The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature)


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Works cited and further reading. Lewes gender George Eliot George Eliot's fiction George Henry Lewes Grandcourt Gwendolen Gwendolen Harleth heroine Hetty human idea imagination Impressions of Theophrastus intellectual Jewish John Blackwood knowledge language letters Lewes's literary lives London Lydgate Lydgate's Magazine Maggie Maggie's Marian Evans marriage Mary Ann Middlemarch Mill mind Mirah modern moral mother narrative narrator nineteenth-century novelist past philosophy phrenology Pinney plot political psychological published question readers reading realism religious role Romola Scenes of Clerical scientific seems sense serial Silas Marner social society Stephen story Strauss sympathy things thought tion tradition truth Tulliver University Press Victorian volume Westminster Review woman women Woolf writing wrote.

Nineteenth-Century Religion and Literature: It is a pile of facts that add up to nothing but the facts. The point is not that she always succeeded, but that for her realism was a vocation. In that famous chapter 17, the narrator of Adam Bede tells us that she aspires 9 george levine to give no more than a faithful account of men and things as they have mirrored themselves in my mind. Her novels explore with a subtlety new to the history of English literature the devious ways of the mind, the natural and psychological and social impediments to knowing or speaking the truth. There is a famous narrative intervention in The Mill on the Floss that can suggest something of this alertness: Metaphor always threatens to escape the limits of its denotation and is at the heart of language; thus the writer must be, as George Eliot sought to be herself, a kind of scholar like the one described by Walter Pater some years later, a scholar of language and meaning, scrupulous, meticulous, unrelentingly attentive.

Reality is largely what conventional art would treat as banal and dismiss in the name of heroism or elegance. The sympathy her art is designed to evoke depends on a recognition of our mutual implication in ordinariness and limitation. The direction of her novels and of realism itself is toward accommodation to the ordinary, toward 10 Introduction acceptance of limitation. Their triumphs are precisely in their acceptance of limits, their return to the ordinariness they at times dreamed of transcending.

She had made a similar point in Felix Holt: There are many moments in the novels when the reader is reminded of the inadequacy of any sense of character and self-divorced from sensitivity to the reality of others. But in twentieth-century criticism, this centrally nineteenth-century recognition of the ways in which every individual can only be understood in relation to the social complex and the larger movements of history has often evoked very negative responses.


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The virtue of the realist protagonist, in accommodating to the ways of the world, lies exactly in the power to recognize limits and responsibilities and restrain the subversive and powerful pulls of desire and personal satisfaction. Characteristically, for George Eliot, Felix moves away from direct political action: The novels often revisit the crises of Marian Evans.

The examples are everywhere, in, for example, the ostracism and redemption of a Maggie Tulliver, who almost elopes with an engaged man; the alienation of a misunderstood Silas Marner; the struggles of Romola, undervalued by her father, betrayed by her husband; the stunning self-repression and disillusion of Mrs. Transome, who, in Felix Holt, had thought to derive joy from the child she bears from her illicit sexual relation with the lawyer Jermyn.

In this volume Josephine McDonagh discusses how the early novels are marked by their retreat to the past, which, McDonagh claims, pushed George Eliot toward a dead end. Her novels are shot through with images of disenchantment and loss that survive for readers beyond the constraining plots in which the characters are tied. No elderly face can be handsome, looked at in that way; every little detail is startlingly prominent and the effect of the whole is lost.

Such moments of disenchantment, as Barbara Hardy describes them, are a condition of the realist project. Transome, for while the focus in George Eliot is likely to be on individual limits, she can describe with remarkable acuity the cruelties, injustices, and banalities of the world that imposes those limits.


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Silas Marner begins with the expulsion of the innocent Silas from the religious community he piously loves, as he is subject to an irrational trial and hypocritical accusation. Even at the end of the novel, Romola can only drift — not run — away, and becoming a kind of savior in another community redeems her. The book will not settle for the restraints that Savonarola imposes and Romola, for a while, accepts.

As in her own life, George Eliot reassimilates her heroine to her accustomed modes of selfrepression. Romola hovers between the stern realism of the early novels and the formal and moral shifts of Daniel Deronda. It is half historical novel, half fable. The novels are a struggle, and a struggle that becomes increasingly part of their form.

Her sophisticated gestures toward what in contemporary theory we would call indeterminacy have led some modern critics to see her as anticipating deconstructionist ideas. The truest realism, as George Eliot develops it in her own work, is one that truthfully confronts its own limitations. In her continuing explorations of the possibilities and limits of realism, George Eliot was clearly feeling, as Romola itself had already shown, that the restraints of all those relative conditions that shape individual lives were, in the end, too limiting. Middlemarch, the novel that might be taken as the fullest achievement of English realism, is formally and substantively informed by the crisis of limits.

Dorothea, of course, always threatens to become the ideal heroine of the novel, and much of the book is given to the effort to keep this from happening and from thus distorting the multiple perspectives that give the book its form. Only the strongest people have the slightest chance of breaking from the limits of that determination, but the realist program refuses heroism as it refuses evil. Only in Daniel Deronda does George Eliot fully explore the alternatives to this realist way of imagining. There has been considerable attention, particularly from feminists, focused on this remarkable character.

While the princess chooses the kind of exceptional life that was not in the power of Dorothea, Daniel Deronda violates another aspect of the realist program. Grandcourt is the exceptional villain in George Eliot, utterly different from, for example, Bulstrode, or Arthur Donnithorne, or even Tito Melema. His evil is intrinsic, an unredeemed and unredeemable insistence on personal power and command. But these kinds of characters, in the excess that leads to their rather extravagant fates, do not belong to the kind of realistic program that governs Middlemarch and leaves Dorothea with no alternatives to the secondariness of her life with Ladislaw.

As I have been suggesting, Daniel Deronda, which is another multiplot novel, might be understood as a test of realism. In her hands it was both a continuation of the acts of perhaps involuntary rebellion that marked the life of Marian Evans, and a means back to that lost respectability, that accommodation with a world that had rejected her, which she sought from the time she eloped with Lewes. Her novels open new directions in English narrative: She brought to bear on the novel extraordinary learning, from almost the whole range of nineteenth-century knowledge — German philosophy and biblical criticism and history, the new social science of anthropology, physical and particularly biological science, positivism, psychology, philology, and the study of language.

The equipment may at times have seemed heavy, but as a consequence of that enormous learning and philosophical acuity she almost never wrote a word that was not interesting, even when there are moments in the novels that seem to cry out for the fuller embodiment she was always, in principle, seeking. Like any great artist, she was constantly at work exploring the limits of her own methods, seeking new and better ways to get it right. The tangible result is the greatest realist novel in the language, Middlemarch, and several other novels that have entered the life of the English-speaking world — Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner.

The chapters that comprise this volume attempt to lay out the major elements of her thought and art, the shape and the context of her career. One needs to know something of her journalism, something of her poetry, something of the way she connected with the politics of Victorian society. The object of this volume is to help lift George Eliot from the frozen condition of literary monument, to make the resistant richness of her art more clearly visible, and to make her superb intelligence and imagination more accessible to readers who have begun to recognize the power and originality of her art.

A Biography Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, , p. Macmillan, , ii: Warner Books, , p. University of Nebraska Press, , pp. Reprinted in SEPW, p. Miller, The Novel and the Police Berkeley: University of California Press, , p. Athlone Press, , p. Ashgate, , p. Harvard University Press, Harvard University Press, , particularly pp.

It is also the only stable name attached to the person who was baptised Mary Anne Evans after her birth on 22 November Mary Anne Evans was the third and last surviving child of the marriage between Robert Evans, the respected manager of the Newdigate estate in Warwickshire, and Christiana Pearson, who came from a well-established farming family in the region.

Her childhood was spent in Griff House, a sub20 A woman of many names stantial farmhouse off the Coventry Road. From this location in the rural middle class, she was well placed to absorb the full spectrum of English provincial life: The Evans family was not genteel, but it was respectable and ambitious of practical excellence within the terms of a conservative, customary rural society.

She is less likely to depict the social world as divided into starkly oppositional social classes, or to join the Victorian obsession with stories of social aspiration and social oppression, than she is to create a variegated community in which the story centers on the fates of characters who disturb or violate the norms of belief or behavior in that community. What made her George Eliot was the extent to which she suffered under that rejection, and the talent with which she contrived to write herself into a position of social respectability and adulation despite her unconventional circumstances.

Much of what her biographers have surmised is deeply colored by her most autobiographical novel, The Mill on the Floss, written when she was about forty, while the few stories that friends of her later life recalled would have been told to them in a carefully retrospective way. The family did the best it 21 ro s e m a r i e b o d e n h e i m e r could for Mary Anne by its own lights, sending her to good local schools in Nuneaton and Coventry until she was sixteen.

The general picture is of a child very attached and attentive to her surroundings, but far too smart and sensitive to be fully comprehensible to any members of her immediate family. Her inner dialogue with books, and sometimes teachers, was the main conduit for her ambitious intelligence; throughout her life she sought friendships in which affection could be combined with the expression and performance of that interior life.

These events had recalled Mary Anne from school and left her, at sixteen, with the responsibility for running the Griff household for her father and brother. The letters she wrote during this period —41 reveal the stresses of an immensely ambitious mind constrained on the one hand by a life of farmwife chores and on the other by a self-imposed regime which included humility, self-repression, the rejection of earthly pleasures including novel-reading and musical performance , and the judgment of all things according to their compatibility with the doctrine of true life in the hereafter.

Maria Lewis, now living unhappily in the role of governess, became the primary audience for epistolary performances that betray in every line the sense of personal intellectual power and the desire for admiration and applause which the young letter-writer rejected in theory. This, for example, from a seventeen-year-old who had reason to doubt her own attractiveness and prospects for marriage, in response to the news of an engagement: You will think me a perfect female Diogenes, and I plead guilty to occasional misanthropic thoughts, but not to the indulgence of them; still I must believe that those are happiest who are not fermenting themselves by engaging in projects of earthly bliss, who are considering this life merely a pilgrimage, a scene calling for diligence and watchfulness, not for repose and amusement.

GEL, August ; i: Isaac was planning to marry, and Mary Ann was threatened with losing her role as the woman in charge at Griff, and being demoted to the thankless role of unmarried spinster devoted to the care of an aging father. True to a lifelong habit of loyalty to those who were close to her, she did not allow herself to complain about her family in writing, but her personal and intellectual rage and frustration crept out through distanced and generalized metaphors: The circumstances of this famous episode, the prolonged family strife it engendered, the accommodation reached between father and daughter, and the conclusions reached by Mary Ann Evans, were deeply revealing and deeply formative.

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The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature)

Her letters to Maria Lewis, while still adhering to the pious conventions of their correspondence, began to indicate that this voracious and discerning reader was engaged in inquiries she was not talking about openly. Suddenly she had what she had never experienced before: Her friendship with the Brays strengthened rapidly. The problem lay in how to negotiate between her old loyalties and her new ones. Barely speaking to her, he began to make plans to move elsewhere, whether with or without his daughter, he would not say.

We shall then see her resurrection! Two further months of domestic coldness ensued, along with a barrage of unsuccessful attempts by friends, family, and clergy to bring the erring daughter back into the fold. Fearing an even more embarrassing break, Isaac Evans and his wife offered Mary Ann a temporary home at Griff so that the family rift could be repaired. For the next six years she maintained and developed her intellectual life through her association with the Brays and their circle, at the same time as she played to the full her role as devoted spinster daughter to Robert Evans.

When Robert Evans died, she was thirty years old, and exhausted by the long action of proving her daughterly devotion. The Holy War episode can easily be read as a rebellion against the father or at least as a declaration of independence from his views, but it seems more fruitful in this case to consider the full course of the collision between a brilliant, fearless female mind and its social and emotional determinants.

From that failed experiment she learned about the intractability of received opinion and the power of social conformity in the minds of those closest to her. She also learned that she was capable of compromising her social appearance — in this case by going to church — so long as she retained both her family connection and the internal freedom of 25 ro s e m a r i e b o d e n h e i m e r inquiry that she required. When George Eliot began to write novels, all of these factors came into play — in the stories she invented, in the narrative shifts of perspective between acute social satire and distantly tolerant sympathy, and in the way she had to understand her artistic mission as a service promoting individual human goodness.

Her publisher, John Chapman, ran a household at Strand in London that accepted lodgers and served as a center for liberal intellectuals and freethinkers. It was she, rather than the impulsive and incompetent Chapman, who established the intellectual commitments of the journal, tactfully stroked its well-known contributors, made the shrewd judgments about their merits and defects, and got the issues out on time.

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She also wrote a number of articles and reviews herself, under the rule of anonymity which was common in the journalism of that time. These years provided her with the social life and the intellectual authority for which she had prepared herself through her largely solitary selfeducation. But the quest for companionship in love had always been more turbulent for this woman, whose intensity of feeling so often took precedence over the cautious and respectable behavior she had learned from her family.

Both the Bray and the Chapman households were radical in their sexual as well as their religious and social politics: Marian Evans moved in this society both as an emotional intimate of the Bray and Hennell women, and as an intellectual equal with the men, but her ardent desire to mix intellectual companionship with love resulted in a number of painful scrapes.

A more serious friendship developed during her editorial years with the philosopher-sociologist Herbert Spencer, with whom Marian spent a good deal of time walking, talking, and going to opera and theater. She fell in love — he did not — yet they managed to maintain their friendship.

If you become attached to someone else, then I must die, but until then I could gather courage to work and make life valuable, if only I had you near me. The Holy Warrior had grown up, but she maintained her position that the truth of reason and feeling should prevail against the social standards for acceptable behavior in women. As it turned out, her life was to become a long testing ground for that position. Born into the illegitimate second family of a father who disappeared from the scene after his birth, Lewes had come out of obscurity to make his way in the London literary world through his intelligence, talent, charm, and energetic entrepreneurship.

He was an adept at languages, drama and drama criticism, continental literature and philosophy, and science, and had published a number of books and many articles by the time he met Marian Evans in his mid-thirties. At that time he was coediting the journal the Leader with his friend Thornton Hunt, and serving 27 ro s e m a r i e b o d e n h e i m e r as its main literary and drama critic. George Henry Lewes and his wife Agnew Jervis Lewes had three sons, after which Agnes began an affair with Thornton Hunt that eventually produced four more children.

Like her, he was ready for a serious partnership, but he could not offer her a legal marriage. Throughout their lives, they even continued to support Agnes Lewes and all of her children from the proceeds of their writing. But by the lights of the Evans family, and the opinions of respectable society, Marian Evans was anathema. As in the Holy War, the results of a long-brewing decision were sprung suddenly on the intimates of the old life — the Bray circle in particular — and caused a rift that was only partially repaired.

Once she had broached the subject, her brother Isaac answered through his lawyer and cut off family communication altogether. Lewes in every way except the technical legal one. When it came to writing, she was protected 28 A woman of many names by the convention of anonymity: Energized by the need to make money, by personal happiness, and by the stimulation of discussion with Lewes, she wrote a series of brilliant reviews in which the full force of her learning, her understanding of German and Continental intellectual developments, and her keen moral and literary judgment are displayed in a stunningly powerful prose style.

The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot

Although Blackwood may well have guessed who his new author was, he ran a conservative family magazine and was just as happy not to know the truth too exactly. Success came early and dramatically to the unknown new author. Even as she wrote these words in her journal, Marian was experiencing the inevitable backlash of gossip and rumor stimulated by the secret of the pseudonym. What happened in was far more ludicrous, and far more disturbing, because it struck at her realistic artistic procedures.

Somehow — we do not to this day know quite how — the rumor began that George Eliot was a poor, disreputable Nuneaton clergyman named Joseph Liggins, who would have been familiar with the scenes and the characters who populated the new stories. For the sake of retaining the pseudonym, the Leweses tolerated these rumors for some time, until they became unbearable and elicited an indignant but still pseudonymous letter of denial published in The Times.

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Shortly afterwards the Reverend John Gwyther of Yorkshire declared himself to Blackwood as the original of Amos Barton, while other Warwickshire characters continued to insist that George Eliot, whoever he was, had stolen other stories directly from life. After the Liggins affair, Lewes increased his efforts to protect Marian from any town talk about her books, and showed her only an occasional favorable review.

In time, the pain of her position as the subject of talk and misinformation was reworked in her writing: She exhorted her readers to sympathize with the ordinariness of her characters, while her narrators engaged in the extraordinary moral generalizations and leaps of ironic imagination that redeemed the narrow minds they described. This relation with the past, infused for George Eliot with an almost religious fervor, depended on the safe distance she had achieved in her London life with G. It is not surprising that she reacted with horror to actual voices from Warwickshire who claimed that her complex narrative realism was nothing more than a retailing of true-life stories.

The decade of the s brought a new quality of life along with a series of new experiments in writing. Only Silas Marner, which came quickly to mind and almost wrote itself during the last months of , is free from the sense of laboriousness which shadows much of the writing of this decade. George Eliot was all too aware of the Casaubon-like tendencies which made her working life so fraught with struggle. Being in the country was often almost magically transformative for Marian, who retained her love of rural air and landscape, and her ability to undertake strenuous walks and tours while on holiday.

It is impossible to know the extent to which the illnesses were exacerbated by the necessary repressions on which their lives were built: Beginning in , Marian was destined to make her home in London proper, and to take on the familial duties of stepmotherhood. She was never, in fact, to move permanently out of London again: Charles Lewes proved to be a model stepson. When the Leweses went abroad, he stayed at home and tended to the house and the correspondence. The other boys presented far more radical problems. Despite his intrepid nature, he failed to sustain an independent life there.

Nonetheless, his unpromising younger brother Herbert was sent out to join Thornie in an attempt at upcountry farming for which neither young man had any real preparation. In Thornie returned home suddenly, suffering painfully from an undiagnosed illness, which turned out to be tuberculosis of the spine. Marian nursed him until he died several months later, in October Herbert remained in South Africa, tried hopelessly to make a living from cattle, married, and fathered two children before he, too, took ill. He died in Natal, before reaching the age of thirty.

The anxiety and pain caused by these sad stories can only be glimpsed in the Eliot—Lewes letters and journals of the s. At the same time, she could not help but express her delight when she and Lewes were free to live alone again in their accustomed double solitude, nor could she conceal the depth of her anxiety about the hapless lives of the two younger boys.

She wrote and published her masterpieces Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda The greatness of Middlemarch was immediately recognized. What had really happened was that George Eliot now had a social existence: Their social calendars included visits to friends at Oxford and Cambridge, and engagements with other famous and soon-tobe-famous writers.

The couple began to see so many people that they had to escape regularly to obscure country retreats in order to regain the quiet time to write that George Eliot had enjoyed in abundance earlier in her career. Emanuel Deutsch, a Jewish scholar and Zionist who died of cancer in his forties, provided material and inspiration for the Jewish focus of Daniel Deronda. Elma Stuart, a passionate George Eliot fan who played the role of grown-up daughter in need of maternal advice, ensured her perpetual association with her idol by having herself buried next to George Eliot in Highgate cemetery.

Yet, while she was ready to play the mentor with individual friends, she was unwilling or unable to use her singular experience in the cause of feminist efforts to widen the scope of action for Victorian women in general. More profoundly, they recapitulate once more the painful lesson of the Holy War: Despite her status as a kind of Victorian icon, she did not leave the public stage without reminding her audiences of the powerful idiosyncratic choices that had shaped her career.

On November 30, George Henry Lewes died of stomach cancer. For some months, Marian isolated herself in deep and inconsolable grief. She was herself ill with the kidney disease which was to cause her own death two years later, but she persevered in this obsession as if she were Dorothea Brooke completing the life work of a Casaubon deserving of love and admiration. Although Cross was twenty years younger than the famous writer, the marriage had a certain emotional and practical logic.

John, a banker, handled the substantial Lewes investments, knew a good deal about their affairs and visited frequently. After years of excommunication from the Evans clan, Marian wished before her death to be a legal part of a respectable family, including a husband who could serve as the executor of her estate and the trusted overseer of her literary remains.

The costs of her decision to live with Lewes may be measured by the need for this alliance. Only a few months went by before Isaac Evans came to pay his last respects to his brilliant and troubling sister by attending her funeral. In the intervening months she was not the only one of the pair to require nursing: Once they had returned in July, the pain and weakness caused by her own illness dominated their lives until the end.

In his effort to present George Eliot as an impeccable Victorian icon, Cross foregrounded her reverential and pious voices and cut out all the passages which displayed the satirical, witty, irreverent, and sexual being of Marian Evans. Rising next to the modest stone on the grave of George Henry Lewes, this shiny tower reads: She would keep a semi-daily diary, but often wrote up the journey later as a retrospective narrative that was far more detailed and voiced than anything one could expect from the diary entries.

Simcox, Autobiography of a Shirtmaker. Fulmer and Margaret E. Although there is an unusual gap of three years between the publication in book form of Romola and her new work, Felix Holt , she does not identify this as the beginning of a new phase of writing, or a new project. As many commentators have noticed, her characters resemble each other: These are often presented in motifs — for example, gambling or blindness — which recur similarly across the body of the work, and in a style that remains thoroughly committed to a realist aesthetic.

The fact that this was a way of life that, by the s, was considered to have been lost was crucial to this evaluation: But their impact was stronger than merely that of an archive. The late works, on the other hand, were considered tarnished by an overly intellectual approach and the ambience of moral decline in which they were composed. The late works had replaced feeling with philosophy, emotion with abstraction.

Most of all, they told stories of complex, changing societies, and seemed to have abandoned the earlier attempt to summon rural idylls from the past. This late-Victorian assessment responded to a nostalgic spirit that is certainly evident in the early novels. Daily life is represented against the backdrop of picturesque landscapes, and is organized around communal celebrations, festivals and parties: These tunes, we are told pointedly, hold memories especially for the older members of the group: The emphasis is always on local traditions and customary knowledge, passed on from generation to generation.

Contemporary responses to Adam Bede, for instance, strikingly select for special appreciation the character of Mrs. Poyser, who plays little part in the main action of the novel. Her colorful brand of homespun wisdom and proverbial wit was felt to capture a mode of thinking representative of the rural past — practical common sense, as opposed to abstract or theoretical modern thinking. As Williams observes, the difference is often made evident in the speech patterns of the characters. The rural characters are given strong local dialects in which they voice simply constructed thoughts; on the other hand, even when they belong to the same communities, the main protagonists increasingly slip into standard English, in which they articulate complex ideas and distinctive individual opinions.

As we shall see, the early novels tend to produce a split between this bucolic background of local and customary knowledge and habit, and, on the other hand, a world in which individuals have psychological complexity and are capable of economic and social progression. This brings us to a useful distinction between the early and late works. Indeed, in terms of their presentation of ideas, the early works often appear to be contradictory and incoherent, divided in ways that we have noted above.

Moreover, while in the late novels, the philosophical or theoretical aspects of the work are always rendered in part through strikingly intricate patterns of imagery, in the early works, imagery is used in a much more random and provisional way. But while for Simpson and others, this lack of system within the early novels contributes to their pleasant sense of intimacy, for others, it has been the cause of suspicion and the focus of critique.

Critics on the left, such as Raymond Williams and Terry Eagleton in particular, have found the early novels, much more than the late works, to be guilty of a kind of ideological subterfuge: On the one hand, as has been noted, the novels present a strong sense of nostalgia for a romanticized past. The pastoral world is always framed by a retrospective narrative voice, and this endorses the sense of nostalgia to which Victorian critics responded so favorably.

The act of remembering is dramatized in the narrative, and so too is an inevitable process of comparison between past and present. They imply a chronology not of gradual change, staged over time, but one in which there is a distinct break between an old and permanent world, and a new and changing one. The distinction between the past and a modern society is often evident in the way in which time itself is conceptualized. In Adam Bede, for instance, we enter a world in which time is regulated by the natural cycles of the day and the seasons — even of the body.

In another way, the narrative appears driven by what we might think of as natural or bodily time. Decisive moments in the text are always recounted against a background of naturalistic detail. George Eliot went to great lengths to ensure an accurate record of the natural world in Adam Bede: The world of the past is thus represented as though it belongs to a different order of time: Against this sense that the old world is separated from the modern world by an unbridgeable division, a crucial part of the project of the early novels is in fact to chart a shift from the old to the new, but also to show how modern society can, ideally, be infused with the values of the old.

The shift from old to new is usually presented as a progression, and tends to be underwritten by ideas of gradual change, growth, or evolution. In Adam Bede the sense of the steady progression of time, and thus of continuity, is inescapable: The clock ticks throughout like a time bomb: This new society has the characteristics of modern, bourgeois society: In the course of the novel, the landed gentry has, in a sense, withered away: The end of the novel presents a world in which individual endeavor has been rewarded economically; social positions are shown to be open to change; moral authority has been severed from social class; and relationships between classes, although they continue to be deferential, are nevertheless not subservient.

The difference between the two societies is strikingly presented in terms of a distinction between animal and human forms of life, underlying which is a vague, evolutionist idea that a shift from species to species might take place. A whole menagerie of animals is invoked to describe the behavior of uneducated characters of low social class, morally degraded characters, or those in an impassioned, irrational state.

Some of the animals are quite exotic: Poyser and his sons are compared with a family of elephants Others are more domestic: The last reference is important because it underlines a desired progression of human behavior and organization that is implicit in the novel: Or from child murderer like Hetty to mother like Dinah. Hetty cannot proceed beyond her animal-like existence, but Dinah, by contrast, is usually compared with a plant rather than a beast, and Adam is only animal-like when he succumbs to his passions.

In the end, to be bourgeois is to be human, that is, not like an animal. This is despite the fact that her protagonists and heroes are often working men, like Adam, or later, Felix Holt, or, in a different mould, Silas Marner. But on the other hand, the novel suggests that the two states can be traversed by individual endeavor and education, which is represented as a natural progression. Arthur is a sick man, the feeble remnant of the old order. These strong, vital bodies are the people of the future; their ability to adapt has made them victors in the changing world.

But the scene also exaggerates a sense of continuity between past and present: And to signal this amalgamation of values, Dinah consults a watch that had been a gift from Arthur: The representation of time in Adam Bede is complex and confusing, partly because these alternative notions of time are presented in a contradictory series of relationships with each other: Which ever way one chooses to read the ending of the novel, one effect of the existence of these complex varieties of time is to give the world of the novel a dreamlike quality: This dreamlike quality, which is evident in all the early novels, helps to explain not only the appeal of these works, but also the kind of representation of the past that they deliver.

Like a dream, they seem to represent a fantasy of the past — a wish or a desire. And the popularity of the works for contemporary readers suggests that the fantasies were widely shared. Rather than an objective record of the historical past, therefore, the early novels are 46 The early novels best understood as a fabric of desires, a distilling of contemporary dreams of the past and for the present. This sense that we are entering a dreamworld is presented most strongly in The Mill on the Floss. In the opening chapter the narrator quite literally introduces the action of the novel as though the events were remembered in a dream.

This device gives a special, almost supernatural, quality to the events of the plot. In a process of doubling, natural features are seen to behave like people, and people, by extension, like nature. This doubling is crucial to the way in which the events of the novel are explained.

As in a dream, human agency is lost to forces beyond its control. In this case, these forces are those of nature — the river. Throughout the novel, the river is not just a convenient backdrop to the action. In crucial ways, it is shown to be the determining impulse, subsuming historical forces into its all-encompassing domain.

The opening of Felix Holt makes a useful contrast with this. As in The Mill on the Floss, this later novel opens with an account of a landscape, recounted from a retrospective point of view. But while in The Mill on the Floss the impression is given of a world in which natural forces are always determining, aspects of the landscape exerting their ineluctable control over the form of human life, Felix Holt presents a landscape that itself is shaped by political, technological, and social forces.

Here the very landscape and the people who inhabit it — nature itself — have been shaped by historical forces — agriculture, industry, technology, religion, the unequal distribution of wealth; not, as in The Mill on the Floss, a landscape that shapes those factors itself. Another distinction that we could make between the early and late works, then, is that the early works assume a different relationship between societies and historical processes.

Critics such as U. However, rather than plot the action alongside a historical narrative, the text serves to distance events of the story from those of world history. In fact the narrative oscillates between allowing a comparison between Caterina and the Revolution to rest, and undercutting it. The association is planted, but then withdrawn. More substantially, the comparison between Caterina and the Revolution seems apt in that she has fallen in love with Captain Wybrow, the English gentleman who will inherit the estate from the couple who have adopted her: At this stage, we are encouraged to believe that a cataclysmic disruption of tradition will occur, something like the French Revolution, provoked by Caterina; and that the story of little Caterina will present an allegory of the kinds of historical change brought about by the Revolution.

As an agent of historical change, Caterina is rendered powerless.

The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature) The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature) The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature) The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature) The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature) The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature) The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature) The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge Companions to Literature)

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