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fine thing, that is, when we can let a man know what you think of him
without paying for it."[1] His love of litigation is reconciled with his
belief that "the law is meant to take care o' raskills," and that "Old
Harry made the lawyers" by the principle that the cause which has the
"biggest raskill" for attorney has the best chance of success; so that
honesty need not despair if it can only secure the professional
assistance of accomplished roguery. And when, notwithstanding this, the
law and Mr. Wakem have been too much for him, great skill is shown in
the description of poor Tulliver's latter days; his prostration and
partial recovery; the concentration of his feelings on the desire to
wipe out the dishonour of insolvency, and to avenge himself on the
hostile attorney. Indeed, we confess that, notwithstanding his somewhat
unedifying end, Tulliver is the only person in "The Mill on the Floss"
for whom we can bring ourselves to care much.

[1] "The Mill on the Floss," i. 32.

The reality of which we have been speaking is connected with a peculiar
sort of consciousness in the authoress, as if she had actually witnessed
all that she describes, and were resolved to describe it without any
attempt to refine beyond the naked truth. Thus, the most serious
characters make their most solemn and most pathetic speeches in
provincial dialect and ungrammatical constructions, although it must be
allowed that the authoress has not ventured so far in this way as to
play with the use and abuse of the aspirate. And her dialect appears to
be very carefully studied, although we may doubt whether the
Staffordshire provincialisms of "Clerical Life" and "Adam Bede" are
sufficiently varied when the scene is shifted in the latest book to the
Lincolnshire side of the Humber. But where a greater variation than that
between one midland dialect and another is required, "George Eliot's"
conscientiousness is very curiously shown. There is in "Mr. Gilfil's
Story" a gardener of the name of Bates, who is described as a
Yorkshireman, and in "Adam Bede" there is another gardener, Mr. Craig,
whose name would naturally indicate a Scotchman. Each of these
horticulturists is introduced into the dialogue, and of course the
reader would expect the one to talk Yorkshire and the other to talk some
variety of Scotch. But the authoress, apparently, did not feel herself
mistress of either Scotch or Yorkshire to such a degree as would have
warranted her in attempting them, and therefore, before her characters
are allowed to open their mouths, she, in each case, is careful to tell
us that we must moderate our expectations: "Mr. Bates's lips were of a
peculiar cut, and I fancy this had something to do with the peculiarity
of his dialect, which, as we shall see, was individual rather than
provincial."[1]

[1] "Scenes of Clerical Life," i. 191.

"I think it was Mr. Craig's pedigree only that had the advantage of
being Scotch, and not his 'bringing up'; for, except that he had a
stronger burr in his accent, his speech differed little from that of the
Loamshire people around him."[2] In short, except that lucifer matches
are twice introduced as familiar things in days when the tinder-box was
the only resource in general use for obtaining a light,[3] we have not
observed anything in which the authoress could be "caught out."

[2] "Adam Bede," i. 302.
[3] "Adam Bede," i. 219, 362.

But this conscientious fidelity has very serious drawbacks. It seems as
if the authoress felt herself under an obligation to give everything
literally as it took place; to shut out nothing which is superfluous; to
suppress nothing which is unfit for a work of fiction (for not only have
we a report of Dinah Morris's sermons, but the very words of the prayer
which she put up for Hetty in the prison); to abridge nothing which is
tiresome. People and incidents are described at length, although they
have little or nothing to do with the story. We may mention as instances
the detailed history and character which are given of Tom Tulliver's
tutor, the Reverend Walter Stelling, and the account of Mr. Poyser's
harvest-home, which, however good in itself, is utterly out of place
between the crisis and the conclusion of the story. But most especially
we complain of the fondness which the authoress shows for exhibiting
uninteresting and tiresome people in all their interminable tediousness;
and if the morbid tone which we have already mentioned reminds us of a
French school of novelists, her passion for photographing the minutest
details of dullness reminds us painfully of those American ladies who
contribute so largely to the literature of our railway-stalls, by
flooding their boundless prairies of dingy paper with inexhaustible
masses of blotchy type. We quite admit the naturalness of the
tradespeople and other small folks whom this writer has perhaps explored
more deeply than any earlier novelist; but surely we have far too much
of them. It has indeed been said that we are spoiled by the activity of
the present day for enjoying the faithful picture of what life was in
country parishes and in little country towns fifty years ago; but we
really cannot admit the justice of this attempt to throw the blame on
ourselves. Dullness, we may be sure, has not died out within the last
half century, but is yet to be found in plenty; and, if times were dull
fifty or a hundred years ago, the novelists of those days - Scott and
Fielding, and Smollett, and even Goldsmith in his simple tale - did not
make their readers groan under their dullness....

But _are_ we likely to feel more kindly towards such people as those of
whom we are now complaining, because all their triviality, and
smallness, and tediousness are displayed at wearisome length on paper?
If some Dutch painters bestowed their skill on homely old women and
boozy boors, there is no evidence that they were capable of better
things, and their choice of subjects is no justification for one who
certainly can do better. Nor do we complain that we have an old woman or
a coarse merrymaking occasionally, but that such things in their
monotonous meanness fill whole rooms of "George Eliot's" gallery; and,
in truth, the real parallel to her is not to be found in the old
Dutchmen who honestly painted what was before their eyes, but rather in
the perverseness of our modern "pre-Raphaelites." It is of these
gentlemen - who, by the way, in their reactionary affectations are the
most entire opposites of the simple, unaffected, and forward-striving
artists who really lived before Raphael - it is of these gentlemen, with
their choice of disagreeable subjects, uncomely models, and uncouth
attitudes, their bestowal of superfluous labour on trifling details, and
the consequent obtrusiveness of subordinate things so as to mar the
general effect of the work, that "George Eliot" too often reminds us.

How very wearisome is the conversation of the clique of inferior women
who worship Mr. Tryan! how dismally twaddling is that respectable old
congregationalist, Mr. Jerome, with his tidy little garden and his
"littel chacenut hoss"! We feel for Mr. Tryan when in the society of
such people, although to him it was mitigated by the belief that he was
doing good by associating with them, and that by love of incense from
any quarter which is described as part of his character. But why should
it be inflicted in such fearful doses on us, who have done nothing to
deserve it, who have no "mission" to encounter it, and are entirely
without Mr. Tryan's consolations under the endurance of it?

Adam Bede's mother is another sore trial of the reader's patience - with
her endless fretful chatter, and all the details of her urging her sons,
one after the other, to refresh themselves with cold potatoes: nay, we
are not reconciled to these vegetables even by the fact that on one
occasion they are recommended as "taters wi' the gravy in 'em."[1] But
it is in "The Mill on the Floss" that the plague of tedious conversation
reaches its height. Mrs. Tulliver is one of four married sisters, whose
maiden name had been Dodson, and in these sisters there is a studious
combination of family likeness with individual varieties of character.
Mrs. Tulliver herself - whose "blond" complexion is generally associated
by our authoress with imbecility of mind and character - belongs to that
class of minds of which Mrs. Quickly may be considered as the chief
intellectual type. Mrs. Pullet - the wife of a gentleman farmer, whose
great characteristic is a habit of sucking lozenges, and whom Tom
Tulliver most justly sets down as a "nincompoop" - is almost sillier than
Mrs. Tulliver. She has the gift of tears ever ready to flow, and sheds
them profusely on the anticipation of imaginary and ridiculous woes. Her
favourite vanity consists in drawing dismal pictures of the future and
in priding herself on the bodily sufferings of her neighbours; that one
had "been tapped no end o' times, and the water - they say you might ha'
swum in it if you'd liked"; that another's "breath was short to that
degree as you could hear him two rooms off"; and her highest religion -
the loftiest exercise of her faith and self-denial - is the accumulation
of superfluous clothes and linen, in the hope that they may make a
creditable display after her death. Mrs. Deane is "a thin-lipped woman,
who made small well-considered speeches on peculiar occasions, repeating
them afterwards to her husband, and asking him if she had not spoken
very properly"; and of her we see but little. But of the eldest of the
four, Mrs. Glegg, we see so much that we are really made quite
uncomfortable by her; for she is a very formidable person indeed, -
utterly without kindness, bullying everybody within her reach (her
husband included), holding herself up as a model to everybody, and
shaming all other families - especially those into which she and her
sisters had married - by odious comparisons with the Dodsons. All this we
grant is very cleverly done. The grim Mrs. Glegg and the fatuous Mrs.
Tulliver and Mrs. Pullet talk admirably in their respective kinds; and
we can quite believe that there are people who are not unfairly
represented by the Dodsons - with, the narrow limitation of their
thoughts to their own little circle - the extravagantly high opinion of
their own vulgar family, with the corresponding depreciation of all in
and about their own rank who do not belong to it - their perfect
conviction that their own family traditions (such as the copious eating
of salt in their broth) are the standard of all that is good - their
consecration of all their most elevated feelings to the worship of
furniture, and clothes, and table-linen, and silver spoons - their utter
alienation from all that, in the opinion of educated people, can make
life fit to be enjoyed. The humour of Mrs. Glegg's determination that no
ill desert of a relation shall interfere with the disposal of her
property by will on the most rigidly Dodsonian principles of justice,
according to the several degrees of Dodsonship, is excellent; and so is
the change in her behaviour towards Maggie, whom, after having always
bullied her, she takes up for the sake of Dodsondom's credit when
everybody else has turned against her....

[1] "Adam Bede," i. 54.

The writer does not seem to be aware that the fools and bores of a book,
while they bore the other characters, ought not to bore but to amuse the
reader, and that they will become seriously wearisome to him if there be
too much of them. Shakespeare has contented himself with showing us his
Dogberry and Verges, his Shallow and Slender, and Silence, to such a
degree as may sufficiently display their humours; but he has not filled
whole acts with them, and, even if he had, a five-act play is a small
field for the display of prolix foolishness as compared with a
three-volume novel. Lord Macaulay has been supposed to speak sarcastically
in saying that he "would not advise any person who reads for amusement to
venture on a certain _jeu d'esprit_ of Mr. Sadler's as long as he can
procure a volume of the Statutes at Large";[1] but we are afraid that we
should not be believed if we were to mention the books to which _we_
have had recourse by way of occasional relief from the task of perusing
"George Eliot's" tales.

[1] "Miscellaneous Writings," ii. 68.

In the case of "these emmet-like Dodsons and Tullivers," the authoress
again defends her principle. "I share with you," she says, "the sense of
oppressive narrowness; but it is necessary that we should feel it, if we
care to understand how it acted on the lives of Tom and Maggie."[2] We
must confess that we care very little for Tom and Maggie, who, although
the inscription on their tombstone and the motto on the title-page of
the book tell us that "in their death they were not divided," do not
strike us as having been "lovely and pleasant in their lives." We do not
think the development of the brother and the sister a matter of any
great interest; and, if it were, we believe that a sufficient ground
might have been laid for our understanding it without so severely trying
our patience by the details of the "sordid life" amid which their early
years were spent.

[2] "The Mill on the Floss," ii. 150.

Another mistake, as it appears to us, is the too didactic strain into
which the authoress occasionally falls - writing as if for the purpose of
forcing lessons on children or the poor, rather than for grown-up and
educated readers. The story of "Janet's Repentance" might, with the
omission of a few passages such as the satirical flings at Mr. Tryan's
female worshippers, be made into a very edifying little tract for some
"evangelical" society. Mr. Tryan's opponents are all represented as
brutes and monsters, drunkards and unclean, enemies of all goodness;
while, with the usual unscrupulousness of party tract-writers, we are
required to choose between an alliance with such infamous company and
unreserved adhesion to the Calvanistic curate, without being allowed any
possibility of a third course. And, in addition to Mr. Tryan's victory,
there is the conversion of Mrs. Dempster, not only from drunkenness to
teetotalism (which might form the text for a set of illustrations by Mr.
Cruikshank, in the moral style of his later days), but from hatred to
love of the Gospel according to Mr. Tryan. In its place we should not
care to object to such a story, or to a great deal of the needless talk
which it contains both of sinners and of saints; but we _do_ object to
it in a book which is intended for the lighter reading of educated
people, and the more so because we know that it comes from a writer who
can feel nothing of the bitter but conscientious bigotry which the
composition of such a story in good faith implies....

In reading of Maggie's early indiscretions, we - hardened, grey-headed
reviewers as we are - feel something like a renewal of the shame and
mortification with which, long decades of years ago, we read of the
weaknesses of Frank and Rosamond, - as if we ourselves were the little
girl who made the mistake of choosing the big, bright-coloured bottle
from the chemist's window, or the little boy who allowed himself to be
deceived by the flattery of the lady in the draper's shop. In order that
her hair may have no chance of appearing in curls on a great occasion
(according to her mother's wish), Maggie plunges her head into a basin
of water. On getting an old dress and a bonnet from her unloved aunt
Glegg, she bastes the frock along with the roast beef on the following
Sunday, and souses the bonnet under the pump. In consequence of the
continual remarks of her mother and aunts, about the un-Dodsonlike
colour of her hair, she cuts it all off. She makes the most deplorable
exhibition of her literary vanity at every turn. Out of spite she pushes
her cousin Lucy, when arrayed in the prettiest of dresses, into the
"cow-trodden mud," and thereupon she runs off to a gang of gipsies, with
the intention of becoming their queen, - an adventure from which we are
glad that she is allowed to escape with less of suffering than Miss
Edgeworth might perhaps have felt it a matter of duty to inflict on her.
For the Toms and Maggies, the Franks and Rosamonds, of real life, such
monitory anecdotes as these may be very good and useful; but it seems to
us that they are out of place in a book intended for readers who have
got beyond the early domestic schoolroom.

We cannot praise the construction of these tales. The plots are very
slight; the narrative drags painfully in some parts, and in other parts
the authoress has recourse to very violent expedients, as where she
brings in the "startling Adelphi stage-effect" of the flood to drown Tom
and Maggie, in order to escape from the unmanageable complication of her
story. Both in "Adam Bede" and in "The Mill on the Floss" the chief
interest is over long before the tale comes to an end; and in looking at
the whole series together we see something of repetition. Thus, both
Tina and Hetty set their hearts on a young man above their own position,
and turn a deaf ear to a longer-known, more suitable, and worthier
suitor. Each disappears at a critical time, and each, after a
disappointment in the higher quarter, falls back on a marriage with the
humbler admirer; with the difference, however, that, as Hetty had
committed murder, and as Tina had just been saved from doing so, the
marriage in the first case never actually takes place, and in the second
it ends after a few months. And as a smaller instance of repetition, we
may compare the bedroom visit of the seraphic Dinah Morris to the
earthly Hetty with that of the pattern Lucy Deane to the tempestuous
Maggie Tulliver.

There is less of affectation in these books than in most of our recent
novels, yet there is by far too much. Among the portions which are most
infected by this sin we may mention the description of scenery, - thanks,
doubtless, in no small measure, to the influence of that very dangerous
model Mr. Ruskin....

Before concluding our article we must notice the authoress's views on
two important subjects which enter largely into her stories - love and
religion. That ladies, of their own accord and uninvited, fall in love
with gentlemen is a common circumstance in novels written by ladies; and
we are very much obliged to Madame D'Arblay, Miss Austen, and the other
writers of the softer sex, who have let us into the knowledge of the
important fact that such is the way in real life. But the peculiarity of
"George Eliot," among English novelists, is that in her books everybody
falls in love with the wrong person. She seems to be continually on the
point of showing us, with the author of "The Rovers" -

How two swains one nymph her vows may give,
And how two damsels with one lover live.

Love is represented as a passion conceived without any ground of
reasonable preference, and as entirely irresistible in its sway. Tina
bestows her affections on Captain Wybrow, while the Captain, without
caring for anybody but himself, is paying his addresses to Miss Assher;
and Mr. Gilfil is pining for Tina, whom, if he had any discernment at
all, he could not but see to be quite unfitted for him. Adam Bede is in
love with the utterly undeserving Hetty, while Dinah Morris and Mary
Burge are both in love with Adam, Hetty with Arthur Donnithorne, and
Seth Bede with Dinah. At last, Hetty is got out of the way, Dinah comes
to a clearer understanding of her feelings towards Adam, and Adam, on
being made aware of this, is set on by his mother to make a successful
proposal; but "quiet Mary Burge" subsides into a bridesmaid, and Seth,
the "poor wool-gatherin' Methodist," is left without any other
consolation than that of worshipping his sister-in-law.

But it is in "The Mill on the Floss" that the unwholesome view which we
have mentioned finds its most startling development. Maggie is in love
with Philip, and Philip with Maggie; Stephen Guest is in love with Lucy
Deane, and Lucy with Stephen, while at the same time she has an
undeclared admirer in Tom Tulliver. But as soon as Maggie and Stephen
become acquainted with each other, they exercise a powerful mutual
attraction, and the mischief of love (as the passion is represented by
our authoress) breaks loose in terrible force. The reproach which Tom
Tulliver had coarsely thrown in Philip's teeth, that he had taken
advantage of Maggie's inexperience to secure her affections before she
had had any opportunity of comparing him with other men, turns out to be
entirely just. Stephen is a mere underbred coxcomb, and is intended to
appear as such (for we do not think that the authoress has failed in any
attempt to make him a gentleman); his only merit, in so far as we can
discover, is a foolish talent for singing, and, except as to person, he
is infinitely inferior to Philip. But for this mere physical superiority
the lofty-souled Maggie prefers him to the lover whom she had before
loved for his deformity; and the passion is represented as one which no
considerations of moral or religious principle, no regard to the claims
of others, no training derived from the hardships of her former life or
from the ascetic system to which she had at one time been devoted, can
withstand. Here is a delicate scene, which is described as having taken
place in a conservatory, to which the pair had withdrawn on the night of
a ball: -

Maggie bent her arm a little upward towards the large half-opened rose
that had attracted her. Who has not felt the beauty of a woman's arm?
- the unspeakable suggestions of tenderness that lie in the dimpled
elbow, and the varied gently-lessening curves down to the delicate
wrist, with its tiniest, almost imperceptible nicks in the firm
softness?

A mad impulse seized on Stephen; he darted towards the arm and
showered kisses on it, clasping the wrist.

But the next moment Maggie snatched it from him, and glanced at him
like a wounded war-goddess, quivering with rage and humiliation.

"How dare you?" she spoke in a deeply-shaken, half-smothered voice:
"what right have I given you to insult me?"

She darted from him into the adjoining room, and threw herself on the
sofa panting and trembling.[1]

[1] iii. 156.

We should not have blamed the young lady if, like one of Mr. Trollope's
heroines, she had made her admirer feel not only "the beauty of a
woman's arm," but its weight. But, unwarned by the grossness of his
behaviour on this occasion, she is represented as admitting Stephen to
further intercourse; and, although she rescues herself at last, it is
not until after having occasioned irreparable scandal. A good-natured
ordinary novelist might have found an easy solution for the difficulties
of the case at an earlier stage by marrying Stephen to Maggie, and
handing over Lucy (who is far too amiable to object to such a transfer)
to her admiring cousin Tom; while Philip, left in celibacy, might either
have been invested with a pathetic interest, or represented as justly
punished for the offence of forestalling. But George Eliot has higher
aims than ordinary novelists, and to her the transfer which we have
suggested would appear as a profanation. Her characters, therefore,
plunge into all manner of sacrifices of reputation and happiness; and it
is not until Maggie and Tom have been drowned, and Philip's whole life
embittered, that we catch a final view of Mr. Stephen Guest visiting the
grave of the brother and sister in company with the amiable wife, _née_
Lucy Deane. If we are to accept the natural moral of this story, it
shows how coarse and immoral a very fastidious and ultra-refined
morality may become.

It is with reluctance that we go on to notice the religion of these
books; but since religion appears so largely in them, we must not
decline the task. To us, at least, the theory of the writer's "High-Church
tendencies" could never have appeared plausible; for even in the
"Scenes of Clerical Life" the chief religious personage is the
"evangelical" curate Mr. Tryan, and whatever good there is in his parish
is confined to the circle of his partisans and converts; while in "Adam
Bede" the Methodess preacheress, Dinah Morris, is intended to shine with
spotless and incomparable lustre. Yet, although the highest characters,
in a religious view, are drawn from "evangelicism" and Methodism, we
find that neither of these systems is set forth as enough to secure the
perfection of everybody who may choose to profess it....

Mr. Parry, although agreeing with Mr. Tryan in opinion, is represented
as no less unpopular and inefficient than Mr. Tryan was the reverse; and



Online LibraryUnknownFamous Reviews → online text (page 36 of 46)