Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 33 (2002) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Dictionary definitions of ‘companion’ stress notions of fellowship and support as in ‘one who associates with or accompanies another’. The question prompted by the use of ‘companion’ in a book title is, for whom is company being provided? I take it that the proliferating series of critical support texts of which the Cambridge Companions are in general fine examples are unabashedly aimed at an undergraduate market, while maintaining significant concern for an academic readership and some for an informed or persistent general readership. It must be admitted that George Eliot is not popular in the way that Dickens and the Brontes are (thanks in part to various kinds of dramatic adaptation), and that her readership must largely be from the academy. Indeed, the import of criticism in the last decade or so has been to take her work even more firmly in the highbrow direction because of increased recognition of the extent and application of her erudition. So to encounter the peroration of George Levine’ introduction is to be given pause: ‘The object of this volume is to help lift George Eliot from the frozen condition of literary monument, to make the resistant richness of her art more clearly visible, and to make her superb intelligence and imagination more advisable to readers who have begun to recognize the power and originality of her art.’ (19)
Levine has been an influential figure in George Eliot studies for decades, and has assembled a team predominantly North American (ten out of twelve, counting Kate Flint who was probably still at Oxford when she wrote her excellent piece on ‘George Eliot and gender’ on the western side of the Atlantic); two to one female to male; and nicely balanced among early career, established and veteran scholars, not all of whom are known principally for their George work. The essays collectively develop a comprehensive, and contemporary account of George Eliot work. The essays collectively develop a comprehensive, and contemporary account of George Eliot’s achievements, so that by the time I’d worked my way through to the final essay, I was ready to acknowledge that the editor had made good his boast even though I can’t accept that George Eliot is as badly in need of thawing out as Levine implies.