English, Department of



Margaret Harris

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 45 (2014)


Published by The George Eliot Review Online https://GeorgeEliotReview.org


This collection offers a wide range of individual and rigorous criticism, with essays by the most informed specialists: amongst others, Margaret Harris on 'Biographies’, John Rignall on 'Landscape' and 'Metropolitanism’, Melissa Raines on 'Language', Leonee Ormond on 'The Visual Arts', Ruth Livesey on 'Class' and 'Transport', Joanne Shattock on 'Editions ' and 'Publishing and Publishers’, Richard Menke on 'Industry and technology'. Texts in context include journalism as well as fiction and poetry.

I have a few reservations. Most of the essays are remarkably condensed but one or two have more breadth than depth. In 'Travel and Tourism' Judith 10hnston touches on many aspects of the novelist's travels but omits some complex connections, like those between Marian Evans's life in Geneva and 'The Lifted Veil'. Nancy Henry writing on 'Genre' says flatly that 'Brother Jacob' is 'underappreciated', but this is George Eliot's one short story and we want the genre-critic's reasons. She makes the interesting suggestion that writing poetry may have enhanced the prose in Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, again without explanation. Joanne Wilkes's enlightening 'Historiography' leaves out George Eliot's psychologizing of the historical consciousness, for instance in Dorothea and Daniel, characters more alert to their place in history than anyone in the more extrovert historical narratives of, Scott and Thackeray, who wrote from, and about, an awareness of history, but did not interiorize it.

Judith Flanders is good on anachronistic objects in Mr. Irwine's study but I can't agree that interiors in Adam Bede are done 'with impressionistic lightness’. George Eliot's scenery and props are adapted to dramatis personae, sometimes accumulated piecemeal as scene requires, so Mrs. Poyser's dairy is presented in ironic free indirect style from Arthur Donnithorne's viewpoint, and indeed described in an impressionistic blur, as in 'such soft colouring of red earthenware and creamy surfaces, brown wood and polished tin', which contrasts with the sharp-focused image of Hetty ' standing on little pattens and rounding her dimpled arm to lift a pound of butter out of the scale' . Most interiors are solidly specified: the 'roomy workshop' at the start, with carpenters ' tools and Seth's door without panels; the Poysers' kitchen with deal and oak tables for family and servants,' oak clock, a large rushbottomed chair, a three-cornered chair, and a rocking-chair, great round pewter dishes lit by the sun, brass candlesticks, two broken jugs, shining checked linen cloth, slices of stuffed chine, veal, fresh lettuce, cold potatoes and cold broad beans; Thias Bede's death-chamber, with a newly mended tear in the checkered bed-curtain and a white sheet over the small window. Flanders observes the emphasis on cleanliness, but there is much more.