George Eliot’s 200th Anniversary Today. My personal celebration.

A Tribute to George Eliot.

The thoughtful eyes and very long nose of a genius.

The woman who has guided my life, and plucked at my shoulder whenever I neglected her was born this day 200 years ago exactly. I vowed I would finish a memoir that is not just a literary tribute to her but a sleuthing of her intermittent interruptions through my 78 years of following in her treads. I did so yesterday in time to light the candles today.

George Eliot packed four signed volumes of her last novel (Daniel Deronda)to my great great great Aunt (Eliza Mary Sanderson nee Barrett)  who she had never met, and never would. The aunt, who was childless, and who lived in South Africa left them to my grandmother. Nobody knew what had prompted the gift, but the books were bequeathed to me. I first saw them when I was sixteen. Then they were stolen by my own aunt and given to a University Library in  a place they would never be asked for.

Portrait of the Aunt to which George Eliot sent books

The influence of George Eliot initially was that of overwhelming admiration, and the seduction to leave Africa for England, for its literature, its poetry, its traditions, its certainty of varied seasons. She summoned me to a different world, and ultimately to the ambition to write. But that was only half the story.

The other half was locked in the mystery of those books. The call to write the memoir was to discover the end of the story that began with them. That gift linked me directly to the author. I discovered not only her (adopted) family’s direct connections to my own but an unknown poetic work that I had never known of but echoed in my narrative poem Involution. It now seems that George Eliot was a restless muse, and found a scribe to finish what she had only just sketched before her premature death at sixty one. It seems my life was merely to mix the colours and sharpen the quills!

Perhaps that is all I was meant to do, to write her Religion for Humanity?

My life has been sliced into decades that echoed each one of hers, without knowing it. It mirrored her search for answers to belief, exploring every doctrine only to find each in turn insufficient. Each exploration of hers gave rise to a stupendous work, from Methodism in Adam Bede, Catholicism in Romola, to Judaism in Daniel Deronda, but the greatest novel of all, Middlemarch, exposed the dry vacuity of intellectual answers in the character of Casaubon seeking ‘The Key to all the Mythologies’. In his arid search for authority he betrays everything and everyone else, most importantly his marriage to his yearning idealistic wife, seduced by his so-called erudition. Erudition of that kind is the atrophy of the soul. This was the work Virginia Woolf called the ‘first novel for adults’. By that I take her to mean that meaning is not arrived at by catalogue or cogitation, or ‘givens’ from any source, but by independent ‘openness’ to all. And the courage to step away from any collective. (George Eliot was never a joiner of groups, not even those who expected it like the suffragettes.) I echo her in that.

George Eliot’s life was a life in search of love, and loving gave access to meaning, not just for oneself but through the lovers of music, inspiration, ideas, and the great adventure of life. Life was the ‘great book’ of wisdom.

Tomorrow I will add an imaginary conversation with the great author whose search was my own but whose recognition and rewards were the very opposite. For now I will rejoice in having known her. She is incomparable.


Rabbit Holes: Some Call it Daydreaming, Writers Call it Work

Source: Rabbit Holes: Some Call it Daydreaming, Writers Call it Work

Other writers recognise it as a kernel from which green things will sprout.

A Shadow in Yucatan Review Almost- no Very- Embarrassing!

Chris Rose gifted this yesterday and I post it with trepidation. This book has lain dormant on Amazon for almost eight years, but he may have given it the kiss of life!


Ana Grigoriu  gifted me this image
Ana Grigoriu gifted me this image


The Specialist (unequalled), November 4, 2014
This review is from: A Shadow in Yucatan (Kindle Edition)
One of the extended luxuries of reading a book – particularly a good one, but then, at my age, I (we) should know when to abandon the not-so-good – is writing a review: another blank page to dash with blush and beam; pastels afforded by the author – go on, s/he enthuses, five stars in all the colours of the rainbow…And then along comes Philippa Rees, with A Shadow in Yutacán, and I feel very much like the amateur – where to begin? Where then when begun? Philippa Rees’ A Shadow in Yutacán is the kind of book that… well, I’ve noted Dylan Thomas in passing but he was never this good – reviewer scuffs the clichés infesting the corners of his mind.I am honestly at a loss. This – pardon me and every reviewer for saying so – is an absolute work of art. And heart. For, make no mistake, Philippa’s heart is at the very core of this work – a work that would be a rank fail if not. We might then forget genre – how `winkingly’ witty dear Bob Book-Jacket should inform us our “distilled novel fits no category… is not poetry…”Poetry, then, is in the ear of the beholder? And persuasive, indeed, it is. I’m reminded of Arthur Quiller Couch:”Literature is not an abstract Science, to which exact definitions can be applied. It is an Art rather, the success of which depends on personal persuasiveness, on the author’s skill to give as on ours to receive.” ??????????????????????

Stephanie, the book’s MC, who wakes “to a smouldering afternoon pregnant with thunder”, via pregnancy both of the belly and naivety, comes full circle – and in fact recalls a literary character of my own creation; if only she could put brakes on the rumbling rails of life!

But, for me, the `book’ transcends 1960s dreams damned to the frailties of reality; this is Blake’s Innocence and Experience second-done. And this, to repeat the idea of being lost for words, as well as to offer the most audacious of paradoxes, is a flight in animation, where the beauty of Philippa’s poetry becomes mute to the magical carpet-ride of Stephanie’s sensitivities… Come on, then, dear animators, this is the one you’ve been waiting for! Remember what was done with Raymond Briggs’ Snowman?

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all,” scoffs an Irish wit from spirit. What would he have made of this, though, eh? I do but wonder.

If I were limited to one question only, then it would surely be: `Philippa, how long did it take you to write A Shadow in Yutacán?’ And yet I’d refrain, for fear of either answer.

`Not too long,’ she smiles, `it is of my natural pen.’

Then I’ll place down my own forevermore. Consolation being I’ll order more – books! – I suppose.

`Actually, it was a real slog. A good two years.’

Mmm. Oh, why, by GOD, as I write, has it not yet been bestowed with the honour it deserves?

I will read A Shadow in Yutacán again. And again. And each time will be like the first.

This is a masterpiece.

(If you are persuaded you can find it here on Amazon  or in ebook here on Smashwords)

Takes a commute to read, transports you further
Takes a commute to read, transports you further

The Amphitheatre




Many people have asked about the photograph in the Header. This was taken in early morning in 2000, and it is of the spectacular Amphitheatre in the northern Drakensberg not far from my family’s farm in the Freestate (where I was born). This cliff face is three times the size of all the cliff faces in the Yosemite Park, rising 10.000 feet above sea level and 4000 above the base. The buttress on the left is called the Mont aux Sources since it gives rise to many rivers, notably the Tugela, flowing east, but also via its tributary (The Caledon) to the Orange flowing west, and via the Elands to the Vaal flowing North. It stands sentinel as the very navel of the country and its arteries. The walk up the Tugela towards the summit is through narrow passes overshadowed by trees and calling monkeys, and ever the bubbling water…

As a child I rode through this country in my holidays with saddlebags, picnics and plunging in cold pools. Its call is everlastingBroekie lace added, and gets stronger now I know I shall never seeYou can almost taste the lightning! it again.

GNU Free Documentation Licence PhilipN Version 1.2Taken by Rudolph Botha 2006
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