Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 46 (2015)
George Eliot's afterlife in adaptations of and sequels to her works is thin compared to those of such contemporaries as Dickens and the Brontes, and similarly the number of novels in which she appears as a character is meagre. True, as early as 1881 the characterization of Theresa in The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford was inspired by the friendship of its author, William Hale White, with Marian Evans in the 1850s, when both lived in publisher John Chapman's house at 142 Strand. Theresa is an idealized character, but recall White's corrective to George Eliot's Life ... by her husband 1. W Cross, in which he laments the absence of salt and spice in the Marian Evans that Cross is carefully recreating. Patricia Duncker, offering George Eliot as the Sibyl in Sophie and the Sibyl: A Victorian Romance, the latest novel to depict her, goes rather for salt and vinegar.
Between White and Duncker there has been a smattering of fictional representations of George Eliot. Some, like J. E. Buckrose's Silhouette of Mary Ann (1931) and Elfrida Vipont's Towards a High Attic: The Early Life of George Eliot (1970), concentrate on the young Marian Evans, up to the point at which she enters into the relationship with Lewes and becomes George Eliot and a published author. Others focus on the relationship with John Cross, which is more susceptible to psychologizing and less to anxious moralizing than that with Lewes. In lohnnie Cross (1983), Terence de Vere White presents an infantilized Cross, overwhelmed by his bride's sexual demands. In one of the episodes of The Puttermesser Papers (1997), Cynthia Ozick allows her heroine Ruth Puttermesser a romance with a painter, a copyist, in which she channels George Eliot and he Cross: the copyist insists that the key emotional dynamic was Cross's infatuation with Lewes, triangulated through George Eliot. Deborah Weisgall in The World Before Her (2008) makes Cross a staid but devoted businessman, and George Eliot more wily and less dependent than in most accounts, fictional or otherwise. Most recently, Robert Muscutt in Heathen and Outcast: Scenes in the Life of George Eliot (2011) employs the novelist's disciple Edith Simcox as presiding narrator, calling on other voices to show a feisty Mary Ann, making central her relationship with brother Isaac (here relentlessly rigid, domineering, vindictive and materialistic).