English, Department of


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


The George Eliot Review 2018 (26)


This is an important biographical and critical study which takes for its starting point George Eliot's view in 1879 that 'The best history of a writer is contained in his writings - these are his chief actions' (The George Eliot Letters, VII, 230). Rosemarie Bodenheimer - who courageously ignores the current equalization stance of referring to Eliot and Evans - begins with an exemplary chapter, 'On Reading Letters'. She observes 'Letters and novels are both acts of self-representation in writing and, as such, may both be taken, to begin with, as fictions.' This is a neat and persuasive way in, though there are a few sporting hiccups: W.J. Dawson, we are told, 'emerges as a cheerleader for the familiar letter as the most intimate recording of the self' (13), while we also note that 'When letter collecting is powered by the desire to revel in personality, George Eliot's productions do not make the cut' (ibid). But of course each of her correspondents is an audience, and her letters indicate her ways of 'directing and constructing her readership' (22). Contrasts with Charlotte Bronte are drawn in 'Constructing the Reader', and while Marian Evans's early letters are 'manifestly adolescent' they are also quite distinctly 'the stuff of which George Eliot's novels were to be made' (38). Sexual frustrations and religious struggles are evident and interactive too. There is a particularly stimulating exploration (which includes re-dating) on 'Letters from a Town Mouse to a Country Mouse' which speculatively links the mode here to that 'curious chapter' which opens The Mill on the Floss. Narrative stances towards the reader are examined in the fiction. Superb phrases like 'the piety of George Eliot's realism' (50) must be set against solecisms like 'the next sentence, dropping a thousand watts of intensity' (54) and 'the many shadowy voices with whom George Eliot boxes in order to write' (55).