Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 33 (2002) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
[I wish to express my gratitude to Professor Michael Slater for his invaluable comments on a draft of this paper, a version of which was presented at the George Eliot: Life and Letters conference held at the Institute of English Studies, University of London, in January this year.)
In Gore Vidal's Two Sisters: A Menwir in the Form of a Novel, the obnoxious Hiram Backhouse boasts to his unreceptive peers of the admiration that his PhD thesis - How The Spaniel Figures in the Novels of George Eliot - had attracted. It was he, he claims, 'who made the discovery that in each book'
not only is there a spaniel but the angel dog - they are all glorified such was her vision - invariably turns the plot at a crucial moment, as in Silas Mamer when the dog is not petted by the young squire at the start of the novel, demonstrating to both dog and us that the young man's nature is unloving. In Felix Halt the Radical, however, it is a different story ... oh, dear, I'm boring you, I can tell. You don't like dogs, do you? or literature. I should've known ... '
Unsurprisingly, Hiram is thrown bodily out of the room. Despite his charmlessness, however, he does have something of a case: dogs - though by no means all of them spaniels - had notable roles in the life George Eliot shared with George Henry Lewes, and figure correspondingly in the writings of both authors.
Dogs also feature prominently in the lives and writings of many other Victorians with whom the Leweses were socially or culturally connected. Included among the latter is the Edinburgh physician and essayist, Dr John Brown (1810-82). Brown was the author of the immensely popular story, 'Rab and his Friends', which Lewes summarized as 'a charming bit of sympathetic painting, the hero of which is an old mastiff, and the heroine an old Scotch woman with a cancer'.' He was also one of the seven persons George Eliot stipulated should receive presentation copies of her first novel, Adam Bede (I 859), listing him with Jane Carlyle, Dickens, J. A. Froude, Charles Kingsley, Richard Owen, and Thackeray. As George Eliot asked her publisher, John Blackwood, to tell Brown, she had wanted to read the physician's story 'at full length' after seeing an account of it in a newspaper, and had thought that 'the writer of "Rab" would perhaps like "Adam Bede'" (Letters, Ill, 13). It happened that the '[f)first agreeable token" that her novel was going to make 'just the impression Blackwood had anticipated" came in the form of the packet from Brown that contained an inscribed copy of his own story. Opening the packet gave her 'peculiar pleasure’, she told Blackwood (in the knowledge that he would tell Brown).