English, Department of

 

Authors

David McIntosh

Date of this Version

2002

Document Type

Article

Citation

The George Eliot Review 33 (2002) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/

Comments

The George Eliot Review 2019 (33)

Abstract

In his biography of Thomas Hardy, Michael Millgate makes the following assertion:

The irritating association of Hardy's work with George Eliot's was kept alive in the summer of 1876 by the appearance of Daniel Deronda and the comment in the Westminster Review that it was fortunate that The Hand of Ethelberta had been published first, 'or else ill-natured critics would have declared that his principal character was only a copy'. To such a criticism, had it in fact been made, Hardy might justifiably have pointed out that George Eliot had, in that same novel, borrowed from Far From the Madding Crowd the designation 'Wessex' for certain south-western portions of contemporary England. He could also have cited, in support of his own prior claim to that regional concept, the remarkable article entitled 'The Wessex Labourer' which appeared in the 15 July 1876 number of The Examiner. '

Leaving aside the implausibility of George Eliot borrowing any ideas from Hardy, bearing in mind her dismissive attitude to novels published at that time (in August 1874 she mentions looking at three or four contemporary novels to see what the world was reading and finding the effect 'paralysing"), Michael Millgate seems to base his assertion on the simple fact that Far From the Madding Crowd was written in 1874 while Daniel Deronda was not published in book form, as he correctly states, until the summer of 1876 (although serial publication had begun in February of that year). However, this considerably oversimplifies the situation. Hardy did indeed use the term 'Wessex' to designate a region of South West England in Far From the Madding Crowd, but only once, near the end of the novel in the first sentence of chapter 50 (, Greenhill was the Nijni Novgorod of South Wessex'). It seems likely then that the idea of using 'Wessex' to describe a part of the country came to him while he was actually writing the concluding chapters of Far From the Madding Crowd in the summer of 1874.

Conversely, George Eliot used the term 'Wessex' seven times in the first nine chapters of Daniel Deronda (the first two of which deal with events in Germany), using it with increasing frequency, culminating in its use three times in chapter 9. At this point George Eliot decided to cease using the term. It is my belief that at this point George Eliot discovered that Hardy had used the term in Far From the Madding Crowd and, not wanting to be seen to have borrowed the idea, abandoned it.

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