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REVIEWS Carol Martin. George Eliot's Serial Fiction. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1994. xi + 348. $49.50 US (cloth). David Carroll. George Eliot and the Conflict of Interpretations: A Reading ofthe Novels. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. xii + 333. It is not customary to regard Eliot, like Dickens, as a serial novelist Carol Martin's book contends as a result diat an important aspect of die material conditions of her work's production has received less emphasis tiian it deserves. Half of Eliot's eight fictional works were published in installments: Scenes of Clerical Life and Romola saw periodical publication, and Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda were published in parts. Furthermore, diere is a widespread critical assumption diat G.H. Lewes saw to the minutia of publication and profits. As Martin's book ably demonstrates, we overlook a revealing feature of Eliot's work, if we ignore die reality of Eliot's own involvement in diese processes and die influence of her chosen mode ofpublication on her narrative. Martin places Eliot's career in die context of eighteenth- and nineteendi- century serialization, and makes frequent reference to wellknown serialized novels such as Great Expectations, Vanity Fair, and The Woman in White. In some ways the book reads like a rather general introduction to Victorian serialization. While Martin has scrupulously examined die manuscripts of Eliot's novels and usefully included excerpts from less-well-known contemporary reviews, her approach is grounded in reader-response criticism. Frequently, Martin conjures up die probable response of a generic Victorian reader, although she does extensively examine Eliot's publishing correspondence — referring to Blackwood as "Eliot's typical reader reacting to parts as he receives diem" (198) — and sometimes situates her notion of a typical Victorian response in the context of contemporary concerns about, for example, inheritance and spousal abuse. In many respects, Martin has created a contemporary reception history, which adds to die number of periodicals surveyed in Carroll's 190Victorian Review Critical Heritage, but is less theoretically sophisticated than Perkin's A Reception-History of George Eliot's Fiction or Feltes' Modes of Production of Victorian Novels. While voicing Eliot's antipathy to many aspects of serialization, Martin contends that Eliot became a more adept writer from facing its rigors. Martin thus adds to our sense of Eliot's awareness of craft, and stresses the formal precision of her work. The effect of Martin's methodical and somewhat laborious approach is to de-emphasize the image of Eliot as sibylline creator of sacred texts, and to draw her as a worker within the Victorian literary marketplace. Martin associates serialization and sensationalism. She typically evaluates the transitions and juxtapositions which sustain suspense between parts, surveys reviews in ordinary daily and specialized newspapers (such as The Church ofEngland Monthly Review), examines manuscript variations and Eliot's correspondence, and sometimes investigates broader social issues or non-literary matters such as Leighton's illustrations for Romola's installments in the Cornhill. Martin usefully examines the texts appearing simultaneously with "The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton" in Maga, beginning in January 1857, such as a ghost story by Margaret Oliphant, and considers how such a juxtaposition might structure readers' expectations. This approach, however, is not maintained in Martin's examination of Romola. Martin argues that Eliot chose periodical publication for her "scenes" to preserve her anonymity, given her unusual living situation, her reputation as an essayist, and gender bias, but that she later opted for part publication of Middlemarch for financial reasons and from a belief diat this mode would increase the likelihood of careful reading. As a result, Martin views the "scenes" as Eliot's apprenticeship as a serial writer and notes her "increasing sophistication" in handling installment breaks as the series progressed (33). However, Martin indicates Eliot's refusal to modify the beginning of "Mr Gilfil's Love-Story" to make it less revealing of the conclusion, or to replace an imaginary for the real dagger in Caterina's hand at die end of the third installment, in response to Blackwood's concerns. He wished "to accommodate family (read: female) reading" (72). His reticence led Eliot to end her clerical series early. As she wrote preparing him...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 189-193
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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