English, Department of


Date of this Version


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The George Eliot Review 37 (2006) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2019 (37)


This is the first fully edited and annotated edition of George Eliot's poems to appear in print. 'Shorter' means all the poems except The Spanish Gypsy, which is to appear in a companion volume by the same editors in 2008. Whatever arguments there may be about the 'continuing revaluation of George Eliot's oeuvre' in William Baker's phrase, readers need precise evidence about their genesis, publication and textual revisions and (in some cases) meanings, and Antonie van den Broek's edition provides a wealth of such information. It includes 'all variants in MSS and printed versions'; 'original spelling and punctuation have been retained, even where non-standard' except in a very few cases where there might be confusion (I, lvii). Each poem has a bibliographical and biographical head-note; and 'editorial [i.e. explanatory] notes' and textual variants are collected at the end of each volume. The head-notes are excellent: informative but concise. Where doubt exists, about the date of composition, for example, van den Broek gives a detailed and fully referenced account of the evidence. Similarly, with source material, discussion of which is often based on Eliot's notebooks and again takes into account recent scholarship. The edition also includes six appendices, most of them useful: the epigraphs to Felix Halt, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda; Fragments from the Yale Poetry Notebook; the two essays on verse (,Notes on form in art' and 'Versification'), plus 'leaves from a notebook'; facsimile title-pages; sample pages from the Jubal MS in the BL; contemporary reviews (from The Living Age, Westminster Review, North American Review, and Rose Elizabeth Cleveland's 'George Eliot's Poetry' (1885), a strident attack by an American, in a volume dedicated 'To my Countrywomen' : 'I cannot allow her verse to be poetry. She is the raconteur, not the vates; the scientist, not the seer.')

So this is a very different kind of edition from Lucien Jenkins's Collected Poems (London: Skoob, 1989) which reprints the poems from the Cabinet edition of the Works (1878-85), supplemented by poems from the letters and notebooks in the Beinecke library, but with no annotation or textual variants. Scholarship comes at a price, however, as often with Pickering: these volumes plus The Spanish Gypsy will cost £260 or $440, and are evidently aimed at the library market. Whether, sitting on library shelves, they will effectively counter the 'neglect' of Eliot's poetry that Baker writes about in his Preface, remains to be seen, but at all events this is an indispensable edition for the scholar and serious reader.