English, Department of


Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 34 (2003) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2019 (34)


Delia da Sousa Correa takes as starting point 'the yearning for spiritual expansion and sympathetic experience' so evident in George Eliot; and music, an 'undersong' to the desires of transcendence and affinity, is the prime concern in da Sousa Correa's exploration of its transformations in Eliot's fiction. To do this, da Sousa Correa explores a range of intellectual and cultural contexts for Eliot's work, though not all those her title's inclusive 'Victorian culture' might suggest. Da Sousa Correa acknowledges Beryl Gray's George Eliot and Music (1989) and rightly claims her approach differs fundamentally, the two studies being complementary. Da Sousa Correa offers two chapters on cultural issues (music in evolutionary writings; debates about women and music) and chapters on The Mill on the Floss and Daniel Deronda (this last an outstanding piece).

The first chapter explores music in the evolutionary theories of Herbert Spencer and Darwin, Spencer seeing it as a progressive development of the vocal expression of emotions, while Darwin identified it as the vestigial remains of pre-human courtship. The second turns to music practice in society and more specifically amongst women. Here a range of advice literature is drawn upon, with its attitudes to women's performance of music and the possibilities (or rather, the impossibilities) of women being professional musicians. The survey concentrates on Mrs. Ellis, Mrs. Bakewell, and the British Mothers Magazine. Da Sousa Correa properly gives us what they say, but might have been more critical on the severely limited musical horizons exemplified by Mrs. Ellis, who imagines the daughter playing some 'old ditty which her father loves ... until tears are glistening in his eyes', while her 'fire-side music ... haunts the memory' of her prodigal brother (quoted p. 71). The effect of such advice literature needs careful scrutiny: despite the evidence of sales, who actually paid much attention to Mrs. Ellis? Whole areas of the professional musical world that intertwine with George Eliot's experience and knowledge might here also have been explored. For example, which English women were instrumental or vocal soloists in concerts or theatres? which English women appeared in operas? how was the female chorus recruited and maintained for the Italian Opera at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket?