In recent years George Eliot’s greatness has been recognised more than at any time since she reached the peak of her contemporary fame; even so, the masterly presentation of most of her Gwendolen Harleth–Grandcourt scenes prompts the question whether she achieved all she might have done as a novelist. Diffidence led too often to over-inclusiveness, and to the kind of problems which she solved by compression in the final phase of The Mill on the Floss and by expansion in Middlemarch. Over-conscientiousness led to massive research, particularly for Romola, and sometimes, as in Felix Holt and Daniel Deronda, when she had exhausted all other possibilities, to consultation with experts on minutiae of relative insignificance to most readers. Such time-consuming insistence on exactitude led to recurrent periods of anxiety, depression, and illness; in the later years of her life, further tolls were self-inflicted by the writing of lengthy, elaborately-constructed works to comply with heavy serialization programmes. The success of Silas Marner suggests that she would have taxed her artistic energy less had she enjoyed the confidence to undertake less demanding plots than she usually set herself. The tragedy of Lydgate and Rosamond is worthy of full-scale presentation; and the ‘Miss Brooke’ story is not, one feels, adequately developed in its later stages. Greater imaginative concentration in the tragic Gwendolen—Grandcourt story marks the continuing emergence of creative powers which needed wider scope than could be given in Felix Holt and Middle-march. By seeking too many safeguards, George Eliot had repeatedly checked and hampered the unfolding of her genius.
KeywordsBurning Vortex Depression Manifold Foam
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