English, Department of


Date of this Version


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The George Eliot Review 31 (2000) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2019


Although the Midlands people, places, and stories that turn up in Scenes of Clerical Life provide the first and most easily recognized Warwickshire models in George Eliot's fiction, she also drew creatively on models she found during the many holidays and working trips she made throughout her life elsewhere within Britain. Readers' recognitions of the originals of Amos Barton and Mr. Tryan after the Scenes appeared in Blackwaod's Magazine led George Eliot to assure John Blackwood that she assembled her fiction not exclusively from her girlhood experiences but instead from 'widely sundered elements' (GEL, II, 459).' But, while Midlands models appear often in the fiction, especially in the most distinctly Warwickshire set works (Scenes, Felix Halt, and Middlemarch), their frequency has obscured the truth of her defensive assertion to Blackwood. From the islands where George Henry Lewes pursued his research, to the spas and seas ides they both visited for refreshment, to the Surrey towns where they summered within an hour's distance from London, venues within England but outside Warwickshire contributed people and places to fiction from Scenes of Clerical Life through Daniel Deronda without ever having been associated with George Eliot or her writing. While Nuneaton/Chilvers Coton/Griff supplied more models than she cared to admit to her publisher, she also created her settings, plots, and characters out of far more 'widely sundered' English elements.'

In addition to twenty or so European journeys, George Eliot made more than fifty long and short visits to English destinations. Nearly all of them contributed something to the fiction, whether to a current work-in-progress or to a novel which appeared some years after the journeys themselves. A holiday with her father in 1848, for example, provided a metaphor (the enclosed basin of Dorothea's marriage) for Middlemarch, and a return to the same destination in 1853 suggested an important scene (the archery meet) in Daniel Deronda. A brief holiday in Surrey with her feminist friends that same summer yielded material for Adam Bede that may reduce the acuteness of Barbara Bodichon's identification of its author. (If she recognized George Eliot's treatments of incidents from their shared holiday her recognition did not depend entirely on her familiarity with her friend's 'wise, wide views' [GEL, Ill, 56] as she wrote at the time.) The more famous Scilly/Jersey interlude in 1857 inspired settings, plots and characters that appear in 'Janet's Repentance', Adam Bede, Felix Halt, and Middlemarch.

George Eliot's adaptations of such 'widely sundered' elements include modifications and emphases that sometimes help revise traditional interpretations of her characters. Each example mentioned above includes selections from the original models that emphasize various aspects of the characters involved. And in Felix Halt, for example, a Surrey estate owned by an important Victorian MP undergoes in George Eliot's adaptation a significant change that heightens the humour of Mrs. Holt's character at the same time that it suggests her admirable responsibility as a parent both to Felix and to her foster child Job Tudge. In this and other examples, identifications of such models contribute to revisions of George Eliot characters at the same time as they provide examples confirming her assertion to Blackwood about 'widely sundered elements'. Although the richness of these adaptations precludes a thorough description of them all within this space, the Felix Holt/Deepdene example can serve to demonstrate some of the ways George Eliot put her travel within Britain to use in her novels.