GEORGE ELIOT: Voice of a Century by Frederick R. Karl

GEORGE ELIOT: Voice of a Century

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In a biography thick with the historical and literary milieu of Marian ""George Eliot"" Evans, Karl (Franz Kafka: Representative Man, 1991, etc.) proves sensitive to the Victorian contradictions she faced as a first-rate intellect, a sensitive individual, and a plain woman. When ""George Eliot"" arrived with Scenes of Clerical Life, Marian Evans's life (1819-80), already two-thirds complete, was unknown to the public -- a state she tried to preserve against what she called ""hard curiosity."" Her life still holds many secrets, but Karl embarks on psychological analysis of her depressive personality and speculation about her private life while arguing for her as the representative Victorian voice over Dickens, Carlyle, and Ruskin, delving ably into her creative process in Adam Bede, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda. Although Karl starts strongly with her childhood in the slowly industrializing Midlands of the early Victorian era, he handles with less insight her intellectual development during her Evangelical phase and her expanding progressive education later (particularly her attachment to German culture and philosophy). Things pick up again with Evans's launching of a serious career in letters and her move to London. There she had fraught relationships with Westminster Review publisher John Chapman and future Darwinist Herbert Spencer. Karl argues that her unconventional relationships with men (the Chapman set-up was a virtual menage … quatre), while emotionally frustrating, allowed her to escape Victorian restrictions on women and to absorb intellectual resources before moving on. This process clicked with her lifelong companion George Lewes, who, though unable to divorce his wife, lived with Evans as a husband in what she called ""dual solitude."" Though Karl falls short of fully comprehending Evans as an individual, his biography carefully depicts both the ceaseless intellect and the woman in one of the Victorian era's outstanding novelists.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
Page count: 768pp
Publisher: Norton