Continuing the theme of Great Novels I Have Read:
George Eliot is one of the authors who floats up near the top of my all-time favorite writers list, and it's because she wrote three books that have provided some of the most intense reading experiences of my life. First, The Mill on the Floss. I came across it in the NYU library when I was about 24 years old. I believe I had never read any of her books until then. The Mill on the Floss is a well-told, entertaining story, but the reason it struck me was the characters, especially the main character who was a girl with a free spirit, trapped in a tight-laced social environment, and her brother, who loved her but expressed his love mainly through oppression.
After I finished The Mill on the Floss I read Silas Marner. I had assumed that Silas Marner was a dull book, because it's one that high school students are often forced to read and they complain about it. I was so shocked to find that it is a nearly perfect short novel, touching and profound. It has been a book that I have gone back to many times and have enjoyed it each time as much as I did the first.
The third Eliot novel that I really love is Romola and it is quite different from the others. It is a historical novel and is less highly regarded by the literati. But the moral content is amazing. Eliot's insights into human nature are so incisive they can take my breath away. She just sets the stage, adds a few details, and then suddenly shows the truth in a way that it's never been seen before.
Eliot's accomplishments are even more impressive given the social environment she lived in--a world where it was deemed necessary for her to use a man's name in order to be taken seriously as an author. She is an inspiration to me on many levels.