Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 39 (2008) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Felix Holt, with its large cast of characters, and above all with its notoriously complicated legal plot, presents a real challenge when adapting and reducing it for a three hour, serialized radio dramatization. Michael Eaton is to be congratulated on neatly simplifying the plot, by omitting Thomas Trounsem's sale of his rights to Durfey and the exchange of names between Bycliffe and Scaddon. Admittedly this left a few loose ends, and listeners might have been puzzled by the name Scaddon, mentioned without explanation, but on the whole the necessary simplification was skillfully done and the main plot threads made clear.
Inevitably the slow character and plot development characteristic of George Eliot have to be sacrificed. Such subtleties as the gradual development of Harold's character from assertive bullying to growing human sympathy through his love for Esther, ending in the total collapse of his confidence when he discovers who he is, had to be sacrificed entirely. Listeners familiar with the book will miss this subtlety, but the adaptor makes some decisions that are helpful in guiding first-timers, and/or in making contrasts sharp. An example of this is the wish expressed (in Part 2 of the radio version) to Mrs. Transome by Jermyn (Jack Shepherd) that Harold Transome would 'find a place for me in his heart'. This is emotionally more direct, and cruder, than Jermyn's portrayal in the novel, cautious and slippery, but it is helpful in suggesting the past liaison of Jermyn and Mrs. Transome. Another example concerns the personalities of Esther (played by Hayley Atwell) and Felix (Elliot Cowan). In the novel, at their first meeting, Felix finds Esther's Byron, and vehemently expresses his disapproval. The radio dramatization adds a later exchange in which Esther's answer to Felix's question as to what she's reading is: 'Rousseau's Confessions - did you think it would be Pilgrim S Progress?' It may seem unlikely that a Minister's daughter would be reading Rousseau's Confessions in the 1830s, particularly a girl portrayed (until later in the book) as rather frivolous, but it expands on the contrast between the two, and is perhaps prepared for by the fact that we are told, only in the radio dramatization, that Esther (whose mother was French and who teaches French), has recently returned from Paris.