Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 23 (1992)
I read Middlemarch for the first time in the Everyman's Library edition of 1930, a trim book in two volumes with a note by Leslie Stephen by way of Introduction. The note was taken from the Essay on George Eliot in Hours in a Library, and is less than helpful to the reader. Stephen notices the high moral ideal George Eliot sets before us, but laments the absence of charm, or magic, which he found in her earlier works.
The new Middlemarch from Everyman's Library is an elegant book in one volume, convenient in size and moderately priced. There are no notes on the text, but there is a Select Biography and a useful Chronology. The Introduction is by E. S. Shaffer, Reader in English and Comparative Literature in the School of Modem Languages, University of East Anglia.
The new Introduction differs widely from that of Leslie Stephen, reflecting the changes in George Eliot criticism since Stephen' s day. Dr. Shaffer sets the tone in her opening paragraph, where she places George Eliot with the best nineteenth-century European writers of both sexes. There is no seeking after charm or magic; the study of provincial life, in fiction, was a serious and grand theme which spread across Europe in George Eliot's lifetime. Comparisons are made with Balzac's Human Comedy where the melodrama is more marked, and set against a background of extreme social unrest which did not accompany the political changes in England, except in outbursts here and there.