George Eliot and the Landscape of Time: Narrative Form and Protestant Apocalyptic History

By Mary Wilson Carpenter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

Revising The Christian Year

George Eliot's 1874 volume of poetry, The Legend of Jubal, is little known and even less esteemed among twentieth-century critics. 1 Gordon Haight has commented that readers are hard pressed "to find something to say" about the ten poems in the collection (GEL, 6:28, n.4). But recently critics have considered some of the poems individually for the insights they may contribute to our understanding of George Eliot's art, and one critic has proposed that the order of poems in the volume may be thematic. 2 I suggest, however, that the order of the poems derives from and rewrites the Christian liturgical year, especially as John Keble's poems in The Christian Year interpret certain feasts and fasts. The resulting collection not only replaces Christian doctrine with humanist ideals but also revises Keble's patriarchal and elitist perspectives with poems that reexamine the value of womanhood and celebrate the community rather than the progress of the individual soul. 3

In each of the poems selected for the volume, music symbolizes the power of visionary art to give meaning and purpose to an existence limited by death. Although many of Keble's poems exploit the Romantic identification of music and poetry, music is the controlling image for visionary art in all of the Jubal poems. Beyond this general thematic and metaphoric coherence, however, George Eliot appears to have created a subtler structure through arranging her poems to respond to Keble's interpretation of Anglican feasts and fasts. The Legend of Jubal thus becomes a humanist—and in a certain sense, a feminist—critique of Keble's Christian Year. 4 Where Keble's poems manifest a male-oriented, hierarchical, and otherworldly perspective, George Eliot's celebrate the common lot of mortal humanity and particularly praise the "feminine" element designated by the Positive movement as the affec

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