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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
George Eliot (1819–1880)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Charles Waldstein (1856–1927)
 
TO George Eliot will always have to be assigned a prominent place in the history of the literature of the nineteenth century as a foremost novelist, poet, and social philosopher.  1
  Mary Ann, or, as she subsequently spelt her Christian name, Marian, Evans was born at South Farm, a mile from Griff, in the parish of Calton in Warwickshire, on November 22d, 1819. Her father, the prototype of Adam Bede, was Robert Evans, of Welsh origin; who started life as a carpenter, but soon became a land agent in Warwickshire. This position implies great responsibilities, and demands thorough business capacities as well as firmness and trustworthiness of character, in his relations to his employers as well as his subordinates. He was intrusted with the management of the extensive estates of five great noblemen and land-owners in the county of Warwickshire. He was thus a man of considerable importance and power in the country, and would hold a social position ranking with the highest professional classes of the neighborhood.  2
  This position of her father gave her the opportunity of gaining considerable insight into the lives and characters of English people of every class in the country, and from its neutral height between the great landlord and the farmer, down to the farm laborer, she could command the horizon line of all these lives, realize their habits, their aspirations and sufferings, and command its extent as well as its limitations. The country, the fields, the garden about Griff House, where her childhood was spent, as well as the village with its inhabitants,—with whom, through her mother as well as her father, she came in contact,—all stimulated her loving and sympathetic observation and formed that background of experience in the youthful mind, out of which subsequently rose, with strong spontaneity and truthful precision of design, the characters and scenes of her novels. They will ever remain the classical expositions of English provincial life in literature. The upright strength and pertinacity of her characters, as well as the insight into practical life and the life of men, were no doubt derived from her father, and from the intimate intercourse with him for so many years of the most important formative period of her life.  3
  Her mother was a housewife of the old-fashioned type, whose health was always poor, and who died when Marian was about fifteen years of age. She is supposed to be portrayed in Mrs. Hackit in ‘Amos Barton.’ She seems to have been a woman with ready wit, a somewhat sharp tongue, an undemonstrative but tender-hearted nature. In many respects she seems also to have been the model for that masterpiece of character-drawing, Mrs. Poyser. Though Marian had two sisters, her brother Isaac Evans was her playmate. The youthful relation between brother and sister was very much like that of Tom Tulliver and Maggie in ‘The Mill on the Floss,’—no doubt the most autobiographical of her novels, as regards at least the drawing of Maggie’s character.  4
  Marian was at first sent to a school at the neighboring Nuneaton; and at a very early age she taught at Sunday school,—which may have instilled a magisterial bias into her mind from the very outset. At the age of twelve she proceeded to a school at Coventry, kept by the Misses Franklin, which enjoyed considerable reputation in the neighborhood. She remained in this school for three years; beyond elementary school duties she devoted much time to English composition, French and German. Her life was then rather solitary, moved by strong inner religious convictions, upon which she dwelt with passionate fervor. Her religious views were at first simply those of the Church of England, then those of the Low Church, and then became “anti-supernatural.” The second phase was no doubt strongly influenced by her aunt, Mrs. Elizabeth Evans, the “Derbyshire Methodist,” the prototype of Dinah Morris in ‘Adam Bede.’ The earnest, almost lugubrious conception of life which she formed in these times, and which subsequent years and experiences only intensified, no doubt gave the keynote to her whole temperament and genius. It produced in her that supreme development of the idea of duty and compassion for human suffering which elevates the tone of her writing with a lofty conception of life, enables her to penetrate into the feelings and aspirations of all classes, and while it widened the range of her sympathy, never did so at the cost of genuineness or intensity of feeling. At the same time this serious keynote, though it was not opposed to humor,—the growth of which it even favored,—led to some limitations in the harmonious development of her artistic nature; notably in that it counteracted the sense for the playful and joyous side of life. The eternal conflict between Hellenism and Hebraism, between the vine-wreath and the crown of thorns, was not reconciled by her, but led to the suppression or defeat of Hellenism. The true, the joyous spirit of Hellenism, with its ideals of beauty and happiness in life, never really possessed her soul. In her own words she has put this eternal dualism:—
                      “For evermore
With grander resurrection than was feigned
Of Attila’s fierce Huns, the soul of Greece
Conquers the bulk of Persia. The maimed form
Of calmly joyous beauty, marble-limbed,
Yet breathing with the thought that shaped its limbs,
Looks mild reproach from out its opened grave
At creeds of terror; and the vine-wreathed god
Fronts the pierced Image with the crown of thorns.”
  5
  Only in the tragic manifestation of the Greek mind, above all in an Æschylus, did she find true resonance to the passionate beats of her God-loving and world-renouncing heart. Yet more and more, as her mind grew and severed itself from the traditional beliefs of her childhood,—with which however she ever remained in deepest sympathy,—did this love of God and renunciation of the world mean the love of man and the tolerance of weakness, the pity with suffering and the active effort to help to rectify and to improve. The one element in Hellenism which she adopted and clung to, and which as a supporting wall she added to the whole structure of her more Hebraistic beliefs and ideals, was the worship of Sanity. This worship only intensified the tolerance of the unsound, the pity for the diseased and distorted and miserable. And though she never became a professed Positivist, it was no doubt the response which Comte’s philosophy gave to these cravings that made his views ultimately most congenial to her.  6
  The true and independent development of her mind began when after the death of her mother she took charge of Griff House for her father; but especially when in 1841 her father retired from his active duties, and settled at Foleshill near Coventry. It was here, while taking lessons in Latin and Greek from Mr. Sheepshanks, and also devoting herself to music, that she formed the friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bray of Coventry and their kinsman Mr. Charles C. Hennell, the Unitarian philosopher and writer. These people, deeply interested in philosophy and literature, and important contributors to the philosophico-religious literature of the day, responded fully to the mental needs of George Eliot. Out of this intellectual affinity grew a friendship which lasted through life. They also introduced her to the philosophical and critical literature of Germany, and it was through them that she began in 1843 her first literary task, the translation of David Strauss’s ‘Life of Jesus,’ which had been begun by Miss Brabant, who became Mrs. Charles Hennell. The task of translating Strauss’s great work, which occupied three years of her life, was followed by work of the same nature, which, though not as taxing as the life of Christ, must still have called upon thought and perseverance to a high degree: it was ‘The Essence of Christianity,’ by the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. These works, which stand on the border line between philosophy and religion, led her by a natural development into the domain of pure philosophy; so that the next more extensive task which she undertook, but to our knowledge never completed, was a translation of Spinoza’s ‘Ethics.’  7
  She was now fairly, at the age of twenty-seven, launched in her literary career; though as yet it was on the side of science and religion and not of art. The essays which belong to the following period, together with her editorial occupation, again formed a transition from the more scientific character of her writing to the domain of pure literature. And though these works belong to the field of criticism, it was criticism as applied to pure literature, fiction, and biography, and thus brought her inherently ponderous and theoretical mind, by natural stages, from analysis and speculation to the more imaginative sphere of synthesis and creation. This early theoretical and scientific direction of her occupation and thought may have produced that fault in her later writing with which she has often been reproached,—it may have made her style and diction clumsy and pedantic. On the other hand, it was a most excellent training for the future writer of even fiction. For it exercised the mind in gaining full mastery over thought; in recognizing and defining the nicest and most delicate shadings of meaning and of expression; in insisting upon their logical sequence, and thus impressing upon the author the rudiments of exposition and composition; in extending and enriching the domain of knowledge and fact; and finally, in producing and training the force of intellectual sympathy, which sharpens as well as intensifies insight into life and character, and gives to the mind that pliancy which directs the feeling heart to beat in sympathy with all forms of experiences, desires, and passions,—however far the lives and personalities may be removed from the author who constructs or describes them.  8
  In 1849 the death of her father threw her into a state of deepest depression. It was then that her kind friends the Brays took her for a tour on the Continent, to Italy and Switzerland. She remained at Geneva in the family of the artist D’Albert for eight months, where she no doubt found congenial local associations; for the shores of the Lake of Geneva, haunted by the spirits of Calvin, Rousseau, Voltaire, Madame de Staël, Gibbon, Byron, and Shelley, seem bound up with world-stirring thought as no other place in Europe. Upon her return to England she made her home with the Brays at Rosehill for about a year, and then accepted the offer of Dr. John Chapman to become sub-editor of the Westminster Review and to make her home in his family. She here entered a circle of the most prominent literary men and women of the day, and among these she became an intimate friend of Herbert Spencer, John Oxenford, James and Harriet Martineau, George Henry Lewes, and others. Emerson she had met before at Rosehill. Besides her arduous sub-editorial work, she contributed several remarkable papers to the Review. Among these are: ‘Carlyle’s Life of Sterling’ and ‘Margaret Fuller’ in 1852; ‘Women in France: Madame de Tablé,’ 1854; ‘Evangelical Teaching: Dr. Cumming,’ 1855; ‘German Wit: Heinrich Heine,’ ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,’ ‘The Natural History of German Life,’ 1856; ‘Worldliness and Otherworldliness: the Poetry of Young’ in 1857.  9
  It was in 1854 that occurred the great event in her life; she joined George Henry Lewes as his wife, though the latter’s wife was still alive. Lewes was separated from his first wife, though circumstances made it impossible for him to get a divorce. From that moment George Eliot remained the most faithful and devoted wife to Lewes and mother to his children, until his death in 1878. She united her life with that of Lewes after due and full deliberation, and with a thorough weighing of consequences and duties. But that she felt the deepest regret in that her complete union was not in accordance with the established laws of the society in which she lived, is evident from all her letters and writings; and though it need not have led to her marriage with her late husband Mr. Cross, the opportunity afforded of showing her respect to the established rules of matrimonial life must certainly have made it easier for her to form a new alliance, after the death of her first husband.  10
  With Lewes she went to Germany, living for some time at Berlin and Weimar, while he was writing his ‘Life of Goethe’ and she was working at her translation of Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’ and was contributing some articles on German literature. Upon their return they settled in London, finally in the Priory, North Bank, in the northwest of the metropolis, which was for many years a salon of the London literary world. The Sunday afternoons of this remarkable couple united all the talent and genius, residents or foreign visitors. One might meet in one and the same afternoon Charles Darwin, Robert Browning, Tennyson, Richard Wagner, Joachim the violinist, Huxley, Clifford, du Maurier, and Turgenev. Lewes, the most brilliant and versatile conversationalist of his day, gave life and freedom to these meetings; but the intellectual and moral center always remained George Eliot, with her soft, sweet voice, her clear intonation, her friendly and encouraging smile, lighting up as by a contrast the earnestness of her serious and large features, which resembled those of Savonarola, whose character she has drawn in such strong lines in ‘Romola.’ But the quality of searching sympathy and benignant humor, so remarkable in her writings, gave the warmth of kindness and cordiality to these formidably intellectual meetings. The present writer remembers with grateful piety how, when he was a very young man struggling to put a crude thought into presentable form before these giants of thought and letters, she would divine his meaning even in its embryonic uncouthness of expression, and would give it back to him and to them in a perfect and faultless garb; so that in admiring and worshiping the woman, he would be pleased with his own thoughts and would think well of himself. It is this sympathetic and unselfish helpfulness of great and noble minds, which gives confidence and increases the self-esteem of all who come in contact with them. No wonder that one often saw and heard of a great number of people, young girls or young men, who by letter or in person sought help and spiritual guidance from her, and went away strengthened by her sympathy and advice.  11
  Her first attempt at fiction was made when in her thirty-seventh year, in September 1856. The account of this is best shown in her own words here given among the extracts from her writings. Her first story was a short one, called ‘The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton.’ This was followed by ‘Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story’ and ‘Janet’s Repentance,’ and soon there was that remarkable volume called ‘Scenes of Clerical Life.’ Lewes and she and the world all realized that she was a true novelist, and from that moment she directed all her energies to the production of those works which will ever live, in spite of all changes of fashions and modes of story-telling, classical specimens of English fiction. In rapid succession now followed ‘Adam Bede’ in 1858; ‘The Mill on the Floss’ in 1860; ‘Silas Marner’ in 1861; ‘Romola’ in 1863; ‘Felix Holt, the Radical,’ in 1866; the poem ‘The Spanish Gypsy’ in 1868; ‘Jubal and Other Poems’ in 1870; ‘Middlemarch’ in 1872; ‘Daniel Deronda’ in 1876; and her last work, ‘The Impressions of Theophrastus Such,’ which was not published till after the death of Lewes, which occurred in 1878. She married Mr. Cross in May, 1880. She died on December 22d, 1880.  12
  To lead to the fuller understanding of George Eliot’s works, it was necessary to sketch in broad outlines the growth of her life and personality. As a writer she was not only a novelist but also a poet, and above all a social philosopher. Her ethical bias is so strong, moreover, that one cannot understand her as a novelist or a poet unless one has grasped her social philosophy and the all-pervading and ever-present influence it has upon her mind and writing.  13
  In her delineation of character and depiction of scenes, especially those of rural and domestic life, truthful rendering is to her the supreme duty; and one need but open the ‘Scenes of Clerical Life,’ ‘Adam Bede,’ ‘The Mill on the Floss,’ ‘Silas Marner,’ and ‘Middlemarch,’ on any page, to realize the fullness of truth with which she has painted. At the time of their appearance, not only were the persons and the environment identified with the originals she had in her mind, but as lasting types they tallied exactly with people and local life known to each English reader. This truthful rendering was also conceived by her as a primary duty of the novelist. We would refer the reader to what, in an essay, she says of the English peasant in fiction, and would recall her own words in the same essay:—
          “A picture of human life, such as a great artist can give, surprises even the trivial and the selfish into that attention to what is apart from themselves, which may be called the raw material of sentiment…. Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot. All the more sacred is the task of the artist when he undertakes to paint the life of the people. Falsification here is far more pernicious than in the more artificial aspects of life.”
Another interesting passage is one containing an estimate of Dickens, in which she considers the Oliver Twists, Joes, and Nancys terrible and pathetic pictures of London life:—
          “And if Dickens had been able to give us their psychological character, their conception of life, and their emotions, with the same truth as their idiom and manners, his books would be the greatest contribution to art ever made to the awakening of social sympathies.”
  14
  George Eliot might thus be classified as one of the greatest if not the greatest realist of the analytical or psychological order. But this would, to our mind, be a one-sided and incomplete estimate of the chief character in her writing and genius. Truthful rendering of life and character may have been one of the chief motives to composition, and a fundamental requisite to the art of her fiction; but it remained a means to a further end—the ultimate end—of her writing, as it no doubt was the fundamental stimulus to her imagination and design. And this end and motive make her an idealist and not a realist in fiction. The direction in which this idealism goes we have indicated in the lines we have italicized in the passages we quote from her, and is to be found in the ethical motive below and beyond all her thought and composition, the predominance of the social philosophy in her fiction and poetry, to which we have already referred.  15
  We will dismiss the coarse and caricatured distinction between realism and idealism, in which the one is supposed to render truthfully whatever is, without any principle of selection or composition; while the other starts with preconceived notions of the ought to be, be it from the point of view of formal beauty or spiritual harmony, and proves the facts that are. Art, and the novel above all,—which deals with life at once so clear and familiar to us, and so perplexingly manifold and varied as constantly to elude choice and design,—can neither forego truth nor unity of design.  16
  But in the novelist’s attitude towards human life there are two distinct points of view from which a new classification of novelists might be made: the position given to ethics, the moral laws in the presentation of life. The laws of human conduct are so essential to the relation of man to man, that the fundamental question as to what position ethics holds in our narrative cannot be ignored. The novelist must have decided whether he is going to consider its claims in the primary structure of his novel, and in the creation and development of characters, or not. Is he going to prepare the groundwork of artistic labor with a view to ethical design, or pure artistic design? It may be said that the best work requires both. But still, in so far as the one is heeded more than the other, will the writer be an idealist or a realist in this sense.  17
  The idealist will focus his view of the characters, their experiences and sufferings and surroundings, from a view of moral fitness and design; the realist will find the design and composition, the harmony which all art needs, in the characters, in the scenes, in the life itself, and the inner organic relation of the parts to the whole. The one leads to the best idealism, the other to the best realism. The one produces a George Eliot, the other a Guy de Maupassant. This realist ignores the general fitness of things, the moral law, and says:—“This character is interesting in itself, this situation is amusing, curious, striking, or terrible,—they are worth depicting, without any question as to their relation to social or moral ideals.” Guy de Maupassant takes characters and situations and depicts them with consummate art; he never troubles himself about general moral fitness,—we never know what his moral and social ideals are, nor whether he has any at all. Jane Austen is interested in her characters, in the tone and range of ideas of the period and the society in which she lives, the types of life, and she draws them with consummate art; but though we are left in no doubt in her case as to the good and the bad, and though the good generally prevails and the bad is defeated, these are not subordinated to a clear conception of an ideal social order, without which the characters and the story could not have been conceived and developed—as is always the case with George Eliot. Gwendolen Harleth, Felix Holt, Maggie, Dorothea, Lydgate, the life and surroundings of these figures, all bear a fixed relation to the social ideals of the author; and it is in this relation that she conceives and develops them. Nay, it is for the purpose of illustrating and fixing this that she creates them at all. Strange as it may sound, in so far Jane Austen might be called a realist and be classed with Guy de Maupassant; while George Sand, with whom she has so much similarity of spirit, is by contrast an idealist. It is a difference in the initial methods of dealing with life in fiction.  18
  It is not enough for George Eliot to present an interesting character, to follow up its fate and growth, to force the reader into sympathy, to make him hope for success or fear failure; nor even to show the struggle with the surroundings, to depict interesting and complex situations and centers. Her writings always depend upon a primary postulate, and to this postulate all characters, scenes, and situations are ultimately subordinated. This postulate is: The ideal social order as a whole, the establishment of sane and sound social relations in humanity, the development and progress of human society towards such an ideal of general human life. All characters and situations, all scenes of life, whether clerical or provincial, whether of the present or of the past (and this may here be a grave fault), are developed and viewed by her in their relation to this general standard of ideal society; how far they fit into this general harmony, and failing this, how far they can in her stories be made to fit more fully; or they are left to a more tragic end which emphasizes the facts of their unfitness. Herein lies her distinctive character as a novelist, a point in which her delineation differs from most of the other great novelists—from a Balzac and a Flaubert, a George Sand, a Thackeray, and a Dickens, a Turgenev and an early Tolstoy. I do not mean to say that these novelists had not a social ideal at the foundation of their constructive imagination; but it did not play that essential part in their conception and working out of characters and plots, it was not ever present in their minds while they were describing characters, feelings, incidents, and situations, as it appears to have been with George Eliot. Her philosophical and ethical bias thus manifests itself, in that there was an idea of general social fitness and happiness modifying and directing her representation of individual life and character.  19
  To understand this social ideal of a rational and essentially sane world, we must conceive her as an expression of the spirit of the age out of which she grew. And she will thus hold a place not only as a novelist, but as a pregnant and significant exponent of the thought of the third quarter of the nineteenth century.  20
  The time in which her mind was formed is marked on the side of social ethics, in that a broad and powerful humanitarian wave spread over English life and thought. Negatively it manifested itself in that it was a period of storm and stress toward the birth of tolerance—tolerance with all forms of belief and even unbelief. In the English Church itself, it was the period of clear accentuations of shades of belief that differed to a very marked degree from one another. The Church of Rome was brought nearer to the Anglican believer, and was robbed of its Apocalyptic horrors by a Newman and a Manning; a definite political act was the Irish Church Act. But an especial feature of this tolerance was the social recognition of agnosticism, in its scientific aspect through a Darwin, and in its more ethical aspect through a Mill, a Herbert Spencer, and a Matthew Arnold; while divines of the English Church itself, like Stanley, Maurice, Kingsley, and Jowett, bridged over the gaps between dogmatism and agnosticism. The repeal of the Test Act (according to which the signing of the Thirty-nine Articles was a condition for obtaining a scholarship or fellowship) abolished all disqualifications from freethinkers at the great universities. Quakers and Jews had before been admitted to Parliament, and now took prominent and leading places.  21
  But more positively, the philosophy of Auguste Comte with its English exponents, especially Mill, impressed the religious feeling of humanitarianism. There had been a wave of this before, a wave the commotion of which was felt even in our days. It was the humanitarianism of Rousseau, under which George Sand stood. But this differs in a marked manner from that of our friend. With Rousseau it was deductive, based upon the inalienable rights of man, of the individual,—a deductive sociology. In our times it was essentially guided by the prevailing spirit and methods of thought of Charles Darwin, Mill, Herbert Spencer, Huxley, Clifford, and Matthew Arnold, with the regenerated and refined sense of truth which they have given to the world. It has thus led to an inductive sociology and inductive humanitarianism, freed from all romantic character and admixture, essentially sober and sane, though none the less passionate and deep-seated. The last wave of Rousseauesque feeling filtered through German sources to us in Carlyle and Ruskin. But this mode of thought was foreign to George Eliot. She disliked all forms of exaggeration.  22
  She has always clear in her mind the sane and sober ideals of a society based upon the truthful observation and recognition of its wants and needs. The claims of truth, the claims of charity and unselfishness, are supreme. To this ideal the individual must subordinate himself if he wishes to be happy and noble, beloved and honored; must have “that recognition of something to be lived for beyond the mere satisfaction of self, which is to the moral life what the addition of a central ganglion is to animal life.”  23
  Pure applied psychology and knowledge of the cœur humain, which have actuated so many great novelists,—the careful and studied development of an individual life and character as such within its surroundings,—were not enough to absorb the desires of George Eliot’s efforts in fiction; still less mere striking incidents, and the engrossing consequences and sequences as they push on in the plot of a story; but the cœur humain and incidents in life are viewed in their relation to society as a whole, to social ideals. She is thus an idealistic and an ethical novelist.  24
  Even in her poetry this bias manifests itself; and here, from an artistic point of view, the effect is often more disturbing than in her novels. For in poetry the purely artistic, emotional, and lyrical aspect is more important and essential; and any general and impersonal ideal counteracts the reality of the characters, the mood, and the passion. Thus in her longest and greatest poem, ‘The Spanish Gypsy,’ the feelings and expressions put into the mouth of Fedalma and Zarca are the nineteenth-century thoughts and feelings of a George Eliot, and lose their immediate truthfulness and convincing power from being thus expressed by fictitious persons; while the personalities themselves, their thoughts and feelings, do not strike one with a sense of reality, because they express views which sound anachronistic and have not their proper local coloring. In spite of some beautiful shorter poems, passages, and lines, she fails when criticized as a lyrical poetess; nor will her poems stand faultless when judged from the epic point of view. But if there be any justification (which we hold there is) for didactic poetry,—poetry which calls in artistic emotion to impress truths and moral laws,—then she will always hold a prominent place in this sphere. ‘Stradivarius’ and the ‘Positivist Hymn’ will, together with Matthew Arnold’s ‘Self-Dependence,’ rank among the finest types of didactic poems of our age.  25
  Though at times her ethical bias has obtruded itself out of place, and may have counteracted her certainty of touch in drawing lifelike character (as for instance in the construction of Daniel Deronda’s personality), it has, on the whole, not prevented her from giving full play to her marvelous power of clear and deep insight into life and of sensuous description.  26
  In studying life she had learned observation in the scientific inductive school, and had thus acquired, with minuteness of perception, the clear-sighted and unprejudiced intellectual justice of vision which enabled her to appreciate fully and to grasp the inner core of all the characters, motives, and passions which her command over her thoughts and language and her docile pen enabled her to fix in so masterly a manner. But these faculties would not have been enough to lead to her creation of human types, had she not possessed to that intense and exalted degree the power of feeling which gave the initial stimulus to her penetration of the human heart and its motives and passions, and which her intellectual control converted into all-encompassing and all-pervading sympathy. She was, after all, what Elizabeth Browning expressed in the pregnant phrase—“a large-brained woman and a large-hearted man.”  27
  Nay, this sympathy was so intense and leading a feature of her genius that it again serves to establish a distinct general classification of novelists. Like great actors, great writers of fiction may be classified, according to their mode of rendering the life they study, as subjective and objective interpreters. The former are intellectually so wide and emotionally so responsive, that their great souls and minds grasp and assimilate, absorb for the time being, all the different natures which they portray; they thrill with them—they become them. The objective artists possess more the painter’s and sculptor’s attitude of mind; they eliminate self completely during the period of observation, and enter, through the fullness and delicacy of their perceptions, into the lives and characters they depict. For the time they see only the object of their study, and reproduce it with clear and dispassionate touch. This is the case with Balzac, Turgenev, Thackeray, and Dickens. The objective method is the safest and least likely to produce faults in drawing which make the characters at times inconsistent and fall out of their parts; but the subjective method may at times attain depth of insight, and fullness of passion and veracity, which lies hidden from the dispassionate draughtsmen and impersonators. The Brontës had this subjective penetration to the highest degree; but they had not, on the other hand, the inductive and scientific training of George Eliot, which sobered down and made more objective, as it made more humorous, the sympathetic impersonations in her stories. Above all, the purely emotional subjectivity of George Eliot was counteracted by the passion for the general ethical and the social ideal which we have already considered as playing so essential a part in her mind. Upon this we must take our stand in order to appreciate her leading method of composition, which can be traced, we venture to believe, through all her novels.  28
  Starting with a well-defined ideal of social fitness for this world, the harmony in life towards which all action, effort, and individuality must tend, the problem which each novel sets itself to solve is the reconciliation of the conflict arising out of the unfitness of the leading characters (the “hero” or “heroine,” as we may call them) as measured by this ideal—the want of harmony between their characters, aspirations, and ambitions, their views of life, and on the other hand the surroundings in which they live. The Greek tragedians, Shakespeare, and all great dramatists, have ever dealt with this central struggle between man and society. But they started with this fact, and had merely the artistic aim of evoking sympathy and pity in the audience because of this tragic struggle, the powerful and perfect representation of which became the final aim of their artistic endeavor. With George Eliot the process of adaptation, the resolution of the discord, and if not the establishment of harmony, then the clear and impressive indication of the best way to its establishment, is the real motive and end of her writing. There is in her no great tragic fatalism, which makes the art of the Greek dramatist so deeply and overwhelmingly tragic. Each one of her leading characters is at fault, when viewed in the light of the healthy social ideal. In the exposition of the character the fault will be shown up strongly; the hero will either be developed into greater social perfection, or the tragic end will impress upon the reader the disease and its remedy, the bane and its antidote.  29
  The social failings and shortcomings which stand in the way of this harmony are grouped by her into two leading faults of a general nature: the discord between the individual and selfish and the general and altruistic; between thoughtless social materialism and conformity, and questioning originality and spiritual revolt; between conventionality and originality; between common-sense and prophetic far-sightedness; between the Philistine and the artistic, the humdrum worker and the world-reformer, the materialist and the dreamer. The one looks down before him on the ground and ignores the heights beyond and the clear sky above, and in his heavy-footed advance shoves the sky-gazer aside and walks over him when he has fallen; the other gazes at the heights and the stars, and spurns the clod and soil, tripping over them,—nay, slipping in the mud. They each ignore one another and the world in which each lives, or they despise each other and their respective goals and aims.  30
  Now, in all her novels this problem is repeated and a solution is attempted. Over and over again she presents this situation as the central point in the composition of her novels, in different layers of society, in most varied characters. And the understanding of this is the key to the understanding of George Eliot’s works. She either brings it out in presenting two central figures as the contrasts which represent either faulty extreme, or one figure as opposed to the surroundings, or both these means are used to impress the central fact.  31
  We shall take one pregnant instance to illustrate this: ‘Daniel Deronda’ has been estimated and criticized chiefly as a novel in which the Jewish question has been discussed by her in a dramatic manner. That it deals powerfully with this question is no doubt true; but the Jewish question is but a side issue—no doubt appealing to her deep sympathies and sense of justice; but it is not the central motive to the story nor the artistic keystone of the novel as constructed. The central figure in that story is Gwendolen Harleth (who ought properly to have given her name to the novel). The contrasting figure at the other extreme is Mordecai the Jew, and Daniel is the intermediary figure (almost figure-head) between these two extremes. The personality which, I am sure, set her sympathetic intellect and imagination throbbing into artistic creation was Gwendolen. As an ordinary though beautiful young lady of English society (in her rank what Hetty Sorrel and Rosamond Vincy are in theirs), she is the clod-born, materialistic, and hopelessly selfish representative of the unsocial member of a society in which ideas and ideals are unknown, and in which blind impulse, feebly directed by prejudice and tradition, petty vanity and greed, at most personal ambition, are the motives to action, and produce the discord and misery which surround even those who live in affluence. Her beauty, her position in her family, her whole education, have kept from her every higher ideal, all semblance of an ideal, and all altruism and feeling for or with her fellow-men. Her world in the opening of the story is the most contracted world of a small self, with a pervading passion out of all proportion to its extent, in which the desires whirl round and round this little circle in hideous compression. Now the fundamental problem of the story is: How can this little, selfish, and materialistic nature, which only realizes the things before its desiring eyes and grasping touch, be made large, unselfish, and idealistic, so that it reaches out beyond and above the world of self into the regions of great ideas, in which the individual is completely submerged; and that through this wholesome straining of the heart and of sympathetic power, through this realization and love of the ideal, it may learn to love and pity, and think for and in, mankind and all men and women? And this process of artistic development of character is sensuously and convincingly represented in this novel. The reader enters sympathetically into the little soul of that beautiful girl at the very beginning of the story, and in her he passes through all the phases, until without any forced hiatus he sees before him at the end the purified and enlarged Gwendolen, who has learnt her ennobling lesson in the great school of suffering. It is perhaps the greatest achievement in her art.  32
  The more definite question is: How can such a girl realize the great world of ideas? The answer is: It must come through the heart, through the emotions and not the intellect,—the intellect will be widened and matured after her personality has been thrilled. She must fall in love with a man who is the impersonation of an idea, whose whole existence centers round a great desire far removed from the petty world of self in which she has lived,—nay, opposed to it, in direct contrast to it.  33
  This impersonation is presented in Daniel Deronda; and the fault in the book is that George Eliot’s theoretical bias has been too strong for her, and in her eagerness to make him the bearer of an idea to the central figure of the story she has sacrificed the realistic drawing of Daniel, who is an impersonation at the cost of flesh and blood. Given the fact that Daniel must in his personality represent some unselfish idea, the question was: What actual idea, great in extent and enough to fill a man’s mind and soul, should be chosen? The difficulty here arose, that if George Eliot had chosen some purely imaginary topic it would have lacked reality, and would have moved neither Gwendolen nor the reader into sympathy. If on the other hand she had taken some stirring question of the day, the question as such would have engrossed the interest and attention of the reader, and would no longer have been subordinated to the chief artistic purpose it has in the story. As it is, to many, the Jewish question as treated and suggested in the novel has itself engrossed the attention of readers, and has diverted their minds from the main artistic gist of the story. But to the ordinary English reader the subject of Jewish social life and aspirations was sufficiently remote. Nay, so narrow are the sympathies and the intellectual horizon of many cultivated Englishmen, that though they can be interested in the lives of gipsies and farm laborers, they cannot “screw up an interest in those Jews.”  34
  To Daniel however it was a real, stirring, and great idea to which he wished to devote his life. Now, in order that Gwendolen should realize in herself such a great impersonal idea, she had to fall in love with the man whose life they filled, and through her heart and her love for him it would reach her mind and raise her thoughts. Daniel, again, the man she loves, is contrasted with the narrow and selfish man, the hardened and crystallized type of another social world, consuming itself in its own self-love.  35
  All Gwendolen’s experiences directly or indirectly tend to bring about this development of her soul. A striking scene in this sense is her interview with Klesmer, the genuine and thorough musician devoted to his art and work. And when she comes out of the final soul’s tragedy we feel that the woman has stood the test of fire, and has realized the greatness and overwhelming vastness of the spiritual world. G. H. Lewes, to whom the writer communicated this conception of ‘Daniel Deronda’ assured him that he had grasped the central idea which George Eliot had in her mind, and the actual history in the story’s construction.  36
  Gwendolen’s counterpart (and there are many in George Eliot’s books) is Dorothea in ‘Middlemarch.’ She starts with great and extraordinary ideas, and must, through life and suffering, realize the moral justification of the simple and commonplace in life. The contrasting types illustrating this central point can be found in every work: Dorothea and Rosamond on the one side,—original, spiritual, striving as commonplace selfishness,—and Dorothea and Ladislaw as heavy, serious, intellectual morality, and light, playful, artistic freedom, on the other; Lydgate with his great reformatory ideas, slowly enfeebled and annihilated in his Samson-like vigor by the pretty, selfish, shallow-souled Rosamond of provincial worldliness. Gwendolen is also contrasted with Mirah. In ‘Adam Bede,’ again, Dinah and Hetty present the same contrasts as do Tito Melema and Romola, Esther and Felix Holt. Maggie Tulliver and her brother Tom, the spirit of revolt in Maggie and the hard conventionality of respectability in her brother Tom, are strongly marked types of this kind. Maggie’s conflict with her narrow and commonplace surroundings and their conventional respectability are typified in the Mill. It is a wonderful touch of artistic suggestion that she and her brother are finally submerged in the Mill, carried away by the flood. This novel reflects more thoroughly the spirit of Greek tragedy than any other work of modern fiction. The Mill, and the part it plays in the life of the Tulliver family and in Maggie’s sorrows, are like great Fate in the Greek tragedy. It is an embodiment of the hard and unrelenting tyranny of the powers that are. Even in ‘Silas Marner,’ the most artistic and least doctrinaire of her novels, the moral process of remedying Silas’s social unfitness and misanthropy is the central idea. Space will not allow us to give further illustrations of this idea in her novels; but enough has been said to enable the reader to test it and follow it up for himself.  37
  The two most striking qualities in George Eliot as a writer are her humor and her sympathy. They are realty connected with one another. The power of intellectual observation, when coupled with the power of feeling sympathy, produces humor; the purely intellectual or objective cast of mind produces wit; while the purely subjective habit of mind is unable to produce either.  38
  But with all her wide range of sympathy, upon which we have been dwelling, its limitations can still be discerned. The careful observer will recognize that the subjective attitude of the woman cannot wholly be hidden from view. The chief women into whom she projects herself are after all those that are nearest to herself, and she cannot help treating them as favorites and bestowing the greater attention upon them: Daniel only exists as a creation to develop Gwendolen; nay, Savonarola is really constructed for Romola’s spiritual development, Casaubon for Dorothea, and so on. A still more marked and important limitation in her sympathies, arising out of her ethical bias, is her pronounced dislike to all morbid art, all that is fantastic. The poetry of Byron, the music of Chopin, all forms of morbid sentiment, are so repulsive to her nature that she cannot treat them with tolerance or even with humor. Remarks on Esther in ‘Felix Holt’ bear this out. Probably this is an autobiographical touch, and having freed herself from these morbid tendencies in her youth, she could never look back upon them with tolerance.  39
  Her seriousness and ethical bias may at times also have impaired her style. Her extensive studies in science and philosophy often make her ponderous in thought and in expression. The fondness with which she takes her similes from science is often confusing to the reader who is unfamiliar with the facts and thoughts that are used as illustrations. She never quite overcame the temptation to insert what was new and striking to herself; so that her science and philosophy never reached that mature stage of mental assimilation in which they manifest themselves merely in the general fullness of thought, without ever asserting themselves as science or as philosophy. Still, no writer of fiction has ever introduced reflections and episodes in propria persona which are so striking and well worth reading in themselves. When her imitators attempt this they fail signally, and one need but compare such passages with those of George Eliot to realize her greatness as a writer and as a thinker.  40
  To sum up the estimate of George Eliot as a novelist, we would say that she is the greatest representative of the analytical and psychological school, fixing with truth and sensuousness the types of English provincial life; with a final purpose, which she achieved, of illustrating by them the ideals of social ethics for the wider life of humanity.  41
 
 
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