Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 26 (1995) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
The 14th conference of the Nineteenth Century Studies Association was held at Loyola College, Baltimore, Maryland at the end of March. The conference theme, 'Conflict and Resolution’, allowed examination of the period from the French Revolution to the end of the Victorian era in terms of artistic, literary, philosophical, political, economic, religious, scientific and social change. This rich theme attracted papers on many of the issues that now interest George Eliot scholars and other Victorianists.
Christine Morris (University of South Carolina at Chapel Hill) examined Victorian keepsake annuals in her paper, 'Marketing Femininity in the 1830s: The Case of Heath's Book of Beauty’. Dr. Morris posited the theory that these keepsakes gave Victorian women a standard by which to place themselves in a ranking of attractiveness and vanity, to arouse other women's envy and men's admiration. Rosamond Vincy played this game to perfection, and George Eliot used a sentimental Keepsake to focus the attitudes of Rosamond, Lydgate and Ned Plimdale in a telling scene early in Rosamond's and Lydgate's courtship. Dr. Morris mentioned the example of Maggie Tulliver who is given a Keepsake by the illiterate Bob, who expresses unenlightened admiration for the fashionable beauties on the annual's pages. Maggie later learns that her un-annual-like beauty can attract the attention of Stephen Guest.
Margaret O'Shaughnessy's (St Mary's College, Raleigh, North Carolina) paper, 'From Loathly Lady to Comely Maiden', observed the Victorian debate over representations of beauty and ugliness in art. Wilkie Collins expressed the Victorians' distaste for Dutch paintings of women scrubbing pots. Dr. O'Shaughnessy cited the example of the lumpish female forms in Rembrandt's paintings as 'his protest against applying artificial shapes to the human form’. George Eliot entered into this complex debate in her novels, a debate in which Charles Dickens wrote with distaste about Millais's painting of Christ as a boy in his father's carpentry shop, and Dickens himself was subject to the same criticism for his depictions of the poor. Dr. O'Shaughnessy concluded that Ruskin offered a syncretic aesthetic theory when he wrote that Imagination may make a complete beauty out of the disparate elements in art.