Chapter V

  • Patricia Beer


Of the four writers in question George Eliot has the highest faith in the potential of women and the deepest distrust in the likelihood of its realisation. The English domestic setting is most often the enemy. The strivings of Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss (1860) to do and be something more than her womanhood seems to allow her are doomed from the start by the nature of the background. So are Dorothea’s in Middlemarch (1871–2): ‘How can one ever do anything nobly Christian, living among people with such petty thoughts?’1 Romola (1862–3) gives its heroine more scope, as the action takes place far away and long ago, and moreover the novel as a whole, with the totally unconvincing pastiche that passes for dialogue and its ton-weight of erudition about, for example, the sort of hats and belts that people wore then, has a place for the unrealistic gestures of high, romantic endeavour which would hardly seem natural in St Ogg’s, or in Tipton and Lowick. Romola can become the sainted lady who does ‘beautiful loving deeds’ of rescue and relief. But the idea of the high quest, the lofty important mission that can be carried out by a woman, is most thoroughly declared in a long poem, The Spanish Gypsy — and it is relevant to remember Maggie’s childish attempt to be leader of a gypsy band — first written in 1864–5 and amplified a few years later.


Woman Character Opportunity Hedge Womanly Feeling Singing Lesson Lamed Creature 
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© Patricia Beer 1974

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  • Patricia Beer

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