The Essays of George Eliot, by George Eliot


Since the death of George Eliot much public curiosity has been excited by the repeated allusions to, and quotations from, her contributions to periodical literature, and a leading newspaper gives expression to a general wish when it says that “this series of striking essays ought to be collected and reprinted, both because of substantive worth and because of the light they throw on the author’s literary canons and predilections.” In fact, the articles which were published anonymously in The Westminster Review have been so pointedly designated by the editor, and the biographical sketch in the “Famous Women” series is so emphatic in its praise of them, and so copious in its extracts from one and the least important one of them, that the publication of all the Review and magazine articles of the renowned novelist, without abridgment or alteration, would seem but an act of fair play to her fame, while at the same time a compliance with a reasonable public demand.

Nor are these first steps in her wonderful intellectual progress any the less, but are all the more noteworthy, for being first steps. “To ignore this stage,” says the author of the valuable little volume to which we have just referred —“to ignore this stage in George Eliot’s mental development would be to lose one of the connecting links in her history.” Furthermore, “nothing in her fictions excels the style of these papers.” Here is all her “epigrammatic felicity,” and an irony not surpassed by Heine himself, while her paper on the poet Young is one of her wittiest bits of critical analysis.

Her translation of Status’s “Life of Jesus” was published in 1840, and her translation of Feuerbach’s “Essence of Christianity” in 1854. Her translation of Spinoza’s “Ethics” was finished the same year, but remains unpublished. She was associate editor of The Westminster Review from 1851 to 1853. She was about twenty-seven years of age when her first translation appeared, thirty-three when the first of these magazine articles appeared, thirty-eight at the publication of her first story, and fifty-nine when she finished “Theophrastus Such.” Two years after she died, at the age of sixty-one. So that George Eliot’s literary life covered a period of about thirty-two years.

The introductory chapter on her “Analysis of Motives” first appeared as a magazine article, and appears here at the request of the publishers, after having been carefully revised, indeed almost entirely rewritten by its author.

Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08