George Eliot's "Middlemarch" Middlemarch George Eliot

Henry James
1953 Nineteenth-Century Fiction  
Paris. The novelist submitted his review to the Nation, and in an unpublished letter to William James he wrote on January 8, I873: "I admired and relished Middlemarch hugely, and yet I am afraid you will think I have spoken of it stingily. I necessarily judged it, I suppose, more critically than you. Nevertheless, I didn't make perhaps, a sufficiently succinct statement of its rare intellectual power. This is amazing." The Nation, however, had accepted a review of the book by A. V. Dicey, and
more » ... thout consulting James transmitted the novelist's manuscript to the Galaxy. In an unpublished letter to his mother, James complained at this liberty taken by the Nation's editors and said he would have preferred to send the review to William Dean Howells for the Atlantic Monthly. "Dicey's article is good," he wrote, "but mine is better." James's first signed critical article in the Atlantic was devoted to the novels of George Eliot. Between I866 and i885 he wrote nine reviews and articles concerning her poetry and fiction. At various times scholars have regretted that James-so voluble in his discussion of George Eliot's work-had not expressed himself more fully about such a landmark in nineteenth-century fiction as Middlemarch. Recovery of this review from its anonymity thus fills a significant gap in James's critical writings. 'Leon Edel disclosed in the first part of his biography of Henry James, The Untried Years, published last spring, the anonymous appearance of Middlemarch in the Galaxy. The E 161 j 162 Nineteenth-Century Fiction little drama; too much reflection (all certainly of a highly imaginative sort) and too little creation. Movement lingers in the story, and with it attention stands still in the reader. The error in Middlemarch is not precisely of a similar kind, but it is equally detrimental to the total aspect of the work. We can well remember how keenly we wondered, while its earlier chapters unfolded themselves, what turn in the way of form the story would take-that of an organized, moulded, balanced composition, gratifying the reader with a sense of design and construction, or a mere chain of episodes, broken into accidental lengths and unconscious of the influence of a plan. We expected the actual result, but for the sake of English imaginative literature which, in this line is rarely in need of examples, we hoped for the other. If it had come we should have had the pleasure of reading, what certainly would have seemed to us in the immediate glow of attention, the first of English novels. But that pleasure has still to hover between prospect and retrospect. Middlemarch is a treasure-house of detail, but it is an indifferent whole. Our objection may seem shallow and pedantic, and may even berepresented as a complaint that we have had the less given us rather than the more. Certainly the greatest minds have the defects of their qualities, and as George Eliot's mind is preeminently contemplative and analytic, nothing is more natural than that her manner should be discursive and expansive. "Concentration" would doubtless have deprived us of many of the best things in the book-of Peter Featherstone's grotesquely expectant legatees, of Lydgate's medical rivals, and of Mary Garth's delightful family. The author's purpose was to be a generous rural historian, and this very redundancy of touch, born of abundant reminiscence, is one of the greatest charms of her work. It is as if her memory was crowded with antique figures, to whom for very tenderness she must grant an appearance. Her novel is a picture-vast, swarming, deep-colored, crowded with episodes, with vivid images, with lurking master-strokes, with brilbibliographical note here given is drawn from the materials with which the biographer, in collaboration with Dan H. Laurence, is preparing a new bibliography of the writings of Henry James.
doi:10.2307/3044335 fatcat:spee357an5e4fjni32lw7j23ge