George Eliot: A Biography

George Eliot: A Biography

George Eliot: A Biography

George Eliot: A Biography

Excerpt

In the college dining-room four hundred of us waited after dinner for the last recalcitrant to finish and for the first tap of the bell at which we rose to form in line and march out. While we waited, we read Thackeray, Bulwer-Lytton, Scott, and Dickens. I came to George Eliot. By chance I discovered 'The Mill on the Floss.' After closing the book on the final plangent iambic lines, I said, 'She knows. She knows country life, country girls and boys, how brothers and sisters feel about each other.' Not hitherto had I found anything like that saga for simplicity, humor, pathos, tragedy. Youthfully enthusiastic, freely we bestowed 'great' and 'greatest' upon novel after novel. For me, at the age of sixteen or seventeen, that was my 'greatest.' Shortly, 'Romola' richest of medieval fictions was sharing with 'The Mill' the superlative; then 'Middlemarch,' of epic breadth and depth and giant orchestration, rose most magnificent. Nothing could take from 'Middlemarch' first place.

Years passed. Now 'Wuthering Heights' towered, a mountain over George Eliot's plains; again, 'The Egoist' in suave sophistication turned a disdainful shoulder toward his lowlier and more provincial fictive relations, or 'The Return of the Native' etched with keen economy lean pictures beside which 'Middle- march' appeared wastefully extravagant. Yet never a group of novels by any one man or woman rose above the group that is George Eliot's monument. No group has fixed the pageantry of English life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries on its march through eternity as the group by the woman from Warwickshire fixed that period.

Now that the day of the three-decker novel has returned and . . .

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