Romola, George Eliot

It’s six weeks since my last post. The idea of only posting after I have finished a novel (in this case, well after) would work well but if I didn’t insist on reading classic novels which are much longer, and I’m a slow reader to boot. So this literary necrophilia for me means fewer blog posts, which may not seem a problem. Oh but it is. You see, I am not a proper book blogger – I shamelessly use mine as a way to sell tickets to Chico Chica shows. So I need to find other excuses to burden the world with my unimportant views. I have resolved to look for more excuses to post in 2015, and to buy a camera so I can add some visuals to my wordy posts.

As with bubble gum cards and Pokomon cards, a lot of us have pleasure in completing a set – it doesn’t matter what it is, just something that we can own with a pleasurable sense of achievement. There’s a literary form of this malaise. I’ve often heard it said that someone has read ‘all Proust’ or ‘all Stendhal. This requires a great deal of commitment and a a zealous academic approach. Dickens is almost manageable but Balzac less so.

George Eliot only wrote seven which makes her canon an attractive proposition for nerdy literary types especially when she happens to be England’s greatest novelist. There are the big five (in the order in which I read them): Mill On The Floss, Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, Adam Bede and Silas Marner. But there are two others which get far less attention: Romola which I completed very recently. There is also Scenes of Clerical Life. One day I will read that, not so much to complete the set, but to find out if it’s as dull as it sounds. After that, in the mahogany-veneered bookshelf of my memory bank, I will place my George Eliot Box Set. It’s terribly sad, I know.

Romola, being outside Eliot’s big five, was, I presumed, a lesser work. But it isn’t. It’s just different in that it takes place in 1490s Florence rather than the usual rural nineteenth century England. The period, being at the cusp of the modern era, was momentous. Printing, gunpowder and America were recently discovered and the book outlines the beginnings of challenges to papal authority. Michaevelli is a minor character so to is Fra Lippi (who I’d come across in one of Robert Browning’s dramatic dialogues). Michaelangelo and da Vinci are casually mentioned and even Mona Lisa gets a cameo role as an old woman.

The plot is full of political scheming so it’s a bit like a Hilary Mantel novel except Romola has immeasurably more depth and beauty. The novel finishes with an epilogue which shows Eliot’s true voice in the form of Romola speaking to an infant:

It is only a poor sort of happiness that could ever come by caring very much about our own narrow pleasures. We can only have the highest happiness, such as goes along with being a great man, by having wide thoughts, and much feeling for the rest of the world as well as ourselves; and this sort of happiness often brings so much pain with it, that we can only tell it from pain by its being what we would choose before everything else, because our souls see it is good. There are so many things wrong and difficult in the world, that no man can be great unless he gives up thinking much about pleasure or rewards, and gets strength to endure what is hard and painful.

Chico Chica have been recording their second album with Joe Keach at Cowshed Studio where performances are recorded onto old-fashioned tape. It’s a process that recognises that nearly all technological advances are victories of power over pleasure. Chico Chica do things gradually, starting with four songs: Private Hands, A Scientific Fact, Nice Guy With an Edge and I’m a Playgirl. We used a salsa rhythm section so chose those songs that would most benefit form such a treatment. They also happened to be the songs with the strongest spoken word component. The overdubs, mixing and mastering will be done in January 2015 so the download-only EP will be launched soon after. By the end of 2015, we should have recorded the twelve (maybe sixteen) songs needed for a CD release.

Chico Chica will be performing at:

Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec
140 Newington Butts, Kennington
London SE11 4RN
9.00pm Friday 5th December 2014
Tickets: £7.00 (£5.00 diners)
Bookings: 020 7582 6800
info@btlrestaurant.com

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