"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, November 22, 2010

Birthdays Today

Lots of interesting birthdays, so many, in fact, that I'll have to put some off to next year.  

George Eliot, aka Mary Evans, the great (I mean GREAT) English novelist, was born in 1819.   Among 19th century British novelists, I'd put her with only Jane Austen at the top of the pantheon (that's right, ahead of Dickens).   And, I'd put her greatest work, Middlemarch, in the list with perhaps only Anna Karenin and War and Peace and Remembrance of Things Past as the greatest long novels in any language.   When I used to teach English a million years ago, I taught my students that pretty much everything you need to know about the novel and what it is supposed to be about you can learn from the central moment of Middlemarch where, after hundreds of pages in which the reader comes to loathe the dried-up old pedant, Casaubon, whom the wonderful young heroine, Dorothea Brooke, has unaccountably married in a fit of misplaced intellectual romanticism, the narrator (the Wise Woman, i.e., Eliot herself), turns to the reader and asks, "But what about Casaubon?  Does he not have dreams, feelings, hopes, pains?   Put yourself in his shoes, dear reader."   I'm paraphrasing, but the effect is thrilling and almost heartbreaking.   Middlemarch makes the reader confront what it means to be a moral person -- the ability to view other people as things-in-themselves and not as means-to-an-end, to accord even the most unattractive character the dignity and human consideration all are due.  

There's a great BBC version of Middlemarch that my wife and I have watched with great pleasure.  In fact, just talking about Eliot makes me want to watch it again... and, of course, to get out Middlemarch for a good reread.


Today is also the sixtieth birthday of "Little Steven" Van Zandt, the lead guitarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and (as a character actor much later) Silvio Dante in The Sopranos.   Here is Southside Johnny (with Springsteen) in 1978 doing "Fever":

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