The Power of Ignorance (a short excerpt from Daniel Deronda by George Eliot)

It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly Considered or set forth the power of Ignorance? Knowledge slowly builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down. Knowledge, through patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes record of it; Ignorance, wanting its day’s dinner, lights a fire with the record, and gives a flavor to its one roast with the burned souls of many generations.

Knowledge, instructing the sense, refining and multiplying needs, transforms itself into skill and makes life various with a new six days’ work; comes Ignorance drunk on the seventh, with a firkin of oil and a match and an easy “Let there not be,” and the many-coloured creation is shrivelled up in blackness.

Of a truth, Knowledge is power, but it is a power reined by scruple, having a conscience of what must be and what may be; whereas Ignorance is a blind giant who, let him but wax unbound, would make it a sport to seize the pillars that hold up the long-wrought fabric of human good, and turn all the places of joy dark as a buried Babylon.

George Eliot – Daniel Deronda

Make me happy – buy and read Daniel Deronda

Five books I want to read again and why.

When I am considering the big question:

What shall I read next?

I instinctively look toward the big pile of books I have yet to read – with so little time to read in life,  it makes sense to keep trying new things.

But every so often, while looking for something new, I stumble across something old, something I read long ago. Holding it my hands, I realise it is at best, half remembered. Flicking it open, I discover parts of myself pressed and dried between its pages – fragile emotions unused to light and air which disintegrate before my eyes. I acknowledge that the person I was when I read the book is lost to me forever, but the book itself is not. But do I dare read it again?


Here are five Penguin Classics I want to read again and why.

The Red and the Black

by Stendhal

Why I want to read it again:

I was overwhelmed by this book when I first read it. I read feverishly and quickly. I had never come across a mind like Stendhal’s and was thrown off my guard. The Red and The Black is a powerful novel, blindingly honest at times, which leads the reader deep into the heart and mind of a man ruled by ambition. I hope on a second read I can keep my head and read with more circumspection, for I would love to know how Stendhal managed to entrap me so entirely the first time around.

Good Bit:

Only a fool, he said to himself, loses his temper with other people. A stone falls, doesn’t it, because of its weight? Must I always be a child? When shall I acquire the sensible habit of selling just so much of my soul to people of this sort as their money warrants? If I wish to be respected by them and by myself, I must show them that, while I barter my poverty for their wealth, my soul is a thousand leagues out of reach of their insolence, in a sphere too high for their petty marks of favour or contempt to affect it.

Publisher synopsis:

Handsome and ambitious, Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his Continue reading

A library of VINTAGE CLASSICS is…


A library of classics is the greatest gift you can ever hope to give to yourself! And now a beautiful library is within everybody’s reach.

The most gorgeous classics range available has come down in price. VINTAGE CLASSICS paperbacks are $12.95 each, which means, from Booktopia they are a tiny $10.95 each.

At $10.95 each, there is no need to deny yourself the pleasure of browsing through your own little or large collection.

Build the most enviable classics library today. Imagine yourself  sitting  for an hour or so amongst your books, taking your time choosing what to read next, flicking through this or that, quite content to dither here and there. Owning a library of classics, no matter how small it is to begin with, gives you the chance to find right book for the right mood.

You need the right book at the right time. Why force Cervantes on yourself when you have a hankering for Raymond Carver? You do a disservice to both by letting circumstances beyond your immediate control choose whom you read. Respect your changing mood by giving it the cultural scope it deserves – a literary nature reserve in which to prowl about – opulence of a kind almost unthinkable in these tawdry times. A reader needs a library of books they have yet to read. Build yours today. It takes only one book to begin, two to get rolling, ten or twelve to make you feel decadent and then you’re off. Soon enough you’ve a collection to be proud of.

With so many VINTAGE CLASSICS to choose from I bet you’re wondering where to start…

I have loved and can recommend Of Human Bondage, The Gormenghast Trilogy, Les Miserables, Breakfast Of Champions, Jude the Obscure

But, if I was being banished and could take one VINTAGE CLASSIC along with me to keep me company I’d take Middlemarch by George Eliot…

Virginia Woolf said of George Eliot’s Middlemarch ‘it is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people’. And she was right.

For though many young people have read this book with enjoyment, its true worth does not become apparent until later when a reader has had a chance to love, to be loved, to suffer a loss, to make mistakes and to experience successes. It is when we return to Middlemarch having lived a little that we discover how true to life and relevant to our lives George Eliot’s characters, situations and conclusions are, even though the novel was written so long ago.

I had heard of Middlemarch long before I finally read it. The reason I never took it up to read was that I could never work out what the book was about. And that is because Middlemarch particularises life in general. Being large in scope, the novel is about something different for each reader. I’ve read it twice now and it might well have been two different novels.

The setting is a town, Middlemarch, a place central to the lives of many of the novel’s characters. There are three main threads to the narrative, with many smaller offshoots, yet they all become entwined as the book progresses. Though the story is complex, the reader will have little difficulty keeping track of all the threads as each set of characters is imprinted so firmly on our minds. Eliot concentrates on one thread for thirty or forty pages and then switches just at the point when we have come to miss the characters in the other threads. Sometimes we become impatient with a character’s choices. Sometimes we want to reach out and hug them. We recognise some characters immediately, they are just like our father or sister or friend, but some will be total strangers to us.

By reading Middlemarch, George Eliot offers us the opportunity to experience life through the eyes of many different personalities. This gives us the chance to learn from the mistakes of others while also broadening our view, allowing us to see what a great variation of joys there are to be had in this life.

Even in paperback Middlemarch is a thick block of a book. But don’t let this put you off. It is long but necessarily so, and believe me, when the end approaches you will wish it were longer.

To buy Middlemarchclick here

To visit our VINTAGE CLASSICS page – click here

P.S. I have been thinking I might start a book club for those interested in literature from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. I’ll call it something like: Dead Writers Club. If you’re interested in joining, or know someone who would be, email me – deadwritersclub at booktopia dot com dot au

Jane Sullivan, author of Little People, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Jane Sullivan

author of Little People

Ten Terrifying Questions

———————————-

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

In London. I went to George Eliot primary school, North London Collegiate School and Oxford University, where I studied English literature and attempted to learn Anglo-Saxon irregular verbs. I did an inspirational report on George Eliot at primary school complete with my own drawings of the great novelist, so I knew she was a lady with a long nose, but I never actually read any of her books until the last 10 years or so.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve: a novelist. At eighteen: a writer of some sort who could make a living, because by then I suspected most novelists were very poor. At thirty: a top journalist who travelled a lot and made lots of money.  It sounded dashing and glamorous and scary and I’d just come to Australia to work on The Age. I did get to make a living out of Continue reading

A Classic Truth: from The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

The Wisdom Of George Eliot:

“Plotting covetousness and deliberate contrivance, in order to compass a selfish end, are nowhere abundant but in the world of the dramatist: they demand too intense a mental action for many of our fellow-parishioners to be guilty of them.

It is easy enough to spoil the lives of our neighbours without taking so much trouble; we can do it by lazy acquiescence and lazy omission, by trivial falsities for which we hardly know a reason, by small frauds neutralized by small extravagances, by maladroit flatteries, and clumsily improvised insinuations.

We live from hand to mouth, most of us, with a small family of immediate desires; we do little else than snatch a morsel to satisfy the hungry brood, rarely thinking of seed-corn or the next year’s crop.’ from The Mill on the Floss

About the book: The Mill on the Floss, based on George Eliot’s own experiences of provincial life, is a masterpiece of ambiguity in which moral choice is subjected to the hypocrisy of the Victorian age.

As the headstrong Maggie Tulliver grows into womanhood, the deep love which she has for her brother Tom turns into conflict, because she cannot reconcile his bourgeois standards with her own lively intelligence. Maggie is unable to adapt to her community or break free from it, and the result, on more than one level, is tragedy.

AUTHOR: Mary Anne (Mary Ann, Marian) Evans (22 November 1819 22 December 1880), better known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist. She was one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. Her novels, largely set in provincial England, are well known for their realism and psychological insight. She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure that her works were taken seriously.

Female authors were published under their own names, but Eliot wanted to ensure that she was not seen as merely a writer of romances. An additional factor may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny and to prevent scandals attending her relationship with the married George Henry Lewes.

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith – Reviewed by Kylie Ladd

Zadie Smith is one of those writers other writers love to hate. Not for her the years of unpublished obscurity, the endless tweaking of the query letter, the rejection after rejection after rejection that the rest of us tell ourselves is an unavoidable and indeed vital component of becoming a novelist.

Instead, Smith was offered a publishing contract for her first novel on the basis of some short stories written in her second year at Cambridge University and included in a student anthology. She turned that down, electing to be represented by the highly sought-after Wylie agency, who subsequently sold her unfinished manuscript to Hamish Hamilton (a division of Penguin) at a highly-contested auction. Smith completed the novel, White Teeth, in her final year at Cambridge. On its release the following year it quickly became both a commercial and critical success, winning the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize. The Autograph Man, her second novel, was again a bestseller, while her third, On Beauty, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction.

For all these reasons I was quite prepared to resent her when I first picked up White Teeth five or six years ago. The book had been out for a while by then, but I had eschewed it, intimidated by its success, until my husband finally bought a copy, devoured it avidly, then shoved it under my nose and insisted that I read it. He was right to do so. White Teeth, which deals with immigrant families in London adapting to their new society, is a masterpiece- clever, funny and full of heart. On Beauty was even better. Smith reminds me of a younger, sexier AS Byatt- they share the same aggressive intelligence, innate Britishness and absolute command of language, as well as simply knowing a hell of a lot about pretty much everything.

All these qualities are on display in Smith’s collection of “occasional” essays, Changing My Mind. As the author herself acknowledges in the foreword, such books are written essentially by accident, and- in contrast to a novel- with no unifying theme or voice. Quite possibly as a result, I found Changing My Mind significantly less accessible or Continue reading

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

I am not decrying the life of the true artist. I am exalting it. I say, it is out of the reach of any but choice organisations – natures framed to love perfection and to labour for it; ready, like all true lovers, to endure, to wait, to say, I am not yet worthy, but she – Art, my mistress – is worthy, and I will live to merit her.

An honourable life? Yes. But the honour comes from the inward vocation and the hard-won achievement: there is no honour in donning the life as a livery.

George Eliot – Daniel Deronda

It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly Considered or set forth the power of Ignorance? Knowledge slowly builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down. Knowledge, through patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes record of it; Ignorance, wanting its day’s dinner, lights a fire with the record, and gives a flavour to its one roast with the burned souls of many generations. Knowledge, instructing the sense, refining and multiplying needs, transforms itself into skill and makes life various with a new six days’ work; comes Ignorance drunk on the seventh, with a firkin of oil and a match and an easy “Let there not be,” and the many-coloured creation is shrivelled up in blackness. Of a truth, Knowledge is power, but it is a power reined by scruple, having a conscience of what must be and what may be; whereas Ignorance is a blind giant who, let him but wax unbound, would make it a sport to seize the pillars that hold up the long-wrought fabric of human good, and turn all the places of joy dark as a buried Babylon.

George Eliot – Daniel Deronda

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