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finished the following February, was published in March, 1861. Artistically considered, it is the best of all her novels, although this does not mean it is the greatest. The plot is simple, and there is a coherence unbroken by any superfluous incidents. It is classic in its directness and simplicity.
Silas has lost faith in God and man; the injustice done him has made him a recluse. An abandoned child totters into his home; he cares for it and his soul is re-humanized by his love for a waif. The idea is beautiful, possibly more pretty than probable.
"At least, if one had to dispose of a deserted child, the experiment of dropping it by the cottage of a solitary in the hope that he would bring it up to its adyantage and to his own regeneration would hardly be tried by a judicious philanthropist.” George Eliot herself may have felt this objection, for she thought the theme belonged to poetry rather than prose, and when she had written it she said she would not have been surprised if it had failed to interest any one, since Wordsworth was dead evidently believing the theme one that would have appealed strongly to the author of Michael.
Its picture of rural England, of the lonely life of the hermit, the linen-weaver of Raveloe, the dramatic situations, and the homely humor in tavern and village, the exquisite workmanship and charm of style, have deservedly made this a favorite. In addition to these qualities we have the prevailing ethical mood of the author illustrated in the law of compensation. Silas is again made a member of the social order by his goodness to the abandoned child; Godfrey Cass, who has deserted wife and child, and, upon the death of one and the loss of the other, had married again and lived a life of prosperity, finds later, as he
"There's debts we can't pay like money debts, by paying extra for the years that have slipped by. While I've been putting off and putting off, the trees have been growing — it's too late now. Marner was in the right in what he said about a man's turning away a blessing from his door: it falls to somebody else.”
Romola. - This book marks a transition in the literary career of George Eliot. The preceding novels were the products of an imagination working upon familiar English material; Romola was manufactured from material laboriously gathered from libraries. Her earlier stories deal with contemporary life; Romola deals with the Florentine life of the far-off fifteenth century. To write an entertaining historical novel does not seem to be a very difficult task; to write one true to life and history is, in the opinion of many, an impossibility.
George Eliot always took her work seriously and never had that facility of composition enjoyed by Dickens and Scott. To prepare herself for the writing of Romola, she visited Italy, and afterwards read many volumes dealing with its history, especially that of the fifteenth century. In the record of the books read by her in 1861 we find lives of Savonarola, Machiavelli, Burchiello, Petrarch; histories by Sismondi; letters by Filelfo and others. As an illustration of her zeal we find recorded in her diary of December 13: "Read Poggiana. In the afternoon walked to Mollini's and brought back Savonarola's Dialogus de Veritate Prophetica and Compendium Revelationum for
On June 9, 1863, she writes in her journal, “Put the last stroke to Romola. Ebenezer !” The book had lain like a burden on her mind. She once said that she began it a young woman and ended it an old woman. While the book was not read so eagerly as the earlier ones, perhaps because of its first appearance in the Cornhill Magazine as a serial, or perhaps because of its length and erudition, it was highly praised by many of her contemporaries, some of whom called it a masterpiece. Today the opinion of Mr. Frederick Harrison seems to be the one generally held: "Romola is certainly a wonderful monument of literary accomplishment; but it remains a tour de force, too elaborate, too labored, too intricate, too erudite."
Both Romola and Savonarola are impressive characters: Romola, the woman of lofty nature seeking truth but confused by the divided interests of the renaissance and Christianity;
Savonarola, the impassioned reformer whose zeal verges upon fanaticism. However, the unforgettable character is Tito - one of the immortals of English fiction. Here is a fit task for our moralizing, psychological novelist — to give us the incarnation of the idea that a refined nature by forever shrinking from the disagreeable is doomed to tragic demoralization. With what detail we are led to see this evolution of a soul!“ Tito was experiencing that inexorable law of human souls," we are told by this insistent moralist, “ that we prepare ourselves for sudden deeds by the reiterated choice of good or evil that determines character.” No one who has followed the career of Tito from the day he appears in Florence, a bright, beautiful youth, to his tragic end on the banks of the Arno can forget this portrayal of the degeneration of a soul.
Other Writings. — After Romola came Felix Holt, The Spanish Gypsy, a poem, Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, and The Impressions of Theophrastus Such. Blackwood, the publisher, gave her £5,000 for Felix Holt, a novel dealing with the political reforms of 1832. Although Mr. Brownell thinks it will always "remain a highly interpretative picture of English political and social history," the novel is considered far inferior to her best work. The Spanish Gypsy is full of thought, but is lacking in imagination and feeling.
Middlemarch was published in eight parts, the last part appearing in December, 1872. It was more popular than Romola, 25,000 having been sold by 1875. The book introduces us into the midst of middle-class respectability in England. One critic calls it a half dozen novels in one, “the microcosm of a community rather than a story connected with a unified plot and set of characters. And it is perhaps the writer's fullest expression of her philosophy of life.” Even the minor characters are treated with that full sympathy that characterizes the work of the author. The interest centers about the matrimonial life of Dorothea wedded to the wooden Casaubon, and Lydgate married to the shallow Rosamund.
Daniel Deronda appeared in 1876. It is a study of Anglo
Jewish domestic life, a novel with a new type of hero. The one objection that has been urged is that the hero has been drawn as too refined, too near perfection to be human. His ideal is to give national existence to his people. Her portrayal of Mordecai and Daniel has been highly praised by scholarly Jews, but the prevalent feeling as to the bookishness of her conception is that expressed by Mr. Leland when he said, “One day she told me that in order to write Daniel Deronda she had read through two hundred books. I longed to tell her that she had better have learned Yiddish and talked with two hundred Jews.” In the story of Gwendolen and her marriage with the selfish Grandcourt we find George Eliot at her best.
Of Theophrastus Such and her poems we need but say that the former consists of series of thoughts and impressions, and that her poems do not rank with the highest. However, there is one short passage in her poetry that will not soon be forgotten:
“O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
Last Years. — During all these years of literary activity George Eliot and Mr. Lewes had been living happily and prosperously. He impressed every one by his whole-hearted devotion, and all were equally impressed by her great admiration for him. He was an excellent business manager and arranged all details attending her relations with her publishers; he was also stimulating and helpful by his criticisms and appreciations. At their Sunday afternoon receptions the literary and scientific celebrities of the English world met to enjoy the society of a most brilliant woman and a versatile man. Among the visitors were Huxley and Spencer of the scientific world, Millais and Burne
Jones of the artistic, and Browning and Tennyson of the purely literary.
In his sixty-second year Mr. Lewes died after a short illness; George Eliot was prostrated by grief, but soon busied herself in establishing a scholarship or studentship in his honor, open to both sexes, for the encouragement of research in physiology. The studentship yielded an income of nearly a thousand dollars. Lewes had died in November, 1878. She greatly surprised both her intimate friends and the public by marrying John Walter Cross in May, 1880. He was a friend of long standing. The only explanation of her marriage is that hers was a nature that needed some one to love. Her own life was not spared long to enjoy the companionship of Mr. Cross, for on December 22, 1880, she quietly passed away.
Personal Traits. — We have learned somewhat of her personal characteristics in the preceding pages, but a few words may fittingly be added. She was passionately fond of music and had some skill in that art; she enjoyed traveling; liked modern realistic art; and was fond of animals. Her health was never very good, and it is not surprising to learn, in the light of the prevailing melancholy of her novels, that she was subject to moods of despondency. Although very intellectual, she was essentially a woman in taste and sympathy. She was not too erudite to despise the art of housekeeping. It is worthy of note that she made an excellent step-mother for the three children whose own mother had deserted them. Her nature was broad and tolerant, with all the tenderness of a rich and loving soul. Her unexpected popularity left in her no taint of egotism.
Mrs. Fields, an American, has given us a charming picture of George Eliot:
“At first I thought her tall; for one could not think that such a head could rest on an ordinary woman's shoulders. But, as she rose up, her figure appeared of but medium height. She received us very kindly. . . All distance was removed by her courtesy. Her manners are very sweet, because very simple and free from affectation. To me her welcome was the more grateful as that of one woman to another. There is a sort of