Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 46 (2015)
By the early summer of 1870, George Eliot's work on Middlemarch, then consisting of the Vincy, Lydgate and Featherstone material, seemed to have stalled. In a journal entry of 20 May, George Eliot confessed that she was not hopeful about future work: 'I am languid, and my novel languishes to O'.1 And in fact the last references to Middlemarch in her journal date back to the previous September: on 11 September she had reached page 50 and the end of chapter 3, and then on the 22nd she maintained that she was stuck: 'im Stiche gerathen' (Journals, 138). There followed a series of distractions: the writing of 'The Legend of Jubal' from early October; the final illness and death of Thornton Lewes on 19 October; continuing depression and poor health; Lewes's equally poor health in the aftermath of his son's death; and an eight-week journey to Germany and Austria from the middle of March 1870 which involved a hectic round of social engagements and further illness for the novelist. The hoped-for tonic effect of the journey on Lewes's health seems not to have materialized, for, after an agreeable visit to Oxford towards the end of May staying at Lincoln College as guests of the rector Mark Pattinson and his much younger wife (a visit that may, of course, have played its part in the development of Middlemarch), he was still unwell and unable to work. The couple then decided to act on doctor's advice that Lewes's health would best be restored by a complete rest and bracing sea air, and set off for Cromer on 15 June. After two weeks on the North Norfolk Coast, they moved on to Harrogate to take the waters on their way to Whitby, and it was just before they left the spa for the coast that the news reached them which is recorded in Lewes's journal for 16 July as 'War declared between France and Prussia'.