English, Department of

 

Authors

William Baker

Date of this Version

1993

Document Type

Article

Citation

The George Eliot Review 25 (1994) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/

Comments

The George Eliot Review 2018 (25)

Abstract

I am preparing an edition of the letters of G. H. Lewes.1 The edition is selective. It does not include those 722 G. H. Lewes items (letters, extracts from his journals and diaries) included in Gordon S. Haight's monumental The George Eliot Letters published in nine volumes by Yale University Press between 1954-55 and in 1978.2 My edition includes nearly 500 letters of which less than 50 have been previously published, making a just over 1,200 total of G. H. Lewes letters in print: a figure contrasting with upwards of 3,500 George Eliot letters in Haight's edition, less than 2,000 surviving Tennyson letters and far less than those found in published editions of letters by Carlyle, Dickens, Darwin, and Trollope, to name but four of G. H. Lewes's and George Eliot's contemporaries. Remember that this was an age of letter writing, the age just prior to the telephone. So, the lens of G. H. Lewes' s telescope, his letters, is selective: no doubt many more of his letters will come to light and probably they will illuminate George Eliot, her writing, activities, attitudes, relationships.

The first letter in my edition is dated 2 October 1834. The 17-year-old G. H. Lewes writes to the elder distinguished man of letters, editor and poet Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) soliciting assistance and requesting' that Hunt return or publish a story called 'Mary Altonville' which Lewes sent him. The last letters are dated forty-four years later. Written in the weeks before G. H. Lewes's death on 30 November 1878, he writes to his son Charles Lee Lewes that he and George Eliot wish to avoid company owing to ill health. However, he excitedly tells of lawn tennis games with his partner, yet cancels a planned visit to Edinburgh to see John Blackwood the publisher (6 September 1878). Lewes writes in French a postcard on George Eliot's behalf to her old close friend Madame Barbara Bodichon, to the effect that George Eliot will be happy to see her soon (1 November 1878). Lewes in these letters is playing the role of the distinguished man of letters protecting George Eliot from even her oldest friends, he is an intermediary for George Eliot whose life he has transformed, and who in turn has transformed his life.

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