English, Department of



P.E. Easterling

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 25 (1994)


Published by The George Eliot Review Online https://GeorgeEliotReview.org


A quotation from Romola in S. H. Butcher's essay on Sophoc1es (1891) first led me to George Eliot as a reader of Greek tragedy:

Our deeds are like children that are born to us; they live and act apart from our will: nay, children may be strangled, but deeds never; they have an indestructible life both in and out of our consciousness. (Ch. 16)

The intensity of the language used here matches that of the Aeschylean contexts that must have been Eliot's ultimate model;2 it implies a close imaginative contact which can perhaps help to enrich our own reading of the plays. And it finds many echoes in the whole range of the novels: even the much less allusive and less self-consciously learned Silas Mamer contains a striking passage which also meditates on the theme of action and responsibility and similarly seems to draw some of its power from Aeschylus. This occurs in the account of Godfrey Cass' s past:

A movement of compunction, helped by those small indefinable influences which every personal relation exerts on a pliant nature, had urged him into a secret marriage, which was a blight on his life. It was an ugly story of low passion, delusion, and waking from delusion, which needs not to be dragged from the privacy of Godfrey's bitter memory. He had long known that the delusion was partly due to a trap laid for him by Dunstan, who saw in his brother's degrading marriage the means of gratifying at once his jealous hate and his cupidity. And if Godfrey could have felt himself simply a victim, the iron bit that destiny had put into his mouth would have chafed him less intolerably .... But he had something else [i.e., as well as Dunstan's cunning] to curse--his own vicious folly, which now seemed as mad and unaccountable to him as almost all our follies and vices do when their promptings have long passed away. (Ch. 3)