English, Department of



Brenda McKay

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 26 (1995) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (26)


Although it cannot be claimed that George Eliot's poetry ranks with her prose fiction, it is nevertheless unjustifiably marginalized in discussion of her work. Among the more distinguished pieces - which include the important blank-verse drama 'Armgart' - is George Eliot's longest excursus into poetry, The Spanish Gypsy. Set in Spain, this drama is the spiritual background of themes later developed in Daniel Deronda, on the nature of racial inter-relationships. In Romola too, Eliot had shown an interest in exploring a culture different from that of England, but also sharing many points of resemblance with that country. The medium of poetry in The Spanish Gypsy, however, enabled her to develop as well her growing interest in symbolism, in a compression of meaning, as her conception of realism changed. She became more interested in the organic form of a work of art, as opposed to her earlier emphasis on the necessity of a 'realistic' mirror of the external world. Writing in verse enabled her to use a more heroic treatment than usual, and to create correspondingly more heroic protagonists.

The Spanish Gypsy has a vast intellectual range, showing amongst other things an impressive ability to employ image clusters like those on the nature of myth. Her condensation of image and extended narrative form are two competing dynamics in the work. Some passages are remarkable, such as the rhetorical vigour which characterizes the opening pages that describe the whirl and clash of different cultures. The poem is rarely read and discussed, yet it is the starting point of her profound thoughts about race, that helps us understand her aims in what is arguably her greatest work, Daniel Deronda.

In The Spanish Gypsy, George Eliot is investigating the different mythological traditions of man, particularly Classical traditions of the West and the Judaism of the Near East. She seeks to create a dynamic, spiritual but secular, intellectual relationship between different races as she deplores the fate of persecuted races like the Jews and Gypsies in relation to imperial powers like late Medieval Spain. The catalyst for the dawning of the Renaissance