British and Irish Literature George Eliot
by
Fionnuala Dillane
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0016

Introduction

George Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans near Coventry, England, in 1819, embodied in her life and work many of the defining transformations of her turbulent age. A crisis of faith in her twenties saw her abandoning traditional religious practices. It is no coincidence that her first major publications were translations of leading European secular thinkers (David Strauss’s The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined in 1846, and Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity in 1854), though the attempt to establish a meaningful moral life that balanced the needs of the individual and the community remained central to her work. That moral seriousness was a defining quality of her fiction for many of her first readers and contributed to her immense popularity; the same quality became a point of attack in the decades following her death. Her depiction of organic rural communities in her early fiction in particular—though never simply nostalgic, grounded as it was in the personal experiences of her Warwickshire childhood—was also core to the positive reception of her work by contemporary audiences grappling with the transformations of industrial modernity. Her considerable intellectual interests (philosophical, scientific, political) often alienated those same readers, especially as those interests were seen to feature more and more in her later writings. Evans (who renamed herself “Marian”) moved to London in her early thirties to work from 1851 as coeditor of the leading intellectual quarterly, the Westminster Review. Her fellow editor, the owner of the journal, John Chapman, whom she met through her Coventry neighbor Charles Bray, played a significant role in her initiation into metropolitan publishing and literary life. In London she started a relationship with the married George Henry Lewes and left England to travel to Germany with Lewes in 1854. She and Lewes returned in 1855 and remained together until Lewes’s death in 1878. Their mutually supporting personal and intellectual relationship provided the secure base from which both writers embarked on hugely productive professional writing careers. Evans wrote for a range of London-based periodicals from 1854 to 1857. Her first fiction was published anonymously in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in January 1857, with Lewes acting as a go-between with the magazine’s editor, John Blackwood. Blackwood became an early champion and cultivator of the writer he soon came to know as “George Eliot.” The cover of her pseudonym, a necessary strategy to ensure the unbiased reception of her first novel, Adam Bede (1859), given both her gender and the scandal of her unconventional living arrangements, did not last long. Her identity was soon widely known, but she remained an intensely private figure throughout her life. Much of the speculation about the writer during her lifetime derived from readings of her creative work. Throughout the 1860s and 1870s she published fiction, essays, and poetry under her pseudonym, including The Mill on the Floss (1860); Silas Marner (1861); Romola (1862–1863); Felix Holt (1866); The Spanish Gypsy (1868); Middlemarch (1871–1872), Daniel Deronda (1876) and Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879). In 1880, Marian Evans married her close friend, John Walter Cross. It was a short marriage: she died just over seven months later in December 1880.

General Overviews

There are two types of works in this section: general introductions by individual critics that aim to provide a brief overview of the life and career with compact contextualizations, and edited collections that offer more specialized approaches to specific themes and issues; summaries of diverse critical approaches that reflect theoretical trends; and fuller historical contextualization. Both formats aim, successfully, to make George Eliot “less abstract by attending to some of the ‘wider relations’ that establish coordinates on her life and work” (Harris 2013, xvii). Of the former, McSweeney 1991 gives equal attention to the intellectual development of Marian Evans and to issues of gender and sexuality as played out in the fiction. Dolin 2005 includes useful historical contextualization. Beer 1986 provides incisive readings of the works as well as considered attention to cultural and scientific contexts. The George Eliot page on The Victorian Web gathers a range of accessible material on aspects of the life, wider contexts and, very usefully, form and style. Levine 2001 is a substantial overview of influential approaches in key areas: intellectual, personal, creative, and critical. Harris 2013 covers more ground than Levine, with comprehensiveness and sustained critique deliberately sacrificed to offer denser and more varied approaches than those that characteristically feature in such overviews. Anderson and Shaw 2013 differentiates itself from the other types of texts gathered here with innovative critical readings of individual works and broader themes and contexts. Rignall 2000, unlike the others, is in dictionary format covering all aspects of Eliot’s life, work, and contexts, but also includes illuminating interpretations of her major texts as well as adroit summaries of critical trends in Eliot studies.

  • Anderson, Amanda, and Harry E. Shaw, eds. A Companion to George Eliot. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

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    Refreshingly eclectic, intelligent collection. Diversity in methodological approaches means inconsistencies in terms of coverage of the critical field (e.g., Tucker’s comprehensive critique of responses to Eliot’s poetry versus Nunokawa’s more personal response to the essays). Original essays address biographical, intellectual, and cultural contexts; literary form; all of the novels; and most of Eliot’s other writings.

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  • Beer, Gillian. George Eliot. Brighton, UK: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1986.

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    Illuminating readings of the works, grounded in a richly detailed but compact overview of contexts; particularly useful for an introduction to the wider gender dimensions of Eliot’s work.

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  • Dolin, Tim. George Eliot. Authors in Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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    Accessible, solid, historically-inflected account of the context in which Eliot’s work was written and to which it responds. Emphasizes the influence of her origins in the English midlands to argue her “unorthodoxy was intellectual, her conservatism, sentient” (p. 5).

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  • George Eliot (1819–1880). In The Victorian Web.

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    Extensive resource that gathers together in clear categories a diverse range of original materials, extracts from published studies, and book reviews of critical works on George Eliot; addresses all aspects of her life and works, wider contexts, and formal features of style. Includes a selective bibliography.

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  • Harris, Margaret, ed. George Eliot in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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    Wide-ranging, fascinating overview of familiar and new contexts for Eliot studies that reflect persistent and emerging trends in Victorian studies more broadly. Includes chapters on Interiors, Etiquette, Race, Secularism, Metropolitanism, and Law and Money, for instance, preceded by a section relating to Eliot’s life and the publication history of her works.

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  • Levine, George, ed. The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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    Eleven thematic essays by experts in the field on major topics (philosophy, science, religion, politics, gender), a useful, annotated bibliography, and particularly fine essays on early and later fiction by Josephine McDonagh and Alexander Welsh, respectively. Eliot’s other writings suffer somewhat, with no chapters on poetry or the journalism.

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  • McSweeney, Kerry. George Eliot (Marian Evans): A Literary Life. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1991.

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    Concise and full of insightful observations on the life and the work in terms of content, form, and what McSweeney calls “presentational calculations” (p. viii), bringing a canny businesswoman to the fore with interesting readings of her views on fiction and fiction writing as articulated in her essays.

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  • Rignall, John, ed. Oxford Reader’s Companion to George Eliot. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Indispensable user-friendly reference work with over five hundred entries, arranged alphabetically, covering Eliot’s writings, historical and cultural contexts, her family, friends, associates, and significant contemporaries and influences. Substantial entries on the development, publication details, main themes, and critical reception of all of her writings. Useful cross-referencing throughout and helpful indices.

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Editions

Marian Evans was a published poet, translator, journalist and writer of magazine fiction before she became the novelist George Eliot. It is understandable, however, that Evans’s novelistic persona dominates our sense of the writer, given the popularity of her early fiction in her own time, and the enduring appreciation for her fictional work. Her novels continue to be enjoyed for different, often related, reasons, including their capacious understanding of the full spectrum of human emotions played out in her characters and narrators; their intellectual richness; their daring and diverse formal ambitions; their spacious, fully imagined worlds; and their subtle humor. Her novels are always in print and the ready availability of high-quality scholarly editions (see Editions: Fiction) testify to the continuing significance of this work. Her journals and notebooks (see Editions: Journals and Other Working Notes) offer ample evidence of the sophisticated nature of her craft, multilingual abilities, and scholarly expertise, as well as the extraordinary levels of research and preparation that went into each published work. Her extensive published correspondence (see Editions: Letters), in more immediate ways than her personal journals, provide a vibrant sense of Eliot’s complex personality, her day-to-day life, and her various social and intellectual communities and interests that informed her writing. The diversity of that writing life is evident in those other genres in which she worked. Her journalism (see Editions: Periodical Articles and Essays) demonstrates the breadth and depth of her intellectual range. In these volumes, we get some indication of the energy, daring wit, and impressive flexibility of Eliot the freelance journalist. Her poetry (see Editions: Poetry), written for the most part after her reputation as a leading novelist was established, shows the variety of poetic forms with which she experimented, indicating something of her efforts to continuously renew her artistic life and to resist easy categorization. As the limited number of annotated editions suggests, however, her poetry has been neglected until very recently. Her translations have received even less attention (see Editions: Translations). Though the influence of the German writers whose works she translated has been well scrutinized in George Eliot studies, the lack of sustained critical interest in the work of Eliot the translator is evident in the paucity of scholarly editions.

Fiction

George Eliot experimented with a variety of literary forms and a wide range of publishing formats over her almost thirty-five-year writing career. She revised her published work at various stages as it moved between formats, from magazine to book, from part publication to novel. The Cabinet Edition (Eliot 1878–1880), published by Blackwood, stands as the only edition authorized by the writer herself. The Clarendon Edition of the Novels of George Eliot (Eliot 1979–2001) is the definitive modern edition without par, comprising all of her novels and short fiction, and provides the most thorough annotations. More freely available, affordable, and up-to-date editions of most of her novels and shorter fiction with excellent and accessible scholarly introductions and detailed notes, many of which are reproduced from the Clarendon editions, are available from Oxford World’s Classics (see Eliot 2009). Penguin Classics also makes available all of the fiction in different formats, annotated with critical introductions and otherwise, including e-book editions. Substantial critical editions of Middlemarch (Eliot 2000b), edited by Bert T. Hornback, and The Mill on the Floss (Eliot 1994), edited by Carol T. Christ, are available in the Norton Critical Editions series, while Broadview has published editions of Adam Bede (Eliot 2005) and Felix Holt (Eliot 2000a)—all offering annotated versions of the texts with additional contemporary and critical material bringing fuller contextualization. A Hyper Concordance to the Works of George Eliot, by Matsuoka, provides a digital, searchable edition of all of the fiction. See Rignall 2000 (cited under General Overviews) for the most compact summary of revisions to texts under the title of each work, and Baker and Ross 2002 (cited under Bibliographies) for the most comprehensive listing of various editions of all of Eliot’s writings, including her translations.

Poetry

The Cabinet Edition noted in Editions: Fiction (Eliot 1878–1880) contains revised versions of the two volumes of poetry published in Eliot’s lifetime (The Spanish Gypsy, 1868, and The Legend of Jubal and other Poems, 1874). There has been a very long wait for a modern collected edition of her poems (Eliot 1989a), but unfortunately that volume, edited by Lucien Jenkins, is not annotated. Importantly, however, it includes a useful appendix of Eliot’s poems that function as epigraphs in her three last novels. Eliot 2005 offers a welcome more fully contextualized and annotated two-volume edition of what the editors, van den Broek and Baker, term her shorter poems. The “shorter” of the title should not mislead: the double volume includes the lengthy “The Legend of Jubal,” “Armgart,” and “Agatha,” and the “Brother and Sister” sonnet sequence, works that most often feature in critical analyses that draw on the autobiographical, the performative nature of gendered identity, and role of music and theater in her work. Eliot 2008 prints Eliot’s book-length verse drama, The Spanish Gypsy, in its entirety and also provides illuminating background research material from Eliot’s notebooks, as well as informed, scholarly annotations and a critical introduction. Eliot 1989b includes all eleven of the “Brother and Sister” sonnets and extracts from “Armgart” and The Spanish Gypsy. See also Criticism: Poetry.

  • Eliot, George. Collected Poems. Edited by Lucien Jenkins. London: Skoob, 1989a.

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    The only complete modern edition of Eliot’s poetry; includes an introduction but unfortunately no other editorial material.

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  • Eliot, George. Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings. Edited by A. S. Byatt and Nicholas Warren. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1989b.

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    A selective but representative sample of George Eliot’s poetry with brief but informative introductory sections and clear editorial notes.

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  • Eliot, George. The Complete Shorter Poetry of George Eliot. 2 vols. Edited by Antoine Gerard van den Broek. Consulting editor, William Baker. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2005.

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    Includes all Eliot’s poetry except the book-length Spanish Gypsy. There are notes on textual variants and substantial appendices that include the poem epigraphs; poetic fragments from her notebooks; some of her “Notes on Form in Art,” and other writings on poetry, as well as facsimile reproductions of four contemporary reviews.

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  • Eliot, George. The Spanish Gypsy. Edited by Antoine Gerard van den Broek. Consulting editor, William Baker. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2008.

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    Much-needed, scholarly edition of Eliot’s long poem that includes a preface by Baker, an illuminating introduction by van den Broek, scrupulous commentary, and annotations. Reproduces Eliot’s own background notes on Gypsy traditions, reprinted from Eliot 1981 (see Editions: Periodical Articles and Essays).

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Periodical Articles and Essays

There is no complete edition of George Eliot’s periodical articles, and though hardly the most prolific of Victorian journalists, she nonetheless published almost eighty identified pieces in a variety of journals and newspapers of different political and philosophical persuasions. The majority of her critical work appeared in 1855–1856 in the prestigious quarterly Westminster Review (which she had coedited from 1852 to 1854) and in the radical weekly Leader (cofounded by George Henry Lewes and Thornton Hunt). Essays and Leaves from a Notebook (Eliot 1884), her authorized and revised selection of this material, appeared posthumously, edited by her stepson Charles Lee Lewes. It incorporated some previously unpublished short pieces and is notable for both the variety of types of periodical material chosen and the limitation of her selection at just seven pieces in total from the “fugitive writings” she “considered deserving of a permanent form” (p. v). Essays of George Eliot (Eliot 1963) is the most comprehensive and most authoritative edition, with a representative spread of the diverse range of Eliot’s periodical writings. Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings (Eliot 1989) includes all of the longer Westminster pieces and some shorter reviews, and purposefully prioritizes the essays as a clear setting out of the embryonic novelist’s artistic ideas. Selected Critical Writings (Eliot 2000) takes a wider definition of “critical writing” to include extracts from Eliot’s translations, working notes for her novels, some correspondence, extracts from her fiction and her journals, as well as published periodical articles. In this way the volume emphasizes continuities of concern and Eliot’s capacious thinking, but it sacrifices considerations of the exigencies of genre and context. George Eliot: A Writer’s Notebook 1854–1879 (Eliot 1981) is an invaluable resource for material not available in Essays of George Eliot (Eliot 1963). Though ostensibly also a collection of essays, Eliot’s final work, Impressions of Theophrastus Such (Eliot 1994), is very different from other works listed here; these linked “Character” pieces, published in volume format, were not written for periodicals and offer quite a distinct challenge in their layered, ironic style and unusual form.

  • Eliot, George. Essays and Leaves from a Notebook. Edited by Charles Lee Lewes. London: Blackwood, 1884.

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    A limited and revised selection of Eliot’s periodical work, chosen by her and published posthumously, it comprises four Westminster Review articles and one article each from Fraser’s Magazine, Fortnightly Review, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Also includes previously unpublished short pieces useful in particular for their relationship to Impressions of Theophrastus Such.

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  • Eliot, George. Essays of George Eliot. Edited by Thomas Pinney. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963.

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    Unmatched edition of Eliot’s periodical work, with superb notes that direct readers to the original publication context of the essays and indicate what Pinney presents as the broader significance of these writings in the context of Eliot’s wider oeuvre.

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  • Eliot, George. George Eliot: A Writer’s Notebook 1854–1879, and Uncollected Writings. Edited by Joseph Wiesenfarth. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981.

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    Includes material from Leader, Saturday Review, and “Belles Letters” pieces from the Westminster Review not included in Pinney’s edition (Eliot 1963), particularly useful to read alongside that collection to compare the reviews Eliot wrote on the same books for different journals.

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  • Eliot, George. Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings. Edited by A. S. Byatt and Nicholas Warren. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1989.

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    Substantial selection of Eliot’s work categorized into “essays”—which the editors suggest constitute a discrete body of work—and shorter “book reviews,” which they categorize as responses to individual works, though that distinction does not always hold. Byatt’s introduction provides a lively and interesting overview on main themes.

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  • Eliot, George. Impressions of Theophrastus Such. Edited by Nancy Henry. London: Pickering, 1994.

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    This collection of essays, linked by their eponymous narrator, is unlike Eliot’s journalism. First published as a one-volume work the year before her death in 1879, Henry’s is the outstanding edition with its wide-ranging, erudite introduction and exceptional scholarly notes guiding the reader through the layers of irony and complications of form.

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  • Eliot, George. Selected Critical Writings. Edited by Rosemary Ashton. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    A diverse sample of Eliot’s longer essays and shorter reviews, with brief but informative notes grounded in Ashton’s expert understanding of the wider European contexts of much of Eliot’s review work and emphasizing their philosophical frames. Less attention is provided to the context in which the work was first published.

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Letters

The field of George Eliot studies is hugely indebted to The George Eliot Letters (Eliot 1954–1978), published between 1954 and 1978 in nine volumes; it constitutes the most comprehensive resource on George Eliot’s life and work. Eliot 1985 offers a compact single-volume selection from the letters that can be read almost as an alternative to the biography Haight 1968 (cited under Modern Biographies), comprising extracts from letters and journals arranged under biographical themes, with introductory material providing useful context. Lewes 1999 is the third volume of the collected letters of George Henry Lewes, edited by William Baker, and is an important supplement to Haight’s collected letters. It includes previously unpublished George Eliot letters and some discovered since Haight’s selected edition in 1985 that deliver, among other things, valuable insights into Eliot’s editorial work at the Westminster Review (the series of letters first published by Rosemary Ashton in the Huntington Library Quarterly in 1991), as well as correspondence about Eliot’s translations, among other more general material.

  • Eliot, George. The George Eliot Letters. 9 vols. Edited by Gordon S. Haight. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1954–1978.

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    Seminal work that transformed understandings of George Eliot in the 20th century. Scrupulously annotated, with comprehensive indices. Also includes material from Eliot’s journals, Lewes’s journal, a good range of letters by Lewes and by Eliot’s main publisher, John Blackwood, and some correspondence from other contemporaries. Invaluable resource for any Eliot scholar.

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  • Eliot, George. Selections from George Eliot’s Letters. Edited by Gordon S. Haight. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.

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    Compact single volume that provides an essential introduction to the letters and to the life, as well as including eleven new letters not included in Eliot 1954–1978.

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  • Lewes, George Henry. The Letters of George Henry Lewes. Vol. 3, With New George Eliot Letters. 3 vols. Edited by William Baker. English Literary Studies Monograph Series 79. Victoria, BC: University of Victoria, 1999.

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    This third volume of Baker’s edition of Lewes’s letters provides seventy-nine letters by George Eliot not included in other editions. The material spans Eliot’s life, comprising correspondence from the 1840s to letters written by Eliot after Lewes’s death in 1878. Important resource for a fuller understanding of Eliot’s working and personal life.

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Translations

George Eliot’s first major interventions in publishing were as the translator of radical secular texts, which contributed to Eliot’s early reputation as an unorthodox intellectual. Strauss 1846, Eliot’s translation from the German of David Strauss’s Das Leben Jesu, was completed in her mid-twenties. It helped to bring English audiences to this important text of Higher Criticism with its application of myth theory to the life of Christ and its analysis of the New Testament as a historical document. A translation of Ludwig Feuerbach’s Das Wesen des Christentums (Feuerbach 1989) was published in 1854 and cemented Eliot’s important contribution to the dissemination of 19th-century German thought in England. Feuerbach’s influential philosophical and theological theories posited the anthropomorphic underpinnings of religious doctrine. This translation was the only one of her works to appear under her own name, Marian Evans. Spinoza 1981, translated from the Latin, a work that was significant in the development of Romanticism, pantheistic, and modern secular thinking, was not published in Eliot’s lifetime, though Spinoza’s philosophies, along with the Strauss and Feuerbach texts, are considered to have influenced all of Eliot’s subsequent writings (see in particular Criticism: Philosophy), so these translations are crucial for a broader understanding of the Eliot’s life and work.

  • Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity. Translated by Marian Evans. New York: Prometheus, 1989.

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    Affordable, accessible edition of George Eliot’s 1854 translation of a work that has been widely argued as foundational to her thinking. Though her pseudonym is included in this edition, there is no reference to the translator beyond the title pages.

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  • Spinoza, Baruch. Ethics of Benedict Spinoza. Translated by George Eliot. Edited by Thomas Deegan. Salzburg, Austria: Institut fur Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1981.

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    Eliot worked on this posthumous text of Spinoza’s (first published in 1677) from 1854 to 1856. This is the first known edition of her translation that continues her intense engagement throughout this period with works that provoked significant theological controversy.

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  • Strauss, David Friedrich. The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. Translated by Marian Evans. London: Chapman, 1846.

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    George Eliot’s first book-length publication, a translation of the controversial and influential work by Strauss that was a major contribution to German Higher Criticism. The translation included Latin, Greek, and Hebrew material, also giving some indication of her phenomenal intellect in her mid-twenties. Reprint, edited by Peter C. Hodgson, New Jersey: Sigler Press, 1994. Translated from the 4th German edition.

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Journals and Other Working Notes

A picture of Eliot’s extraordinary detailed research and some suggestion of the fascinating transformations from preparatory notes to creative work are provided in a range of annotated transcriptions of Eliot’s notebooks. These scholarly editions offer a tracing of “some contour lines of her imaginative terrain” (Eliot 1996, xxi) and a sense of the capacious intelligence that sustains her fiction in particular. Pratt and Neufeldt 1979 in the detailed annotations and extremely useful introduction demonstrates Eliot’s “syncretic mind” (xvii). In Eliot 1976–1985 the informed notes present clear lines of inquiry into philosophical and religious issues. Eliot 1981 includes some material on her early fiction not available in other editions; Eliot 1996 provides the first publication together of the Berg and Pforzheimer notebooks that comprise the complete Daniel Deronda notebooks. Eliot 1998, expertly edited by Harris and Johnston, is different from the other material here that attends to tracing the relationship between preparatory notes and individual works. These journals, in contrast, comprise diary-like elements, the day-to-day recordings of reading material, appointments, outings, and observations on the weather or personal feelings, but also details of Eliot’s extensive travels and more carefully composed explanatory pieces such as “How I Came to Write Fiction” (1857).

  • Eliot, George. Some George Eliot Notebooks: An Edition of the Carl H. Pforzheimer Library’s George Eliot Holograph Notebooks, 707, 708, 709, 710, 711. 4 vols. Edited by William Baker. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englishche Sprache und Literatur, 1976–1985.

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    Very useful annotations on Jewish works that informed Daniel Deronda and Eliot’s reading of Comte, among other material, demonstrating the breadth and depth of Eliot’s engagement with historical and philosophical discourses and as well as her scrupulous eye for details.

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  • Eliot, George. George Eliot: A Writer’s Notebook 1854–1879, and Uncollected Writings. Edited by Joseph Wiesenfarth. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981.

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    Transcription of Eliot’s longest notebook, which is a record of her research for Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss. Includes some material on The Spanish Gypsy, Felix Holt, Romola, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda. Benefits from a compact clear introduction.

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  • Eliot, George. George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda Notebooks. Edited by Jane Irwin. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    Offering “an integral record” (p. xxi) of Eliot’s reading before and during the writing of Daniel Deronda, this exemplary scholarly edition is carefully annotated and wisely cautious about how to use the notebooks, always alert to dangers of overly diagrammatic readings from notes to published novel.

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  • Eliot, George. The Journals of George Eliot. Edited by Margaret Harris and Judith Johnston. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    A vital biographical resource that includes all of Eliot’s surviving journals spanning the years 1854–1880, and comprising some personal observations, a record of her reading material, accounts of holidays, and set pieces by Eliot on her composition processes. Rich, illuminating introductions to these various sections provide invaluable guidance and context.

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  • Pratt, John Clark, and Victor A. Neufeldt, eds. George Eliot’s Middlemarch Notebooks: A Transcription. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

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    Confirming the idea of Eliot as an “intellectual meliorist” (p. xviii), Pratt and Neufeldt’s erudite and revealing introduction and annotations trace connections between Eliot’s research and the themes and formal development of the novel, altogether drawing out the political, cultural, and historical relativism that find layered reworking in Middlemarch.

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Bibliographies

The field of George Eliot studies benefits from a range of annotated collections, though these differ in scope, organization, and purpose. Baker and Ross 2002 is a detailed, comprehensive description of George Eliot’s writings, amply illustrating the diverse range of publication formats and genres with which she experimented and the international appeal of her work. Shattock 2000, combining both primary and secondary material, provides invaluable listings of editions of George Eliot’s writings across all genres, contemporary responses, bibliographies, and critical material. Fulmer 1977 is the most comprehensive annotated bibliography of writings about Eliot from her early career to 1971, arranged chronologically. The annotations are brief and descriptive but it is an important resource for the range of coverage. Pangallo 1990 takes up where Fulmer’s detailed survey ends with its comprehensive chronological coverage of articles on Eliot published between 1972 and 1987. Neither Fulmer nor Pangallo put individual critics in conversation with each other (given their range of material, an impossible task). Handley 1990 and Levine and O’Hara 1988, in contrast, are more discursive, comparative accounts. The material in Levine and O’Hara 1988 is arranged thematically and by individual works. Part of the “State of the Art” series, some of the annotations are merely descriptive, others offer brief but emphatic evaluative responses to the book/article in question. Handley 1990, not strictly bibliographical, is even more analytical and more selective; Handley’s approach is guided by what he terms “personal, and sometimes deliberately provocative, choice[s]” (p. 4) to return readers to the original material and cultivate debate.

  • Baker, William, and John C. Ross. George Eliot: A Bibliographical History. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 2002.

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    By far the most comprehensive bibliography of Eliot’s works, including international editions and the most complete listing of her less well-known writings, such as her translations and uncollected journalism. Includes publications in languages other than English, and useful indices guide readers to criticism of individual works.

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  • Fulmer, Constance Marie. George Eliot: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977.

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    Includes critical writings about Eliot and her works, listed chronologically by year from 1858 to 1971, with each year broken down into longer works and shorter essays. The chronological approach gives clear sense of trends in Eliot criticism over this period. Highlights the often neglected considerable body of early criticism on Eliot.

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  • Handley, Graham. George Eliot: A Guide through the Critical Maze. Bristol, UK: Bristol, 1990.

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    Covers material from Eliot’s contemporaries and up to the 1980s in a series of discursive chapters rather than a conventional bibliographic listing. Includes specific sections on responses to the publication of Eliot’s letters, New Criticism, biographical scholarship, and feminist studies.

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  • Levine, George, with the assistance of Patricia O’Hara. An Annotated Critical Bibliography of George Eliot. Brighton, UK: Harvester, 1988.

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    Valuable resource, with useful thematic sections (including Feminism, Philosophy, Comparative Studies) and sections on individual works, Eliot’s poetry, and her essays. Especially strong as a guide through earlier, now much neglected material from 1880s–1940s.

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  • Pangallo, Karen, ed. George Eliot: A Reference Guide, 1972–1987. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

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    Organized chronologically and alphabetically, with factual rather than evaluative annotations, yet the guide offers detailed listings of articles produced within its specified, if random, time frame.

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  • Shattock, Joanne, ed. The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. Vol. 4, 1800–1900. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Compact but comprehensive listing of editions of Eliot’s work. Includes details on unpublished source material, bibliographies from the late 19th century onward, collected editions of the works, and a very useful listing of contemporary reviews of the fiction and poetry.

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Scholarly Journals

In addition to extensive coverage of all aspects of Eliot’s work by leading journals in Victorian studies and those focused on writing by women, there are two specialist journals that concentrate on the work of George Eliot. George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies, established by William Baker as the George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Newsletter in September 1982, and published twice annually, is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal that provides critical articles on all aspects of writings byEliot, Lewes and their contemporaries. The George Eliot Review (the journal of the George Eliot Fellowship), which started out as The George Eliot Fellowship Review in 1970, changing to its current title in 1992, is a platform for the work of the George Eliot Fellowship and a useful resource for scholarship on primary material related to George Eliot. An annual publication, it has been edited by a number of prominent Eliot scholars, including Beryl Grey and John Rignall.

  • George Eliot Review. 1992–.

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    Journal of the George Eliot Fellowship. Includes shorter articles on all aspects of Eliot’s writings and biographical contexts, many with a distinctive emphasis on work that addresses new source material (letters, diaries, historical documents, etc.). Publishes the George Eliot Fellowship Annual Memorial Lecture delivered in Nuneaton, Eliot’s birthplace, as well as other Fellowship lectures. Formerly The George Eliot Fellowship Review (1970–1992).

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  • George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies. 1992–.

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    Focused on the writings of Eliot and Lewes, as well as on their literary and cultural influences and interactions, this scholarly journal provides substantial critical articles in the field, succinct and useful selective surveys of articles in Eliot studies in a given year, book reviews, and, occasionally, new poems inspired by the period. Formerly the George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Newsletter (1982–1992).

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Biographies

In 1879 George Eliot wrote to the wife of her friend Thomas Trollope, that the “best history” of a writer is to be found in his works, and that biographies “generally are a disease of English literature” (Eliot 1954–1978, Vol. 7, 230, cited under Letters). The remarks have surfaced repeatedly in the many biographies about this still intriguing woman. Henry 2012 (cited under Modern Biographies) reminds us, nonetheless, that Eliot both admired and enjoyed reading contemporary biographies (pp. 3–4); she gave positive reviews to both memoirs and biographies when working as a journalist in the mid-1850s (see Eliot 1989a and Eliot 1989b, under Poetry); and the Journals of George Eliot (Eliot 1998, under Journals and Other Working Notes) record the practical and intellectual support she gave to Lewes throughout their time in Germany as he prepared his celebrated biography of Goethe. She was an intensely private woman, however, who kept her distance from correspondents by regularly signing letters under her pseudonym. Early accounts of her life drew heavily on anecdotal evidence until the publication of many of her letters in Cross 1885 (cited under Memoirs and Early Critical Biographies) reshaped significantly the public opinion of the novelist. The publication of the multivolume George Eliot Letters (Eliot 1954–1978, under Letters) and the profound transformations in literary and biographical studies brought about by psychoanalytical and, in particular, feminist scholarship in latter half of the 20th century have had an enduring impact on more contemporary biographies of the writer (see Modern Biographies).

Memoirs and Early Critical Biographies

George Eliot’s reluctance to court any kind of attention about her personal life and personal history was recorded many times in letters to friends and potential biographers. At the time of her death, the dearth of factual detail about her life and background left obituary writers struggling to fill their columns (see Collins 2006, cited under Criticism), and many contemporaries rushing in with anecdotes and personal “memories.” Biographers soon followed. Collins 2010 includes fascinating insights, many of which have been repeated in biographies, with a succinct and wise introduction alert to the vagaries of “remembered” anecdotes. Marshall 2003 has a narrower range but includes substantial and lengthy biographical and critical excerpts that provide a more cohesive sense of the writer’s impact and legacy. Blind 1883, the first substantial critical biography of George Eliot, published as part of the Eminent Women series, foregrounds the significance of the writer’s gender from the outset and includes an impressive amount of previously unknown detail about Eliot’s life, based on conversations with family, friends, and acquaintances. Cross 1885, as the work of Eliot’s widow, was based on even more direct access to such primary material. Cross used his sources to present a conservative portrait of the woman as great writer yet reluctant public figure. Stephen 1902 emphasizes her intellectual influences but champions her early, less philosophical “regional” novels. Browning 1890, in contrast, celebrates the later work. Fulmer and Barfield 1998 offers a corrective to some of the more passion-free and bloodless early accounts.

  • Blind, Mathilde. George Eliot. London: W. H. Allen, 1883.

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    Perceptive, ambitious analysis of the life, the journalism (pioneering in this regard), and the work that established key frameworks through which Eliot was read for many decades subsequently. These include her instinctive conservatism, introspective nature, formidable intellectual reach, and the fiction’s attention to “duty” and the more tragic aspect of life. An early feminist critique.

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  • Browning, Oscar. The Life of George Eliot. London: Walter Scott, 1890.

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    Based on his acquaintance with Eliot, though also drawing substantially on material in Cross 1885, this biography includes personal anecdotes and emphasizes continuities between the life and the work. Against the trend of criticism of the time, rates Daniel Deronda as her masterpiece.

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  • Collins, K. K., ed. George Eliot: Interviews and Recollections. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

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    Over two hundred expertly annotated excerpts from accounts by people who had different degrees of direct contact with Eliot. Wide-ranging and revealing, it is arranged chronologically according to the date of recollected event rather than date of writing/publication, so it progresses like a biography.

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  • Cross, John Walter. George Eliot’s Life as Related in her Letters and Journals. Edinburgh and London: Blackwood, 1885.

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    Cross presents this biography as an “autobiography,” and it gains important authority from Cross’s personal knowledge and access to primary material. It is a sympathetic account that eschews critical perspective. Excerpts material from Eliot’s writings to construct a particularized image of the writer as suffering genius.

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  • Fulmer, Constance M., and Margaret E. Barfield, eds. A Monument to the Memory of George Eliot: Edith Simcox’s Autobiography of a Shirtmaker. New York and London: Garland, 1998.

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    Though mostly a narrative of Simcox’s personal life more broadly than suggested by the title, includes a fulsome description of her intense love for Eliot, one articulation of the passion Eliot inspired in some of her friends and followers.

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  • Marshall, Gail, ed. George Eliot. Lives of Victorian Literary Figures 1. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2003.

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    Drawing on contemporary and near contemporary accounts of Eliot, from her acquaintances in the early London days, William Hale White and Eliza Lynn Linton, to those who knew of her secondhand, such as Virginia Woolf. Offers insights into both the formation of literary reputations and patterns of biographical traditions.

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  • Stephen, Leslie. George Eliot. London: Macmillan, 1902.

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    Emphatic account that situates Eliot as a woman novelist influenced by contemporary philosophical traditions. In line with many contemporaries, favors the early work over the later novels, these latter dismissed as over-theoretical and lacking in the regional specificity and personal knowledge so prized in the early fiction.

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Modern Biographies

Modern biographies of George Eliot have been shaped by feminist approaches to the life and work. Haight 1968 belongs to a different tradition—hugely influential, it provides the most detailed arc of the life, describing the writer’s intellectual strengths and historical milieu. A bold, pioneering corrective to Haight’s determinedly factual and conservative account, Redinger 1975 focuses on the primacy of Marian Evans’s familial relationships as not only key to the troubled relations that dominate her fiction, but also as vital to her development as a creative artist. Unlike Redinger and Haight, Uglow 1988 maintains a dual focus on the work as much as the life, and on their interactions. Uglow elucidates Eliot’s sense of the egoism that drives self-expression and ambition in conflict with traditional female roles of self-sacrifice and self-abnegation. Ashton 1997 presents a less radical and even more divided figure, explicating the dominant paradoxes or tensions of Eliot’s life and work as emblematic of the transforming age of which she was a part and which she helped to reshape. Hardy 2006 offers a discerning treatment of how the life is dynamically inflected in the art in a selective thematic account of the interactions of form and factual history. Hughes 1998 emphasizes the flesh-and-blood woman who accommodates the conflicts of her age by holding to the center, articulating a meliorist approach that Hughes recuperates as a positive, political, and personal positioning. Bodenheimer 1994 argues that the fullest history of Eliot is to be told by “reading her letters in conjunction with her novels, stories and poems” p. (xiv). Bodenheimer demonstrates that the personal and emotional conflicts (read variously by Redinger, Ashton, and Uglow as triumphant to differing degrees), can be viewed as a more complex amalgam of self-assertion, defiance, intense self-consciousness, and withdrawal as traced through a brilliant deconstruction of the personae at play across Eliot’s writings. Henry 2012 takes a different set of emphases, claiming that while Eliot repeatedly insists on the difference between the facts of the life and the imaginative and creative use of such facts in her fiction, she also used biographical models to develop her characters and to map and interpret the inevitable intersectionality of individual and social life. Eliot’s fictional work then takes biographical shape, while the life is best narrated as a type of fiction.

  • Ashton, Rosemary. George Eliot: A Life. London: Penguin, 1997.

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    Accessible, scholarly biography that draws on Ashton’s extensive knowledge of the European context of Eliot’s work and of George Henry Lewes’s life. Asserts the distinctiveness of Eliot’s life that gives full “imaginative expression to the excitement and the pain of being caught up in a society in flux” (p. 5).

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  • Bodenheimer, Rosemarie. The Real Life of Mary Ann Evans: George Eliot, Her Letters and Fiction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

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    This exemplary study breaks new ground in its sophisticated, forensic examination of the letters as “pieces of writing” (p. xiv) and, relatedly, of the construction of the self in those letters, leading to layered and rich readings of the creative work’s autobiographical dimensions.

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  • Haight, Gordon. George Eliot: A Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.

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    Impressively detailed, influential account of George Eliot’s life, shored up by Haight’s unmatched knowledge of the extensive correspondence about Eliot and written by her. Vital start point for a map of the life, and in particular for details of Eliot’s friends, relations, and contemporaries.

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  • Hardy, Barbara. George Eliot: A Critic’s Biography. London: Continuum, 2006.

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    An accessible and lucid work from one of Eliot’s most perspicacious readers, that takes as a central focus “aspects of George Eliot’s life which show us more about her art” (p. xi).

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  • Henry, Nancy. The Life of George Eliot. London: Wiley Blackwell, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118274644Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brisk revisionist biography that argues persuasively that oversimplified misreadings of the life, including Haight 1968, obscure some of the more interesting dynamics of Eliot’s fiction and poetry, while attending to these details brings to the fore a persistently complex domestic and personal history.

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  • Hughes, Kathryn. George Eliot: The Last Victorian. London: Fourth Estate, 1998.

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    Lively narrative of the vibrant social context that shaped so much of Eliot’s work and life, and that she helped to reshape in turn. Written with brio, this is a very reader-friendly and accessible biography, as well as being sharply scholarly and richly detailed.

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  • Redinger, Ruby V. George Eliot: The Emergent Self. London: Bodley Head, 1975.

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    Traces the psychological roots that determined what Redinger presents as Marian Evans’s anguished transformation into the creative writer George Eliot. Attends predominantly to her early life and work, suggesting analysis of the later fiction is the task of literary criticism independent of biographical considerations. Offers sensitive readings of Cross 1885 (cited under Memoirs and Early Critical Biographies).

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  • Uglow, Jennifer. George Eliot. London: Virago, 1988.

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    Solid, illuminating work, with a particular emphasis on how George Eliot addresses and constructs the role of the woman artist within binaries of feminine and masculine ideologies that shaped 19th-century culture, society, and politics.

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Criticism

George Eliot’s reputation in her own time was at its height following the publication of her first novel, Adam Bede, in 1859; through the various critical and biographical trends of the late 19th and 20th centuries that reputation waxed and waned considerably. Hutchinson 1996 provides the most extensive range of critical material on Eliot. It comprises contemporary reviews of all of her fictional work, poetry and Impressions, and a section on responses of contemporary creative writers, including Henry James’s sustained engagement with Eliot’s writings from 1866 to 1885. A wide-ranging selection of critical material from the full span of the 20th century charts the dominance of particular theoretical approaches at particular junctures: formalist and Marxist readings at midcentury; the rise of feminist criticism from the 1970s; and the return to history from the late 1980s—these are all traceable in these readings of Eliot’s work. Though superseded in some ways by the fuller coverage of Hutchinson 1996, Carroll 1970 holds its considerable value for the editor’s superb introduction—an accessible and scholarly survey of 19th-century responses to Eliot’s work—and for the very useful brief summary at the head of each review that offers wider contexts for the review and/or the reviewer. Holmstrom and Lerner 1966, by virtue of the editorial decision to focus predominantly on three of Eliot’s novels, provides the fullest coverage of contemporary reactions to The Mill on the Floss (13 pieces in total) Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda (19 each). Collins 2006 traces the circulation of a variety of myths about the writer that emerged after her death as commentators in the religious press, in the absence of biographical facts, grappled with explicating her moral position and religious beliefs as represented in her works. Wilkes 2010 is an even more localized study that attends, importantly, to critical responses to Eliot’s work by leading women reviewers in the periodical press.

  • Carroll, David, ed. George Eliot: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.

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    19th-century reviews and responses to Eliot’s fiction, arranged chronologically with separate entries for each work. The useful introduction and brief but informative explanatory notes at the start of each review offer a solid sense of context.

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  • Collins, K. K. Identifying the Remains: George Eliot’s Death in the London Religious Press. Victoria, BC: ELS editions, 2006.

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    Subtle, scrupulous exploration of Eliot obituaries and commemorative pieces, probing the dilemmas produced by efforts to align the writer and the works, which Collins argues testify to the purposeful elusiveness of the “beliefs” of her fictional texts and underscores the assured complexity of her fictional realism.

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  • Holmstrom, John, and Laurence Lerner, eds. George Eliot and Her Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews. London: Bodley Head, 1966.

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    Includes letters about Eliot’s work, as well as published reviews by her contemporaries of her fiction. Focuses on The Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda, providing extremely detailed coverage of these three novels but much less on the other writings.

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  • Hutchinson, Stuart, ed. George Eliot: Critical Assessments. 4 vols. Robertsbridge, UK: Helm Information, 1996.

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    Includes 19th- and 20th-century reviews, essays, and extracts from critical material on Eliot’s writing, divided into general responses, responses to individual works, and material arranged thematically. Includes pieces by Henry James, Virginia Woolf, F. R. Leavis, Raymond Williams, J. Hillis Miller, Elaine Showalter, Barbara Hardy, and Elizabeth Ermarth, among many others.

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  • Wilkes, Joanne. Women Reviewing Women in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Critical Reception of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

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    An important intervention in the sometimes over-rehearsed circulation of the same early critical voices on George Eliot, this study examines the responses by neglected women journalists, including Anne Mozley, Margaret Oliphant, and Mary Augusta Ward, to the fiction and biographical accounts of canonical writers.

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Narrative, Form, and Style

Most critical studies of Eliot’s works involve discussions and analysis of her form and style. The studies gathered in this section constitute a brief selection of different critical approaches that negotiate the astonishingly varied, layered, and dense narratives that comprise Eliot’s fictional works. Hardy 1994 is a pioneering contribution to the narrative strategies at play in Eliot’s work from a perspective concerned with foregrounding the writer’s formal skill. Knoepflmacher 1968 is a philosophical and formal study that traces the modified realism of Eliot’s early fiction, which the author suggests anticipates the turn toward more mixed forms in her later work. Gallagher 1985 also seeks to provide a more nuanced sense of Eliot’s realism, but with a different set of emphases: the impact of political relations on the theory and practice of literary representation is grounded expertly in the historical. Gallagher presents Felix Holt as a turn away from an assured descriptive realism to a version of realism derived from the disruptions of fixed relations between facts and values that follow from political readings of culture in the 1860s. Hertz 2003 analyzes representational patterns and persistent verbal repetitions in Eliot’s writings in a series of essays undergirded by post-structuralist and psychoanalytic theories that combine readings of the work with readings of Eliot’s understanding of her role and power as an author. Freedgood 2006, reversing the illimitable or unravelling signifying practices of Eliot’s fiction suggested by post-structuralist accounts, extends formalist and Marxist approaches to the novel via “thing theory.” Eliot’s formal control of the representation of objects in her novels is analyzed as an attempt to fix interpretation, an authorial strategy that Freedgood suggests reflects Eliot’s anxiety about how readers might read her and her texts. Raterman 2013 attends to how Eliot manages her readers through form and style from an entirely different perspective: through complex and suggestive use of foreign language and translation in her writings, Eliot seeks to inculcate in her readers a more nuanced sense of cultural formation and traditions across national boundaries and histories.

  • Freedgood, Elaine. Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226261546.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Renewed attentiveness to the representation of objects as the locus of narrative control in Middlemarch suggests how meaning is stabilized “so that metonymic relations (which, strictly speaking, stop nowhere) can stop just when they should, a moment that requires the acuity of Eliot’s narrator to discern” (p. 115). Original and incisive.

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  • Gallagher, Catherine. The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction: Social Discourse and Narrative Form 1832–1867. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

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    Learned argument that brilliantly pitches Felix Holt against the realist narrator of this political novel and investigates the interplay between developments of new political relations and evolving literary realism in terms alert to the dynamic and unstable representational capacities of politics and culture.

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  • Hardy, Barbara. The Novels of George Eliot: A Study in Form. London: Athlone, 1994.

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    Major critical study of formal aspects of Eliot’s novelistic style that remains important and accessible since first publication in 1959. Viewing Eliot as essentially a tragic novelist, Hardy’s discerning readings argue for the intricacy of her narrative patterns by showing how symbolism, imagery, characterization, and language reinforce thematic coherence.

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  • Hertz, Neil. George Eliot’s Pulse. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

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    Nine interlinked, impressively wide-ranging and subtle essays that interrogate Eliot’s use of certain formal, characterological, linguistic, and structural patterns in her writings that illuminate both composition processes and what Hertz suggests are Eliot’s conscious and unconscious negotiations of authorial responsibility and agency.

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  • Knoepflmacher, U. C. George Eliot’s Early Novels: The Limits of Realism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

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    Influential account of how Eliot’s evolving understanding of various philosophical positions is played out in the shifting relationship to realist representational strategies in her early fiction.

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  • Raterman, Jennifer. “Translation and the Transfer of Impressions in George Eliot.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 68.1 (2013): 33–63.

    DOI: 10.1525/ncl.2013.68.1.33Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggestive analysis of an understudied aspect of Eliot’s style, linking Daniel Deronda and Impressions of Theophrastus Such in an innovative way to suggest how foreign words and acts of translation are used structurally, intertextually, and paratextually by Eliot to advance reader engagement with the dynamic and contingent nature of local and transnational cultural production.

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Affect and Sympathy

Eliot’s ready popularity from the publication of her first novel, Adam Bede, in 1859 was rooted in what critics repeatedly celebrated as her pathos, humor, and deep sympathy for her characters. Interest in Eliot’s use of pathos and humor has not endured. The same cannot be said for sympathy: its various political, philosophical, social, and aesthetic dimensions have been perennial features of Eliot studies. The defining moral, artistic, and social significance of the operations of sympathy are addressed in Balin 1994. Balin harnesses Eliot’s formal realism to a politics of consensus, to show that the sickroom functions in Eliot’s work as a space where the “viability of realism’s social ethics of cohesion could be affirmed” (p. 1). Ermarth 1985, however, argues for a reconsideration of Eliot’s views on sympathy, suggesting the unity or cohesion that sympathy implies, typically celebrated as key to the moral and aesthetic framework of Eliot’s fiction, needs to attend to how Eliot demonstrates that sympathy is preceded by, and must maintain a recognition of, difference or otherness. This more conflicted view of how sympathy features in Eliot’s writings has been extended in the past two decades as the affective dimensions of Eliot’s work have been theorized more fully in response to renewed critical engagement with the cultural politics of emotions. Jaffe 2000 attends to the ways sympathy represents an unstable reactive force that threatens individual identity, a self-hood partially recuperated in a reading of Daniel Deronda that channels identification through the feminine and the national. Ablow 2007 challenges more emphatically standard views of sympathetic identification as positive, communally cohesive or politically stabilizing. Ablow looks at the psychic repercussions that underpin the representation of married life in the Victorian novel to argue for a more nuanced critique of Eliot’s representation of affective connection, observing that in Eliot’s work, openness and understanding are not always represented as unequivocally good, but neither does sympathy alleviate her characters’ pain. Anderson 2001 offers a refreshing turn from sympathetic identification to explicate the potent power of critical distance and detachment in Eliot’s Daniel Deronda as a potentially enabling, transformative, ethical positioning, as well as possibly threatening personal and national stability. Sperlinger 2007 suggests that discussions of sympathy have reached a point of “critical fatigue” (p. 254). Sperlinger directs attention instead to Eliot’s consistent engagement in all of her writings with “sensitiveness,” a more elastic and suggestive concept that, he explains, registers her sense of the equal importance of identification with others and of privacy. See also Matus 2009 (cited under “Science”).

  • Ablow, Rachel. The Marriage of Minds: Reading Sympathy in the Victorian Marriage Plot. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

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    In a chapter that focuses on romantic relationships in Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Ablow’s sophisticated argument suggests that for Eliot sympathy is both too real and dangerous in the context of how intense love threatens the self. She shows how Eliot repurposes the novel “as a way to both invite and interrupt such all-absorbing forms of sympathy” (p. 15).

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  • Anderson, Amanda. The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

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    Compelling argument that proposes Daniel Deronda as “one of the most rigorous and complicated contributions to the Victorian literature of detachment” (p. 119), as articulated in Eliot’s representation of modern cosmopolitan life as a mixed opportunity and threat.

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  • Balin, Miriam. The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction: The Art of Being Ill. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511553592Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads across a range of Eliot’s works, including “Janet’s Repentance” and the “The Spanish Gypsy,” to draw out the “reconciliatory effects of relations within the sick room” (p. 110). Argues such effects are indexed to Eliot’s domestic realist aesthetic and are key to wider negotiations of ego, moral consciousness, and therapeutic sympathy.

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  • Ermarth, Elizabeth. “George Eliot’s Conception of Sympathy.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 40.1 (June 1985): 23–42.

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    Adept readings of Eliot’s midcareer novels (Silas Marner, Romola, Felix Holt) that challenge the valorization of sympathy as selfless kindness; demonstrates instead that these works register a more complex negotiation of the relationship between self and other, informed by Feuerbach’s ethical theories on the “qualitative critical difference between men” (p. 25).

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  • Jaffe, Audrey. Scenes of Sympathy: Identity and Representation in Victorian Fiction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.

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    Argues that the construction of sympathetic affinity in Daniel Deronda suggests “a genealogy of contemporary identity politics” (p. 22) modeled on nationalism, affirming cultural bonds and solidarity but also equally threatening to erase or flatten out all potential differences.

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  • Sperlinger, Tom. “‘The Sensitive Author’: George Eliot.” Cambridge Quarterly 36.3(2007): 250–272.

    DOI: 10.1093/camqtly/bfm017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Steering clear of the novels covered by Ermarth 1985, Sperlinger instead offers succinct readings of Eliot’s other fictional works in a wide-ranging, historically alert account of the significance to Eliot’s life and writings of “sensitiveness,” a concept he positions deftly between Romantic ideas of “sensibility” and emerging scientific “discourses of reactions” (p. 254).

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Philosophy

George Eliot’s thorough immersion in philosophical debates was immediately recognized by her first readers, and for many this came to be viewed as an increasingly dominant, negative, and distracting feature of her later works. Some of the material gathered here argues for Eliot’s alignment with particular philosophies, and some provides more extended considerations of the significance of her dynamic engagement with different philosophical positions throughout her life, with the work of key philosophical figures such as Feuerbach, Comte, Mill, and Spinoza recurring. Paris 1965 is an influential study that focuses on Eliot’s intellectual development, which is related to the moral patterns in her novels and other writing, setting a template for an understanding of her works as evolving “experiments,” an approach extended and further complicated and clarified by Carroll 1992, Fleishmann 2010, and Knoepflmacher 1968 (cited under Narrative, Form, and Style). Newton 2012 repeats the claim that Eliot’s determinist stance was theoretical only, and concentrates on the influence of Kant on her thinking as a way of negotiating the problem of determinism and free will in her work. Wright 1981 argues for the significant impact of Comte on her writings. The remaining studies suggest the need for more wide-ranging approaches to Eliot’s capacious philosophical thinking. Anger 2001 attends to both analytic and aesthetic philosophy in a lucid overview of her main philosophical influences and her creative responses to their ideas. Dodd 1990 establishes the philosophical contexts for what the author terms Eliot’s skeptical eclecticism, which is related to philosophical trends of her age, and which Dodd asserts found literary counterparts in her writing. Carroll 1992 explores that eclectic skepticism in attentive readings of the fiction: Eliot’s erudite harnessing of philosophical speculation to fictional experiment, Carroll suggests, offers reimaginings of the form, content, and structure of the Victorian novel. Fleishmann 2010 insists on a more dynamic, diversified reading of Eliot’s intellectual life. Fleishmann considers her evolving, impressive mind in the context of the distinct social roles in which she operated as an editor, reviewer, translator, and creative writer. Gatens 2009, uniquely, insists that Eliot’s fiction does not merely reflect or respond to philosophical ideas but rather constitutes philosophy. Her novels are an attempt “to practice philosophical writing in a different key” (p. 74), a nontheological morality based on the purposeful integration of imaginative, affective, and cognitive knowledge.

  • Anger, Suzy. “George Eliot and Philosophy.” In The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot. Edited by George Levine, 76–97. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521662672.005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focusing on three main philosophical issues in Eliot’s works—morality, knowledge and truth—Anger attends to major influences on Eliot’s thought, her responses to philosophical theories, and her incorporation of philosophical views into her fiction. Lucid, compact overview suggests that Eliot, committed to the pursuit of knowledge, was not a skeptic.

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  • Carroll, David. George Eliot and the Conflict of Interpretations: A Reading of the Novels. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511519154Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Exemplary and influential study of Eliot’s fiction as a series of urgent and probing experiments that tested the limits of explanatory narratives, orthodoxies, and mythologies (from pastoral theodicies to apocalyptic histories and empiricist fables), following from the crisis of belief that marked her age and underscored her personal doubt.

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  • Dodd, Valerie. George Eliot: An Intellectual Life. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1990.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230372863Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This two-part study first outlines major philosophical debates in England in the 19th-century, and then provides a chronological account of Eliot’s philosophical development in series of clearly written, accessible chapters that cover the period 1819–1856. Dodd argues Eliot’s turn to fiction was rooted in philosophical inquiry but involved more flexible representations of reality.

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  • Fleishmann, Avrom. George Eliot’s Intellectual Life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511691706Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presented as a “developmental account of her mental working” (p. 2) always in dynamic exchange with the external world, Fleishmann’s comprehensive study of her working life emphasizes Eliot’s philosophical skepticism while tracing her commitment to ethical influence through all of her writings.

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  • Gatens, Moira. “The Art and Philosophy of George Eliot.” Philosophy and Literature 33 (2009): 73–90.

    DOI: 10.1353/phl.0.0037Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggestive, lucid account that traces how the core tasks of the philosopher posited by both Feuerbach and Spinoza are played out and extended by the artist-philosopher Eliot: her fiction demonstrates that “moral knowledge” is produced only through the integration of imagination, reason, and emotion (74), a process, her novels show, that can be constrained by historical contexts.

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  • Newton, K. M. “George Eliot, Kant and Free Will.” Philosophy and Literature 36.2 (October 2012): 441–456.

    DOI: 10.1353/phl.2012.0037Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contends that while Eliot may have accepted determinism in abstract terms, she advocated a necessary or practical investment in the idea of free will for a tenable, livable life in a stance that bring her closer to Kant’s view of free will as a “regulative” idea.

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  • Paris, Bernard J. Experiments in Life: George Eliot’s Quest for Values. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965.

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    Pioneering, extended consideration of the long-recognized influence of philosophical works on George Eliot’s moral thinking and fictional forms. Concentrates on the moral development of individual characters in her novels, arguing that for Eliot, moral values, through requiring external sanction, are essentially rooted in human consciousness.

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  • Wright, T. R. “George Eliot and Positivism: A Reassessment.” Modern Language Review 76.2 (April 1981): 257–272.

    DOI: 10.2307/3726409Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrates Eliot’s understanding of Comte’s positivist philosophy to draw out her considered engagement with Comte’s views, using the evidence of her notebooks, correspondence, and journals in particular.

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Religion and Secularism

George Eliot was a zealous Evangelical in her youth, a sympathetic historian of religious faiths, and the translator of works by influential European secular thinkers. Her life and writings, as the following studies demonstrate, provide rich and contradictory territory for claims about her religious sympathies and influences. Qualls 1982 emphasizes the moral imperative of Eliot’s vision, as each of her works treats moral dilemmas in terms of an increasingly secular but meaningful self-reflective spirituality. Spittles 1993 more emphatically positions Eliot as an influential figure in contributing to the shift from traditional faith in her day. Vance 2013 directly counters views of Eliot as a pioneering secular novelist, contending that she was a writer of “radically Christian” and thoroughly religiously grounded texts that offer not replacements but reimaginings of the Bible. Hodgson 2001 attempts a mediated position disaggregating theology from the “traditional doctrinal package of Christian beliefs” (p. 148) to claim that it operates as a kind of imaginative fiction, enabling a reading of Eliot’s work as informed by this redefined version of theology, which Hodgson suggests anticipates postmodern revisionist theology. The remaining works do not specifically seek to categorize Eliot as a religious believer, agnostic, or atheist but instead examine her engagement with religious traditions. Cunningham 1975 argues for Eliot’s “unique compassion and insight into the non-Conformist spirit” (p. 189). Baker 1975 is an important and influential study of the influence of Judaism in Eliot’s work that, like so many of the studies on Jewish aspects of Eliot’s writings, focuses naturally on Daniel Deronda. Nurbhai and Newton 2002 argues more particularly that the mythic structures evident in Eliot’s work have their basis in Jewish mysticism.

  • Baker, William. George Eliot and Judaism. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englishche Sprache und Literatur, 1975.

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    Erudite, revealing, and pioneering account of Judaism in Daniel Deronda in particular, but also offers insight into Romola and The Spanish Gypsy; benefits from Baker’s extensive knowledge of Eliot’s working notebooks. See Eliot 1976–1985 (cited under Journals and Other Working Notes).

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  • Cunningham, Valentine. Everywhere Spoken Against: Dissent in the Victorian Novel. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.

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    Nuanced account of the dissenting figures in Adam Bede and Felix Holt as accurate and sympathetic portraits despite Eliot’s intellectual distance from the beliefs she describes and her representation of dissenting figures as having historical rather than current significance. Suggests Adam Bede is the “first truly Methodist novel” (p. 164).

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  • Hodgson, Peter C. Theology in the Fiction of George Eliot: The Mystery beneath the Real. London: SCM, 2001.

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    Hodgson’s revisionist approach suggests how Eliot repurposes Christian traditions and beliefs toward a more numinous sense of the mysterious produced by imaginative reworkings of the real. A methodical if overly static reading of theology in the work that occasionally oversimplifies the relationship between the work of art and the creative writer.

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  • Nurbhai, Saleel, and K. M. Newton. George Eliot, Judaism, and the Novels: Jewish Myth and Mysticism. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230288539Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Aims to demonstrate how the Eliot’s aesthetic practices draw on the myth of the golem and Jewish mysticism more generally, most obviously in Daniel Deronda but evident, Nurbhai and Newton argue, in the mythological strain that pervades all of her work.

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  • Qualls, Barry. The Secular Pilgrims of Victorian Fiction: the Novel as Book of Life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

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    Elaborating on a religious tradition of spiritual self-inquiry that derives from Bunyan and is reshaped and secularized through Romanticism, Qualls reads Eliot’s work as a quest for nontheologically aligned spiritual values as a way of salvaging some hope of a better world for her readers immersed in an increasingly materially oriented society.

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  • Spittles, Brian. George Eliot: Godless Woman. Writers in Their Time. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-22775-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brief, accessible account that situates Eliot as moving toward the “mainstream of Victorian philosophic agnosticism” (p. 23) and influential for the way her work offered solace to those unable to accommodate Christian theology but in need of ethical guidance.

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  • Vance, Norman. Bible and Novel: Narrative Authority and the Death of God. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199680573.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A generalized reading of the life and work that emphasizes Eliot’s expressed refusal to articulate any allegiance to a particular secular philosophy or creed, suggesting instead that she maintained a sympathetic relationship to conceptual and linguistic patterns of Christianity, and shows everywhere in her work her “residually Christian morality” (p. 113).

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Class, Politics, and Society

George Eliot has long been both celebrated and criticized for the ways that her fictional work in particular registered and responded to the dramatic social transformations that marked her lifetime. The works in this section, with different degrees of theoretical and historical emphasis, attend to the implications of the fragmentation of traditional societies and the increasing prominence of new or more individualized expressions of identity in the context of civic, moral, and national development. Fisher 1981, arguing for a particular version of the traditional community as the locus of moral history, posits the loss of such traditional social formations “as a premise for the social novel” (p 4). A more theoretical and historically grounded approach is offered by Graver 1984, an account that seeks to parse more fully George Eliot’s conceptualization of traditional community and modern society. Graver traces the tensions between traditional and modern to suggest Eliot promotes solidarity and belonging through thought and feeling (rather than radical action or self-serving individualism) both in her work and for her readers. Mintz 1978 negotiates the self/social dichotomy in other terms by attending to how changing attitudes to work at midcentury that redefined the opposition of vocation and labor offered Eliot an opportunity to unify the often contending interests of the self and the social. Horowitz 2006, in contrast, foregrounds the strain between individual and collective action, intention, and deed in Eliot’s work in a reading of Felix Holt as an antipolitical novel that posits the limits of political agency. Cottom 1987 argues more dogmatically that the focus on sympathetic feeling in Eliot’s work suggests the self-interested transcendence of the political and is constitutive of the liberal humanist ideology operating in Eliot’s novels as part of the larger bourgeois project that is indicative of middle-class hegemony. Semmel 1994 is a more nuanced account that attends to evolving attitudes to the politics of inheritance as manifested in Eliot’s life, and as presented as a literary metaphor in her work. Semmel suggests her changing relationship to ideas of inheritance indicate her turn against deracinated liberal cosmopolitanism and abstract ideological utopianism (for a contrasting view, see Anderson 2001, cited under Affect and Sympathy).

  • Cottom, Daniel. Social Figures: George Eliot, Social History, and Literary Representation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

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    Cottom traces the emergence of liberal intellectual discourses, taking Eliot’s fiction as a powerful example of the ideological inscription and production of bourgeois authority, and suggesting that every instance of liberal humanist inclusiveness in her work is predicated on the sublimation and silencing of class and politics.

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  • Fisher, Philip. Making Up Society: The Novels of George Eliot. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981.

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    Relationships between the individual and community, and between the private self and public life, guide thematic close readings of the each of Eliot’s novels, with particular attention to “loss of legibility” (p. 13) of self and society in Eliot’s later “scientific” novels, while reading positively such works as her most fully imagined.

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  • Graver, Suzanne. George Eliot and Community: A Study of Social Theory and Fictional Form. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

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    Graver takes a useful historical approach to models of 19th-century social thought that inform alert, dense, and substantial readings of the fiction. She argues that Eliot’s work dramatizes but does not settle opposing claims of community and society, of the communal and the individual—Geminschaft and Gesellschaft.

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  • Horowitz, Evan. “George Eliot: The Conservative.” Victorian Studies 49.1 (Autumn 2006): 7–32.

    DOI: 10.2979/VIC.2006.49.1.7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggestive, lucid account that claims Felix Holt challenges reformist faith in the possibility that legislative change produces social and economic change. Horowitz, drawing out the alignment of agency with chance and potential chaos, suggests Felix is ultimately “radical” in intentions or ideals but “conservative if what matters are practices or actions” (p. 17).

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  • Mintz, Alan. George Eliot and the Novel of Vocation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674428560Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the 19th century’s redefinition of the value of work that followed from a merging of secular and spiritual discourses is central to Eliot’s fiction. It facilitated her championing of the coexistence of individualist ambition and selfless contribution to the social world in a single life. Four of eight chapters address Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda.

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  • Semmel, Bernard. George Eliot and the Politics of National Inheritance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    Detailed exploration of the influence of political and philosophical thinkers on Eliot in an account of what Semmel presents as her movement from a more conflicted struggle between liberal and traditional social formations toward an emphasis on the conservative, articulated in her later works, he argues, as measured, pluralist nationalism.

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History and Historiography

Most of George Eliot’s works are set in the past (her last publications, Daniel Deronda and Impressions of Theophrastus Such being the exceptions). All of her writings are shaped by a profound historical sense, alert to and registering historical change and historical contexts. The studies gathered here take different approaches to her engagement with history, though considerations of the tension between individual self-development and wider historical determinants underscore all. Li 2000 shows how Eliot’s fiction offers a fuller understanding of the mechanisms and functions of communal memory: its factual and powerfully imagined dimensions are addressed in the context of history and historical processes and identified by Li as the roots of Eliot’s presentation of collective and individual moral consciousness. Miller 1974 is an influential deconstructive reading of Middlemarch that disrupted long-held views of Eliot’s presumed socially conservative, organic historicism. Miller suggests instead that history for Eliot, while not entirely subject to chaos, is “governed by no ordering principle or aim” (p. 467). McCaw 2000 and Reilly 1993 build on aspects of this approach. McCaw 2000 argues that Eliot attends not so much to historical realism as to the historiographic, to historical processes and the meta-historical. Attention is continuously directed toward the “fashioning of history” (p. 12) in her work, McCaw suggests, and thus highlights the ideological implications for contemporary understandings of the social construction of identity. In an argument informed by both post-structuralist and cultural materialist approaches, Reilly 1993 unpacks the inscription of the historical in fictional writing as an oppressive force that produces a crisis in strategies of representation that, in turn, is interestingly productive.

  • Li, Hao. Memory and History in George Eliot: Transfiguring the Past. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230598607Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addressing all of Eliot’s novels, Li traces the ways characters both struggle and develop through their attempts to transform and to accommodate traditional social formations. Communal memory, including collective forgetting, provide an interesting dimension to Li account of such formations.

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  • McCaw, Neil. George Eliot and Victorian Historiography: Imagining the National Past. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230286948Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    McCaw persuasively illustrates Eliot’s intense and knowing engagements with Victorian historiography, demonstrating how her fiction contextualized contemporary debates about the function of history and historical meaning, and consequently spoke to the politics of national and gender identity formations.

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  • Miller, J. Hillis. “Narrative and History.” ELH 41.3 (Autumn 1974): 455–473.

    DOI: 10.2307/2872596Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Influential, wide-ranging revisionist analysis attending to the shared tropes of historical and fictional accounts, and reversing approaches that trace the historically real in fiction through a reading of Middlemarch as “inorganic, a-centred and discontinuous” (p. 468), thereby deconstructing naïve notions about the writing of history and about literary realism.

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  • Reilly, Jim. Shadowtime: History and Representation in Hardy, Conrad and George Eliot. London: Routledge, 1993.

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    Three illuminating, theoretically informed and sophisticated close readings of Silas Marner, Romola, and Daniel Deronda that tease out the coercive patterns of identification between historical objects and character formation, thus highlighting the “panic of containment” (p. 129) produced by historical over-determinism.

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Gender and Sexuality

Marian Evans constructed a range of gendered personae throughout her writing and working life. Her ambiguous and often contradictory self-positioning can be read in the context of a never clearly articulated stance on the “Woman Question” and her polyphonic portrayals of women’s professional work and the vocational. Her writings everywhere display the era’s questioning, testing, and re-inscriptions of the boundaries of the gendered body, scientifically, politically, legally, and culturally. The material here addresses these issues in terms of Eliot’s difficulties with and creative responses to the formation and prevalence of gendered ideologies. Gilbert and Gubar 1979 provides a pioneering analysis of the aesthetic and personal tension between creative artist and private, self-renouncing woman long identified as a core dynamic of Eliot’s work (See Biographies). Rosenberg 2007 is an overview of feminist research on Eliot framed by a critique of the restrictive terms by which the woman creative writer is judged in a comparative analysis of Victorian and 1970s feminist responses to the apparent contradictions in Eliot’s personal life and work. Booth 1992 shows Eliot and Virginia Woolf in equivocal opposition to such rigid gender codes. This comparative study draws attention to the shared interrogation of the social suspicion of women’s achievement and ambition in their work, while suggesting that, simultaneously, they indexed notions of “greatness” to the masculine. Paxton 1991 strongly refuses the characterization of Eliot as a type of “literary hermaphrodite” (p. 10) or victim of a patriarchal, logocentric culture: Paxton analyzes Eliot’s extended dialogue with Herbert Spencer to demonstrate her “resolute feminist resistance” (p. 5) to prevalent scientific theories about gender and sexuality. Barrett 1989 takes a similarly resistant stance: Barrett attends to the heroines of Eliot’s fiction to argue that her work is radical, reflexive, and angry, countering claims that she advocates feminine self-resignation. Bond Stockton 1994 reads such self-resignation differently, aligning Victorian readings of “God” with post-structural feminist interpretations of the body, not as lack but as opaque and exceeding discourse, recuperating negative portrayals of dutiful self-sacrifice as productive of pleasure and erotic exchange. Smith 1996 presents new dimensions to analyses of Eliot’s so-called ambivalent feminist identifications and intellectual masculinity in an argument that draws on Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity. Szirotny 2015 forgoes more recent theorizations of gender and sexuality and takes up questions about Eliot’s feminism that Rosenberg 2007 suggested no longer need to be addressed. Szirotny offers a generalized psychoanalytical approach to explicate Eliot’s inability to occupy any definitive oppositional role, but argues emphatically that Eliot’s fiction and poetry show that she was a more radical feminist that hitherto conceded, implying thought this study that the question is still urgent. See also Bodenheimer 1990 (cited under Arts), Bodenheimer 1994 (cited under Modern Biographies), Easley 2004 (cited under Journalism and the Periodical Press), LaPorte 2003 (cited under Poetry), Marshall 1998 (cited under Arts), Redinger 1975 (cited under Modern Biographies), Stern 2008 (cited under Journalism and the Periodical Press), Uglow 1988 (cited under Modern Biographies), Weliver 2000 (cited under Arts), and Weliver 2010 (cited under Arts).

  • Barrett, Dorothea. Vocation and Desire: George Eliot’s Heroines. London: Routledge, 1989.

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    Revisionist account that foregrounds the subversion, wit, and erotic aspects of Eliot’s fiction by focusing on leading female characters in her six major novels and the arch portrayal of the “negative space of female vocation,” which takes shape only as “other” to positive forms of male vocation (p. 17).

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  • Bond Stockton, Katherine. God between their Lips: Desire between Women in Irigaray, Brontë, and Eliot. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.

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    Theoretically and historically grounded, Stockton’s Irigaray-informed account of the “opaque labour of desire between women” as a form of “spiritual materialism” (p. xv), revises typical readings of loss and self-abnegation in Bronte’s Villette and Eliot’s Middlemarch as female pleasure and desire.

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  • Booth, Alison. Greatness Engendered: George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992.

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    Comparative readings of pairs of novels by each writer that demonstrate their shared ambivalence to feminine-inflected alternatives to the masculine ego but indicate too the novels’ transgressions of restrictive gendered spheres in the articulation of the private motivations in all historical actions and the historical conditions that determine private lives.

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  • Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979.

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    Influential work of feminist scholarship that situates Eliot as a writer in the female Gothic tradition whose works demonstrate the struggle between “angelic submission” and “demonic ambition.” Includes analyses of “The Lifted Veil” and a range of other afflicted, conflicted, impotent artists in Eliot’s writing as embodying Eliot’s own anxieties of authorship.

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  • Paxton, Nancy L. George Eliot and Herbert Spencer: Feminism, Evolutionism, and the Reconstruction of Gender. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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    Written with critical brio, this insightful study provides substantial readings of representations of relations between women and between women and men to demonstrate what Paxton characterizes as Eliot’s persistent yet neglected counter-challenge to interpretations of evolutionary theory, biological determinism, and debates about female sexuality.

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  • Rosenberg, Tracey S. “The Awkward Blot: George Eliot’s Reception and the Ideal Woman Writer.” Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 3.1 (Spring 2007).

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    Interesting overview of critical responses to Eliot as a woman writer in an argument which posits that Eliot’s 19th-century readers and feminist critics in the 1970s shared an interpretative framework that insisted on the narrow alignment of the woman writer’s creative work and personal life with exemplary ideas of female behavior.

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  • Smith, Sherri Catherine. “George Eliot, Straight Drag and the Masculine Investments of Feminism.” Women’s Writing 3.2 (January 1996): 97–111.

    DOI: 10.1080/0969908960030202Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Challenging essay that suggests Eliot’s so-called refusal of collective identification stems from a subtle understanding of the binaries that shape, and more, give meaning to gender hierarchies, recuperating Eliot’s individualist approach as a strategic feminism articulated in a nuanced understanding of the aesthetic and political imbrications of content and form.

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  • Szirotny, June Skye. George Eliot’s Feminism: “The Right to Rebellion.” Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137406156Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The psychoanalytical approach that frames this study is overgeneralized, and arguments overall are further weakened by non-engagement with more recent work on gender. Nonetheless, it offers detailed readings of the “The Spanish Gypsy” and most of Eliot’s fiction to demonstrate that her work consistently engaged with core causes of the 19th-century women’s movement.

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Economics and Material Culture

George Eliot was a canny and knowing operator in the competitive, commoditized field of literary publishing. Unsurprisingly, then, she was an alert reader of how redefinitions of political economy that marked her era had significant implications for society and for culture. Frost 2012, drawing on book history, cultural studies, and the economic sociology of literature, presents the multiple ways Middlemarch can be termed successful to illustrate Frost’s claims for a “commodity reading” as a way of establishing “what was good about it in a commodity sense that also made it commercially valuable” (p, 8). Coleman 2014 also draws out the relationship between economics and narrative, but with a more nuanced attention to literary aesthetics. Coleman builds on work that has recognized Eliot as a successful investor, fluent in the language of political economy to suggest that the economic underpinned Eliot’s representation of human affairs in complex ways. A different approach is offered in Welsh 1985, a lively cultural and critical history of the information revolution and the price of secrets in 19th-century Britain that examines George Eliot’s personal and creative engagements with what Welsh calls the “the socially efficacious side of knowledge” (p. v) that constituted public opinion and found expression in a potent market for “reputational blackmail” (p, vi). Gallagher 2006 extends definitions of political economy to incorporate contemporary debates about evolutionary theory, psychophysiology, and anthropology to provide fascinating readings of Daniel Deronda and Scenes of Clerical Life. Hack 2005 acknowledges Eliot’s ambivalence about different modalities of the material, but suggests that she ultimately rejects the equivalence of materialities in Daniel Deronda in an argument that turns on a reading of the novel as a “narrative elaboration of the homonyms prophet/profit” (p. 168), extending our understanding of the operations of sympathy and authority in her work.

  • Coleman, Dermot. George Eliot and Money: Economics, Ethics and Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781107298040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lucid, engaging account of how Eliot conceptualized economic value within individual and social ethical frameworks and, consequently, in her own writing. Argues Eliot’s inability to reconcile personal financial success with the “good” of her books finds expression in the “collision of often uncontrollable economic forces and personal ideals” (p. 11).

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  • Frost, Simon. The Business of the Novel: Economics, Aesthetics and the Case of Middlemarch. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012.

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    Reads the “goods” in Middlemarch in ways alert to the multiple valences of the term, as an intertwining of investment in traditional formations, moral behaviors and intellectual worth. An overdetermined sense of the effects of aesthetics and economics in cultural formations makes for a narrow readings of the novel, of aesthetic possibility, and of readers.

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  • Gallagher, Catherine. The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.

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    Theoretically sophisticated, and dense, historical study that demonstrates the “stylistic, structural and thematic manifestations of bio and somaeconomics” (p. 5) in Eliot’s novels. Suggests Eliot’s critical approach to these contemporary bio-economic convergences registers anxiety about her own position as a producer of creative work.

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  • Hack, Daniel. The Material Interests of the Victorian Novel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005.

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    Includes a chapter on Daniel Deronda that extends our understanding of “material interests” of the novel by tracing the intricate overlapping of the physical, socioeconomic, linguistic, and corporal. Suggests the novel exemplifies “the era’s most ambitious exploration of world, book, commodity and body as potentially analogous sites of materiality/ideality” (p. 9).

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  • Welsh, Alexander. George Eliot and Blackmail. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

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    Expansive historical grounding sets up brilliant readings of how the circulation of information threatened Eliot; considers the significance of secrets and blackmail in her novels in terms of a culture turning on more impersonal, discontinuous forms of engagement, with attendant implications for our reimagining of subjectivity.

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Serialization and Other Publication Modes

Eliot coedited the Westminster Review from 1852 to 1854. She was a hands-on editor, taking an active role in the day-to-day running of the journal, correcting proofs, commissioning articles to ensure balance and spread of content, keeping an eye on the form and subject matter of rival publications, and, with her coeditor, John Chapman, introduced innovative new sections and design layouts that improved the journal’s reputation (see Journalism and the Periodical Press). This formative experience of how texts operate in wider contexts helped to shape her rich understanding of the dynamic interactions of writing, textual production, and reading audiences. Eliot’s publishing history everywhere demonstrates her knowing engagement with text formats and publishing modes, which included experimenting with different types of serial publication, with different genres, and with adaptations and excerpted work. Martin 1994 traces how the serial format in which half of Eliot’s novels were published shaped the narrative style, themes, plot, and pace of her fiction as well as her own changing reaction to the effects of different types of serial modes aesthetically, economically, and culturally. Gettelman 2005 hones in on a particular aspect of the serial fiction dynamic, examining Eliot’s reactions and efforts to control her readers’ tendencies to speculate about the outcome of her serialized novels. The battle was an ideological one for Eliot, grounded in her promotion of a realist aesthetic that was not always compatible with the messy affective potential of the serial format. Picker 2006, examining another aspect of reader expectation, addresses unauthorized sequels to Eliot’s last novel Daniel Deronda, produced in critical reaction to what were read as deficiencies or missteps in the content and form of the original novel. The material form of such sequels, inseparable from the content, Picker argues, underscores the materiality of Deronda and its place as a text of modernity. Price 1997 analyzes a different but related tension between form and affect in an account of the effects for Eliot’s reputation of the successful marketing of quotations from her works in anthologies from the early 1870s onward. Price shows how the distillation of her work into instructive and pleasing anthologized excerpts renovated the cultural and gendered authority of the novel in the eyes of her readers. See also Dillane 2013, cited under Journalism and the Periodical Press.

  • Gettelman, Debra. “Reading Ahead in George Eliot.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 39.1 (Fall 2005): 25–47.

    DOI: 10.1215/ddnov.039010025Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggestive and wide-ranging account of the ways Eliot’s work consistently opposes idle wish fulfilment and imaginative sympathy. Demonstrates her valorizing of the latter did not always translate to readers of her serial fiction: the potential to speculate about characters’ destinies, encouraged by the serial format challenged Eliot’s control over how her work was consumed.

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  • Martin, Carol. George Eliot’s Serial Fiction. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1994.

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    Pioneering study that demonstrates Eliot’s knowing use of serial techniques to engage her audiences while also recognizing her conflicted relationship with the demands of the form, the expectations of serial readers, and the pressure of the market in relation to her self-construction as an artist.

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  • Picker, John M. “George Eliot and the Sequel Question.” New Literary History 37.2 (Spring 2006): 361–388.

    DOI: 10.1353/nlh.2006.0040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illuminating analysis of the cultural, aesthetic, and economic aspects of the sequel in an original reading of the material form and content of reactionary sequels that followed the publication of Daniel Deronda—works, Picker argues, that were produced in critical rather celebratory response to Eliot’s aesthetic and political concerns.

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  • Price, Leah. “George Eliot and the Production of Consumers.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 30.2 (Winter 1997): 145–169.

    DOI: 10.2307/1345698Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shrewd, revealing assessment of the complex ways that the practice of anthologizing quotations from Eliot’s oeuvre transformed contemporary understandings of the writer in terms of genre, gender, and authorial self-presentation. The bracketing of Eliot in a valued male poetic tradition and the targeting of women readers are among the contradictory resulting effects.

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Science

George Eliot’s fluency in and engagement with emerging scientific theories informs all of her writing. The increase in interdisciplinary approaches in Victorian studies from the late 20th century has meant the diverse aspects or branches of science that pervade Eliot’s works continue to be illuminated. Beer 1983, a pioneering text in the field and deservedly influential, is oriented around the ways Darwin’s work transformed understandings of language, metaphor, narrative, and the material world, and how such transformations were registered and critiqued in the work of both George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. Shuttleworth 1984 is another groundbreaking study, countering more static approaches to science as a monolithic force in Eliot’s fiction and in her social theories. This developmental account registers science as a dynamic, evolving influence. Rothfield 1992 attends to the intimate connections of the discourses of clinical medicine and literary realism as demonstrated, tested, and critiqued in Eliot’s Middlemarch. Davis 2006, also drawing out Eliot’s productive but skeptical engagement with contemporary research that made the mind an object of scientific study ultimately articulates its unknowability as represented in Eliot’s fiction. Flint 1997 reads “The Lifted Veil” as an important intervention in contemporary scientific debates about the relationship between the body and the mind, informed by Eliot’s thorough engagement with new research in the field. Matus 2009, analyzing how Victorian fiction articulated the overlapping of mind, memory, and identity, particularly in the context of psychic shock or trauma, moves beyond the many accounts that focus on sympathy only in Eliot’s work to take a wider range of other, predominantly more negative, emotions. Dames 2007 reads Daniel Deronda in the context of the interactions of theories of narrative and emerging discourses of physiology with specific reference to claims about readers’ comprehension and cognition capacities.

  • Beer, Gillian. Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction. London: Routledge, 1983.

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    Erudite, elegant study that unpacks the original and controversial scientific registers of Eliot’s fiction. Beer relates Eliot’s fluency in and learned engagement with concepts such as variation, analogy, type, and origins in Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda in relation to her plots, structure, and characterization, as well as her representational and expressive capacities.

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  • Dames, Nicholas. The Physiology of the Novel: Reading Neural Science, and the Form of Victorian Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199208968.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Integrating Eliot’s knowledge of music, science and narrative, Dames’s ambitious account explores the collision of the industrial reworking of consciousness (fugitive, fragmented) with “elongated artistic form” (p. 21), both figured here in sophisticated readings of the temporal in Daniel Deronda and the reception in England of Wagnerian opera.

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  • Davis, Michael. George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Psychology: Exploring the Unmapped Country. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.

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    The representation of the mind as the center of positive ethical force or as destructive, isolated ego in Eliot’s fiction is enriched by Davis’s patient and alert teasing out of Eliot’s engagement with the conceptual implications of biological and experimental science’s research into the materiality of the mind and body.

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  • Flint, Kate. “Blood, Bodies and The Lifted Veil.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 54.4 (March 1997): 455–473.

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    Penetrating and fascinating account of how developing debates between psychology and physiology are addressed in the interrogation of sympathy and knowledge formation in this intriguing story. Flint outlines how the implications of such debates are figured in the tensions between the story’s realist and Gothic dimensions.

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  • Matus, Jill. Shock, Memory and the Unconscious in Victorian Fiction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511635304Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Theoretically engaging study offering an important overview of trauma as a historical concept and addressing its invocation and dissemination in Victorian narrative. Reads “The Lifted Veil” in the context of midcentury emotion theory, and Daniel Deronda in relation to Gothic conventions and the physical genealogy of psychic shock.

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  • Rothfield, Lawrence. Vital Signs: Medical Realism in Nineteenth-Century Fiction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    Argues that clinical medicine, with its “discursive techniques” and “epistemic orientation,” influenced Eliot’s realist strategies, though Rothfield suggests that, unlike some of her contemporaries, Eliot historicizes clinical medicine’s evolving authority, as exemplified in Middlemarch, and “never makes the medical view of the embodied self an absolute principle of authorial representation” (p. 88).

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  • Shuttleworth, Sally. George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Science: The Make-Believe of a Beginning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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    Substantial scholarly study attending to the conceptualization of the social as an organic model in Eliot’s work to show how developments in both her social theories and fictional methods can be related to transformations in contemporary scientific theories, with significant implications for the structure and content of her fictional narratives.

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Arts

George Eliot was a musician who regularly attended plays and concerts, frequented galleries and museums, and wrote about music, art, and sculpture in her journalism. It is no surprise that the arts feature so prominently in her fiction and poetry, not just in the form of characters who are singers, painters, or musicians, but also more formally and integrally in her aesthetic. De Sousa Correa 2003 and Weliver 2000 share similar approaches that address music in wider 19th-century social and scientific contexts by drawing on educational, psychological, and physiological debates. De Sousa Correa 2003 offers detailed insight into Eliot’s familiarity with these debates in an account that emphasizes Eliot’s purposeful exploration of the affective and ideological potential of and limits to music’s communicative capacities. Weliver 2000 also attends to the relationship between musical practice and changing gender roles in relation to contemporary social and scientific theories to suggest Eliot’s alertness to the contingent nature of social and cultural formations. Gray 1989 argues for a much less ambivalent presentation of music in Eliot’s work in her focus on Eliot’s personal response to and knowledge of music and close readings of the musical themes and allusions in her work as demonstrating the importance of sympathetic listening for moral growth. Witemeyer 1979 challenges the view that Eliot championed Dutch, Flemish, and English genre painting in particular as a core to her realist aesthetic. Witemeyer persuasively shows that her interests and use of visual codes were much more wide-ranging and diverse in their effects. Bodenheimer 1990 is a seminal essay that offers a wide-ranging interrogation of Eliot’s representation of performing women. Women artists in Eliot’s writings are related directly to Eliot’s own life in terms that register Eliot’s doubts about female ambition and self-display. Building on Bodenheimer’s approach, more specific studies on Eliot’s response to and engagement with popular 19th-century artistic representations of the feminine are offered in Marshall 1998 and Weliver 2010. Weliver 2010 concentrates on the influence of the prima donna narrative in European literature as foundational both to form and typologies in 19th-century English fiction and cultural life generally, and to Eliot’s life and work in particular. Eliot’s biography and Daniel Deronda are read together as contributing to what Weliver calls a body of prima donna literature that popularized models of feminine behavior. In a suggestive study of Eliot’s response to the myth of Galatea that pervaded 19th-century theatrical discourse, Marshall 1998 demonstrates how Eliot envisages “a crucial qualification of sculpture’s lapidary powers” (p. 7), attending to questions of agency and creative representation inflected by national, gendered, and racial parameters through sophisticated readings of Daniel Deronda’s “performers,” Gwendolen, Mirah, and Alcharisi.

  • Bodenheimer, Rosemarie. “Ambition and Audiences: George Eliot’s Performing Figures.” Victorian Studies 43.1 (Autumn 1990): 7–33.

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    Addresses the significance of the performing women across Eliot’s works, including subtle extended readings of “Armgart” and Daniel Deronda. Bodenheimer argues that in her performing figures, Eliot “inscribes a split between a fundamental, internally generated artistic integrity and theatricality” (p. 10) in ways that have implications for Eliot’s own self-representation.

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  • de Sousa Correa, Delia. George Eliot, Music and Victorian Culture. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

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    De Sousa Correa concentrates on Mill on the Floss and Daniel Deronda but explores in more detail a range of 19th-century debates about music that emphasize its affective power on both performer and listener, thereby suggesting its broader ideological function in the formation and articulation of gendered roles.

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  • Gray, Beryl. George Eliot and Music. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1989.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-10018-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the relationship between feeling and “auditory sensibility” (p. xi) in Eliot’s work, focusing in particular on The Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda, to suggest Eliot’s advocacy of the role of music in the cultivation of sympathetic understanding.

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  • Marshall, Gail. Actresses on the Victorian Stage: Feminine Performance and the Galatea Myth. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    A refined and original reading of Eliot’s engagement with discourses of spectacle, gender, and remediation in Daniel Deronda and “Armgart” in relation to what Marshall shows is a pervasive female theatrical aesthetic exemplified by the Galatea story, which she calls “Galatea-aesthetic.”

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  • Weliver, Phyllis. Women Musicians in Victorian Fiction, 1860–1900: Representations of Music, Science and Gender in the Leisured Home. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000.

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    Draws together theories of evolution and natural and sexual selection in three chapters on Eliot’s work that historicize scientific analyses of the power of music, arguing that her fiction demonstrates Eliot’s understanding that music was an unstable signifier with attendant consequences for the representational authority of cultural and social codes in her work.

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  • Weliver, Phyllis. “George Eliot and the Prima Donna ‘Script.’” In Special Issue: The Arts in Victorian Literature. The Yearbook of English Studies 40.1–2 (2010): 102–120.

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    Traces the European origins of narratives of successful if conflicted female artists to suggest that Eliot’s life can be read as a literal, not metaphorical, version of the prima donna “script,” while Daniel Deronda provides the most sophisticated literary reworking of this influential and specifically pre-Wagnerian model of femininity.

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  • Witemeyer, Hugh. George Eliot and the Visual Arts. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979.

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    Seminal study of Eliot’s knowledge of visual culture; an erudite and accessible account of the diverse and wide-ranging effects of pictorial traditions in her work, paying particular attention to characterization and landscape and its deployment in her writing.

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Europe

George Eliot was an inveterate traveler for most of her adult life, often escaping to the Continent at times of crisis or seeking renewal in trips abroad from the states of exhaustion that followed a long period of work. The work in this section reflects not only her extensive travels but more specifically her profound engagement with aspects of European politics and culture. Rignall 1997 is a general thematic collection with essays that investigate intertextual links with European writers and European culture. The emphasis is on Eliot’s intellectual cosmopolitanism, suggesting that the European dimensions to her work were central and enduring. Couch 1967 argues for Eliot’s more profound influence on French writers than is generally accepted in a detailed study of critical responses to her work by French critics in the periodical press, while demonstrating, too, her long engagement with France and French writers. Rignall 2011 argues that Eliot is a European novelist descending in a line from Cervantes, in a study that draws on her extensive readings of European writers, her European travels, and European acquaintances. Thompson 1998 focuses on the influence of Italian politics, culture, and especially the work of Dante in Eliot’s writings; Röder-Bolton 2006 takes a much more concentrated period to amplify Eliot’s engagement with German culture, German artists, and German thought in the mid-19th century. See also Weliver 2010 (cited under Arts) and Raterman 2013 (cited under Narrative, Form, and Style).

  • Couch, John Philip. George Eliot in France: A French Appraisal of George Eliot’s Writings, 1850–1960. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.

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    Traces Eliot’s fluctuating reputation in France over the course of a century. Useful appendices list French translations of her novels, a sample translation, her French reading, places visited, and her opinions about French writers—though Couch does not attend to Eliot’s critical writings on French literary culture in any great detail.

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  • Rignall, John, ed. George Eliot and Europe. Aldershot, UK: Scholar, 1997.

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    Sixteen essays tracing a variety of European connections and influences as registered in Eliot’s writing and thinking. Includes Eliot specialists on comparative approaches with European writers and on transcultural subjects such as music, medicine, science, and language issues. Focused mostly on France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

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  • Rignall, John. George Eliot, European Novelist. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2011.

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    Contextualizes Eliot’s novels alongside the work of Balzac, Flaubert, Tehodor Fontance, Gottfired Keller, and German thought more generally, underlining the influence of European culture and the Jewish diaspora in particular. Signals her anticipation of European modernist thought in a fascinating final chapter on Nietzsche and Eliot.

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  • Röder-Bolton, Gerlinde. George Eliot in Germany, 1854–55, “Cherished Memories.” Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.

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    Draws out the cultural and historical background of Germany at the time of Eliot’s extended stay in that country as a fuller context for understanding the works that relate to her German experiences (Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, “Mr. Gilfil,” and “Armgart”). Also covers the broader significance of Lewes’s work on Goethe.

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  • Thompson, Andrew. George Eliot and Italy. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230390188Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Learned study of Eliot’s Italian travels, her engagement with Italian culture, and the effects of both on her writing. Thompson argues in particular for the influence of the Risorgimento and her productive use of Dante’s writing throughout her fiction, with particular emphasis on Daniel Deronda.

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Poetry

“You come from one of Eliot’s poems as from a Turkish bath of latest science and refinement, appreciative of benefit, but so battered, beaten, and disjointed as to need repose before you can be conscious of refreshment” (Cleveland 1885, pp. 12–13). Cleveland 1885 presents an early articulation of the most familiar and long-embedded arguments about Eliot’s poetry: full of learning but labored in form and effect. More recent criticism has sought to recuperate different aspects of this body of poetic work, most of which was written by Eliot in the later stages of her career. Reynolds 2000, an indispensable succinct survey of Eliot’s poetic output, suggests the generally realist, if not despairingly deterministic, writer “allows herself the pleasure of an optimistic fantasy in her poetry” (p. 318), if only momentarily. Tucker 2013 offers the fullest appreciation of Eliot’s poetic style, poetic ambition, and critical positioning in a scintillating close reading of her work that takes to task the generalizing tendencies of more typical overly thematic-driven approaches to Eliot’s poetry. Eliot’s longer poems, in particular, feature women negotiating private and public roles, professional authority, and vocational duty, so it is not surprising that gender issues recur in critical approaches to her poetic work. LaPorte 2003 attends to the prophetic voice in the poetry as a response to a limited scripted feminine model rejected by Eliot, while Hudd 1996 focuses on the feminist implications of the longer verse dramas. Hadjiafxendi 2011 is the first collection of essays on Eliot’s poetry. It provides a rich range of thematic and methodologically diverse accounts from those touching on philosophical, feminist, ethnographic, and social-domestic concerns, to essays on form, mode, and publication contexts. Williams 2014 is the first full-length monograph on Eliot as poet, or, as argued, “poetess”: building on LaPorte 2003, it asserts the significance of the female poetic tradition of piety on Eliot’s measured assertion of the social and spiritual function of her art that drew on her own longing to nurture and to foster human connections.

  • Cleveland, Rose Elizabeth. George Eliot’s Poetry and Other Studies. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1885.

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    Analyzes Eliot’s work alongside Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s. Eliot’s technical accuracy is acknowledged, but “no mere labour and culture can simulate poetic fire, or atone for its absence” (p. 11). In this rigid but enjoyably forthright and vivid critique, Cleveland attacks the poetry for its agnosticism and “theologic pedantry” (p. 20). Reprint of pages 9–23 in van den Broek’s Complete Shorter Poetry 2: 253–267.

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  • Hadjiafxendi, Kyriaki, ed. Special Issue: The Cultural Place of George Eliot’s Poetry. George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Journal 60.61 (September 2011).

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    Eight essays by leading Victorian and Eliot scholars, including Herbert Tucker, Valerie Sanders, Katherine Newey, and Linda Hughes, with a foreword by Isobel Armstrong, a postscript by Charles La Porte, and a lucid editor’s introduction that usefully situates Eliot’s poetic work in the context of 19th-century debates about poetry’s form and function.

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  • Hudd, Louise. “The Politics of a Feminist Poetics: ‘Armgart’ and George Eliot’s Response to Aurora Leigh.” In Poetry and Politics. Edited by Kate Flint, 62–83. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1996.

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    Hudd parses Eliot’s mixed response to Browning’s Aurora Leigh to draws out the significance for feminist criticism of Eliot’s verse drama and claims “Armgart,” with its heroine’s struggle to negotiate professional ambition and social expectation, read as a type of feminist treatise.

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  • LaPorte, Charles. “George Eliot, the Poetess as Prophet.” Victorian Literature and Culture 31.1 (March 2003): 159–179.

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    Influential account focusing on prophetic elements of Eliot’s poetry, reading such elements as indicative of her ambivalence to narrowly “feminine” labels, but also offering a way to reclaim an authoritative version of the poetess.

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  • Reynolds, Margaret. “Poetry of George Eliot.” In Oxford Reader’s Companion to George Eliot. Edited by John Rignall, 304–308. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Compact but extremely effective, informative, and illuminating summary of the main works and key aspects of Eliot’s poetry, covering publication history, poetic influences, critical responses, and main themes, including gender and artistic ambition, social conditioning and cultural expectations, and questions of identity, nationality, and race.

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  • Tucker, Herbert F. “Poetry: The Unappreciated Eliot.” In A Companion to George Eliot. Edited by Amanda Anderson and Harry E. Shaw, 178–191. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118542347.ch13Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Trenchant, lively, expert analysis of why Eliot’s poetry is so neglected and why we need to rethink this relegation. Tucker makes a persuasive case in a series of close readings of the poems on their own terms and not as repositories for themes enlarged on in her fiction.

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  • Williams, Wendy. George Eliot, Poetess. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2014.

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    Argues through a series of close readings of the poems that while Eliot drew on a specific poetic tradition of feminine piety, encapsulated in the term “poetess,” she reframed it to assert through her work a nonreligious doctrine of sympathy and social cohesion.

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Journalism and the Periodical Press

An understudied dimension of Eliot criticism, with none of the recent companions/readers that aim for comprehensive coverage or new areas of development in Eliot studies, including individual chapters on her work, though Eliot spent a significant part of her career working in the periodical press. Stang 1957 remains an essential starting point for an overview of Eliot’s essays and reviews. More recent criticism can be divided into two broad categories: one approach reads periodical journalism as a negative and restrictive mode that limits the enlarging ethics of sympathy evident in Eliot’s fiction and, in particular, in her narrative voice. Alternatively, the periodical press is understood as a diverse, accommodating, and flexible environment that contributed significantly to the development of different facets of Eliot’s literary personae, intellectual development, and cultural authority. Of the former, Hadjiafxendi 2007 suggests Eliot subverted the aesthetic, economic, and moral limitations of journalistic writing through her own “aesthetic of sympathy,” which ultimately led her to abandon the press for “literary” writing (p. 33). Liddle 2009 mounts a similar argument, though with much more specific attention to the dynamics and restraints of genre, with what Liddle nominates as the narrow and confined discourses of journalism, causing difficulties for a philosophical and moral literary writer such as Eliot. Dillane 2013 takes a different approach with its focus on the work of the writer before she became “George Eliot.” Dillane presents Marian Evans as a flexible, shrewd operator in the multifaceted and generally accommodating professional periodical marketplace, alert to the contexts in which her work was being published and adapting her material accordingly. Easley 2004 provides a nuanced account of the layered, ambivalently gendered voices in Evans’s periodical writings and later fiction. Stern 2008 argues that a more assertive and overt gender politics is evident in Eliot’s Westminster Review essays that make specific claims for literary criticism as the domain of the feminine. Goslee 2002 emphasizes different aspects of the feminine in what is presented as the reviewer’s mediating, disinterested positioning as indexed to a post-Christian critical and cultural authority that has interventionist visionary authority. Shattock 2010, grounded in more historical-biographical approaches, takes as a start point a comparative analysis of reviews by Elizabeth Gaskell and Marian Evans in an expansive analysis of their performances as reviewers, and of the wider significance of their criticism in relation to their personal circumstances, exposure to European culture, and the context of their longer careers. See also Martin 1994 (cited under Serialization and Other Publication Modes).

  • Dillane, Fionnuala. Before George Eliot: Marian Evans and the Periodical Press. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139565158Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In individual chapters on Marian Evans’s work as an editor, journalist, serial fiction writer, and essayist, Dillane explicates the significance of Evans’s periodical career and of the wider periodical context as they relate to the development of the writer’s relationships with her audiences, her narrative personae, and her pseudonymous identity.

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  • Easley, Alexis. First-Person Anonymous: Women Writers and Victorian Print Media, 1830–1870. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004.

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    Illuminating study of the interactions of authority, class, and gender as constructed in the 19th-century periodical press. Easley demonstrates how Eliot used the conventions of anonymous publication to create an authoritative yet ambiguously gendered voice in her periodical writings, and how she maintained that gender complexity in her later fictional narratives.

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  • Goslee, David. “Ethical Discord and Resolution in George Eliot’s Essays.” Prose Studies: History, Theory, Criticism 25.3 (December 2002): 58–81.

    DOI: 10.1080/0144035042000253827Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Philosophical argument that negotiates the conflicted moral position occupied by the post-Christian intellectual. Reads Eliot’s Westminster essays, more “militantly secular” (p. 59) than her novels, as combining nontheological ethical norms of periodical review traditions and a fluid, knowing, mediating feminine authority that together influence the construction of the heroines of her later fiction.

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  • Hadjiafxendi, Kyriaki. “‘George Eliot,’ the Literary Market-Place and Sympathy.” In Authorship in Context: From the Theoretical to the Material. Edited by Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi and Polina Mackay, 33–55. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230206120_3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Asserts that Eliot’s writings from 1856 to 1859, as she moved from “journalism” to “literature,” demonstrate her “authorial formation as a promoter of sympathy” (p. 33) in terms that characterize periodical writings narrowly and negatively.

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  • Liddle, Dallas. The Dynamics of Genre: Journalism and the Practice of Literature in Mid-Victorian Britain. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009.

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    Arguing provocatively that periodical genres (as represented by the “lead article” or critical review) competed with literary genres, economically and ideologically, Liddle asserts Eliot’s periodical and subsequent writings demonstrate her battling against and ultimately undermining the defining features of mid-Victorian journalism, described here as monologic, patriarchal, and inflexible.

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  • Shattock, Joanne. “The ‘Orbit’ of the Feminine Critic: Gaskell and Eliot.” Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 6.2 (Summer 2010).

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    Shattock contrasts critical responses to the same material by Eliot and Gaskell to show how the work produced reflects their personal situations at the time of writing, their professional alertness to the shaping power of publication context, and their views on the role of literary women in culture more generally.

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  • Stang, Richard. “The Literary Criticism of George Eliot.” PMLA 72 (1957): 952–961.

    DOI: 10.2307/460372Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a clear overview of consistent intellectual and aesthetic theories in both the journalism and the fiction, with a judicious and representative sampling of social, political, religious, and artistic concerns that recur in Eliot’s periodical work.

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  • Stern, Kimberly J. “A Common Fund: George Eliot and the Gender Politics of Criticism.” Prose Studies: History, Theory, Criticism 30.1 (April 2008): 45–63.

    DOI: 10.1080/01440350801939518Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggestive readings of Eliot’s Westminster Review essays as embodying a critical methodology “that not only accommodates but actually demands the participation of women” (p. 46). Eliot uses the philosophically radical, heterodox Westminster mode to suggest salon culture’s enriched hetero-social approach is being supplanted by a narrowly masculinist critical model, to the detriment of literary criticism.

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