Mary Wilson Carpenter. George Eliot and the Landscape of Time: Narrative Form and Protestant Apocalyptic History. Chapel Hill, N. C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1986. 246 pp.
Daniel Cottom. Social Figures: George Eliot, Social History, and Literary Representation. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. 241 pp.
Alexander Welsh. George Eliot and Blackmail. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985. 388 pp.
George Eliot as a strikingly modern "historian"--as one who understands every history to be an interpretation, a fiction--emerges from the pages of Mary Wilson Carpenter's impressive first book, in which a solid understanding of Victorian biblical exegesis provides the basis for radical, often feminist readings. In this first critical work to seriously consider the extent to which George Eliot's youthful interest in "prophecy fulfilled and unfulfilled" may have influenced her mature thought and work, Carpenter contends that Eliot's representations of history are "always resistant to a single interpretation" (5) and proposes that a key to such representations may be found in her early schooling in English Protestant "continuous historical" exegesis of biblical prophecy.
George Eliot's early letters reveal that the young Evangelical was drawn to and quite familiar with the "continuous historical" school of interpretation, which "approached the Apocalypse of St. John as a mirror of 'continuous' history, its mystic scheme believed to signify the history of the western world from the beginning of the Christian era to the end of time" (3). Carpenter contends that this school shaped Eliot's first conception of history; thus, her eventual loss of faith led inevitably to a recognition "that every history maps the landscape of time by imposing an imaginary line on an otherwise inchoate mass, and that every history is therefore a fiction" (xi). According to Carpenter, this early recognition later resulted in narratives that "construct multiple 'fictions' of history through reference to various formal and symbolic systems of codification" (xi).
Those "systems of codification" on which …