Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 33 (2002) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
In a letter to G. H. Lewes of October 1858 John Blackwood contrasted his own discriminating language of praise with the 'abandon of expression' indulged in by what he terms 'the large hearted school of Critics,' and of course one sees his point, as Lewes did with feeling concurrence: 'largehearted critics - an awful Race’. But I do not see how one can avoid joining the scorned 'large hearted'. I am at a loss to know how to write anything that could be called a 'review' of so fine a piece of work as this latest volume in the Clarendon Edition of the Novels of George Eliot. Part biography, part literary history, substantially a contribution to publishing history, this edition is multi-facetedly rich.
Inevitably much of the material in the introductory sections on the novel's genesis, composition and publication is familiar, but it is good to have it gathered and as well focused as it is here. By the end of the first section readers have been offered all of the evidence about the novel's growth from the soil of George Eliot's early life, but have also been reminded how fiercely she as novelist and literary theoretician resisted simple-minded identifications between real people and characters in a novel and insisted on respect for the particular manner in which truth to life is rendered as truth in art. And of course on that topic questions crowd into the mind as one reads about the last hours of the real young woman who was hanged by the neck for murdering her child and thinks about Hetty, who wasn't.
In her account of how the novel was written and the fraught period of its publication Carol Martin similarly unfolds much familiar material and all of it bears re-reading - John Blackwood calling Hetty 'the Baggage' and 'the little monkey'; Lewes and Blackwood swapping turfy idiom, 'Bedesman is in training', 'let the Bedesman show some of his paces', 'Bedesman coming in a winner at a slapping pace'; Eliot's diffidence which has to be conveyed to Blackwood through Lewes in a rather different register during the extraordinary negotiations over publication. Carol Martin handles this material with a biographer's feel for detail in the human situation and brings out well just how confident in fact George Eliot was about her powers. Diffident she might have been, but only up to a point and where her sense of artistic integrity was in question, that point was very quickly reached. On 1 November 1858 she entered in her diary: 'I am alone to-night ... I have begun Carlyle's Life of Frederick the Great, and have also been thinking much of my own life to come. This is a moment of suspense, for I am awaiting Blackwood's opinion and proposals concerning Adam Bede.' It is significant that she is on tenterhooks about the opinion of one who can call Hetty a ' little monkey', but no less significant that she is thinking about her own future while reading about Frederick the Great.