Felix Holt (1866) and Middlemarch (1871–72)

  • Kerry McSweeney
Part of the Literary Lives book series (LL)


In 1848 revolutionary events on the continent had prompted Marian Evans to make one of her infrequent comments on the social and political situation in her own country:

Our working classes are eminently inferior to the mass of the French people. In France, the mind of the people is highly electrified — they are full of ideas on social subjects — they really desire social reform — not merely an acting out of Sancho Panza’s favourite proverb ‘Yesterday for you, to-day for me.’ The revolutionary animus extended over the whole nation, and embraced the rural population — not merely as with us, the artisans of the towns. Here there is so much larger a proportion of selfish radicalism and unsatisfied, brute sensuality (in the agricultural and mining districts especially) than of perception or desire of justice, that a revolutionary movement would be simply destructive — not constructive. Besides, it would be put down. Our military have no notion of ‘fraternizing.’ They have the same sort of inveteracy as dogs have for the ill-drest canaille. They are as mere a brute force as a battering ram and the aristocracy have got firm hold of them. Our little humbug of a queen is more endurable than the rest of her race because she calls forth a chivalrous feeling, and there is nothing in our constitution to obstruct the slow progress of political reform. This is all we are fit for at present. The social reform which may prepare us for great changes is more and more the object of effort both in Parliament and out of it. But we English are slow crawlers.

(L, i, 254)


Political Reform Social Reform Heroic Action Literary Life Title Character 
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  1. 3.
    The Study of Poetry’, Essays in Criticism, second series, ed. R.S. Littlewood ( London: Macmillan, 1960 ), 2.Google Scholar

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© Kerry McSweeney 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kerry McSweeney
    • 1
  1. 1.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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