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by : Ray
Published 14 March 2009

Some George Eliot books

Adam Bede (1859) [1]

A rich, complex, indubitably well-written tale of seduction and disappointment in a bucolic, pastoral setting that has its charms, even though one could find the almost ethnological concentration on the ways and manners of the village people herein portrayed not quite as fascinating as the author and indeed most of the critics seem to do. Hugely impressive as a first novel though, even though George E. in no way rushed into print in the flush of juvenile enthusiasm, but characteristically and wisely took her time to let her themes and her prose mature before embarking upon her literary career at the ripe old age of forty.

The Mill on the Floss (1860) [2]

The most dramatic of all George Eliot’s novels (that quite unforgettable flood scene!), this was only her second novel, published when Eliot was 40, so there is nothing particularly juvenile in the writing or plot, concentrated on the heroine’s intense relationships with three men (her brother, her suitable suitor, and her unsuitable lover). It is less intellectualizing than the later Middlemarch but retains the country setting and nature-centred flavour of Adam Bede, written the previous year (she may have waited until she was forty to get going, but then she really went on a roll!) so it is the one to read if you only have the time and energy (it does take effort and energy to concentrate on the lengthy and weighty, dense prose and high-flying conversations of Eliot’s novels) to get into one of her works.

This sensitive but sharply-written, essentially intimist work is highly recommendable, even if I admit to having been somewhat unconvinced by the final twisting of the plot and by a certain lack of scope in spite of its evident literary ambition.

Click here to read some extracts from this big-in-every-way novel.

Silas Marner (1861) [3]

Even more rural in setting than her two previous novels (a quite surprising orientation when you come to think of it for such a philosophically-minded intellectual, translator of Feuerbach and Spinoza), this is the most concise of all her novels – only natural (if you’ll pardon the expression), I suppose, as the eponymous retired weaver living in seclusion in the middle of a forest hardly has the occasion or the inclination to engage in the intricate theorizing that fill the minds and the conversations of the personages of Eliot’s later works.

I’m not sure that I found the plot, centred around abandoned children, all that convincing, but the bonding between the almost simple-minded Adam and the eternally-feminine young Eppie does provide an interesting theme, and the other main centers of interest of this worthwhile work - the proto-ecological attention to the details of the natural world, and the careful and clearly passionately-felt interest in the linguistic inventions of the local folk, abundantly exploited throughout the novel - certainly provide textual and contextual richness to this surprisingly-effective and not-so-little-after-all work.

Click here to read some extracts from this novel.

Middlemarch (1872) [4]

Almost oddly, this big, complex, ambitious, very sophisticated novel is set in an almost claustrophobically provincial setting, where its great strengths, the sharpness and intelligence of the dialogues and the conversations, are, it seems to me, somewhat dampened by the just-about-mediocre or at least typically-provincial qualities of the main characters and their environment. I cannot help feeling that a London setting with the sparkle of the big town and its more elitist, cosmopolitan, sophisticated atmosphere, could have been a more fitting environment for Eliot’s intellectual brilliance and meditations on mores and ethics.

But there is much, an awful lot in fact, to be thankful for here, in addition to the generally elevated tone of the thinking and talking and writing; for example, one of the most striking characters in all English fiction, the university professor Casaubon, who will forever epitomize for Eliot readers the casuistry and pedantry of the over-specialized academic.

Click here to read some extracts from this important novel.

Notes

[1Penguin Classics, 582 p.

[2Penguin Classics, 617 p.

[3Penguin Classics, 196 p.

[4Penguin Classics, 868 p.