Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 18 (1987)
As George Eliot's Introduction to Felix Holt would lead one to expect, the crux of the tragedy which this novel embodies is the "pity and terror" evoked by the "downfall of blindly-climbing hopes", rather than mere peripatetic - the 'discovery' of Mrs. Transome's guilty past. As always in her novels, the tragic reversal that really matters is not an external incident: it is internalised and is closely linked with moral 'recognition'. Mrs. Transome's agonised consciousness of her violated conscience, which the reader shares all through, is a prominent element in her suffering. The scene in the White Hart (Chapter 47) does not take the attentive reader by surprise; for not only does the Introduction hint that there were "fine stories" concerning Transome Court, but Chapter 1 comes very near disclosing that these stories related to Mrs. Transome. Even the negative touch of Mr. Transome shrinking at his wife's approach "like a timid animal looked at in a cage where flight is impossible" is not without its implications. When Mrs. Transome hears the church bells announce the arrival of Harold in the village, she sits "still, quivering and listening, her lips became pale, her hands were cold and trembling". Surely something more is implied than just Mrs. Transome's apprehensions of difficulties in adjusting with a son who is returning home (Iike Harry in The Family Reunion) 1 as a stranger. Mrs. Transome's forlorn hope of happiness also is strongly suggestive of there being something questionable in her past:
Could it be that now…. she was going to reap an assured joy? - to feel that the doubtful deeds of her life were justified by the result, since a kind Providence had sanctioned them?
The continual evocation of Mrs. Transome's terror doubtless points to something sinister. As soon as her eyes meet Harold's "the sense of strangeness came upon her like a terror". Close upon its heels follows a more daring clue: Harold no longer resembles her very much and she would not have been able to recognize him in a crowd as her son, but his appearance would have struck her with "startled wonder”, for "the years had overlaid it with another likeness which would have arrested her". An inescapable deduction stares one in the face: Harold's appearance would have reminded Mrs. Transome of someone other than her husband.
There are other comments in the 'chapter which should make a reader attuned to George Eliot's novels alert even on first reading:
It had come to pass now - this meeting with the son who had been the object of so much longing; whom she had longed for before he was born, for whom she had sinned… few words had been spoken, yet with that quickness in weaving new futures which belongs to women whose actions have kept them in habitual fear of consequences….