English, Department of


Date of this Version


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


The George Eliot Review 2019 (34)


The recent appearance of a Dutch translation of Middlemarch, in a prestigious series of classics by a leading publishing house, may well be considered as constituting 'cultural justice', and it is justice long overdue. Ever since the mid-nineteenth century, there has been a flourishing market for English literature in the Netherlands, in the original as well as in translation. Of recent years, publishing practice has been carefully to coordinate publication of translations with that of English editions, for once an English novel is available, there is hardly a market for translations. That makes it even more remarkable that there is now a modern Dutch version of this great classic, and it comes in a box with a gold-coloured dust jacket.

All of George Eliot's novels were translated into Dutch, but have been long out of print. An erudite circle of writers and thinkers in the nineteenth century underscored her popularity in the Netherlands with translations and criticism. The 1860 translation of Adam Bede, for instance, went through ten editions and four publishers well into the 1920s. The later novels, certainly the translations, never achieved this kind of popularity. One reason may be that, after 1880, Adam Bede was mostly read as a moralist novel in the evangelical vein, a fixture on Protestant school reading lists. The novelist's sceptical outlook, somewhat disguised by her extensive ironies and wide-ranging allusions may well have been lost on readers unfamiliar with the finer niceties of English. The twentieth century only yielded two translations of The Mill on the Floss, one in the fifties and one in 1981, both marketed as nineteenth-century classics. It should perhaps be pointed out that nineteenth-century Dutch is something of a challenge to the modern reader.

The present edition, then, stands as a landmark in world literature, made accessible to a wider Dutch readership. As a prominent Dutch critic in a major newspaper has it, 'The novel may be regarded as the Reform Bill of literature. The 1832 Bill gave voice to the liberal bourgeoisie.' I This critic extensively introduces the reader to George Eliot and offers a masterfully succinct analysis of the novel as teaching by example: a small, mediocre provincial town stands for the world at large. He praises the probing style that lends weight to every sentence, making progress through the novel slow but rewarding. Translation of such a novel is an exceptional achievement.