Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 45 (2014)
When eighteen-year-old sumameless Eppie stands by Silas Mamer and against Godfrey Cass she joins a line of subversive children in Victorian fiction. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre speaks out against her aunt; Dickens's Oliver Twist asks for more gruel; his Paul Dombey asks the capitalist father, 'What is money after all?' One child rebels against adult power; one against institutional power; one against the cash nexus. The children are all economic dependants but there is no emphasis on class. Oliver behaves like a little gentleman; Paul is a little gentleman; Jane tells Brocklehurst she would not like to be poor, and goes to a charitable school for children of gentlefolk. Eppie's father is gentry, her mother a barmaid, but she is the only one of these four rebels who is working-class by upbringing, who chooses the working class, and who rejects the upper class. She is not a child but older than the others, though young enough to share their articulate innocence which makes them metonymic and larger than life.
Q. D. Leavis's insistence on the novel's Radicalism has been sidelined: David Carroll in his Penguin English Classics edition (1996), includes her Introduction1 to the Penguin of 1967 in his selected booklist but doesn't say it is reprinted as an appendix in his own edition; Terence Cave in his Worlds Classics edition (1996) mentions her choice of text but not her criticism; Ruth Livesey in her essay 'Class' for George Eliot in Context 2 asserts that Eppie's preference of Silas is based not on class but on personal relationship and continuity, dismissing Leavis as one of the 'earlier critics' who saw the rejection as political, but naming her in an endnote as the only example. Leavis said 'Nancy presses Godfrey's rights on Eppie, who answers the spirit of the insult with a passionate affirmation of class solidarity as well as of loyalty to the only father she has ever known'(Carroll, p. 230): I want to recall and extend that judgement.