English, Department of



Beryle Gray

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 29 (1998) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (29)


On 2 November 1866, George Eliot wrote to John Blackwood approving of his proposal to publish an illustrated edition of her books. The project, she saw, was

a wise one, as likely to assist in [the books'] circulation. In the abstract I object to illustrated literature, but abstract theories of publishing can no more be carried out than abstract theories of politics.'

B1ackwood's idea developed into a plan 'to try the cheap illustrated edition of your Novels in six penny numbers of which Adam, The Mill, Scenes, Silas, and Felix would make 30, ultimately to form four volumes selling at 3/6 each '.'

In fact ultimately forming five volumes, the thirty sixpenny numbers were duly published, and were issued in green paper wrappers between 1867 and 1869. Bearing the general title THE NOVELS & TALES OF GEORGE ELIOT, the jauntily ornamental wrapper design is by the innovative John Leighton (1822-1912), a proficient artist and book cover designer who in 1869 was to become the founder-proprietor of the Graphic. His name is centred in the bottom of the decorative border. Also set within the border is the inscription 'ILLUSTRATIONS [that is, engravings] BY J. D. COOPER'. In each curved corner of the defined space is a roundel representing in turn (clockwise from top left) a carpenter's bench with tools; a mill wheel; a grave-yard displaying MiIly Barton's headstone; and a loom: the designs for these were used for the gilt roundels or medallions on the front of the four relevant bound volumes. The title of the individual work is set almost centrally within its own rectangular frame, which is 'hung' by a tasselled cord. J

Adarn Bede (numbers 1-7) was the first work in the series to be produced. The six full-page plates (engraved, as the wrapper indicates, by Cooper) were designed by William Small (1843- 1929). As Blackwood clearly anticipated ('Some of the illustrations will, I doubt not, give you "a turn"'4), George Eliot could dredge up no enthusiasm for them, despite the pains taken by the engraver. She found them at best 'endurable to a mind well accustomed to resignation', while the 'unctuousness' of the depiction of Adam making love to Dinah enraged her to the extent of declaring that she 'would gladly pay something to get rid of it". Small was not used for the remaining numbers.