I haven’t read much of George Eliot’s work at all, which I should probably be more ashamed of. Still, a friend passed this and Brother Jacob on to me after she was done with it back at university, and I finally got round to actually reading it. I was surprised to find that it’s a supernatural story, in a way, dealing with clairvoyance — and not just as a societal trend, but one character truly is clairvoyant. I didn’t think Eliot wrote anything speculative like that at all, which is probably my own ignorance. (My only defence, as a holder of two English degrees, is to protest that this was emphatically not my period at all.)
Given that it isn’t my period, I still found this pretty interesting, because it explored the implications for a person who discovered they had such an ability, and because the loveless relationship with his wife — whom he married because he couldn’t see into her mind — had real moments of pathos. It does feel at times like an early Men’s Rights Activist screed when it talks about Bertha: the way she beguiles the narrator:
And she made me believe that she loved me. Without ever quitting her tone of badinage and playful superiority, she intoxicated me with the sense that I was necessary to her, that she was never at ease, unless I was near to her, submitting to her playful tyranny. It costs a woman so little effort to besot us in this way!
Eh. I’m pretty tired of the femme fatales who can do that — trust me, I have never found anyone that easy to wrap around my little finger, even if they thought I was pretty. Give it a rest, men are not at the mercy of their gonads.
Anyway, it’s an interesting speculative story, though it’s too short to really bear the weight of much observation — there’s no whys and wherefores to be found as regards the cause of the narrator’s clairvoyance.