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victorian review • Volume 34 Number 1 184 well worth its slender price and offers the welcome opportunity to introduce, or reintroduce, Ouida into the university classroom. T. R ebecca Ken na m er The Graduate Center,CUNY • Identifying the Remains: George Eliot’s Death in the London Religious Press by K. K. Collins; pp. 119.Victoria, B.C.: English Literary Studies Editions No. 94, 2006. $18.00 paper. Playing on the forensic associations of his title, K. K. Collins examines the ways in which theAnglican, Non-Conformist, Roman Catholic, and Jewish presses examined George Eliot through their own spiritual and doctrinal lenses and attempted to inscribe a reading of her personal life that would reconcile her moral lesson with what was “known” of her life up to her death in 1880. Collins’s introduction examines this“body of material new to the critical tradition ” as“a way of suggesting that her heterodoxy was not so clearly definable in her own time as we have come to believe it is in ours” (4). He locates the Victorian“George Eliot problem” in the“persistent uncertainty over who she was and what she believed” (4). The touchstones forVictorian journalism’s response to George Eliot’s death were the deaths of Charles Dickens andThomas Carlyle. Dickens’s death, in June 1870, was mourned as the death of a“personal friend” (9).The obituaries for Carlyle, who died six weeks after George Eliot, treated his death as if it were the passing of “the nation’s irascible great uncle” (10). After Eliot’s death, in the absence of a popularly established narrative, the press coverage focused on the “mystery” of her life, with the secular press attempting to fill in the biography, and the religious press treating the absence of biographical detail as “a fracture in the basis of moral assessment—the only sort of assessment in which most of the papers were interested” (15). This was important, as Collins notes, because for“a large majority of religious critics, the moral value of George Eliot’s writing seemed indisputable” (15).The difficulty lay in their belief that “God—and in the Christian press the corollary of that premise, a visibly personal belief in the divinity of Christ—was at once the source and certification of all moral value” (15). Separate chapters focus on the Roman Catholic press, which acknowledged her moral force but decried her lack of spirituality, and the Jewish press, which, having heralded her presentation of Judaism in Daniel Deronda, eulogized her as“one of the few of our days genuinely inspired [and] a true friend of our people” (25, quoting the Jewish World). Collins traces efforts to rewrite George Eliot’s death, her positivism, her association with the Westminster Review, and her relationship with George Henry Lewes. Discussing the sermon preached at her funeral by Unitarian Thomas 185 Reviews Sadler, Collins cites letters in the Nonconformist and Independent from Congregational minister Edward White, who alleged not only a deathbed conversion based on reports that George Eliot was reading The Imitation of Christ in her last hours, but also the conversion of members of the “Agnostic Party” who attended her funeral (36).That the “Imitation story” was denounced as a canard by the CatholicTimes (46–47) did not diminish the sense of eagerness on the part of the religious press to convince the public—and themselves—that so notably moral a novelist had to be one of them, even if only at the moment of death. Collins notes other attempts to reconcile the apparent contradictions in George Eliot’s life and work: the “femininity that makes her vulnerable to men’s philosophy [read positivism], but also creatively independent from it; her masculinity [that] makes her ‘her own man’ among men, but also intellectually one of them” (52). The result of these attempts is “not so much a contradiction as a loophole in which positivism is both asserted and averted” (52). Regarding the one “verifiably personal, real-life error” in George Eliot’s life, her relationship with Lewes, the Unitarian R.A.Armstrong, in a sermon printed in the Inquirer: A Religious,Political,and Literary Newspaper,and Record of Reverent Free Thought, identified this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 184-185
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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