This thesis, having been approved by the special F a c u lty Committee, is accepted by the Committee on Graduate Study o f the University o f W yom ing, in p a rtia l fu lfillm e n t o f the requirements . fo r the degree o f Chairman o f the Commiltee on Graduate Study. Secretary. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. GEORGE ELIOT’S PORTRAYAL OF RUSTIC CHARACTER by Raymond Joseph Simonitsch Thesis submitted to the Department of English and the Committee on Graduate Study at the University of Wyoming, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the de gree of Master of Arts Laramie, Wyoming 1940 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 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Further reproduction prohibited without permission. TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter Page Introduction............................ I. Descriptions, Details, Backgrounds ii . . . . 1 II. Eliot’s Matronly Characters. 6 III. Eliot’s Young Women Characters.............. IV. Eliot’s Young Men Characters ............... V. Eliot’s Middle-Aged Men Characters VI. Summary 18 . . . . 30 40 . 46 Bibliography ...................................... no Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 56 INTRODUCTION It would seem fortunate that George Eliot did not start to write her novels earlier than she did. By the time she began her first novel, she was about thirty-seven years old. tensively. She had traveled ex She had read an extraordinary amount which ranged through scientific subjects, philosophy, history, poetry and contemporary novels. She had written a considerable amount. She had associated with many classes of people, both English and Continental. She had suffered religious doubt and had finally summoned up sufficient courage openly to declare herself an agnostic. She had disregarded opinion by openly living with a married man who was unable to divorce his wife, in a day when divorce and re-marriage were far from common. Very valuable were her early writing experiences. Although I can not understand or share the enthusiasm of Mr. Blackwood for her first prose tales, of which he was the publisher, I can see that they, to gether with her critical works, gave her a good schooling in the drudg ery of the mechanical side of writing. At the same time, these tales, with her own reviews on the novels of other writers, helped her to form her concept of what a novel should be. But even more important than her mechanical training which made her habitually weigh her words, was the fact that she was busy with congenial things until she had arrived at an age where her judgment, her understanding of human beings and her sympathies had matured, mellowed and clarified themselves. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. lii When she finally began her actual work in novels, she had pretty firmly in mind several principles which were to guide her writing. It is for this rare, precious quality of truthful ness that I delight in many Dutch paintings, which loftyminded people despise, I find a source of delicious sym pathy in these faithful pictures of a monotonous homely existence, which has been the fate of so many more among my fellow-mortals than a life of pomp or of absolute in digence, of tragic suffering or of world-stirring actions. I turn, without shrinking, from cloud-borne angels, from prophets, sibyls, and heroic warriors, to an old woman bending over her flower-pot, or eating her solitary dinner, while the noonday light, softened perhaps by a screen of leaves, falls on her mob-cap, and just touches the rim of her spin ning-wheel, and her stone jug, and all those cheap common things which are the precious necessaries of life to her; — or I turn to that village wedding, kept between four brown walls, where an awkward bridegroom opens the dance with a high-shouldered, broad-faced bride, while elderly and middle-aged friends look on, with very irregular noses and lips, and probably with quart-pots in their hands, but with an expression of unmistakeable contentment and good-will. Earlier, she had also voiced sympathy for the lowlier level of life in one of her prose tales: "I have all my life had a sympathy for the mongrel ungainly dogs, who are nobody’s pets; and I would rather surprise one of them by a pat and a pleasant morsel, than meet the condescending advances of the loveliest Sky-terrier who has his cushion by my lady’s chair.”2 Again, in the period of book-reviewing, she had written two articles, "Lady Novelists" and "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" in which "the chief rule for novel-writing laid down by George Eliot . . . 1. George Eliot, Adam Bede, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, p. 153. 2. George Eliot, The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, Harper, 18— . Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. iv is that the novel shall be the result of experience and true to nature.”® Her main purposes, then, were to portray actual experience ac curately and to make her characters convincingly life-like. This in tention coincided with her conception of truthfulness as inspired by the Dutch paintings, in opposition to the "Silly Novels” which she had condemned in her book-reviews. It was natural that she was interested chiefly in country and small-town folk. Until she was twenty-one, she had lived among such people in a setting of tranquil, rural England, so that when she came to the writing of novels, she was drawn irresistibly to people and scenes which had early become part of her very self. With such material available, combined with so worthy a purpose, it was inevitable that a faithful presentation of life should result. Supplemented by Eliot's inherent sympathy and more than ordinary intelligence, her hope to show the ordinary life of obscure people was realized. Let it be understood clearly that her characters were never mere "types." In the long list of her rustic characters, which constitute the majority of her people, "no character is a failure," as Miss Elizabeth Haldane says.4 In other words, each of her many rural char acters is a well-conceived and splendidly-portrayed individual, unmis takably a country person in viewpoint, manner, actions and appearance. 3. George Willis Cooke, George Eliot, A Critical Study of Her Life, Writings and Philosophy, Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1899, p. 139. 4. Elizabeth S. Haldane, George Eliot and Her Times. D. Appleton and Company, 1927, p. 150. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. V Even the mental processes are worked out in detail and never do they suggest anything but the laborious thinking of the peasant. One method of Eliot in depicting the true rustic is the emphasis upon conscience. The character himself does not usually refer to this force which motivates or controls his single acts or his general life. Only a few characters, such as Mrs. Winthrop and Adam Bede, attempt to analyze their feelings. Mrs. Winthrop admonishes Silas Marner, "to do the right thing as we know, and to trusten." 5 Mr. Albert E. Hancock, editor of one edition of Silas Marner, says in a footnote, regarding Mrs. Winthrop’s remark just quoted, A curiously tender and sympathetic tribute to the value of simple faith to come from one who could not follow the advice. One of the chief sources of George Eliot’s greatness was her ability to appreciate at their real worth things which were alien to her tem perament. She was not a woman of religious belief, yet she saw the full beauty and power and glory of it.® Eliot’s own struggle with religious belief undoubtedly introduced her to that thing, Conscience, so potent with well-meaning, ignorant folk, which is almost as tangible with many of them as a hand or a nose. A contemporary reviewer stated well one difficulty in commenting upon Eliot’s novels: The temptation in a notice of such a book is to transfer half of it in the shape of extract into one’s own pages. To discuss its merits is like expatiating 5. George Eliot, Silas Marner: the Weaver of Raveloe. Scott, Foresman and Company, Chicago, 1905, p. 236. 6. Albert 1. Hancock, Ed., Ibid., Footnote, p. 236. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. vi to a friend upon the curious flavor of a particular vintage of which you are fortunate to possess a dozen or two. You may have the consummate judgment of a con noisseur, and powers of description that might make your fortune as a novelist; but you will give your listener a much clearer notion of what the wine is like by setting a bottle before him.7 And I, too, feel the same temptatitan to quote liberally — haps too liberally — to prove or illustrate points. per Eliot’s two greatest qualities were sympathy and truthfulness or accuracy. How well she concretely demonstrated these traits could best be proved by simply saying to anyone iriio needed convincing, "Read her books." The purpose of this thesis is to show that Eliot created many true English rustic characters, not types, but individuals, and placed them in a setting and in a social environment that was the essence of English rural life. Always, when writing, she kept in mind her beloved Dutch paintings of plain, commonplace people before a full, almost crowded background. The characters considered as rustics are all those who lacked the urban outlook on life and whose experiences precluded an understanding of any level of society that was very far removed from their own. 7. Anonymous review of Felix Holt, the Radical by George Eliot, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Vol. C, July 1866, p. 109. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. CHAPTER I DESCRIPTIONS, DETAILS, BACKGROUNDS That Eliot imitated the Dutch paintings of which she was so fond and that she used the same technique as that of the Dutch masters is plain when we read her descriptions of the dairy, the kitchen, the mill and the fields; when we remember how definitely she shows even the people in a crowd as individuals. It must have taken as much time and paint to achieve the backgrounds in the Dutch pictures as it took for the main parts of the foreground. Thus it is with Eliot’s back grounds and her minor characters. What she admired in the pictures was a blending, rather than sharp contrast, for she herself said in regard to Mrs. Gaskell’s novels: "Mrs. Gaskell seems to me to be constantly misled by a love of sharp contrasts, — of ’dramatic* effects. She is not contented with the Q subdued coloring, the half tints of real life." In these Dutch pictures we see that the backgrounds are not merely dark, shadowy patches of color hastily filled in by the painter, but that they are remoter parts of a room furnished with commonplace objects appropriate to the person and room depicted. attracted Eliot: 8. Both content and technique of the pictures simple, commonplace settings for simple, commonplace George Eliot, criticism of Ruth by Mrs. Gaskell. Quoted by Wilbur L. Cross, in The Development of the English Novel, The Mac millan Company, 1904, p. 238, Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 2 people employed at every-day tasks. What is more, Eliot realized that humble people lead busier lives, more crowded with details of existence and with implements of daily occupations. this sort of living from childhood. She had been familiar with Therefore, in her novels, the characters did not loom up against a barren, sparsely-filled background, but blended with a full, variegated setting such as she knew to be correct. Her descriptions of interiors and of the out-doors are noteworthy. They are written in great detail, as has been said, but in so natural a manner that they never become tiresome even upon repeated readings. They were obviously written by a person who was thoroughly familiar with such scenes and who ever retains a clear, unclouded picture of them in her mind. There is never the slightest hint that the descrip tions could have been produced by some observant person who had visited these places for the purpose of acquiring "atmosphere.” The actions of characters in their customary tasks are given in such a natural way that they seem like a necessary accompaniment to a song rather than an interruption to the action of the story. Some how, as we read the long, full account of a house, a person, a field or an event, we almost see the author seated in a comfortable chair, writing in leisurely fashion. her narration. There is little suggestion of labor in It is with something of a shock that we learn that Eliot herself said her books "ploughed into her." One reviewer, in discussing Eliot’s description of the dairy in Adam Bede, apparently even noted " . . . a concentrated cool smell of Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 3 all that is nourishing and sweet. Eliot managed to convey to readers not only the appearance of places and objects, but even the sound, smell and texture thereof. No writer could more effectively reproduce a calm, cool evening in the English countryside than Eliot did for the setting when Dinah Morris preaches on the village green. In the riot described in Felix Holt, she vitalized members of the mob briefly in a word of description or of conversation, but so effect ively that they became individuals. A contemporary writer summed up Eliot’s ability concisely and accurately: Experience has been much to her: her men are men, her women women, and long did English readers rack their brains to discover the sex of George Eliot, We do not aver that Mrs. Lewes has actually encountered the characters so vividly portrayed by her. Genius looks upon Nature and then creates. The scene in the pot-house in "Silas Marner" is as perfect as a Dutch painting, yet the author never entered a pot-house. Her strong physique has enabled her to brush against the world, and in thus brushing she has gathered up the dust, fine and coarse, out of which human beings great and small are made.10 The doubt concerning Eliot’s sex, before her identity became known, is something which I cannot understand. Charles Dickens was not entirely sure that George Eliot was a woman, although he had a strong suspicion that she was, a suspicion which he indicated in a letter to Eliot.H 9. Dickens and Miss Field were not the only people of Anonymous review of Adam Bede. Atlantic Monthly. Vol* IY, October 1859, p. 522. 10. Kate Field, "English Authors in Florence," Atlantic Monthly. Vol. XIV, December 1864, p. 666. 11. Letter to George Eliot from Charles Dickens, January 18, 1858. Quoted in George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals, arranged and edited by her husband, J« W. Cross, Vol. II, Harper and Brothers, 1885, p. 3. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 4 the day who interested themselves in the question. Someone went so far as to have a cabinetmaker read the description of Adam Bede’s carpenter shop in order to get the cabinetmaker's opinion, which was that the carpenter shop had been described either by a man, or by a woman who had been familiar with such shops all her life. Personally, I believe that such uncertainty regarding the sex of the author would never have entered my mind no matter whether the book had appeared anonymously or under an even more masculine-sounding name than "George Eliot." The description of the carpenter shop is a fine example of Eliot's thoroughness in marking detail and of her ability to create vivid ef fects. The reader almost hears the squeaking swish of the planes as they travel over the boards. So thoroughly was Eliot of the country, that her distrust of the new railway betrayed itself in a letter to a friend as to the means of returning a borrowed book. Eliot wrote to the friend, Miss Lewis, "Do you think a package would reach you by railway?" For the person who would ask such a question even in the early days of the new rail way, it was almost second nature to use the everyday little oddments of country life and people when she was writing her stories: "It was then past nine by the clock, which was always in advance of the day."12 . . . she spread the clean cloth, and set on it the potato pie, warmed up slowly in a safe Sunday fashion, by being put into a dry pot over a slowly-dying fire, as the best substitute for an oven. For Silas would not consent 12. Eliot, Adam Bede, p. 35. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 5 to have a grate and oven added to his conveniences: he loved the old brick hearth, • . . was it not there where he had found Eppie?^-® The reason that the author’s first novels, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner. will always be more popular with readers is that she was attempting only to tell a tale; a tale natural, homely and possible of occurrence. When she became more interested in solving "problems" of various kinds, there was less rapport between the writer and her characters — Dutch paintings. a getting away from the themes of the Her later stories are excellent and contain fine examples of her powers of characterization, but the reader who had first read her earlier novels would miss the lovable people and the almost hypnotic charm therein. If George Eliot loved faithful presentation of "homely" scenes, she was eminently successful in at least the first three complete novels in doing what the Dutch artists had done. She could not fail to know that the labor which "ploughed into her" resulted in books worthy of her singularly high aspirations. 13. George Eliot, Silas Marner: the Weaver of Raveloe, Houghton Miff lin and Company, p. 231. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. CHAPTER II ELIOT’S MATRONLY CHARACTERS We are told that Dickens’ original intention and expectation were to make Sairey Gamp14 a minor character, a necessary part of the background who was not to be especially prominent. Apparently Mrs* Gamp got out of hand, grew by what she fed on, and proceeded to usurp the main interest in the book, for she is vividly remembered by read ers who have forgotten in which of Dickens’ books she appeared. Like circumstances attended the development of the character of George Eliot's Mrs. Poyser, for Eliot wrote in her journal under date of November 16th, 1858: When I began to write it (Adam Bede), the only ele ments I had determined on, besides the character of Dinah, were the character of Adam, his relation to Arthur Donnithorne, and their mutual relations to Hetty — i.e., to the girl who commits child-murder — the scene in the prison being, of course, the climax towards which I worked. Every thing else grew out of the characters and their mutual re lations.1^ Mrs. Poyser*s entrance into the gallery of literary personages was almost as explosive as her weight in gunpowder might have been. Reviewers of Adam Bede forgot to say whether the story itself was in teresting, tedious or simply mediocre. They forgot to mention Dinah 14. Sairey Gamp, a character in Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. 15. George Eliot’s Journal, November 16th, 1858, in George Eliot’s Life, edited by J. W. Cross, op. cit., p. 49. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 7 Morris, Hetty Sorrel, Mrs. Bede, Mr. Poyser, Seth Bede. the title-role character, Adam Bede. One reviewer predicted " . . . They forgot They even forgot Bartle Massey. this Mrs. Poyser . . . will probably be the most popular individual in the book with the general reader who takes it up chiefly in search of entertainment,"^6 He gives particular reasons why the character runs small danger of be coming stale and monotonous: A most delightful character is Mrs. Poyser; quite a character, but with a merit for which the comic characters of fiction are in general by no means remarkable, — that she never conveys to the reader the least notion of ex aggeration, or wearies him by the perpetual recurrence of the one note of facetiousness which is supposed to be character istic, and at which he is expected to laugh long after the joke has become a melancholy nuisance. Not so Mrs. Poyser; she comes out with a fund of droll remarks in the most un expected places, and possesses a vein of grotesque poetry, which embraces all objects from the highest to the most familiar. Yet she is natural as a photograph.^ This eschewing the repetition of a single phrase or expression is indeed a new note in the characterization of a comedy character, and one which Eliot herself did not always follow. She gave Bartle Massey, in the same novel, the habit of repeating the last few words of a sentence, a trait which is natural enough and which is as ex asperating in real life as it is in a character in fiction. So greatly did Mrs. Poyser impress contemporary critics that eight years after her appearance someone reviewing the author’s newest novel, Felix Holt, harked back to her with the words, "By far the best 16. Anonymous review of Adam Bede. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. LXXXV, April 1859, p. 490. 17. Ibid.. p. 490. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 8 part of Adam Bede consists in the proverb-like sayings of Mrs. Poyser, who has little or nothing to do with the plot,"18 It was perhaps this same reviewer who said in regard to The Mill on the Floss: " . . . still unmatched — One jewel alone Adam Bede contains which is there is no character in this new work which even aspires to a rivalry with Mrs. Poyser.”19 Eliot herself wrote to her publisher: like my Mrs. Poyser. ”1 am delighted that you I’m very sorry to part with her and some of my other characters.”^8 That, however, does not mean that Eliot intended or considered her to be a particularly pleasant or likable person. In the novel Mrs. Poyser is ushered into the story with the words: No scene could have been more peaceful, if Mrs. Poyser, who was ironing a few things that still remained from the Monday’s wash, had not been making a frequent clinking with her iron, and moving to and fro whenever she wanted it to cool; carrying the keen glance of her blue-grey eye from the kitchen to the dairy, where Hetty was making up the butter, and from the dairy to the back-kitchen, where Nancy was taking the pies out of the oven. Do not suppose, however, that Mrs. Poyser was elderly or shrewish in her appearance; she was a good-looking woman, not more than eight and thirty, of fair complexion and sandy hair, wellshapen, light-footed.^1 Personally, I am quite willing to join the general opinion that 18. Anonymous review of Felix Holt, the Radical, loc. cit.. p. 94. 19. Anonymous review of The Mill on the Floss, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. L X X m i , May 1860, p. 611. 20. Letter to Mr. John Blackwood, December 28th, 1858, in Cross, op. cit, p. 54. 21. Eliot, Adam Bede, pp. 61-62. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 9 Mrs. Poyser is the best-rounded and most vivid character the writer produced; definitely her best. But by the longest stretch of imagina tion I could never bring myself to say she was "delightful,” Regard less, however, of what kind of disposition Eliot wished to endow Mrs. Poyser with, she did succeed in developing a typical country woman. Mrs, Poyser was one of those old-fashioned country housewives who con sider it the duty of a farm-wife to perform any task that can reason ably be included in the sphere of house-management and perform it per fectly. Or, if need be, to see that servant-girls perform it perfectly. Mrs. Poyser felt her duties a weighty responsibility, but responsibil ity in which she took boundless pleasure. Doubtless she took more, or at least as much, pleasure in Squire Donnithorne’s remarks about her immaculate kitchen and her dairy-products, Op although these were actually made by Hetty, than she took in Arthur’s pretended interest in her adored Totty.23 Her view of everything that came to her notice was that of a farm-wife. Hetty’s desire to become a lady’s-maid was entirely in comprehensible to her. Such creatures there must be, of course, since the gentry were part of Mrs. Poyser’s articles of faith and naturally must have ladies’-maids. But that a young girl would prefer the life of a lady’s-maid to that of a dairy-maid, — by Mrs. Poyser, herself, — 22. Ibid.. p. 298. 25. Ibid., p. 72. impossible! and a dairy-maid trained No, it was not to be thought Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 10 of seriously, Mrs, Poyser*s opinion of men was anything but a flattering one, if she meant what she said to Bartle Massey. But to do the woman justice, she was completely respectful to her aged father-in-law, in fact, almost tenderly solicitous, her softness of manner coming as a great surprise to the reader. But it is Mrs. Poyser*s conversation whereby we see that the author succeeded in creating a genuine rural character, and this was responsible for the keenest bit of criticism of any that was written about George Eliot's novels: "Her epigrams are aromatic, and she is strong in simile, but never ventures beyond her own depth into that of her author."^ Of the many eulogies laid at the feet of the garrulous MTs. Poyser, I think this statement is most indicative of the appreciation of Eliot’s masterly handling of character. Nowhere can we find that Mrs. Poyser*s words are anything but those of a country woman. Not only the actual wording of her remarks, but also the thought expressed, is of the very essence of the rustic character who voices them. Not once are the cosmopolitan, brilliant mind and vast learning of the author even hinted at in the words or in the thought-processes of her most perfectly conceived character. Many reviews of Eliot’s novels neglected to mention more than two or three of the characters and almost no reference was made to 24. Anonymous review of Adam Bede, loc. cit., p. 522. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 11 Mrs* Bede. I think that Mrs. Bede, and also Mrs. Tulliver, Mrs. Win throp, Mrs. Vincy and Mrs. Holt, suffer, in the eyes of the general reader, in comparison with Mrs. Poyser. oped or less plausible. They are not less well devel But, perhaps, in the case of Mrs. Bede, it would have been pointless to try to make her, in the same book with Mrs. Poyser, equally prominent. Nevertheless, analyzing the two characters, I would say that Mrs. Bede had as many points in her favor, as a literary characterization, as Mrs. Poyser. In fact, though she was allotted less space, we have as definite an impression of her as of Mrs. Poyser, and I would say a more pleasant one. She was, it is true, a lachrymose replica, almost a twin sister, of Dickens’ morose and depressed Mrs. Gummidge.^® She had, however, a bit more spirit than Mrs. Gummidge, though it was at times no more than a persistent, tearful nagging. But it seemed to me that Mrs. Bede had more kindliness than Mrs. Poyser. For instance, she still bore tender memories of her husband as a fine and good young man before he became addicted to drink. She reminded Adam of all his father had taught him of his trade and tried to soften Adam’s anger toward his f a t h e r . S h e was timid and rather stupid; her outlook narrow and likely to be focussed on trivial things of the moment. She bragged that her husband was able as a young man to walk sixty miles one day and walk the return trip the next day. A 25. Mrs. Gummidge, a character in David Oopperfield by Charles Dickens. 26. Eliot, Adam Bede, p. 33. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 12 little later, when she had grown accustomed to Dinah and somewhat fond of her, she was desolated when Dinah said she was going to her home at Snowfield, twenty miles away. So much a farm-woman did Mrs. Bede seem to me that I am never reconciled to the fact that she didn’t keep a flock of chickens or perhaps a cow to which she could tell her woes when Seth was "chapellin’" or Adam was visiting Hetty Sorrel at Hall Farm. One certainly ex pected to hear her lament because the butter had failed to churn well, but, though so surely a country woman, she kept no farm animals. It is amusing to try to think what her personality would have been like if she had employed herself with dairy-work, the very atmosphere of which seemed to envelop her. She was quite as good a housekeeper as Mrs. Poyser and, with the foresight of a country woman, suspected that Adam’s marriage to Hetty would result in extravagant and slovenly housekeeping; in too many comforts being introduced into the house and the best dishes being used daily instead of almost never. It is true that she had not as much to keep her busy as had Mrs. Poyser, but we feel that, if anything, she regretted that there was not more for her to do which would show her sons her willingness to make them comfortable, regardless of the work Involved. Her pride in her ability to "heel" a knit stocking properly was a natural, rustic sense of the fitness of things that such a necessary, everyday task must be done to perfection if the knitter were to hold her head up. In this one characteristic, her de sire for perfection in her daily work, did she tally with Mrs. Poyser. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 13 Mrs. Holt stands somewhere between Mrs. Bede and Mrs. Poyser. Although not really a country character, her unintellectual chatter and rather primitive mental processes make her fairly definitely pro vincial. Her complete lack of awareness of anything humorous makes her more of a comedy character than Mrs. Poyser or Mrs. Bede. Mrs. Holt’s language was almost as picturesque as Mrs. Poyser’s, although it did not denote as keen and alert a mind. Her manner was, however, not as bristling as Mrs. Poyser’s and her attitude toward her son was that which anyone would adopt, hopelessly, against unbendable obstinacy. She did not, of course, even begin to understand Felix’s position on the subject of the medicinal brews she mixed up. They had cured at least one man, at least he hadattributed his cure to the Holt concoctions, so they must have been good for something. Felix’s analysis of them, which had disclosed that they were practically poison, was beyond Mrs. Holt’s power to comprehend. This matter of the potions was one which shows Mrs. Holt’s pro vincialism. Her real interest in them, I suspect, was that they gave her something to do. Her second interest in them was a sort of childish idea that she was dealing withan unknown quantity. mixed together various ingredients. She If a sick person drank enough of the mixture, or anyway not too much, he might get well. One person had survived this treatment. At the Transome house, her modesty was jarred. She was properly scandalized, as she thought anyone ought to be, by the statue of the nude Silenus holding in his arms the equally nude infant Bacchus. Nevertheless, she was as much a lady as Mrs. Transome, and with the Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 14 common rustic Idea that visitors must make themselves agreeable and pay for hospitality by producing conversation, she concealed her feel ings and merely said, "It*s most pretty to see its little limbs, and the gentleman holding it. I should think he was amiable by his look; but it was odd he should have his likeness took without any clothes. Was he Transome by name?” mild madness in the (Mrs. Holt suspected that there might be a family.)^ There may be no grounds for the supposition, but this incident always makes me wonder whether Eliot did not have a scene from David Copperfield in mind when she wrote it: the scene in which Mrs. Micawber, dashed by the sudden appearance of the formidable Littimer, "assumed a genteel air and put on her gloves." At any rate, the author did realize that country people, if not struck dumb when out of their depth in society, attempt to appear at ease by making agreeable talk. The only thing that occurred to Mrs. Holt to comment upon was the statue which, in her inexperience, she took for granted the Transomes with their wealth had been able to have made, to represent someone in the family, instead of the more usual portrait in oils. Mrs. Holt was one of those people who, though they live in a town or village, have an indefinable something about them which proclaims they belong in the country. Mrs. Tincy in Middlemarch makes the reader think of the country belle brought up to a life of uselessness and idleness by prosperous 27. George Eliot, Felix Holt, the Radical, Harper and Brothers, 1906, pp. 467-468. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 15 farm parents* and, true to their hopes, married to a well-to-do man who establishes her in town. She was still pretty, was a bit coquet tish, not given to weighty or even consecutive thinking, and wore caps such as would be the sinful envy of Mrs, Poyser*s niece, Hetty, Mrs, Vincy gave a good idea of what Hetty would be like if she had married Arthur Donnithorne. And oh, the small opinion Mrs. Poyserwould have had of such a one as Mrs, Vincy, and with what frigid eloquence would that small opinion have been voiced. Much of the impression we got of Mrs, Vincy was from her relations with her son Fred, He was the typical, lazy country-gentleman’s son, a horsey Englishman who, some how, pervaded the whole house and family with a sort' of half-elegant and half-rustic nonchalance. If one compared Middlemarch to a Dutch painting, Mrs.Yincy would be one of the brightest tints in the picture. She was not clever. She was rather silly for a woman of her age, the mother of the grown-up Rosamond and Fred, but she had the bright freshness of morning in the country and helped round out the picture which contained so many drab and somber colors. I can in no degree concur with Mr. Oscar Browning in his opinion, "Dolly Winthrop (in Silas Marner) is a reflection of Mrs. Poyser, and nothing is more graphic or more entertaining than her views on relig ious matters."28 She was as talkative as Mrs. Poyser, but all the author’s middle- 28. Oscar Browning, Life of George Eliot. Walter Scott, London, 1890, p. 79. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 16 aged women talked a great deal. Mrs. Winthrop’s words were exclusively about religion and the bringing up of children, with the exception of one remark about the "troublesomeness" of men, made in a long-suffering tone of voice. She hadn’t Mrs. Poyser*s range of topics. Mrs. Poyser’s intelligence and her absolutism of manner. Nor had she She was just a plain, motherly woman who, if she had been a reflection of Mrs. Poyser as Browning said, would have prided herself upon being, as Mrs. Poyser might have stated it, ”a good neighbor as does for them as is too shiftless to do for themselves.” Being who she was, Mrs. Win- throp performed the services of a good neighbor without giving her actions much consideration: **. . . Dolly, who, though feeling that she was entirely in her place in encountering cold and snow on an errand of mercy, was much concerned at a young gentleman’s getting his feet wet under a like impulse. Mrs. Winthrop’s worry over Godfrey Cass’s wet feet disclosed her attitude toward the difference between their social levels. common to all Eliot’s rustic characters — this does not mean that there was sameness in her presentation of that class — recognized class distinctions. One trait was that they Their attitude was not subservient: it was only that they were conscious of the strata of society and ac cepted them as they accepted the weather. Only Mrs. Poyser, of all the rustics, when she had ”her say out” to Squire Donnithorne, violated the natural attitude toward the upper classes. To return to Mrs. Winthrop: 29. her bucolic ignorance, her peasant’s George Eliot, Silas Marner. the Weaver of Raveloe, Scott Foresraan and Company, 1905, p. 199. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 17 suspicion of the unfamiliar was well brought out in her almost anxious questioning of Marner: that Master Marner — country — "And yourn's the same Bible, you’re sure o ’ the Bible as you brought wi’ you from that it’s the same as what they’ve got at church, and what Eppie’s a-learning to read in?"3^ In general, the author’s matronly or middle-aged women characters of the rustic kind were molded with a sure hand, logically, fully and with sufficient vitality and variety to make each a distinctive in dividual, never a mere type. They were more or less shrewd about their routine occupations, and possessed viewpoints gauged by the common place people and occurrences which made up their limited, daily life. Their imaginations were bounded by their experience which had been little varied. I would say that, as a group, the author’s middle-aged women reached the peak of her extraordinary powers of characterization. 3°. Ibid.. p. 233. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. CHAPTER III ELIOT’S YOTJNG WOMEN CHARACTERS Sometimes I feel that George Eliot was less interested in her youthful characters than in her more mature people. Then I reflect that her many comments on children in real life as well as those in the paintings of artists, her devotion to the sons of George Lewes and her substantial assistance of them, would indicate a strong matern al feeling which would naturally include not only children but young men and young women. Referring to some remarks the author had made, apparently in letters to friends, about the children in Italy which she saw on her travels, Miss Elizabeth Haldane says: ”No woman writer ever had a deeper sense of motherhood than George Eliot, the childless and we know well where the future Lillo (Romola) found his origin as did all the beloved little immortals of whom she wrote."®! The insinuation made by some contemporary reviewers that some of Eliot’s young people were "too good" was aimed more or less directly at Adam Bede and Dinah Morris, It should be remembered that they were to be the hero and heroine — first novel. the real romantic element — in her If she was too intense and fussy in depicting these characters, it should be put down to her inexperience and soft heart. However, less worthy writers than Eliot have sinned more deeply on 31. Haldane, op. cit., p. 178. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 19 this score and hare been more readily condoned. There has always been much wondering whether this or that person in Eliot’s acquaintance was the prototype of a certain character in her books. There has been just as much positive assertion that the acquaintance was surely the model for the character in question. This is particularly true of Adam Bede and Dinah Morris, the young Methodist woman preacher. Generally it is emphatically declared that Eliot’s Aunt Elizabeth served as a model for Dinah. I would say that Dinah was rather a composite of several real people, the author herself and Miss Lewis, a former teacher of the author, being the main contributors to the character. It was, indeed, her aunt who told the writer the story of the young girl condemned to death for infanticide whom the aunt had consoled during her last hours. But there the connection be tween Eliot’s aunt and Dinah Morris definitely ends. says: Eliot herself "The character of Dinah grew out of my recollections of my aunt, but Dinah is not at all like my aunt, who was a very small, blackeyed woman, and (as I was told, for I never heard her preach) very vehement in her style of p r e a c h i n g . ”32 Mesdames Cone and Gilder, who quote the above extract from a letter of Eliot, tell us, regarding the author, that n, (Eliot) was sent . . . . . she in her eighth or ninth year, to Miss Welling ton’s (school) at Nuneaton, where Miss Lewis, the principal governess, and ’an ardent Evangelical Church-woman,’ became her intimate friend, 32. Helen Gray Cone and Jeanette L. Gilder, Pen-Portraits of Literary Women, Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1887, Vol. II, p. 269. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. exercising great influence over her*"33 The author’s description of Dinah34 does not indicate Dinah’s height as being greater than that of Eliot's aunt, but the rest of the description of her appearance and of her pellucid voice could not possibly have corresponded to the appearance and voice of the aunt. If Dinah had "pale reddish hair," she could not have been "blackeyed" like the aunt. We know from countless descriptions of Eliot that she had masses of light brown hair and that her voice, though of exception ally low pitch and not a "clear treble" like Dinah's, was the one thing about her that people never forgot. If the aunt was "very vehe ment" when preaching, she more than likely had a voice inclined to be strident* I would say that Miss Haldane’s interpretation of the conditions existing in Eliot's girl- and young womanhood cast much light on the genesis of Dinah’s character and personality. Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) was only a type. In hundreds of homes in England the same heartrending questions (i.e., regarding religion, the reading of fiction, etc.) were being asked. It may be a dreary and sterile outlook, but we must remember that it gave a trend to the minds of those who were not overwhelmed by it, that helped them all their lives to care for the real things of life more than the evanescent.33 We know further that Eliot was very religious in her younger 33. Ibid., p. 245. 34. Eliot, Adam Bede, pp. 16-17. 35. Haldane, 0 £, cit., p. 37. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 21 days and that later her own religious doubt caused her considerable mental agitation. Later on, her habit of meditating clarifiedmany things for her and, as Miss Haldane says, led her to care forthe real things of life. In Eliot’s case, it resulted in her love of truth and it was the love of truth which drew her away from what she considered the mere ashes of religion that Christianity had beeome. At the age of nineteen, she wrote to Miss Lewis, her former governess at Miss Wallington’s school: I have just begun the "Life of Wilberforce," . 0 that I might be made as useful in my lowly and obscure station as he was in the exalted one assigned to him! . May the Lord give me such an insight into what is truly good that I may not rest contented with making Christianity a mere addendum to my pursuits, or with tak ing it as a fringe to my garments. May I seek to be sancti fied wholly!36 This letter, written when the author was still a farmer’s daughter of nineteen, sounds so much like the words of Dinah Morris, and its spirit so clearly indicates the spirit which animated Dinah, that to me it seems impossible to doubt that Dinah was copied from Eliot. Maggie Tulliver, in The Mill on the Floss, is supposed to be the only instance of the writer’s using the events of her own life in her books, but the letter to Miss Lewis convinces me that part of Dinah Morris was really the author and the other part was what perhaps Eliot wished she might have been, combined with memories of her former governess. Dinah fits well into the category of rustics. Physically, she seems less robust than the rest of the peasants depicted by the author 36. Letter from George Eliot to Miss Lewis, August 18th, 1838, in George Eliot’s Life, edited by J. W. Cross, o£. cit. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 22 and her speech is not as crude as theirs. On the other hand, she is simple and unworldly; she is self-possessed when preaching because she is with her own class of people. Her visit to Mrs. Bede seems as much rural neighborliness as Evangelism* Her manner toward Mr. Irwine, the Rector, is that of a well-bred, well-trained servant. With unsophis ticated candor, she writes to Seth Bede that she had just received his letter, not having had the money earlier to pay the postage which he had neglected to pay. Strangely enough, two such widely divergent characters as Mrs. Poyser and Dinah were the ones who won the greatest number of comments from reviewers and critics of the day. This fact speaks well for the convincing way in which Dinah was portrayed. How different from Dinah in every respect was Hetty Sorrel. Of the shallowest nature, her vanity alone would have prevented her profitting from a glimpse into the future that a keener mind might open to her, which she was incapable of seeing by herself. Her Aunt Poyser summed up her whole nature with a succinct observation that Hetty was like a cherry with a hard stone in the center. Had her hopes concerning Arthur Donnithorne materialized, in a few years her indolent life would have rendered her fat, blowsy, coarsened in feature, pettishly nagging in disposition. She was too lazy, too vain and stupid to comprehend that, as Arthur’s wife, she would have had a position to live up to, and that her looks, which she would not realize were fading, were insufficient foundation for lasting happiness. Hers was the logical viewpoint of an illiterate country girl, ignorant of any meaning of life — even of the life to which she Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 23 had been born; ambitious only in a cheap, shoddy way; neither vicious nor courageous enough to make the most of her good points and the present moment and be content to remain Arthur’s mistress without hope or expectation of marrying him. No one could have made her understand that Arthur regarded their affair only as an interesting flirtation. Her lack of character made her unable to face the situation at home when her child was about to be born, and her ignorance led her to seek Arthur, who was seemingly a prodigious distance away. When she decided to go to Arthur, she showed more than ever that she was just an ignorant little country girl. With courage that was almost primitive, she, who had scarcely been out of sight of the farm on which she lived, set out for London. Sir Leslie Stephen remarks, regarding Hetty’s manner in prison: ’’Hetty is anything but a criminal who would make a point of ’dying game,”*®7 The "sullen silence" which Eliot mentions in the prison scene is not so much sullenness as it is daze; Hetty can not believe that all these dreadful things have happened to Hetty Sorrel, the pretty dairy-maid at the Poyser farm. Although the personality of Hetty must have been distasteful to the creator thereof, it was done with a thoroughness and care for de tails of the physical and mental traits that showed the technique if not the theme of a Dutch artist. That Eliot could give such a pene trating exposition of such a person as Hetty, so completely foreign to the author’s own sound character, is ample proof of her keen ob- 37. Sir Leslie Stephen, George Eliot, The Macmillan Company, 1902, p. 72. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. serration and deep understanding. In the character of Priscilla Lammeter (Silas Marner) we find that Iliot could paint a graphic picture without the amount of de tail she usually employed. Priscilla was a minor character, appear ing in two or three episodes only, but she measured up well with the people who played important parts. Although only fire years older than her sister, Nancy Lammeter-Cass, Priscilla’s comical assumption that they were at least a complete generation apart in age makes it some what of a puzzle how to catalogue her, as a young woman or as a matron ly character. On the other hand, her abundant ritality, her rigorous management of her father’s farm and dairy made her seem more youthful toward the close of the book than she seemed at the beginning. Obriously possessed of an unlorely risage and a poor complexion, she found such grotesque and yet genuine amusement in commenting upon her own ugliness and ungainliness that the reader understood clearly that she was not simply trying to console herself. A congenital spin ster, although not the caricature typical of fiction, she was sincerely grateful that her plain face had been sufficient weapon to keep men at a distance. Her conrersation was as spicy as Mrs. Poyser’s, but it was mellow and not corrosire. Her lore of a dairy amounted to the en- slarement some people hare to drugs. Hear what she said: I’m as glad as anything at your husband’s . . . ginning the dairy. be It’s a thousand pities you didn’t do it before; for it’ll gire you something to fill your mind. There’s nothing like a dairy if folks want a bit o ’ worrit to make the days pass. For as for rubbing furniture, when you can once see your face in a table there’s nothing else to look for; but there’s always something fresh with the dairy, for eren in the depths o' winter there’s some pleasure Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 25 in conquering the butter, and making it come whether or no. My dear, . . • you’ll never be low when you’ve got a dairy#®® She managed her father’s farm and did a better job, we suspect, than many of her male neighbors# When her sister, Mrs. Godfrey Cass, begged her father and Priscilla to stay to tea, Mr. Lammeter replied, "You must ask Priscilla . . . She manages me and the farm, too."®^ Priscilla spoke up with Poyserly wisdom but with a gentler manner, "And reason good as I should manage you, father, else you'd be giving yourself your death with rheumatism. And as for the farm, if anything turns out wrong, as it can’t but do in these times, there’s nothing kills a man so soon as having nobody to find fault with but himself. It’s a deal the best way o' being master, to let somebody else do the ordering, and keep the blaming in your own hands. It *ud save many a man a stroke, 1_believe. It was not her provincial speech which stamped her a rustic. It was her worship of her dairy, her legitimate excuse for manual employ ment, which proclaimed her as much a rustic as she was a spinster. It is to be regretted that no critic of the day seemed to notice her pres ence in the book. Eppie, (Silas Marner) as a young woman, was just about what we might expect her to be, considering her upbringing. She was well- mannered in a sort of quaint, countrified way, thanks mainly to the vigilant eye of Mrs. Winthrop, although of course Silas, too, wished her to grow up to be ladylike. It was Eppie’s rusticity which prompted her in her refusal to live with her real father, Godfrey Cass, and 38. George Eliot, Silas Marner, the Weaver of Raveloe, Scott, Fores man and Company, 1899, p. 247. 39. Ibid., p. 247. 40. Ibid., p. 246. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 26 his second wife. for Silas. Her refusal was not entirely founded upon her love Eppie was far more intelligent than Hetty Sorrel and she promptly saw that life with her father and step-mother would necessi tate a complete change in her mode of living: a change which would have included more tedious occupations, less freedom in her speech, a curtailment of her intimacy with Mrs. Winthrop, not to mention a cessation of her love affair with Aaron Winthrop. to a change in diet. She even objected Her bringing up had been more pleasant and easy in the past than it would be in the future in her father’s house. Throughout this book, whether in the home of Marner, in that of the Casses, or in the tap-room, there is a plain ruggedness which the author must surely have copied from some Dutch painting. The rugged ness, however, does not bespeak bareness: here, as in her other books, the author furnished minute detail. In beginning his discussion of Maggie Tulliver (The Mill on the Floss), Mr. James Sully states that nobody who has read George Eliot will fail to understand the seemingly paradoxical remark that she de lights in exposing the inconsistencies of character.41 Miss Mathilde Blind would agree heartily with Mr. Sully, for she writes: "Maggie with all her palpable weaknesses and startling inconsistencies, is the most adorable of George Eliot’s women. 41. James Sully, "George Eliot's Art," Mind, Yol. VI, July 1881, p. 382. 42. Mathilde Blind, George Eliot, Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1883, p. 168, Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 27 It is precisely this trait of exposing inconsistencies in a character which makes this author’s characters such vital and real individuals instead of conventional, fiction lay-figures. It is to he hoped that Sully did not believe that inconsistencies denote ab normality of the mind of the character, or a weakness in the powers of the writer. Victor Hugo more or less directly recognized the in consistencies of human nature when he wrote, "I feel two natures struggling within me.” Sully says further that Maggie Tulliver, one of Eliot’s finest creations, as he thinks, was "nothing but a bundle of inconsistencies to her brother."^® That may well be, for at no time was Tom imaginative or given to analysis. As witness, his in ability to follow Maggie’s vivid imaginary tale of his rescuing her from a lion if they had lived in Africa. But what mainly calls for comment is Sully’s estimation that Maggie was one of Eliot’s finest creations. ly was. The youthful Maggie certain In fact, she was not only the finest child character of this particular writer, but she remains unequaled, surely not surpassed, by any other child character in English literature. The author pre sented a strong, healthy, imaginative child, hampered by her sex be cause of existing ideas on the bringing up of children. The adult Maggie continued to be hampered by her sex because of the straightlaced ideas on what the life of a woman should be. It was no inconsistency on the part of the half-wild little Maggie to forget to feed the rabbits of her adored Tom. 43. Sully, 0 £. Her overflowing cit., p. 382. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 28 vitality and imagination made it quite logical for her ever to seek something exciting to do, and forget the pleasant tasks that lay ready at hand and which she enjoyed doing — when she remembered them. The adult Maggie is less fascinating when the author places her in town. The rural aspects of her character show themselves more plainly then than when she was a child roaming the fields. No doubt it seemed inconsistent to Tom that the headstrong Maggie should ap parently fall in love with two creatures like Philip Wakem, son of their father’s enemy, and the superficial Stephen Guest. loved neither of them. Actually, Maggie Her feeling toward Philip Wakem was only the pity and motherly feeling of a physically and mentally strong woman for any puny fellow-being. Maggie’s inexperience and her rustic naiVet^ displayed themselves when she allowed herself to be taken in by the sham gentility of Stephen Guest, who was far more vulgar than genteel. In her relations to Stephen, she seemed almost an ignorant peasant. It has always seemed regrettable to me that the author followed Maggie and Tom through to adulthood. Had she terminated the story be fore they grew up, she would still have written a fine story and I believe that readers would have had no reason for impatience and loss of interest in these characters. Much of their stupidity and blindness, their misery and unhappiness was caused by their removal to town from what was their natural habitat, the country. In closing the chapter on Eliot’s young women characters, it might be well to say that, though they were not as picturesque, quaint and mellow as to personality, naturally not as shrewd and observant as Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 29 the author’s older women, they were nevertheless as real and natural. One aspect of this writer’s many-sided greatness was that she could see life with the eyes of the young as well as with the eyes of the middle-aged and old. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. CHAPTER IV ELIOT'S YOUNG MEN CHARACTERS Tom Tulliver (The Mill on the Floss) was more likable and inter esting as a boy than he was after he grew up. A rugged, freckled, snub-nosed youth, we picture him, the bright alertness of whose face often deceived his mother into believing that he had washed it, when he had blissfully escaped from that harrowing task. He was careless, thoughtless or even selfish toward others, at times extremely domi neering toward Maggie. He was, in short, one of the best boy char acters ever constructed by any writer. If Tom bad been able to take over the mill when he grew up and thus remain in an environment that was at least semi-rural, undoubt edly he would have remained more interesting. contented and at ease. was not of the city. Surely, more happy, Although he was a "success" in the city, he His viewpoint was narrow just as his imagination could never keep up with Maggie’s when they were children. His atti tude toward Philip Wakem and Stephen Guest was caused not only by personal dislike but by the fact that, especially with Stephen, he felt a bit countrified and ill at ease. Tom's father, when Tom was still a boy, said that Tom was "acute" about "outdoor things" but added that he was not as clever at his books as was "the little wench." on the Floss. Tom’s real element was the mill There he could have puttered about the machinery, talked to farmers who brought grain to the mill, and occasionally have sneaked Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 31 away for a lazy afternoon of fishing. As is the case when there are only two children in a family, Iliot added a natural touch by having Tom his mother's favorite, and Maggie her father's, the parents jealously comparing their favorites and taking considerable trouble to spoil them. Here Maggie, being a girl, was terribly at a disadvantage, for Tom "took after" his mother's people and was good-looking. and when her hair — Maggie was dark and gypsy-like which was the bane of her existence and which she once cut off with Tom's inexpert help — was dishevelled, and this was most of the time, she looked more like a Shetland pony than a girl. Seth Bede seemed a step-child to the critics. temporary reviewers failed to mention him at all. Most of the con He was extremely commonplace, capable enough in his own trade, but slow, dull, apolo getic in manner and no doubt easily cowed by his superiors. Certainly he would never have stood up to Miss Lydia Donnithorne as Adam did on the matter of the fire-screen. But he was not an uncouth lout, and by right, his quiet, unassum ing manner ought to have been more welcome with the critics than that of the vigorous, slightly self-righteous Adam. It is far easier to live with a sinner, or at least a weakling, than with a saint. Although the author did not allot him as much space in the novel as she did to Adam, she was eloquent in giving details about him: "The idle tramps always felt sure they could get a copper from Seth; they Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 32 scarcely ever spoke to Adam."44 The vagrants who approached him may even have thought he was one of them. patient with him at tines: Even his own mother grew im "Seth’s favourite text is, 'Take no thought for the morroe,' which, as their mother Lisbeth says, ends sometimes in Adam’s having to take thought for him."4® This criticism seems a little severe, for in the book the reader never got the idea that Seth was entirely helpless. His dog-like and humble devotion to Dinah was more admirable than Adam's infatuation for the undeserving Hetty. The only sign of dis appointment Seth showed when Dinah married Adam was that at the close of the book he seemed rather subdued and apparently he had aged more than he should have, considering the few years that had passed. Commentaries upon Seth were not profuse, as has been intimated. Critics found him uninteresting — confess, bores me,"4® Stephen says only, "Seth Bede, I and therefore did not pause to consider whether Eliot had painted her portrait well. Miss Haldane, in speaking of the Reverend Adolphus Irwine, the easy-going rector in the same story, de clared, "Not one character in the book is a failure."47 Obviously, her meaning was from the standpoint of moral justification, but her state 44. Eliot, Adam Bede, p. 2. 45. Anonymous review of Adam Bede. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. loo, cit. 46. Stephen, oja. cit.. p. 80, 47. Haldane, op. cit., p. 150, Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 33 ment applies from the standpoint of literary characterization, quite as well. Seth was consistently and thoroughly delineated, regardless of the lack of interest critic and reader feel in him. The author may have had in mind a particularly dull and uninteresting-looking fellow in some Dutch painting who had given balance to the picture with his dull color. Both the entire story and the title-character in Felix Holt were something of a disappointment to critics. They were lenient in their judgment, presumably because they remembered the writer’s first three novels, and hoped that she, not yet an elderly person, might write other stories of equal calibre. But the tale was uninteresting, com pared with others from the same pen, and the intricacies of the legal phases, although authoritatively worked out for the author by a com petent lawyer friend, were too baffling to hold attention of readers or even to be understood by any but one trained in law. I think the dual-threaded story distracted attention from the characters. The Transome family part of the book was sinister and much like one which Edgar Allan Poe or Charlotte Bronte might have de vised, and therefore sounded foreign to Eliot’s own public. The events were perfectly possible of occurrence: there are complications in the most ordinary of actual existences, if less sinister; but it was not a theme which lent itself well to Eliot’s own personality or style. The characters were all, like the author’s other people, logical, plausible and well rounded out, even the half-insane Mr, Transome. Felix himself, with his medical education, his interest in poli tics and his speech-making, had many of the outward tokens of an urban Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 34 character* Still, there were mannerisms which he affected, or rather, the impulses underlying these mannerisms, which bespoke a rustic view point. Felix won little sympathy from one reviewer of the time: Sympathy is perhaps less subtle than satirical intention, for Felix Holt, though his conversation is manly, sensible, and thoughtful, is a less masterly portrait than Tito Melema. The virtue of wearing a cap instead of a hat, and of dispens ing with a neckcloth, is rather ostentatious than sublime. If a man who has the power of earning a comfortable income by the exercise of his knowledge and ability, prefers a handicraft and weekly wages, his asceticism is as unprofit able as if it were practiced in a Trappist cell, and it in volves the non-monastic disadvantage of enforcing useless hardships on the modern saint’s wife and children*4® I think that the wearing of the cap and the absence of a neck cloth Felix meant to be anything but signs of asceticism. They were a sign of boorish and rather childish obstinacy in not conforming to what he considered signs of an unjust and parasitic upper class. His rudeness, amounting almost to insult, toward Esther Lyon, displayed the manners of a country churl* If he had been a true urban, he would have snubbed the young woman less crudely but more effectively. At his best Felix was one of Eliot's most likable young men characters. He had none of the glitter of Tito Melema (Romola) and had none of Tito’s ingratiating manner. purposely so, it seemed. He was too rough in manner, For what is usually called "strength of char acter" he was between the Bede brothers, not as outwardly noble as Adam, of whom he was strongly reminiscent, not as neutral or meek as 48. Anonymous review of Felix Holt, the Radical, Blackwood’s Edin burgh Magazine, loc. cit. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 35 Seth: but more likable than either. failure."49 Miss Haldane says, "He was a In fact, he was doubly a failure in that he gave up his medical profession to become a saviour of the oppressed, and then accomplished nothing on that mission. One strong point in his favor, however, was that he saw his failure, was properly disappointed but not discouraged* He determined to adjust himself to his chosen envir onment, though no great adjustment was necessary. By all odds, Felix was of the working-class even though he was not as dull and unimagina tive as the average man of that level. Aaron Winthrop (Silas Marner) was a character of medium importance, but appeared only occasionally during the story. Most of the impres sion we get of him was through a few things Eppie said to Marner. We suspect that his proposal of marriage to Eppie was phlegmatic, or any way unromantically matter-of-fact. Eppie told Marner, He said he should like to be married, because he was a-going in four and twenty and had got a deal of gardening work, now Mr. Mott’s given up; and he goes twice a week to Mr. Cass’s, and once to Mr. Osgood’s, and they’re going to take him on at the Rectory. . . . Everybody’s married sometime, Aaron says.^O Supposedly, Aaron thought that the two ways to secure a beseeming place in his level of society were to acquire as much work as one could do well and to marry: a common rustic — one might almost say bovine — viewpoint, considering its lack of singularity. 49. Haldane, op. cit.. p. 238. 50, Eliot, Silas Marner; the Weaver of Raveloe. Scott, Foresman and Company, p. 242. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 36 One may judge by what Eppie said that Aaron was likable, pre sentable enough to satisfy her standards of personal appearance; that he was considered industrious and reliable by his patrons* He had a quaint attitude toward old age, expressed by his intention that Silas should work ’’only what's your pleasure.” Herein he displayed the accepted country idea that even old age must have some manual work to do in order to keep well and contented. Eliot’s father was generally accepted as the prototype of M a m Bede, but since he was forty-five years old when his daughter was born, it is extremely unlikely that she could have modeled the twenty-sixyear-old Adam upon even her earliest memories of her father. What we read of her father shows that the similarity between him and Adam was only such as would exist between any two men engaged in the same handi craft . Adam is considered the best of the author's young men character izations. I believe this opinion comes from the fact that he was more important in the story in which he appeared than any of the others in this group were in the other novels. In Felix Holt, the Radical, there were two plots of equal importance so that no single character was pre eminent. For this reason, it is safe to say, critics considered Felix Holt inferior to Adam Bede as a characterization. Although he was a carpenter, a calling which was as much a town business as it was a rural craft, Adam seemed closer to the soil than any of the other young men portrayed. sphere when he visited at Hall Farm. He seemed in his rightful He was better educated than the other men with whom he worked, but his conscious pride in that fact Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 37 served to emphasize his provincialism. His education included little that was not connected with his trade. He wrote legibly. read — his favorite book being the Bible. read only on Sundays — He could But even this Book he out of respect. He was not mentally as slow and foggy as Seth. His "education" and something of an aptitude for planning and arranging in connection with his work had habituated him to think in an orderly manner, so that he made an attempt at self-analysis. He said to Arthur Donni- thorne, "It’s true what you say, sir: I’m hard — it’s in my nature. I was too hard with my father, for doing wrong. I’ve been a bit hard t’ everybody but her. . . and when I thought the folks at the Farm were too hard with her, I said I’d never be hard to anybody myself again. . I’ve known what it is in my life to repent and feel it’s too late: I felt I’d been too harsh to my father when he wa3 gone from me — I feel it now, when I think of him. I’ve no right to be hard towards them as have done wrong and repent."51 This is a spontaneous enough situation and speech, but M a m ’s remarks sound like the culmination of years of silent thought. The author keeps Adam from being too perfect by having him fall in love with the shallow but provocative Hetty instead of Mary Burge who would have been an excellent match for him. The Hetty episode in Adam’s life was about equal to the proverbial wild oats period in the life of a less noble young man — Arthur Bonnithorne, for instance. It also showed Adam's inexperience and his rustic sense of values. To him, Hetty was delicate and beautiful. In reality, she was just a healthy country wench and had the prettiness, as George Eliot herself 51. Eliot, M a m Bede, p. 409. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 38 says, of all young frisking things. How much more comprehending were the appraisals of Arthur and the Reverend Irwine. It was in Adam Bede that the author halted her narrative to de clare her "delight in many Dutch paintings"5^ and it was while writing this tale more than any of her others, with the possible exception of Silas Marner, that she had the Dutch paintings most clearly before her mind’s eye. Adam Bede she made the handsomest and most stalwart of her young men characters, but she also strove the hardest to make him a real life-character. Critics in general agree that she succeeded. Perhaps the "awkward bridegroom"^ Qf the Dutch wedding picture gave Adam more than the author’s father did. Eliot’s young men, excepting Adam Bede, are usually considered less successful than her other characterizations. I believe that the author, who had the conviction that conscience and circumstance play important parts in any human life, made some of her young men char acters weak intentionally. Felix Holt was guided by his conscience. Seth Bede was overshadowed by Adam, who was older and better endowed mentally and physically. Granting that they were weak, I still main tain that they were consistently portrayed, showing no illogical traits. I would say that it takes as much talent to create a weak person as it does to create a vital personality, and that therefore Eliot showed no lack of ability or insight into human nature. If anything, her weak characters should augment her reputation for characterization. 52. Ibid., p. 153. 53. Ibid.. p. 153. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 39 It has been said that this author seldom if ever created a hero or a heroine, because her people did not overcome but were controlled by circumstances. If so, this does not make them very different from people in real life, and real life is what Eliot endeavored to portray. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. CHAPTER V ELIOT’S MIDDLE-AGED MEN CHARACTERS The paternal type of character showed another phase of George Eliot’s exceptional ability to put real people on the pages of a book. There were more persons in this group than in any other: Mr. Tulli- ver, Mr. Vincy, Mr. Bulstrode, Silas Marner, Mr. Poyser, the Reverend Irwine, the landlord of the "Rainbow," Will Maskery, the proprietor of the Donnithorne Arms, Bartle Massey, to name only a few of them. But no two, whether rustic or urban, were alike. Perhaps, after all, it was with the men of middle age that the author was most conspicuous ly successful, rather than with her matrons. Even of the deceased ’Thias Bede there was an excellent portrayal. It was brought out in the remarks of his wife and his sons and their friends. ’Thias would perhaps be one of the author’s "weak" characters according to the remarks some critics made about Seth Bede and Felix Holt. 'Thias Bede was indeed a weak character but the characteriza tion of him, like that of Seth and Felix,was not. It was, furthermore, produced in an unobtrusive way, comments about Mr. Bede being made by a number of characters, some of them above the rural level, through several chapters. Finally the picture was complete. Perhaps another "weak" character was Mr. Tulliver, the owner of the mill on the Floss. pidity. One could not help liking him despite his stu For stupid he was. He loaned money to his brother-in-law, a Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 41 nondescript person who could never be expected to return the three hundred pounds. Mr* Tulliver went to his brother-in-law to demand the money, then almost fled in terror at the sight of his sister's povertyridden home. He had borrowed an even larger sum himself from his sister-in-law, Mrs. Glegg, and then, lacking sufficient urban suavity to meet her meddling officiousness, lost his temper and swore at her with bucolic heartiness. Mr. Tulliver exhibited his inexperience and his rural simplicity when he confided to Mr. Riley that by making Tom "a scholard"54 he expected to make life easy for his son. real lawyer — Tulliver — a "raskill" — He didn't imnt Tom to be a the names were synonymous with Mr. just "a scholard" so that Tom could be "a bit nimble with his tongue and his pen."55 The conversation of Mr. Tulliver seemed a most laborious and painful "thinking aloud." One could almost see his forehead knit into deep wrinkles, his brain twist and quiver as he strove to make his thoughts follow each other in proper order and to tell those thoughts in a clear style. At times his understanding of situations seemed only half-civilized. He told Mr. Riley that as long as all the books he had bought at the Partridge sale had the same kind of bindings, he took for granted that the contents of all were equally good. He was a loving and tender father, but his very love for his "little wench" and his worry that she might be "too 'cute for a gel" 54. George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, Harper and Brothers, p. 15, 55. Ibid.. p. 19. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 42 again showed his primitive cast of mind. Even more rustic in some respects but far shrewder, Mr. Poyser resembled Mr. Tulliver in the letter’s indulgent manner toward his wife, his pride in his children and his ambition to do well for their sake. Mr. Poyser was far more likely to accomplish this ambition. He was more intelligent than Mr. Tulliver, and anything he lacked in foresight his wife could more than supply. Mrs. Tulliver, on the other hand, was no great help to a man when common sense was needed. Mr. Poyser was a true man of the soil. it, but felt himself to be its master. He loved it and respected This delineation gave as fine a portrait of a successful faimer as any to be found. Mr. Poyser was fat, jovial, successful, happy in the life he was leading, proud of the little honor paid him at the birthday feast of the young future landlord. When removal from the farm on which he and his father had been b o m threatened because of his wife’s incautious remarks to the old squire, it seemed almost like the end of the world. Although Mr. Poyser had many of the traits of the ’’typical" farm er, the distinctive personality which the writer bestowed on him kept him out of the class of the "average" farmer. There was more power in the character of Silas Ma m e r than he is usually credited with. speechless. He was subdued, he was queer, he was almost Still, when his friend proved a traitor, when his fiancee jilted him, he resolutely set about to create a new life for himself. Being alone, he could follow the path he had laid out for himself un swervingly. This was selfishness, but his selfishness vanished when Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 43 a worthy demand was made upon him. Silas, like the other rustics, considered each separate community as a different world. He spoke of his former home as his "country." It was not so far away but what he and Eppie could walk there in less than four days when he was a man nearly sixty and Eppie, a girl of eighteen, and neither of them accustomed to great exertion. His former home had been "Lantern Yard," perhaps a "weavers’ quarter" of a large town. When his solitary life ended, with the advent of Eppie, he ad justed himself so completely to the life of the villagers, he so com pletely lost the marks of urban life which even workers of the city bear, that the very villagers saw no difference between him and them selves. It has always seemed to me that George Eliot's finest collection of characters appeared in her first novel, Adam Bede, and that Bartle Massey was almost the best in that collection. pete with the loquacious Mrs. Poyser. However, he had to com Critics and book-reviewers be came so interested in what she had to say and in what they had to say about what she said, that they completely forgot most of the other people in the story. Therefore, Massey was never done justice ~ and probably never will be. The author knew, in real life, a schoolmaster of the same name as the character in her novel. No one has been able to show that the similarity went further than the profession and the name, but the author must have thought very well of the original Massey or she never would have conceived her character as she did. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 44 He was, as everyone must know, a full-fledged and openly-declared hater of women, individually and collectively. Why, not even the author definitely told, but after Bartle delivers a picturesque tirade against womankind for the benefit of M a m Bede, the author says, rather delicately, "Adam was used to hear him talk in this way, but had never learned so much of Bartle's past life as to know whether his view of married confort was founded on experience,"5® In addition to this one vehement peculiarity, Massey had other traits which offset his seeming harshness. He was extremely patient with his pupils. When one of them, after working a week on a reading lesson had excessive difficulty in remembering "what d, r, y, spells"5^ and complained that "the letters were so uncommon alike, there was no tellin* 'em one from another":5® . . . it touched the tenderest fibre in Bartle Massey’s nature, for such full-grown children as these were the only pupils for whom he had no severe epithets, and no impatient tones. He was not gifted with an imperturbable temper, • . . but this evening, as he glances over his spectacles at Bill Downes, the sawyer, who is turning his head on one side with a desperate sense of blankness before the letters d, r, y, his eyes shed their mildest and most encouraging light.59 Massey had a clearer view of education, its worth and its cost than had some of his pupils, but bis sympathy with these grown men and his understanding of what fearful labor it was for them, to learn any- 56. Eliot, Adam Bede, p. 209. 57. Ibid.. p. 201. 58. Ibid., p. 202. 59. Ibid., p. 203. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 45 thing, placed him practically beside them on a social level. They, in turn, understood his feelings toward them, which they would not have done had Massey been noticeably different from them. His scrupulous house-keeping also made him one of the rustics, among whom the men as well as the women required that any work must be done completely and exactly. The author introduces into the character a bit of tenderness which Bartle zealously guarded from everyone. When he enters his house after the night-school, he anxiously asks Vixen how her pups are. The moment Adam enters, Bartle berates Vixen with convincing viciousness. Perhaps Eliot’s devotion to her own father, whose close companion she was after the death of her mother, gave her especially keen in sight into the personality of the middle-aged man and assisted her in portraying so many characters of this age slightly alike in a general way and so completely unlike in particular! ways. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. CHAPTER la SUMMARY Although George Eliot expatiated to the length of two pages on her "delight in many Dutch paintings,"60 she did not declare in pre cise terms that it was her intention to do in literature what the Dutch artists had done in painting. Nevertheless, it must be obvious to anyone who reads Adam Bede that such was her intention, and that, in carrying it out she used English scenes and people which she had known all her life. Probably no other writer of fiction ever had so definite a purpose and so clear a picture of what he intended to accomplish before he started to write as did this author. It must be admitted that she wavered a little in her later books, but any of her three first ones must have convinced her that she had succeeded in copying the theme and content of the Dutch paintings and in making her tales "the result of experience and true to nature." If she had written only Adam Bede, her fame would have been lasting and her contribution to English literature substantial. She herself despairingly said, "I wonder whether I shall ever write another book as true as Adam Bede!" She said that Mrs. Gaskell was too fond of "dramatic effects and 60, Eliot, Adam Bede, pp, 153-154. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 47 not contented with the subdued coloring, the half tints of real life."61 Although there were suspense and excitement in Eliots books at times, they were never produced for the sake of sensation. ways legitimate. Their use was al Of her own book, The Mill on the Floss, Eliot said that she regretted that she had not maintained the "epische Breite" (the epic breadth) of the first part of the book through to the end. It seems to me that she maintained it better than she herself thought. This epic breadth is one characteristic of all her books, even of Silas Marner. which is by far her shortest and most compact novel. I believe that the author’s occupation with household and dairy work until she was at least twenty-one had a marked influence upon her writing. Her many remarks in her books about the making of butter and cheese reveal that these products require regular attention and careful watching. Being accustomed to details of this kind, she was on the alert in her writing for opportunity to use detail which would round out her stories and their backgrounds and make her people more life-like. In each novel there is a large number of characters. Some of them are of major importance, but in every book there are a great many characters which serve only as "background” and which would be entirely omitted by most writers, or, at best, given only a sketchy outline. Not so, with Eliot. She gives the most minute character a definite personality, no matter how brief is this character’s appear- 61. Eliot, criticism of Ruth by Mrs. Gaskell, o£. cit., pp. 238-239. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 48 anee or how unimportant he may be in connection with the plot of the novel or in his relations to the other characters. One of these minor people is Molly, one of the Poysers' dairy maids. Almost the only mention of her is when she plods across the fields with the little Poyser boys on their way to church. Even so, the author gives us the impression of a great, thick country-girl who is just intelligent enough to do her work passingly well and, in this brief episode, to pretend she is interested in what the boys are telling her and to say, "Lawks” when she is supposed to be surprised. The author portrays two other servant girls who carry, carefully wrapped in their handkerchiefs, their prayerbooks in which they could make out only a few of the capital letters. So brief was the encounter with these two characters that I must confess I do not remember in which of Eliot’s novels they appear. But in this short episode was disclosed their peasant’s attitude toward life, summed up in the matter of the prayerbooks. Most of the people attending church carried and perhaps read prayerbooks: therefore these girls carry prayerbooks, perhaps cheap gifts from their mistress, which they care fully and respectfully wrap in their handkerchiefs almost as though they were smuggling them into and out of the church. Luke, the head miller in the mill on the Floss, is another master ly characterization, although he is of very minor consequence. He listens patiently to Maggie's chatter and his answers indicate that he is in a fog of doubt as to what she is talking about. His ignorance and plebeian suspicion of learning are manifested in his relieved Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 49 maimer when he tells Maggie that he is glad he can not read because surely no great good can come from the ability to do so. Still, he is kind and gentle, and tries to console Maggie when she finds she has let Tom's rabbits starve* This attention to insignificant characters is not limited to single persons. There are instances where groups of very unimportant characters appear. The main story may be helped not in the slightest degree by the scene or by the dialogue, yet the author presents such a group as a collection of individuals, giving them each a trade, a name, some personal peculiarity unlike any encountered in another character. Some of these seemingly trivial scenes are rated among the best pages the author wrote. The scene in the "Rainbow" (Silas Marner) is a particularly fine example. name — It is, in part, a discussion — if we can grant it that of a cow that had been sold the previous day. The caution of one speaker in trying to learn the opinion of the purchaser of the animal, and the equal caution of the second man to avoid a direct answer — each one confident that he is doing some subtle parrying ~ exhibit expertly the author's power to portray the fallow mind of the rustic. Later the conversation turns to the singing in the village church, with particular reference to the voices of some of the singers, one or two of whom are present. The crudest frankness is displayed by one speaker in giving his exceedingly poor opinion of the voice of another in the company. Throughout the scene, the landlord, un certain whether the speakers are joking or serious about the cow and Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 50 the voice which are being discussed, works valiantly to prevent the brewing of trouble. He assures everyone again and again that he agrees with each of them, regardless of what each may say. The "Rainbow" incident (which puts the reader strongly in mind of the Dutch pictures mentioned by Eliot) is cited by Stephen as the best specimen of the author’s humor. It is indeed an almost-photo- graphie picture of a group of uncouth and dull-witted peasants, but never, either in the "Rainbow" scene or in the presentation of any other lowly person, is the writer’s attitude disdainful. On the con trary, her manner is full of kindly and sympathetic understanding. Several critics go so far as to say that only Shakespeare wrote any thing equal to this scene. There is a scene in Felix Holt which shows the author’s powers in another light. The characterization for the most part is done by means of dialogue, as in the "Rainbow." But here there is a milling, angry mob instead of a few men ponderously talking over their pots of ale. In the brief sentences shouted at Felix, Eliot produced indi vidual people as exactly as she has done in long, detailed passages elsewhere. Many critics and reviewers have quoted the passage in Adam Bede which refers to the Dutch paintings, and also the novelist’s essays about experience and truthfulness to nature being the foundation of fiction. None of them said definitely that the writer used the Dutch paintings as models for her word-pictures or that she kept to exper ience and truthfulness to nature. Nevertheless, what they said about Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 51 her writings showed conclusively that they understood her motives and considered that she had attained her aims. Mr. George W. Cooke’s biography of Eliot contains these state ments: Probably no novelist has created so many clearly cut, positive, intensely personal characters as George Eliot, and this individualism is depicted as acting within social and hereditary limits; . . * George Eliot’s manner is to describe, to minutely portray, and to dis sect to the last muscle and nerve. . . . She does not caricature folly with Dickens, or laugh at weakness with Thackeray; but she shows the limitations of life in such a manner as to produce the finest humor. . . . In all her earlier novels George Eliot has shown the artistic possibilities of the humblest lives and situations. . . . Much the larger number of characters in this novel are of the same unpromising quality. . . . This ignorant rus ticity is discovered to have charms and attractions of its own. Mathilde Blind is one of the critics who point out the importance of circumstance upon the development of Eliot’s characters. Herein, without doubt, the author was using ”the result of experience,” that is, as she had seen lives about her molded by circumstances. Miss Blind wrote: Fate plays a very conspicuous part in this (The Mill on the Floss) as in most of George Eliot’s novels. But it is not the Fate of the Greeks, it is not a power that af fects human existence from without: it rather lies at the root of it, more or less shaping that existence according to obscure inherited tendencies, and in the collision be tween passion and law, potent only in proportion as the individual finally issues conquered or a conqueror from the struggle of life. This action of character on circumstance and of circumstance on character is an ever-recurring motif with George Eliot. We constantly see adverse circum stances modifying and moulding the lives of the actors 62. Cooke, 0 £. cit., pp. 108-109. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 52 in her stories. She has hardly, if ever, therefore, drawn a hero or heroine, for these, instead of yielding, make circumstances yield to them. . . . Maggie’s troubles spring from the very fulness of her nature; from the acuteness of an imagination which the manysidedness of life attracts by turns in the most oppo site directions.®3 Practically the identical things are said in an anonymous re view of Middlemareh in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine.®4 Like Thomas Hardy, Eliot was less successful in depicting town life and urban characters. Her most life-like characters are those who are unmistakable rustics. It cannot be doubted — there is every evidence of the fact — that her girlish experiences in that prosaic country district (Warwickshire) were so many hoarded treasures in her retentive memory which, by means of her marvellous wit and insight into character, served to en rich her first three novels and her "Scenes of Clerical Life.”65 Haldane also agrees that the author was at her best in truly rustic environment: "When she deals with the relations of the broad, ordinary life of the country people and relates its action to the deep springs of the philosophy of experience, she reaches her highest point."66 63. Blind, oj>. cit., p. 167. 64. Anonymous review of Middlemareh. Atlantic Monthly. Vol. XXXI, April, 1873, pp. 490-494. 65. Article, "George Eliot’s Early Life," (from a Correspondent), Pall Mall Gazette, December 30, 1880, p. 10. 66. Haldane, op. cit., p. 173. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 53 This excerpt, together with that from the brief biography in the Pall Mall Gazette. might seem to some readers to insinuate that Eliot's urban characters are inferior. These two statements mean only that Eliot was more familiar and at her best with rural people and the country. Her urban characters compare favorably with those of any other author: the case is just that Eliot's true element was rustic life. What Miss Woolson says, applies to any of Eliot's people: Not only does she bring before us personages who have the essential stamp of reality and substance, but she en dows them with the composite, many-sided nature which be longs to the human beings around us, and which mark the people of Shakespeare's world. . . . Their natures are revealed as presenting that tangled web of good and ill, of strength and weakness, which forms the moral and intel lectual structure of every individual of our race . we see the workings of thought and conscience, detect the hopes that impel, the fear that restrains, . . . we wit ness the warfare within the soul, of which outward acts are but the results.^ Sully®8 and Morley,69 to name only two, are among the many who place George Eliot's characterizations on a par with those of Shakes peare. Critics universally agree that no more life-like people ap pear anywhere in literature. Sully also says an important thing about the necessity of a proper environment such as Eliot is generally conceded to have sup plied: 67. Abba Goold Woolson, George Eliot and Her Heroines. Harper and Brothers, 1886, pp. 5-6. 68. Sully, loc. cit., pp. 383-385. 69. John Morley, "George Eliot's Novels," Macmillan's Magazine. Vol. XEV, August, 1866, pp. 276-277. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 54 Another thing strikes us in the build of George Eliot’s characters. A character divorced from its surroundings is an abstraction. A personality is only a concrete living whole when we attach it by a net-work of organic filaments to its particular environment, physical and social. Our author evidently chooses her surroundings with strict regard to her characters. She paints nature, less in its own beauty and less in its universal suggestiveness, than in its special aspect and significance for those whom she sets in its midst.7® Haldane corroborates Sully: "Adam Bede has, like the ’Scenes,* a special value of its own as a picture of English rural life, accur ate to the last degree.”7^The author herself admitted that the setting of Adam Bede was northern Warwickshire where we know she lived until she was twentyone, in daily contact with such people and among such scenes as she put in her first three novels. George Eliot preferred the rural life of the Midlands of England. Here she was thoroughly at home. The daughter of a prosperous land-agent, whose daily life was not above that of the plain country-folk who were his neighbors, she was, throughout her youth, in daily contact with farmers and their wives, country parsons and dissenting preachers, village doctors and rural schoolmasters, while now and then her father’s business connection with several of the wealthiest estates in England gave her an opportunity to visit the most aristocratic homes in the vicinity. Nor was the natural environment lacking in inspiration, for the great oaks and elms which lent their shade to the place of her birth and to the home of her youth were once a part of Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden, in the northern end of Warwi ckshire.72 70. Sully, loc. cit., p. 382. 71. Haldane, 72. Charles S. Olcott, George Eliot. Scenes and People in Her Novels. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1910, pp. 4-5. 0 £. cit., p. 143. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 55 Ihen the mass of comment about every phase of George Eliot’s novels has been reviewed, one can have no doubt that the writer's highest aspirations, those of emulating the Dutch paintings and of relating experience and adhering to truthfulness to nature by por traying life-like characters in their natural setting, were attained to a superlative degree. Little reference has been made in this thesis to the author's novel Middlemareh and none at all to her Romola and Daniel Deronda. The reason for this is, that though Middlemareh contains rustic char acters, they are of the small-town type, rather than of villages and the country. Romola. a story of Renaissance Italy, contains a single major character of the rural variety, Tessa, but the intention of this thesis was to include Eliot’s English rustics, only. Daniel Deronda contains not one provincial character. The ranking of Eliot’s novels has caused enormous discussion. The author herself considered Middlemareh her greatest novel. My re action, after studying the characters and the settings of her novels, is that Adam Bede and Silas Marner of all Eliot’s novels, conform most faithfully to the style of the Dutch paintings and to her own words that fiction should be the result of experience and should be true to nature. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. BIBLIOGRAPHY Books Blind, Mathilde. George Eliot, Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1883. Brownell, William Crary. Victorian Prose Masters. ner’s Sons, New York, 1901. Browning, Oscar. Charles Scrib Life of George Eliot. Walter Scott, London, 1890. Burton, Richard. Masters of the English Novel. Henry Holt and Com pany, New York, 1909. Cone, Helen Gray, and Gilder, Jeanette L«, editors. Pen-Portraits of Literary Women. Vol. II. Cassell and Company, Ltd., New York, 1887. Cooke, George Willis. George Eliot. Houghton Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1899, Cross, J. W. George Sliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Jour nals. Arranged and Edited by Her Husband. Harper and Brothers, New York, 1885. Cross, Wilbur L. Development of the English Novel. The Macmillan Company, New York, 1914. Eliot, George. Adam Bede. William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, Stereotyped Edition. ----- -- --Daniel Deronda. Universal Publishing Company, New York. ---------.— Felix Holt, the Radical. Harper and Brothers, New York, 1866. ------------ Middlemareh. Harper and Brothers, New York. ------------ Romola. Hurst and Company, New York. -----------Scenes of Clerical Life. Harper and Brothers, New York, 18— . --- ,------Silas Marner: the Weaver of Raveloe. Scott, Foresman and Company, Chicago, 1905. Edited by Albert Elmer Hancock. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 57 Eliot, George. Silas Marner: the Weaver of Raveloe. Houghton Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1899. Intro duction by Bliss Carman. -----------Impressions of Theophrastus Such. Harper and Brothers, New York. Gosse, Edmund William. Aspects and Impressions. Sons, New York, 1922. Charles Scribner's Gould, George Milbry. Biographic Clinics, Vol. II. Son and Company, Philadelphia, 1904. P. Blakiston's Haldane, Elizabeth S. George Eliot and Her Times. Company, New York, 1927. D. Appleton and Llguois and Cazamian. one volume. A History of English Literature, New edition in The Macmillan Company, New York, 1930. Lovett, Robert Morss, and Hughes, Helen Sard. The History of the Novel in England. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York, 1932. Mottram, William. The True Story of George Eliot. McClurg Company, Chicago, 1906. Mudge, Isadore Gilbert. A George Eliot Dictionary. The H. W. Wilson Company, New York, 1924. Olcott, Charles S. George Eliot, Scenes and People in Her Novels. 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