Romola [with Biographical Introduction]

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The claims of truth, the claims of charity and unselfishness, are supreme. She is thus an idealistic and an ethical novelist. Even in her poetry this bias manifests itself; and here, from an artistic point of view, the effect is often more disturbing than in her novels. For in poetry the purely artistic, emotional, and lyrical aspect is more important and essential; and any general and impersonal ideal counteracts the reality of the characters, the mood, and the passion. In spite of some beautiful shorter poems, passages, and lines, she fails when criticized as a lyrical poetess; nor will her poems stand faultless when judged from the epic point of view.

In studying life she had learned observation in the scientific inductive school, and had thus acquired, with minuteness of perception, the clear-sighted and unprejudiced intellectual justice of vision which enabled her to appreciate fully and to grasp the inner core of all the characters, motives, and passions which her command over her thoughts and language and her docile pen enabled her to fix in so masterly a manner.

Romola by George Eliot (1862)

But these faculties would not have been enough to lead to her creation of human types, had she not possessed to that intense and exalted degree the power of feeling which gave the initial stimulus to her penetration of the human heart and its motives and passions, and which her intellectual control converted into all-encompassing and all-pervading sympathy. Nay, this sympathy was so intense and leading a feature of her genius that it again serves to establish a distinct general classification of novelists.

Like great actors, great writers of fiction may be classified, according to their mode of rendering the life they study, as subjective and objective interpreters. For the time they see only the object of their study, and reproduce it with clear and dispassionate touch.

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This is the case with Balzac, Turgenev, Thackeray, and Dickens. The objective method is the safest and least likely to produce faults in drawing which make the characters at times inconsistent and fall out of their parts; but the subjective method may at times attain depth of insight, and fullness of passion and veracity, which lies hidden from the dispassionate draughtsmen and impersonators. Above all, the purely emotional subjectivity of George Eliot was counteracted by the passion for the general ethical and the social ideal which we have already considered as playing so essential a part in her mind.

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Upon this we must take our stand in order to appreciate her leading method of composition, which can be traced, we venture to believe, through all her novels. The Greek tragedians, Shakespeare, and all great dramatists, have ever dealt with this central struggle between man and society. But they started with this fact, and had merely the artistic aim of evoking sympathy and pity in the audience because of this tragic struggle, the powerful and perfect representation of which became the final aim of their artistic endeavor.

With George Eliot the process of adaptation, the resolution of the discord, and if not the establishment of harmony, then the clear and impressive indication of the best way to its establishment, is the real motive and end of her writing. There is in her no great tragic fatalism, which makes the art of the Greek dramatist so deeply and overwhelmingly tragic.

Each one of her leading characters is at fault, when viewed in the light of the healthy social ideal. In the exposition of the character the fault will be shown up strongly; the hero will either be developed into greater social perfection, or the tragic end will impress upon the reader the disease and its remedy, the bane and its antidote. The social failings and shortcomings which stand in the way of this harmony are grouped by her into two leading faults of a general nature: the discord between the individual and selfish and the general and altruistic; between thoughtless social materialism and conformity, and questioning originality and spiritual revolt; between conventionality and originality; between common-sense and prophetic far-sightedness; between the Philistine and the artistic, the humdrum worker and the world-reformer, the materialist and the dreamer.

They each ignore one another and the world in which each lives, or they despise each other and their respective goals and aims. Now, in all her novels this problem is repeated and a solution is attempted. Over and over again she presents this situation as the central point in the composition of her novels, in different layers of society, in most varied characters. She either brings it out in presenting two central figures as the contrasts which represent either faulty extreme, or one figure as opposed to the surroundings, or both these means are used to impress the central fact.

The central figure in that story is Gwendolen Harleth who ought properly to have given her name to the novel. The contrasting figure at the other extreme is Mordecai the Jew, and Daniel is the intermediary figure almost figure-head between these two extremes. The personality which, I am sure, set her sympathetic intellect and imagination throbbing into artistic creation was Gwendolen.

As an ordinary though beautiful young lady of English society in her rank what Hetty Sorrel and Rosamond Vincy are in theirs , she is the clod-born, materialistic, and hopelessly selfish representative of the unsocial member of a society in which ideas and ideals are unknown, and in which blind impulse, feebly directed by prejudice and tradition, petty vanity and greed, at most personal ambition, are the motives to action, and produce the discord and misery which surround even those who live in affluence.

Her beauty, her position in her family, her whole education, have kept from her every higher ideal, all semblance of an ideal, and all altruism and feeling for or with her fellow-men. Her world in the opening of the story is the most contracted world of a small self, with a pervading passion out of all proportion to its extent, in which the desires whirl round and round this little circle in hideous compression. Now the fundamental problem of the story is: How can this little, selfish, and materialistic nature, which only realizes the things before its desiring eyes and grasping touch, be made large, unselfish, and idealistic, so that it reaches out beyond and above the world of self into the regions of great ideas, in which the individual is completely submerged; and that through this wholesome straining of the heart and of sympathetic power, through this realization and love of the ideal, it may learn to love and pity, and think for and in, mankind and all men and women?

And this process of artistic development of character is sensuously and convincingly represented in this novel. The reader enters sympathetically into the little soul of that beautiful girl at the very beginning of the story, and in her he passes through all the phases, until without any forced hiatus he sees before him at the end the purified and enlarged Gwendolen, who has learnt her ennobling lesson in the great school of suffering.

It is perhaps the greatest achievement in her art. The more definite question is: How can such a girl realize the great world of ideas? The difficulty here arose, that if George Eliot had chosen some purely imaginary topic it would have lacked reality, and would have moved neither Gwendolen nor the reader into sympathy. If on the other hand she had taken some stirring question of the day, the question as such would have engrossed the interest and attention of the reader, and would no longer have been subordinated to the chief artistic purpose it has in the story.

As it is, to many, the Jewish question as treated and suggested in the novel has itself engrossed the attention of readers, and has diverted their minds from the main artistic gist of the story. But to the ordinary English reader the subject of Jewish social life and aspirations was sufficiently remote. To Daniel however it was a real, stirring, and great idea to which he wished to devote his life. Now, in order that Gwendolen should realize in herself such a great impersonal idea, she had to fall in love with the man whose life they filled, and through her heart and her love for him it would reach her mind and raise her thoughts.

Daniel, again, the man she loves, is contrasted with the narrow and selfish man, the hardened and crystallized type of another social world, consuming itself in its own self-love. A striking scene in this sense is her interview with Klesmer, the genuine and thorough musician devoted to his art and work. Gwendolen is also contrasted with Mirah.

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  8. Maggie Tulliver and her brother Tom, the spirit of revolt in Maggie and the hard conventionality of respectability in her brother Tom, are strongly marked types of this kind. It is a wonderful touch of artistic suggestion that she and her brother are finally submerged in the Mill, carried away by the flood. This novel reflects more thoroughly the spirit of Greek tragedy than any other work of modern fiction.

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    It is an embodiment of the hard and unrelenting tyranny of the powers that are. Space will not allow us to give further illustrations of this idea in her novels; but enough has been said to enable the reader to test it and follow it up for himself. The two most striking qualities in George Eliot as a writer are her humor and her sympathy. They are realty connected with one another. The power of intellectual observation, when coupled with the power of feeling sympathy, produces humor; the purely intellectual or objective cast of mind produces wit; while the purely subjective habit of mind is unable to produce either.

    But with all her wide range of sympathy, upon which we have been dwelling, its limitations can still be discerned. The careful observer will recognize that the subjective attitude of the woman cannot wholly be hidden from view. A still more marked and important limitation in her sympathies, arising out of her ethical bias, is her pronounced dislike to all morbid art, all that is fantastic.

    The poetry of Byron, the music of Chopin, all forms of morbid sentiment, are so repulsive to her nature that she cannot treat them with tolerance or even with humor. Probably this is an autobiographical touch, and having freed herself from these morbid tendencies in her youth, she could never look back upon them with tolerance. Her seriousness and ethical bias may at times also have impaired her style. Her extensive studies in science and philosophy often make her ponderous in thought and in expression. The fondness with which she takes her similes from science is often confusing to the reader who is unfamiliar with the facts and thoughts that are used as illustrations.

    She never quite overcame the temptation to insert what was new and striking to herself; so that her science and philosophy never reached that mature stage of mental assimilation in which they manifest themselves merely in the general fullness of thought, without ever asserting themselves as science or as philosophy.

    In he had married Agnes Jervis, by whom he had four sons. In Lewes and a friend, the journalist Thornton Leigh Hunt , founded a radical weekly called The Leader , for which he wrote the literary and theatrical sections. In April , two weeks after the first number appeared, Agnes Lewes gave birth to a son whose father was Thornton Hunt.

    Early years

    Lewes, being a man of liberal views, had the child registered as Edmund Lewes and remained on friendly terms with his wife and Hunt. But after she bore Hunt a second child in October , Lewes ceased to regard her as his wife, though, having condoned the adultery, he was precluded from suing for divorce. At this moment of dejection, his home hopelessly broken, he met Marian Evans. They consulted about articles and went to plays and operas that Lewes reviewed for The Leader.

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    Convinced that his break with Agnes was irrevocable, Evans determined to live openly with Lewes, as his wife. They obtain what they desire and are still invited to dinner. You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security. George Eliot. Article Media. Info Print Print. Table Of Contents. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. George Eliot British author.

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    Written By: Gordon S. They continued living together until , when Lewes suddenly became ill. Lewes's death in November of was heartbreaking for the writer, and she began a period of intense mourning that lasted more than a year. John Cross, the couple's "business manager" of sorts, became very concerned about Mary Anne's well-being during this trying period.

    He proposed marriage to her several times until she finally accepted in Their union was one of companionship rather than romance; Cross was more than 20 years younger than Mary Anne, who turned 61 soon after their marriage. In December , after only seven months of marriage, Mary Anne became seriously ill. She passed away in her sleep on December 22, , and was buried next to her lifelong companion, George Lewes. Since Adam Bede is the product of George Eliot's first serious attempt to write a novel, it is a good source for identifying some features of her development as a novelist and for seeing signs of themes in her later novels.