English, Department of


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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)


In their very different ways these two studies contribute significantly to our understanding of George Eliot's place in the wider context of European literary culture. Diederik van Werven examines the nineteenth-century reception of her novels in the Netherlands, thus filling in what is, for most of the English-speaking world, a blank space in the map of her contemporary reputation; while Deborah Guth reads her work through the lens provided by the well-known but relatively neglected Schiller, who was the fust German writer to arouse her enthusiasm, but who was later supplanted, both in her own life and in subsequent critical commentary, by his contemporary Goethe.

Van Werven's survey of Dutch reviews makes clear George Eliot's popularity in the Netherlands during her lifetime, with Adam Bede, the original Dutch translation of which went through ten editions, proving her most successful work. The reasons for her popularity seem to lie in the way that the ethical concerns of her fiction were particularly congenial to the Dutch Protestant sensibility; and many of those who wrote about her were indeed, as van Werven points out, Protestant ministers of the church. The three figures that are his principal focus, Allard Pierson, lohannes van Vloten, and Conrad Busken Huet, also shared a common intellectual heritage with the novelist, and two of them left the church in the 1860s for reasons that were similar to hers twenty years earlier. Van Werven briefly traces the intellectual development of these three men, summarizes what they wrote about George Eliot, and discusses the importance to them of the thinkers that they had read and she had translated: Strauss, Feuerbach, Spinoza, and Vinet. George Eliot is not always kept in the foreground in all this, and some of the connections that are made between the reviewers and the reviewed seem a little strained. For instance, Van Vloten's interest in Spinoza is not shown to inform his own reading of Felix Holt, but is used, rather, as a cue for van Werven's view that Esther 's development can be understood as an advance through Spinoza's different kinds of knowledge as set out in the Ethics; and the chapter concludes with the disarming question of whether van Vloten himself ever made the connection between Spinoza and George Eliot.