English, Department of


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


The George Eliot Review 2018 (29)


While the old 'Writers and their Work' pamphlets were very useful in their staid, often belles-lettristic, way, since the series was relaunched in 1994 under the General Editorship of Isobel Armstrong it has made its mark in a more forthright and compelling manner. These monographs are longer than their predecessors, at around 40,000 words, and while they are uniform in format, in a livery of nationalist red, white and blue, they respond distinctively to their brief: 'Drawing upon the most recent thinking in English studies, each book considers biographical material, examines modem criticism, includes a detailed bibliography, and offers a concise and original reappraisal of a writer's major work.' Some of the most notable of the new 'Writers and their Work' titles have been the first extended critical studies of contemporary authors like Angela Carter, Caryl Churchill and Ian McEwan. In this instance, the commission to address a canonical author has been met triumphantly by Josephine McDonagh.

McDonagh reads George Eliot for the 1990s, working with vigorous confidence in broad but sharply defined strokes. She knows George Eliot's writing, and the criticism (though it appears from the bibliography that her study was completed before the appearance of the two most significant books on our author since Gillian Beer's George Eliot of 1986, namely David Carroll's George Eliot and the Conflict of Interpretations, 1992, and Rosemarie Bodenheimer's The Real Life of Mary Ann Evans: George Eliot Her Letters and Fiction, 1994). It is a definite achievement to present a stimulating revisionary reading on so brief a compass, a reading that is moreover lucid and accessible to a range of readers with something to say to each of them. Its virtues are those of an essay rather than a treatise, and McDonagh puts forward an argument which should command assent as well as respect. Her discussion is suggestive rather than exhaustive, avoiding airy generalizations, engaging cogently with details of the texts.