English, Department of



Rosemary Ashton

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 26 (1995) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (26)


George Eliot's last published work, Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879), has hitherto not been much read or attended to by readers, critics, or even scholars. Now two editions have appeared almost simultaneously, both annotated and furnished with readable introductions. While welcoming the revival of the book in this form, I have to confess to not having had my mind much changed about its merits by the skillful introductions of Nancy Henry and DJ. Enright.

The work still seems to me to be chiefly interesting for the extra light it occasionally throws on George Eliot's character representation in the novels, on her views on literature and social and political history, and on her own early life. Compared to the novels, however, and - more tellingly - compared to her wonderful critical essays of the 1850s, Theophrastus Such is tendentious, often laboured, and sometimes downright tedious.

One reads it for its moments of wit and for the fair-mindedness that Enright notes while allowing that this sometimes entails a slowing up and loading down of the writing, a lack of 'immediate edge'. Enright suggests that the book's ponderousness is an inevitable concomitant of its comprehensiveness and even-handedness. With a writer other than George Eliot this might have been a sufficient explanation. But since she manages in her novels to be - most of the time - both comprehensive, expansive, tolerant and sharp, witty, progressive, the question which arises is: why not here?