Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 44 (2013)
This is a welcome and wholly worthwhile extension of the author's George Eliot's English Travels: Composite Characters and Coded Communication (2005), a densely written and stimulating examination of places and people in Eliot's life which have some resonance, in varying degrees of coding, from the seemingly casual to the subtly integrated, in her published work. McCormack there defined three categories of place identification. These range from 'absolute certainties' through 'pretty good cases' to 'alluring, probable, but irretrievably speculative suppositions', categories certainly applicable to herpresent study, in which her dedication and saturation in George Eliot, the works, the life, and a wide range of biographical and critical commentary, is again evident. It is a direct invitation to see and feel places and people, decode traits, pick up on similarities, mine differences, above all, be aware. McCormack's method is one of intimate identification with the life and the writing life.
The main thrust demonstrates how Eliot's social agenda, with the Sunday salons from 1869 onwards at the Priory as the focus, feeds into her fiction - and initially her poetry - together with comparable assimilations from her travelling life in Europe with Lewes from 1854 onwards up to the fraught honeymoon with Cross in 1880. Throughout, the Haight contention that Eliot was largely reclusive, a view commonly supported, is subjected to intense scrutiny and is vigorously disputed. The Sunday gatherings, carefully assembled, would suggest that Eliot enjoyed being the centre of a salon of her own making, her essay on Madame de Sable providing precursory evidence. The importance of Lewes as initiator, manager, socializing facilitator with an eye alert as always to publishing and critical opportunities, is integral. McCormack uses his unpublished journals and diaries, supplementing them with a detailed attention to known biographical sources which she carefully sifts for reliability or bias.