Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 36 (2005) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Both books under review appear in series that aim to give new currency to texts and authors by the provision of critical and cultural context. The implied audience is not simply the old 'sixth form and junior undergraduate' cohorts: there is a presumption of an informed wider readership which appreciates and in some cases requires assistance from critical commentary and scholarly apparatus. Such guidance is appropriately supplied in accordance with their respective series briefs by Gregory Maertz in his edition of Middlemarch and Tim Dolin in his study of George Eliot. Maertz makes a distinct scholarly contribution to study of George Eliot's acknowledged masterpiece, though in the nature of his editorial enterprise he does not have a lot of room for manoeuvre. Dolin, working in a more flexible but pretty stock genre, engagingly presents a fresh and independent account of George Eliot's life and work.
Oxford's Authors in Context series is uniform with the Oxford World's Classics - a notable marketing inspiration, which underwrites both the identity and authority of the studies it publishes. The authors are charged with providing 'detailed coverage of the values and debates that colour the writing of particular authors .... Set in their social, cultural, and political contexts, classic books take on new meaning for modem readers'. We've heard it all before, of course: but Tim Dolin delivers handsomely on his commission, succeeding in offering something close to 'new meaning' - certainly new understanding. He analyses the phenomenon 'George Eliot' with an acute sympathy that in its early twenty-first century way is analogous to that demonstrated by George Eliot's own authorial character. I had anticipated skimming through this book, but found myself reading with profit and at times intense pleasure. The opening analysis of Victorian textual and visual representations of George Eliot is a good example of the way Dolin approaches familiar material with a sometimes disconcerting discrimination. He is good both at exposition and analysis, reading visual texts along with printed ones with illuminating facility. Passages like that on Frith's 'The Railway Station' do important work in Dolin's argument; as does the late discussion of the ways the BBC-TV miniseries Daniel Deronda calls on images from Frith and Tissot. And reproduction of Comte's Positivist Calendar 1830-1842 in the chapter on 'Eliot and Victorian Science' tellingly shows how provocative that French philosopher appeared to certain eminent Victorians. At the risk of appearing picky, I venture to observe however that there are a couple of unfortunate captions on p. 22 - Samuel Lawrence's sketch of GE was not produced in 1957; and the dog photographed with Lewes is not the famous Pug (look at the dog's features), but rather his successor the bull terrier Ben, described by GHL in 1864 as· 'the pet and tyrant of our household’.