Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hey sweet man - a series

George Henry Lewes
Men are so often horrible to women that it's important to remember that not all men are horrible to women, and sometimes a man will go above and beyond to be good to a woman (besides his own mother.) I will occasionally give those men a shout-out in this new series.

The first up is George Henry Lewes who had a common-law marriage with George Eliot (aka. Mary Ann Evans). Evans was not pretty at a time when prettiness was everything for a woman. The various portraits drawn and painted of her do not at all do justice to the prodigious dimensions of her nose which can be seen in this photo from 1865.

  As Wiki notes:
The young Evans was obviously intelligent and a voracious reader. Because she was not considered physically beautiful, and thus not thought to have much chance of marriage, and because of her intelligence, her father invested in an education not often afforded women.
If they were Catholic they would have stuck her in a convent. However, she must have had one hell of a personality for Henry James observed of her:
She had a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth and a chin and jawbone 'qui n'en finissent pas' (translation: that never ends).. Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end, as I ended, in falling in love with her. Yes, behold me in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking.
There can be no doubt that thanks to the stability of her over 20 year relationship with Lewes, Eliot was free to concentrate on her art. She didn't begin writing novels until after they began living together. English literature owes him.

And Lewes was no intellectual slouch himself, also a novelist as well as biographer of Goethe and a philosopher. I wonder what he thought of Schopenhauer, who knew Goethe via his mother's salon.

Unfortunately I have yet to read any of Eliot's novels, but I know that Lewes is a man of good taste because he gave "Jane Eyre" a rave review. He also corresponded with Bronte - before he met Eliot.
The  correspondence with Bronte is especially interesting because he urged her to use Jane Austen as a model which resulted in Bronte pretty thoroughly trashing Austen.

He liked his lady writers, and you have to wonder what would have happened if they'd met, although I'm certain that Charlotte Bronte would never have been compelled to live in sin with Lewes (a major plot point in Jane Eyre is when the unfortunately already-married Rochester tries to talk Jane into living with him in France as his mistress and she responds by running away.) Bronte was always harping on her own unpretty appearance, although it must be said she was much more attractive than Eliot. But no matter how much she despaired of ever getting laid, you know she would have insisted on marriage - which the already-married, although it was an open marriage, Lewes could not do.

Just as well for Eliot, although as a result Lewes is best known as her boyfriend - or soulmate, as Wiki has it.

Here is Lewes' Principles of Success in Literature - I doubt he thought to include "provide emotional support to the author" though.