According to Henley's "Prefatory," which self-deprecatingly descibes Views and Reviews (1890) as "less a book than a mosaic of scraps and shreds recovered from the shot rubbish of some fourteen years of journalism" (vi), this essay was "pieced together" from articles in London, Vanity Fair, The Athenaeum. In editing this text for the Victorian Web, I have retained orginal spelling and punctuation, and I included numbers in brackets to indicate page breaks in the print edition in order to enable users of VW to cite or locate the original page numbers. [GPL].

The Ideal

Decorative Initial It was thought that with George Eliot the Novel-with-a-Purpose had really come to be an adequate instrument for the regeneration of The Ideal humanity. It was understood that Passion only survived to point a moral or provide the materials of an awful tale, while Duty, Kinship, Faith, were so far paramount as to govern Destiny and mould the world. A vague, decided flavour of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity was felt to pervade the moral universe, a chill but seemly halo of Golden Age was seen to play soberly about things in general. And it was with confidence anticipated that those perfect days were on the march when men and women would propose — (from the austerest motives) — by the aid of scientific terminology.

The Real

To the Sceptic — (an apostate, and an undoubted male) — another view was preferable. He held that George Eliot had carried what he called the 'Death's-Head Style' of art a trifle too far. He read her books in much the same spirit and to much the same purpose that he went to the gymnasium and diverted himself with parallel bars. He detested her technology; her sententiousness revolted while it amused him; and when she put away her puppets and talked of them learnedly and with understanding — instead of letting them explain themselves, as several great novelists have been content to do — he recalled how Wisdom crieth out in the street and no man regardeth her, and perceived that in this case tho fault was Wisdom's own. He accepted with the humility of ignorance, and something of the learner's gratitude, her woman generally, from Romola down to Mrs. Pullet. But his sense of sex was strong enough to make him deny the possibility in any stage of being of nearly all the governesses in revolt it pleased her to put forward as men; for with very few exceptions he knew they were heroes of the divided skirt. To him Deronda was an incarnation of woman's rights; Tito an 'improper female in breeches'; Silas Marner a good, perplexed old maid, of the kind of whom it is said that they have 'had a 'disappointment.' And Lydgate alone had aught of the true male principle about him. [131/132]

Appreciations

Epigrams are at best half-truths that look like whole ones. Here is a handful about George Eliot. It has been said of her books ('on several 'occasions' that 'it is doubtful whether they are novels disguised as treatises, or treatises disguised as novels'; that, 'while less romantic than Euclid's Elements, they are on the whole a great deal less improving reading '; and that 'they seem to have been dictated to a plain woman of genius by the ghost of David Hume.' Herself, too, has been variously described: as 'An Apotheosis of Pupil-Teachery'; as 'George Sand plus Science and minus Sex'; as 'Pallas with prejudices and a corset'; as 'the fruit of a caprice of Apollo for the Differential Calculus.' The comparison of her admirable talent to 'not the imperial violin but the grand ducal violoncello' seems suggestive and is not unkind.

References

Henley, W. E. Views and Reviews: Essays in Appreciation. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons: 1890. 130-32.


Victorian
Overview W. E. Henley George Eliot

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