Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 46 (2015)
In 'Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" Gaskell and Harriet Martineau were the only living novelists George Eliot praised, and very briefly. George Eliot and Gaskell never met but corresponded, admired each other's work, and in several books George Eliot unconsciously drew on details and characters from Gaskell novels.3 There are three important details in Middlemarch - which Gaskell never read because she died before its publication - deriving from Cousin Phillis, Wives and Daughters, and North and South.
Chapter 56 of Middlemarch is a meeting-point for history and the personal life. Caleb Garth's social confidence rings loud as he speaks to the rustic rebels roused to violence by a local agent provocateur hoping to hamper the railway survey: 'Somebody told you the railway was a bad thing. That was a lie. It may do a bit of harm here and there, and so does the sun in heaven. But the railway's a good thing'. He is answered by a voice we have not heard before and will not hear again, that of a farm labourer, Timothy Cooper, whose response is eloquent in personal particulars and political generalization:
‘Aw! good for the big folks to make money out on,' said old Timothy Cooper, who had stayed behind turning his hay while the others had been gone on their spree; - Tn seen lots 0' things turn up sin' I war a young 'un-the war an' the pe-ace an' the canells [ ... J an' it's been all aloike to the poor mono What's the canells been t' him? They'n brought him neyther me-at nor ba-acon, nor wage to lay by, if he didn't save it wi' clemmin' his own inside. Times ha' got wusser for him sin' I war a young un. [ ... J This is the big folks's world, this is. But yo're for the big folks, Muster Garth, yo are.' (Middlemarch, ch. 56)