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George Eliot in Society

Travels Abroad and Sundays at the Priory

Kathleen McCormack

Publication Year: 2013

Sundays at the Priory, the salons that George Eliot and George Henry Lewes conducted throughout the winter seasons during their later years in the 1870s, have generally earned descriptions as at once scandalous and dull, with few women in attendance, and guests approaching the Sibyl one by one to express their almost pious devotion. But both the guest lists of the salons—which include significant numbers of women, a substantial gay and lesbian contingent, and a group of singers who performed repeatedly—together with the couple’s frequent travels to European spas, where they encountered many of the guests likely to visit the Priory, revise the conclusion that George Eliot lived her entire life as an ostracized recluse. Instead, newly mined sources reveal George Eliot as a member of a large and elite, if slightly Bohemian, international social circle in which she moved as a literary celebrity and through which she stimulated her creative imagination as she composed her later poetry and fiction. George Eliot in Society: Travels Abroad and Sundays at the Priory by Kathleen McCormack draws attention to the survival of the literary/musical/artistic salon in the Victorian era, at a time in which social interactions coexisted with rising tensions that would soon obliterate the European spa/salon culture in which the Leweses participated, both as they traveled abroad and at Sundays at the Priory.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

The society (less extensive than George Eliot’s, though only a touch less illustrious), both personal and professional, which I have kept during the years I’ve been writing this book, has contributed much to its completion. On the professional side, I would like to thank my institution’s President Mark Rosenberg, always reliable for his dedication to the university and for a good-humored response to an e-mail. ...


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pp. xiii-15

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1. Introduction: The Big "S"

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pp. 1-36

In June of 1877, freshly arrived in Surrey for their first summer at a country home of their own, George Eliot and George Henry Lewes delighted in their new “property” (GEL 6:386). Lewes, writing to John Walter Cross, describes it as “more ravishing than we fancied it—especially in this splendid weather—and the walks and drives are so much better than Society! (With a big S)” (GEL 6:386). ...

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2. Travels Abroad: Taking the Waters

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pp. 37-56

Between 1866 and 1868 George Eliot and George Henry Lewes were, quite deliberately, building a social circle that eventually matured into the guest list for Sundays at the Priory. In several cases, their annual travels had already resulted in new or enhanced friendships. In 1860 they had become acquainted with the T. A. Trollopes in Florence, and the following year journeyed with Tom Trollope ...

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3. Months of Sundays

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pp. 57-78

Valentine’s Day, 1869, fell on a Sunday and brought to London a short interlude of faux spring weather that coaxed the foliage in the Priory garden into premature budding. This uncommon February sun and warmth, added to the usual prospect of fascinating, and possibly useful, conversation, helped bring many callers to the Leweses’ home in St John’s Wood that day. ...

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4. Between Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda: Singers, Lovers, and Others

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pp. 79-110

The characters of Middlemarch include many gentlefolk who share the social rank of Priory guests, if not their intense intellectualism. The novel’s remote Midlands market-town physical setting, as well as its 1828–32 temporal setting, have helped to preserve the notion that George Eliot drew her characters only from her girlhood acquaintances in Warwickshire (her father Robert Evans as the model ...

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5. The Salons, The Spas, and Daniel Deronda

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pp. 111-136

After their Surrey summer at Red Hill and the completion of Middlemarch, George Eliot followed her usual pattern of taking a holiday as rest and reward for successfully bringing a novel to its conclusion. This time, she and Lewes decided on yet another spa visit, perhaps the most famous they ever made: to the fashionable precincts of Bad Homburg soon adapted by George Eliot as Leubronn in ...

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6. John Cross and the Last Spa

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pp. 137-153

George Eliot demonstrated her confidence in Continental spas most convincingly on her disastrous honeymoon with John W. Cross in 1880. After Cross had his breakdown in Venice, which supposedly included a desperate, perhaps suicidal, jump into the Grand Canal, she moved him as quickly as possible to the Schwarzwald, ending up at the spa at Bad Wildbad. ...

Appendix. The Leweses' Travels Abroad: A Chronology

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pp. 155-156


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pp. 157-167


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pp. 168-178

Back Cover

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p. 194-194

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270103
E-ISBN-10: 0814270107
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814212110
Print-ISBN-10: 0814212115

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 14 halftones
Publication Year: 2013