Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 39 (2008) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
The physical format of this important overview is unattractive, the print small, with some forty-eight lines to the page giving the impression of over packing to keep the cost down. This companion to George Eliot studies - it is in fact more than a guide - has a number of blemishes. Jedrzejewski has not been well served by his editor(s): he has been allowed some loosely inappropriate phrasing on occasions, as with Mary Ann's reaction to her father's death which 'made his departure obviously painful for her in emotional terms' (9). This hardly conveys the anguished outcry or poignant self-searchings of her grief. Clichés are also present - Switzerland becomes a 'safe haven' (10) for her, while later we are variously told that 'things began to calm down on the domestic front' (23) and, after the death of John Blackwood and her continuing ill-health, she was 'clearly at a difficult point in her life' (29). The fictional Mr. Tulliver bathetically 'suffers a major health crisis and dies' (45).
There are other stylistic scars, notably the over use of 'quasi': examples include Dinah having a 'quasi-angelic spirituality' (43), The Mill on the Floss possesses 'quasi-autobiographical truth' (45) as well as having 'a quasi-allegorical feel' (47), while Romola has 'a quasi-documentary manner' (56). Daniel Deronda exhibits 'quasi-scientific detachment rather than personal intimacy' (83) and Theophrastus Such has a 'quasi-fictional framework' (90).
I note these solecisms because one feels that critical commentary on a major writer should at least accord its subject the responsibility of a commensurate style. That said, I have no doubts about the comprehensive grasp displayed by Jedrzejewski throughout this book. The biographical summary is adequate and makes important connections with the fiction. There is a telling if brief analysis of Marian Evans's Westminster Review period and its relevance to her subsequent work. There is a tacit and succinct recognition of Lewes's appeal for her, which Jedrzejewski defines as 'intellectual openness' (13), a phrase redolent of the expansion which followed upon their intimacy. The summaries of the novels are excellent, each one containing critical pointers which are not only sound but often stimulating, suggesting lines of investigation which lead to a deepening appreciation. One may disagree with some of the emphases, but they have the positive merit of deriving from a close and intelligent reading. Throughout his commentary Jedrzejewski never loses sight of George Eliot's major concerns, and he is particularly interesting on the characterization, for example, of Godfrey Cass, and 'the crucially important symbolic dimensions' (60) of Romola, while he defines, as it seems to me comprehensively, the comprehensive greatness of Middlemarch. Each section on a novel is rounded off with a selection from contemporary reviews, my only cavil here being that they all come from David Carroll's admirable Critical Heritage volume (1971) whereas some not extracted there - particularly on Daniel Deronda - are important. Jedrzejewski is himself finely definitive on the latter novel, which is 'clearly the work of an affluent metropolitan intellectual, equally at home in the country houses of the Victorian upper classes, in the bohemian circles of London, and in the fashionable resorts of Continental Europe' (80).