Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 45 (2014)
This extremely interesting and well organized collection of 11 original essays and an 'Afterword' is not greatly concerned with George Eliot, although it would seem every major Victorian concern somehow ends by involving her. As a study that aims at what its title indicates, it includes George Eliot and G. H. Lewes as direct subjects, hut only in one essay, Angelique Richardson's 'George Eliot, G. H. Lewes, and Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and Morals'. Although, she concedes, both 'maintained human distinction in their writing' (p. 137), George Eliot felt and expressed through anthropomorphism, a real kinship with animals. With Lewes (whose final volume of Problems of Life and Mind she completed), she saw - and dramatized through her emphasis on the unconscious - the physical basis of emotions. Middlemarch, we know, completed publication in the same year as Darwin's Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872, but George Eliot's concern with manifestations of feeling through the physical was clear from the start of her career in her developing, changing relations to physiognomy and then phrenology. The concern is evident in her correspondence also and the treatment of animals in the early novels, where she is very much aware of a physiology of emotions, and - as she would be throughout her works - almost obsessed with the possibilities of sympathy.
Nevertheless, the true hero of this book is Darwin himself, whose Expression of the Emotions is the starting point for almost all of the essays, which are designed to study, with primary attention to the way emotions are expressed and analyzed, the relation between humans and animals from Darwin's time to our own. The book is self-consciously interdisciplinary, in the way, we might say, George Eliot was, considering 'the tempting range of relevancies called the universe', finding connections among physiology and morality and animals and literature and the mind. The contributions, from scholars distinguished in medicine, psychiatry, ecology, history of science, and of course literature, are compact and, remarkably, virtually all of high quality, even when the primary task is only to summarize the status of research in some related subfield.