Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 28 (1997) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
George Eliot and Europe arrives at a timely moment, when the nature of the relationship between Britain and the Continent is at best ambiguous, and when the parameters of 'Europe' are anxiously contested. In some ways, things have not altered much since the middle and late nineteenth century: nationalism, immigration, militancy, cultural isolationism - all of these were as important to nineteenth-century ways of thinking as they are today. This collection of essays, based on a conference and part of a series which seeks to understand Europe in relation to the rest of the world, insists that in order to understand George Elliot’s work fully, we must consider the range of ways in which she engaged with Europe culturally.
As Margaret Harris discusses in the opening essay, George Eliot was a great traveller and part of Harris's project in examining the journals is 'to demonstrate her engagement with discourses of travel' (2). Harris suggests that 'Recollections of Italy. 1860' is in part influenced by Goethe's Italian Journey and that Eliot's essay is really patterned on the Romantic Grand Tour. Furthermore, in the Italian journal we see how a re-interpretation of the past - 'there is a consciousness in the journal of history being constantly re-made' (15) - marks a primary theme in her fiction from Romola onwards.
Implicit in Harris's essay is the notion that in visiting Europe, Eliot converted her impressions into her fiction, an idea which pervades a number of essays in the volume which consider Eliot's extraordinary capacity for (in Hans Ulrich Seeber's words) 'cultural synthesis'. Seeber reads Middlemarch as a European novel partly because of the way Eliot insists on collective rather than single, personal identities in the novel. Dorothea, Lydgate and Ladislaw all have Anglo-European identities in one way or another, and it is this cultural hybridity which Seeber suggests is at the heart of Eliot's cultural synthesis. While Middlemarch may be a study of provincial life, it also transcends national boundaries, blends European voices (especially in the untranslated chapter epigraphs) with English, and so resists any notion of singular or pure identity. According to Seeber, Middlemarch is a polyglot novel which assumes a polyglot reader...