English, Department of



Graham Handley

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)


On 13 November 1841 the twenty-two year old Marian Evans wrote to her then mentor Maria Lewis 'My whole soul has been engrossed in the most interesting of all inquiries for the last few days, and to what results my thoughts may lead, I know not - possibly to one that will startle you'.1 On 16 September 1847 ,just over a year after the publication of her translation of Strauss's Life of Jesus Marian wrote to her close friend Sarah Hennell, whose brother's An Inquiry concerning the Origin of Christianity (2nd edition, 1841) she had just re-read 'with delight and high admiration. My present impression from it far surpasses the one I had retained from my two readings about five years ago .... there is nothing in its whole tone from beginning to end that jars on my moral sense .... I am sure that no one, fit to read it at all, could read it without being intellectually and morally stronger - the reasoning is so close, the induction so clever, the style so clear, vigorous, and pointed, and the animus so candid and even generous ...! think the "Inquiry" furnishes the utmost that can be done towards obtaining a real view of the life and character of Jesus'.

The story of Charles Christian Hennell (1809-50), how he came to undertake his investigation of the Bible, the results published in his Inquiry (1838), his marriage to Rufa Brabant (1 November 1843), Rufa's making over of her hardly begun translation of Strauss's Das Leben Jesu to Marian, the publication of that translation in 1846, need not be told again here. What I am concerned to demonstrate are the literary, moral and sympathetic connections between the Inquiry and the writings of George Eliot. Lip-service has always been paid to Hennell' s influence on Marian Evans' s loss of faith: my contention is that in the profoundest possible way Hennell gave her a stronger faith and a wider tolerance, a receptivity and a perspective which she was to absorb and use in her criticism and her fiction. His concerns connect with hers on a number of levels, and it is no accident that the quality of his mind - and of his narrative powers - are similar to her own, and indeed helped in their development.