Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 20 (1989)
"It is a curious fact that when a writer has attained to a certain eminence, we English cease to bother ourselves about him. There he is, recognised, accepted, labelled." I recalled these words, from the conversation of Katherine Mansfield in 1920, and recorded in her journal, when I opened the World's Classics paperback edition of Middlemarch edited by David Carron, Professor of English literature at the University of Lancaster. Katherine Mansfield's opinion may have been well-grounded in 1920, but it would certainly not be valid today, especially in relation to George Eliot and her work. A glance at the Select Bibliography shows that in recent years many people have 'bothered' themselves about her. It will be seen that a significant number of them are American, but some are English.
With regard to Middlemarch, David Carron points out that it is seen as "the archetypal Victorian novel", and it is much studied and written about His own excellent introduction to this edition amounts to a comprehensive, yet succinct, critical study. He begins by quoting the tribute of the historian Lord Acton, who wrote: 'No writer ever lived who had anything like her power of manifold, but disinterested and impartially observant sympathy.' Added to this, after showing her readers the world through the eyes of her characters, she was able to step back, become the narrator, and expose their souls to scientific and independent scrutiny.
Throughout her writing career, George Eliot was intent on showing the reality of human nature, not 'vague forms', thus heightening the awareness and understanding of her Victorian readers as she does ours today. David Carron emphasises that the central question asked in the novels is: 'how do people make sense of the world?' Middlemarch is particularly concerned with the relationship between the individual and society, the broad medium in which people live is essential to their development. George Eliot's view is complex; subtle changes in society react on individuals, so that changes in each are seen to be interdependent, and society and culture grow and develop from within.