Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 17 (1986)
Putting up a statue has been, for some two or three thousand years, a favourite way of keeping alive the memory of a person worthy to be remembered. Whatever the reason, it must be the case that only the most exceptional talents are now memorialised in this way. It must, I think, be particularly exceptional for the subject of a statue to be female; I mean, of course, a statue as a memorial - in terms of pure art statuary must almost invariably be female. Leaving aside Greek goddesses, Queen Victoria and, looking a little to the south, Lady Godiva, the class of female memorial statuary must be a small one. The class of literary female statuary must be infinitesimal.
Why then should George Eliot be singled out for this remarkable distinction? How has this prophet acquired such honour in her own country? The answer is easy to discover. Nowadays books can be sold with the groceries - best sellers are marketed for instant entertainment on the shallowest level. But there are books and books. "A good book" said Milton, "Is the precious life blood of a master spirit Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of Iife in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are." George Eliot's 'progeny' have achieved the immortality which springs from that 'potency of life'. Middlemarch, without doubt the peak of her creation,- has been considered to be one of the greatest novels in the English language. "One of the few English novels written for grown-up people", said Virginia Woolf.