Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 29 (1998) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
In the last issue of the Review, Nicola Harris, in her Fellowship Prize Essay, discussed the different attitudes of Hardy and George Eliot to 'moral perception'.' In the course of her argument she refers to an article of mine, published several years ago, where I dealt with the same passages that she considers. Having read her piece with great interest, I should like to make the following observations.
The reference to what I said occurs where Harris is comparing the description of Boldwood looking fixedly at the Valentine that Bathsheba has sent him (,Here the bachelor's gaze was continually fastening itself till the large red seal became as a blot on the retina of his eye', Far from the Madding Crowd, Ch. 14) with the narrative comment on Dorothea in Rome ('In certain states of dull forlornness Dorothea all her life continued to see the red drapery ... spreading itself everywhere like a disease of the retina', Middlemarch, Ch. 20). In my article I first of all drew attention to a critical moment in Hardy's A Pair of Blue Eyes (published in 1872- 73, that is, immediately after the appearance of Middlemarch), where Knight, facing Elfride in a stubble-field, becomes painfully aware of her past relationship with Stephen:
The scene was engraved for years on the retina of Knight's eye: the dead and brown stubble, the weeds among it, the distant belt of beeches shutting out the view of the house, the leaves of which were now red and sick to death. (Ch. 34)
The retina, the colour red, and the idea of long-lasting visual impressions in association with bitter emotional experience: all this, I argued, recalls the Middlemarch passage. Extending this to the case of Boldwood, I commented:
Was Hardy, then, influenced by George Eliot on this point? 'Influence', or 'debt', seems to me too strong and simple a word. For Hardy might well have found in Eliot what was already present in himself. What is beyond dispute, however, is the fact that Hardy was sufficiently keen about this retina image to employ it once again in the very next novel Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), and that this time, as opposed to the one in A Pair of Blue Eyes where the effect is only locally striking, it is brilliantly related to the design of the novel as a whole, thus making the Boldwood passage a 'moment of vision' of extraordinary force. 2