Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 20 (1989)
Brother Jacob, like The Lifted Veil, has always been in the shadow of George Eliot's longer and better known fiction, but Beryl Gray's afterword in this Virago edition brings it into the light. She offers interesting suggestions why the story was written after The Mill on the Floss and before Silas Marner, showing that the rhythms of George Eliot's creative life are revealing.
Our attention is drawn to those critics who have spoken disparagingly of the story, 'rather cheerless and austere' (U.C. Knoepflmacher), 'cynical and coldly sarcastic' (G. S. Haight) and 'that tedious tale' (W. J. Harvey). Those of us who read it and enjoyed it must agree with Dr. Gray that it deserves better treatment than the twentieth century has so far accorded it. And those who have much enjoyed Gabriel Woolf's reading of that part of the story which he entitles 'The Corruption of the Grimworth Matrons', either at a recital or on the Fellowship's own 60-minute cassette, may wonder why these and other critics have found so little to appreciate in a story which George Eliot cared about and wanted to be published, even though she described it herself as 'a trifle'. Though her characters may be unpleasant, they are written about exuberantly and, as Dr. Gray reminds us, the story is skillfully organised.