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Reviews Nancy Henry. George Eliot andthe British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. xü + 186. $50.00. In the introduction to her monograph, Nancy Henry claims that she is presenting "a new George EHot, whose imagination and aesthetic principles were shaped by her experiences as a reader and reviewer of colonial Uterature, a colonial shareholder, a stepmother to colonial immigrants, and, ultimately, a critic of colonial war" (6). Henry's research has been extremely thorough, and by a careful accumulation of biographical detaüs she demonstrates the extent of EHot's connections with the British empire. She succeeds in giving us a much clearer and fuUer picture of this aspect of George EHot's Hfe and work. Henry characterizes her method as a combination of cultural studies, Hterary criticism, and biographical analysis (4), but she seems most comfortable with the latter. In fact, part of her argument is that the methodology which dominates in post-colonial studies has, to its detriment, neglected biographical evidence. The impact of the Hterary criticism in the book is lessened by the rather idiosyncratic organization, with brief critical analyses interspersed amidst the historical and biographical material. Even when the critical passages are put together, the Hterary criticism in George Eliot andthe British Empire remains underdeveloped. After a short introduction, Henry discusses EHot's reviews of travel books and guidebooks about the colonies, and related reviews and articles by G. H. Lewes. This gives rise to a brief consideration of "manliness and coloniaHsm," one of the many topics touched on in this sometimes divagating book Chapter Two, '"CoUeagues in Faüure': Emigration and the Lewes Boys," teUs the fascinating but sad story of Thornton and Herbert Lewes, EHot's stepsons. Their emigration to Natal is set in the context of popular Uterature about the empire, some of which — e.g., R. M. BaUantyne's The Worldof Ice (1860) — we have evidence that Thornie had read. Henry compares Lewes with other Victorian fathers, notably Dickens and TroUope, who arranged for the expatriation of their younger sons as a means of trying to preserve for them a class position which they could not maintain in the home country. The tale of Thornie and Bertie's experiences veers between tragedy and farce in a manner that recaUs an Evelyn Waugh novel; the teenaged Thornie is chagrined when one of his prized guns is run over by a wagon shordy after his arrival; instead of estabHshing himself as a gendeman farmer, he enHsted in the Natal Frontier Guard, but faüed 104volume 30 number 1 Reviews to receive the grant of land he hoped for as a reward for his service in the Basuto War. After Thornie was joined by his younger brother, they purchased some land, but their efforts at farming seem to have been rather incompetent. One letter home reports "We regret to state that the magnificent mud mansion of the Messrs Lewes of the 'FaU of the Assagai' was totaUy consumed by fire on Saturday the 22ndJune" (71). The brothers both died at an early age, and EHot was left to support Bertie's widow and children, who eventuaUy traveUed to England at the time of the Zulu war. A third chapter is devoted to EHot's extensive colonial shareholding; Henry notes that the relevant financial records have not been reprinted in the standard scholarly editions of EHot's letters and papers, unlike the records of her Hterary earnings. We thus have a detaüed knowledge of how much she made from her writing, but the way that she invested that money has been obscured. This chapter includes some commentary on "BrotherJacob," one of the more neglected texts in EHot's oeuvre. Henry also has some perceptive remarks connecting the recurring conjunction of parents, cftildren, and money anxieties in EHot's fiction to her famüy responsibüities and the investments she made in order to be able to meet those responsibüities. Another of Henry's aims in George Eliot andthe British Empire is to refute, or at least compHcate, a now widespread view of EHot as an imperiaHst, based on a reading of DanielDeronda which originates with Edward Said in TheQuestion of Palestine (1979). In claiming...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 104-106
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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