BOOK REVIEW: Silas Marner by George Eliot (Review by John Purcell)

George EliotThis short novel used to be taught in schools. And I can see why. It is short. It is entertaining.

And it is short.

Teachers have always had trouble getting teenagers to read books of a quality worth teaching. How they would have rejoiced on finding a book like Silas Marner. It is a perfectly formed and executed story. And thoroughly readable and exceedingly engaging.

Times have changed somewhat however, and no teacher in their right mind would set Silas Marner as a text now. It has way too many words for today’s students. Which doesn’t mean a grown adult with an inclination to try reading more classics shouldn’t open its pages.

One of the books I periodically re-read for the sheer pleasure of it, Silas Marner is a great introduction to nineteenth century literature.

Grab your copy of Silas Marner here!

Silas Marner

George Eliot

George EliotWrongly accused of theft and exiled from a religious community many years before, the embittered weaver Silas Marner lives alone in Raveloe, living only for work and his precious hoard of money. But when his money is stolen and an orphaned child finds her way into his house, Silas is given the chance to transform his life. His fate, and that of the little girl he adopts, is entwined with Godfrey Cass, son of the village Squire, who, like Silas, is trapped by his past.

Silas Marner, George Eliot’s favourite of her novels, combines humour, rich symbolism and pointed social criticism to create an unsentimental but affectionate portrait of rural life.

Grab your copy of Silas Marner here!


TIME Magazine’s 10 Greatest Books of All-Time

A few years ago TIME magazine asked 125 of the world’s most celebrated writers to name their Top 10 novels of all time. No doubt after the resignations of many, many unpaid interns, they combined all these lists to make the ultimate Top 10 list.

We thought we’d share it with you. We’d like a few more women on there but hey, isn’t that always the way.

Do you agree with the picks? Did your favourite book mis the cut? Tell us in the comments section below.

middlemarch10. Middlemarch
by George Eliot

George Eliot’s most ambitious novel is a masterly evocation of diverse lives and changing fortunes in a provincial community.

Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfillment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; the charming but tactless Dr Lydgate, whose marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamund and pioneering medical methods threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstrode, hiding scandalous crimes from his past.

As their stories interweave, George Eliot creates a richly nuanced and moving drama, hailed by Virginia Woolf as ‘one of the few English novels written for adult people’.

Grab a copy of Middlemarch here

the-steppe-and-other-stories-1887-919. The Steppe and Other Stories
by Anton Chekov

The Steppe established Chekov’s reputation. It is the simple yet unforgettable tale of a young boy’s journey to a new school in Kiev, travelling through majestic landscapes towards an unknown life. Gusev depicts an ocean voyage, where a man dies and is thrown to sharks, and the sea takes on a terrifying, primeval power. In The Kiss a shy soldier is kissed by mistake in a darkened room; in A Dreary Story a man reaches the end of his life and questions its worth; and in The Duel two men’s enmity ends in farce.

Grab a copy of The Steppe and Other Stories here

in-search-of-lost-time-vol-1-swann-s-way8. In Search of Lost Time Vol 1: Swann’s Way
by Marcel Proust

The definitive translation of the greatest French novel of the twentieth century

In the opening volume of Proust’s great novel, the narrator travels backwards in time in order to tell the story of a love affair that had taken place before his own birth. Swann’s jealous love for Odette provides a prophetic model of the narrator’s own relationships. All Proust’s great themes – time and memory, love and loss, art and the artistic vocation – are here in kernel form.

Grab a copy of In Search of Lost Time Vol 1: Swann’s Way here

9780099541530 (1)7. The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald’s glittering Jazz Age masterpiece

Jay Gatsby is a self-made man, famed for his decadent champagne-drenched parties. Despite being surrounded by Long Island’s bright and beautiful, Gatsby longs only for Daisy Buchanan. In shimmering prose, Fitzgerald shows Gatsby pursue his dream to its tragic conclusion. The Great Gatsby is an elegiac and exquisite portrait of the American Dream.

Grab a copy of The Great Gatsby here

97800079023476. Hamlet
by William Shakespeare

Considered one of Shakespeare’s most rich and enduring plays, the depiction of its hero Hamlet as he vows to avenge the murder of his father by his brother Claudius is both powerful and complex. As Hamlet tries to find out the truth of the situation, his troubled relationship with his mother comes to the fore, as do the paradoxes in his personality. A play of carefully crafted conflict and tragedy, Shakespeare’s intricate dialogue continues to fascinate audiences to this day.

Grab a copy of Hamlet here

9780099572978 (1)5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain

It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them’

Huck Finn spits, swears, smokes a pipe and never goes to school. With his too-big clothes and battered straw hat, Huck is in need of ‘civilising’, and the Widow Douglas is determined to take him in hand. And wouldn’t you know, Huck’s no-good Pap is also after him and he locks Huck up in his cabin in the woods. But Huck won’t stand too much of this, and after a daring escape, he takes off down the Mississppi on a raft with an runaway slave called Jim. But plenty of dangers wait for them along the river – will they survive and win their freedom?

Grab a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn here

97801410234964. Lolita
by Vladimir Nabocov

Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, who he’ll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? …Or is he all of these?

Grab a copy of Lolita here

war-and-peace3. War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s enthralling epic depicts Russia’s war with Napoleon and its effects on the lives of those caught up in the conflict. He creates some of the most vital and involving characters in literature as he follows the rise and fall of families in St Petersburg and Moscow who are linked by their personal and political relationships. His heroes are the thoughtful yet impulsive Pierre Bezukhov, his ambitious friend, Prince Andrei, and the woman who becomes indispensable to both of them, the enchanting Natasha Rostov.

Grab a copy of War and Peace here

97818474932242. Madam Bovary
by Gustave Flaubert

‘It has a perfection that not only stamps it, but that makes it stand almost alone.’ Henry James

Beautiful Emma Rouault yearns for the life of wealth, passion and romance she has encountered in popular sentimental fiction, and when her doctor, the well-meaning but awkward and unremarkable Charles Bovary, begins to pay her attention, she imagines that she may be granted her wish. However, after their marriage, Emma soon becomes frustrated with the boredom of provincial life and finds herself seeking escape and contemplating adultery.

As Emma’s efforts to make a reality of her fantasies become more dangerous, both she and those around her must face the shattering consequences of her actions. Causing widespread scandal when it was published in 1857, Madame Bovary is Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece and one of the landmark works of nineteenth-century realist fiction.

Grab a copy of Madam Bovary here

anna-karenina1. Anna Karenina
by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina is a novel of unparalleled richness and complexity, set against the backdrop of Russian high society. Tolstoy charts the course of the doomed love affair between Anna, a beautiful married woman, and Count Vronsky, a wealthy army officer who pursues Anna after becoming infatuated with her at a ball.

Although she initially resists his charms Anna eventually succumbs, falling passionately in love and setting in motion a chain of events that lead to her downfall. In this extraordinary novel, Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together the lives of dozens of characters, while evoking a love so strong that those who experience it are prepared to die for it.

Grab a copy of Anna Karenina here

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.


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