Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 28 (1997) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
With Romola, Felix Halt, the Radical has generally proved to be George Eliot's least appreciated novel. Romola used to be safely categorized as 'smelling of the lamp', while Felix Halt was awkwardly 'political'. Despite a continuing critical unease about both novels, we cannot easily employ such easy categories at the end of the twentieth century. Indeed, the whole idea of what constitutes a 'political novel' has itself radically changed. Where unreconstructed Marxist and Marxisant critics used to see politics exclusively in terms of class struggle, and George Eliot as a muddied conservative whose intellectual grasp on political affairs would have been heightened if only she had taken the opportunity to read Das Kapital, we now recognize an acute and original political intelligence in both the novel and the novelist. Felix Halt has now emerged as a different king of novel, one attuned to the essence of a nineteenth-century political debate in which the word 'radical' possessed very particular connotations. It now seems obvious that 1866 was not 1966, and that the l830s were not the 1930s.
A new sympathy with the seriousness and refinement of the intellectual and political debates of the mid-nineteenth century is evident in both of the editions of Felix Halt under discussion. Both recognize the need to explore the dense political situation Eliot is describing (van den Broek in a succinct and helpful appendix on the 1832 Reform Bill; Mugglestone in her Introduction). Both include the 'Address to Working Men' by Felix Holt as an appendix to the text. Both also have the, virtually obligatory, further appendix on the legal background to the novel. Above all, both editors have acknowledged the need for full and detailed explanatory notes. Mugglestone's notes tend to be fuller, but van den Broek's often cover more ground and pick up on, sometimes simple, sometimes crucial things (such as the chapter epigraphs) that Mugglestone overlooks. The two editions complement both Eliot's novel and one another rather neatly.