Outside, it is crisp and clear, cold, and beautiful. Old Jupiter hangs overhead, with the Milky Way a boundless river of gems to carry his chthonic majesty sailing over his kingdom, which is for the moment dark sweet night, kingdom of dreams and chance.
It is your birthday, Marian.
You are 192 years old, Lady.
You have lived to haunt us. As surely as did your ghosts in Marner, for those of us, what can smell ’em, ‘at is.
You played a man’s game and beat him at it so squarely. Write as a man indeed! Ha! I’ll show you all what a silly woman can do.
It’s a night rather like those you wrote about when the Cliff’s Holiday ghos’es cracked their horse whips and howled their madness to the cold infinite night sky that is our window on the glorious unforgiving universe.
If only it were always daytime. One could even tolerate the moon then, even learn from it. But oh night. It’s no wonder we turned out such confounded creatures when we lifted up our curious eyes in ages long forgotten. It’s no wonder so many modern folk are so ‘lighting oriented’, dependent really. Keeps the ghosts down, and oh so convenient. The electric company loves all you ghosts, no doubt.
I have an idea about you, and spirits, Lady Evans. I suspect you were resting, a tad uneasily, on the high shelf there in my father’s office—for who knows how long—nestled comfortably between the pages of Silas Marner—until his eyes rested on your tattered spine, and he heard a whisper, and he pulled you down. The book was an old blue cloth-bound volume, well read. It was a high school textbook from a hundred years ago.
He turned to the lamplight, looked wonderingly at your worn and stained cover. Tipping you open gently, he saw that several pages were gone. No matter. He left the book lying open to the missing pages, while he retrieved a pair of scissors and a paperback copy from his desk.
He had just finished the paperback, and could now justifiably mutilate it. He extracted the pages to replace the older book’s torn ones. Then for good measure he took the front cover with the painting of Silas and young Eppie. Then the afterword, then the biographical sketch. He trimmed the pages a bit on top and bottom so they would fit, and finally, when he had restored the old book to his satisfaction, he took a postcard, wrote ‘Brian’ on it, and slipped it inside. The inside cover and facing page were scrawled from top to bottom with names, most of them Cools, who had read this book. My father added his own name there in 1987. Then he slid the old book, with your ghost still alive and well, back up between Macauley’s Essays on Clive and Hastings, and Heydrick’s Types of the Short Story—all three, books once owned by my aunt, whose name also was Marian. They were books she’d left behind on the farm when she married away. Books from her high school days in Plymouth MI that she’d brought north with her. Books that seemed to show her early interest in literature, and particularly in one George Eliot, one Marian Evans.
The question that has long haunted me is this, what did young aunt Marian think about the fact that this woman had been obliged to write as a man? And! And you were brilliant! Beyond all measure. When I read your words, lines like garland on the page, reality falls away, and I am swimming in your dream.
I was to have the old book with my name in it upon my father’s death. I had known it since I was a young man, so I became acquainted with the George Eliot/Marian Evans thing. I read the book’s first chapter, decades ago, and I knew that I was not ready for this. It was in part the strange old English references, that were old even when you first wrote the tale, as it takes place in an England that may have only existed before you were born. But also because I would need to expand my vocabulary, but more, because I would need to live some measure of years, seeking wisdom enough to approach your waters, for a swim in your words.
The deal was; I would stay away—not only until I was ready to read you properly, but until I was able to use my own words, to remind as many people as possible, not only of your genius, but also of man’s ingrained tendency to treat women as lesser creatures, to steal from them, take their glory, undervalue their contributions, and much much worse.
Lest it ever be said that I tried to steal from you, to ride on your coattails, or any other such nonsense, when I used the name Marian Evans in the title of my book—was in fact contemplating using it as a bona fide pen name—you and I both know, that theft was never the objective, only respect.
I waited all these years to open the old book again. Waited until my own book was at publication stage, so no one could say that I tried to imitate you. No one could imitate you.
One question I usually get from people coming into contact with my book for the first time is, “what’s with Marian Evans?” This is of course not the first time a book has been titled similarly, as ‘kinda’ written by another—a sort of pseudo-pen name. I hope the book speaks for itself as to that question, but I also relish the opportunity to introduce you, or reintroduce you, to yet another reader.
The Marian Evans of my title is an amalgamation, inspired by you, or by my ideal of you, and in memory of an aunt I never got to know. And so, since I was writing of Earth’s sister planet Aerda, my Marian Evans became your twin, worlds removed.
I hold the old book in my hands tonight. Are you still in there? Have you gone on elsewhere, to kindle a fire in another’s mind? Jupiter smiles his grim best along with me as I scrawl my own name on the inside cover, directly beneath that of my father, Melvin Cool.
Again, happy birthday. May your ghost live long.