This is my first foray into non-academic reviewing. I had a lot of fun doing it and can’t wait to do more.
This book was particularly interesting because Woolson was a big fan of George Eliot’s. I believe Eliot was her first and most lasting literary influence, in fact. I wrote before about my thoughts when I first read the book.
Writing the review gave me the opportunity to think more broadly about how and why we read, which is what Mead’s book is ultimately about. It’s made me think a lot about how those issues were addressed in Eliot’s and Woolson’s time as well and what motivated them to write.
When Woolson later met Henry James, she discovered a writer who wrote beautifully but for different reasons than she did. He wrote more to engage the mind than the heart. That central tension is at the heart of their reputations (then and now). While he was criticized in his day for not making his readers feel for his characters (which was often noted as one of Woolson’s strengths), James’s long-term fortunes were more secure than hers for that very reason.
Twentieth-century readers were skeptical of literature that asked them to feel, which is what Eliot and Woolson asked of their readers. Eliot has had a host of influential academics to revive her reputation. Woolson has had a devoted band of scholars who have kept her name alive. Now it’s time for readers to (re)discover her as well!