Gallantry and intrigue are sorry enough things in themselves, but they certainly serve better to arouse the dormant faculties of women than embroidery and domestic drudgery.’ She was then reviewing Victor Cousin’s Madame de Sablé, and Cousin had been briefly the lover of a woman whom Marian Evans (or George Eliot) already knew, and was to know better: Mary Clarke Mohl, whose style of writing and life might epitomise Marian Evans’s trenchant early views of women’s powers. Mary writes in her journal in 1826, when she was turning back from Cousin to her lover, Fauriel:
Vol. 7 No. 4 · 7 March 1985
SIR: Gillian Beer’s very kind review of my portrait-in-letters Clarkey (LRB, 7 February) raises a question which has puzzled me ever since I started to work on the subject. Dr Beer wonders if I have selected the most ‘arresting entries’ from Mary Clarke’s letters and journal. I have, of course – and to that extent no doubt falsified a correspondence which, like most others, contains its repetitions, banalities, private references etc. But I do not think I have been more selective, or more subjectively selective, than all but the most voluminous biographers; selection seems somehow to be more suspicious in a letter-portraitist than a biographer. But a subject like Mary Clarke, who is interesting above all for what she said and was (rather than what she did), seems to demand to be presented through her letters, with as little commentary (and surmise) as possible. I wonder how these consideration can be reconciled.
Gillian Beer writes: My point was not that there should be no selection, but that the principles of selection should be made clear. It is not possible in Clarkey to distinguish between gaps in the source-material and the editor’s choice, or to know the grounds of that choice.
Vol. 7 No. 6 · 4 April 1985
SIR: In her review of Margaret Lesser’s Clarkey (LRB, 7 February) Gillian Beer speaks of ‘Mrs Hugo Reid’s work in founding Bedford College’. Mrs John Reid, or, as she preferred, Mrs Elizabeth Jesser Reid, was the founder of Bedford College.
Bedford college, university London