Janet’s Repentance

Ugh.  I didn’t think I would ever dislike another author as much as I dislike James Joyce, and I was correct, but not by much.  The last few chapters of George Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance” (modified version) actually made up for the first 23.  However, I’m still of the opinion that she could have written the entire story in 10 pages, and still gotten the same message across.

All of that aside, it occurred to me:  there are a couple of things here that would be interesting to look into more:

The Doctrine of Signatures is the belief that the shape/color/texture of a fruit, flower or herb will tell you what something is good for, or for curing. It’s a medieval belief, that continues through to this day, even though it has been proven that that only works for *some* things, not all. However, it was a common belief in Victorian times, so the whole concept of Dempsey taking his mother for a walk among the cucumbers becomes really creepy. On the other hand, Mr. Tryan sits and looks over a cabbage garden, and while it is known that cabbage looks like a head (and has recently been shown to be beneficial for memory), at that point, it was known to be good for consumptive coughs.

The language of flowers is a Victorian invention, and according to George Eliot’s biography, she was quite familiar with both botany and the language of flowers. When Janet was in the throes of depression, sitting in front of a garden with cistus flowers – cistus implies imminent death. The holly at the gate of “Holly Mount” symbolizes domestic happiness.

It would be interesting – at some point when we have nothing else to do, of course – to go through the book and catalog the various flowers and vegetables used to see what Ms. Eliot might be saying through her copious use of those particular descriptions.


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