Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 34 (2003) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
George Eliot's novels have never been received in France with great enthusiasm. Translatiom have been relatively sparse, and it is still difficult to find more than one or two titles in Paris. even in the best academic bookshops, whereas Jane Austen's novels are widely read. Only a detailed reception history could reveal the reasons for this response, although it no doubt has something to do with the high Victorian tone and sentiments of George Eliot's writing, which would have fallen on deaf ears in late nineteenth-century France and a fortiori in the successive phases of twentieth-century modernism. The renewed interest brought about first by Leavis and later by feminist critics have had no equivalent in France, where feminism has in the main been more theoretically oriented and where the doxa of the 'death of the (realist) novel' has remained persistent.
However, The Mill on the Floss (together with Si/as Mamer) has been something of an exception, perhaps because of its sophisticated probing of the themes of childhood and memory, which drew applause from Proust; the blurb calls it '[le] roman le plus connu de George Eliot.' It appears regularly on the syllabus of higher education examinations in France, and this collection of fourteen essays appears to be designed primarily for French students of English literature. Six (plus the Introduction) are in English, the remainder in French; the authors include some very well-known George Eliot specialists (Beryl Gray, Barbara Hardy, John Rignall), two senior French anglicistes (Fran~oise Dupeyron-Lafay, Annie Escuret), and a number of younger colleagues, most of them in the postdoctoral phase of their careers.
The essays are loosely grouped under the headings 'Entre nature et culture', 'Temps et tragedie', 'Du visuel au visionnaire: images et imagination', 'Realisme, verite, interpretation', and 'Epistemologies'. However, there are many themes which cut across the sectional divisions: images of the natural world, the question of metaphor itself, the relation of language to truth, gender issues and the position of the woman writer, the scientific (especially pre-Darwinian) frame of reference, the tragic trajectory of the novel, and of course the vexed question of its final episode. These overlaps helpfully allow the reader to compare different interpretations of particular passages and sometimes conflicting perspectives on key critical problems. The volume would have gained considerably in coherence and focus, however, if the authors had been encouraged to exchange drafts and insert some mutual cross-references. As it is, there is at times a disconcerting sense of dija vu when, for example, the putative mole on the waggoner's face or Mr. Stelling's educational principles reappear for the third or fourth time. The brief bibliographies supplied by each author could also have been usefully supplemented by the addition of a more comprehensive and balanced bibliography at the end of the volume.