English, Department of



K.K. Collins

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 38 (2007) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2019 (38)


This is a detailed examination of the various religious-based obituaries which followed George Eliot's death in December 1880. It exposes misinformation, largely biographical, examines bias, confusion, open and concealed concerns, direct, responsible and weighted theological arguments, dubious and inconclusive conclusions, the forms and themes of the debate about the beliefs of a major writer. Collins's dissertation-like topic is informed with foreground and background research: his footnotes read as tellingly as his text and provide wide-ranging and perceptive quotation.

He considers the idea, derived from Richard Simpson, that the appearance of George Eliot's name on the title-pages of Scenes of Clerical Life and Adam Bede 'was a ploy to dissociate these books from Marian Evans, the known and named translator, respectively, of The Life of Jesus and The Essence of Christianity' (2). We might weigh the use of the word 'ploy', though the stronger 'subterfuge' would call in question the morality of the Leweses almost before her secular sanctification had begun. I use that phrase deliberately, because much of the obituary debate is concerned to establish that George Eliot 'seems to be a Christian without Christianity' (6) as the Baptist Magazine put it. George Eliot's own writings had- at this stage - to fill the biographical gaps, what Collins calls the missing 'cultural scuttlebutt that stood for a living, developing, particular history' (8) for the responsible obituarists, while those less responsible conveniently manufactured 'facts'. These range from Herbert Spencer being her tutor to the reiterated story that the Imitation of Christ was her last-gasp reclamatory reading. Collins points out that 'everyday reality has to come from her characters - particularly from their purported "originals"' (16).

These are 'ploys' pleading for substance. A Roman Catholic emphasis is that she is almost one of them (without belief in the supernatural), a Jewish that she is a prophet who accords them their foremost place in religious history. Sadler's funeral sermon included the rubric that she was not an enemy to the church, while the Standard emphasized her 'tender regard' for it (35). One writer presents her, according to Collins, 'as an unconscious double agent- God's global enemy (but by association only), turned God's instrument of salvation' (36).