Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 31 (2000) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
The Millennium has provided a number of reasons for celebration, but for members of the Fellowship and admirers of George Eliot generally the year 2000 will see two signal recognitions of her status. Before it is out, the Oxford Reader s Companion to George Eliot, under the general editorship of John Rignall and with contributions from informed enthusiasts and scholars all over the world, will be issued and will provide a permanent commentary on and record of her life and works. And now the Folio Society, publishers of attractive editions, generally with illustrations by gifted engravers, have issued in January, though with 1999 on each title page, a set of the fiction: the two stories, 'The Lifted Veil' and 'Brother Jacob', are omitted as well as the poetry, the essays, and Impressions of Theophrastus Such.
These omissions are hardly surprising: George Eliot savoured whole is not to everyone's taste, and indeed it requires a strong palate to enjoy the learned banquet of Romola or what F. R. Leavis would have undoubtedly felt were the indigestible Judaic gobbets of Daniel Deronda. One can't help feeling that the visual medium carries its own particular message for the printed one and that it is responsible at least in part for this publishing venture, for George Eliot has made it to the small and large screen, notably with what it are bound to be remembered as Ben Kingsley's Silas Mamer and Andrew Davies's Middlemarch. Nothing succeeds like success, and Davies switched effortlessly to Mrs. Gaskell, his Wives and Daughters being brought out by the BBC at the same time as Alan Bleasdale's Oliver Twist on ITV. Each production had fiction which emanated from the adapters rather than the adapted, but that is par for the course in the multi-game-plan of the visuals: one just hopes that the gap between the book and the screen-play is not too great for the readers who see the film first and buy the book as a result. However, that is by the way. George Eliot has received from the Folio Society the more-than cosmetic accolade of fine book production: binding, print, illustrations, all are consonant with care, aesthetic discrimination, artistic sensitivity. With scrupulous gender selectivity the Folio Society has chosen seven female editors to write introductions (by way of egalitarianism, six of the illustrators are male) and they are drawn from the academic and creative areas: one or two in truth could lay claim to be eminent in both. There is A. S. Byatt, Booker prize winner with Possession and distinguished George Eliot scholar; Gillian Beer, past Chairman of the Booker judges and also a distinguished George Eliot and nineteenth-century scholar; Jane Gardam, stimulating modem novelist whose span is from children's books to adult fiction; Penelope Fitzgerald, modem novelist and author of impressive studies of Burne-Jones and Charlotte Mew; Bel Mooney, modem novelist, journalist, television and radio interviewer, a George Eliot enthusiast; Kathryn Hughes, author of the most recent major biography of George Eliot; and Jill Paton Walsh, modem novelist whose talents embrace several genres within that category. By any standards it is an interesting and varied group, each member having to distill in brief compass some relevant biographical details of George Eliot and some critical response to the novel concerned as a means of encouraging the reader to read it.