English, Department of


Date of this Version


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The George Eliot Review 39 (2008) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2019 (39)


This edition complements the two volume edition of The Complete Shorter Poetry of George Eliot, also edited by Antonie Gerard van den Broek and published by Pickering and Chatto in 2005. Like those volumes it presents an edited text and a mass of information, editorial, critical and contextual (the list of textual variants alone occupies about 120 pages). These volumes make an essential reference point for future discussion of the poem. William Baker's Preface describes its conception, progress and reception, and van den Broek's Introduction takes up in more detail the critical and conceptual contexts. There are four appendices. The first gives Eliot's notes on 'The Spanish Gypsy and Tragedy in general' (taken from Cross's biography), which include her account of the germ of the poem: looking at Titian's 'Annunciation' and seeing the Virgin as a figure 'chosen' by 'foregoing hereditary conditions' (rather than divine grace) to fulfil her role. Fedalma, the Spanish gypsy of the title, is chosen by her racial identity, acting through the agency of her father, Zarca, to lead the gypsies out of Spain to a homeland in Africa. The second appendix gives Eliot's notes on gypsies in 'A Writer's Notebook’, taken from Wiesenfarth's edition (Virginia, 1981). Van den Broek very helpfully annotates these passages, linking them to the text of the poem. Two further appendices give Eliot's notes on Spain and on the Inquisition. Both of these have recently been published elsewhere, but it is good to have all this material collected in a single volume.

One of the most interesting things about the Introduction is that it shows just how ambivalent her contemporaries were about her achievement in The Spanish Gypsy: there is almost universal agreement that her motives and aims were worthy, but much less agreement about how the work should be judged and whether it was successful. Those doubts and queries live on in recent criticism in spite of our re-conceived ideas of race and identity. A real obstacle to serious consideration of The Spanish Gypsy is the simple fact that she treated racial identity and destiny so much more intricately in Daniel Deronda, and it's difficult to read the poem without that hindsight, as two recent articles in this journal have indicated (Brenda McKay's 'Race and Myth: The Spanish Gypsy', George Eliot Review, 26, 1995, and Miyuki Amano's 'The Widening Vision and Undying Hope in The Spanish Gypsy', George Eliot Review, 36, 2005).