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THE GREAT TRADITION 



By the sat <e. Author 

REVAI J/ tlON 

EDUCATION AND TIJE UNIVERSITY 
NEW BEARINGS IN ENGLISH POETRY 



THE 
GREAT TRADITION 

GEORGE ELIOT HENRY JAMES 
JOSEPH CONRAD 



F. R. Leavis 

Fellow of Downing College 
Cambridge 




GTS 



GEORGE W. STEWART, PUBLISHER INC. 

New York 



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN 



SECOND IMPRESSION : 1950 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 



Contents 



I THE GREAT TRADITION page i 

II GEORGE ELIOT 

i The Early Phase 28 

ii Romola to Middlemarch 47 

iii Daniel Deronda and The Portrait of a Lady 79 

III HENRY JAMES 

i To The Portrait of a Lady 126 

ii The Later James 154 

IV JOSEPH CONRAD 

i Minor Works and No^romo 173 

ii Victory, The Secret Agent, Under Western 

Eyes, and Chance 201 

V ' HARD TIME'S ' : An Analytic Note 227 

APPENDIX 

Daniel Deronda : A Conversation 249 



Acknowledgments 



The greater part of this book appeared first in Scrutiny, 
and for permission to >use this matter I am indebted to the 
Editors. The second part of the critique of Henry James 
appeared in the issue for March, 1937. That of Conrad 
appeared in June and October, 1941, and that of George Eliot 
in 1945 and 1946. I have also to thank Messrs. John 
Farquharson, acting on behalf of the Henry James' estate, 
for kind permission to reprint Daniel Deronda: A Con- 
versation, aj an Appendix to this volume. 

My sense of my immeasurable indebtedness, in every page 
of this book, to my wife cannot be adequately expressed, 
and I cannot express it at all without an accompanying 
consciousness of shortcomings no one but myself has any 
part in them that makes me insist at the same time on 

my claim to all the responsibility. 

F. R. L. 



1 1 know how hard it is. One needs something to make ones mood 
deep and sincere. There are so many little frets that prevent our 
coming at the real naked essence of our vision. It sounds boshy, 
doesnt it? I often think one ought to be able to pray, before one. 
works and then leave it to the Lord. Isnt it hard, hard work to 
come to real grips with one's imagination throw everything over- 
board. I always feel as if I stood naked for thejire of Almighty 
God to go through me and it's rather an awful feeling. One has 
to be so terribly religious, to be an artist. I often think of my dear 
Saint Lawrence on his gridiron, when he said, " Turn me over, 
brothers, I am done enough on this side 91 . 9 

To ERNEST COLLINGS. FEB. 24, 1913 

THE LETTERS OF D. H. LAWRENCE 



I 
THE GREAT TRADITION 

' . . . not dogmatically but deliberately . . .' 
JOHNSON : Preface to Shakespeare 

great English novelists are Jane Austen, George Eliot, 
A Henry James and Joseph Conrad to stop for the moment at 
that comparatively safe point in history. Since Jane Austen, for 
special reasons, needs to be studied at considerable length, I confine 
myself in this book to the last three. Critics have found me narrow, 
and I have no doubt that my opening proposition, whatever I may 
say to explain and justify it, will be adduced in reinforcement of 
their strictures. It passes as fact (in s^ite of the printed evidence) 
that I pronounce Milton negligible, dismiss 'the Romantics', and 
hold that, since Donne, there is no poet we need bother about except 
Hopkins and Eliot. The view, I suppose, will be as confidently 
attributed to me that, except Jane Austen, George Eliot, James and 
Conrad, there are no novelists in English worth reading. 

The only way to escape misrepresentation is never to commit 
oneself to any critical judgment that makes an impact that is, never 
to say anything. I still, however, think that the best way to pro- 
mote profitable discvss'on is ',o be as clear as possible with oneself 
about what one sees and judges, to try and establish the essential 
discriminations in the given field of interest, and to state them as 
clearly as one can (for disagreement, if necessary). And it seems to 
me that in the field of fiction some challenging discriminations are 
veiy much called for ; the field is so large and offers such insidious 
temptations to complacent confusions of judgment and to critical 
indolence. It is of the field of fiction belonging to Literature that I 
am thinking, and I am thinking in particular of the present vogue of 
the Victorian age. Trollope, Charlotte Yonge, Mrs. Gaskell, Wilkie 
Collins, diaries Reade, Charles and Henry Kingsley, Marryat, 
Shorthouse * one after another the minor novelists of that period 

1 The novelist who has not been revived is Disn^tf. Yet, though he is no t 
one of the great novelists, he is so alive and intelligent as to deserve permanent 
currency, at any rate in the trilogy Coningsfy, Sybil and Tancredi his 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

are being commended to our attention, written up, and publicized 
by broadcast, and there is a marked tendency to suggest that they 
not only have various kinds of interest to offer but that they are 
living classics. (Are not they all in the literary histories ?) There 
are Jane Austen, Mrs. Gaskell, Scott, 'the Brontes', 1 Dickens, 
Thackeray, George Eliot, Trollope and so on, all, one gathers, 
classical novelists. 

It is necessary to insist, then, that there are important distinctions 
to be made, and that far from all of the names in the literary his- 
tories really belong to the realm of significant creative achieve- 
ment. And as a recall to a due sense of differences it is well to start 
by distinguishing the few really great the major novelists who 
count in the same way as the major poets, in the sense that they not 
only change the possibilities of the art for practitioners and readers, 
but that they are significant : u terms of the human awareness they 
promote; awareness of the possibilities of life. 2 

interests as expressed in these books the interests of a supremely intelligent 
politician who has a sociologist's understanding of civilization and its move- 
ment in his time are so mature. 

1 See note 'The Brontes', page 27 below. 

2 Characteristic of the confusion I am contending against is the fashion (for 
which the responsibility seems to go back to Virginia Woolf and Mr. E. M. 
Forster) of talking of Moll Flanders as a 'great novel*. Defoe was a remark- 
able writer, but all that need be said about him as a novelist was said by Leslie 
Stephen in Hours in a Library (First Series). He made no pretension to prac- 
tising the novelist's art, and matters little is an influence. In fact, the only 
influence that need be noted is that represented by the use made of him in the 
nineteen-twenties by the practitioners of the fantastic conte (or pseudo-moral 
fable) with its empty pretence of significance. 

Associated with this use of Defoe is the use that was made in much the same 
milieu of Sterne, in whose irresponsible (and nasty) trifling, regarded as in 
some way extraordinarily significant and mature, was found a sanction for 
attributing value to other trifling. 

The use of Bunyan by T. F. Powys is quite another matter. It is a mark 
of the genuine nature of Mr. Powys's creative gift (his work seems to me not 
to have had due recognition) that he has been able to achieve a kind of tradi- 
tional relation to Bunyan especially, of course, in Mr. Westons Good Wine. 
Otherwise there is little that can be said with confidence about Bunyan as a/i 
influence. And yet we know him to have been for two centuries one of the 
most frequented of all classics, and in such a way that he counts immeasurably 
in the English-speaking consciousness. It is, perhaps, worth saying that his 
influence would tend strongly to reinforce the un-Flaubertian quality of the 
line of English classical fiction (Bunyan, Lord David Cecil might point out 
see p. 8 below was a Purican), as well as to co-operate with the Jonsonian 
traction of morally significant typicality in characters. 

2 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

To insist on the pre-eminent few in this way is not to be indiffer- 
ent to tradition ; on the contrary, it is tlu way towards understand- 
ing what tradition is. 'Tradition', of course, is a term with many 
forces and often very little at all. There is a habit nowadays of 
suggesting that there is a tradition of 'the English Novel', and that 
all that can be said of the tradition (that being its peculiarity) is that 
'the English Novel' can be anything you like. To distinguish the 
major novelists in the spirit proposed is to form a more useful idea 
of tradition (and to recognize that the conventionally established 
view of the past of English fiction needs to be drastically revised). 
It is in terms of the major novelists, those significant in the way 
suggested, that tradition, in any serious sense, has its significance. 

To be important historically is not, of course, to be necessarily one 
of the significant few. Fielding deserves the place of importance 
given him in the literary histories, but he hasn't the kind of classical 
distinction we are also invited to credit him with. He is important 
not because he leads to Mr. J. B. Priestley but because he leads to 
Jane Austen, to appreciate whose distinction is to feel that life isn't 
long enough to permit of one's giving much time to Fielding or 
any to Mr. Priestley. 

Fielding made Jane Austen possible by opening the central tradi- 
tion of English fiction. In fact, to say that the English novel began 
with him is as reasonable as such propositions ever are. He com- 
pleted the work begi'n by Th^ Tatler and The Spectator, in the pages 
of which we se^ the drama turning into the novel that this develop- 
ment should occur by way of journalism being in the natural course 
of things. To the art of presenting character and mceurs learnt in 
that school (he himself, before he became a novelist, was both 
playwright and periodical essayist) he joined a narrative habit the 
nature of which is sufficiently indicated by his own phrase, 'comic 
epic in prose'. That the eighteenth century, which hadn't much 
lively reading to choose from, but had much leisure, should have 
found Tom Jones exhilarating is not surprising ; nor is it that Scott, 
and Coleridge, should have been able to give that work superlative 
praise. Standards are formed in comparison, and what opportuni- 
ties had they for that ? But the conventional talk about the ' perfect 
construction' of Tom] ones (the late Hugh^Walpole brought it out 
triumphantly and you may hear it in almost any course of lectrres 

3 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

on 'the English Novel') is absurd. There can't be subtlety of organ- 
ization .without richer matver to organize, and subtler interests, than 
Fielding has to offer. He is credited with range and variety and it 
is true that some episodes take place in the country and some in 
Town, some in the churchyard and some in the inn, some on the 
high-road and some in the bed-chamber, and so on. But we haven't 
to read a very large proportion of Tom Jones in order to discover the 
limits of the essential interests it has to offer us. Fielding's attitudes, 
and his concern with human nature, are simple, and not such as to 
produce an effect of anything but monotony (on a mind, that is, 
demanding more than external action) when exhibited at the length 
of an 'epic in prose'. What he can do appears to best advantage in 
Joseph Andrews. Jonathan Wild, with its famous irony, seems to me 
mere hobbledehoydom (much as one applauds the determination to 
explode the gangster-hero), and by Amelia Fielding has gone soft. 

We all know that if we want a more inward interest it is to 
Richardson we must go. And there is more to be said for Johnson's 
preference, and his emphatic way of expressing it at Fielding's ex- 
pense, than is generally recognized. Richardson's strength in the 
analysis of emotional and moral states is in any case a matter of 
common acceptance ; and Clarissa is a really impressive work. But 
it's no use pretending that Richardson can ever be made a current 
classic again. The substance of interest that he too has to offer is in 
its own way extremely limited in ran^e and \ anety, and the demand 
he makes on the reader's time is in proportion and absolutely so 
immense as to be found, in general, prohibitive (though I don't 
know that I wouldn't sooner read through again Clarissa than A la 
recherche du temps perdu). But we can understand well enough why 
his reputation and influence should have been so great throughbut 
Europe; and his immediately relevant historical importance is 
plain : he too is a major fact in the background of Jane Austen. 

The social gap between them was too wide, however, for his 
work to be usable by her directly : the more he tries to deal with 
ladies and gentlemen, the more immitigably vulgar he is. It was 
Fanny Burney who, by transposing him into educated life, made 
it possible for Jane Austen to absorb what he had to teach her. 
Here we have one of the important lines of English literary history 
Pdchardson-Fanny Burney-Jane Austen. It is important because 

4 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

Jane Austen is one of the truly great writers, and herself a major fact 
in the background of other great writers. Not that Fanny Burney 
is the only other novelist who counts in her formation ; she read all 
there was to read, and took all that was useful to her which wasn't 
only lessons. 1 In fact, Jane Austen, in her indebtedness to others, 
provides an exceptionally illuminating study of the nature of origin- 
ality, and she exemplifies beautifully the relations of 'the individual 
talent' to tradition. If the influences bearing on her hadn't com- 
prised something fairly to be called tradition she couldn't have found 
herself and her true direction ; but her relation to tradition is a 
creative one. She not only makes tradition for those coming after, 
but her achievement has for us a retroactive effect : as we look back 
beyond her we see in what goes before, and see because of her, 
potentialities and significances brought 6ut in such a way that, for 
us, she creates the tradition we see leading down to her. Her work, 
like the work of all great creative writers, gives a meaning to the past. 
Having, in examinatiou-papers and undergraduate essays, come 
much too often on the proposition that 'George Eliot is the first 
modern novelist', I finally tracked it down to Lord David Cecil's 
Early Victorian Novelists. In so far as it is possible to extract anything 
clear and coherent from the variety of things that Lord David Cecil 
says by way of explaining the phrase, u is this : that George Eliot, 
being concerned, not to offer 'primarily an entertainment', but to 
explore a significant theme a theme significant in its bearing on 
the 'serious problems and preoccupations of mature life' (p. 291) 
breaks with 'those fundamental conventions both of form and 
matter within which the English novel up till then had been con- 
structed' (p. 288). What account, then, are we to assume of Jane 
Austen ? Clearly, one that appears to be the most commonly held : 
she creates delightful characters ('Compare Jane Austen's character- 
ization with Scott's' 2 a recurrent examination-question) and lets 

J * For the relation of Jane Austen to other writers see the essay by Q. D. 
Leavis, A Critical Theory of Jane Austen s Writings, in Scrutiny ', Vol. X, No. I. 

2 Scott was primarily a kind of inspired folk-lorist, qualified to have done 
in fiction something analogous to the ballad-opera:, the only live part of 
Redgauntlet now is * Wandering Willie's Tale', ahd 'The Two Drovers' 
remains in esteem while the heroics of the historical novels can no longer 
command respect. He was a great and very intelligent man; but, not having 
the creative writer's interest in literature, he made 1 no serious attempt to work 

5 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

us forget our cares and noral tensions in the comedy of pre- 
eminently civilized life. The idea of 'civilization' invoked appears 
to be closely related to that expounded by Mr. Clive Bell. 1 

Lord David Cecil actually oofhpares George Eliot with Jane 
Austen. The passage is worth quoting because the inadequate ideas 
of form ('composition') and moral interest it implies ideas of the 
relation between 'art* and 'life' as it concerns the novelist are very 
representative. (Its consistency with what has been said about 
George Eliot earlier in the same e^say isn't obvious, but that doesn't 
disturb the reader by the time he has got here.) 

'It is also easy to see why her form doesn't satisfy us as Jane 
Austen's does. Life is chaotic, art is orderly. The novelist's 
problem is to evoke an orderly composition which is also a con- 
vincing picture of life. T t is Jane Austen's triumph that she 
solves this problem perfectly, fully satisfies tne rival claims of 
life and art. Now George Eliot does not. She sacrifices life to 
urt. Her plots are too neat and symmetrical to be true. We do 
not feel them to have grown naturally from their situation like 
a flower, but to have been put together deliberately and calcu- 
latedly like a building.' (p. 322.) 

out his own form and break away from the bad tradition of the eighteenth- 
century romance. Of his books, TLe Heart of Midlothian comes the nearest 
to being a great novel, but hardly Is that : too many allowances and deductions 
have to be made. Out of Scott a bad tradition ^ame. It spoiled Fenimore 
Cooper, who had new and first-hand interests and the makings of a distin- 
guished novelist. And with Stevenson it took on * literary* sophistication and 
fine writing. 

1 *"As for the revolt against Nature", he continued, "that, too, has its 
uses. If it conduces to the cult of the stylized, the conventionalized, the 
artificial, just for their own sakes, it also, more broadly, makes for civilization." 

"'Civilization?'* I asked. "At what point between barbarism and decad- 
ence does civilization reign ? If a civilized community be defined as one where 
you find aesthetic preoccupations, subtle thought, and polished intercourse, 
is civilization necessarily desirable? Aesthetic preoccupations are not in- 
consistent with a wholly inadequate conception of the range and power of art; 
thought may be subtle and yet trivial; and polished intercourse may be 
singularly uninteresting**.* L. H, Myers, The Root and the Flower, p. 418. 

Myers hasn't the great novelist's technical interest in method and present- 
ment; he slips very easily into using the novel as a vehicle. That is, we feel 
that he is not primarily a novelist. Yet he is sufficiently one to have made of 
The Root and the Flowef a very remarkable novel. Anyone seriously inter- 
ested in literature is likely to have found the first reading a memorable experi- 
crke and to have found also that repeated re-readings have not exhausted the 
interest. 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

Jane Austen's plots, and her novels iirgeneral, were put together 
very 'deliberately and calculatedly ' (if not 'like a building'). 1 But 
her interest in 'composition' is not something to be put over against 
her interest in life ; nor does she 3ffer an 'aesthetic* value that is 
separable from moral significance. The principle of organization, 
and the principle of development, in her work is an intense moral 
interest of her own in life that is in the first place a preoccupation 
with certain problems tnat life compels on her as personal ones. 2 
She is intelligent and serious enough to be able to impersonate her 
moral tensions as she strives, in her art, to become more fully con- 
scious of them, and to learn what, in the interests of life, she ought 
to do with them. Without her intense moral preoccupation she 
wouldn't have been a great novelist. 

This account of her would, if I had rared to use the formula, have 
been my case for calling Jane Austen, and not anyone later, 'the first 
modern novelist'. In applying it to George Eliot, Lord David Cecil 
says: 'In fact, the laws ^conditioning the form of George Eliot's 
novels are the same laws that condition those of Henry James and 
Wells and Conrad and Arnold Bennett.' I don't know what Wells 
is doing in that sentence ; there is an elementary distinction to be 
made between the discussion of problems and ideas, and what we 
find in the great novelists. And, tbi all the generous sense of com- 
mon humanity to be found in his best work, Bennett seems to me 
never to have been disturbed enough by life to come anywhere near 
greatness. But it would certainly be reasonable to say that ' the laws 
conditioning the form of Jane Austen's novels are the same laws that 
condition those of George Eliot and Henry James and Conrad*. 
Jane Austen, in fact, is the inaugurator of the great tradition of the 
English novel and by 'great tradition' I mean the tradition to 
which what is great in English fiction belongs. 

The great novelists in that tradition are all very much concerned 
with 'form' ; they are all very original technically, having turned 
their genius to the working out of their own appropriate methods 
and procedures. But the peculiar quality of their preoccupation 

3 

1 See 'Lady Susan* into 'Mansfield Park 9 by "'Q. D. Leavis in Scrutiny, 
Vol. X, No. 2. 1 

2 D. W. Harding deals illuminatingly with this matter in Regulated 
Hatred: An Aspect of the Work of Jane Austen (sie Scrutiny, Vol. VIII, No. 4). 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

with 'form' may be brcright out by a contrasting reference to 
Flaubert. Reviewing Thomas Mann's Der Tod in Vene&ig, D. H. 
Lawrence * adduces Flaubert as figuring to the world the 'will of the 
writer to be greater than and undisputed lord over the stuff he 
writes'. This attitude in art, as Lawrence points out, is indicative of 
an attitude in life or towards life. Flaubert, he comments, 'stood 
away from life as from a leprosy'. For the later Aesthetic writers, 
who, in general, represent in a weak kind of way the attitude that 
Flaubert maintained with a perverse heroism, 'form' and 'style' are 
ends to be sought for themselves, and the chief preoccupation is 
with elaborating a beautiful style to apply to the chosen subject. 
There is George Moore, who in the best circles, I gather (from a 
distance), is still held to be among the very greatest masters of prose, 
though I give my own lirrited experience for what it is worth 
it is very hard to find an admirer who, being pressed, will lay his 
hand on his heart and swear he has read one of the ' beautiful' novels 
through. 'The novelist's problem is to e\ olve an orderly composi- 
tion which is also a convincing picture of life' this is the way an 
admirer of George Moore sees it. Lord David Cecil, attributing 
this way to Jane Austen, and crediting her with a superiority over 
George Eliot in 'satisfying the rival claims of life and art', explains 
this superiority, we gather, L / a freedom from moral preoccupations 
that he supposes her to enjoy. (George Eliot, he tells us, was a 
Puritan, and earnestly bent on instruction. 2 ) 

As a matter of fact, when we examine the formal perfection of 
Emma, we find that it can be appreciated only in terms of the moral 
preoccupations that characterize the novelist's peculiar interest in 
life. Those who suppose it to be an 'aesthetic matter', a beauty of 
'composition' that is combined, miraculously, with 'truth to life', 
can give no adequate reason for the view that Emma is a great novel, 
and no intelligent account of its perfection of form. It is in the same 
way true of the other great English novelists that their interest in 
their art gives them the opposite of an affinity with Pater and George 
Moore ; it is, brought to an intense focus, an unusually developed 

1 Phoenix^ p. 308. 

2 She is a moralist and a highbrow, the two handicaps going together. 
' Ht humour is less affected by her intellectual approach. Jokes, thank heaven, 
need not be instructive.' E^rly Victorian Novelists, p. 299. 

8 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

interest in life. For, far from having anything of Flaubert's disgust 
or disdain or boredom, they are all distinguished by a vital capacity 
for experience, a kind of reverent openness before life, and a marked 
moral intensity. 

It might be commented that what I have said of Jane Austen and 
her successors is only what can be said of any novelist of unqualified 
greatness. That is true. But there is and this is the point an 
English tradition, and these great classics of English fiction belong to 
it; a tradition that, in the talk about 'creating characters' and 
'creating worlds', and the appreciation of Trollope and Mrs. Gaskell 
and Thackeray and Meredith and Hardy and Virginia Woolf, 
appears to go unrecognized. It is not merely that we have no 
Flaubert (and I hope I haven't seemed to suggest that a Flaubert is 
no more worth having than a George Moore). Positively, there is 
a continuity from Jane Austen. It is not for nothing that George 
Eliot admired her work profoundly, and wrote one of the earliest 
appreciations of it to be published. The writer whose intellectual 
weight and moral earnestness strike some critics as her* handicap 
certainly saw in Jane Austen something more than an ideal contem- 
porary of Lytton Strachey. 1 What one great original artist learns 
from another, whose genius and problems are necessarily very 
different, is the hardest kind of 'influence' to define, even when we 
see it to have been of the profoundest importance. The obvious 
manifestation of influence is to be seen in this kind of passage : 
'A little daily embroidery had been a constant element in Mrs. 
Transome's life ; that soothing occupation of taking stitches 
to produce what neither she nor any one else wanted, was then 
the resource of many a well-born and unhappy woman.' 

'In short, he felt himself to be in love in the right place, and 
was ready to endure a great deal of predominance, which, after 
all, a man could always put down when he liked. Sir James 
had no idea that he should ever like to put down the predomin- 
ance of this handsome girl, in whose cleverness he delighted. 

1 It is perhaps worth insisting that Peacock is more than that too. He is 
not at all in the same class as the Norman Douglas of South Windw& They 
Went. In his ironical treatment of contemporary jfociety and civilization he 
is seriously applying serious standards, so that hjs books, which are obviously 
not novels in the same sense as Jane Austen's, have a permanent life as light 
reading indefinitely re-readable for minds with mature interests. 

9 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

Why not ? A man's mind what there is of it has always the 
advantage of being masculine, as the smallest birch-tree is of 
a higher kind than the most soaring palm and even his ignor- 
ance is of a sounder quality. Sir James might not have origin- 
ated this estimate ; but a kind Providence furnishes the limpest 
personality with a little gum or starch in the form of tradition,' 
The kind of irony here is plainly akin to Jane Austen's though 
it is characteristic enough of George Eliot ; what she found was 
readily assimilated to her own needs. In Jane Austen herself the 
irony has a serious background, and is no mere display of ' civiliza- 
tion'. George Eliot wouldn't have been interested in it if she hadn't 
perceived its full significance its relation to the essential moral 
interest offered by Jane Austen's art. And here we come to the 
profoundest kind of influence, that which is not manifested in like- 
ness. One of the supreme dtbts one great writer can owe another 
is the realization of unlikeness (there is, of course, no significant 
unlikeness without the common concern and the common serious- 
ness of concern with essential human issues). One way of putting 
the difference between George Eliot and the Trollopes whom we 
are invited to consider along with her is to say that she was capable 
of understanding Jane Austen's greatness and capable of learning 
from her. And except for Jane Austen there was no novelist to 
learn from none whose work had any bearing on her own essen- 
tial problems as a novelist. 

Henry James also was a great admirer of Jane Austen, 1 and in his 
case too there is that obvious aspect of influence which can be 
brought out by quotation. And there is for him George Eliot as 
well, coming between. In seeing him in an English tradition I am 
not slighting the fact of his American origin ; an origin that doesn't 
make him less of an English novelist, of the great tradition, than 
Conrad later. That he was an American is a fact of the first import- 
ance for the critic, as Mr. Yvor Winters brings out admirably in his 
book, Maules Curse. 2 Mr. Winters discusses him as a product of the 

1 He can't have failed to note with interest that Emma fulfils, by anticipa- 
tion, a prescription of his own : everything is presented through Emma's 
dramatized consciousness, and the essential effects depend on that. 

2 New Directions, Norfolk, Conn. (1938). To insist that James is in the 
English tradition is not to deny that he is in an American tradition too. He 
is in t the tradition that includes Hawthorne and Melville. He is related to 
Hawthorne even more closely than Mr. Winters suggests. A study of the very 

10 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

New England ethos in its last phase, when a habit of moral strenu- 
ousness remained after dogmatic Puritanism had evaporated and the 
vestigial moral code was evaporating too. This throws a good deal 
of light on the elusiveness that Attends James's peculiar ethical sensi- 
bility. We have, characteristically, in reading him, a sense that 
important choices are in question and that our finest discrimination 
is being challenged, while at the same time we can't easily produce 
for discussion any issuer that have moral substance to correspond. 

It seems relevant also to note that James was actually a New 
Yorker. In any case, he belonged by birth and upbringing to that 
refined civilization of the old European America which we have 
learnt from Mrs. Wharton to associate with New York. His bent 
was to find a field for his ethical sensibility in the appreciative study 
of such a civilization the ' civilizatior ' in question being a matter 
of personal relations between members of a mature and sophisticated 
Society. It is doubtful whether at any time in any place he could 
have found what would have satisfied his implicit demand: the 
actual fine art of civilized social intercourse that would have justified 
the flattering intensity of expectation he brought to it in the form 
of his curiously transposed and subtilized ethical sensibility. 

History, it is plain, was already leaving him Aeradnt in his own 
country, so that it is absurd to censure him, as some American 
critics have done, for pulling up his roots. He could hardly become 
deeply rooted elsevhere, but the congenial soil and climate were in 
Europe rather than in the country of his birth. There is still some 
idealizing charm about his English country-house l in The Portrait 

early work shows Hawthorne as a major influence as the major influence. 
The influence is apparent there in James's use of symbolism; and this use 
develops into something that characterizes his later work as a whole. 

1 Though it has in justice to be remembered that the inhabitants of the 
house in The Portrait of a Lady, the Touchetts, are Americans, and that there 
is critical significance in the difference between the atmosphere of intellectual 
aliveness they establish and the quite other English atmosphere of the War- 
burton home. Moreover, Isabel rejects the admirable Lord Warburton for 
reasons much like those for which the heroine of An International Episode 
rejects the nice English lord, who, by Touchett standards (shall we say ?), is 
not good enough. And in story after story James, with the exasperation of an 
intellectual writer, expresses his disdainful sense of the utter unintellectuality 
of the country-house class. He always knew th^tlie hadn't really found the 
ideal civilization he looked for; so that there is something like a tragic signifi- 
cance in the two juxtaposed notes of this passage from an early letter: 

'But don't envy me too much; for the, British country-house has at 

II 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

of a Lady, but that book is one of the classics of the language, and 
we can't -simply regret the conditions that produced something 
so finely imagined. It is what The Egoist is supposed to be. Com- 
pare the two books, and the greatness of Henry James as intellectual 
poet-novelist l of 'high civilization* comes out in a way that, even 
for the most innocently deferential reader, should dispose of Mere- 
dith's pretensions for ever. James's wit is real and always natural, 
his poetry intelligent as well as truly rich, and there is nothing bogus, 
cheap or vulgar about his idealizations : certain human potentialities 
are nobly celebrated. 

That he is a novelist who has closely studied his fellow-craftsmen 
is plain and got from them more than lessons in the craft. It is 
plain, for instance, in The Portrait of a Lady that he sees England 
through literature. We krow that he turned an attentive pro- 
fessional eye on the French masters. He has (in his early mature 
work) an easy and well-bred technical sophistication, a freedom 
from any marks of provinciality, and a quiet air of knowing his way 
about the world that distinguish him from among his contem- 
poraries in the language. If from the English point of view he is 
unmistakably an American, he is also very much a European. 

But there could be no question of his becoming a French master 
in English, and the help he could get from the Continent towards 
solving his peculiar problem was obviously limited. 2 It was James 

moments, for a cosmopolitanized American, an insuperable natness. On the 
other hand, to do it justice, there is no doubt of its being one of the ripest 
fruits of time ... of the highest results of civilization.'To Miss Alice James, 
ijth Dec. 1877: The Letters of Henry James^ Vol. I, p. 64. 

1 See p. 128 below. 

2 * Your remarks on my French tricks in my letters are doubtless most just, 
and shall be heeded. But it's an odd thing that such tricks should grow at a 
time when my last layers of resistance to a long-encroaching weariness and 
satiety with die French mind and its utterance has fallen from me like a 
garment. I have done with 'em, forever, and am turning English all over. I 
desire only to feed on English life and the contact of English minds I wish 
greatly I knew some. Easy and smooth-flowing as life is in Paris, I would 
throw it over to-morrow for an even very small chance to plant myself for a 
while in England. I have got nothing important out of Paris nor am likely 
to. ... I know the Theatre Francais by heart ! 

" Daniel Deronda (Dan'i himself) is indeed a dead, thougn amiable, failure. 
But the book is a large affair: I shall write an article of some sort about it. 
All desire is dead within me to produce something on George Sand.' To 
William James, 29th July 1876 : The Letters, Vol. I, p. 5 1. 

12 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

who put his finger on the weakness in Madame Bovary : the discrep- 
ancy between the technical (' aesthetic'} intensity, with the implied 
attribution of interest to the subject, and the actual moral and human 
paucity of this subject on any mature valuation. His own problem 
was to justify in terms of an intense interest in sophisticated ' civiliza- 
tion* his New England ethical sensibility. The author who offered 
a congenial study would have to be very different from Flaubert. 
It was, as a matter of fart, a very English novelist, the living repre- 
sentative of the great tradition a writer as unlike Flaubert as 
George Eliot. 

George Eliot's reputation being what it is, this suggestion won't 
recommend itself to everyone immediately. 'Like most writers, 
George Eliot could only create from the world of her personal ex- 
perience in her case middle- and low^r-class rural England of the 
nineteenth-century Midlands.' 1 Moreover, she was confined by a 
Puritanism such as James (apart from the fact that he wasn't lower- 
middle-class) had left a generation or two behind him : 'the en- 
lightened person of to-day must forget his dislike of Puritanism 
when he reads George Eliot'. Weighty, provincial, and pledged to 
the 'school-teacher's virtues', she was not qualified by nature or 
breeding to appreciate high civilization, even if she had been 
privileged to make its acquaintance. These seem to be accepted 
commonplaces which shows how little even those who write 
about her have read her work. 

Actually, though 'Puritan' is a word used with many intentions, 
it is misleading to call her a Puritan at all, 2 and utterly false to say 

1 All the quotations in this paragraph are from Lord David Cecil 

2 Unless you specify that, of the definitions Lord David Cecil gives us to 
choose from, the one you have in mind is that given here: *But the moral 
code founded on that Puritan theology had soaked itself too deeply into the 
fibre of her thought and feeling for her to give it up as well. She might not 
believe in heaven and hell and miracles, but she believed in right and wrong, 
and man's paramount obligation to follow right, as strictly as if she were 
Bunyan himself. And her standards of right and wrong were the Puritan 
standards. She admired truthfulness and chastity and industry and self- 
restraint, she disapproved of loose living and recklessness and deceit and self- 
indulgence.' I had better confess that I differ (apparently) from Lord David 
Cecil in sharing these beliefs, admirations and disapprovals, so that the reader 
knows my bias at once. And they seem to me favourable to the production 
of great literature. I will add (exposing myself completely) that the enlighten- 
ment or aestheticism or sophistication that feels an amused superiority to them 

13 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

that her 'imagination had to scrape what nourishment it could from 
the bare bones of Puritan ethics'. There was nothing restrictive or 
timid about her ethical habit ; what she brought from her Evan- 
gelical background was a radically reverent attitude towards life, a 
profound seriousness of the kind that is a first condition of any real 
intelligence, and an interest in human nature that made her a great 
psychologist. Such a psychologist, with such a relation to Puritan- 
ism, was, of all the novelists open to his study, the one peculiarly 
relevant to James's interests and problems. That, atany rate, becomes 
an irresistible proposition when it is added that, in her most mature 
work, she deals and (in spite of the accepted commonplaces about 
her) deals consummately, with just that 'civilization' which was 
James's chosen field. To say this is to have the confident wisdom 
of hindsight, for it can be shown, with a conclusiveness rarely 
possible in these matters, that James did actually go to school to 
George Eliot. 1 

That is a fair way of putting the significance of the relation be- 
tween The Portrait of a Lady and Daniel Deronda that I discuss in my 
examination of the latter book. That relation demonstrated, nodi- 
ing more is needed in order to establish the general relation I posit 
between the two novelists. James's distinctive bent proclaims itself 
uncompromisingly in what he does with Daniel Deronda (on the 

leads, in my view, to triviality and boredom, and that out of triviality comes 
evil (as L. H. Myers notes in the preface to The K ot and the Flower, and 
illustrates in the novel itself, especially in the sections dealing with the 

'Camp'). 

1 So the footnote on p. 12 above takes on a marked significance a signifi- 
cance confirmed very strikingly by Percy Lubbock's summary of letters 
written at about the same time: 'In Paris he settled therefore, in the autumn 
of 1875, taking rooms at 29 Rue du Luxembourg. He began to write The 
American, to contribute Parisian Letters to the New York Tribune, and to 
frequent the society of a few of his compatriots. He made the valued acquaint- 
ance of Ivan Turgenev, and through him of the group which surrounded 
Gustave Flaubert Edmond de Goncourt, Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Mau- 
passant, Zola and others. But the letters which follow will show the kind of 
doubts that began to arise after a winter in Paris doubts of the possibility of 
Paris as a place where an American imagination could really take root and 
flourish. He found the circle of literature tightly closed to outside influences ; 
it seemed to exclude all culture but its own after a fashion that aroused his 
opposition; he speaks sarcastically on one occasion of having watched 
Turgenev and Flaubert seriously discussing Daudet's/<zc, while he reflected 
thalt none of the three had read, or knew English enough to read, Daniel 
Deronda! The Letters of Henry James, Vol. I, p. 41. 

14 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

good part of whicii I call it Gwendolen Harleth The Portrait of a 
Lady is a variation ; for the plain fact I point out amounts to that). 
The moral substance of George Eliot's theme is subtilized into some- 
thing going with the value James sets on 'high civilization' ; her 
study of conscience has disappeared. A charming and intelligent 
girl, determined to live * finely', confidently exercises her 'free 
ethical sensibility' (Mr. Winters' phrase) and discovers that she is 
capable of disastrous misvaluation (which is not surprising, seeing 
not only how inexperienced she is, but how much an affair of in- 
explicitnesses, overtones and fine shades is the world of discourse 
she moves in). It is a tragedy in which, for her, neither remorse is 
involved, nor, in the ordinary sense, the painful growth of conscience, 
though no doubt her * ethical sensibility' matures. 

Along the line revealed by the contrast between the two novels 
James develops an art so unlike George Eliot's that, but for the fact 
(which seems to have escaped notice) of the relation of The Portrait 
of a Lady to Daniel Deronda, it would, argument being necessary, 
have been difficult to argue at all convincingly that there was the 
significant relation between the novelists. And I had better insist 
that I am not concerned to establish indebtedness. What I have in 
mind is the fact of the great tradition and the apartness of the two 
great novelists above the ruck of Gaskells and Trollopes and Mere- 
diths. Of the earlier novelists it was George Eliot alone (if we 
except the minor relevance of Jane Austen) whose work had a 
direct and significant bearing on his own problem. It had this 
bearing because she was a great novelist, and because in her maturest 
work she handled with unprecedented subtlety and refinement the 
personal relations of sophisticated characters exhibiting the * civil- 
ization' of the 'best society', and used, in so doing, an original 
psychological notation corresponding to the fineness of her psycho- 
logical and moral insight. Her moral seriousness was for James very 
far from a disqualification ; it qualified her for a kind of influence 
that neither Flaubert nor the admired Turgenev could have. 

Circumstances discussed above made James peculiarly dependent 
on literature ; the contact with George Eliot's distinctive kind of 
greatness was correspondingly important for him. It is significant 
that Madame de Mauves (1874), the early story in which he uses 
something like the theme of The Portrait of a Lady, has a wo*.dy 

15 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

quality premonitory (one can't help feeling) of the cobwebbiness 
that afflicted him in his lace phase. We can't doubt that George 
Eliot counts for something in the incomparably superior concrete- 
ness of The Portrait of a Lady. In that book, and in its successor, The 
Bostonians, his art is at its most concrete, and least subject to the 
weakness attendant on his subtlety. It is not derivativeness that is in 
question, but the relation between two original geniuses. 'We 
cannot attempt to trace/ says Mr. Van Wyck Brooks in The Pilgrim- 
age of Henry James, 'the astonishing development of a creative 
faculty which, in the course of a dozen years, transcended the simple 
plot-maker's art of The American, the factitious local-colourism of 
Roderick Hudson, and rendered itself capable of the serene beauty of 
The Portrait of a Lady, the masterly assurance of The Bostonians, the 
mature perfection of Washington Square. 9 It is more than a guess 
that, in that development, George Eliot had some part. 

The reader is likely to comment, I suppose, on the degree in 
which my treatment of James is taken up with discussing his limita- 
tions and the regrettable aspects of his later development. Since it 
will also be noted that, of my three novelists, he, in terms of space, 
gets least attention, it might be concluded that a corresponding rela- 
tive valuation is implied. I had, then, perhaps better say that there 
is no such relation intended between valuation and length of treat- 
ment. I will not, however, deny that, of the three, James seems to 
me to give decidedly most cause for dissatisfaction and qualification. 
He is, all the same, one of the great. His registration of sophisticated 
human consciousness is one of the classical creative achievements : 
it added something as only genius can. And when he is at his best 
that something is seen to be of great human significance. He creates 
an ideal civilized sensibility ; a humanity capable of communicating 
by the finest shades of inflection and implication : a nuance may 
engage a whole complex moral economy and the perceptive re- 
sponse be the index of a major valuation or choice. Even The 
Awkward Age, in which the extremely developed subtlety of treat- 
ment is not as remote as one would wish from the hypertrophy that 
finally overcame him, seems to me a classic ; in no other work can 
we find anything like that astonishing in so astonishing a measure 
successful use of sophisticated 'society* dialogue. 
In considering James's due status, in fact, it is not easy to say just 

16 



THE GREAT f RAt>ITIOtf 

where the interest of the classical artist turns into the interest of the 
classical 'case*. But it seems to me obvious that the 'case* becomes 
in some places boring to the point of unreadableness. Yet there is 
a tacit conspiracy to admire some of the works that fall, partly, at 
any rate (whoHy, one must conclude, for the admirers who risk 
explanatory comment on them), under this description. And here 
is sufficient reason why an attempt to promote a due appreciation 
of James's genius should give a good deal of discriminatory atten- 
tion to the tendencies that, as they develop, turn vital subtlety into 
something else. 

When we come to Conrad we can't, by way of insisting that he is 
indeed significantly 'in' the tradition in and of it, neatly and con- 
clusively relate him to any one English novelist. Rather, we have 
to stress his foreignness that he was a Pole, whose first other lan- 
guage was French. 1 I remember remarking to Andre Chevrillon 
how surprising a choice it was on Conrad's part to write in English, 
especially seeing he was so clearly a student of the French masters. 
And I remember the reply, to the effect that it wasn't at all surpris- 
ing, since Conrad's work couldn't have been written in French. 
M. Chevrillon, with the authority of a perfect bilingual, went on 
to explain in terms of the characteristics of the two languages why 
it had to be English. Conrad's themes and interests demanded the 
concreteness and action the dramatic energy of English. We 
might go further and say that Conrad chose to write his novels in 
English for the reasons that led him to become a British Master 
Mariner. 

I am not, in making this point, concurring in the emphasis gener- 

1 * The politeness of Conrad to James and of James to Conrad were of the 
most impressive kind. Even if they had been addressing each other from the 
tribunal of the Academic Fran9aise their phrases could not have been more 
elaborate or delivered more ore rotundo. James always addressed Conrad as 
"Mon cher confrere**, Conrad almost bleated with the peculiar tone that the 
Marseillais get into their compliments "Mon cher maitre*' . . . Every thirty 
seconds. When James spoke of me to Conrad he always said : '* Votre ami, le 
jeune homme modeste**. They always spoke French together, James using 
an admirably pronounced, correct and rather stilted idiom such as prevailed 
in Paris in the 'seventies. Conrad spoke with extraordinary speed, fluency 
and incomprehensibility, a meridional French wiJi as strong a Southern 
accent as that of garlic in alolL . . . Speaking English he had so strong a 
French accent that few who did not know him well could understand h'm 
at first.' Ford Madox Fordj Return to Yesterday, pp. 23-4. 

B 17 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

ally laid on the Prose Laureate of the Merchant Service. What 
needs to be stressed is the great novelist. Conrad's great novels, if 
they deal with the sea at all, deal with it only incidentally. But the 
Merchant Service is for him both a spiritual fact and a spiritual 
symbol, and the interests that made it so for him control and animate 
his art everywhere. Here, then, we have a master of the English 
language, who chose it for its distinctive qualities and because of the 
moral tradition associated with it, and whose concern with art he 
being like Jane Austen and George Eliot and Henry James an 
innovator in 'form' and method is the servant of a profoundly 
serious interest in life. To justify our speaking of such a novelist as 
in the tradition, that represented by those three, we are not called on 
to establish particular relations with any one of them. Like James, 
he brought a great deal from outside, but it was of the utmost im- 
portance to him that he found a serious art of fiction there in English, 
and that there were, in English, great novelists to study. He drew 
from English literature what he needed, and learnt in that peculiar 
way of genius which is so different from imitation. And for us, 
who have him as well as the others, there he is, unquestionably a 
constitutive part of the tradition, belonging in the full sense. 

As being technically sophisticated he may be supposed to have 
found fortifying stimulus in James, whom he is quite unlike (though 
James, in his old age, was able to take a connoisseur's interest in 
Chance and appreciate with a professional eye the sophistication of 
the * doing'). 1 But actually, the one influence at ail obvious is that 
of a writer at the other end of the scale from sophistication, Dickens. 
As I point out in my discussion of him, Conrad is in certain respects 
so like Dickens that it is difficult to say for just how much influence 

1 Here is the testimony of Conrad's collaborator, Ford Madox Ford: 
' Conrad had the most unbounded, the most generous and the most under- 
standing admiration for the Master's work but he did not much like James 
personally. I imagine that was because at bottom James was a New Englander 
pur sang, though he was actually born in New York. James on the other hand 
liked neither Conrad nor his work very much. . . . James on the other hand 
never made fun of Conrad in private. Conrad was never for him "poor dear 
old" as were Flaubert, Mrs. Humphry Ward, Meredith, Hardy or Sir Edmund 
Gosse. He once expressed to me as regards Conrad something like an 
immense respect for his character and achievements. I cannot remember his 
exact words, but they were something to the effect that Conrad's works im- 
prersed him very disagreeably, but he could find no technical fault or awk- 
wardness about them/ Return to Yesterday, p. 24. 

18 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

Dickens counts. He is undoubtedly there in the London of The 
Secret Agent, though except for the unfortunate macabre of the 
cab-journey, and one or two local mannerisms he has been trans- 
muted into Conrad. This co-p r esence of obvious influence with 
assimilation suggests that Dickens may have counted for more in 
Conrad's mature art (we don't find much to suggest Dickens in the 
early adjectival phase) than seems at first probable : it suggests that 
Dickens may have encouraged the development in Conrad's art of 
that extraordinary energy of vision and registration in which they 
arc akin. ('When people say that Dickens exaggerates', says Mr. 
Santayana, 'it seems to me that they can have no eyes and no ears. 
They probably have only notions of what things and people are ; 
they accept them conventionally, at their diplomatic value.') We 
may reasonably, too, in the same way see ^ome Dickensian influence, 
closely related and of the same order, in Conrad's use of melodrama, 
or what would have been melodrama in Dickens ; for in Conrad 
the end is a total significance of a profoundly serious kind. 

The reason for not including Dickens in the line of great novelists 
is implicit in this last phrase. The kind of greatness in question has 
been sufficiently defined. That Dickens was a great genius and is 
permanently among the classics is certain. But the genius was that 
of a great entertainer, and he had for the most part no profounder 
responsibility as a creative artist than this description suggests. 
Praising him magnificently in a very fine critique, 1 Mf. Santayana, 
in concluding, says : 'In every English-speaking home, in the four 
quarters of the globe, parents and rhildren would do well to read 
Dickens aloud of a' winter's evening.' This note is right and signi- 
ficant. The adult mind doesn't as a rule find in Dickens a challenge 
to an unusual and sustained seriousness. I can think of only one of 
his books in which his distinctive creative genius is controlled 
throughout to a unifying and organizing significance, and that is 
Hard Times, which seems, because of its unusualness and compara- 
tively small scale, to have escaped recognition for the great tiling it 
is. Conrad's views on it, supposing it to have caught his attention, 
would have been interesting ; he was qualified to have written an 
apt appreciation. 

It has a kind of perfection as a work of art that we don't associate 

1 See Soliloquies in Englard. 
19 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

with Dickens a perfection that is one with the sustained and com- 
plete seriousness for which among his productions it is unique. 
Though in length it makes a good-sized modern novel, it is on a small 
scale for Dickens : it leaves no room for the usual repetitive over- 
doing and loose inclusiveness. It is plain that he feJt no temptation 
to these, he was too urgently possessed by his themes ; the themes 
were too rich, too tightly knit in their variety and too commanding., 
Certain key characteristics of Victorian civilization had clearly come 
home to him with overwhelming force, embodied in concrete 
manifestations that suggested to him connexions and significances he 
had never realized so fully before. The fable is perfect ; the sym- 
bolic and representative values are inevitable, and, sufficiently plain 
at once, yield fresh subtleties as the action develops naturally in its 
convincing historical way. 

In Gradgrind and Boundcrby we have, in significant relation, two 
aspects of Victorian Utilitarianism. In Gradgrind it is a serious 
creed, devoutly held, and so, if repellent (as the name conveys), not 
wholly unrespectable ; but we are shown Gradgrind as on the most 
intimate and uncritical terms with Josiah Bounderby, in whom we 
have the grossest and crassest, the most utterly unspiritual egotism, 
and the most blatant thrusting and bullying, to which a period of 
'rugged individualism* gave scope. Gradgrind, in fact, marries his 
daughter to Bounderby. Yet he is represented as a kind of James 
Mill ; an intellectual who gives his children, 0.1 theory, an education 
that reminds us in a very significant way of the Autobiography of the 
younger Mill. And it is hardly possible to question the justice of 
this vision of the tendency of James Mill's kind of Utilitarianism, so 
blind in its onesidedness, so unaware of its bent and its blindness. 
The generous uncalculating spontaneity, the warm flow of life, 
towards which Gradgrindery, practical and intellectual, must be 
hostile, is symbolized by Sleary's Horse-riding. 

The richness in symbolic significance of Hard Times is far from 
adequately suggested by this account. The prose is that of one of 
the greatest masters of English, and the dialogue very much a test 
in such an undertaking is consummate ; beautifully natural in its 
stylization. But thexe is only one Hard Times in the Dickensian 
ctuvre. 

Though the greatness of Hard Times passed unnoticed, Dickens 

20 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

couldn't fail to have a wide influence. We have remarked his 
presence in The Secret Agent. It is there again, in a minor way, in 
George Eliot, in some of her less felicitous characterization ; and it 
is there in Henry James, most patently, perhaps, in The Princess 
Casamassima, but most importantly in Roderick Hudson. 1 It is there 
once more, and even more interestingly, in D. H. Lawrence, in The 
Lost Girl. The ironic humour, and the presentation in general, in 
the first part of that book bear a clear relation to the Dickensian, but 
are incomparably more mature, and belong to a total serious 
significance. 

I take the opportunity, at this point, to remark parenthetically, 
that, whereas Dickens's greatness has been confirmed by time, it is 
quite otherwise with his rival. 'It is usual', says Mr. Santayana, 
' to compare Dickens with Thackeray, v hich is like comparing the 
grape with the gooseberry ; there are obvious points of resemblance, 
and the gooseberry has some superior qualities of its own ; but you 
can't make red wine of it.' It seems to me that Thackeray's plrce 
is fairly enough indicated, even if his peculiar quality isn't precisely 
defined, by inverting a phra:e I found the other day on an exam- 
ination-paper : 'Trollope is a lesser Thackeray'. Thackeray is a 
greater Trollope ; that is, he has (apart from some social history) 
nothing to offer the reader whose demand goes beyond the 'creation 
of characters' and so on. His attitudes, and the essential substance of 
interest, are so limi^d that (though, of course, he provides incident 
and plot) for the reader it is merely a matter of going on and on ; 
nothing has been done by the close to justify the space taken 
except, of course, that time has been killed (which seems to be all 
that even some academic critics demand of a novel). It will be fair 
enough to Thackeray if Vanity Fair is kept current as, in a minor 
way, a classic : the conventional estimate that puts him among the 
great won't stand the touch of criticism. The kind of thing that 
Thackeray is credited with is done at a mature level by James's 
friend, Howard Sturgis, in Belchamber, a novel about Edwardian 
society (it is, with an appropriateness not always observed in that 
series, included in The World's Classics). 

To come back to Conrad and his major quality : he is one of those 
creative geniuses whose distinction is manifested in their beinq; 
1 See pp. 130-140 below 
21 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

peculiarly alive in their t : me peculiarly alive to it; not 'in the 
vanguard* in the manner of Shaw and Wells and Aldous Huxley, 
but sensitive to the stresses of the changing spiritual climate as they 
begin to be registered by the most conscious. His interest in the 
tradition of the Merchant Service as a constructive triumph of the 
human spirit is correlative with his intense consciousness of the de- 
pendence, not only of the distinctive humanities at all levels, but of 
sanity itself and our sense of a normal outer world, on an analogous 
creative collaboration. His Robinson Crusoe cannot bear a few 
days alone on his island, and blows out his brains. We are a long 
way from Jane Austen, for whom the problem was not to rescue the 
highly conscious individual from his isolation, but much the con- 
trary. Conrad, of course, was a deradnt, which no doubt counts for 
a good deal in the intensity with which he renders his favourite 
theme of isolation. But then a state of something like deracination 
is common to-day among those to whom the question of who the 
gtjat novelists are is likely to matter. Conrad is representative in 
the way genius is, which is not the way of those writers in whom 
journalist-critics acclaim the Zeitgeist. (It is relevant to note here 
that in the early hey-day of Wells and Shaw Conrad wrote Nostromo 
a great creative masterpiece which, among other things, is essenti- 
ally an implicit comment on their preoccupations, made from a 
very much profounder level of preoccupation than theirs. And it 
is also relevant to venture that in Mr. Arthur Koestler's very dis- 
tinguished novel, Darkness at Noon, we have the work of a writer 
also, we note, not born to the language who knows and admires 
Conrad, especially the Conrad of Nostromo and Under Western Eyes. 
Conrad is incomparably closer to us to-day than Hardy and Mere- 
dith are. So, for that matter, is George Eliot. I specify Hardy and 
Meredith because they are both offered to us among the great 
novelists, and they are both supposed to be philosophically profound 
about life. It will have been gathered that I think neither can sup- 
port his reputation. On Hardy (who owes enormously to George 
Eliot) the appropriately sympathetic note is struck by Henry James : 
'The good little Thomas Hardy has scored a great success with Tess 
ofthed'Urbervilles, which is chock-full of faults and falsity, and yet 
has a singular charm/ This concedes by implication all that properly 
can be conceded unless we claim more (orjude the Obscure, which, 

22 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

of all Hardy's works of a major philosophic-tragic ambition, comes 
nearer to sustaining it, and, in its clumsy way which hasn't the 
Tightness with which the great novelists show their profound sure- 
ness of their essential purpose is impressive. 1 It is all the same a 
little comic th?t Hardy should have been taken in the early nineteen- 
twenties the Chekhov period as pre-eminently the representative 
of the 'modern consciousness' or the modern 'sense of the human 
situation'. As for Meredith, I needn't add anything to what is said 
about him by Mr. E. M. Forster, 2 who, having belonged to the 
original milieu in which Meredith was erected into a great master, 
enjoys peculiar advantages for the necessary demolition-work. 

Is there no name later than Conrad's to be included in the great 
tradition? There is, I am convinced, one: D. H. Lawrence. 
Lawrence, in the English language, wa? the great genius of our time 
(I mean the age, cr climatic phase, following Conrad's). It would 
be difficult to separate the novelist off for consideration, but it was in 
the novel that he committed himself to the hardest and most sus- 
tained creative labour, and he was, as a novelist, the representative 
of vital and significant development. He might, he has shown 
conclusively, have gone on writing novels with the kind of 'char- 
acter creation' and psychology that the conventional cultivated 

1 Arthur Mizener's essay, "Jude the Obscure as a Tragedy*, in the Thomas 
Hardy Centennial Issue of The Southern Review (Summer 1940), puts inter- 
estingly the case for a s, jnous estimate of the book. 

2 See Aspects oj the Novel. And here is James on Lord Ormont and his 
Aminta : 'Moreover, I have vowed not to open Lourdes till I shall have closed 
with a furious final bang the unspeakable Lord Ormont, which I have been 
reading at the maximum rate of ten pages ten insufferable and unprofitable 
pages a day. It fills me with a critical rage, an artistic fury, utterly blighting 
in me the indispensable principle of respect. I have finished, at this rate, but 
the first volume whereof I am moved to declare that I doubt if any equal 
quantity of extravagant verbiage, of airs and graces, of phrases and attitudes, 
of obscurities and alembications, ever started less their subject, ever contri- 
buted less of a statement told the reader less of what the reader needs to 
know. All the elaborate predicates of exposition without the ghost of a 
nominative to hook themselves to; and not a difficulty met, not a figure 
presented, not a scene constituted not a dim shadow condensing once either 
into audible or into visible reality making you hear for an instant the tap 
of its feet on the earth. Of course there are pretty things, but for what they 
are they come so much too dear, and so many of thi profundities and tortuos- 
ities prove when threshed out to be only pretentious statements of the very 
simplest propositions/ To Edmund Gosse: The Letters of Henry Jares, 
Vol. I, p. 224. 

23 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

reader immediately appreciates novels that demanded no un- 
familiar effort of approach. He might if his genius had let him. 
In nothing is the genius more manifest than in the way in which, 
after the great success and succes d'estime of Sons and Lovers he 
gives up that mode and devotes himself to the exhausting toil of 
working out the new tilings, the developments, that as the highly 
conscious and intelligent servant of life he saw to be necessary. 
Writing to Edward Garnett of the work that was to become Women 
in Love he says : 'It is very different from Sons and Lovers : written 
in another language almost. I shall be sorry if you don't like it, but 
am prepared. I shan't write in the same manner as Sons and Lovers 
again, I think in that hard, violent style full of sensation and 
presentation/ 1 
Describing at length wha" he is trying to do he says : 

'You mustn't look in my novel for the old stable ego of the 
character. There is another ego, according to whose action the 
individual is unrecognizable, and passes through, as it were, 
allotropic states which it needs a deeper sense than any we've 
been used to exercise, to discover are states of the same single 
radically unchanged element. (Like as diamond and coal are 
the same pure simple element of carbon. The ordinary novel 
would trace the history of the diamond but I say, "Diamond, 
what ! This is carbon". And my diamond might be coal or 
soot, and my theme is carbon.) v ou must not say my novel 
is shaky it is not perfect, because I am not expert in what I 
want to do. But it is the real tiling, say what you like. And I 
shall get my reception, if not now, then before long. Again 
I say, don't look for the development of the novel to follow the 
lines of certain characters : the characters fall into the form of 
some other rhythmic form, as v.hen one draws a fiddle-bow 
across a fine tray delicately sanded, the sand takes lines un- 
known/ 2 

He is a most daring and radical innovator in 'form', method, tech- 
nique. And his innovations and experiments are dictated by the 
most serious and urgent kind of interest in life. This is the spirit 
of it: 

'Do you know Casrandra in Aeschylus and Homer ? She is 
1 The Letters ofD. H. Lawrence, p. 172. 2 Letters, p. 198. 

24 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

one of the world's great figures, and what the Greeks and 
Agamemnon did to her is symbolic of what mankind has done 
to her since raped and despoiled her, to their own ruin. It is 
not your brain that you must trust to, nor your will but to 
that fundamental pathetic faculty for receiving the hidden 
waves that come from the depths of life, and for transferring 
them to the unreceptive world. It is something which happens 
below the consciousness, and below the range of the will it is 
something which is unrecognizable and frustrated and de- 
stroyed/ 1 

It is a spirit that, for all the unlikeness, relates Lawrence closely to 
George Eliot. 2 He writes, again, to Edward Garnett 3 : 

'You see you tell me I am half a Frenchman and one-eighth 
a Cockney. But that isn't it. I have /ery often the vulgarity 
and disagreeableness of the common people, as you say Cock- 
ney, and I may be a Frenchman. But primarily I am a passion- 
ately religious man, and my novels must be written from the 
depth of my religious experience. That I must keep to, because 
I can only work like that. And my Cockneyism and common- 
ness are only when the deep feeling doesn't find its way out, and 
a sort of jeer comes instead, and sentimentality and purplism. 
But you should see the religious, earnest, suffering man in me 
first, and then the flippant or common things after. Mrs. 
Garnett says I have no true nobility with all my cleverness 
and charm. Bn f that is not true. It is there, in spite of all the 
littlenesses and commonnesses.' 

It is this spirit, by virtue of which he can truly say that what he 
writes must be written from the depth of his religious experience, 
that makes him, in my opinion, so much more significant in relation 
to the past and future, so much more truly creative as a technical 
inventor, an innovator, a master of language, than James Joyce. I 
know that Mr. T. S. Eliot has found in Joyce's work something that 
recommends Joyce to him as positively religious in tendency (see 
After Strange Gods) . But it seems plain to me that there is no organic 
principle determining, informing, and controlling into a vital whole, 
the elaborate analogical structure, the extraordinary variety of 

1 Letters, p. 232. 2 Lawrence too has been called a Puritan. 

3 Letters, p. 190. 

25 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

technical devices, the attempts at an exhaustive rendering of con- 
sciousness, for which Ulysses is remarkable, and which got it 
accepted by a cosmopolitan literary world as a new start. It is 
rather, I think, a dead end, or at least a pointer to disintegration 
a view strengthened by Joyce's own development (for I think it 
significant and appropriate that Work in Progress Finnegans Wake, 
as it became should have engaged the interest of the inventor of 
Basic English). 

It is true that we can point to the influence of Joyce in a line of 
writers to which there is no parallel issuing from Lawrence. But I 
find here further confirmation of my view. For I think that in these 
writers, in whom a regrettable (if minor) strain of Mr. Eliot's in- 
fluence seems to me to join with that of Joyce, we have, in so far as 
we have anything significant, the wrong kind of reaction against 
liberal idealism. 1 I have in mind writers in whom Mr. Eliot has 
expressed an interest in strongly favourable terms : Djuna Barnes of 
Nightwood, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell of The Black Book. In 
these writers at any rate in the last two (and the first seems to me 
insignificant) the spirit of what we are offered affects me as being 
essentially a desire, in Laurentian phrase, to 'do dirt* on life. It 
seems to me important that one should, in all modesty, bear one's 
witness in these matters. 'One must speak for life and growth, 
amid all this mass of destruction and disintegration/ 2 This is 
Lawrence, and it is the spirit of all liis work. It is the spirit of the 
originality that gives his novels their disconcerting quality, and 
gives them the significance of works of genius. 

I am not contending that he isn't, as a novelist, open to a great 
deal of criticism, or that his achievement is as a whole satisfactory 
(the potentiality being what it was). He wrote his later books far 
too hurriedly. But I know from experience that it is far too easy to 
conclude that his very aim and intention condemned him to artistic 
unsatisfactoriness. I am thinking in particular of two books at 
which he worked very hard, and in which he developed his d ; s- 
concertingly original interests and approaches The Rainbow and 
Women in Love. Re-read, they seem to me astonishing works of 
genius, and very much more largely successful than they did when 

1 See D. H. Lawrence's Fantasia of the Unconscious y especially Chapter XI. 

2 The Letters ofD. H. Lawrence, p. 256, 

26 



THE GREAT TRADITION 

I read them (say) fifteen years ago. I still think that The Rainbow 
doesn't build up sufficiently into a whole. But I shouldn't be quick 
to offer my criticism of Women in Love, being pretty sure that I 
should in any case have once more to convict myself of stupidity 
and habit-blindness on later re-reading. And after these novels 
there comes, written, perhaps, with an ease earned by this hard work 
done, a large body of short stories and nouvelles that are as indubit- 
ably successful works of genius as any the world has to show. 

I have, then, given my hostages. What I think and judge I have 
stated as responsibly and clearly as I can. Jane Austen, George 
Eliot, Henry James, Conrad, and D. H. Lawrence : the great tradi- 
tion of the English novel is there. 



NOTE: 'THE BRONTES' 

It is tempting to retort that there is only one Bronte. Actually, 
Charlotte, though claiming no part in the great line of English 
fiction (it is significant that she couldn't see why any value should 
be attached to Jane Austen), has a permanent interest of a minor 
kind. She had a remarkable talent that enabled her to do some- 
thing firsthand and new in the rendering of personal experience, 
above all in Villette. 

The genius, or course, was Emily. I have said nothing about 
Wuthering Heights because that astonishing work seems to me a kind 
of sport. It may, all the same, very well have had some influence of 
an essentially undetectable kind : she broke completely, and in the 
most challenging way, both with the Scott tradition that imposed 
on the novelist a romantic resolution of his themes, and with the 
tradition coming down from the eighteenth century that demanded 
a plane-mirror reflection of the surface of 'real' life. Out of her a 
minor tradition comes, to which belongs, most notably, The House 
with the Green Shutters. 



II 
GEORGE ELIOT 

(i) The Early Phase 

*T""<HEBJE is general agreement that an appraisal of George Eliot 
X must be a good deal preoccupied with major discriminations 
that the body of her work exhibits within itself striking differences 
not merely of kind, but between the more and the less satisfactory, 
and exhibits them in such a way that the history of her art has to be 
seen as something less happy in its main lines than just an unfolding 
of her genius, a prosperous development of her distinctive powers, 
with growing maturity. L is generally assumed that this aspect of 
her performance is significantly related to the fac.. of her having dis- 
played impressive intellectual gifts outside her art, so that she was a 
distinguished figure in the world of Herbert Spencer and the West- 
minster Review before she became a novelist. And there is something 
like a unanimity to the effect that it ic distinctive of her, among 
great novelists, to be peculiarly addicted to moral preoccupations. 
The force of this last what it amounts to or intends, and the 
significance it has for criticism is elusive ; and it seems well to 
start with a preliminary glance at what, from his hours with the 
critics, the reader is likely to recall as a large e^blished blur across 
the field of vision. Henry James seems to me to have shown finer 
intelligence than anyone else in writing about George Eliot, and he, 
in his review of the Cross Life of her, tells us that, for her, the novel 
'was not primarily a picture of life, capable of deriving a high value 
from its form, but a moralized fable, the last word of a philosophy 
endeavouring to teach by example'. 1 The blur is seen here in that 
misleading antithesis, which, illusory as it is, James's commentary 
insists on. What, we ask, is the * form ' from which a * picture of life ' 
derives its value ? As we should expect, the term 'aesthetic', with 
its trail of confusion, turns up in the neighbourhood (it is a term the 
literary critic would do well to abjure). James notes, as character- 
izing 'that side of Geurge Eliot's nature which was weakest', the 
'absence of free aesthetic life', and he says that her 'figures and 

1 Partial Portraits, p. 50. 
28 



THE EARLY PHASE 

situations' are 'not seen in the irresponsible plastic way*. But, we 
ask, in what great, in what interesting, novel are the figures and 
situations seen in an 'irresponsible plastic way* (a useful determina- 
tion of one of the intentions of 'aesthetic') ? Is there any great 
novelist whose preoccupation witn 'form' is not a matter of his 
responsibility towards a rich human interest, or complexity of 
interests, profoundly realized ? a responsibility involving, of its 
very nature, imaginative sympathy, moral discrimination and judg- 
ment of relative human value ? 

The art distinguished by the corresponding irresponsibility might 
be supposed to be represented by the dreary brilliance of Salammbo 
and La Tentation. But we know that this is so far from James's 
intention that he finds even Madame Bovary, much as he admires it, 
an instance of a preoccupation with 'form' that is insufficiently a 
preoccupation with human value and moral interest. 1 In fact, his 
verdict on Madame Bovary may fairly be taken to be of ho very 
different order from that implied when George Eliot finds Le Pere 
Goriot 'a hateful book' the phrase that, curiously enough, provides 
the occasion for James's remarks about her lack of 'free aesthetic 
life'. 2 

That the antithesis I quote from Henry James is unsatisfactory 
and doesn't promote clear thinking is no doubt obvious enough. 
And the reader may note that James's essay dates sixty years back. 
Yet his handling of t*ie matter seems to me representative : I don't 
know of anything written about George Eliot that, touching on this 
matter of her distinctive moral preoccupation, does anything essenti- 
ally more helpful towards defining the distinctive quality of her art. 
James, then, is a critic one reads with close attention, and, coming 

1 See his essay on Flaubert in Notes on Novelists. 

2 I had better say that my judgment of Le Pere Goriot clearly differs from 
Henry James's. The impressiveness of the famous passions Balzac presents 
seems to me to be too much of the order of Shelley's 

BEATRICE (wildly) O 

My God 1 Can it be possible . . . etc. 

Balzac's art here seems to me an essentially rhetorical art in a pejorative sense 
of the adjective : romantic rhetoric is the life and spirit of the sublimities and 
degradations he exhibits. They depend for the ; r effect, that is, not on any 
profound realization of human emotions, but on excited emphasis, top-lf :el 
assertion and explicit insistence. 

29 



GEORGE ELIOT 

on so challenging a formulation in so intelligent a context, one is 
provoked to comment that, while, among the great novelists, 
George Eliot must certainly have her difference, it can hardly be of 
the kind such an antithetical way of putting things suggests. Though 
such formulations may have their colourable grounds, there must, 
one reflects, be something more important to say about the moral 
seriousness of George Eliot's novels ; otherwise she would hardly 
be the great novelist one knows her to be. There are certain condi- 
tions of art from which she cannot be exempt while remaining an 
artist. 

A tentative comparison or two may help to define the direction 
in which the appraising critic should turn his inquiries. Consider 
her against, not Flaubert, but two novelists concerning whose great- 
ness one has no uneasy sense of a need to hedge. In her own 
language she ranks with Jane Austen and Conrsd, both of whom, 
in their different ways, present sharp contrasts with her. To take 
Conrad first : there is no novelist of whom it can more fitly be said 
that his figures and situations are seen, and James would have testified 
to his intense and triumphant preoccupation with 'form'. 1 He went 
to school to the French masters, and is in the tradition of Flaubert. 
But he is a greater novelist than Flaubert because of the greater 
range and depth of his interest in humanity and the greater intensity 
of his moral preoccupation : he is not open to the kind of criticism 
that James brings against Madame tiovary. tJostromo is a master- 
piece of 'form* in senses of the term congenial to the discussion of 
Flaubert's art, but to appreciate Conrad's 'form' is to take stock of a 
process of relative valuation conducted by him in the face of life : 
what do men live by? what can men live by? these are the 
questions that animate his theme. His organization is devoted to 
exhibiting in the concrete a representative set of radical attitudes, so 
ordered as to bring out the significance of each in relation to a total 
sense of human life. The dramatic imagination at work is an in- 
tensely moral imagination, the vividness of which is inalienably a 
judging and a valuing. With such economy has each 'figure' and 
'situation* its significance in a taut inclusive scheme that Nostromo 
might more reasonably than any of George Eliot's fictions except 

* Actually James salutes Chance in The New Novel, an article written in 
1914 (see Notes on Novelists). 

30 



THE EARLY PHASE 

Silas Marner (which has something of the fairy-tale about it, and is 
in any case a minor work) be called a * moralized fable'. 

What, then, in this matter of the relation between their moral 
interests and their art, is the difference between Conrad and George 
Eliot ? (Their sensibilities, of course, differ, but that is not the 
question.) I had better here give the whole of the sentence of 
James's, of which above I quoted a part : 

'Still, what even a jotting may not have said after a first per- 
usal of Le Pere Goriot is eloquent; it illuminates the author's 
general attitude with regard to the novel, which, for her, was 
not primarily a picture of life, capable of deriving a high value 
from its form, but a moralized fable, the last word of a philo- 
sophy endeavouring to teach by example.' 

To find the difference in didactism doesn't take us very far ; not 
much to the point is said about a work of art in calling it didactic 
unless one is meaning to judge it adversely. In that case one is 
judging that the intention to communicate an attitude hasn't become 
sufficiently more than an intention ; hasn't, that is, justified itself as 
art in die realized concreteness that speaks for itself and enacts its 
moral significance. But whatever criticism die weaker parts of 
George Eliot may lie open to no one is going to characterize her by 
an inclusive judgment of that kind. And it is her greatness we are 
concerned with. 

James speaks of a * philosophy endeavouring to teach by ex- 
ample' : perhaps, it may be suggested, the clue we want is to be 
found in the ' philosophy ' ? And the context shows that James does, 
in attempting to define her peculiar quality, intend to stress George 
Eliot's robust powers of intellectual labour and her stamina in the 
realm of abstract thought he speaks elsewhere of her 'exemption 
from cerebral lassitude '. But actually it is not easy to see how, in so 
far as her intellectual distinction appears in the strength of her art, it 
constitutes an essential difference between her and Conrad. She has 
no more of a philosophy than he has, and he, on the other hand, is, 
in his work, clearly a man of great intelligence and confirmed 
intellectual habit, whose 'picture of life' embodies much reflective 
analysis and sustained thought about fundamentals. 

What can, nevertheless, be said, with obvious truth, is that Conrad 

31 



GEORGE ELIOT 

is more completely an artist. It is not that he had no intellectual 
career outside his art that he did nothing comparable to translating 
Strauss, Spinoza and Feuerbach, and editing The Westminster 
Review. It is that he transmutes more completely into the created 
work the interests he brings in. No doubt the two facts are related : 
the fact that he was novelist and seaman and not novelist and high- 
level intellectual middleman has a bearing on the fact that he 
achieved a wholeness in art (it will be observed that the change of 
phrase involves a certain change offeree, but the shift is legitimate, 
I think) not characteristic of George Eliot. But it must not be con- 
cluded that the point about her is that her novels contain unabsorbed 
intellectual elements patches, say, of tough or drily abstract think- 
ing undigested by her art. The relevant characteristic, rather, is apt 
to strike the reader as something quite other than toughness or 
dryness ; we note it as an emotional quality, something that strikes 
us as the direct (and sometimes embarrassing) presence of the 
author's own personal need. Conrad, we know, had been in his 
time hard-pressed ; the evidence is everywhere in his work, but, in 
any one of the great novels, it comes *x> us out of the complex im- 
personalized whole. There can, of course, be no question of saying 
simply that the opposite is true of George Eliot : she is a great 
novelist, and has achieved her triumphs of creative art. Nor is it 
quite simply a matter of distinguishing between what is strong in 
her work and what is weak. At her best sne has the impersonality 
of genius, but there is characteristic work of hers that is rightly 
admired where the quality of the sensibility can often be felt to have 
intimate relations with her weakness. 

That is, the critic appraising her is faced with a task of discrimina- 
tion. I began by reporting general agreement to this effect. The 
point of my comparison is to suggest that the discriminating actually 
needing to be done will be on different lines from those generally 
assumed. 

And that is equally the conclusion prompted by a comparative 
glance at Jane Austen. Though the fashionable cult tends to suggest 
otherwise, she doesn't differ from George Eliot by not being 
earnestly moral. Tiu, vitality of her art is a matter of a preoccupa- 
tion with moral problems that is subtle and intense because of the 
pressure of personal need. As for the essential difference (leaving 

32 



THE EARLY PHASE 

aside the differences in the nature of the need and in range of 
interests), is it something that can be related to the fact that Jane 
Austen, while unmistakably very intelligent, can lay no claim to a 
massive intellect like George Eliot's, capable of maintaining a 
specialized intellectual life ? Perhaps ; but what again strikes us in 
the intellectual writer is an emotional quality, one to which there is 
no equivalent in Jane Austen. And it is not merely a matter of a 
difference of theme and interest of George Eliot's dealing with 
(say) the agonized conscience and with religious need as Jane Austen 
doesn't. There could be this difference without what is as a matter 
of fact associated with it in George Eliot's work : a tendency to- 
wards that kind of direct presence of the author which has to be 
stigmatized as weakness. 
But this is to anticipate. 



The large discrimination generally made in respect of George 
Eliot is a simple one. Henry James's account is subtler than any 
other I know, but isn't worked out to consistency. He says 1 (though 
the generalization is implicitly criticized by the context, being in- 
adequate to his perception) : 

'We feel in her, always, that she proceeds from the abstract 
to the concrete ; that her figures and situations are evolved, as 
the phrase is, from her moral consciousness, and are only in- 
directly the products of observation.' 

What this gives us is, according to the accepted view, one half of 
her the unsatisfactory half. The great George Eliot, according to 
this view, is the novelist of reminiscence ; the George Eliot who 
writes out of her memories of childhood and youth, renders the 
poignancy and charm of personal experience, and gives us, in a 
mellow light, the England of her young days, and of the days then 
still alive in family tradition. Her classics are Scenes of Clerical Life, 
Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner. With these 
books she exhausted her material, and in order to continue a novelist 
had to bring the other half of herself into play to hand over, in 
fact, to the intellectual. Romola is the product of an exhausting and 

1 Partial Portraits, p. 51. 

c 33 



GEORGE ELIOT 

misguided labour of excogitation and historical reconstruction (a 
judgment no one is likely to dispute). Felix Holt and Daniel 
Deronda also represent the distinguished intellectual rather than the 
great novelist ; in them she 'proceeds from the abstract to the con- 
crete', 'her figures and situations are evolved from her moral con- 
sciousness', they 'are deeply studied and massively supported, 
but . . .' Henry James's phrases fairly convey the accepted view. 

It should be said at once that he is not to be identified with it (he 
discriminates firmly, for instance, in respect of Daniel Deronda). 
Still, he expresses for us admirably what has for long been the 
current idea of her development, and he does in such passages as this 
endorse the view that, in the later novels, the intellectual gets the 
upper hand : 

'The truth is, perception and reflection at the outset divided 
George Eliot's great talent between them ; buc as time went on 
circumstances led the latter to develop itself at the expense of 
the former one of these circumstances being apparently the 
influence of George Henry Lewes.' 

And we don't feel that he is inclined to dissociate himself to any 
significant extent when, in the Conversation 1 about Daniel Deronda, 
he makes Constantius say : 

' She strikes me as a person who certainly has naturally a taste 
for general considerations, but wLo has Lltan upon an age and 
a circle which have compelled her to give them an exaggerated 
attention. She does not strike me as naturally a critic, less still 
as naturally a sceptic ; her spontaneous part is to observe life and 
to feel it to feel it with admirable depth. Contemplation, 
sympathy and faith something like that, I should say, would 
have been her natural scale/ 

At any rate, that gives what appears to be still the established notion 
of George Eliot. 

It will have been noted above that I left out Middlemarch. And 
it will have been commented that Middlemarch, which, with Felix 
Holt between, comes in order of production after Romola and 
doesn't at all represent a reversion to the phase of 'spontaneity', has 
for at least two decades been pretty generally acclaimed as one of 

1 See Appendix, p. 249 below. 
34 



THE EARLY PHASE 

the great masterpieces of English fiction. That is true. Virginia 
Woolf, a good index of cultivated acceptance in that period, writes 
(in The Common Reader, first series) : 

'It is not that her power diminishes, for, to our thinking, it is 
at its highest in the mature Middlemarch, the magnificent book 
which, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English 
novels written for grown-up people.' 

This judgment, in a characteristic and not very satisfactory essay on 
George Eliot, must be set to Mrs. Woolf 's credit as a critic ; there is 
no doubt that it has had a good deal to do with the established 
recognition of Middlemarch. 

But Mrs. Woolf makes no serious attempt at the work of general 
revision such a judgment implies, and die appreciation of George 
Eliot's ceuvre has not been put on a critical basis and reduced to con- 
sistency. For if you think so highly of Middlemarch^ then, to be 
consistent, you must be more qualified in your praise of the e^rly 
things than persisting convention recognizes. Isn't there, in fact, a 
certain devaluing to be done ? The key word in that sentence 
quoted from Mrs. Woolf is 'mature'. Her distinguished father 
(whose book on George Eliot in The English Men of Letters has his 
characteristic virtues) supplies, where their popularity is concerned, 
the key word for the earlier works when he speaks of a 'loss of 
charm' involved in her development after The Mill on the Floss. At 
the risk of appearing priggish one may suggest that there is a tend- 
ency to overrate charm. Certainty charm is overrated when it is 
preferred to maturity. 

Going back in one's mind over the earlier works, what can one 
note as their attractions and their claims ? There is Scenes of Clerical 
Life, which is to-day, perhaps, not much read. And indeed only 
with an effort can one appreciate why these stories should have 
made such an impact when they came out. One of them, Mr. Gi7/if $ 
Live-Story, is charming in a rather slight way. Without the charm 
the pathos would hardly be very memorable, and the charm is char- 
acteristic of the earlier George Eliot : it is the atmospheric richness 
of the past seen through home tradition and the associations of child- 
hood. Of the other two, The Sad Fortune* of the Rev. Amos Barton 
and. Janet's Repentance, one feels that they might have appeared in 

35 



GEORGE ELIOT 

any Victorian family magazine. This is unfair, no doubt; the 
imaginative and morally earnest sympathy that finds a moving 
theme in the ordinariness of undistinguished lives there we have 
the essential George Eliot ; the magazine writer would not have 
had that touch in pathos and humour, and there is rome justice in 
Leslie Stephen's finding an 'indication of a profoundly reflective 
intellect' in 'the constant, though not obtrusive, suggestion of the 
depths below the surface of trivial life'. But Scenes of Clerical Life 
would not have been remembered if nothing had followed. 

George Eliot did no more prentice-work (the greater part of the 
Scenes may fairly be called that) : Adam Bede is unmistakably quali- 
fied to be a popular ckssic which, in so far as there are such to-day, 
it still is. There is no need here to offer an appreciation of its 
attractions ; they are as plain as they are genuine, and they have had 
full critical justice done them. Criticism, it seeias to me, is faced 
with the ungrateful office of asking whether, much as Adam Bede 
deserves its currency as a classic (and of the classical English novels 
it has been among the most widely read), the implicit valuation it 
enjoys in general acceptance doesn't represent something more than 
justice. The point can perhaps be made by suggesting that the book 
is too much the sum of its specifiable attractions to be among the 
great novels that it is too resolvable into the separate interests that 
we can see the author to have started with. Of these, a main one, 
clearly, is given in Mrs. Poyser and that mellow presentation of 
rustic life (as George Eliot recalled it from her childhood) for which 
Mrs. Poyser's kitchen is the centre. This deserves all the admiration 
it has received. And this is the moment to say that juxtaposition 
with George Eliot is a test that disposes finally of the ' Shakespearean' 
Hardy : if the adjective is to be used at all, it applies much more 
fitly to the rich creativeness of the art that seems truly to draw its 
sap from life and is free from all suspicion of Shakespeareanizing. 
George Eliot's rustic life is convincingly real even when most 
charming (and she doesn't always mellow her presentation of it 
with ckarm). 

We have another of the main interests with which George Eliot 
started in Dinah, that idealized recollection of the Methodist aunt. 
D : nah, a delicate undertaking, is sufficiently successful, but one has, 
in appraising her in relatiDn to the total significance of the book, to 

36 



THE EARLY PHASE 

observe, with a stress on the limiting implications of the word, that 
the success is conditioned by the 'charm* that invests her as it does 
the world she moves in and belongs to. She is idealized as Adam is 
idealized ; they are in keeping. Adam, we know, is a tribute to her 
father ; but h^ is also the Ideal Craftsman, embodying the Dignity 
of Labour. He too is r&tssi, but compare him with George Eliot's 
other tribute to her father, Caleb Garth of Middlentarch, who is in 
keeping with his context, and the suggestion that the idealizing 
clement in the book named after Adam involves limiting judgments 
for the critic gets, I think, an obvious force. 

Mrs. Poyser, Dinah and Adam these three represent interests 
that George Eliot wanted to use in a novel. To make a novel out 
of them she had to provide something else. The Dinah theme 
entails the scene in prison, and so there had to be a love-story and a 
seduction. George Eliot works them into her given material with 
convincing skill ; the entanglement of Arthur Donnithorne with 
Hetty Sorrel the first casual self-indulgence, the progressive yield- 
ing to temptation, the inexorable Nemesis involves a favourite 
moral-psychological theme of hers, and she handles it in a personal 
way. And yet does one want ever to read that large part of the 
book again ? does it gain by re-reading ? doesn't this only confirm 
one's feeling that, while as Victorian fiction a means of passing the 
time the love-story must be granted its distinction, yet, judged by 
the expectations wii.li which one approaches a great novelist, it offers 
nothing proportionate to the time it takes (even if we cut the large 
amount of general reflection) ? Satisfactory at its own level as the 
unity is that the author has induced in her materials, there is not at 
work in the whole any pressure from her profounder experience to 
compel an inevitable development ; so that we don't feel moved to 
discuss with any warmth whether or not she was right to take 
Lewes's suggestion, and whether or not Dinah would really have 
become Mrs. Adam Bede. We are not engaged in such a way as 
to give any force to the question whether the marriage is convincing 
or otherwise ; there is no sense of inevitability to outrage. These 
comments of Henry James's seem to me just : 

4 In Silas Marner, in Adam Bede, the quality seems gilded bv 
a sort of autumn haze, an afternoon light, of meditation, whick 

37 



GEORGE ELIOT 

mitigates the sharpness o r the portraiture. I doubt very much 
whether the author herself had a clear vision, for instance, of 
the marriage of Dinah Morris to Adam, or of the rescue of 
Hetty from the scaffold at the eleventh hour. The reason of 
this may be, indeed, that her perception was a perception of 
nature much more than of art, and that these particular inci- 
dents do not belong to nature (to my sense at least) ; by which 
I do not mean that they belong to a very happy art. I cite them, 
on the contrary, as an evidence of artistic weakness ; they are 
a very good example of the view in which a story must have 
marriages and rescues in the nick of time, as a matter of course.' 

James indicates here the relation between the charm and what he 
calls the 'art'. They are not identical, of course ; but what I have 
called 'charm' and described as an idealizing element means an 
abeyance of the profounder responsibility, so that, without being 
shocked, we can have together in the same book the 'art* to which 
Jarres refers the vaguely realized that draws its confidence from 
convention and such genuinely moving things as the story of Hetty 
Sorrel's wanderings. And here I will anticipate and make the point 
that it is because the notorious scandal of Stephen Guest in The Mill 
on the Floss has nothing to do with 'art', but is a different kind of 
thing altogether, that it is interesting and significant. 

It is a related point that if 'charm' prevails in Adam Bede (and, as 
Henry James indicates, in Silas Marner), there should be another 
word for what we find in The Mill on the Floss. The fresh directness 
of a child's vision that we have there, in the autobiographical part, 
is something very different from the 'afternoon light' of reminis- 
cence. This recaptured early vision, in its combination of clarity 
with rich 'significance', is for us, no doubt, enchanting; but it 
doesn't idealize, or soften with a haze of sentiment (and it can't 
consort with 'art'). Instead of Mrs. Poyser and her setting we have 
the uncles and aunts. The bearing of the change is plain if we ask 
whether there could have been a Dinah in this company. Could 
there have been an Adam ? They both belong to a different world. 

In fact, the Gleggs and the Pullets and the Dodson clan associate, 
not with the frequenters of Mrs. Poyser's kitchen, but with the tribe 
that forgathers at Stone Court waiting for Peter Featherstone to die. 
The intensity of Maggie's naive vision is rendered with the con- 

38 



THE EARLY PHASE 

vincmg truth of genius ; but the render! ig brings in the intelligence 
that goes with the genius and is of it, and the force of the whole effect 
is the product of understanding. This is an obvious enough point. 
I make it because I want to observe that, although the supremely 
mature mind of Middlemarch is not yet manifested in The Mill on the 
Floss, the creative powers at work here owe their successes as much 
to a very fine intelligence as to powers of feeling and remembering 
a fact that, even if it is an obvious one, the customary stress never- 
theless leaves unattended to, though it is one that must get its full 
value if George Eliot's development is to be understood. I will 
underline it by saying that the presentment of the Dodson clan is of 
marked sociological interest not accidentally, but because of the 
intellectual qualifications of tHe novelist. 

But of course the most striking qualit/ of The Mill on the Floss is 
that which goes wi Ji the strong autobiographical element. It strikes 
us as an emotional tone. We feel an urgency, a resonance, a per- 
sonal vibration, adverting us of the poignantly immediate presence 
of the author. Since the vividness, the penetration and the irresist- 
ible truth of the best of the book are clearly bound up with this 
quality, to suggest that it also entails limitations that the critic cannot 
ignore, since they in turn are inseparable from disastrous weaknesses 
in George Eliot's handling of her themes, is perhaps a delicate busi- 
ness. But the case is so: the emotional quality represents some- 
thing, a need or hunger in George Eliot, that shows itself to be 
insidious company for her intelligence apt to supplant it and take 
command. The acknowledged weaknesses and faults of The Mill 
on the Floss, in fact, are of a more interesting kind than the accepted 
view recognizes. 

That Maggie Tulliver is essentially identical with the young Mary 
Ann Evans we all know. She has the intellectual potentiality for 
which the environment into which she is born doesn't provide much 
encouragement ; she has the desperate need for affection and in- 
timate personal relations ; and above all she has the need for an 
emotional exaltation, a religious enthusiasm, that shall transfigure 
the ordinariness of daily life and sweep her up in an inspired devo- 
tion of self to some ideal purpose. There is, however, a difference 
between Maggie Tulliver and Mary Ann Evans : Maggie is bea 1 *- 
tiful. She is triumphantly beautiful, after having been the ugly 

39 



GEORGE ELIOT 

duckling. The experience of a sensitive child in this latter role 
among insensitive adults is evoked with great poignancy : George 
Eliot had only to remember. The glow that comes with imagining 
the duckling turned swan hardly needs analysing ; it can be felt in 
every relevant page, and it is innocent enough. Bin it is intimately 
related to things in the book that common consent finds deplorable, 
and it is necessary to realize this in order to realize their nature and 
significance and see what the weaknesses of The Mill on the Floss 
really are. 

There is Stephen Guest, who is universally recognized to be a sad 
lapse on George Eliot's part. He is a more significant lapse, I think, 
than criticism commonly allows. Here is Leslie Stephen (George 
Eliot, p. 104) : 

'George Eliot did not herself understand what a mere hair- 
dresser's block she was describing in Mr. Stephen Guest. He is 
another instance of her incapacity for portraying the opposite 
sex. No man could have introduced such a character without 
perceiving what an impression must be made upon his readers. 
We cannot help regretting Maggie's fate ; she is touching and 
attractive to the last ; but I, at least, cannot help wishing that 
the third volume could have been suppressed. I am inclined 
to sympathize with the readers of Clarissa Harlowe when they 
entreated Richardson to save Lovelace's soul. Do, I mentally 
exclaim, save this charming Maggie from damning herself by 
this irrelevant and discordant degradation.' 

That the presentment of Stephen Guest is unmistakably feminine 
no one will be disposed to deny, but not only is the assumption of a 
general incapacity refuted by a whole gallery of triumphs, Stephen 
himself is sufficiently 'there* to give the drama a convincing force. 
Animus against him for his success with Maggie and exasperation 
with George Eliot for allowing it shouldn't lead us to dispute that 
plain fact they don't really amount to a judgment of his unreality. 
To call him a 'mere hairdresser's block' is to express a valuation a 
valuation extremely different from George Eliot's. And if we our- 
selves differ from her in the same way (who doesn't ?), we must be 
careful about the implication of the adjective when we agree that 
her valuation is surprising. For Leslie Stephen Maggie's entangle- 

40 



THE EARLY PHASE 

ment with Stephen Guest is an 'irrelevant and discordant degrada- 
tion*. Irrelevant to what and discordant with what ? 

'The whole theme of the book is surely the contrast between 
the "beautiful soul" and the commonplace surroundings. It is 
the awakening of the spiritual and imaginative nature and the 
need of finding some room for the play of the higher faculties, 
whether in the direction of religious mysticism or of human 
affection.' 

It is bad enough that the girl who is distinguished not only by 
beauty but by intelligence should be made to fall for a provincial 
dandy ; the scandal or incredibility (runs the argument) becomes 
even worse when we add that she is addicted to Thomas i Kempis 
and has an exalted spiritual nature. Renunciation is a main theme 
in her history and m her daily meditations ; but when temptation 
takes the form of Mr. Stephen Guest ! It is incredible, or insuffer- 
able in so far we have to accept it, for temptation at this level can 
have nothing to do with the theme of renunciation as we have 
become familiar with it in Maggie's spiritual life it is 'irrelevant 
and discordant*. This is the position. 

Actually, the soulful side of Maggie, her hunger for ideal exalta- 
tions, as it is given us in the earlier part of the book, is just what 
should make us say, on reflection, that her weakness for Stephen 
Guest is not so surprising after all. It is commonly accepted, this 
soulful side of Maggie, with what seems to me a remarkable absence 
of criticism. It is offered by George Eliot herself and this of course 
is the main point with a remarkable absence of criticism. There is, 
somewhere, a discordance, a discrepancy, a failure to reduce things 
to a due relevance : it is a characteristic and significant failure in 
George Eliot. It is a discordance, not between her ability to present 
Maggie's yearnings and her ability to present Stephen Guest as an 
irresistible temptation, but between her presentment of those yearn- 
ings on the one hand and her own distinction of intelligence on the 
other. 

That part of Maggie's make-up is done convincingly enough ; it 
is done from the inside. One's criticism is that it is done too purely 
from the inside. Maggie's emotional and spiritual stresses, her ex- 
altations and renunciations, exhibit, naturally, all the marks of 



GEORGE ELIOT 

immaturity ; they invor* c confusions and immature valuations ; 
they belong to a stage of development at which the capacity to make 
some essential distinctions has not yet been arrived at at which 
the poised impersonality that is one of the conditions of being able 
to make them can't be achieved. There is nothing against George 
Eliot's presenting this immaturity with tender sympathy ; but we 
ask, and ought to ask, of a great novelist something more. 'Sym- 
pathy and understanding' is the common formula of praise, but 
understanding, in any strict sense, is just what she doesn't show. To 
understand immaturity would be to ' place ' it, with however subtle 
an implication, by relating it to mature experience. But when 
George Eliot touches on these given intensities of Maggie's inner 
life the vibration comes directly and simply from the novelist, pre- 
cluding the presence of a maturer intelligence than Maggie's own. 
It is in these places that we are most likely to make with conscious 
critical intent the comment that in George Eliot's presentment of 
Maggie there is an element of self-idealization. The criticism 
sharpens itself when we say that with the self-idealization there goes 
an element of self-pity. George Eliot's attitude to her own im- 
maturity as represented by Maggie is the reverse of a mature one. 

Maggie Tulliver, in fact, represents an immaturity that George 
Eliot never leaves safely behind her. We have it wherever we have 
this note, and where it prevails her intelligence and mature judg- 
ment are out of action : 

'Maggie in her brown frock, with her eyes reddened and 
her heavy hair pushed back, looking from the bed where her 
father lay, to the dull walls of this sad chamber which was the 
centre of her world, was a creature full of eager, passionate 
longings for all that was beautiful and glad ; thirsty for all 
knowledge ; with an ear straining after dreamy music that died 
away and would not come nearer to her ; with a blind, uncon- 
scious yearning for something that would link together the 
wonderful impressions of this mysterious life, and give her soul 
a sense of home in it.' l 

This 'blind, unconscious yearning' never, for all the intellectual 
contacts it makes as M?ggie grows up and from which it acquires a 

1 The Mil on tfe Floss, Book III, Chapter V, the end. 
42 



THE EARLY PHASE 

sense of consciousness, learns to understand itself: Maggie remains 
quite naive about its nature. She is quite incapable of analysing it 
into the varied potentialities it associates. In the earlier part of the 
book, from which the passage juct quoted comes, the religious and 
idealistic aspect of the yearning is not complicated by any discon- 
certing insurgence from out of the depths beneath its vagueness, 
J3ut with that passage compare this : 

'In poor Maggie's highly-strung, hungry nature just come 
away from a third-rate schoolroom, with all its jarring sounds 
and petty round of tasks these apparently trivial causes had 
the effect of rousing and exalting her imagination in a way that 
was mysterious to herself. It was not that she thought dis- 
tinctly of Mr. Stephen Guest, or dwelt on the indications that 
he looked at her with admiration ; it was rather that she felt the 
half-remote presence of a world of love and beauty and delight, 
made up of vague, mingled images from all the poetry she had 
ever read, or had ever woven in her dreamy reveries/ l 

The juxtaposition of the two passages makes us revert to a sen- 
tence quoted above from Leslie Stephen, and see in it a hint that he, 
pretty plainly, missed : 

'It is the awakening of the spiritual and imaginative nature 
and the need of finding some room for the play of the higher 
faculties, whether in the direction of religious mysticism or of 
human affection/ 

For the second alternative we need to couple with 'religious 
mysticism* a phrase more suggestive of emotional intensity than 
Leslie Stephen's. And we then can't help asking whether the 'play 
of the higher faculties' that is as intimately associated with a passion 
for Stephen Guest as the two last-quoted paragraphs together bring 
out can be as purely concerned with the 'higher' as Maggie and 
George Eliot believe (unchallenged, it seems, by Leslie Stephen). 

Obviously there is a large lack of self-knowledge in Maggie a 
very natural one, but shared, more remarkably, by George Eliot. 
Maggie, it is true, has the most painful throes of conscience and they 
ultimately prevail. But she has no sense that Stephen Guest (apart, 
of course, from the insufficient strength of moral fibre betrayed 

1 Book VI, Chapter III, third paragraph. 
43 



GEORGE ELIOT 

under the strain of temp ation and it is to Maggie he succumbs) is 
not worthy of her spiritual and idealistic nature. There is no hint 
that, if Fate had allowed them to come together innocently, she 
wouldn't have found him a pretty satisfactory soul-mate ; there, for 
George Eliot, lies the tragedy it is conscience opposes. Yet the 
ordinary nature of the fascination is made quite plain : 

'And then, to have the footstool placed carefully by a too 
self-confident personage not any self-confident personage, but 
one in particular, who suddenly looks humble and anxious, and 
lingers, bending still, to ask if there is not some draught in that 
position between the window and the fireplace, and if he may 
not be allowed to move the work-table for her these things 
will summon a little of the too-ready, traitorous tenderness into 
a woman's eyes, compelled as she is in her girlish time to learn 
her life-lessons in very trivial language.' (Book VI, Chapter 
VII.) 

And it is quite plain that George Eliot shares to the full the sense 
of Stephen's irresistibleness the vibration establishes it beyond a 
doubt : 

'For hours Maggie felt as if her struggle had been in vain. 
For hours every other thought that she strove to summon was 
thrust aside by the image of Stephen waiting for the single word 
that would bring him to her. She did not read the letter : she 
heard him uttering it, and the voice shook her with its old 
strange power. . . . And yet that promise of joy in the place of 
sadness did not make the dire force of the temptation to Maggie. 
It was Stephen's tone of misery, it was the doubt in the justice 
of her own resolve, that made the balance tremble, and made 
her once start from her seat to reach the pen and paper, and 
write "Come".' 

There is no suggestion of any antipathy between this fascination 
and Maggie's 'higher faculties', apart from the moral veto that 
imposes renunciation. The positive counterpart of renunciation in 
the 'higher* realm to which this last is supposed to belong is the 
exaltation, transcending all conflicts and quotidian stalenesses, that 
goes with an irresistibly ideal self-devotion. It is significant that the 
passages describing such an exaltation, whether as longed for or as 
attained and there are many in George Eliot's works have a close 

44 



THE EARLY PHASE 

affinity in tone and feeling with this (fron: the chapter significantly 
headed, Borne along by the tide) : 

'And they went. Maggie felt that she was being led down 
the garden among the roses, being helped with firm tender care 
into the boat, having the cushion and cloak arranged for her 
feet, and her parasol opened for her (which she had forgotten) 
all this by the stronger presence that seemed to bear her along 
without any act of her own will, like the added self which 
comes with the sudden exalting influence of a strong tonic 
and she felt nothing else/ (BooL VI, Chapter Xffl.) 

The satisfaction got by George Eliot from imaginative participa- 
tion in exalted enthusiasms and self-devotions would, if she could 
suddenly have gained the power of analysis that in these regions she 
lacked, have surprised her by the association of elements it repre- 
sented. 

The passage just quoted gives the start of the expedition with 
Stephen in which chance, the stream and the tide are allowed, 
temporarily, to decide Maggie's inner conflict. It has been remarked 
that George Eliot has a fondness for using boats, water and chance 
in this way. But there are distinctions to be made. The way in 
which Maggie, exhausted by the struggle, surrenders to the chance 
that leaves her to embark alone with Stephen, and then, with inert 
will, lets the boat carry her down-stream until it is too late, so that 
the choice seems takeu from her and the decision compelled all 
this is admirable. This is insight and understanding, and comes 
trom the psychologist who is to analyse for us Gwendolen Harleth's 
acceptance of Grandcourt. But the end of The Mill on the Floss 
belongs to another kind of art. Some might place it under the * art* 
referred to by Henry James. And it is certainly a * dramatic* close 
of a kind congenial to the Victorian novel-reader. But it has for 
the critic more significance than this suggests : George Eliot is, 
emotionally, fully engaged in it. The qualifying * emotionally' is 
necessary because of the criticism that has to be urged : something 
so like a kind of daydream indulgence we are all familiar with could 
not have imposed itself on the novelist as the right ending if her 
mature intelligence had been fully engaged, giving her fiill self- 
knowledge. The flooded river has no symbolic or metaphorical 
value. It is only the dreamed-of perfect accident that gives us the 

45 



GEORGE ELIOT 

opportunity for the drcamed-of heroic act the act that shall 
vindicate us against a harshly misjudging world, bring emotional 
fulfilment and (in others) changes of heart, and provide a gloriously 
tragic curtain. Not that the sentimental in it is embarrassingly 
gross, but the finality is not that of great art, and the significance is 
what I have suggested a revealed immaturity. 

The success of Silas Marner, that charming minor masterpiece, is 
conditioned by the absence of personal immediacy ; it is a success of 
reminiscent and enchanted re-creation : Silas Marner has in it, in its 
solid way, something of the fairy-tale. That 'solid' presents itself 
because of the way in which the moral fable is realized in terms of a 
substantial real world. But this, though re-seen through adult 
experience, is die world of childhood and youth the world as 
directly known then, and what is hardly distinguishable from that, 
the world as known through family reminiscence, conveyed in anec- 
dote and fireside history. The mood of enchanted adult reminis- 
cence blends with the re-captured traditional aura to give the world 
of Silas Marner its atmosphere. And it is this atmosphere that condi- 
tions the success of the moral intention. We take this intention 
quite seriously, or, rather, we are duly affected by a realized moral 
significance ; the whole history has been conceived in a profoundly 
and essentially moral imagination. But the atmosphere precludes 
too direct a reference to our working standards of probability that 
is, to our everyday sense of how doings happen ; so that there is an 
answer to Leslie Stephen when he comments on Silas Marner in its 
quality of moral fable : 

'The supposed event the moral recovery of a nature re- 
duced by injustice and isolation to the borders of sanity strikes 
one perhaps as more pretty than probable. At least, if one had 
to dispose of a deserted child, the experiment of dropping it 
by the cottage of a solitary in the hope that he would bring it 
up to its advantage and to his own regeneration would hardly 
be tried by a judicious philanthropist/ 

Leslie Stephen, of course, is really concerned to make a limiting 
judgment, that which is made in effect when he says : 

'But in truth the whole story is conceived in a way which 
makes a pleasant conclusion natural and harmonious/ 

46 



THE EARLY PHASE 

There is nothing that strikes us as false aSout the story ; its charm 
depends upon our being convinced of its moral truth. But in our 
description of the satisfaction got from it, * charm* remains the 
significant word. 

The force of the limiting implication may be brought out by a 
comparative reference to another masterpiece of fiction that it is 
jiatural to bring under the head of * moral fable* : Dickens's Hard 
Times. The heightened reality of that great book (which combines 
a perfection of 'art* in the Flaubertian sense with an un-Flaubertian 
moral strength and human richness) has in it nothing of the fairy- 
tale, and is such as to preclude pleasantness altogether ; the satis- 
faction given depends on a moral significance that can have no 
relations with charm. But the comparison is, of course, unfair : 
Hard Times has a large and complex theme, involving its author's 
profoundest response to contemporary civilization, while Silas 
Marner is modestly conscious of its minor quality. 

The unfairness may be compensated by taking up Leslie Stephen's 
suggestion that * Silas Marner is ... scarcely equalled in English 
literature, unless by Mr. Hprdy's rustics in Far from the Madding 
Crowd and other early works'. Actually, the comparison is to 
George Eliot's advantage (enormously so), and to Hardy's detri- 
ment, in ways already suggested. The praises that have been given 
to George Eliot for the talk at the Rainbow are deserved. It is 
indeed remarkable thr t a woman should have been able to present 
so convincingly an exclusively masculine milieu. It is the more 
remarkable when we recall the deplorable Bob Jakin of The Mill on 
the Floss> who is so obviously and embarrassingly a feminine product. 

Silas Marner closes the first phase of George Eliot's creative life. 
She finds that, if she is to go on being a novelist, it must be one of a 
very different kind. And Romola, her first attempt to achieve the 
necessary inventiveness, might well have justified the conviction 
that her creative life was over. 

(ii) 'Romola* to ' Middlemarch' 

If we hesitated to judge that in Romola George Eliot 'proceeds 
from the abstract to the concrete' it would be because 'proceed* 
might seem to imply 'attain*. Of this monument of excogitation 

47 



GEORGE ELIOT 

and reconstruction Henry James himself says : 'More than any of 
her novels it was evolved from her moral consciousness a moral 
consciousness encircled by a prodigious amount of literary research*. 
The 'figures and situations' are indeed 'deeply studied and massively 
supported', and they represent characteristic preoccupations of the 
novelist, but they fail to emerge from the state of generalized 
interest : they are not brought to any sharp edge of realization. Tito 
Melema, developing a mere mild insufficiency of positive unselfish- 
ness into a positive and lethal viciousness, illustrates a favourite 
theme, moral and psychological, but he remains an illustration, 
thought of, thought out, and painstakingly specified ; never be- 
coming anything like a prior reality that embodies the theme and 
presents it as life. The analogous and worse failure in respect of 
Savonarola is fairly suggested by such passages of laborious analytic 
prose as Leslie Stephen quotes (George Eliot, p. 134), with the 
comment : 

'this almost Germanic concatenation of clauses not only puts 
such obvious truths languidly, but keeps Savonarola himself at 
a distance. We are not listening to a Hamlet, but to a judicious 
critic analysing the state of mind which prompts "to be or not 
to be".' 

There is no presence, that is ; the analysis serves instead. 

Romola herself Leslie Stephen judges more favourably indeed, 
very favourably. And it is true that she represents something other 
than the failure of a powerful mind to warm analysis into creation ; 
she is a palpably emotional presence : Romola, in fact, is another 
idealized George Eliot less real than Maggie TulUver and more 
idealized. While patrician and commandingly beautiful, she has 
also George Eliot's combination of intellectual power, emancipation, 
inherent piety, and hunger for exaltations. 

'The pressing problem for Romola just then was ... to 
keep alive that flame of unselfish emotion by which a life of 
sadness might still be a life of active love.' 

With 'Maggie' substituted for 'Romola', that might have come 
as a patently autobiographical note from The Mill on the Floss. And 
if is the immediate presence of the yearning translator of Strauss 
that we feel in such situations as this : 

48 



ROAfOL^l TO MIDDLEMARCH 

'Romola, kneeling with buried fact on the altar step, was 
enduring one of those sickening moments when die enthusiasm 
which had come to her as the only energy strong enough to 
make life worthy, seemed to be inevitably bound up with vain 
dreams and wilful eye-shutting/ 

And when we read that 'tender fellow-feeling for the nearest has 
its danger too, rmd is apt to be timid and sceptical towards the larger 
aims without which life cr,nnot rise into religion* we know that we 
are in direct contact with the 'pressing problem' of the nineteenth- 
century intellectual, contemporary of Mill, Matthew Arnold and 
Comte. So that we can hardly help being pryingly personal in our 
conjectures when, going on, we read : 

' No one who has ever known what it is thus to lose faith in 
a fellow man whom he has profoundly loved and reverenced, 
will lightly say that the shock can leave the faith in the Invisible 
Goodness unshaken. With the sinking of high human trust, the 
dignity of life sinks too : we cease to believe in our own better 
self, since that also is part of the common nature which is 
degraded in our thought ; and all the finer impulses of the soul 
are dulled/ 

Dr. John Chapman ? we ask. 

The answer, of course, doesn't matter The point we have to 
make is that this closeness of relation between heroine and author 
is no more here than elsewhere in George Eliot a strength. Romola, 
in fact, has none of the reality associated with Maggie Tulliver, but 
she brings in the weakness, associated with Maggie, that embarrasses 
us in The Mill on the Floss. 

The passage just quoted opens the episode in which Romola, 
lying down in an open boat, abandons herself to the winds and tides 
'To be freed from the burden of choice when all motive was 
bruised, to commit herself, sleeping, to destiny which would either 
bring death or else new necessities that might rouse a new life in 
her*. 'Had she', she asks, as she lies in die gliding boat, 'found 
anything like the dream of her girlhood ? No.' But she is to find 
now, in alleged actuality, something embarrassingly like a girlhood 
dream. She drifts ashore at the plague-stricken village, and, a 
ministering Madonna 'the Mother with the glory about her 
tending the sick' is a miracle for the villajers. It is a miracle for 
D 49 



GEORGE ELIOT 

her too, rescuing her from her 'pressing problem* with a 'flame of 
unselfish emotion', provided by a heaven-sent chance out of the 
void. 

Few will want to read Romola a cecond time, and few can ever 
have got through it once without some groans It is indubitably the 
work of a very gifted mind, but of a mind misusing itself; and it is 
the one novel answering to the kind of account of George Eliot that 
became current during the swing of the pendulum against her after 
her death. 

Yet Romola has habitually been included in the lists of cheap re- 
prints, and probably a good many more readers have tackled it than 
have ever taken up Felix Holt. In writing Felix Holt, which brings 
us back to England, George Eliot did look up The Times for 1830 or 
thereabouts ; but there was no tremendous and exhausting labour 
of historical reconstruction. What called for the most uncongenial 
hard work on her part was the elaboration of the plot work (it 
strikes us to-day) about as perversely, if not as desiccatingly, mis- 
directed as that which went to evoking life at Florence in the time 
of Savonarola. The complications of the thorough-paced Victorian 
plot depend, with painful correctness (professional advice having 
been taken of the Positivist friend, Frederic Harrison), on some 
esoteric subtleties of the law of entail, and they demand of the reader 
a strenuousness of attention that, if he is an admirer of George Eliot, 
he is unwilling to devote. 

It is in the theme represented by the title of the book that the 
'reflective' preponderance of the 'moral consciousness', working 
from the 'abstract* without being able to turn it into convincing 
perception, notably manifests itself. Felix Holt is the ideal working 
man. Though educated, he is who! 1 y loyal to his class (to the extent 
of remaining shaggy in appearance and manners), and dedicates his 
life to its betterment ; but, while proposing to take an active part 
in politics, he refuses to countenance any of the compromises of 
organized political action. He denounces the Radical agent for 
fighting the constituency in the usual way. Rational appeal to un- 
alloyed principle that alone can be permitted ; the time-honoured 
methods of party warfare, defended as practical necessities for party 
s-"xess, debase and betray the people's cause, and there must be no 
truck with them. Felix is as noble and courageous in act as in ideal, 

50 



ROMOLA TO MIDDLEMARCH 

and is wholly endorsed by his rreator. That in presenting these 
unrealities George Eliot gives proof of a keen interest in political, 
social and economic history, and in the total complex movement of 
civilization, and exhibits an impressive command of the facts, would 
seem to confirm the deprecatory view commonly taken of the 
relation between intellectual and novelist. Here is the way Felix 
Holt, Radical, calks : 

'"Oh, yes, your ringed and scented men of the people! I 
won't be one of them. Let a mm throttle himself with a satin 
stock, and he'll get new wants and new motives. Metamor- 
phosis will have begun at his neck-joint, and it will go on till it 
has changed his likings first and then his reasoning, which will 
follow his likings as the feet of a hungry dog follow his nose. 
I'll have none of your clerkly gentility. I might end by collect- 
ing greasy pence from poor men to buy myself a fine coat and 
a glutton's dinner, on pretence of serving the poor men. I'd 
sooner be Paley's fat pigeon than a demagogue all tongue and 
stomach, though" here Felix changed his voice a little "I 
should like well enough to be another sort of demagogue, if I 
could." 

'"Then you have a strong interest in the great political 
movements of these times ? " said Mr. Lyon, with a perceptible 
flashing of the eyes. 

'"I should think so. I despise every man who has not or, 
having it, doesn't try to rouse it in other men".' 

Here he is addressing a young lady at their first meeting : 

'"Oh, your niceties I know what they are," said Felix, in 
his usual fortissimo. "They all go on your system of make- 
believe. * Rottenness ' may suggest what is unpleasant, so you'd 
better say 'sugar-plums', or something else such a long way off 
the fact that nobody is obliged to think of it. Those are your 
roundabout euphuisms that dress up swindling till it looks as 
well as honesty, and shoot with boiled pease instead of bullets. 
I hate your gentlemanly speakers".' l 

The consequences of general intention combined with inexperi- 

1 Compare this later address of his to Esther: '"I wonder", he went on, 
still looking at her, "whether the subtle measuring ot forces will ever come 
to measuring the force there would be in one beauaful woman whose mind 
was as noble as her face was beautiful who made a man's passion for her 
rush in one current with all the great aims of his life".' 

51 



GEORGE ELIOT 

cnce are disastrously plain. The idealizing bent se^n to be so marked 
in Adam Bede when we compare him with Caleb Garth of Middle- 
march is not really a strength ; but George Eliot knew the country 
artisan at first hand and intimately. In offering to present the 
Dignity of Labour in the ideal town working-man she is relying on 
her 'moral consciousness* unqualified by first-hand knowledge. 

Felix Holt's very unideal mother, though not the same kind of 
disaster (she's only a minor figure, of course), is not much more con- 
vincing ; she seems to be done out of Dickens rather than from life. 
The Reverend Rufus Lyon, the Congregationalist minister, heroic- 
ally quaint reminder of the heroic age of Puritanism (and inspired, 
one guesses, by Scott), is incredible and a bore to say which is a 
severe criticism, since his talk occupies a large proportion of the 
book. Esther, the beautiful and elegant young lady passing as his 
daughter, is interesting only in relation to other feminine studies 
of the author's, and to her treatment in general of feminine 
charm. 

But there is an element in the novel as yet untouched on. It is 
represented by this, where the dialogue is so different in quality 
from that in which Felix Holt figures, and the analysis of so different 
an order (and in so different a prose) from that characteristic of 
Romola : 

'"Harold is remarkably acute Lnd clevei", he began at last, 
since Mrs.Transome did not speak. " If he gets into Parliament, 
I have no doubt he will distinguish himself. He has a quick eye 
for business of all kinds." 

"'That is no comfort to me", said Mrs. Transome. To-day 
she was more conscious than usual of that bitterness which was 
always in her mind in Jermyn's presence, but which was care- 
fully suppressed because she could not endure that the degrada- 
tion she inwardly felt should ever become visible or audible in 
acts or words of her own should ever be reflected in any word 
or look of his. For years there had been a deep silence about the 
past between them : on her side, because she remembered ; 
on his, because he more and more forgot. 

'"I trust he is aot unkind to you in any way. I know his 
opinions pain you ; but I trust you find him in everything else 
disposed to be a good son." 

Oh, to be sure good as men are disposed to be to women, 

52 



ROMOLA TO MIDDLEMARCH 

giving them cushions and carriages, and recommending them 
to enjoy themselves, and then expecting them to be contented 
under contempt and neglect. I have no power over him 
remember that none." 

'Jermyn turned to look in Mrs. Transome's face : it was long 
since he had heard her speak to him as if she were losing her 
self-command. 

'"Has he shown any unpleasant feeling about your manage- 
ment of the affairs ?" 

* " My management of the affairs ! ' ' Mrs. Transome said, with 
concentrated rage, flashing a fierce look at Jermyn. She 
checked herself: she felt as if she were lighting a torch to flare 
on her own past folly and misery. It was a resolve which had 
become a habit, that she would never quarrel with this man 
never tell him what she saw him tj be. She had kept her 
woman's pride and sensibility intact : through all her life there 
had vibrated the maiden need to have her hand kissed and be 
the object of chivalry. And so she sank into silence again, 
trembling. 

'Jermyn felt annoyed nothing more. There was nothing in 
his mind corresponding to the intricate meshes of sensitiveness 
in Mrs. Transome's. He was anything but stupid; yet he 
always blundered when he wanted to be delicate or magnani- 
mous ; he constantly sought to soothe o diers by praising himself. 
Moral vulgarity cleaved to him like an hereditary odour. He 
blundered now. 

'"My dear Mrs. Transome", he said, in a tone of bland 
kindness, "you are agitated you appear angry with me. Yet 
I think, if you consider, you will see that you have nothing to 
complain of in me, unless you will complain of the inevitable 
course of man's life. I have always met your wishes both in 
happy circumstances and in unhappy ones. I should be ready 
to do so now, if it were possible. ' 

'Every sentence was as pleasant to her as if it had been cut 
in her bared arm. Some men's kindness and love-making are 
more exasperating, more humiliating than others' derision, but 
the pitiable woman who has once made herself secretly depend- 
ent on a man who is beneath her in feelirg must bear that 
humiliation for fear of worse. Coarse kindness is at least better 
than coarse anger ; and in all private quarrels the duller nature 
is triumphant by reason of its dulness. Mrs. Transome knew 

53 



GEORGE ELIOT 

in. her inmost soul that those relations which had sealed her lips 
on Jermyn's conduct in business matters, had been with him a 
ground for presuming that he should have impunity in any lax 
dealing into which circumstances had led him. She knew that 
she herself had endured all fhe more privation because of his 
dishonest selfishness. And now, Harold's long-deferred heir- 
ship, and his return with startlingly unexpected penetration, 
acitivity, and assertion of mastery, had placed them both in the 
full presence of a difficulty which had been prepared by the 
years of vague uncertainty as to issues/ 

It should be plain from the quality of this that the theme it handles 
is profoundly felt and sharply realized. This theme concerns Mrs. 
Transome, her son Harold, and the family lawyer, Matthew 
Jermyn. It is utterly different in kind from anything else in Felix 
Holt and from anything earlier of George EHot's, and when we 
come to it we see finally that Henry James's antithesis, 'perceptive* 
and 'reflective', will not do. For if we ask how this art is so 
astonishingly finer and maturer than anything George Eliot had 
done before, the answer is in terms of a perception that is so much 
more clear and profound because the perceiving focuses the pro- 
found experience of years experience worked over by reflective 
thought, and so made capable of focusing. What we perceive 
depends on what we bring to the perceiving ; and George Eliot 
brought a magnificent intelligence, functioning here as mature 
understanding. Intelligence in her was not always worsted by 
emotional needs ; the relation between the artist and the intellectual 
in her (with the formidable 'exemption from cerebral lassitude') 
was not always a matter of her intellect being enlisted in the service 
of her immaturity. 

The beneficent relation between artist and intellectual is to be seen 
in the new impersonality of the Transome theme. The theme is 
realized with an intensity certainly not inferior to that of the most 
poignant autobiographical places in George Eliot, but the directly 
personal vibration the directly personal engagement of the novelist 
that we feel in Maggie Tulliver's intensities even at their most 
valid is absent here. 'The more perfect the artist, the more com- 
pletely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind 
which creates' : it is in the part of Felix Holt dealing with Mrs. 

54 



ROMOLA TO MIDDLEMARCH 

Transome that George Eliot becomes one of the great creative 
artists. She has not here, it will be noted, a heroine with whom 
she can be tempted to identify herself. Mrs. Transome is County, 
and how unlike she is to the novelist appears sufficiently in this 
account of he*- : 

'She had that high-born imperious air which would have 
marked her as an object of hatred and reviling by a revolution- 
ary rhob. Her person was too typical of social distinctions to 
be passed by with indifference by anyone : it would have 
fitted an empress in her own right, who had had to rule in spite 
of faction, to dare the violation of treaties and dread retributive 
invasions, to grasp after new territories, to be defiant in desper- 
ate circumstances, and to feel a woman's hunger of the heart for 
ever unsatisfied. . . .When she was young she had been thought 
wonderfully clever and accomplished, and had been rather 
ambitious of intellectual superiority had secretly picked out 
for private reading the lighter parts of dangerous French 
authors and in company had been able to talk of Mr. Burke's 
style, or of Chateaubriand's eloquence had laughed at the 
Lyrical Ballads and admired Mr. Southey's Thalaba. She 
always thought that the dangerous French authors were wicked 
and that her reading of them was a sin ; but many sinful things 
were highly agreeable to her, and many things which she did 
not doubt to be good and true were dull and meaningless. She 
found ridicule of Biblical characters very amusing, and she was 
interested in stories of illicit passion ; but she believed all the 
while that truth and safety lay in due attendance on prayers and 
sermons, in the admirable doctrines and ritual of the Church of 
England, equally remote from Puritanism and Popery ; in fact, 
in such a view of this world and the next as would preserve the 
existing arrangements of English society quite unshaken, keep- 
ing down the obtrusiveriess of the vulgar and the discontent of 
the poor.' 

The treatment of Mrs. Transome is not, as this description may 
suggest, ironical. The irony, a tragic irony, resides in her situation, 
which is presented with complete objectivity though with 
poignant sympathy, unlike as her strains arid distresses are to the 
novelist's own. In this sympathy there is not a trace of self-pi *y 
or self-indulgence. Mrs. Transome is a study in Nemesis. And, 

55 



GEORGE ELIOT 

although her case is conceited in an imagination that is profoundly 
moral, die presentment of it is a matter of psychological observation 
psychological observation so utterly convincing in its significance 
that the price paid by Mrs. Transome for her sin in inevitable 
consequences doesn't need a moralist's insistence, and there is none ; 
to speak of George Eliot here as a moralist would, one feels, be to 
misplace a stress. She is simply a great artist a great novelist, 
with a great novelist's psychological insight and fineness of human 
valuation. Here is one aspect of Mrs. Transome's tragedy : 

'The mother's love is at first an absorbing delight, blunting 
all other sensibilities ; it is an expansion of the animal existence ; 
it enlarges the imagined range for self to move in : but in after 
years it can only continue to be joy on the same terms as other 
long-lived love that L, by much suppression of self, and 
power of living in the experience of another. Mrs. Transome 
had darkly felt the pressure of that unchangeable fact. Yet she 
had clung to the belief that somehow the possession of this son 
was the best thing she lived for ; to believe otherwise would 
have made her memory too ghastly a companion.' 

Mrs. Transome, of course, is not capable of recognizing the 
'unchangeable fact' of which she 'darkly feels the pressure'. She 
cannot alter herself, and for her the worth and meaning of life lie in 
command, and the imposition of her will. This is shown to us, not 
with any incitement to censure, but as making her, in its inevitable 
consequences, tragically pitiable. For her feeble-minded husband 
she can feel little but contempt". That the unsatisfactory elder son 
who took after him is dead is matter for rejoicing : Harold, the 
second and quite other son, now becomes the heir, and, returning 
home from the Levant where Iv* has made a fortune, will be able 
to put the encumbered family estate on a new footing, so that, 
belatedly, the lady of Transome Court will assume real dominion, 
and take her due place in the County. That dream, for many 
starved years the reason for living, dies as soon as they meet, and 
the despairing bitterness that engulfs her as she realizes that he is 
indeed her son, 1 and that for him too command and the exercise of 
will are the meaning of life, is evoked (notably in the exchanges with 

1 ' Under the shock of discovering her son's Radicalism Mrs. Transome had 
no impulse to say one thirg rather than another; as in a, man who has just 

56 



RCMOLA TO MIDDLEMARCH 

Denner, her maid) with an astringently moving power unsurpassed 
in literature. 

To the tormenting frustration and hopelessness is soon added fear. 
It is not only that Harold, with his poised kindness that is so utterly 
unaware of her, frustrates her social hopes by proclaiming himself a 
Radical, and, at home, supersedes her authority, her raison d'etre ; 
he terrifies her by proposing to follow up his suspicions concerning 
Matthew Jermyn's custodianship of the family interests. The mine 
waiting to be detonated will blast them all three. For Harold is also 
Jermyn's son. 

It is remarkable and it is characteristic of George Eliot's mature 
art that the treatment of Mrs. Transome's early lapse should have 
in it nothing of the Victorian moralist. In the world of this art the 
atmosphere of the taboo is unknown ; Hiere is none of the excited 
hush, the skirting round, the thrill of shocked reprobation, or any 
of the forms of sentimentality typical of Victorian fiction when 
such themes are handled. There is instead an intently matter-of- 
fact directness : this is human nature, this is the fact and these are the 
inexorable consequences. A.part from the fear, the worst face, as 
Mrs. Transome sees it, of regret for the past is what we have here (it 
follows on the first long quotation made above from Felix Holt) : 

'In this position, with a great dread hanging over her, which 
Jermyn knew, and ought to have felt that he had caused her, 
she was inclined tu lash him with indignation, to scorch him 
with the words that were just the fit names for his doings 
inclined all the more when he spoke with an insolent blandness, 
ignoring all that was truly in her heart. But no sooner did the 
words "You have brought it on me" rise within her than she 
heard within also the retort, "You brought it on yourself". 
Not for all the world beside could she bear to hear that retort 
uttered from without. What did she do? With strange 
sequence to all that rapid tumult, after a few moments' silence 
she said, in a gentle and almost tremulous voice 

'"Let me take your arm". . . . 

'As she took away her hand, Jermyn let his arm fall, put 

been branded on the forehead all wonted motives would be uprooted. Harold, 
on his side, had no wish opposed to filial kindness, but his busy thoughts 
were imperiously determined by habits which had no reference to ary 
woman's feelings. . . .' 

57 



GEORGE ELIOT 

both his hands in his pockets, and shrugging his shoulders said, 
"I shall use him as he uses me". 

'jermyn had turned round his savage side, and the bland- 
ness was out of sight. It was this that had always frightened 
Mrs. Transome : there was a possibility of fierce insolence in 
this man who was to pass with those nearest to her as her in- 
debted servant, but whose brand she secretly bore. She was as 
powerless with him as she was with her son. 

' This woman, who loved rule, dared not speak another word 
of attempted persuasion/ 

Mrs. Transome has, and can have, no impulse towards what the 
moralist means by repentance : 

' She had no ultimate analysis of things that went beyond 
blood and family th^ Herons of Fenshore or the Badgers of 
Hillbury. She had never seen behind the canvas with which 
her life was hung. In the dim background there was the 
burning mount and the tables of the law ; in the foreground 
there was Lady Debarry privately gossiping about her, and 
Lady Wyvern finally deciding not to send her invitations to 
dinner/ 

She is herself here in her reaction to Jermyn's suggestion that he 
shall be saved by her telling Harold : 

'"But now you have asked me, I will never tell him ! Be 
ruined no do something mure dastardly to save yourself. 
If I sinned, my judgment went beforehand that I should sin 
for a man like you"/ 

This limitation is of the essence of her tragedy ; it goes, as George 
Eliot presents her, with her being an impressive and sympathy- 
commanding figure. Here we have her enduring the agonized 
helplessness of a moment of tension : 

'When Harold left the table she went into the long drawing- 
room, where she might relieve her restlessness by walking up 
and down, and catch the sound of Jermyn's entrance into 
Harold's room, which was close by. Here she moved to and 
fro amongst the rose-coloured satin of chairs and curtains the 
great story of this world reduced for her to the little tale of her 
own existence dull obscurity everywhere, except where the 
keen light fell on the narrow track of her own lot, wide only 

58 



ROMOLA TO MIDDLEMARCH 

for a woman's anguish. At last she heard the expected ring and 
footstep, and the opening and closing door. Unable to walk 
about any longer, she sank into a large cushioned chair, helpless 
and prayerless. She was not thinking of God's anger or mercy 
but of her son's. She was thinking of what might be brought, 
not by death, but by life.' 

There is no touch of the homiletic about this ; it is dramatic con- 
statation, poignant and utterly convincing, and the implied moral, 
which is a matter of the enacted inevitability, is that perceived by 
a psychological realist. As the strain develops for her, our sym- 
pathetic interest is painfully engaged, so that when we come to the 
critical point (Chapter XLII) at which Jermyn says, 'It is not to be 
supposed that Harold would go against me ... if he knew the whole 
truth', we feel the full atrocity the prop >sition has for her. Further, 
we take the full force and finality of the disaster represented by her 
now breaking her life-long resolve never to quarrel 'with this man 
never tell him what she knew him to be'. 

The man is perfectly done. For him Nemesis has a face corre- 
sponding to his moral quality ; it is something he contemplates 'in 
anger, in exasperation, that Harold, precisely Harold Transome, 
should have turned out to be the probable instrument of a visitation 
that would be bad luck, not justice ; for is there any justice when 
ninety-nine men out of a hundred escape ? He found himself begin- 
ning to hate Harold . . .'. by delicate touches the resemblance 
between father and son is conveyed to us, and the discrimination 
made between their respective egoisms. 

If we agree that the two men are 'women's men', it is not in any 
sense that detracts from their convincingness ; it is rather in the 
sense that the penetrating and 'placing' analysis of their masculinity 
is something, we feel, that it took a woman to do. Jermyn's case 
is Tito Melema's ; this time not thought out in an effort to work 
from the abstract to the concrete, but presented in the life, with 
compelling reality ; he is unquestionably 'there* in the full concrete, 
and unquestionably (as Tito, in so far as he exists, is not) a man 
one of 'those who are led on through the years by the gradual 
demands of a selfishness which has spread its fibres far and wide 
through the intricate vanities and sordid cares of an everydav 
existence'. 

59 



GEORGE ELIOT 

As for Harold, he has 'the energetic will, the quick perception, 
and the narrow imagination which make what is called the "prac- 
tical mind".' He is a 'clever, frank, good-natured egoist*. 

' His very good-nature was unsympathetic : it never came 
from any thorough understanding or deep respect for what 
was in the mind of the person he obliged or indulged ; it was 
like his kindness to his mother an arrangement of his for the 
happiness of others, which, if they were sensible, ought to 
succeed/ 

He cannot, of course, help his parentage ; the ironic element of 
Nemesis in his disaster is given here : l 

'"Confound the fellow with his Mrs. Jermyn! Does he 
think we are on a footing for me to know anything about his 
wife?"' 

It is characteristic of George Eliot that she can make such a man 
the focus of a profoundly moving tragedy : for Harold unquestion- 
ably becomes that for us at the point when, turning violently on 
Jermyn, who has been driven to come out with, 'I am your father ! ', 
he catches sight, in the ensuing scuffle, of the two faces side by side 
in a mirror, and sees 'the hated fatherhood reasserted'. This may 
sound melodramatic as recapitulated here ; that it should come with 
so final a rightness in the actual text shows with what triumphant 
success George Eliot has justified iierhigh ragic conception of her 
theme. It is characteristic of her to be able to make a tragedy out of 
'moral mediocrity'. The phrase is used to convey the redeemed 
Esther Lyon's sense of life at Transome Court, and Esther has been 
represented earlier as reflecting: 'Mr. Transome had his beetles, 
but Mrs. Transome ? ' There is nothing sentimental about George 
Eliot's vision of human mediocrity and 'platitude', but she sees in 
them matters for compassion, and her dealings with them are asser- 
tions of human dignity. To be able to assert human dignity in this 
way is greatness : the contrast with Flaubert is worth pondering. 

1 '"Why do you wish to shield such a fellow, mother?" . . . Mrs. Tran- 
some's rising temper was turned into a horrible sensation, as painful as a 
sudden concussion trom something hard and immovable when we have 
struck out with our fist, intending to hit something warm, soft and breathing 
like ourselves. Poor Mrs. Transome's strokes were sent jarring back on her 
by a hard unendurable pas*.' 

60 



MIDDLEMARCH 

Felix Holt is not one of the novels that cultivated persons are 
supposed to have read, and, if read at all, it is hardly ever men- 
tioned, so that there is reason for saying that one of the finest things 
in fiction is virtually unknown. It is exasperating that George 
Eliot should have embedded some of her maturest work in a mass 
that is so much other though Felix Holt is not, like Romola, 'un- 
readable', and the superlative quality of the live part ought to 
have compelled recognition. It is exasperating and it is, again, 
characteristic of her. Only one book can, as a whole (though not 
without qualification), be said to represent her mature genius. That, 
of course, is Middlemarch. 

The necessary part of great intellectual powers in such a success as 
Middlemarch is obvious. The sub-title of the book is A Study of 
Provincial Life, and it is no idle pretension. The sheer informedness 
about society, its mechanism, the ways in which people of different 
classes live and (if they have to) earn their livelihoods, impresses us 
with its range, and it is real knowledge ; that is, it is knowledge 
alive with understanding. George Eliot had said in Felix Holt 9 by 
way of apology for the space she devoted to 'social changes' and 
'public matters' : ' there is no private life which has not been deter- 
mined by a wider public life'. The aim implicit in this remark is 
magnificently achieved hi Middlemarch, and it is achieved by a 
novelist whose genius manifests itself in a profound analysis of the 
individual. We can see that here indeed Beatrice Potter, training 
herself to become a 'sociological investigator', might have looked 
without disappointment for what che failed to find in the text- 
books. 1 

The intellectual, again, is apparent in the conception of certain of 
the most strikingly successful themes. Only a novelist who had 
known from the inside the exhaustions and discouragements of 
long-range intellectual enterprises could have conveyed the pathos 
of Dr. Casaubon's predicament. Not that Casaubon is supposed 
to have a remarkable intellect ; he is an intellectual manqut : 

'Nay, are there many situations more sublimely tragic than 
the struggle of the soul with the demand to renounce a work 

1 * For any detailed description of the complexity of human nature ... I 
had to turn to novelists and poets . . .' : B. Webb, My Apprenticeship, p. 138. 

6l 



GEORGE ELIOT 

which has been all the significance of its life a significance 
which is to vanish as the waters which come and go where no 
man has need of them ? But there was nothing to strike others 
as sublime about Mr. Casaubon, and Lydgate, who had some 
contempt at hand for futile scholarship, felt a litUp amusement 
mingling with his pity He was at present too ill acquainted 
with disaster to enter into the pathos of a lot where^ every thing 
is below the level of tragedy except the passionate egoism of 
the sufferer/ 

Actually, the pathos that Casaubon enacts 'below the tragic level' 
is not quite what this passage by itself might suggest ; egoism plays 
a part more like that which it plays in Mrs. Transome's tragedy. 
The essential predicament in both cases involves the insulation of 
the egoism from all large or heroic ends. Not only is Casaubon s 
scholarship futile ; he himself inwardly knows it to be so, and is 
more preoccupied with saving himself from having to recognize 
the fact than with anything else. To have communicated mov- 
ingly the pathos of such a situation is the more remarkable in that 
Lydgate's amused contempt is clearly not altogether unlike some- 
thing that is strongly felt by the novelist : she does more than hint 
at the potentialities of comedy in Casaubon, and of a comedy more 
critical than sympathetic. This, for instance, is extraordinarily like 
something of the early satiric felicities of Mr. E. M. Forster : 

'Mr. Casaubon, as might be expected, spent' a great deal of 
his time at the Grange in these weeks, and the hindrance which 
courtship occasioned to the progress of his great work the 
Key to all Mythologies naturally made him look forward the 
more eagerly to the happy termination of courtship But he 
had deliberately incurred the hindrance, having made up his 
mind that it was now time for him to adorn his life with the 
graces of female companionship, to irradiate the gloom which 
fatigue was apt to hang over the intervals of studious labour 
with the play of female fancy, and to secure in this, his culmin- 
ating age, the solace of female tendance for his declining years. 
Hence he determined to abandon himself to the stream of feel- 
ing, and perhaps was surprised to find what an exceedingly 
shallow rill it was. As in droughty regions baptism by immer- 
sion could only be performed symbolically, so Mr. Casaubon 
found that sprinkling *vas the utmost approach to a plunge 

62 



MIDDLEMARCH 

which his stream would afford him ; and he concluded that the 
poets had much exaggerated the force of masculine passion. 
Nevertheless, he observed with pleasure that Miss Brooke 
showed an ardent submissive affection which promised to fulfil 
his most agreeable previsions of mamage. It had once or twice 
crossed his mind that possibly there was some deficiency in 
Dorothea to account for the moderation of his abandonment; 
but he was unable to discern the deficiency, or to figure to 
himself a woman who would have pleased him better ; so that 
there was clearly no reason to fall back upon but the exaggera- 
tions of human tradition.' 

Compare that with the account of Mr. Pembroke's proposal in 
The Longest Journey, and it is difficult not to suspect that this is in a 
different class from the general resemblances that relate Mr. Forster 
by way of George Eliot and Jane Austen back to Fielding, and that 
we have a direct relation of reminiscence here. However that may 
be, the point to be made regards the critical quality of George 
Eliot's irony. Here we have the note again : 

'He had done nothing exceptional in marrying nothing but 
what society sanctions and considers an occasion for wreaths 
and bouquets. It had occurred to him that he must not any 
longer defer his intention of matrimony, and he had reflected 
that in taking a wife, a man of good position should expect and 
carefully choose a blooming young lady the younger the 
better, because more educable, and submissive of a rank equal 
to his own, of religious principles, virtuous disposition, and 
good understanding. On such a young lady he would make 
handsome settlements, and he would neglect no arrangement 
for her happiness : in return, he should receive family pleasures 
and leave behind him that copy of himself which seemed so 
urgently required of a man to the sonneteers of the sixteenth 
century. Times had altered since then, and no sonneteer had 
insisted on Mr. Casaubon's leaving a copy of himself ; more- 
over he had not yet succeeded in issuing copies of his mytho- 
logical key ; but he had always intended to acquit himself by 
marriage, and the sense that he was fast leaving the years behind 
him, that the world was getting dimmer and that he felt lonely, 
was a reason to him for losing no more time in overtaking 
domestic delights before they too were left behind by the years. 

63 



GEORGE ELIOT 

'And when he had seen Dorothea he believed that he had 
found even more than he demanded : she might really be such 
a helpmate to him as would enable him to dispense with a hired 
secretary, an aid which Mr. Casaubon had never yet employed 
and had a suspicious dread of (Mr. Casaubon was nervously 
conscious that he was expected to manifest a powerful mind.) 
Providence, in its kindness, had supplied him with the wife he 
needed. A wife, a modest young lady, with the purely appre- 
ciative, unambitious abilities of her sex, is sure to think her 
husband's mind powerful. Whether Providence had taken 
equal care of Miss Brooke in presenting her with Mr. Casaubon 
was an idea which could hardly occur to him. Society never 
made the preposterous demand that a man should think as much 
about his own qualifications for making a charming girl happy 
as he thinks of hers for making himself happy. As if a man 
could choose not only his wife but his wife's husband ! Or as 
if he were bound to provide charms for his posterity in his own 
person! When Dorothea accepted him with effusion, that 
/as only natural ; and Mr. Casaubon believed that his happi- 
ness was going to begin.' 

By now the torture has begun for Mr. Casaubon, and is felt as 
such by us. For all the tone that has just been sampled, we feel his 
torment of isolation, self-distrust having, with terrible irony, been 
turned by his marriage into a peculiarly torturing form of solitary 
confinement : 

'We are angered even by the full acceptance of our humiliat- 
ing confessions how much more by hearing in hard distinct 
syllables from the lips of a near observer, those confused mur- 
murs which we try to call morbid, and strive against as if they 
were the oncoming of numbness ! And this cruel outward 
accuser was there in the shape of a wife nay, of a young bride, 
who, instead of observing his abundant pen-scratches and 
amplitude of paper with the uncritical awe of an elegant- 
minded canary-bird, seemed to present herself as a spy watching 
everything with a malign power of inference. Here, towards 
this particular point of the compass, Mr. Casaubon had a sensi- 
tiveness to match Dorothea's, and an equal quickness to imagine 
more than the fact. He had formerly observed with approba- 
tion her capacity for< worshipping the right object ; he now 

64 



MIDDLEMARCH 

foresaw with sudden terror that this capacity might be re-placed 
by presumption, this worship by the most exasperating of all 
criticism that which sees vaguely a great many fine ends, and 
has not the least notion what it costs to reach them.' 

It is not only an intellectual, it is a spirit profoundly noble, one 
believing profoundly in a possible nobility to be aimed at by men, 
that can make us, with her, realize such a situation fully as one for 
compassion. Close upon the longer ironic passage quoted above 
she says : 

'It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught 
and yet not to enjoy : to be present at this great spectacle of 
life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering 
selfnever to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never 
to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the 
vividness of a thought, the ardour of a passion, the energy of 
an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious 
and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted/ 

Such a passage reminds us and the prompt recognition is a wise 
insurance when paying tribute to George Eliot's nobility that her 
nobility is not altogether a simple subject. The reminder is effected 
by something in the mode of expression ; something adverting us 
that Dorothea isn't far away. George Eliot tends to identify herself 
with Dorothea, though Dorothea is far from being the whole of 
George Eliot. When 'nobility' is mentioned in connection with 
George Eliot it is probable that mos*- people think of the Dorothea 
(or Maggie Tulliver) in her. I want at the moment to insist (post- 
poning the consideration of Dorothea, who doesn't represent her 
author's strength) that what we have in the treatment of Casaubon 
is wholly strong. 

The other character of whom pre-eminently it can be said that he 
could have been done only by someone who knew the intellectual 
life from the inside is Lydgate. He is done with complete success. 
'Only those', his creator tells us, '. . . who know the supremacy of 
the intellectual life the life which has a seed of ennobling thought 
and purpose in it can understand the grief of one who falls from 
that serene activity into the absorbing soul- casting struggle with 
worldly annoyances ' . Lydgate's concern w th ' ennobling thought 
E 65 



GEORGE ELIOT 

and purpose* is very different from Dorothea's. He knows what he 
means, and his aim is specific. It is remarkable how George Eliot 
makes us feel his intellectual passion as something concrete. When 
novelists tell us that a character iz a thinker (or an artist) we have 
usually only their word for it, but Lydgate's 'triumphant delight in 
his studies' is a concrete presence: it is plain that George Eliot 
knows intimately what it is like, and knows what his studies are. 

But intensely as she admires his intellectual idealism, 1 and horrify- 
ingly as she evokes the paralysing torpedo-touch of Rosamond, she 
doesn't make him a noble martyr to the femininity she is clearly 
so very far from admiring the femininity that is incapable of in- 
tellectual interests, or of idealism of any kind. He is a gentleman in 
a sense that immediately recommends him to Rosamond he is 'no 
radical in relation to anything but medical reform and the prosecu- 
tion of discovery'. That is, the 'distinction' P.osamond admires is 
inseparable from a 'personal pride and unreflecting egoism' that 
George Eliot calls 'commonness'. In particular, his attitude to- 
wards women is such as to give a quality of poetic justice to his 
misalliance : * he held it one of the prettiest attributes of the feminine 
mind to adore a man's pre-eminence without too precise a know- 
ledge of what it consisted in'. This insulation of his interest in the 
other sex from his serious interests is emphasized by our being given 
the history of his earlier affair with the French actress, Laure. As a 
lover he is Rosamond Vincy's complement. 

The element of poetic justice in the relationship is apparent here 
(they are now married) : 

'He had regarded Rosamond's cleverness as precisely of the 
receptive kind which became a woman. He was now begin- 
ning to find out what that cleverness was what was the shape 
into which it had run as into a close network aloof and inde- 
pendent. No one quicker than Rosamond to see causes and 
effects which lay within the track of her own tastes and interests : 
she had seen clearly Lydgate's pre-eminence in Middlemarch 
society, and could go on imaginatively tracing still more agree- 
able social effects when his talent should have advanced him ; 
but for her, his professional and scientific ambition had no other 

1 The medical profession, he believes, offers 'the most direct alliance 
between intellectual conquest and social good '. 

66 



MIDDLEMARCH 

relation to these desirable effects than if they had been the 
fortunate discovery of an ill-smelling oil. And that oil apart, 
with which she had nothing to do, of course she believed in her 
own opinion more than she did in his. Lydgate was astounded 
to find in niimberless trifling matters, as well as in this last 
serious case of the riding, that affection did not make her 
compliant/ 

The fact that there is nothing else in Rosamond beside her egoism 
that which corresponds (as it responded) to Lydgate's 'common- 
ness* gives her a tremendous advantage, and makes her invincible. 
She is simple ego, and the concentrated subtlety at her command is 
unembarrassed by any inner complexity. She always knows what 
she wants, and knows that it \s her due. Other people usually turn 
out to be 'disagreeable people, who only think of themselves, and 
do not mind how annoying they are to her'. For herself, she is 
always ' convinced that no woman could behave more irreproach- 
ably than she is behaving'. No moral appeal can engage on her ; 
she is as well defended by nature against that sort of embarrassment 
as she is against logic. It is of no use accusing her of mendacity, or 
insincerity, or any kind of failure in reciprocity : 

'Every nerve and muscle in Rosamond was adjusted to the 
consciousness that she was being looked at. She was by nature 
an actress of parts that entered into her physique : she even 
acted her own character, and so well, that she did not know it 
to be precisely her own.' 

If one judges that there is less of rympathy in George Eliot's pre- 
sentment of Rosamond than in her presentment of any other of her 
major characters (except Grandcourt in Daniel Deronda), one goes 
on immediately to note that Rosamond gives sympathy little lodg- 
ment. It is tribute enough to George Eliot to say that the destructive 
and demoralizing power of Rosamond's triviality wouldn't have 
seemed so appalling to us if there had been any animus in the pre- 
sentment. We are, from time to time, made to feel from within 
the circumference of Rosamond's egoism though we can't, of 
course, at any time be confined to it, and, there being no potential 
nobility here, it is implicitly judged that this case can hardly, by 
any triumph of compassion, be fel' as tragic. 

To say that there is no animus in the presentment of Rosamond, 

67 



GEORGE ELIOT 

is perhaps misleading if one doesn't add that the reader certainly 
catches himself, from time to time, wanting to break that graceful 
neck, the turns of which, as George Eliot evokes them, convey both 
infuriating obstinacy and a sinister hint of the snake. But Rosamond 
ministers too to our amusement ; she figures in some of the best 
exchanges in a book rich in masterly dialogue. There is that be- 
tween her and Mary Garth in Book I, Chapter XII, where she tests 
her characteristic suspicion that Mary is incerested in Lydgate. The 
honours go easily to Mary, who, her antithesis, may be said to offset 
her in the representation of her sex ; for Mary is equally real. She 
is equally a woman's creation too, and equally feminine ; but 
femininity in her is wholly admirable something that gives her in 
any company a wholly admirable advantage. Her good sense, quick 
intelligence and fine strength of character appear as the poised liveli- 
ness, shrewd good-humoured sharpness and direct honesty of her 
speech. If it were not a part of her strength to lack an aptitude for 
errotional exaltations, she might be said to represent George Eliot's 
ideal of femininity she certainly represents a great deal of George 
Eliot's own characteristic strength. 

Rosamond, so decidedly at a disadvantage (for once) with Mary 
Garth, is more evenly matched with Mrs. Bulstrode, who calls in 
Book III, Chapter XXX, to find out whether the flirtation with 
Lydgate is, or is not, anything more than a flirtation. Their en- 
counter, in which unspoken inter-appreciation cf attire accompanies 
the verbal fence, occurs in the same chapter as that between Mrs. 
Bulstrode and Mrs. Plymdale, * well-meaning women both, know- 
ing very little of their motives'. These encounters between women 
give us some of George Eliot's finest comedy ; only a woman could 
have done them. And the comedy can be of the kind in which the 
tragic undertone is what tells most on us, as we see in Book VIII, 
Chapter LXXIV, where Mrs. Bulstrode goes the round of her 
friends in an attempt to find out what is the matter with her 
husband : 

'In Middlemarch a wife could not long remain ignorant that 
the town held a bad opinion of her husband. No feminine 
intimate might carry her friendship so far as to make a plain 
statement to the wife of the unpleasant fact known or believed 
about her husband ; but when a woman with her thoughts 

68 



MIDDLEMARCH 

much at leisure got them suddenly employed on something 
grievously disadvantageous ^o her neighbours, various moral 
impulses were called into play which tended to stimulate utter- 
ance. Candour was one. To be candid, in Middlemarch 
phraseology, meant, to use an early opportunity of letting your 
friends know that you did not take a cheerful view of their cap- 
acity, their conduct, or their position ; and a robust candour 
never waited to be asked for its opinion. Then, again, there 
was the love of truth. . . . Stronger than all, there was the regard 
for a friend's moral improvement, sometimes called her soul, 
which was likely to be benefited by remarks tending to gloom, 
uttered with the accompaniment of pensive staring at the 
furniture and a manner implying that the speaker would not 
tell what was on her mind, from regard to the feelings of her 
hearer/ 

The treatment of Bulstrode himself is a triumph in which the 
part of a magnificent intelligence in the novelist's art is manifested 
in some of the finest analysis any novel can show. The peculiar 
religious world to which Bulstrode belongs, its ethos and idiom, 
George Eliot knows from the inside we remember the Evangelical- 
ism of her youth. The analysis is a creative process ; it is a penetrat- 
ing imagination, masterly and vivid in understanding, bringing the 
concrete before us in all its reality. Bulstrode is not an attractive 
figure : 

'His private minor loans were numerous, but he would 
inquire strictly into the circumstances both before and after. In 
this way a man gathers a domain in his neighbours' hope and 
fear as well as gratitude ; and power, when once it has got into 
that subtle region, propagates itself, spreading out of all pro- 
portion to its external means. It was a principle with Mr. 
Bulstrode to gain as much power as possible, that he might use 
it for the glory of God. He went through a great deal of 
spiritual conflict and inward argument in order to adjust his 
motives, and make clear to himself what God's glory required.' 

This looks like a promise of satire. But George Eliot's is no 
satiric art; the perceptions that make the satirist are there right 
enough, but she sees too much, and has too much the humility of the 
supremely intelligent whose intelligence involves self-knowledge, 

69 



GEORGE ELIOT 

to be more than incidentally ironical. Unengaging as Bulstrode is, 
we are not allowed to forget that he is a highly developed member 
of the species to which we ourselves belong, and so capable of acute 
suffering ; and that his case is not as remote from what might be 
ours as the particulars of it encourage our complacency to assume. 1 
When his Nemesis closes in on him we feel his agonized twists and 
turns too much from within that is the effect of George Eliot's 
kind of analysis not to regard him with more compassion than 
contempt : 

' Strange, piteous conflict in the soul of this unhappy man 
who had longed for years to be better than he was who had 
taken his selfish passions into discipline and clad them in severe 
robes, so that he had walked with them as a devout quire, till 
now that a terror had risen among them, and they could chant 
no longer, but threw out their common cries ^or safety/ 

George Eliot's analysis is of the 'merciless' kind that only an 
intelligence lighted by compassion can attain : 

'At six o'clock he had already been long dressed, and had 
spent some of his wretchedness in prayer, pleading his motives 
for averting the worst evil if in anything he had used falsity and 
spoken what was not true before God. For Bulstrode shrank 
from the direct lie with an intensity disproportionate to the 
numbers of his more indirect mLdeeds. Hut many of these 
misdeeds were like the subtle muscular movements which are 
not taken account of in the consciousness, though they bring 
about the end that we fix our mind on and desire. And it is 
only what we are vividly conscious of that we can vividly 
imagine to be seen by Omniscience.' 

1 *His doubts did not arise from the possible relations of the event to 
Joshua Rigg's destiny, which belonged to the unmapped regions not taken 
under the providential government, except perhaps in an imperfect colonial 
way; but they arose from reflecting that this dispensation too might be a 
chastisement for himself, as Mr. Farebrother's induction to the living clearly 
was. 

*This was not what Mr. Bulstrode said to any man for the sake of deceiving 
him; it was what he said to himself it was as genuinely his mode of explain- 
ing events as any theory of yours may be, if you happen to disagree with 
him. For the egoism which enters into our theories does not affect their 
sincerity; rather the more our egoism is satisfied the more robust is our 
belief.' 

70 



MIDDLEMARCH 

Here he is, struggling with hope and temptation, by the bedside 
of his helpless tormentor : 

'Bulstrode's native imperiousness and strength of deter- 
mination served him well. This delicate-looking man, himself 
nervously perturbed, found the needed stimulus in his strenuous 
circumstances, and through that difficult night and morning, 
while he had the air of an animated corpse returned to move- 
ment without warmth, holding the mastery by its chill impassi- 
bility, his mind was intensely at work thinking of what he had 
to guard against and what wou 1 4 win him security. Whatever 
prayers he might lift up, whatever statements he might in- 
wardly make of this man's wretched spiritual condition, and the 
duty he himself was under to submit to the punishment divinely 
appointed for him rather than to wish for evil to another 
through all this effort to condense words into a solid mental 
state, there pierced and spread with irresistible vividness the 
images of the events he desired. And in the train of those 
images came their apology. He could not but see the death of 
Raffles, and see in it his own deliverance. What was the re- 
moval of this wretched creature ? He was impenitent but 
were not public criminals impenitent ? yet the law decided on 
their fate. Should Providence in this case award death, there 
was no sin in contemplating death as the desirable issue if he 
kept his hands from hastening it if he scrupulously did what 
was prescribed. E^en here fhere might be a mistake : human 
prescriptions were fallible things : Lydgate had said that treat- 
ment had hastened death why not his own method of treat- 
ment ? But, of course, intention was everything in the question 
of right and wrong. 

'And Bulstrode set himself to keep his intention separate 
from his desire. He inwardly declared that he intended to obey 
orders. Why should he have got into any argument about the 
validity of these orders ? It was only the common trick of 
desire which avails itself of any irrelevant scepticism, finding 
larger room for itself in all uncertainty about effects, in every 
obscurity that looks like the absence of law. Still, he did obey 
the orders/ 

Here is the commentary on his move to square Lydgate : 

'The banker felt that he had done something to nullify one 
cause of uneasiness, and yet he was scarcely the easier. He did 

71 



GEORGE ELIOT 

not measure the quantity of diseased motive which had made 
him wish for Lydgate's goodwill, but the quantity was none the 
less actively there, like an irritating agent in his blood. A man 
vows, and yet will not cast away the means of breaking his vow. 
Is it that he distinctly means to break it ? Not at all ; but the 
desires which tend to break it are at work in him dimly, and 
make their way into his imagination, and relax his muscles in 
the very moments when he is telling himself over again the 
reasons for his vow. Raffles, recovering quickly, returning to 
the free use of his odious powers how could Bulstrode wish 
for that ? ' 

It is a mark of the quality of George Eliot's presentment of 
Bulstrode that we should feel that the essential aspect of Nemesis for 
him is what confronts him here, in the guise of salvation, as he waits 
for the death he has ensured ensured by disobeying, with an in- 
tention that works through dark indirections and tormented inner 
casuistries, Lydgate's strict 'doctor's orders' : 

'In that way the moments passed, until a change in the 
stertorous breathing was marked enoagh to draw his attention 
wholly to the bed, and forced him to think of the departing life, 
which had once been subservient to his own which he had 
once been glad to find base enough for him to act on as he 
would. It was his gladness then which impelled him now to be 
glad that the life was at an end. 

'And who could say that the death of Raffles had been 
hastened ? Who knew what would have saved him ? ' 

Raffles himself is Dickensian, and so is Mr. Borthrop Trumbull, 
the auctioneer, to say which is to suggest that, while adequate to 
their functions, they don't exhibit that peculiar quality of life which 
distinguishes George Eliot's own creativeness. There is abundance 
of this quality in the book as a whole ; we have it in the Garths, 
father, mother and daughter, the Vincy family, Mr., Farebrother, 
the Cadwalladers, and also in the grotesquerie of Peter Featherstone 
and his kin, which is so decidedly George Eliot and not Dickens. 

The weakness of the book, as already intimated, is in Dorothea. 
We have the danger-signal in the very outset, in the brief Prelude, 
with its reference to St. Theresa, whose 'flame ... fed from within, 
soared after some illimitable satisfaction, some object which 

72 



MIDDLEMARCH 

would never justify weakness, which would reconcile self-despair 
with the rapturous consciousness of life beyond self*. 'Many 
Theresas', we are told, 'have been born who found for themselves 
no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant 
action. . . .' In the absence of a 'coherent social faith and order 
which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently 
willing soul' they failed to realize their aspiration : 'Their ardour 
alternated between a vague ideal and the common yearning of 
womanhood . . .' Their failure, we gather, was a case of 'a certain 
spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportun- 
ity ' It is a dangerous theme for George Eliot, and we recognize 

a far from reassuring accent. And our misgivings are not quieted 
when we find, in the close of the Prelude, so marked a reminder of 
Maggie Tulliver as this : 

'Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the duck- 
lings in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream in 
fellowship with its own oary-footed kind. Here and there ir 
born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart- 
beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are 
dispersed among hindrances, instead of centring in some long- 
recognisable deed/ 

All the same, the first two chapters make us forget these alarms, 
the poise is so sure and the tone so right. When we are told of 
Dorothea Brooke that 'her mind was theoretic, and yearned by its 
nature after some lofty conception of the world which might fairly 
include the parish of Tipton, and her own rule of conduct there*, we 
give that 'parish of Tipton' its full weight. The provinciality of 
the provincial scene that George Eliot presents is not a mere foil for 
a heroine ; we see it in Dorothea herself as a callowness confirmed 
by culture : she and her sister had 'both been educated ... on plans 
at once narrow and promiscuous, first in an English family and 
afterwards in a Swiss family at Lausanne. . . .' This is an education 
that makes little difference to Maggie Tulliver who is now, we 
feel, seen by the novelist from the outside as well as felt from within. 
Dorothea, that is to say, is not exempted from the irony that informs 
our vision of the other characters in these opening chapters Celia, 
Mr. Brooke, Sir James Chetham and Mr. Casaubon. It looks as if 

73 



GEORGE ELIOT 

George Eliot had succeeded in bringing within her achieved 
maturity this most resistant and incorrigible self. 

Unhappily, we can't go on in that belief for long. Already in 
the third chapter we find reasons for recalling the Prelude. In the 
description of the 'soul-hungei' that leads Dorothea to see Casau- 
bon so fantastically as a 'winged messenger* we miss the poise that 
had characterized the presentment of her at her introduction : 

'For a long while she had been oppressed by the indefinite- 
ness which hung in her mind, like a thick summer haze, over 
all her desire to make her life greatly effective. What could she 
do, what ought she to do ? ... The intensity of her religious 
disposition, the coercion it exercised over her life, was but one 
aspect of a nature altogether ardent, theoretic, and intellectually 
consequent : and with such a nature struggling in the bands of 
a narrow teaching, hemmed in by a social life which seemed 
nothing but a labyrinth of petty courses, a walled-in maze of 
small paths that led no whither, the outcome was sure to strike 
others as at once exaggeration and inconsistency.' 

Aren't we here, we wonder, in sight of an unqualified self- 
identification ? Isn't there some tiling dangerous in the way the 
irony seems to be reserved for the provincial background and cir- 
cumstances, leaving the heroine immune ? The doubt has very soon 
become more than a doubt. WLen (in Chapter VII) Dorothea, 
by way of illustrating the kind of music she enjoys, says that the 
great organ at Freiberg, which she heard on her way home from 
Lausanne, made her sob, we can't help noting that it is the fatuous 
Mr. Brooke, a figure consistently presented for our ironic contem- 
plation, who comments: 'That kind of thing is not healthy, my 
dear*. By the time we see her by the 'reclining Ariadne' in the 
Vatican, as Will Ladislaw sees her 

'a breathing, blooming girl, whose form, not shamed by the 
Ariadne, was clad in Quakerish grey drapery ; her long cloak, 
fastened at the neck, was thrown backward from the arms, and 
one beautiful ungloved hand pillowed her cheek, pushing 
somewhat backward the white beaver bonnet which made a 
sort of halo to her fr.ce around the simply braided dark-brown 
hair ' 

74 



MIDDLEMARCH 

we are in a position to say that seeing her here through Will's 
eyes involves for us no adjustment of vision : this is how \#e have 
been seeing her or been aware that we are meant to see her. And 
in general, in so far as we respond to the novelist's intention, our 
vision goes on being Will's. 

The idealization is overt at the moment, finding its licence in the 
surrounding statuary and in Will's role of artist (he is with his 
German artist friend). But Will's idealizing faculty clearly doesn't 
confine itself to her outward form even here, and when, thirty or so 
pages further on, talking with her and Casaubon, he reflects, 'She 
was an angel beguiled', we arc clearly not meant to dissociate our- 
selves or the novelist. In fact, he has no independent status of his 
own he can't be said to exist ; he merely represents, not a dramatic- 
ally real point of view, but certain of George Eliot's intentions 
intentions she has failed to realize creatively. The most important 
of these is to impose on the reader her own vision and valuation of 
Dorothea. 

Will, of course, is also intended it is not really a separate matter 
to be, in contrast to Casaubon, a fitting soul-mate for Dorothea. 
He is not substantially (everyone agrees) 'there', but we can see well 
enough what kind of qualities and attractions are intended, and we 
can see equally well that we are expected to share a valuation of 
them extravagantly higher than any we can for a moment coun- 
tenance. George Eliot's valuation of Will Ladislaw, in short, is 
Dorothea's, just as Will's of Dorothea is George Eliot's. Dorothea, 
to put it another way, is a product of George Eliot's own 'soul- 
hunger' another day-dream ideal self. This persistence, in the 
midst of so much that is so other, of an unreduced enclave of the 
old immaturity is disconcerting in the extreme. We have an alter- 
nation between the poised impersonal insight of a finely tempered 
wisdom and something like the emotional confusions and self- 
importances of adolescence. 

It is given us, of course, at the outset, as of the essence of Doro- 
thea's case, that she is vague in her exaltations, that she 'was 
oppressed by the indefiniteness which hung in her mind, like a 
thick summer haze, over all her desire to make her life greatly 
effective*. But the show of presenting this liaze from the outside 
soon lapses ; George Eliot herself, so far as Dorothea is concerned, 

75 



GEORGE ELIOT 

is clearly in it too. That is peculiarly apparent in the presentment 
of those impossibly high-falutin" tete-a-tete or soul to soul ex- 
changes between Dorothea and Will, which is utterly without irony 
or criticism. Their tone and quality is given fairly enough in this 
retrospective summary (it occurs at the end of Chapter LXXXII) : 
'all their vision, all their thought of each other, had been in a world 
apart, where the sunshine fell on tall white lilies, where no evil 
lurked, and no other soul entered*. It is Will who is supposed to be 
reflecting to this effect, but Will here as everywhere in his attitude 
towards Dorothea is unmistakably not to be distinguished from 
the novelist (as we have noted, he hardly exists). 1 

There is, as a matter of fact, one place where for a moment 
George Eliot dissociates herself from him (Chapter XXXIX) : 

'For the moment Will's admiration was accompanied with a 
chilling sense of remoteness. A man is seldom ashamed of feel- 
ing that he cannot love a woman so well when he sees a certain 
greatness in her ; nature having intended greatness for men.' 

What she dissociates herself from, it will be noted, is not the valua- 
tion ; the irony is not directed against that, but, on the contrary, 
implicitly endorses it. To point out that George Eliot identifies 
herself with Will's sense of Dorothea's 'subduing power, the sweet 
dignity, of her noble unsuspicious inexperience', doesn't, perhaps, 
seem a very damaging criticism. But wlicn it becomes plain that 
in this self-identification such significant matters of valuation are 
involved the criticism takes on a different look. 

'Men and women make such sad mistakes about their own 
symptoms, taking their vague uneasy longings, sometimes for 
genius, sometimes for religion, and oftener still for a mighty 
love.' 

The genius of George Eliot is not questioned, but what she 
observes here in respect of Rosamond Vincy has obvious bearings 
on her own immature self, the self persisting so extraordinarily in 
company with the genius that is self-knowledge and a rare order of 
maturity. 

1 Though, significantly, it is he alone who is adequate to treating Rosa- 
mond with appropriate ruthlessnesa see the episode (Chapter LXXVIII) 
in which he * tells her straight' what his author feels about her. 

7 6 



MIDDLEMARCH 

Dorothea, with her 'genius for feeling nobly', that 'current* in her 
mind 'into which all thought and feeling were apt sooner or later 
to flow the reaching forward of the whole consciousness towards 
the fullest truth, the least partial good' (end of Chapter XX), and 
with her ability to turn that current into a passion for Will Ladis- 
law, gives us Maggie's case again, and Maggie's significance : again 
we have the confusions represented by the exalted vagueness of 
Maggie's 'soul-hunger' ; we have the unacceptable valuations and 
the day-dream self-indulgence. 

The aspect of self-indulgence is most embarrassingly apparent in 
Dorothea's relations (as we are invited to see them) with Lydgate, 
who, unlike Ladislaw, is real and a man. Lydgate's reality makes 
the unreality of the great scene intended by George Eliot (or by 
the Dorothea in her) the more disconceiting : the scene in which 
to Lydgate, misunderstood, isolated, ostracized, there appears, an 
unhoped-for angelic visitation, Dorothea, all-comprehending and 
irresistibly good (Chapter LXXVI) : 

' " Oh, it is hard ! " said Dorothea. "I understand the diffi- 
culty there is in your vindicating yourself. And that all this 
should have come to you who had meant to lead a higher life 
than the common, and to find out better ways I cannot bear 
to rest in this as unchangeable. I know you meant that. I 
remember what you said to me when you first spoke to me 
about the hospital. There is no sorrow I have thought more 
about than that to love what is great, and try to reach it, and 
yet to fail." 

'"Yes", said Lydgate, feeling that here he had found room 
for the full meaning of his grief. . . . 

'"Suppose", said Dorothea meditatively. "Suppose we 
kept on the hospital according to the present plan, and you 
stayed here though only with the friendship and support of the 
few, the evil feeling towards you would gradually die out; 
there would come opportunities in which people would be 
forced to acknowledge that they had been unjust to you, be- 
cause they would see that your purposes were pure. You may 
still win a great fame like the Louis and Laennec I have heard 
you speak of, and we shall all be proud of you", she ended, 
with a smile.' 

We are given a good deal in the same vein of winning sim- 

77 



GEORGE ELIOT 

plicity. Such a failure in touch, in so intelligent a novelist, is more 
than a surface matter ; it betrays a radical disorder. For Lydgate, 
we are told, the 'childlike grave-eyed earnestness with which Doro- 
thea said all this was irresistible blent into an adorable whole with 
her ready understanding of higli experience * . And lest we shouldn't 
have appreciated her to the full, we are told that 

'As Lydgate rode away, he thought, "This young creature 
has a heart large enough for the Virgin Mary. She evidently 
thinks nothing of her own future, and would pledge away half 
her income at once, as if she wanted nothing for herself but a 
chair to sit in from which she can look down with those clear 
eyes at the poor mortals who pray to her. She seems to have 
what I never saw in any woman before a fountain of friend- 
ship towards men a n.an can make a friend of her . 

What we have here is unmistakably something of the same order 
as Romola's epiphany in the plague-stricken village ; but worse 
or at any rate, more painfully significant. Offered as it is in a con- 
text of George Eliot's maturest art, it not only matters more ; it 
forces us to recognize how intimately her weakness attends upon 
her strength. Stressing the intended significance of the scene she 
says, in the course of it : 

'The presence of a noble nature, generous in its wishes, 
ardent in its charity, changes the lights for us : we begin to see 
things again in their larger, quieter masses, and to believe that 
we too can be seen and judged in the wholeness of our char- 
acter/ 

This is a characteristic utterance, and, but for the illustration we 
are being offered, we should say it came from her strength the 
strength exhibited in her presentment of Casaubon, Rosamond, 
Lydgate and Bulstrode. It is certainly her strength as a novelist to 
have a noble and ardent nature it is a condition of that maturity 
which makes her so much greater an artist than Flaubert. What 
she says of Dorothea might have been said of herself : 

* Permanent rebellion, the disorder of a life without some 
loving reverent resolve, was not possible to her.' 

But that she says it of Dorothea must make us aware how far 

78 



DANIEL DERONDA 

from a simple trait it is we are considering, and how readily the 
proposition can slide into such another as this : 

'No life would have been possible for Dorothea that was 
not filled with emotion/ 

Strength, and complacent readiness to yield to temptation they 
are not at all the same thing ; but we see how insidiously, in George 
Eliot, they are related. Intensely alive with intelligence and imagin- 
ative sympathy, quick and vivid in her realization of the 'equivalent 
centre of self in others even in Casaubon or a Rosamond, she is 
incapable of morose indifference or the normal routine obtuseness, 
and it may be said in a wholly laudatory sense, by way of character- 
izing her at her highest level, that no life would have been possible 
for her that was not filled with emotion her sensibility is directed 
outward, and she responds from deep within. At this level, 'emo- 
tion* is a disinterested response defined by its object, and hardly 
distinguishable from the play of the intelligence and self-knowledge 
that give it impersonality. But the emotional 'fulness* represented 
by Dorothea depends for its exalting potency on an abeyance of 
intelligence and self-knowledge, and the situations offered by way 
of 'objective correlative* have the day-dream relation to experience ; 
they are generated by a need to soar above the indocile facts and 
conditions of the real world. They don't, indeed, strike us as real 
in any sense ; they have no objectivity, no vigour of illusion. In 
this kind of indulgence, complaisantly as she abandons herself to the 
current that is loosed, George Eliot's creative vitality has no part. 

(iii) 'Daniel Deronda* and 'The Portrait of a Lady' 

In no other of her works is the association of the strength with the 
weakness so remarkable or so unfortunate as in Daniel Deronda. It 
is so peculiarly unfortunate, not because the weakness spoils the 
strength the two stand apart, on a large scale, in fairly neatly 
separable masses but because the mass of fervid and wordy un- 
reality seems to have absorbed most of the attention the book has 
ever had, and to be all that is remembered of it. That this should be 
so shows, I think, how little George Eliot's acceptance has rested 
upon a critical recognition of her real strength and distinction, and 

79 



GEORGE ELIOT 

how unfair to her, in effect, is the conventional overvaluing of her 
early work. For if the nature of her real strength had been appreci- 
ated for what it is, so magnificent an achievement as the good half 
of Daniel Deronda could not have failed to compel an admiration 
that would have established it, not the less for the astonishing bad- 
ness of the bad half, among the great things in fiction. 

It will be best to get the bad half out of the way first. This can 
be quickly done, since the weakness doesn't require any sustained 
attention, being of a kind that has already been thoroughly dis- 
cussed. It is represented by Deronda himself, and by what may be 
called in general the Zionist inspiration. And this is the point at 
which to mention a work of George Eliot's that preceded Middle- 
march The Spanish Gypsy. It is a drama in verse, the action of 
which is placed in mediae /al Spain. The heroine, when on the eve 
of marriage to her lover, a Spanish noble, is plmiged into a conflict 
between love and duty by the appearance of a gypsy who (to quote 
Leslie Stephen's summary) 'explains without loss of time that he is 
her father ; that he is about to be the Moses or Mahomet of a gypsy 
nation ; and orders her to give up her country, her religion, and her 
lover to join him in this hopeful enterprise'. The conflict is resolved 
by her embracing this duty with ardour, and feeling it as an exalted 
and exalting passion or Cause : 

Father, my soul is not too base to *ing 
At touch of your great thoughts; nay, in my blood 
There streams the sense unspeakable of kind, 
'As leopard feels at ea e e with leopard. 

... I will wed 
The curse that blights my people. 

'Why place the heroine among conditions so hard to imagine?' 
asks Leslie Stephen. He gives no answer, but the analysis we have 
arrived at of her weakness points us to one and a more interesting 
one than that which his smile at a great novelist's bluestocking 
caprice seems to suggest. 

George Eliot was too intelligent to be able to offer herself the 
promptings of Comtism, or of the Victorian interest in race and 
heredity, as providing the religious exaltations she craved too in- 
telligent, that is, to offer them directly as such. But imaginative art 

80 



DANIEL DERONDA 

provided her with opportunities for confusion ; she found herself 
licensed to play witn daydream unrealities so strenuously as not to 
recognize them for such. Author-martyr of Romola, she pretends, 
with painful and scholarly earnestness, that they are historical and 
real ; but the essential function of the quasi-historical setting is one 
with that of the verse form : it is to evade any serious test for reality 
(poetry, we know, idealizes and seeks a higher truth). 

We see how incomparably better were the opportunities offered 
her by Zionism. She didn't need to reconstruct Anti-Semitism or 
its opposite : the Jews were thert in the contemporary world of 
fact, and represented real, active and poignant issues. All her 
generous moral fervour was quite naturally and spontaneously en- 
gaged on their behalf, and, on the other hand, her religious bent and 
her piety, as well as her intellectual energies and interests, found a 
congenial field in Jewish culture, history and tradition. Advantages 
which, once felt, were irresistible temptations. Henry James in his 
Conversation' on Daniel Deronda speaks (through Constantius) of 
the difference between the strong and the weak in George Eliot as 
one between ' what she is by inspiration and what she is because it is 
expected of her'. But it is the reverse of a * sense of the author 
writing under a sort of external pressure' (Constantius) that I myself 
have in reading the bad part of Daniel Deronda. Here, if anywhere, 
we have the marks of 'inspiration' : George Eliot clearly feels her- 
self swept along on a warm emotional flow. If there is anything at 
all to be said for the proposition (via Constantius again) that 'all the 
Jewish part is ?t bottom cold', it must be that it can be made to 
point to a certain quality in that part which relates it to the novel in 
which D. H. Lawrence tries, in imaginative creation, to believe that 
the pre-Christian Mexican religion might be revived The Plumed 
Serpent, the one book in which Lawrence falls into insincerity. 
The insincerity, of the kind he was so good at diagnosing and 
defining, lies, of course, in the quality that leads one to say 'tries' 
though it is flow rather than effort one is conscious of. And there 
is certainly something of that quality in Daniel Deronda something 
to provoke the judgment that so intelligent a writer couldn't, at that 
level, have been so self-convinced of inspiration without some inner 
connivance or complicity : there is an elem< nt of the tacitly v oulu. 

But this is not to say that George Eliot's intellect here prevails 
F 81 



GEORGE ELIOT 

over the spontaneities, or that there isn't a determining drive from 
within, a triumphant pressure of emotion ; thcie is, and that is the 
trouble. The Victorian intellectual certainly has a large part in her 
Zionist inspirations, but that doesn't make these the less fervidly 
emotional ; the part is one of happy subordinate rlliance with her 
immaturity. We have already seen that this alliance comes very 
naturally (for the relation between the Victorian intellectual and the 
very feminine woman in her is not the simple antithesis her critics 
seem commonly to suppose) ; it comes very naturally and insidi- 
ously, establishing the condition: in which her mature intelligence 
lapses and ceases to inhibit her flights flights not deriving their 
impulsion from any external pressure. A distinguished mind and a 
noble nature are unquestionably present in the bad part of Daniel 
Deronda, but it is bad; ",nd the nobility, generosity, and moral 
idealism are at the same time modes of self-indulgence. 

The kind of satisfaction she finds in imagining her hero, Deronda 
(if he can be said to be imagined), doesn't need analysis. He, de- 
cidedly, is a woman's creation 1 : 

'Persons attracted him ... in proportion to the possibility of 
his defending them, rescuing them, telling upon their lives with 
some sort of redeeming influence ; and he had to resist an in- 
clination to withdraw coldly from the fortunate.' (Chapter 
XXVIII.) 

1 But this about his experience at Cambridge is characteristic of the in- 
numerable things by the way that even in George Eliot's weaker places remind 
us we are dealing with an extremely vigorous and distinguished mind, and 
one in no respect disabled by being a woman's : 

"He found the inward bent towards comprehension and thoroughness 
diverging more and more from the track marked out by the standards 
of examination: he felt a heightening discontent with the wearing 
futility and enfeebling strain of a demand for excessive retention and 
dexterity without any insight into the principles which form the vital 
connections of knowledge.' 

This goes well with her note on Lydgate's education : 

'A liberal education had of course left him free to read the indecent 
passages in the school classics, but beyond a general sense of secrecy 
and obscenity in connection with his internal structure, had left his 
imagination quite unbiassed, so that for anything he knew his brains 
lay in small bags at his temples, and he had no more thought of repre- 
senting to himself how his blood circulated than how paper served instead 
of gold.' 

82 



DANIEL DERONDA 

He has all the personal advantages imagined by Mordecai, the con- 
sumptive prophet, for the fulfiller of his dream, the new Moses : 

'he must be a Jew, intellectually cultured, morally fervid in 
all this a nature ready to be plenished from Mordecai's ; but his 
face and frame must be beautiful and strong, he must have been 
used to all the refinements of social life, his life must flow with 
a full and easy current, his circumstances must be free from 
sordid need : he must glorify the possibilities of the Jew. . . .' 
(Chapter XXXVIII.) 

We feel, in fact, that Deronda was conceived in terms of general 
specifications, George Eliot's relation to him being pretty much that 
shown here as Mordecai's, whose own show of dramatic existence 
is merely a licence for the author to abound copiously in such 
exaltations and fervours as the Dorothea in her craves. 

Her own misgivings about the degree of concrete presence she 
has succeeded in bestowing upon Deronda is betrayed, as Henry 
James points out, in the way she reminds us again and again of the 
otherwise non-significant trick she attributes to him the trick of 
holding the lapels of his coat as he talks. And when he talks, this 
is his style : 

'"Turn your fear into a safeguard. Keep your dread fixed 
on the idea of increasing that remorse which is so bitter to you. 
Fixed meditation may do a ^reat deal towards defining our 
longing or dread. We are not always in a state of strong emo- 
tion, and when we are calm we can use our memories and 
gradually change the bias of our fear, as we do our tastes. Take 
your fear as a safeguard. It is like quickness of hearing. It may 
make consequences passionately present to you. Try to take 
hold of your sensibility, and use it as if it were a faculty, like 
vision". ' (Chapter XXXVI.) 

It is true that he is here speaking as lay-confessor to Gwendolen 
Harleth ('her feeling had turned this man into a priest'), but that, 
in George Eliot's conception, is for him the most natural and self- 
expressive of roles. 1 And the style of talk sorts happily (if that is 

1 Here he is in ordinary drawing-room conversation: "'For my part,** 
said Deronda, "people who do anything finely always inspirit me to try. I 
don't mean that they make me believe I can do it as well. But they make the 
thing, whatever it may be, seem worthy to be done. I can bear to think my 

83 



GEORGE ELIOT 

the word) with the style in general of the weak half of the book 
though one would hardly guess from this specimen of Deronda's 
speech alone how diffusely ponderous and abstract George Eliot can 
be, and for pages on end (pages among her most embarrassingly 
fervid, for the wordiness and the emotionality go together). A 
juxtaposition of specimens of the worst dialogue and the worst 
prose with specimens of the best (of which there is gieat abundance 
in the book) would offer some astonishing contrasts. But it would 
take up more room than can be spared, and an interested reader will 
very easily choose representative specimens for himself. 

The kind of satisfaction George Eliot finds in Deronda's Zionism 
is plain. ' " The refuge you are needing from personal trouble is the 
higher, the religious life, which holds an enthusiasm for something 
more than our own appetites and vanities". ' But since poor Gwen- 
dolen is not in a position to discover herself a Jewess, and so to find 
her salvation in Deronda's way, she might in time when Deronda 
ha c gone off to Palestine with Mirah come to reflect critically upon 
the depth and general validity of his wisdom. We, at any rate, are 
obliged to be critical of the George Eliot who can so unreservedly 
endorse the account of the 'higher, the religious life' represented by 
Deronda. A paragon of virtue, generosity, intelligence and dis- 
interestedness, he has no * troubles' he needs a refuge from ; what 
he feels he needs, and what he yearns after, is an 'enthusiasm' an 
enthusiasm which shall be at the same time a 'duty'. Whether or 
not such a desire is necessarily one to have it both ways needn't be 
discussed; but it is quite plain, that the 'duty' that Deronda em- 
braces '"I considered it my duty it is the impulse of my feeling 
to identify myself. . . with my hereditary people'" combines 
moral enthusiasm and the feeling of emotional intensity with 
essential relaxation in such a way that, for any 'higher life' pro- 
moted, we may fairly find an analogy in the exalting effects of 
alcohol. The element of self-indulgence is patent. And so are the 
confusions. There is no equivalent of Zionism for Gwendolen, and 
even if there were : the religion of heredity or race is not, as a 

own music not good for much, but the world would be more dismal if I 
thought music itself not ijood for much. Excellence encourages one about 
life generally; it shows the spiritual wealth of the world".' (Chapter 
XXXVI.) 

84 



DANIEL DERONDA 

generalizable solution of the problem, one that George Eliot herself, 
directly challenged, could have stood by. In these inspirations her 
intelligence and real moral insight are not engaged. But she is 
otherwise wholly engaged how wholly and how significantly 
being brought airther home to UL when we note that Deronda' s 
racial mission finds itself identified with his love for Mirah, so that 
he is eventually justified in the 'sweet irresistible hopefulness that 
the best of human possibilities might befall him the blending of a 
complete personal love in one current with a larger duty. . . .' 

All in the book that issues from this inspiration is unreal and 
impotently wordy in the way discussed earlier in connexion with 
Dorothea though Middlemarch can show nothing to match the 
wastes of biblicality and fervid idealism ('Revelations') devoted to 
Mordecai, or the copious and drearily comic impossibility of the 
working-men's club (Chapter CXLII), or the utterly routing Shake- 
spearean sprightliness of Hans Meyrick's letter in Chapter LII. The 
Meyricks who, while not being direct products of the prophetic 
afflatus, are subordinate ministers to it, are among those elements in 
George Eliot that seem to come from Dickens rather than from life, 
and so is the pawnbroker's family : the humour and tenderness are 
painfully trying, with that quality they have, that obviousness of 
intention, which relates them so intimately to the presiding solem- 
nity they subserve. 

No more need be said about the weak and bad side of Daniel 
Deronda. By way of laying due stress upon the astonishingly con- 
trasting strength and fineness of the large remainder, the way in 
which George Eliot transcends in it not only her weakness, but what 
are commonly thought to be her limitations, I will make an asser- 
tion of fact and a critical comparison : Henry James wouldn't have 
written The Portrait of a Lady if he hadn't read Gwendolen Harleth 
(as I shall call the good part of Daniel Deronda), and, of the pair of 
closely comparable works, George Eliot's has not only the distinc- 
tion of having come first ; it is decidedly the greater. The fact, once 
asserted, can hardly be questioned. Henry James wrote his 'Con- 
versation' on Daniel Deronda in 1876, and he began The Portrait of a 
Lady 'in the spring of 1879'. No one who considers both the in- 
tense appreciative interest he shows in Gw 'ndolen Harleth and the 
extraordinary resemblance of his own thene to George Eliot's (so 

85 



GEORGE ELIOT 

that The Portrait of a Lady might fairly be called a variation) is likely 
to suggest that this resemblance is accidental and non-significant. 

Isabel Archer is Gwendolen and Osmond is Grandcourt the 
parallel, in scheme, at any rate, is very close and very obvious. As 
for the individual characters, that Osmond is Grandcourt is a pro- 
position less likely to evoke protest than the other. And there are 
certainly more important differences between Isabel and Gwendolen 
than between Osmond and Grandcourt a concession that, since 
the woman is the protagonist and the centre of interest, may seem 
to be a very favourably significant one in respect of James's origin- 
ality. The differences, however, as I see them are fairly suggested 
by saying that Isabel Archer is Gwendolen Harleth seen by a man. 
And it has to be added that, in presenting such a type, George Eliot 
has a woman's advantage. 

To say that, in the comparison, James's presentment is seen to be 
sentimental won't, perhaps, quite do ; but it is, I think, seen to be 
partial in both senses of the word controlled, that is, by a vision 
that is both incomplete and indulgent ; so that we have to grant 
George Eliot's presentment an advantage in reality. Here it may 
be protested that James is not presenting Gwendolen Harleth, but 
another girl, and that he is perfectly within his rights in choosing a 
type that is more wholly sympathetic. That, no doubt, is what 
James intended to do in so far as he had Gwendolen Harleth in mind. 
But that he had her in mind at all consciously, so that he thought of 
himself as attempting a variation on George Eliot's theme, seems to 
me very unlikely. The inspiration, or challenge, he was conscious 
of was some girl encountered in actual life : 

'a perfect picture of youthfulness its eagerness, its presump- 
tion, its preoccupation with icself, its vanity and silliness, its 
sense of us own absoluteness. But she is extremely intelligent 
and clever, and therefore tragedy can have a hold on her.' 

This, as a matter of fact, is James's description of Gwendolen 
(given through Theodora, the most sympathetic of the three 
personae of the ' Conversation', who is here as the style itself shows 
endorsed by the judicially central Constantius) : there seems no 
need to insist further th it there is point in saying that Isabel Archer 
is Gwendolen Harleth seen by a man or that Gwendolen is Isabel 

86 



DANIEL DERONDA 

seen by a woman. For clearly, in the girl so described there must 
have been (even if we think of her as Isabel Archer in whom 
James doesn't see vanity or silliness) expressions of her ' preoccupa- 
tion with self and her * sense of her own absoluteness' justifying 
observations and responses more cricical and unsympathetic than any 
offered by James. It isn't that George Eliot shows any animus 
towards Gwendolen ; simply, as a very intelligent woman she is 
able, unlimited by masculine partiality of vision, and only the more 
perceptive because a woman, to achieve a much completer present- 
ment of her subject than James of his. This strength which mani- 
fests itself in sum as completeness affects us locally as a greater 
specificity, an advantage which, when considered, turns out to be 
also an advantage over James in consistency. And, as a matter of 
fact, a notable specificity marks the strength of her mature art in 
general. 

This strength appears in her rendering of country-house and 
'county' society compared with James's. Here we have something 
that is commonly supposed to lie outside her scope. Her earlier life 
having been what it was, and her life as a practising novelist having 
been spent with G. H. Lewes, ' cut off from the world' (' the loss for 
a novelist was serious', says Mrs. Woolf), what can she have known 
of the ' best society where no one makes an invidious display of 
anything in particular, and the advantages of the world are taken 
with that high-bred depreciation which follows from being accus- 
tomed to them' (her own words) ? The answer is that, however 
she came by Ler knowledge, she can, on the showing of Daniel 
Deronda, present that world with such fulness and reality as to 
suggest that she knows it as completely and inwardly as she knows 
Middlemarch. James himself was much impressed by this aspect of 
her strength. Of the early part of George Eliot's book he says 
(through Constantius) : 'I delighted in its deep, rich English tone, 
in which so many notes seemed melted together/ 

The stress should fall on the 'many notes' rather than on the 
'melted', for what James is responding to is the specificity and com- 
pleteness of the rendering, whereas 'melted' suggests an assimilating 
mellowness, charming and conciliating the perceptions ; a suffusing 
richness, bland and emollient. George Eliot's richness is not of that 
kind ; she has too full and strong a sense of the reality, she sees too 

8? 



GEORGE ELIOT 

clearly and understandingly, sees with a judging vision that relates 
everything to her profoundest moral experience : her full living 
sense of value is engaged, and sensitively responsive. It isn't that she 
doesn't appreciate the qualities that so appeal to Henry James : she 
renders them at least as well as Le renders them better, in the sense 
that she 'places' them (a point very intimately related to the other, 
that her range of 'notes' is much wider than his). It is true that, as 
Virginia Woolf says, ' She is no satirist* . But the reason given, ' The 
movement of her mind was too slow and cumbersome to lend itself 
to comedy', shows that Mrs. Woolf hadn't read Daniel Deronda 
and can't have read other things at all perceptively. If George Eliot 
is no satirist it is not because she hasn't the quickness, the delicacy of 
touch and the precision. And it certainly is not that she hasn't the 
perceptions and responses that go to make satire. Consider, for 
instance, the interview between Gwendolen and her uncle, the 
Reverend Mr. Gascoigne ('man of the world turned clergyman'), 
in Chapter XIII : 

'This match with Grandcourt presented itself to him as a sort 
of public affair ; perhaps there were ways in which it might 
even strengthen the Establishment. To the Rector, whose 
father (nobody would have suspected it, and nobody was told) 
had risen to be a provincial corn-dealer, aristocratic heirship 
resembled regal heirship in excepting its possessor from the 
ordinary standard of moral judgments, Grandcourt, the almost 
certain baronet, the probable peer, was to be ranged with public 
personages, and was a match to be accepted on broad general 
grounds national and ecclesiastical. . . . But if Grandcourt had 
really made any deeper or more unfortunate experiments in 
folly than were common in young men of high prospects, he 
was of an age to have finished them. All accounts can be suit- 
ably wound up when a man has not ruined himself, and the 
expense may be taken as an insurance against future error. 
This was the view of practical wisdom ; with reference to 
higher views, repentance had a supreme moral and religious 
value. There was every reason to believe that a woman of 
well-regulated mind would be happy with Grandcourt.' 
* * * * * * 

'"Is he disagreeable to you personally ?" 
'"No." 

88 



DANIEL DERONDA 

"'Have you heard anything of him which has affected you 
disagreeably ? " The Rector thought it impossible that Gwen- 
dolen could have heard the gossip he had heard, but in any case 
he must endeavour to put all things in the right light for her. 

'"I have heard nothing about him except that he is a great 
match," said Gwendolen, with some sauciness; "and that 
affects me very agreeably." 

'"Then, my dear Gwendolen, I have nothing further to say 
than this : you hold your fortune in your own hands a for- 
tune such as rarely happens to a girl in your circumstances a 
fortune in fact which almost takes the question out of the range 
of mere personal feeling, and makes your acceptance of it a 
duty. If Providence offers you power and position especially 
when unclogged by any conditions that are repugnant to you 
your course is one of responsibility, Into which caprice must 
not enter. A man does not like to have his attachment trifled 
with : he may not be at once repelled these things are matters 
of individual disposition. But the trifling may be carried too 
far. And I must point out to you that in case Mr. GrandcouU 
were repelled without your having refused him without 
your having intended ultimately to refuse him, your situation 
would be a humiliating and painful one. I, for my part, should 
regard you with severe disapprobation, as the victim of nothing 
else than your own coquetry and folly." 

* Gwendolen became pallid as she listened to this admonitory 
speech. The ideas it raised had the force of sensations. Her 
resistant courage would not help her here, because her uncle 
was not urgmg her against her own resolve ; he was pressing 
upon her the motives of dread which she already felt ; he was 
making her more conscious of the risks that lay within herself. 
She was silent, and the Rector observed that he had produced 
some strong effect. 

' " I mean this in kindness, my dear." His tone had softened. 

"'I am aware of that, uncle," said Gwendolen, rising and 
shaking her head back, as if to rouse herself out of painful 
passivity. "I am not foolish. I know that I must be married 
some time before it is too late. And I don't see how I could 
do better than marry Mr. Grandcourt. I mern to accept him, 
if possible." She felt as if she were reinforcing herself by speak- 
ing with this decisiveness to her uncle. 

'But the Rector was a little startled ty so bare a version of 

89 



GEORGE ELIOT 

his own meaning from those young lips. He wished that in her 
mind his advice should be taken in an infusion of sentiments 
proper to a girl, and such as are presupposed in die advice of a 
clergyman, although he may not consider them always appro- 
priate to be put forward. He wished his niece prrks, carriages, 
a title everything that would make this world a pleasant 
abode ; but he wished her not to be cynical to be, on the 
contrary, religiously dutiful, and have warm domestic affec- 
tions. 

'"My dear Gwendolen", he said, rising also, and speaking 
with benignant gravity. "I trust that you will find in marriage 
a new fountain of duty and affection. Marriage is the only true 
and satisfactory sphere of a woman, and if your marriage with 
Mr. Grandcourt should be happily decided upon, you will have 
probably an increasing power, both of rank and wealth, which 
may be used for the benefit of others. These considerations 
are something higher than romance. You are fitted by natural 
gifts for a position which, considering your birth and early 
prospects, could hardly be looked forward to as in the ordinary 
course of things ; and I trust that you will grace it not only by 
those personal gifts, but by a good and consistent life." 

'"I hope mamma will be the happier", said Gwendolen, in 
a more cheerful way, lifting her hands backward to her neck, 
and moving towards the door. She wanted to waive those 
higher considerations/ 

This is Samuel Butler's matter, and taken by itself, not, in effect, 
altogether remote from Samuel Butler's mode. The presentment 
of the Rector here is directly satirical at any rate, it might very 
well have come from a satirical novel. But even within the passage 
quoted there are signs (notably in the short narrative passage de- 
scribing Gwendolen's state of mind) adverting us that the author 
isn't a satirist. And we know from his appearances elsewhere that 
her total attitude towards Mr. Gascoigne is very far from being 
satirical ; she shows him as an impressive and, on the whole, admir- 
able figure: 'cheerful, successful worldliness', she tells us, 'has a 
false air of being more selfish than the acrid, unsuccessful kind, 
whose secret history is summed up in the terrible words, " Sold, but 
not paid for".' And Mr. Gascoigne not only has strong family 
feeling and a generous sense of duty, but shows himself in adversity 

90 



DANIEL DERONDA 

not only admirably practical, but admirably unselfish, George 
Eliot sees too much and has too sarong a sense of the real (as well as 
too much self-knowledge and too adequate and constant a sense of 
her own humanity) to be a satirist. 

The kind of complexity and completeness, the fulness of vision 
and response, represented by her Mr. Gascoigne characterizes her 
rendering in general of the world to which he belongs. Henry 
James's presentment of what is essentially the same world is seen, in 
the comparison, to have entailed much excluding and simplifying. 
His is a subtle art, and he has his irony ; but the irony doesn't mean 
inclusiveness an adequacy to the complexities of the real in its 
concrete fulness ; it doesn't mark a complex valuing process that has 
for upshot a total attitude in which all the elements of a full response 
are brought together. His art (in presenting this world in The 
Portrait of a Lady, I mean) seems to leave out all such perceptions as 
evoke the tones and facial expressions with which we register the 
astringent and the unpalatable. The irony is part of the subtlety of 
the art by which, while being so warmly concrete in effect, he can, 
without challenge, be so limited and selective, and, what is an 
essential condition of his selectiveness, so lacking in specificity com- 
pared with George Eliot. His world of 'best society* and country- 
house is, for all its life and charm, immeasurably less real (the word 
has a plain enough force here, and will bear pondering) than George 
Eliot's. He idealizes, ~nd his idealizing is a matter of not seeing, and 
not knowing (or not taking into account), a great deal of the reality. 
And it seems to me that we have essentially this kind of idealizing 
in his Isabel Archer ; she stands to Gwendolen Harleth as James's 
'best society' does to George Eliot's. 

In saying this, of course, I am insisting on the point of comparing 
Gwendolen with Isabel. The point is to bring out the force of 
James's own tribute (paid through Constantius) to the char- 
acteristic strength of George Eliot's art as exhibited in her 
protagonist : 

' And see how the girl is known, inside out, how thoroughly 
she is felt and understood. It is the most inteVAgent thing in all 
George Eliot's writing; and that is saying much. It is so 
deep, so true, so complete, it holds such i wealth of psycho- 
logical detail, it is more than masterly/ 

91 



GEORGE ELIOT 

It would hardly be said of Isabel Archer that the presentment of her 
is complete ; it is characteristic of James's art to have made her an 
effective enough presence for his purpose without anything ap- 
proaching a 'wealth of psychological detail'. Her peculiar kind of 
impressiveness, in fact, is condir'oned by her not being known inside 
out, and we have to confess it could not have been achieved by 
George Eliot : she knows too much about that kind of girl. For it 
is fair to say that if James had met a Gwendolen Harleth (at any rate, 
an American one) he would have seen Isabel Archer ; he immensely 
admired George Eliot's inwardness and completeness of rendering, 
but when he met the type in actual life and was prompted to the 
conception of The Portrait of a Lady, he saw her with the eyes of an 
American gentleman. One must add an essential point that he 
saw her as American. 

It is, of course, possible to imagine a beautiful, clever and vital girl, 
with ' that sense of superior claims which made a large part of her 
consciousness' (George Eliot's phrase for Gwendolen, but it applies 
equally to Isabel), whose egoism yet shouldn't be as much open to 
the criticism of an intelligent woman as Gwendolen's. But it is 
hard to believe that, in life, she could be as free from qualities in- 
viting a critical response as the Isabel Archer seen by James. Asking 
of Gwendolen, why, though a mere girl, she should be everywhere 
a centre of deferential attention, George Eliot says (Chapter IV) : 
'The answer may seem to lie quite on the surface : in her beauty, 
a certain unusualness about her, a decision of will which made itself 
felt in her graceful movements and clear unhesitating tones, so that 
if she came into the room on a rainy day when everybody else was 
flaccid and the use of things in general was not apparent to them, 
there seemed to be a sudden reason for keeping up the forms of life.' 
James might very well have been glad to have found these phrases 
for his heroine. But George Eliot isn't satisfied with the answer : 
she not only goes on, as James would hardly have done, to talk about 
the girl's 'inborn energy of egoistic desire', she is very specific and 
concrete in exhibiting the play of that energy the ways in which 
it imposes her claims on the people around her. And it is not 
enough to reply that James doesn't need to be specific to this effect 
even granting, as we nay, that the two authors are dealing with 
different girls : it is so plain that George Eliot knows more about 

92 



DANIEL DERONDA 

hers than he about his, and that this accounts for an important part 
of the ostensible difterence. 

And in so far as the ostensible difference does, as we have to grant 
it does, go back to an actual difference in the object of the novelist's 
interest, then we must recognize, I think, that George Eliot's choice 
one determined by the nature of her interests and the quality of 
her interestedness of a Gwendolen rather than an Isabel is that of 
someone who knows and sees more and has a completer grasp of 
the real ; and that it is one that enables the novelist to explore more 
thoroughly and profoundly the distinctive field of human nature, to 
be representative of which is the essential interest offered by both 
girls though the one offers a fuller and richer development than 
the other. Difference of actual type chosen for presentment, differ- 
ence of specificity and depth in presenting it isn't possible, as a 
matter of fact, to distinguish with any decision and say which 
mainly we have to do with. Isabel, a beautiful and impressive 
American girl, is in the habit of receiving deferential masculine 
attention ; she would certainly be very extraordinary if she were 
not in the habit of expecting something in the nature of homage. 
Here is George Eliot on Gwendolen (Chapter XI) : 

'In the ladies' dining-room it was evident that Gwendolen 
was not a general favourite with her own sex ; there were no 
beginnings of intimacy between her and the other girls, and in 
conversation they rather noted what she said than spoke to her 
in free exchange. Perhaps it was that she was not much inter- 
ested in them, and when left alone in their company had a sense 
of empty benches. Mrs. Vulcany once remarked that Miss 
Harleth was too fond of the gentlemen ; but we know that she 
was not in the least fond of them she was only fond of their 
homage and women did not give her homage.' 

James tells us nothing like this about Isabel ; in fact, he shows us her 
receiving homage from women as well. But we can't help remem- 
bering that James himself is a gentleman and remembering also as 
relevant (without, of course, imputing silliness to James) George 
Eliot's description of Herr Klesmer being introduced, by Mrs. 
Arrowpoint, to Gwendolen (Chapter V) : his alarming cleverness 
was made less formidable just then by a certain softening air of 

93 



GEORGE ELIOT 

silliness which will sometimes befall even Genius in the desire of 
being agreeable to Beauty/ 

George Eliot's genius appears in the specificity with which she 
exhibits the accompaniments in Gwendolen of the kind of conscious 
advantage she resembles Isabel m enjoying. There is the conversa- 
tion with Mrs. Arrowpoint that comes just before Herr Klesmer 
has the opportunity to produce that 'softening air of silliness', a 
conversation that illustrates one of the disabilities of egoism : * self- 
confidence is apt to address itself to an imaginary duhiess in others ; 
as people who are well off speak In a cajoling tone to the poor, and 
those who are in the prime of life raise their voice and speak arti- 
ficially to seniors, hastily conceiving them to be deaf and rather 
imbecile*. We have hardly here a writer the movement of whose 
mind is 'too slow and cumbersome for comedy' and whose 'hold 
upon dialogue is slack'. When she is at her best, as she is on so large 
a scale in Gwendolen Harleth, there is no writer of whom these 
criticisms are less true. Nowhere is her genius more apparent than 
in tne sensitive precision of her 'hold on dialogue* ; a hold which, 
with the variety of living tension she can create with it, is illustrated 
below (see page 100) in the scene between Gwendolen and her 
mother that follows on the arrival of Grandcourt' s self-committing 
note, and (see page 103) ; n the decisive tete-a-tete with Grandcourt. 
It is essentially in her speech that Gwendolen is made a concrete 
presence Gwendolen, whose 'ideal it was tw be daring in speech 
and reckless in braving danger, both moral and physical' ; of whom 
it is hard to say whether she is more fitly described as tending to act 
herself or her ideal of herself ; 'whose lively venturesomeness of 
talk has the effect of wit' ('it was never her aspiration to express 
herself virtuously so much as cleverly a point to be remembered in 
extenuation of her words, which were usually worse than she was'). 
Here she is with her mother before the anticipated first meeting 
with Grandcourt : 

'Mrs. Davilow felt her ears tingle when Gwendolen, sud- 
denly throwing herself into the attitude of drawing her bow, 
said with a look of comic enjoyment 

"'How I pity all the other girls at the Archery Meeting all 
thinking of Mr. Gran icourt ! And they have not a shadow of 
a chance." 

94 



DANIEL DERONDA 

'Mrs. Davilow had not presence of mind to answer immedi- 
ately, and Gwendolen turned quickly round towards her, say- 
ing, wickedly, " Now you know they have not, mamma. You 
and my uncle and aunt you all intend him to fall in love 
with me." 

'Mrs. Davilow, piqued into a little stratagem, said, "Oh, 
my dear, that is not so certain. Miss Arrowpoint has charms 
which you have not." / 

'"I know; but they demand thought. My arrow will 
pierce him before he has time for thought. He will declare 
himself my slave I shall send aim round the world to bring 
me back the wedding-ring of a happy woman in the mean- 
time all the men who are between him and the title will die of 
different diseases he will come back Lord Grandcourt but 
without the ring and fall at my feet. I shall laugh at him 
he will rise in resentment I shall laugh more he will call for 
his steed and ride to Quctcham, where he will find Miss Arrow- 
point just married to a needy musician, Mrs. Arrowpoint tear- 
ing her cap off, and Mr. Arrowpoint standing by. Exit LoH. 
Grandcourt, who returns to Diplow, and, like M. Jabot, change 
de tinge." 

' Was ever any young witch like this ? You thought of 
hiding things from her sat upon the secret and looked inno- 
cent, and all the while she knew by the corner of your eye that 
it was exactly five pounds ten you were sitting on ! As well 
turn the key to keep out the damp ! It was probable that by 
dint of divination she already knew more than any one else did 
of Mr. Grandcourt. That idea in Mrs. Davilow' s mind 
prompted the sort of question which often comes without any 
other apparent reason than the faculty of speech and the not 
knowing what to do with it. 

'"Why, what kind of man do you imagine him to be, 
Gwendolen ?" 

'"Let me see !" said the witch, putting her forefinger to her 
lips with a little frown, and then stretching out the finger with 
decision. "Short just above my shoulder trying to make 
himself tall by turning up his mustache and keeping his beard 
long a glass in his right eye to give him an air of distinction 
a strong opinion about his waistcoat, but uncertain and trim- 
ming about the weather, on which he will try to draw me out. 
He will stare at me all the while, and the glass in his eye will 

95 



GEORGE ELIOT 

cause him to make horrible faces, especially when he smiles in 
a flattering way. I shall cast down my eye., in consequence, 
and he will perceive that I am not indifferent to his attentions. 
I shall dream at night that I am looking at the extraordinary 
face of a magnified insect and the next morning he will make 
me the offer of his hand ; the sequel as before"/ 

With such sureness of touch does George Eliot render the kind 
of lively, Venturesome' lightness it is something more than a 
second nature in Gwendolen to affect that one's mind reverts again 
and again to the peculiar reputation enjoyed by Congreve. That 
kind of praise applies more reasonably to the perfection achieved by 
George Eliot ; to the unfailing Tightness with which she gets, in all 
its turns and moods, her protagonist's airy self-dramatizing sophis- 
tication in which there is a great deal more point than in the 
alleged 'perfection of style' Congreve gives to Millamant, since 
Gwendolen's talk is really dramatic, correspondingly significant, 
and duly 'placed'. We are not offered wit and phrasing for our 
admiration and the delight of our palates. 

It is in the scene between Gwendolen and Grandcourt that George 
Eliot's mastery of dialogue is most strikingly exhibited. We have 
it in the brush that follows, in Chapter XI, on their being intro- 
duced to each other. It is shown in the rendering of high dramatic 
tension in Chapter XIII, where Gwendolen takes evasive action 
in the face of Grandcourt's clear intent to propose. I will save 
quotation for the marvellously economical passage (reference 
to it will be in place later) in which she finds that she has 
placed herself in a position in which she can't not accept, and 
acceptance seems to determine itself without an act of will. 
There is a good example of light exchange between them in the 
following Chapter (XXVIII). 

At the moment, what has to be noted is that, though James's 
Pulcheria of the 'Conversation' says 'they are very much alike' ('it 
proves how common a type the worldly, pinde, selfish young 
woman seemed to her'), Gwendolen is decidedly not another 
Rosamond Vincy : her talk is enough to establish that ; as Theodora 
says, she is intelligent. It is with Mrs. Transome that she belongs, 
being qualified in the s,.me kind of way as Mrs. Transome had been 
in youth to enact the role of daringly brilliant beauty : 'she had 

96 



DANIEL DERONDA 

never dissociated happiness from personal pre-eminence and falat.' l 
She is intelligent in Mrs. Transome's way : 

'In the schoolroom her quick mind had taken readily that 
strong starch cf unexplained rules and disconnected facts which 
saves ignorance from any painful sense of limpness ; and what 
remained of all things knowable, she was conscious of being 
sufficiently acquainted with through novels, plays and poems. 
About her French and music, the two justifying accomplish- 
ments of a young lady, she felt no ground for uneasiness ; and 
when to all these qualifications, negative and positive, we add 
the spontaneous sense of capability some happy persons are born 
with, so that any subject they turn attention to impresses them 
with their own power of forming a correct judgment on it, 
who can wonder if Gwendolen felt ready to manage her own 
destiny/ (Chapter IV.) 

It is only when compared with George Eliot herself that she is 
(like Mrs. Transome) to be classed with Rosamond Vincy : none 
of these three personae is at all like Dorothea, or represents any 
possibility of the Dorothea relation to the novelist. As James's 
Theodora says, she is intelligent, 'and therefore tragedy can have a 
hold on her'. She is a young Mrs. Transome, in whom disaster 
forces a development of conscience ; for, in George Eliot's phrase, 
'she has a root of consaence in her'. It is there from the beginning 
in her dread of 'the unpleasant sense of compunction towards her 
mother, which was the nearest approach to self-condemnation and 
self-distrust she had known'. We are told also : 'Hers was one of 
die natures in which exultation invariably carries an infusion of 
dread ready to curdle and declare itself.' This, which is dramatically 
exemplified in the episode of the suddenly revealed picture of the 
dead face during the charades (in Chapter VI), may seem a merely 
arbitrary Aonnie. Actually, in a youthful egoist, dreading com- 
punction and intelligent enough to dread also the unknown within 
the anarchic movement of impulse with its irrevocable conse- 
quences, it can be seen to be part of the essential case ; especially 
when the trait is associated with an uneasy sense of the precarious 

1 * Church was not markedly distinguished in her mind from the other 
forms of self-presentation. . . .' (Chapter XL VIII.) 

G 97 



GEORGE ELIOT 

status of egoistic 'exultation' and egoistic claims a sense natural to 
an imaginative young egoist in the painful impressionableness of 
immaturity. 'Solitude in any wide scene', we are told, 'impressed 
her with an undefined feeling of immeasurable existence aloof from 
her, in the midst of which she was helplessly incapable of asserting 
herself/ It all seems to me imagined with truth and subtlety, and 
admirably analysed. So that when we are told, 'Whatever was 
accepted as consistent with being a lady she had no scruple about ; 
but from the dim region of what was called disgraceful, wrong, 
guilty, she shrank with mingled pride and terror', then a whole 
concrete case is focussed in the summary. The potentiality 
in Gwendolen of a seismic remorse is concretely established 
for us. 

Here, of course, we have a difference between her and Isabel 
Archer : remorse it doesn't belong to James's conception of his 
young woman that she shall have any need for that. She is merely 
to make a wrong choice, the wrongness of which is a matter of an 
error in judgment involving no guilt on her part, though it involves 
tragic consequences for her. As Mr. Yvor Winters sees it in his 
essay on him in Maules Curse, James is roncerned, characteristically, 
to present the choice as free to present it as pure choice. 'The 
moral issue, then, since it is primarily an American affair, is freed in 
most of the Jamesian novels, and in all of the greatest, from the 
compulsion of a code of manners.' This ceicainly has a bearing on 
the difference between Gwendolen and Isabel ; between the English 
young lady in her proper setting of mid- Victorian English 'best 
society', one who in her 'vcnturesomeness' 'cannot conceive her- 
self as anything else than a lady', 1 and the 'free' American girl, who 
moves on the Old World stage as an indefinitely licensed and privi- 
leged interloper. But there is a more obviously important differ- 
ence : 'The moral issue is also freed from economic necessity . . . 
Isabel Archer is benevolently provided with funds after her story 
opens, with the express purpose that her action shall thereafter be 
unhampered/ 

1 'She rejoiced tc feel herself exceptional; but her horizon was that of a 
genteel romance where the heroine's soul poured out in her journal is full of 
vague power, originality and general rebellion, while her life moves strictly 
in the sphere of fashion ; and if she wanders into a swamp, the pathos lies 
partly, so to speak, in her naving on satin shoes.' (Chapter VI.) 



DANIEL DERONDA 

The contrast offered by George Eliot's preoccupation is extreme* 
All her creative power works to the evoking of a system of pressures 
so intolerable to Gwendolen, and so enclosing, that her final accept- 
ance of Grandcourt seems to issue, not from her will, but from 
them ; if she acts, it is certainly not in freedom, and she hasn't even 
the sense of exercising choice. Economic necessity plays a deter- 
mining part. In the earlier phase of the history she has, as much as 
Isabel Archer in respect of Lord Warburton and Gilbert Osmond, 
a free choice in front of her : does she, or does she not, want to 
marry Grandcourt ? But after the meeting with Mrs. Glasher and 
Grandcourt's children she recoils in disgust and horror from the idea 
of marriage with him ; she recoils from the wrong to others, and 
from the insult (she feels) offered herself Then comes the financial 
disaster, engulfing her family. The effect on Gwendolen, with her 
indocile egoism and her spoilt child's ignorance of practical realities, 
and the consequences for her these are evoked with vivid particu- 
larity. There is, pressed on her by the kind and efficient Rector, 
her uncle, as a duty that is at the same time a gift of fortune she can't 
fail to accept with grateful gladness, the situation of governess with 
Mrs. Mompert, the Bishop's wife who, as a woman of 'strict 
principle' such as precludes her from * having a French person in the 
house', will want to inspect even the Rector's nominee before 
appointing her: the sheer impossibility of such a 'situation' for 
Gwendolen is something we are made to feel from the inside. The 
complementary kind of impossibility, the impossibility of her own 
plan of exploiting with tclat her talents and advantages and becoming 
a great actress or singer, is brought home to her with crushing and 
humiliating finality by Herr Klcsmer (Chapter XXIII). It is im- 
mediately after this interview, which leaves her with no hope of 
an alternative to Mrs. Mompert and the 'episcopal penitentiary', 
that Grandcourt's note arrives, asking if he may call. No better 
illustration of George Eliot's peculiar genius as a novelist a kind of 
genius so different from that she is commonly credited with can 
be found for quoting than the presentment of Gwendolen's re- 
actions. Here we have the most subtle and convincing analysis 
rendered, with extraordinary vividness and economy, in the con- 
crete; the shifting tensions in Gwendolen are registered in her 
speech and outward movements, and the whole is (in an essentially 

99 



GEORGE ELIOT 

novelistic way) so dramatic that we don't distinguish the elements 
of description and commentary as such : 

'Gwendolen let it fall on the floor, and turned away. 

' "It must be answered, darling," said Mrs. Davilow, timidly. 

<rri1 

The man waits. 

' Gwendolen sank on the settee, clasped her hands, and looked 
straight before her, not at her mother. She had the expression 
of one who had been startled by a sound and was listening to 
know what would come of it. The sudden change of the 
situation was bewildering. A few minutes before she was 
looking along an inescapable path of repulsive monotony, with 
hopeless inward rebellion against the imperious lot which left 
her no choice : and lo, now, a moment of choice was come. 
Yet was it triumph sh~ felt most or terror ? Impossible for 
Gwendolen not to feel some triumph in a tribute to her power 
at a time when she was first tasting the bitterness of insignifi- 
cance : again she seemed to be getting a sort of empire over her 
own life. But how to use it ? Here came the terror. Quick, 
quick, like pictures in a book beaten open with a sense of hurry, 
came back vividly, yet in fragments, all that she had gone 
through in relation to Grandcourt the allurements, the vacilla- 
tions, the resolve to accede, the final repulsion ; the incisive 
face of that dark-eyed lady with the lovely boy ; her own 
pledge (was it a pledge not to marry him ?) the new disbelief 
in the worth of men and things for which that scene of dis- 
closure had become a symbol. That unalterable experience 
made a vision at which in the first agitated moment, before 
tempering reflections could suggest themselves, her native 
terror shrank. 

'Where was the good of choice coming again ? What did 
she wish ? Anything different ? No ! and yet in the dark seed- 
growths of consciousness a new wish was forming itself "I 
wish I had never known it ! " Something, any tiling she wished 
for that would have saved her from the dread to let Grandcourt 
come. 

'It was no long while yet it seemed long to Mrs. Davilow, 
before she thought it well to say, gently 

' " It will be necessary for you to write, dear. Or shall I write 
an answer for you which you will dictate ? " 

'"No, mamma," said Gwendolen, drawing a deep breath. 
"But please lay me out the pen and paper." 

100 



DANIEL DERONDA 

'That was gaining time. Was she to decline Grandcourt's 
visit close the shutters no*, even look out on what would 
happen ? though with the assurance that she should remain 
just where she was ? The young activity within her made a 
warm current through her terror and stirred towards some- 
thing that would be an event towards an opportunity in 
which she could look and speak with the former effectiveness. 
The interest of the morrow was no longer at a deadlock. 

'"There is really no reason on earth why you should be so 
alarmed at the man's waiting for a few minutes, mamma/' 
said Gwendolen, remonstrantly, as Mrs. Davilow, having pre- 
pared the writing materials, looked towards her expectantly. 
"Servants expect nothing else than to wait. It is not to be 
supposed that I must write on the instant." 

' " No, dear," said Mrs. Davilow, in die tone of one corrected, 
turning to sit down and take up a bit of work that lay at hand ; 
"he can wait another quarter of an hour, if you like." 

'It was a very simple speech and action on her part, but it was 
what might have been subtly calculated. Gwendolen felt a 
contradictory desire to be hastened : hurry would save her 
from deliberate choice. 

*"I did not mean him to wait long enough for that needle- 
work to be finished," she said, lifting her hands to stroke the 
backward curves of her hair, while she rose from her seat and 
stood still. 

"'But if you don't feel able to decide ?" said Mrs. Davilow, 
sympathizingly. 

'"I must decide," said Gwendolen, walking to the writing- 
table and seating herself. All the while there was a busy under- 
current in her, like the thought of a man who keeps up a 
dialogue while he is considering how he can slip away. Why 
should she not let him come ? It bound her to nothing. He 
had been to Leubronn after her : of course he meant a direct 
unmistakable renewal of the suit which before had been only 
implied. What then ? She could reject him. Why was she to 
deny herself the freedom of doing this which she would like 
to do? 

' "If Mr. Grandcourt has only just returned from Leubronn," 
said Mrs. Davilow, observing that Gwendolen leaned back in 
her chair after taking the pen in her hand "I wonder whether 
he has heard of our misfortunes." 

101 



GEORGE ELIOT 

'"That could make no difference to a man in his position," 
said Gwendolen, rather contemptuously. 

'"It would, to some men," said Mrs. Davilow. "They 
would not like to take a wife from a family in a state of beggary 
almost, as we are. Htre we are at Offehdene, with a great shell 
over us as usual. But just imagine his finding us at Sawyer's 
Cottage. Most men are afraid of being bored or taxed by a 
wife's family. If Mr. Grandcourt did know, I think it a strong 
proof of his attachment to you." 

'Mrs. Davilow spoke with unusual emphasis: it was the 
first time she had ventured to say anything about Grandcourt 
which would necessarily seem intended as an argument in 
favour of him, her habitual impression being that such argu- 
ments would certainly be useless and might be worse. The 
effect of her words now was stronger than she could imagine : 
they raised a new set of possibilities in Gwendolen's mind a 
vision of what Grandcourt might do for her mother if she, 
Gwendolen, did what she was not going to do. She was so 
moved by a new rush of ideas, that like one conscious of being 
urgently called away, she felt that the immediate task must be 
hastened : the letter must be written, else it might be endlessly 
deferred. After all, she acted in a hurry as she had wished to 
do. To act in a hurry was to have a reason for keeping away 
from an absolute decision, and to leave open as many issues as 
possible. 

'She wrote: "Miss Harleth presents hei compliments to 
Mr. Grandcourt. She will be at home after two o'clock 



to-morrow".' 



Reading this, it is hard to remember that George Eliot was con- 
temporary with Trollope. What later novelist has rendered the 
inner movement of impulse, the play of motive that issues in speech 
and act and underlies formed thought and conscious will, with more 
penetrating subtlety than she ? It is partly done through speech and 
action. But there is also, co-operating with these, a kind of psycho- 
logical notation that is well represented in the passage quoted above, 
and is exemplified in ' Quick, quick, like pictures in a book beaten 
open with a sense oi hurry . . .', and 'yet in the dark seed-growths 
of consciousness a new wish was forming itself. . .' and 'The young 
activity within her mado a warn: current through her terror . . /, 
and 'All the while there was a busy under-current in her, like the 

102 



DANIEL DERONDA 

thought of a man who keeps up a dialogue while he is considering 
how he can slip away* and so much else. This notation is one of 
the distinctive characteristics of her mature style, 1 doing its work 
always with an inevitable Tightness and Daniel Deronda (with 
Middlemarch) was written in the ea~lier 'seventies. But remarkable 
as it is, and impressive as would be the assemblage of instances that 
could be quickly brought together, it is better not to stress it without 
adding that, as she uses it, it is inseparable from her rendering of 
'psychology' in speech and action. It doesn't seem to me that her 
genius as exhibited in these ways has been anything like duly re- 
cognized. 

The passage last quoted is not the work of a 'slow and cumber- 
some mind'. As for the 'hold on dialogue', here is the proposal 
scene (Chapter XXVII again quotation must be at length) : 

'In eluding a direct appeal Gwendolen recovered some of her 
self-possession. She spoke with dignity and looked straight at 
Grandcourt, whose long, narrow, impenetrable eyes met hers, 
and mysteriously arrested them : mysteriously ; for the subtly- 
varied drama between man and woman is often such as can 
hardly be rendered in words put together like dominoes, ac- 

1 The record of Gwendolen's later days of desperation is rich in quotable 
instances, e.g. : * The thought of his dying would not subsist : it turned as 
with a dream-change into *he terror that she should die with his throttling 
fingers on her neck avenging that thought. Fantasies moved within her like 
ghosts, making no break in her more acknowledged consciousness and find- 
ing no obstruction in it: dark rays doing their work invisibly in the broad 
light/ (Chapter XL VIII.) 

And here is Grandcourt (Chapter XXVIII): 'Grandcourt's thoughts this 
evening were like the circlets one sees in a dark pool continually dying out 
and continually started again by some impulses from below the surface. The 
deeper central impulse came from the image of Gwendolen. . . .' 

Or take this from Middlemarch (Vol. I, Chapter XXI the end) : 

'We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to 
feed our supreme selves: Dorothea had early begun to emerge from that 
stupidity, but yet it had been easier to her to imagine how she would devote 
herself to Mr. Casaubon, and become wise and strong in his strength and 
wisdom, than to conceive with that distinctness which is no longer reflection 
but feeling an idea wrought back to the directness of sense, like the solidity 
of objects that he had an equivalent centre of self, whence the lights and 
shadows must always fall with a certain difference.' 

The reader will have noted a phrase for which Ivlr. T. S. Eliot might have 
been grateful in the days when he was calling attention to the 'felt thought* 
in seventeenth-century poetry. 

103 



GEORGE ELIOT 

cording to obvious fixed marks. The word of all work, Love, 
will no more express the myrial modes of mutual attraction, 
than the word Thought can inform you what is passing through 
your neighbour's mind. It would be hard to tell on which side 
Gwendolen's or Grandcourt's the influence was more 
mixed. At that moment his strongest wish was to be com- 
pletely master of this creature this piquant combination of 
maidenliness and mischief: that she knew things which had 
made her start away from him, spurred him to triumph over 
that repugnance ; and he was believing that he should triumph. 
And she ah ! piteous equality in the need to dominate ! she 
was overcome like the thirsty one who is drawn towards the 
seeming water in the desert, overcome by the suffused sense 
that here in this man's homage to her lay the rescue from help- 
less subjection to an oppressive lot. 

'All the while they were looking at each other ; and Grand- 
court said, slowly and languidly, as if it were of no importance, 
other things having been settled 

'"You will tell me now, I hope, that Mrs. Davilow's loss of 
fortune will not trouble you further. You will trust me to 
prevent it from weighing upon her. You will give me the 
claim to provide against that." 

* The little pauses and refined drawlings with which this speech 
was uttered, gave time for Gwendolen to go through the dream 
of a life. As the words penetrated her, they had the effect of a 
draught of wine, which suddenly makes all things easier, desir- 
able things not so wrong, and people in general less disagree- 
able. She had a momentary phantasmal love for this man who 
chose his words so well, and who was a mere incarnation of 
delicate homage. Repugnance, dread, scruples these were 
dim as remembered pains, while she was already tasting relief 
under the immediate pain of hopelessness. She imagined 
herself already springing to her mother, and being playful 
again. Yet when Grandcourt had ceased to speak, there was an 
instant in which she was conscious of being at the turning of 
the ways. 

"'You are very generous," she said, not moving her eyes, 
and speaking wi Ji a gentle intonation. 

'"You accept what will make such things a matter of 
course ? " said Grandcourt, without any new eagerness. "You 
consent to become m/ wife ?" 

104 



DANIEL DERONDA 

'This time Gwendolen remained quite pale. Something 
made her rise from her seat in spite of herself and walk to a 
little distance. Then she turned and with her hands folded 
before her stood in silence. 

'Grandcouit immediately rose too, resting his hat on the 
chair, but still keeping hold of it. The evident hesitation of 
this destitute girl to take his splendid offer stung him into a 
keenness of interest such as he had not known for years. None 
the less because he attributed her hesitation entirely to her 
knowledge about Mrs. Glasher. In that attitude of preparation, 
he said 

'"Do you command me to go ?" No familiar spirit could 
have suggested to him more effective words. 

'"No," said Gwendolen. She could not let him go : that 
negative was a clutch. She seemed to herself to be, after all, 
only drifted towards the tremendous decision : but drifting 
depends on something besides the currents, when the sails have 
been set beforehand. 

'"You accept my devotion ?" said Grandcourt, holding his 
hat by his side and looking straight into her eyes, without other 
movement. Their eyes meeting in that way seemed to allow 
any length of pause ; but wait as long as she would, how could 
she contradict herself? What had she detained him for ? He 
had shut out any explanation. 

' "Yes/* came as gravely from Gwendolen's lips as if she had 
been answering to ner name in a court of justice. He received 
it gravely, and they still looked at each other in the same 
attitude. Was there ever before such a way of accepting the 
bliss-giving "Yes" ? Grandcourt liked better to be at that 
distance from her, and to feel under a ceremony imposed by 
an indefinable prohibition that breathed from Gwendolen's 
bearing. 

'But he did at length lay down his hat and advance to take 
her hand, just pressing his lips upon it and letting it go again. 
She thought his behaviour perfect, and gained a sense of free- 
dom which made her almost ready to be mischievous. Her 
"Yes" entailed so little at this moment, that there was nothing 
to screen the reversal of her gloomy prospects : her vision was 
filled by her own release from the Momperts, and her mother's 
release from Sawyer's Cottage. With a happy curl of the lips, 
she said 

105 



GEORGE ELIOT 

' "Will you not see mamma ? I will fetch her." 

'"Let us wait a little," said Grandcourt, in his favourite 
attitude, having his left forefinger and thumb in his waistcoat- 
pocket, and with his right caressing his whisker, while he stood 
near Gwendolen and looked at her not unlike a gentleman 
who has a felicitous introduction at an evening party. 

'"Have you anything else to say to me ?" said Gwendolen, 
playfully. 

'"Yes I know having things said to you is a great bore," 
said Grandcourt, rather sympathetically. 

'"Not when they are things I like to hear." 

'"Will it bother you to be asked how soon we can be 
married?" 

'"I think it will, to-day," said Gwendolen, putting up her 
chin saucily. 

'"Not to-day, then, but to-morrow. Think of it before I 
come to-morrow. In a fortnight or three weeks as soon as 
possible." 

'"Ah, you think you will be tired of my company," said 
Gwendolen. "I notice when people are married the husband 
is not so much with his wife as when they are engaged. But 
perhaps I shall like that better too." 

' She laughed charmingly. 

'"You shall have whatever you like," said Grandcourt. 

'"And nothing that I don't like ? please say that, because 
I think I dislike what I don't like more than I like what I like," 
said Gwendolen, finding herself in the woman's paradise where 
all her nonsense is adorable.' 

It will be noted how beautifully the status of Gwendolen's spon- 
taneously acted self is defined by her relieved and easy assumption 
of it once the phase of tense negativity has issued in 'Yes'. And it 
was clearly not this self that pronounced the 'Yes' ; nor does it 
come from a profound integrated self. George Eliot's way of 
putting it is significant : ' "Yes" came as gravely from Gwendolen's 
lips as if she had been answering to her name in a court of justice.' 
This is a response that issues out of something like an abeyance of 
will ; it is determired for her. No acquiescence could look less like 
an expression of free choice. Yet we don't feel that Gwendolen is 
therefore not to be judged as a moral agent. The 'Yes' is a true 
expression of her moral economy ; that the play of tensions should 

106 



DANIEL DERONDA 

have as its upshot this response has been established by habits of 
valuation and by essential choices lived. ' She seemed to herself to 
be, after all, only drifted towards the tremendous decision : but 
drifting depends on something besides the currents, when the sails 
have been set beforehand. ' Even before what she saw as a moral 
objection arose to confront her, she had had no sense of herself as 
able to settle her relations with Grandcourt by a clear and free act 
of choice: 

'Even in Gwendolen's mind that result was one of two likeli- 
hoods that presented themselves alternately, one of two deci- 
sions towards which she was being precipitated, as if they were 
two sides of a boundary-line, and she did not know on which 
she should fall. This subjection to a possible self, a self not to 
be absolutely predicted about, caused hjr some astonishment 
and terror : her favourite key of life doing as she liked 
seemed to fail her, and she could not foresee what at a given 
moment she might like to do.' (Chapter XIII.) 

But we aren't inclined to think of her as being then any the les^ a 
subject for moral evaluation. We note rather, as entering into the 
account, that she gets a thrill out of the surrender to tense un- 
certainty, and that it is not for nothing that at her first introduction 
to us, in the opening, she figures as the gambler, lost in the intoxica- 
tion of hazard. The situation, in respect of Gwendolen's status as 
a moral agent, isn't essentially altered by the reinforcement, in con- 
flicting senses, of the pulls and pressures bearing on the act of choice : 
the supervention of a powerful force, represented by Mrs. Glasher, 
carrying Gwendolen in recoil from Grandcourt, which is countered 
by a new pressure towards acceptance the economic one (translat- 
able by Gwendolen into terms of duty towards her mother). 1 

1 *The cheque was for five hundred pounds, and Gwendolen turned it 
towards her mother, with the letter. 

'"How very kind and delicate!" said Mrs. Davilow, with much feeling. 
"But I really should like better not to be dependent on a son-in-law. I and 
the girls could get along very well." 

'"Mamma, if you say that again, I will not marry him," said Gwendolen, 
angrily. 

'"My dear child, I trust you are not going to marry only for my sake,'* 
said Mrs. Davilow deprecatingly. 

' Gwendolen tossed her head on the pillow away from her mother, and let 
the ring lie. She was irritated at this atten.pt to take away a motive.' (Chapter 
XXVIII.) 

107 



GEORGE ELIOT 

We note, with regard to Gwendolen's attitude towards what she 
sees as the strong moral ground for refusing Grandcourt, that 'in 
the dark seed-growths of consciousness a new wish was forming 
itself*'! wish I had never known it".' There is much concrete 
psychological notation to this effect, deriving from the insight of a 
great novelist ; that it has a moral significance, a relation to that 
ostensibly mechanical and unwilled ' Yes ', is plain. But it is possible 
to overstress Gwendolen's guilt in the matter of Mrs. Glasher, a 
guilt that is so very conscious. George Eliot's appreciation of the 
moral issues doesn't coincide wi Ji that of her protagonist or of the 
conventional Victorian moralist. For George Eliot the essential 
significance of Gwendolen's case lies in the egoism expressed here 
(the passage follows immediately on that kst quoted, in which she 
'could not foresee what at a given moment she might like to do') : 

'The prospect of marrying Grandcourt really seemed more 
attractive to her than she had believed beforehand that any 
marriage could be : the dignities, the luxuries, the power of 
doing a great deal of what she liked to, which had now come 
close to her, and within her power to secure or to lose, took hold 
of her nature as if it had been the strong odour of what she had 
only imagined and longed for before. And Grandcourt him- 
self? He seemed as little of a flaw in his fortunes as a lover and 
husband could possibly be. Gwendolen wished to mount the 
chariot and drive the plunging liorses herself, with a spouse by 
her side who would fold his arms and give her his countenance 
without looking ridiculous.' 

It is again a case of Hubris with its appropriate Nemesis. What first 
piqued her into turning on 'this Mr. Grandcourt' a quality of inten- 
tion no other man had exacted from her was that 'he seemed to feel 
his own importance more than he did hers a sort of unreasonable- 
ness few of us can tolerate'. She had a similar attraction for him. 
When, too late, she knows to the full the mistakenness of her 
assumptions and finds herself beaten at her own game, the great hold 
Grandcourt has over her lies in her moral similarity to him : 'For 
she too, with her melancholy distaste for things, preferred that her 
distaste should include admirers'. And the best she can do is 'to 
bear this last great gambling loss with perfect self-possession'. 
'True, she still saw tliat she "would manage differently from 

108 



DANIEL DERONDA 

mamma" ; but her management now only meant that she would 
carry her troubles with an air of perfect self-possession, and let none 
suspect them/ As for what she takes to be her guilt, pride in her 
overrides remorse : what she most cares about is that Grandcourt 
shall not know that she knew of Mrs. Glasher before accepting him 
(though, ironically, he has, all along, known, and his knowledge 
had added to Gwendolen's attractiveness for him). The conse- 
quent torment reminds us closely of Mrs. Transome s Nemesis : 
'now that she was a wife, the sense that Grandcourt was gone to 
Gadsmere [his home for Mrs. Glasher and his children] was like red 
heat near a burn. She had brought on herself this indignity in her 
own eyes this humiliation of being doomed to a terrified silence 
lest her husband should discover with what sort of consciousness she 
had married him ; and as she had said to Deronda^ she "must go 
on' 1 .' And 'in spite of remorse, it still seemed the worse result of 
her marriage that she should in any way make a spectacle of herself ; 
and her humiliation was lightened by her thinking that only Mrs. 
Glasher was aware of the fact that caused it.' 

So much pride and courage and sensitiveness and intelligence fixed 
in a destructive deadlock through false valuation and self-ignorance 
this is what makes Gwendolen a tragic figure. And as George 
Eliot establishes for our contemplation the complexities of inner 
constitution and outer conditions that make Gwendolen look so 
different from babel Archer, she is exhibiting what we recognize 
from our own most intimate experience to be as much the be- 
haviour of a responsible moral agent, and so as much amenable to 
moral judgment, as any human behaviour can be. Not, of course, 
that our attitude is that of the judge towards the prisoner in the 
dock ; but neither is it that of tout comprendre, cest tout pardonner. 
It is, or should be (with George Eliot's help), George Eliot's own, 
which is that of a great novelist, concerned with human and moral 
valuation in a way proper to her art it is a way that doesn't let 
us forget that what is being lit up for us lies within. 

And turning once more to Isabel Archer, we may ask whether, 
in this matter of choice, she is as different from Gwendolen as 
Mr. Winters' account suggests : isn't her appearance of being so 
much more free to choose with her 'ethical sensibility' largely 
illusion e She herself must look back on her treasured freedom of 

109 



GEORGE ELIOT 

choice with some irony when, after her marriage, she has learnt of 
the relations between her husband and Madame Merle, and of the 
part played by Madame Merle in her 'choosing' to marry Osmond. 
But for us it is the wider significance of the revelation that needs 
dwelling on. It is not surprising that so young a girl, and one so 
new to this social climate, should have been unable to value at their 
true worth either Madame Merle or Osmond ; and how could, in 
any case, anyone so little experienced in life, knowing so little about 
herself, and (inevitably) so vague about what in concrete terms the 
'fineness' she means to achieve m life might amount to how could 
such a girl exercise a choice that should be essentially more than 
Gwendolen's a free expression of ethical sensibility ? 

And isn't this (comes the comment on Mr. Winters' account) just 
James's point ? Yet we are, by that account, made to reflect on a 
distinctive quality of James's art a quality that makes it possible 
for an intelligent critic to slight the irony and see the book as Mr. 
Winters does. Isn't there, in fact, something evasive about James's 
inexplicitness ; something equivocal about his indirectness and the 
subtlety of implication with which he pursues his aim of excluding 
all but the 'essential' ? What, we ask, thinking by contrast of the 
fulness with which we have Gwendolen, is the substance of Isabel's 
interest for us ? In spite of such things as the fine passage in Chapter 
XLII of The Portrait of a Lady that evokes her finding 'the infinite 
vista of a multiplied life to be a dark alley with a dead wall at the 
end', we see that James's marvellous art is devoted to contenting us 
with very little in the way of inward realization of Isabel, and to 
keeping us interested, instead, in a kind of psychological detective 
work keeping us intently wondering from the outside, and con- 
structing, on a strict economy of evidence, what is going on inside. 
And, if we consider, we find that die constructions to which we are 
led are of such a kind as not to challenge, or to bear with comfort, 
any very searching test in terms of life. The difference between 
James and George Eliot is largely a matter of what he leaves out. 
The leaving out, of course, is a very positive art that oilers the com- 
pensation. But it is not the less fair to say that what James does with 
Gwendolen Harleth throws a strong light on the characteristic work- 
ing of that peculiar moral sense which Mr. Winters discusses in rela- 
tion to the New England background a light in which its limiting 

no 



DANIEL DERONDA 

tendency appears as drastic indeed. The Portrait of a Lady belongs to 
the sappiest phase of James's art, when the hypertrophy of technique 
hadn't yet set in ; but, in the light of the patent relation to Gwendolen 
Harleth, we can see already a certain disproportion between an in- 
tensity of art that has at the same tirre an effect of moral intensity and 
the actual substance of human interest provided. That James should 
have done this with what he found in George Eliot, and done it 
with such strenuously refined art ! that registers our reaction. 

Actually, we can see that the trouble is that he derives so much 
more from George Eliot than he suspects : he largely mistakes the 
nature of his inspiration, which is not so much from life as he 
supposes. He has been profoundly impressed by the irony of 
Gwendolen's married situation, and is really moved by a desire to 
produce a similar irony. But he fails to produce the fable that gives 
inevitability and moral significance. He can remain unaware of his 
failure because he is so largely occupied (a point that can be illus- 
trated in detail) in transposing George Eliot, whose power is due to 
the profound psychological truth of her conception, and the con- 
sistency with which she develops it. 

Isabel Archer, for all James's concern (if Mr. Winters is right) to 
isolate in her the problem of ethical choice, has neither a more 
intense nor a richer moral significance than Gwendolen Harleth ; 
but very much the reverse. If this way of stating James's interest in 
her seems obtuse, and we are to appreciate a fully ironical intention 
in his presentment of the irony of her case, and are to say (as surely 
we are) that he intends an ironical 'placing' of her illusion, the 
adverse criticism of James still holds. For we can still see Mr. 
Winters' excuse for stating things in his way : beyond any question 
we are invited to share a valuation of Isabel that is incompatible 
with a really critical irony. We can't even say that James makes an 
implicit critical comment on the background of American idealism 
that fostered her romantic confidence in life and in her ability to 
choose : he admires her so much, and demands for her such ad- 
miration and homage, that he can't be credited with 'placing* the 
conditions that, as an admirable American girl, she represents. 
James's lack of specificity favours an evasiveness, and the evasiveness, 
if at all closely questioned, yields inconsistency of a kind that partly 
empties the theme of The Portrait of a Lady of moral substance. 

in 



GEORGE ELIOT 

He exempts Isabel from the conditions that engage our sympathy 
for Gwendolen of whom we arc nevertheless not expected to be 
uncritical : economic pressure, and the pressure (for, where Grand- 
court's suit is in question, it is more than mere approval that Mr. 
Gascoigne enacts) brought qua e i-paternally to bear on her by her 
uncle, die representative of the approving expectation of the society 
that constitutes her world. For the 'free' Isabel it can't even be 
urged that she is the victim of bad advice or a tacit general con- 
spiracy that favours Madame Merle's designs ; on the contrary, all 
those whose judgment Isabel has most reason to respect Ralph 
Touchett, Mrs. Touchett, Lord Warburton argue cogently against 
Osmond by their valuation of him. That she shouldn't be led by 
their unanimity to question her own valuation convicts her of a 
notable lack of sense, not to say extremely unintelligent obstinacy 
(which nothing we are shown mitigates) at least, one would think 
so ; but James doesn't let us suppose that he shares this "view. After 
the marriage she is shown to us enjoying, in her proudly dissimu- 
lated desolation, the admiring pity due to a noble victim who is 
above criticism. 

These inconsistencies, these moral incoherences, which become 
apparent when we ponder the story, pass undetected at first because 
of the brilliant art with which James, choosing his scenes h faire, 
works in terms of dramatic presentation. His dramatic triumphs 
often turn out to have been prompted (without, one judges, his 
recognizing the fact) by felicities of dramatic presentation in George 
Eliot ; but his art is his own. All the same, when we make the 
comparison, we find that her art is not less remarkable than his for 
command of the dramatic that she enjoys here, in fact, a character- 
istic superiority. With her advantage in specificity, she is certainly 
not inferior in vividness and immediate power ; and when we 
reflect critically and relate the scene to what goes before and what 
comes after we discover more and more reason for admiring her 
moral and psychological insight, and the completeness with which 
she has grasped and realized her theme. 

In what James does with Gwendolen Harleth there is something 
premonitory. Again and again in his later work we find ourselves 
asking : What is the moral substance ? what, definable in terms of 
human interest, is there to justify this sustained and strenuous sugges- 

112 



DANIEL DERONDA 

tion that important issues are involved, important choices are 
to be made ? His kind of preoccupation with eliminating the 
inessential clearly tends to become the pursuit of an essential that 
is illusory. 

If any doubt should linger as to whether one is justified in talking 
about 'what James does with Gwendolen Harleth 9 , it should be 
settled finally by a consideration of Osmond in relation to Grand- 
court : Osmond so plainly is Grandcourt, hardly disguised, that the 
general derivative relation of James's novel to George Eliot's be- 
comes quite unquestionable. It is true that Grandcourt is no 
aesthetic connoisseur, but Osmond's interest in articles of virtb 
amounts to nothing more than a notation of a kind of cherished 
fastidiousness of conscious, but empty, superiority that is precisely 
Grandcourt's : 'From the first she had noticed that he had nothing 
of the fool in his composition but that by some subtle means he 
communicated to her the impression that all the folly lay with other 
people, who did what he did not care to do.' That might very well 
be an account of the effect of Osmond on Isabel, but it comes from 
George Eliot. Grandcourt, as an English aristocrat whose status 
licenses any amount of languid disdain, doesn't need a symbolic 
dilettantism : 

'He himself knew what personal repulsion was nobody 
better : his mind was much furnished with a sense of what 
brutes his fellow-creatures were, both masculine and feminine ; 
what odious familiarities they had, what smirks, what modes of 
flourishing their handkerchiefs, what costumes, what lavender- 
water, what bulging eyes, and what foolish notions of making 
themselves agreeable by remarks which were not wanted. In 
this critical view of mankind there was affinity between him 
and Gwendolen before their marriage, and we know that she 
had been attractingly wrought upon by the refined negations 
he presented to her.' (Chapter LIV.) 

This equally describes Osmond, of whom it might equally well be 
said that 'he is a man whose grace of bearing has long been moulded 
on an experience of boredom', and that 'he has worn out all his 
healthy interest in things'. All either cares about is to be assured 
that he feels superior ; and the contemptible paradox of a superiority 
H 113 



GEORGE ELIOT 

that is nothing unless assured of itself by those whose judgment it 
affects to despise is neatly 'placed' by George Eliot here : 

'It is true that Grandcourt went about with the sense that he 
did not care a languid curse for any one's admiration ; but this 
state of not-caring, just as much as desire, required its related 
objectnamely, a world of admiring or envying spectators : 
for if you are fond of looking stonily at smiling persons, the 
persons must be there and they must smile a rudimentary 
truth which is surely forgotten by those who complain of man- 
kind as generally contemptible, since any other aspect of the 
race must disappoint the voracity of their contempt.' 

In Grandcourt, of course, we have as elsewhere her strength, her 
advantage, of specificity. Our sense of the numbing spell in which 
his languidly remorseless domination holds Gwendolen doesn't 
depend upon suggestive inexplicitnesses, sinister overtones and 
glimpses from a distance. 'Grandcourt had become a blank un- 
certainty to her in everything but this, that he would do just what 
he willed' : we don't feel him as less sinister and formidable than 
Osmond because we see him deliberately working to produce this 
effect (of which we understand perfectly the conditions) in a 
number of dramatic scenes that have all George Eliot's explicitness 
and fulness of actuality. Such scenes are that in which he lets her 
know that he understands perfectly why she had made the surrep- 
titious call on Miss Lapidoth from which he catches her returning ; 
that in which he tells her that she is to learn about his will from the 
hated Lush ; and that, very short, but with an extraordinary power 
to disturb, in which he surprises her with Deronda the scene that 
ends, with reference to the announced yachting cruise which she 
sees as blessedly releasing her to her mother's company : 'No, you 
will go with me.' (All these are in Chapter XL VIII.) 

In these scenes the sharpness of significant particularity with 
which the outward action is registered is very striking. 

'She was frightened at her own agitation, and began to un- 
button her gloves that she might button them again, and bite 
her lips over the pretended difficulty/ 

The whole is seen, and the postures and movements are given with 
vivid precision. James's Constantius, contrasting George Eliot with 

114 



DANIEL DERONDA 

Turgenev he the 'poet', she the * philosopher* says : 'One cares 
for the aspect of things and the other cares for the reason of things'. 
Nowhere is this characterization more patently wide of the mark 
than in those places where her supreme intelligence is most apparent. 
It is precisely because she cares for the * reason' of things that she can 
render the aspect so vividly ; her intelligence informs her perception 
and her visual imagination. The vividness of the rendering is 
significance. 

As fine a sustained example of this power of hers is to be found in 
Chapter XXX, where Grandcoi rt visits Gadsmere in order to tell 
Mrs. Glasher of the coming marriage and to get from her the 
diamonds for Gwendolen. Not only is Mrs. Glasher afraid of him, 
he is afraid of her, for 'however he might assert his independence of 
Mrs, Glasher's past, he had made a past for himself which was a 
stronger yoke than any he could impose. He must ask for the 
diamonds which he had promised Gwendolen'. The inner drama 
in each as they act upon each other is so vividly present to us in 
outer movement that we seem to be watching a play ; till *x\mid 
such caressing signs of mutual fear they parted'. 

The diamonds, it may be noted at this point, exemplify George 
Eliot's characteristic subtle and inevitable use of symbolism. They 
are his mother's diamonds, 'long ago' given Lydia to wear. His 
demanding them back for Gwendolen is his means of announcing 
to Lydia that the relations they symbolize marital, virtually are 
to cease. But he can't force her to give them up when she refuses ; 
her strength is that they were given to her as his wife, and she has 
been that, in all but legal form and social recognition. ' Her person 
suited diamonds, and made them look as if they were worth some 
of the money given for them' the natural validity of the relation 
is suggested there. They come to Gwendolen on the night of her 
wedding-day with the enclosed message that turns them to poison 
(Chapter XXXI) : 'I am the grave in which your chance of happi- 
ness is buried. . . .' Gwendolen has a hysterical fit : the diamonds 
are for her the consciousness of that past of Grandcourt's with Lydia 
which precludes any possibility of good married relations between 
him and herself. 

'Shall you like to stand before your husband with these 

diamonds' on you, and these words of mine in his thoughts and 



GEORGE ELIOT 

yours ? Will he think you have any right to complain when he 
has made you miserable ? You took him with your eyes open. 
The willing wrong you have done me will be your curse. 

The first glimpse we have of Gwendolen in public after her marriage, 
she is wearing the diamonds. We are told that her * belief in her 
power of dominating had utterly gone ' . And again and again, with 
inevitable naturalness, they play their pregnantly symbolic part. 
They come to represent Nemesis: they are what Gwendolen 
married Grandcourt for, and her punishment is having to wear 
them. 

James's use of symbols, famous as he is for it, looks weak in com- 
parison with George Eliot's. They are thought out independently 
of the action and then introduced. We have an instance in the 
valuable coffee-cup, * precious' to Madame Merle but 'attenuated', 
that Osmond, in the show-down scene with Madame Merle 
(Chapter XLIX), picks up and observes, 'dryly', to be cracked. It 
symbolizes very obviously, in its ad hoc way, the relations between 
the two, the crack being the resentment Osmond feels against 
Madame Merle for the 'service' she had done him in marrying him 
to Isabel. And here, it is worth noting, we have the first form of 
the celebrated Golden Bowl symbol, which, in the novel called 
after it, is used for so many purposes, but which, for all the modish 
esteem it enjoys, is always applied elaborately from the outside, 
with an effect of strain. The introduction of George Eliot's 
diamonds arises naturally from the social drama, and they play a 
natural part in the action. The turquoise necklace that represents 
Gwendolen's relations with Deronda is a symbol of the same order. 

Lydia Glasher (to revert to her) is one of the admirably done 
subordinate characters in the book, which, when we have cut away 
the bad half, is not left thinly populated. Mrs. Davilow, the 
Gascoigne family, Gwendolen's bete noire Mr. Lush ('with no active 
compassion or good-will, he had just as little active malevolence, 
being chiefly occupied in liking his particular pleasure'), Mrs. 
Arrowpoint, Miss Arrowpoint (near kin to Mary Garth) these are 
all there with a perfect Tightness of presence, and with a quality of 
life that makes them George Eliot characters and no one else's. 

And then there is Herr Klesmer, who, though a minor actor, has, 
for us, a major significance. Pointing to him, we can say : here we 

116 



DANIEL DERONDA 

have something that gives George Eliot an advantage, not only over 
Jane Austen (against whom we feel no challenge to press the point), 
but also over Henry James in The Portrait of a Lady. The point is so 
important that a generous measure of illustration seems in place. 
Here, then, is Herr Klesmer's incongruous presence at the Archery 
Meeting : 

'We English are a miscellaneous people, and any chance fifty 
of us will present many varieties of animal architecture or facial 
ornament ; but it must be adnr tted that our prevailing expres- 
sion is not that of a lively, impassioned race, preoccupied with 
the ideal and carrying the real as a mere make-weight. The 
strong point of the English gentleman pure is the easy style of 
his figure and clothing ; he objects to marked ins and outs in 
his costume, and he also objects to looking inspired. 

* Fancy an assemblage where the men had all that ordinary 
stamp of the well-bred Englishman, watching the entrance of 
Herr Klesmer his mane of hair floating backward in massive 
inconsistency with the chimney-pot hat, which had the look of 
having been put on for a joke above his pronounced but well- 
modelled features and powerful clean-shaven mouth and chin ; 
his tall, thin figure clad in a way which, not being strictly 
English, was all the worse for its apparent emphasis of inten- 
tion. Draped in a loose garment with a Florentine berretta on 
his head, he would have been fit to stand by the side of Leon- 
ardo da Vinci ; but how when he presented himself in trousers 
which were not what English feeling demanded about the 
knees ? and when the fire that showed itself in his glances and 
the movements of his head, as he looked round him with 
curiosity, was turned into comedy by a hat which ruled that 
mankind should have well-cropped hair and a staid demeanour, 
such, for example, as Mr. Arrowpoint's, whose nullity of face 
and perfect tailoring might pass everywhere without ridicule ? 
One sees why it is often better for greatness to be dead, and to 
have got rid of the outward man. 

' Many present knew Klesmer, or knew of him ; but they had 
only seen him on candle-light occasions when he appeared 
simply as a musician, and he had not yet that supreme, world- 
wide celebrity which makes an artist great to the most ordinary 
people by their knowledge of his great expensiveness. It was 
literally a new light for them to see him in presented un- 

117 



GEORGE ELIOT 

expectedly on this July afternoon in an exclusive society : some 
were inclined to laugh, others felt a little disgust at the want 
of judgment shown by the Arrowpoints in this use of the 
introductory card. 

'"What extreme guys those artistic fellows usually are!" 
said young Clintock to Gwendolen/ 

The foreigner at English social and sporting functions, intrinsic- 
ally ludicrous because of his ignorance of what's done or, rather, 
what isn't done, what isn't said, and what isn't worn has always 
been a familiar figure in Punch. George Eliot doesn't miss the comic 
element in Klesmer's appearance, but she uses him to 'place' the 
Philistinism x of English society, and the complacent unintelligence 
of its devotion to Good Form. James, in The Portrait of a Lady, can 
exhibit no such freely critical attitude towards the country-house 
and its civilization. 

George Eliot's use of Herr Klesmer is the more effective because 
her attitude is so complete and balanced : she sees what is genuinely 
laughable in the Teutonic Intellectual and licensed and conscious 
Artist : 

' . . . Gwendolen had accepted Kleomer as a partner ; and 
that wide-glancing personage, who saw everything and nothing 
by turns, said to her when they were walking, "Mr. Grand- 
court is a man of taste. He likes to see you dancing." 

"'Perhaps he likes to look at what is against his taste," said 
Gwendolen, with a light laugh : she was quite courageous 
with Klesmer now. "He may be so tired of admiring that he 
liked disgust for a variety." 

"'Those words are not suitable to your lips," said Klesmer, 
quickly, with one of his grand frowns, while he shook his hand 
as if to banish the discordant sounds. 
"'Are you as critical of words as of music ?" 

1 We can guess where, in relation to Philistinism on the one hand and the 
'social* values on the other, she would have placed the complacent confidence 
and radical provinciality of this : 'Moreover, like all Victorian rationalists, she 
is a Philistine. She pays lip-service to art, but like Dorothea Brooke con- 
fronted with the Statres of the Vatican, she does not really see why people 
set such a value on it.' (Lord David Cecil, Early Victorian Novelists, p. 322.) 
We have to confess that she doesn't know the kind of thing the best people 
to-day say about 'art'. But on the other hand, reading what is written about 
her (and other novelists) by the critic for whom this makes her a Philistine, 
we can't help asking why he should suppose he puts a high value on literature. 

118 



DANIEL DERONDA 

'"Certainly I am. I should require your words to be what 
your face and form are always among the meanings of a noble 
music." 

' "That is a compliment as well as a correction. I am obliged 
for both. But do you know I am bold enough to wish to 
correct you, and require you to understand a joke ?" 

One may understand jokes without liking them," said the 
terrible Klesmer. "I have had opera books sent me full of 
jokes ; it was just because I understood them that I did not like 
them. The comic people are ready to challenge a man because 
he looks grave. 'You don't set the witticism, sir ?' 'No, sir, 
but I see what you meant/ Then I am what we call ticketed 
as a fellow without esprit. But, in fact," said Klesmer, suddenly 
dropping from his quick narrative to a reflective tone, with an 
impressive frown, ' I am very sensible to wit and humour." 

"'I am glad you tell me that," said Gwendolen, not without 
some wickedness of intention. But Klesmer's thoughts had 
flown offon the wings of his own statement, as their habit was, 
and she had the wickedness all to herself. "Pray, who is trrt 
standing near the card-room door ? " she went on, seeing there 
the same stranger with whom Klesmer had been in animated 
talk on the archery-ground. " He is a friend of yours, I think." 

'"No, no ; an amateur I have seen in town : Lush, a Mr. 
Lush too fond of Meyerbeer and Scribe too fond of the 
mechanical-dramatic/ ' 

' "Thanks. I wanted to know whether you thought his face 
and form required that his words should be among the mean- 
ings of a noble music ?" Klesmer was conquered, and flashed 
at her a delightful smile which made them quite friendly until 
she begged to be deposited by the side of her mamma.' 

The Teutonic trait is beautifully got in that 'But, in fact, I am 
very sensible to wit and humour'. Yet the balance of this exchange, 
which is managed with so flexible a sureness, hardly lies against 
Klesmer. 

But perhaps, in the light of our present interest, the richest 
episode in which he figures is that with Mr. Bult (perfect name 
how good George Eliot's names are) : 

'Meanwhile enters the expectant peer, Mr. Bult, an esteemed 
party man who, rather neutral in private life, had strong 
opinions concerning the districts of the Niger, was much at 

119 



GEORGE ELIOT 

home also in the Brazils, spoke with decision of affairs in the 
South Seas, was studious of h*s parliamentary and itinerant 
speeches, and had the general solidity and suffusive pinkness of 
a healthy Briton on the central table-land of life. Catherine, 
aware of a tacit understanding that he was an undeniable hus- 
band for an heiress, had nothing to say against him but that he 
was thoroughly tiresome to her. Mr. Bult was amiably con- 
fident, and had no idea that his insensibility to counterpoint 
could ever be reckoned against him. Klesmcr he hardly re- 
garded in the light of a serious human being who ought to have 
a vote ; and he did not mind Miss Arrowpoint's addiction to 
music any more than her probable expenses in antique lace. He 
was consequently a little amazed at an after-dinner outburst 
of Klesmer's on the lack of idealism in English politics, which 
left all mutuality between distant races to be determined simply 
by the need of a market : the crusades, to his mind, had at least 
this excuse, that they had a banner of sentiment round which 
generous feelings could rally : of course, the scoundrels rallied 
f>o, but what then ? they rally in equal force round your ad- 
vertisement van of "Buy cheap, sell dear". On this theme 
Klesmer's eloquence, gesticulatory and other, went on for a 
little while like stray fireworks accidentally ignited, and then 
sank into immovable silence. Mr. Bult was not surprised that 
Klesmer's opinions should be flighty, but was astonished at his 
command of English idiom and his ability to .put a point hi a 
way that would have told at a constituents dinner to be 
accounted for probably by his being a Pole, or a Czech, or 
something of that fermenting sort, in a state of political refugee- 
ism which had obliged him to make a profession of his music ; 
and that evening in the drawing-room he for the first time 
went up to Klesmer at the piano, Miss Arrowpoint being near, 
and said 

'"I had no idea before that you were a political man." 
'Klesmer's only answer was to fold his arms, put out his 
nether lip, and stare at Mr. Bult. 

c "You must have been used to public speaking. You speak 
uncommonly well, though I don't agree with you. From what 
you said about sentiment, I fancy you are a Panslavist." 

No ; my name is Elijah. I am the Wandering Jew," said 
Klesmer, flashing a smile at Miss Arrowpoint, and suddenly 
making a mysterious wind-like rush backwards and forwards 

120 



DANIEL DERONDA 

on the piano. Mr. Bult felt this buffoonery rather offensive 
and Polish, but Miss Arrowpoint being there did not like 
to move away. 

'"Herr Klesmer has cosmopolitan ideas," said Miss Arrow- 
point, trying to make the best of the situation. "He looks 
forward to a fusion of races." 

'"With all my heart," said Mr. Bult, willing to be 
gracious. "I was sure he had too much talent to be a 
mere musician." 

'"Ah, sir, you are under some mistake there," said Klesmer, 
firing up. "No man has too much talent to be a musician. 
Most men have too little. A creative artist is no more a mere 
musician than a great statesman is a mere politician. We are 
not ingenious puppets, sir, who live in a box and look out on 
the world only when it is gaping for amusement. We help to 
rule the nations and make the age as much as any other puolic 
men. We count ourselves on level benches with legislators. 
And a man who speaks effectively through music is compelled 
to something more difficult than parliamentary eloquence." 

'With the last word Klesmer wheeled from the piano and 
walked away. 

'Miss Arrowpoint coloured, and Mr. Bult observed with his 
usual phlegmatic solidity, "Your pianist does not think small 
beer of himself." 

'"Herr Klesmer is something more than a pianist," said Miss 
Arrowpoint, apologetically. "He is a great musician, in the 
fullest sense of the word. He will rank with Schubert and 
Mendelssohn." 

'"Ah, you ladies understand these things," said Mr. Bult, 
none the less convinced that these things were frivolous because 
Klesmer had shown himself a coxcomb/ (Chapter XXII.) 

What we see here is not a novelist harmed, or disabled, by the 
intellectual of The Westminster Review. The knowledge and interest 
shown, the awareness of the political world, is that of the associate 
of Spencer and Mill. But the attitude is not theirs. Bult is a far 
more effective 'placing' of a prevailing Victorian ethos than Pod- 
snap : George Eliot really understands what she is dealing with 
understands as well as the professional student of politics and the 
man of the public world ; and more, understands as these cannot. 
In short, it is her greatness that she retains ail the provincial strength 

121 



GEORGE ELIOT 

and virtue while escaping, as no other Victorian novelist does, the 
limitations of provinciality. 

As for the bad part of Daniel Deronda, there is nothing to do but 
cut it away in spite of what James, as Constantius, finds to say 
for it : 

'The universe forcing itself with a slow, inexorable pressure 
into a narrow, complacent, and yet after all extremely sensitive 
mind that is Gwendolen's story. And it becomes completely 
characteristic in that her supreme perception of the fact that 
the world is whirling past her is in the disappointment not of a 
base but of an exalted passion. The very chance to embrace 
what the author is so fond of calling a " larger life" seems re- 
fused to her. Sh^s punished for being "narrow", and she is 
not allowed a chalice to expand. Her finding Deronda pre- 
engaged to go to the East and stir up the race-feeling of the 
Jews strikes me as wonderfully happy invention. The irony of 
the situation, for poor Gwendolen, is almost grotesque, and it 
mikes one wonder whether the whole heavy structure of the 
Jewish question in the story was not built up by the author for 
the express purpose of giving its proper force to this particular 
stroke/ 

If it was (which we certainly can't accept as a complete account 
of it) built up by the author for this purpose, then it is too dis- 
astrously null to have any of the intended force to give. If, having 
entertained such a purpose, George Eliot had justified it, Daniel 
Deronda would have been a very great novel indeed. As things are, 
there is, lost under that damning title, an actual great novel to be 
extricated. And to extricate it for separate publication as Gwendolen 
Harleth seems to me the most likely way of getting recognition for 
it. Gwendolen Harleth would have some rough edges, but it would 
be a self-sufficient and very substantial whole (it would by modern 
standards be a decidedly long novel) . Deronda would be confined 
to what was necessary for his role of lay-confessor to Gwendolen, 
and die final cut would come after the death by drowning, leaving 
us with a vision of Gwendolen as she painfully emerges from her 
hallucinated worst conviction of guilt and confronts the daylight 
fact about Deronda's intentions. 

It has seemed necessary to carry this examination so much into 

122 



DANIEL DERONDA 

detail in order to give due force to the contention that George 
Eliot's greatness is of a different kind from that she has been gener- 
ally credited with. And by way of concluding on this emphasis I 
will adduce once again her most intelligently appreciative critic, 
Henry James : 

* She does not strike me as naturally a critic, less still as natur- 
ally a sceptic ; her spontaneous part is to observe life and to 
feel it, to feel it with admirable depth. Contemplation, sym- 
pathy and faith something like that, I should say, would have 
been her natural scale. If she had fallen upon an age of en- 
thusiastic assent to old articles of faith, it seems to me possible 
that she would have had a more perfect, a more consistent and 
graceful development than she actually had/ 

There is, I think, a complete misconception here. George Eliot's 
development may not have been 'perfect' or 'graceful', and 'con- 
sistent' is not precisely the adjective one would choose for it ; yet 
she went on developing to the end, as few writers do, and achieved 
the most remarkable expression of her distinctive genius in her last 
work : her art in Gwendolen Harleth is at its maturest. And her 
profound insight into the moral nature of man is essentially that of 
one whose critical intelligence has been turned intensively on her 
faiths. A sceptic by nature or culture indeed no ; but that is not 
because her intelligence, a very powerful one, doesn't freely illumin- 
ate all her interests and convictions. That she should be thought 
depressing (as, for instance, Leslie Stephen thinks her) always sur- 
prises me. She exhibits a traditional moral sensibility expressing 
itself, not within a frame of 'old articles of faith' (as James obviously 
intends die phrase), but nevertheless with perfect sureness, in judg- 
ments that involve confident positive standards, and yet affect us as 
simply the report of luminous intelligence. She deals in the weak- 
ness and ordinariness of human nature, but doesn't find it contempt- 
ible, or show either animus or self-deceiving indulgence towards it ; 
and, distinguished and noble as she is, we have in reading her the 
feeling that she is in and of the humanity she presents with so clear 
and disinterested a vision. For us in these days, it seems to me, she 
is a peculiarly fortifying and wholesome author, and a suggestive 
one : she might well be pondered by those who tend to prescribe 

123 



GEORGE ELIOT 

simple recourses to suppose, say, that what Charlotte Yonge has 
to offer may be helpfufly relevant in face or the demoralizations 
and discouragements of an age that isn't one of 'enthusiastic assent 
to old articles of faith*. 

As for her rank among novelists, I take the challenge from a 
representative purveyor of currency, Oliver Elton : what he says 
we may confidently assume that thousands of the cultivated think 
it reasonable to say, and thousands of students in 'Arts' courses are 
learning to say, either in direct study of him, or in the lecture-room. 
He says, 1 then, in discussing the 'check to George Eliot's reputation' 
given by the coming 'into fuller view' of 'two other masters of 
fiction' Meredith and Hardy: 'Each of these novelists saw the 
world of mem and women more freely than George Eliot had done ; 
and they brought into relief one of her greatest deficiencies, namely, 
that while exhaustively describing life, she is apt to miss the spirit of 
life itself/ I can only say that this, for anyone whose critical educa- 
tion has begun, should be breath-taking in its absurdity, and affirm 
m> conviction that, by the side of George Eliot and the compari- 
son shouldn't be necessary Meredith appears as a shallow exhibi- 
tionist (his famous 'intelligence' a laboured and vulgar brilliance) 
and Hardy, decent as he is, as a provincial manufacturer of gauche 
and heavy fictions that sometimes have corresponding virtues. For 
a positive indication of her place and quality I think of a Russian ; 
not Turg&nev, but a far greater, Tolstoy who, we all know, is 
pre-eminent in getting 'the spirit of life itself. George Eliot, of 
course, is not as transcendently great as Tolstoy, but she is great, and 
great in the same way. The extraordinary reality of Anna Karenina 
(his supreme masterpiece, I think) comes of an intense moral interest 
in human nature that provides the light and courage for a profound 
psychological analysis. This analysis is rendered in art (and Anna 

1 A Survey of English Literature, 1830-1880, Vol. II, Chapter XXIII. This 
chapter, ' George Eliot and Anthony Trollope ', is very representative of Elton 
who is very representative of the academically esteemed * authority*. It 
contains a convenient and unintentionally amusing conspectus of the ideas 
about George Eliot I have been combating. He exemplifies the gentleman's 
attitude towards Gwendolen: 'The authoress drops on her a load of brick- 
bats, and seems to wish to leave the impression that Gwendolen deserved 
them. She is young, and rather too hard, sprighdy and rather domineering.' 
(He says of Middlemarch; *This r almost one of the great novels of the 
language/) 

124 



DANIEL DERONDA 

Karenina, pace Matthew Arnold, is wonderfully closely worked) by 
means that are like those used by George Eliot in Gwendolen Harleth 
a proposition that will bear a great deal of considering in the 
presence of the text. Of George Eliot it can in turn be said that her 
best work has a Tolstoyan depth and reality. 



125 



Ill 
HENRY JAMES 

(i) To 'The Portrait of a Lady' 

I HAVE said enough about the part played in James's development 
by George Eliot, and what I have said has not, I'm afraid, tended 
to convey that The Portrait of a Lady is an original masterpiece. That, 
however, is what I take it to be ; it is one of the great novels in the 
language. And what I propose to do in the earlier part of the space 
I devote to James is, in effect, to discuss the conditions that enabled 
him to make of a variation on Gwendolen Harleth a description I 
think I have justified something so different, positively, from that 
work, and so different from anything George Eliot could have done. 
By conditions I mean the inner conditions largely determined as 
they are by outer. I mean the essential interests and attitudes that 
characterize his outlook on the world and his response to life. 

This seems to me a good course to set in embarking on a brief 
treatment of James. It ensures that a major stress shall be laid on 
achievement. I am very conscious of the danger that, for various 
reasons, the stress shouldn't be laid sufficiently there. James was so 
incredibly productive over so long a period, and offers so many 
aspects for study, that nothing short of a book on him, and a book 
of formidable length, could pretend to adequacy. I have also in 
mind the way in which the cult of James of the last quarter of a 
century (a cult that, to judge by what has been written on them, 
doesn't seem to have involved intensive cultivation of the works 
admired) makes him pre-eminently the author of the later works. 
We are asked to admire The Ambassadors (1903) ; and The Ambas- 
sadors seems to me to be not only not one of his great books, but to 
be a bad one. If, as I was on the point of saying, it exhibits senility, 
then senility was more than setting in at the turn of the century in 
The Sacred Fount. It is as a matter of fact a more interesting disease 
than senility. 

This is not to deny that there are achieved works in distinctively 
'late' styles. Critical admirers of The Awkward Age (1899), that 
astonishing work of genius (about which they will have reserves on 
some points), and of What Maisie Knew (which is perfect), will 

126 



TO THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

know of many fine short stories and nouvelles. But they will also 
be largely occupied, where this later work is concerned, with sifting, 
rejecting, qualifying and deploring : that is, they are faced inescap- 
ably with James's 'case' with the question of what went wrong in 
his later development ; for something certainly did go wrong. The 
phase when his genius functioned with freest and fullest vitality is 
represented by The Portrait of a Lady (1881), together with The 
Bostonians (1885). That is my position, and that seems to me the 
right emphasis for a brief appreciation. And in discussing the 
interests that meet to condition supreme achievement in The Por- 
trait of a Lady, I aim at finding my illustrations in other works that, 
for all the lack of recognition, are classical in quality. One can in 
this way hope to suggest the nature of James's achievement in 
general, while frankly avowing inadequacy of treatment and a 
drastic selectiveness of attention. 

By 'interests' I mean the kinds of profound concern having the 
urgency of personal problems, and felt as moral problems, more 
than personal in significance that lie beneath Jane Austen's art, and 
enable her to assimilate varied influences and heterogeneous material 
and make great novels out of them. It is not for nothing that, like 
George Eliot, he admired Her immensely, and that from him too 
passages can be found that show her clear influence. For he goes 
back to her, not only through George Eliot, but directly. Having 
two novelists of that kind of moral preoccupation in his own 
language to study, he quickly discovered how much, and how little, 
the French masters had to teach him, and to what tradition he 
belonged. Hence the early and decisive determination a surpris- 
ing one (if they knew of it) for the modish Gallophils of our time 
against Paris. 

His interests, of course, are very different from Jane Austen's, 
being determined by a contrasting situation. His problem was not 
to balance the claims of an exceptional and very sensitive individual 
against the claims of a mature and stable society, strong in its un- 
questioned standards, sanctions and forms. The elements of his 
situation are well known. He was born a New Yorker at a time 
when New York society preserved a mature and refined European 
tradition, and when at the same time any New Yorker of literary 
and intellectual bent must, in the formath e years, have been very 

127 



HENRY JAMES 

much aware of the distinctive and very different culture of New 
England. Here already we have an interplay likely to promote a 
critical attitude, and an emancipation from any complete adherence 
to one code or ethos. Then there was the early experience of 
Europe and the final settling in England. It is not surprising that, 
in the mind of a genius, the outcome should be a bent for com- 
parison, and a constant profound pondering of the nature of civil- 
ized society and of the possibility of imagining a finer civilization 
than any he knew. 

It was the profundity of the pondering that I had in mind when I 
referred to him as a 'poet-novelist' : his 'interests' were not of the 
kind that are merely written about. Here is an apt passage from the 
Preface to The Golden Bowl : 

'. . . the whole growth of one's " taste ": a blessed compre- 
hensive name for many of the things deepest in us. The 
"taste" of the poet is, at bottom and so far as the poet in him 
prevails over everything else, his active sense of life : in accord- 
ance with which truth to keep one's hand on it is to hold the 
silver clue to the whole labyrinth of his consciousness/ l 

James's use of the word 'poet* to cover the novelist, and his associat- 
ing it in this explanatory way with the term 'taste', indicates the 
answer to the not uncommon suggestion that his work exhibits 
taste trying to usurp the function of a moral sense. In calling him 
'poet-novelist' I myself was intending to convey that the deter- 
mining and controlling interests in his art engage what is 'deepest 
in him' (he being a man of exceptional capacity for experience), 
and appeal to what is deepest in us. 

This characteristic of his art manifests itself in his remarkable use 
of symbolism -see, for instance, The Jolly Corner, The Figure in the 

1 The passage (which I had marked years before) is quoted by Mr. 
Quentin Anderson in an essay in The Kenyan Review for Autumn, 1946, 
which arrived as I was correcting my typescript. In this essay, * Henry 
James and the New Jerusalem/ Mr. Anderson argues, very persuasively, that 
James was deeply influenced by his father's system and symbolism (the 
nature of which may be indicated by saying that Swedenborg counts for 
something in it). What Mr. Anderson doesn't appear to recognize suffici- 
ently is that a preoccupation with such interests wouldn't necessarily be 
identifiable with the novelist's true creative preoccupation. But I look 
forward to Mr. AndersonV promised book. (Essays also in Scrutiny, XIV, 4, 
and XV, i.) 

128 



TO THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

Carpet and The Great Good Place (I specify these as obvious instances 
and obviously successful). But to stress the symbolism too much 
would tend to misunderstanding : the qualities of his art that derive 
from the profound seriousness of his interest in life it is these in 
general that one stresses in calling him a poet, and they are to be 
found widely in forms and places tnat the reference to his use of 
symbolism doesn't immediately bring up for attention. When 
these qualities are duly recognized it becomes ridiculous to save the 
word 'poet' for the author of The Waves and The Years works 
that offer something like the equivalent of Georgian poetizing. 
(Even To the Lighthouse, which may be distinguished among her 
books as substantially justifying her so obviously 'poetical' method, 
is a decidedly minor affair it is minor art.) 'Hawthorne', says 
James in the early study he wrote for the English Men of Letters 
series, 'is perpetually looking for images which shall place them- 
selves in picturesque correspondence with the spiritual facts with 
which he is concerned, and of course the search is of the very essence 
of poetry '. James's own constant and profound concern with spLit- 
ual facts expresses itself not only in what obviously demands to be 
called symbolism, but in the handling of character, episode and dia- 
logue, and in the totality of the plot, so that when he seems to offer a 
novel of manners he gives us more than that, and the ' poetry ' is major. 
And here, prompted by James, we have to recognize a great debt 
to Hawthorne, that original genius (for, whatever the limitations of 
his achievement, he is that) whom it is difficult to relate to any 
earlier novelist unless we are to count Bunyan one. With James 
and Melville he constitutes a distinctively American tradition. The 
more we consider James's early work (and his early work in relation 
to the later), the more important does Hawthorne's influence appear. 
With none of James's sophistication or social experience, and no 
interest in manners, Hawthorne devotes himself to exploring pro- 
foundly moral and psychological interests in a poetic art of fiction. 
It is an art at the other extreme from Jane Austen's, for whom moral 
interests are intimately bound up with manners. Hawthorne's 
approach to morals is psychological, and his psychology, a striking 
achievement of intuition, anticipates (compare Tolstoy and Law- 
rence) what are supposed to be modern findings. His influence on 
James can be seen to have countered hers, and must have had much 
I 129 



HENRY JAMES 

to do with James's emancipation from the English tradition we may 
represent by Thackeray. It clearly counts wich George Eliot's in 
his renunciation of France (see pp. 12 and 14 above). 

I think it well to start with this emphasis on James's greatness 
because of the almost inevitable way in which any brief survey of 
his work that is focussed on what is most significant in it tends to be, 
in effect, unjust. As I have said, the very bulk of the ceuvre (he had 
in a very remarkable degree the productivity of genius) leads to a 
centring of attention upon development, rather than upon the 
achieved thing as such. Let me *nsist, then, at once, on the striking 
measure of achievement that marks even the opening phase of his 
career as a novelist. 

In fact, his 'first attempt at a novel', Roderick Hudson (1874), in 
spite of its reputation, is a very distinguished book that deserves 
permanent currency much more so than many novels passing as 
classics. It is the work of a writer with mature interests, who shows 
himself capable of handling them in fiction. The interests are those 
of a very intelligent and serious student of contemporary civiliza- 
tion. Suppose, James asks himself, there were an American genius 
born in a small town of pristine New England : what would be the 
effect of Europe on him Europe, the culture of the ages, tradition, 
Rome ? There is a weakness in the book that James, retrospectively, 
puts a finger on : the artist's decay the break-up in dissipation at 
Baden-Baden and the end in suicide is accomplished too rapidly. 
But Roderick Hudson is essentially a dramatic study, evaluative and 
exploratory, in the interplay of contrasted cultural traditions (a 
glimpsed ideal being at the centre of James's preoccupation), and the 
sustained maturity of theme and treatment qualifies the book as a 
whole to be read at the adult level of demand in a way that no novel 
of Thackeray's will bear. 

As might have been guessed from what I said above about the use 
of symbolism and from James's relevant remark about Hawthorne 
though the instances I gave were from a much later period the 
influence of Hawthorne is very apparent in some of James's earliest 
stories. But the influence we note in Roderick Hudson is not that of 
Hawthorne. Here is a passage from Chapter X : 

'Mr. Leaven worth was a tall, expansive, bland gentleman, 

with a carefully-brushed whisker and a spacious, fair, well- 
ISO 



TO THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

favoured face, which seemed somehow to have more room in 
it than was occupied by a smile of superior benevolence, so that 
(with his smooth white forehead) it oore a certain resemblance 
to a large parlour with a very florid carpet, but without mural 
decoration. He held his head high, talked impressively, and 
told Roderick within five mirutes that he was a widower 
travelling to distract his mind, and that he had lately retired 
from the proprietorship of large mines of borax in the Middle 
West. Roderick supposed at first that under the influence of 
his bereavement he had come to order a tombstone ; but 
observing the extreme benevolence of his address to Miss 
Blanchard he credited him with a judicious prevision that on 
the day the tombstone should be completed a monument of 
his inconsolability might appear mistimed. Mr. Leavenworth, 
however, was disposed to give an Order to give it with a 
capital letter. 

"'You'll find me eager to patronize our indigenous talent," 
he said. " You may be sure that I've employed a native archi- 
tect for the large residential structure that I'm erecting on the 
banks of the Ohio. I've sustained a considerable loss ; but are 
we not told that the office of art is second only to that of 
religion e That's why I have come to you, sir. In the retreat 
that I'm preparing, surrounded by the memorials of my wan- 
derings, I hope to recover a certain degree of tone. They're 
doing what they can in Paris for the fine effect of some of its 
features ; but the effect I have myself most at heart will be that 
of my library, filled with well-selected and beautifully-bound 
authors in groups, relieved from point to point by high-class 
statuary. I should like to entrust you, can we arrange it, with 
the execution of one of these appropriate subjects. What do 
you say to a representation, in pure white marble, of the idea 
of Intellectual Refinement ?" 

'. . . the young master good-naturedly promised to do his 
best to rise to his client's conception. "His conception be 
hanged !" Roderick exclaimed none the less after Mr. Leaven- 
worth had departed. "His conception is sitting on an india- 
rubber cushion with a pen in her ear and the lists of the stock- 
exhange in her hand. It's a case for doing, cf course, exactly 
as one likes yet how can one like, by any possibility, anything 
that such a blatant humbug as that possibly can ? It's as much 
as one can do to like his awful money. I don't think/' our 



HENRY JAMES 

young man added, "that I ever swallowed anything that wanted 
so little to go down, and I'm doubtless on my way now to any 
grovelling you please"/ 

The influence of Dickens is plain here. It is the Dickens, not, as 
in The Princess Casamassima, of Little Dorrit, but of Martin Chuzzle- 
wit. This passage of Roderick Hudson, of course, couldn't possibly 
have been written by Dickens : something has been done to give 
the Dickensian manner a much more formidable intellectual edge. 
We feel a finer and fuller consciousness behind die ironic humour, 
which engages mature standards and interests such as Dickens was 
innocent of. It is quite personal, a remarkably achieved manner for 
a first novel. Roderick Hudson, in fact, is a much more distinguished, 
lively and interesting work than, at the prompting of the retro- 
spective James, is generally supposed. 

What I offer this passage as illustrating is not merely James, in the 
way I have suggested earlier in this book, seeing life through litera- 
ture and English literature. More importantly, what we have 
here is a good instance of the way in which a great original artist 
learns from another. Incomparably more mature in respect of 
standards as James was than Dickens, his debt to Dickens involves 
more than a mere manner ; he was helped by him to see from the 
outside, and critically place, the life around him. 

To bring out the full force of this point I will jump forward a 
dozen years and quote, for comparison, a passage from one of 
James's acknowledged masterpieces, The Bostonians : 

'Towards nine o'clock the light of her hissing burners smote 
the majestic person of Mrs. Farrinder, who might have con- 
tributed to answer that question * of Miss Chancellor's in the 
negative. She was a copious, handsome woman, in whom 
angularity had been corrected by the air of success ; she had a 
rustling dress (it was evident what she thought about taste), 
abundant hair of a glossy blackness, a pair of folded arms, the 
expression of which seemed to say that rest, in such a career as 

1 '. . . in a career in which she was constantly exposing herself to laceration 
her most poignant suffering came from the injury of her taste. She had tried 
to kill that nerve, to persuade herself that taste was only frivolity in the guise 
of knowledge; but her susceptibility was constantly blooming afresh and 
making her wonder whethc~ an absence of nice arrangements were a necessary 
part of the enthusiasm of humanity/ 

132 



TO THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

hers, was as swpet as it was brief, and a terrible regularity of 
feature. I apply that adjective to her fine placid mask because 
she seemed to face you with a question of which the answer 
was preordained, to ask you how a countenance could fail to 
be noble of which the measurements were so correct. You 
could contest neither the measurements nor the nobleness, and 
had to feel that Mrs. Farrinder imposed herself. There was a 
lithographic smoothness about her, and a mixture of the 
American matron and the public character. There was some- 
thing public in her eye, which was large, cold, and quiet ; it 
had acquired a sort of exposed icticence from the habit of look- 
ing down from a lecture-desk, over a sea of heads, while its 
distinguished owner was eulogized by a leading citizen. Mrs. 
Farrinder, at almost any time, had the air of being introduced 
by a few remarks. She talked with great slowness and distinct- 
ness, and evidently a high sense of responsibility ; she pro- 
nounced every syllable of every word and insisted on being 
explicit. If, in conversation with her, you attempted to take 
anything for granted, or to jump two or three steps at a time, 
she paused, looking at you with a cold patience as if she knew 
that trick, and then went on at her own measured pace. She 
lectured on temperance and the rights of women ; the ends she 
laboured for were to give the ballot to every woman in the 
country and to take the flowing bowl from every man. She 
was held to have a very fine manner, and to embody the 
domestic virtues and the graces of the drawing-room ; to be a 
shining proof, in short, that the forum, for ladies, is not neces- 
sarily hostile to the fireside. She had a husband, and his name 
was Amariah.' 

This, in itself, would perhaps not have suggested a relation to 
Dickens, but when it is approached by way of the passage from 
Roderick Hudson the relation is plain. What we have now, though, 
is pure James. And, as we find it in the description of Miss Birdseye, 
the un-Dickensian subtlety the penetrating analysis and the im- 
plicit reference to mature standards and interests is pretty effectu- 
ally disassociating : 

* She was a little old lady, with an enormous head ; that was 
the first thing Ransom noticed the vast, fair, protuberant, 
candid, ungarnished brow, surmounting a pair of weak, kind, 
tired-looking eyes, and ineffectually balanced in the rear by a 

133 



HENRY JAMES 

cap which had the air of falling backward, and which Miss 
Birdseye suddenly felt for while she talked, with unsuccessful 
irrelevant movements. She had a sad, soft, pale face, which 
(and it was the effect of her whole head) looked as if it had been 
soaked, blurred, and made vague by exposure to some slow 
dissolvent. The long practice of philanthropy had not given 
accent to her features ; it had rubbed out their transitions, their 
meanings. The waves of sympathy, of enthusiasm, had 
wrought upon them in the same way in which the waves of 
time finally modify the surface of old marble busts, gradually 
washing away their sharpness, their details. In her large 
countenance her dim little smile scarcely showed. It was a 
mere sketch of a smile, a kind of instalment, of payment on 
account ; it seemed to say that she would smile more if she had 
time, but that you could see, without this, that she was gentle 
and easy to 'beguile/ 

We are a long way from Dickens here. And the subtlety is never 
absent. Nevertheless, it remains obviously right in suggestion to 
say that, in his rendering of the portentous efflorescences of Ameri- 
can civilization, as represented by the publicists, the charlatans, the 
cranks, the new-religionists, the feminists, and the newspaper-men, 
he gives us Martin Chuzzlewit redone by an enormously more 
intelligent and better educated mind. The comedy is rich and 
robust as well as subtle. 

But when we come to Olive Chancellor, New England spinster 
and representative of the earnest refinement of Boston culture, we 
have something that bears no relation to anything Dickens could 
have done, though it bears an essential relation to this comedy. 
James understands the finer civilization of New England, and is the 
more effective as an ironic critic of it because he is not merely an 
ironic critic. He understands it because he both knows it from 
inside and sees it from outside with the eye of a professional student 
of civilization who has had much experience of non-Puritan cultures 
Here, in the opening of the book, are the reflections of Basil Ransom : 

'What her sister had imparted to him about her mania for 
"reform" had left in his mouth a kind of unpleasant after-taste ; 
he felt, at any rate, that if she had the religion of humanity 
Basil Ransom had read Comte, he had read everything she 

134 



TO THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

would never understand him. He, too, had a private vision 
of reform, but the first principle of it was to reform the 
reformers.' 

The easy reference to Comte is significant ; James, we are sure, 
has a right to the ease. Not that v r e suppose him to have made a 
close study of Comte or to have needed to. But he brings to the 
business of the novelist a wide intellectual culture, as well as, in an 
exceptionally high degree, the kind of knowledge of individual 
humans and concrete societies that we expect of a great novelist 
knowledge that doesn't favour enthusiasm for such constructions as 
the religion of humanity . We are not to identify him with Ransom, 
but we don't suspect him of enthusiasm for that religion, and it is 
made very plain that he shares Ransom's ironical vision of the 
'reformers'. 

In fact, The Boston <ans has a distinct political interest. James deals 
with the feminist movement with such dispassionate lightness and 
sureness, with an insight so utterly unaccompanied by animus, if not 
by irony, that Miss Rebecca West couldn't forgive him (in her book 
on James she can find nothing to say in favour of The Bostonians). 
The political interest, it is tiue, is incidental ; but to that it owes its 
provocative strength : James's preoccupation is centred in the pre- 
sentment of Miss Chancellor and of her relations with the red-haired 
and very Americanly vital and charming girl, Verena Tarrant, 
whom she is intent on saving from the common fate of woman 
love and marriage and dedicating to the Cause. And James's genius 
conies out in a very remarkable piece of psychological analysis, done 
in the concrete (and done, it is worth noting, decades before the 
impact of Freud had initiated a general knowingness about the 
unconscious and the subconscious). 

The relation of Miss Chancellor to Verena is at bottom, and 
essentially, a very painful matter, but it provides some very fine 
psychological comedy. Here, for instance, is Miss Chancellor deal- 
ing with one of her most difficult problems : 

'A day or two after this, Mr. Henry Burrage left a card at 
Miss Chancellor's door, with a note in which he expressed the 
hope that she would take tea with him on a certain day on 
which he expected the company of his mother. Olive re- 

135 



HENRY JAMES 

spondee! to this invitation, in conjunction with Verena ; but in 
doing so she was in the position, singular fcr her, of not quite 
understanding what she was aoout. It seemed to her strange 
that Verena should urge her to take such a step when she was 
free to go without her, and it proved two things : first, that she 
was much interested in Mr. Henry Burrage, and second, that 
her nature was extraordinarily beautiful. Could anything, in 
effect, be less underhand than such an indifference to what she 
supposed to be the best opportunities for carrying on a flirta- 
tion ? Verena wanted to know the truth, and it was clear that 
by this time she believed Olh e Chancellor to have it, for the 
most part, in her keeping. Her insistence, therefore, proved, 
above all, that she cared more for her friend's opinion of Henry 
Burrage than for her own a reminder, certainly, of the re- 
sponsibility that Olive had incurred in undertaking to form this 
generous young mind, and of the exalted place that she now 
occupied in it. Such revelations ought to liave been satisfac- 
tory ; if they failed to be completely so, it was only on account 
of the elder girl's regret that the subject as to which her judg- 
ment was wanted should be a young man destitute of the worst 
vices. Henry Burrage had contributed to throw Miss Chan- 
cellor into a "state", as these young ladies called it, the night 
she met him at Mrs. Tarrant's ; but it had none the less been 
conveyed to Olive by the voices of the air that he was a gentle- 
man and a good fellow. 

'This was painfully obvious when the visit to his rooms took 
place ; he was so good-humoured, so amusing, so friendly and 
considerate, so attentive to Miss Chancellor, he did the honours 
of his bachelor-nest with so easy a grace, that Olive, part of the 
time, sat dumbly shaking her conscience, like a watch that 
wouldn't go, to make it tell her some better reason why she 
shouldn't like him. She saw that there would be no difficulty 
in disliking his mother ; but that, unfortunately, would not 
serve her purpose nearly so well.' 

And after the charming tea-party : 

"'It would be very nice to do that always just to take men 
as they are, and not to have to think about their badness * . . so 
that one could sit there . . . and listen to Schubert and Mendels- 
sohn. They didn't care anything about female suffrage ! And 
I didn't feel the want of a vote to-day at all, did you ? ' Verena 

136 



TO THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

inquired, ending, as she always ended in these speculations, 
with an appeal to Olive. 

'This young lady thought it necessary to give her a very firm 
answer. " I always feel it everywhere night and day. I feel 
it here 99 ; and Olive laid her hand solemnly on her heart. "I 
feel it as a deep, unforgettable wrong ; I feel it as one feels a 
stain that is on one's honour/* 

'Verena gave a clear laugh, and after that a soft sigh, and 
then said, "Do you know, Olive, I sometimes wonder whether, 
if it wasn't for you, I should feel it so very much !" 

'"My own friend," Olive replied, "you have never yet said 
anything to me which expressed so clearly the closeness and 
sanctity of our union/ 5 

'"You do keep me up," Verena went on. "You are my 



conscience".' 



On the relation of the feminism to the conscience James is very 
good the New England conscience, of course, is for him a central 
theme. In Olive Chancellor he relates the conscience, the feminism, 
the culture and the refinement. 'Olive almost panted' when she 
proposed to herself as the ideal happiness 'winter evenings under the 
lamp with falling snow outside, and tea on a little table, and success- 
ful renderings, with a chosen companion, of Goethe' (Entsagen 
sollst du, sollst entsagenl being the text immediately in question), 
'almost the only foreign author she cared about ; for she hated the 
writings of the French in spite of the importance they have given to 
women'. As for vulgarity : ' Olive Chancellor despised vulgarity 
and had a scent for it which she followed up in her own family. . . . 
There were times, indeed, when every one seemed to have it; 
every one but Miss Birdseye (who had nothing to do with it she 
was an antique) and the poorest, humblest people* . . . 'Miss Chan- 
cellor would have been much happier if the movements she was 
interested in could have been carried on only by the people she 
liked, and if revolutions, somehow, didn't always have to begin 
with one's self with internal convulsions, sacrifices, executions/ 

It is her representative plight, of course, that she has to take the 
impact of vulgarity in its most fantastically gross forms. She has, 
for instance, to receive a visit, being unable to keep him out, from 
Mr. Matthias Pardon (Chapter XVII), whom Verena's parents 

137 



HENRY JAMES 

favour as a parti. 'For this ingenuous son of his age all distinction 
between the person and the artist had ceased to exist ; the writer 
was personal, the person food for newsboys, and everything and 
every one were every one's business/ The unsnubbable, invulner- 
able, and hardly conscious impudence of the American newspaper- 
man, servant of a 'vigilant public opinion', is rendered with a force 
so much surpassing Dickens's (we remember the theme in Martin 
Chuzzlewit) because of the so much greater subtlety of James's art 
and the significance drawn from the whole context. The cold, 
forbidding distinction of the w^ll-born Boston spinster goes for 
nothing here. ' She thought Mr. Pardon's visit a liberty ; but if she 
expected to convey this idea to him by withholding any suggestion 
that he should sit down, she was greatly mistaken, inasmuch as he 
cut the ground from under her feet by himself offering her a chair. 
His manner represented hospitality enough for both of them. . , .' 

I specify this scene (as I might equally well have specified a 
number of others) for its typical value. This play of contrasts thin 
refinement against confident vulgarity, fastidiousness against ex- 
pansive publicity, restrictive scruple against charlatanism in tropical 
luxuriance runs all through James's rendering of the New England 
aspect of American civilization. 1 The Bostonians is a wonderfully 
rich, intelligent and brilliant book. I said that it is an acknowledged 
masterpiece, but I don't in fact think that it has anything like the 
reputation it deserves. It could have been written only by James, 
and it has an overt richness of life such as is not commonly associated 
with him. It is incomparably witty and completely serious, and it 
makes the imputed classical status of all but a few of the admired 
works of Victorian fiction look silly. It is one of James's achieved 
major classics, and among the works that he devoted to American 
life it is supreme. 

He wrote, of course, other 'American' classics. Not to speak of 
short-stories and things of less than novel-length, there is Washing- 
ton Square (1880). It is on a smaller scale than The Bostonians, and 
very different in kind. It is not in the same sense a 'study' of 

1 The clash represented by the impact of the American newspaper-man, 
invulnerable in his nationally sanctioned office of unrestricted and unscru- 
pulous publicity, is a recu. rent then,e in James. We find it notably in The 
Reverberator^ a nouvelle of 1888. 

138 



TO THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

American civilization, but the New York setting gives James an 
opportunity for such a record of the mceurs of a past age as he alone 
could have done. Washington Square is a 'tale of silent suffering' 
that very obviously recalls Eugenie Grandet to say which doesn't 
mean that it isn't a very original and very characteristic creation, 
fine in a way that is beyond Balzac. Its unlikeness in excellence to 
The Bostonians evinces strikingly the flexibility and range as well as 
the maturity that James commanded in the early eighteen-eighties. 
This summary dismissal of so fine a work as Washington Square 
illustrates the impossibility of beir g fair to James in any directed 
and limited survey. I have, as anyone must have in dealing with 
an author so voluminous, so complex and of so interesting a de- 
velopment, a given exploratory line in view. I must accordingly 
hark back at once from The Bostonians to an earlier book that comes 
between it and Roderick Hudson: The Europeans (1878). In this 
book, as the title suggests, the 'international situation' appears. But 
the Europeans, the visiting cousins, are there mainly to provide a 
foil for the American family, a study of the New England etnos 
being James's essential purpose. 

'The sudden irruption into the well-ordered consciousness of 
the Wentwbrths of an element not allowed for in its scheme of 
usual obligations, required a readjustment of that sense of re- 
sponsibility which constituted its principal furniture. To con- 
sider an event, crudely and baldly, in the light of the pleasure 
it might bring them, was an intellectual exercise with which 
Felix Young's American cousins were almost wholly un- 
acquainted, and which they scarcely supposed to be largely 
pursued in any section of human society. The arrival of Felix 
and his sister was a satisfaction, but it was an extension of duty, 
of the exercise of the more recondite virtues. . . / 

Of Felix we are told : 

' It is beside the matter to say he had a good conscience ; for 
the best conscience is a sort of self-reproach, and this young 
man's brilliantly healthy nature spent itself in objective good 
intentions which were ignorant of any test save exactness in 
hitting their mark/ 

The 'irruption' is beneficent. Felix confirms Gertrude, the 
younger daughter, in her dawning realization that she is no Puritan, 

139 



HENRY JAMES 

and doesn't belong here (he carries her off), and helps in various 
ways,. by his warm and electric presence, to vindicate the claims of 
life against the constrictions of the braced conscience. Nevertheless 
James's irony is far from being unkind ; he sees too much he ad- 
mires in the ethos he criticizes to condemn it. The reaction he 
attributes here (not, of course, as a permanent one) to the worldly 
Baroness is made more than plausible : 

'There were tears in her eyes. The luminous interior, the 
gentle, tranquil people, the simple, serious life the sense of 
these things pressed upon her with an overmastering force, and 
she felt herself yielding to one of the most genuine emotions 
she had ever known. "I should like to stay here," she said. 
"Pray take me in".' 

And the advantage isn't wholly on the side of the Europeans here : 
'Mr. Wentworth also observed his young daughter. 
1 "I don't know what her manner of life may have been," he 
said ; " but she certainly never can have enjoyed a more refined 
and salubrious home." 

'Gertrude stood there looking at them all. " She is the wife 
of a Prince," she said. 

'" We are all princes here," said Mr. Wentworth ; "and I 
don't know of any palace in this neighbourhood that is to let". ' 

This compares interestingly with the passages quoted above from 
Roderick Hudson and from The Bostonianszs illustrating the relation 
to Dickens. We remark the distinctively American note both of 
Mr. Wentworth's observation and of his retort ; but we notice also 
that the attitude towards him, which might appear to be simply 
Dickensian, shifts as we pass from the one to the other, and in shift- 
ing makes one of James's essential discriminations. When a wooden 
house, 'eighty years old', is thus exalted we can't doubt the in- 
tention ; we know that we are to feel an ironical amusement at a 
characteristic American complacency characteristically expressed, 
and that the nicely chosen adjectives/ refined' and 'salubrious', 
register, on James's part, a critical irony induced by certain elements 
of the New Engknd ethos. But if we have been giving the atten- 
tion demanded (and deserved), we perceive, when we come to the 
retort, that Mr. Wentworth at this point has his creator's backing, 
and, opposed as he is here to the Baroness, stands for an American 

140 



TO THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

democracy that James offers, with conviction, as an American 
superiority. 

The Baroness and her brother, we shall have noted, are them- 
selves opposed in value to one another ; as representative Europeans, 
they are complementary, and establish, in their difference, another 
essential discrimination for James. In fact, all the figures in the book 
play their parts in this business of discriminating attitudes and values, 
which is performed with remarkable precision and economy ; the 
total effect being an affirmation, made with the force of inspired 
art. James is not condemning or endorsing either New England or 
Europe ; separating in both what he prizes from what he dislikes, 
he is defining an imagined satisfying positive. The Europeans (as the 
very names of the characters suggest) is a moral fable. It has 
suffered the same fate as Hard Times for, we have to conclude, the 
same reasons ; the critical tradition regarding 'the English novel' 
if 'critical' is the word deals in the 'creation of real characters', 
measures vitality by external abundance, and expects a loosely 
generous provision of incident and scene, but is innocent of any 
adult criterion of point and relevance in art. (It can give us Thack- 
eray as a major novelist.) So when it is offered concentrated signi- 
ficance close and insistent relevance to a serious and truly rich 
theme, it sees merely insignificance : Hard Times passes unnoticed, 
and The Europeans is dismissed as 'slight'. Yet this small book, 
written so early in James's career, is a masterpiece of major quality. 1 

He had already, in respect of the 'international situation' (for it 
is to this that we must now turn), taken a positively American line. 
The American (1875) is the novel that follows on Roderick Hudson, 
and it inaugurates the long series of works in which James may be 
said to offer his native country its revenge for Martin Chuzzlewit. 
Unfortunately he chooses, in this book, as the representative of 
American decency and genuineness, a type of which he knows vir- 
tually nothing the business-man and offers us a quite incredible 

1 It may be suggested that a comparison with The Europeans helps us to 
define the unsatisfactoriness of The Spoils of Poynton (1896), a novel that 
contains so much that is strikingly good. In this later book James has not 
been closely enough controlled by his scheme of essential significance, but 
has allowed himself to over-develop partial interests, and to go in for some 
free that is, loose * representation'. (Hard Tines is analysed, pp. 227 ff, 
below). 

141 



HENRY JAMES 

idealization. Christopher Newman, having started from nothing, 
emerges from making his pile in the post-Civil-War decade crude 
(in the sense of being socially innocent) but unworldly, and finely 
sensitive to moral values ; and because of this is at a disadvantage in 
dealing with the corrupt and subtle French aristocrats who victimize 
him. It is romantic, unreal and ridiculous. 

To say, however, that Newman is a romantic conception is not 
enough. As his name suggests, he represents a very positive and 
significant intention on James's part. His Christian name recalls 
Christopher Columbus, and 'Newman* explains itself: James, that 
is, intends him to have a peculiar symbolic value. He is the answer 
to the question : What, separating off and putting aside that which 
comes from Europe die heritage brought across can we offer as 
the distinctively American contribution ? That James should so trans- 
figure the type he first presented, in Roderick Hudson, as Mr. Leaven- 
worth shows both the urgency with which he felt the question, and 
the difficulty of finding a satisfactory answer. The 'new man', 
beLig without the refinements of European culture, is to be also 
without its corruptions ; he is to represent energy, uncompromising 
moral vitality and straightforward will. We meet him again as 
Caspar Goodwood in The Portrait of a Lady ; we find him in the 
extremely sophisticated later art, and he culminates in Adam Verver 
of The Golden Bowl In The Ivory Tower we have him in the 
significantly named Frank Betterman. 

The American is in many ways an interesting book, but it is not 
one of James's successes. He deals more impressively with the inter- 
national theme in a story a nouvelle, not a novel dated a year 
earlier, Madame deMauves (1874). The heroine, an American heiress, 
having idealized into real human distinction the 'high' descent of a 
fortune-hunting French aristocrat, and married him, shows in the 
resulting disillusionment her own invincible superiority of spirit. 
Madame de Mauves' situation clearly foreshadows Isabel Archer's, 
and there is a further likeness represented by the young American 
whom, worthily devoted as he is, her own self-idealization forbids her 
to accept as a lover. The story deserves to be read for its fine quali- 
ties, though it has obvious weaknesses and the reader may feel in the 
close a possible ambiguity in James's total attitude ; for Madame de 
Mauves remains unyielding, not only towards the young American, 

142 



TO THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

but, when her husband repents and is 'converted* (incredibly this, 
we feel, is romantic), towards him too, the consequence being that 
he blows his brains out. 

There is no ambiguity about Daisy Miller (1878). It offers a 
variant of a favourite theme of James's : the superiority of the 
American girl to all the world. Tae story is a master's work, and 
we can see why it enjoyed an immediate success. But it has to be 
classed with The American as giving us a James who takes an 
American stand on insufficient ground. Daisy Miller's freedom in 
the face of European social conventions is of a kind that would make 
her insufferable in any civilized society. She belongs with the 
characteristics of the American scene that are ironically presented 
by James in The Bostonians. She is utterly uneducated, and no in- 
telligent man could stand her for long since there could be no 
possible exchange of speech with her : she has nothing to recommend 
her but looks, money, confidence and clothes (James must have 
been told that only the American girl knows how to dress). And, 
whatever there may be in my suggestion about Isabel Archer (a 
very different case), it is plain that the sympathetic vision of Daisy 
Miller presented by James depends on her being seen through the 
eyes of an American gentleman at not so close a range that he is 
committed to personal or social relations with her. 

Daisy Miller, in significance, is closely related to Christopher 
Newman. Her incomparably greater reality only serves to empha- 
size the poverty of the answer she represents answer to the same 
question that produced Newman. James offers us something more 
interesting in the Pandora Day of Pandora (1884), which, though 
not among the best known, is one of his finer nouvelles. Pandora, 
from the Middle- Western Utica, hasn't even beauty ; she has 
nothing but her American vitality, initiative, 'freedom* and con- 
fidence, and in her person American democracy is very effectively 
vindicated (for she preserves an unashamed loyalty to her early 
connexions) as against what is represented by the German diplo- 
matist Count Vogelstein. But the attempt to isolate and exalt the 
distinctively and uniquely American is on the showing of the 
consequences in James's art misconceived. He had, for creative 
impulse driving at something over and above mere representation, 
a more valid ideal positive before him. The 'Americanism* results 

143 



HENRY JAMES 

ultimately (to consider now James's women) in a feebleness and in a 
perversity of valuation we may figure by Milly Theale of The Wings 
of the Dove. An American heiress, merely because she is an Ameri- 
can heiress, is a Princess, and such a Princess as, just for being one, 
is to be conceived as a supreme moral value : that is what it amounts 
to. And, in bearing this significance, Milly Theale has, in the 
Jamesian ceuvre, a sufficient company of other examples. 

Madame de Mauves has a real moral superiority, combined with 
a distinction of manners. And what, with an eye on James's de- 
velopment, we find interesting i his evident glimpse of a possible 
'civilization' in which the manners belonging to a ripe art of social 
intercourse shall be the index of a moral refinement of the best 
American kind and a seriousness that shall entail a maturity of 
humane culture. The preoccupation defines itself further in an 
admirable story that is to be found in the Daisy Miller volume An 
International Episode. This story shows us Bessy Alden, the 'Boston 
sister* of a New York 'society hostess', finding herself attracted b) 
the /isiting Lord Lambeth. She is intelligent, sophisticated socially 3 
and serious as well (*at concerts Bessy always listened') : 

'She was perfectly conscious, mo r eover, that she liked to 
think of his more adventitious merits that her imagination 
was excited and gratified by the sight of a handsome young 
man endowed with such large opportunities opportunities she 
hardly knew for what, but, as she supposed, for doing great 
things for setting an example, for exerting an influence, for 
conferring happiness, for encouraging the arts. She had a kind 
of ideal of conduct for a young man who should find himself 
in this magnificent position, and she tried to adapt it to Lord 
Lambeth's deportment, as you might attempt to fit a silhouette 
in cut paper upon a shadow projected upon a wall. But Bessy 
Alden's silhouette refused to coincide with his Lordship s 
image ; and this want of harmony sometimes vexed her more 
than she thought reasonable/ 

This is when, with her sister, she had come to England and met him 
again. Lord Lambeth is nice, and not stupid, but he is utterly 
without intellectual interests : 

* If Lord Lambeth should appear anywhere, it was a symbol 
that there would be no poets and philosophers ; and in conse- 

144 



TO THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

quence for it was almost a strict consequence she used to 
enumerate to the young man these objects of her admiration. 

'"You seem to be awfully for.d of that sort of people/' said 
Lord Lambeth one day, as if the idea had just occurred to him. 

' "They are the people in England I am most curious to see," 
Bessy Alden replied. 

'"I suppose that's because you have read so much," said 
Lord Lambeth, gallantly. 

4 "I have not read so much. It is because we think so much 
of^hemathome." 

*' Oh, I see ! " observed the young nobleman. "In Boston." 

'"Not only in Boston; everywhere," said Bessy. "We 
hold them in great honour; they go to the best dinner- 
parties." 

*"I daresay you are right. I can't say I know many of 
them".' 

As Bessy Alden takes in the fact, settling down to it as undeniably 
a fact, that the curious and offensive preoccupation with precedence 
distinguishing Lord Lambeth's world goes with a complete rnd 
complacent Philistinism, we have James's criticism of English society 
a criticism that he was to go on making throughout his life, 
often with a bitterly contemptuous accent. When Lord Lambeth's 
mother and sister call to exhibit their patrician insolence and warn 
her off, she has already decided against him. She rejects him and 
leaves England at once, without regret. 1 

1 In Lady Barlarina (1888), which is in many ways the most interesting of 
the anti-English stories of cultural comparison (as they may be called), we 
have a kind of inversion of the theme of An International Episode. Jackson 
Lemon, an American doctor of keen scientific interests, whose father*s 
suddenly acquired wealth makes the young man a desirable partly marries 
Lady Barb (named with a kind of suggestiveness often found in James, but 
not always noticed *Barbarina' suggests Arnold's * Barbarian* and 'Barb* 
the equine thoroughbred) because he sees in her 'the beautiful mother of 
beautiful children in whom the appearance of "race" should be conspicuous*. 
He insists on taking her back to New York and settling there. She, for whom 
life has no meaning except in terms of hunting and the English social code, 
can, in New York society, find nothing to keep interest alive, for though her 
* social traditions were rich and ancient* she is incapable of conversation the 
poor Doctor had hoped to initiate an American salon. She succeeds in getting 
him back to England for a visit, their indefinite stay settles into permanence, 
and his life, which is bound up with his profession and his feeling for his 
native land, lapses into futility. At the end of the story he is seen scanning his 
infant daughters face for 'the look of race 1 but apprehensively. 

K 145 



HENRY JAMES 

We observe, then, a marked complexity in James's attitude 
towards the international theme not to speak of inconstancy and 
inconsistency. He exhibits a variety of tendencies. In Roderick 
Hudson, aided by Dickens, he has already achieved a maturely 
poised 'placing' irony in the treatment of certain characteristics of 
American life. He can, all the same, offer us in the immediately 
following novel, The American, his Christopher Newman, a master- 
ful, self-made business-man, as the representative of American 
superiority over a corrupt, materialistic, and therefore victoriously 
self-seeking Europe. He is capable, too, of exalting the American 
girl in the guise of Daisy Miller. Yet he can criticize the moral and 
intellectual culture of New England by bringing to bear his know- 
ledge of a maturer civilization, and further, in The Bostonians, do 
again more devastatingly the work of Martin Chuzzlewit. And 
he can, on the other hand, show us, as characteristically American, 
conscience and seriousness joined with a superiority of true in- 
tellectual culture and a fineness of manners. We have further an 
intimation that, in the depths of his mind, in the interplay between 
the diverse actualities of his experience, there is forming an imagined 
ideal positive that is not to be identified with any one of them. And 
this brings us to The Portrait of a Lady. 

But, before going on to consider that book, I will, briefly and by the 
way, guard against appearing to slight his remarkable achievement 
in the rendering of actualities. Pound says 1 that James 'has put 
America on the map . . . giving to her a reality such as is attained 
only by scenes recorded in the arts and the writing of masters/ 
'No one but an American', he says, 'can ever know, really know, 
how good he is at bottom, how good his America is.' But an Eng- 
lish reader can know how well James renders essential character- 
istics of English civilization and representative English types (though 
these, we sometimes find, are seen as, for instance, Lord Warburton 
is distinctly through the eyes of an outsider). And any reader, 
English or American, can see that he is, more generally, an incom- 
parable master at differentiating national tones and qualities the 
indices of radical differences of temper, tradition and moral outlook. 
After the Americans and the English, of course, he pays most atten- 
tion to the French, and there are some French types finely observed 
1 In Make it New. 

146 



THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

and done as early as The American. He gives us Italians too. Ger- 
mans are not frequent presences in his books, but they are to be 
found, and, in their 'doing', exhibit his usual penetration. Within 
a decade after 1870 he gives us the new Herrenvolk German see 
A Bundle of Letters (and there is another German type, * a Junker 
of Junkers', in the not much later Pandora). 

It was to The Portrait of a Lady that the argument had brought 
me. The greatness of that book, it seems to me, is essentially condi- 
tioned by the inclusive harmony (or something approaching it) that 
it represents the vital poise between the diverse tendencies and 
impulsions I have noted. In Isabel Archer we have again the 
supremacy of the American girl ; but in her we can recognize a real 
superiority, even if, pondering it critically, we judge it to depend 
on a large measure of idealization. Her freedom in the face of 
English conventions appears and she is a firmly realized presence 
for us as a true emancipation of spirit. Unlike Daisy Miller she 
has her own superior code, in her scruple, her self-respect and her 
sensitiveness ; she is educated and highly intelligent. She is n A ore 
idealized, it is true, than Bessy Alden. Nevertheless, however 
idealized, and whatever I may have said in comparing her with 
Gwendolen Harleth, she is convincing and impressive : the ideal- 
ization stands for a true fineness, worthily imagined by James. 

Lord Warburton, on the other hand, is very much superior to 
Lord Lambeth of An International Episode. He is far from stupid or 
impermeable to ideas ('he had a lively grey eye'), and he sees the 
order to which he belongs as standing for something more than 
precedence and privilege. In fact, that order is still in some ways 
idealized ir The Portrait of a Lady, and the presentation of it has a 
mellow fulness that has much to do with the effect of rich beauty 
characterizing the book. The opening scene, on the lawn, giving 
us, with a ripe and subtle art that at once proclaims a great master, 
the old American banker and his company against the background 
of country-house, sets the tone. He admires and respects Lord War- 
burton and Lord Warburton's world, while, at the same time, the 
quite different standards he himself represent? (he remains an 
American after thirty successful years in England), and the free play 
of mind and spirit that, with his son, he introduces into that world, 
constitutes, as I suggested earlier, an implicit criticism of it. We 

H7 



HENRY JAMES 

have here a sufficient hint at the way in which, in the total effect of 
the book, the idealization and the criticism are reconciled. 

The admirableness of Lord Warburton and the impressiveness of 
his world, as we are made to feel them, are essential to the signifi- 
cance of Isabel's negative choice. That her rejection of them doesn't 
strike us as the least capricious, but as an act of radically ethical 
judgment, is a tribute to the reality with which James has invested 
her (she is not, we must concede, Gwendolen Harleth) : 

'At the risk of adding to the evidence of her self-sufficiency 
it must be said that there had been moments when this possi- 
bility of admiration by a personage represented to her an 
aggression almost to the degree of an affront, quite to the degree 
of an inconvenience. She had never yet known a personage ; 
there had been no personages, in this sense, in her life ; there 
were probably none such at all in her native land. When she 
had thought of individual eminence she had thought of it on 
the basis of character and wit of what one might like in a 
gentleman's mind and in his talk. She herself was a character 
she couldn't help being aware of that ; and hitherto her 
visions of a completed consciousness had concerned themselves 
largely with moral images things is to which the question 
wpuld be whether they pleased her sublime soul. Lord War- 
burton loomed up before her, largely and brightly, as a collec- 
tion of attributes and powers, which were not to be measured 
by this simple rule, but which demanded a different sort of 
appreciation an appreciation that the girl, with her habit of 
judging quickly and freely, felt she lacked the patience to 
bestow. He appeared to demand of her something that no one 
else, as it were, had presumed to do. What she felt was that a 
territorial, a political, a social magnate had conceived the design 
of drawing her into the system in which he rather invidiously 
lived and moved. A certain instinct, not imperious, but per- 
suasive, told her to resist murmured to her that, virtually, she 
had a system and an orbit of her own.' 

James goes on immediately to tell us that there was 'a young man 
ktely come from America who had no system at all'. This, in the 
guise of Caspar Goodwood from New England, is the American 
business-man. He represents what America has to offer Isabel 
stark unpliant integrity and self-reliant practical will, as opposed to 

148 



THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

'system* and the civilized graces. 'His jaw was too square and set 
and his figure too straight and stiff: these things suggested a want 
of consonance with the deeper rhythms of life.' l But in spite of this 
promising description he is sentimentalized in so far as he is 'there* 
at all and he is one of the weaknesses of the book. However, the 
ineffectualness of the intention he stands for leaves Isabel's rejection 
of Lord Warburton all its significance. 

This significance is beautifully intimated in such touches as the 
lapse (it is not unique) that Lord Warburton is guilty of on the 
occasion of Mrs. Touchett's forbidding Isabel to stay up alone with 
the gentlemen (Chapter VII) : . 

'"Need I go, dear aunt ? I'll come up in half an hour." 

'"It is impossible I should wait for you/' Mrs. Touchett 
answered. 

'"Ah, you needn't wait! Ralph will light my candle," 
Isabel gaily engaged. 

'"I'll light your candle ; do let me light your candle, Miss 
Archer!" Lord Warburton exclaimed. ".Only I beg it shall 
not be before midnight." 

'Mrs. Touchett fixed her bright little eyes upon him a mo- 
ment and transferred them to her niece.' 

Warburton would not have used this tone to an English girl. 
Perceiving that she has the American freedom where the English 
convenances are concerned, he immediately classifies her as 'an 
American girl', and slips into a manner that would have been in 
place with Henrietta Stackpole, the bright young journalist who 
habitually 'walks in without knocking at the door'. It shocks us, 
such is the power of James's art. It shocks us more than it shocks 
Isabel, and it serves none the less for that to bring to a concrete point 
for us the rightness of her decision against him. For it reveals to us 
an obtuse complacency, in assuming which for a moment Lord 
Warburton seems to reveal the spirit of the 'system' he belongs to. 

This passage has its retroactive parallel in the later exchange 
(Chapter X) between Ralph Touchett and Henrietta, in which he 

1 This description represents a kind of subtlety, expressive of a profundity 
of interest in life such as is not suggested by the phrase * novelist of manners ', 
that is highly characteristic of James's notation. It is a character of 'style* 
that derives from the same radical bent as his stronger uses of symbolism. 

149 



HENRY JAMES 

pretends, to her confusion, to think that she is making love to him. 
Ralph's 'lapse' doesn't matter. It merely leads us to say that he 
knows how to treat Henrietta, just as he knows how to treat every- 
one. For Ralph Touchett is the centre, the key-figure, of James's 
'system' the poise or harmony I have spoken of as characterizing 
The Portrait of a Lady. He is neither American nor English or he 
is both : that is, he combines the advantages, while being free from 
the limitations. He can place everyone, and represents the ideal 
civilization that James found in no country. 1 

He understands why Isabella likes Henrietta, but, when told that 
Henrietta carries in her garments 'the strong, sweet, fresh odour* of 
her great country, he replies : she * does smell of the Future it 
almost knocks one down. !' For her he is just another expatriate, 
like Osmond. And when Isabel asks the Parisian Americans, whom, 
in their obviousness, she can place, 'You all live this way, but what 
does it lead to ?', Mrs. Touchett, placing herself, 'thought the ques- 
tion worthy of Henrietta Stackpole'. The discriminations, in fact, 
are established with beautiful precision all along the scale. Isabel 
herself notices that Ralph seems to resemble Osmond in having a 
fastidious taste and that yet there is a difference. Ralph himself, 
in placing Osmond for her (she, of course, doesn't take it in, and 
that is the tragic irony), explains what it is : 'He has a great dread 
of vulgarity ; that's his special line ; he hasn't any other that I know 
of. He places Madame Merle too again without effect : 

'"Ah, with Madame Merle you may go anywhere de con- 
fiance" said Ralph. " She knows none but the best people". ' 

This will suffice to indicate the kind of essential organization that 
makes The Portrait of a Lady, for all the critical points I made about 
it in discussing George Eliot, a great book. Its greatness derives 
from his peculiar genius and experience, and it embodies an organ- 

1 We have here, in fact, th positive ideal that we can see to be implied in 
this passage from a letter of 1888 to his brother : 

'. . . I aspire to write in such a way that it would be impossible to an 
outsider to say whether I am at a given moment an American writing about 
England or an Englishman writing about America (dealing as I do with both 
countries), and so far from being ashamed of such an ambiguity I should be 
exceedingly proud of it, f6r it would be highly civilized.* Letters, Vol. I, 

P- '43- 

150 



THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

ization of his vital interests. These interests inform everything in 
it : the wit, the dialogue, the plot, the characterization. 

The creative wealth of the book is all distinctively Jamesian. 
Madame Merle, for instance, couldn't have been done by George 
Eliot. The vision here is Isabel's, who hasn't yet seen through her : 

* She had become too flexible, too useful, was too ripe and 
too final. She was in a word too perfectly the social animal 
that man and woman are supposed to have been intended to be ; 
and she had rid herself of every remnant of that tonic wildness 
which we may assume to hav^ belonged even to the most 
amiable persons in the ages before country-house life was the 
fashion. Isabel found it difficult to think of her in any detach- 
ment or privacy, she existed only in her relations, direct or 
indirect, with her fellow-mortals. One might wonder what 
commerce she could possibly hold with her own spirit. One 
always ended, however, by feeling that a charming surface 
doesn't necessarily prove one superficial ; this was an illusion 
in which, in one's youth, one had but just escaped being 
nourished. Madame Merle was not superficial not she. 
She was deep. 

She represents, that is, a social 'civilization* ('the great round 
world itself) that is not of the kind James himself is after (just as 
she is, with Osmond, the complete expatriate who has none of 
the American virtues). The contrasting Mrs. Touchett reminds us 
of an American type we meet in some of Lawrence's best work 
(St. Mawr, for instance). James presents her with his characteristic 
wit which, as I have said, is no mere surface-habit of expression : 
'The edges of her conduct were so very clear-cut that for susceptible 
persons it sometimes had a knife-like effect'. Henrietta Stackpole 
is another American type, perfectly done marvellously escaping 
the effect of caricature, and .remaining for all her portentous repre- 
sentativeness, sufficiently sympathetic. Then there is Osmond's 
sister, the Countess Gemini, 'a lady who had so mismanaged her 
improprieties that they had ceased to hang together at all ... and 
had become the mere floating fragments of a wrecked renown, 
incommoding social circulation', and who would plunge into a 
lucid conversation 'as a poodle plunges after a thrown stick*. 

The Countess Gemini, though so well done, is a weakness in the 



HENRY JAMES 

book, in the sense that she is too simply there to serve as a piece of 
machinery. She alone can reveal to Isabel the clandestine relations 
of Osmond and Madame Merle, and the fact that Pansy is their 
daughter, and she is given no sufficient motives for performing the 
service. Pansy herself raises the question of James's attitude toward 
the pure protected jeunefille (die 'blank page'), a type to which he 
seems curiously drawn. In The Awkward Age he shows the good 
little Aggie, the foil to Nanda, developing after marriage into 
something approaching, at the level of Edwardian smart society, a 
vulgar trollop : and we readily accept the implication that, in such a 
milieu, the development follows naturally out of such 'innocence*. 
In The Ambassadors he seems to confirm this implication by giving 
the decidedly not innpcent Madame Vionnet another carefully 
guarded 'blank page* for daughter. 

Though Pansy serves obvious functions as machinery in the rela- 
tions between Isabel and Osmond, her presence in the book has, in 
addition, some point. As a representative figure, 'the white flower 
of cultivated sweetness', she pairs in contrast with Henrietta Stack- 
pole, the embodiment of a quite different innocence a robust 
American innocence that thrives on free exposure to the world. 
She brings us, in fact, to the general observation that almost all the 
characters can be seen to have, in the same way, their values and 
significances in a total scheme. F,pr though The Portrait of a Lady 
is on so much larger a scale than The Europeans, and because of its 
complexity doesn't invite the description of 'moral fable', it is 
similarly organized : it is all intensely significant. 1 It offers no 
largesse of irrelevant ' life ' ; its vitality is wholly that of art. 

This is clearly why it has had nothing like due recognition in an 
age when Trollope, Mrs. Gaskell, and the rest are being revived. 
And the same explanation covers the neglect of the masterpieces 
that keep it company. The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The 
Europeans, Washington Square, not to speak of the shorter things 
how can this magnificent group of classics have missed being 

1 What he says abfout Maisie in the Preface to What Maisie Knew he might 
have said about Pansy; the kind of 'economy ' he so characteristically and 
significantly describes here is his constant preoccupation: 'so that we get, 
for our profit, and get by an economy of process interesting in itself, the thor- 
oughly pictured creature, the striking figured symbol/ 

152 



THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY 

acclaimed as placing the novelist in established pre-eminence with 
Jane Austen and George Eliot ? They are not difficult of approach, 
and they present no appearance of esotericism, while they have overt 
attractions that might seem to qualify them for popularity. The 
answer is that the real pre-eminence neither of Jane Austen nor of 
George Eliot, for all the general acceptance they have enjoyed, has 
in fact succeeded in getting itself really and generally recognized. 
The tradition of ' the English novel' is such that even critics who are 
too sophisticated to gubscribe to the view that The Cloister and the 
Hearth is a great novel have expjctations that prevent them from 
distinguishing, in fiction, the signs of serious art. It is a disastrous 
tradition. 

It undoubtedly accounts for the misdirection and waste of much 
talent. It probably accounts for the fact that Gissing, who showed 
his powers in his one memorable novel, New Grub Street, in which 
the pressure of personal experience served him well, produced no 
other, though he produced many negligible ones. To pass from 
talent to genius, it accounts for the neglect ultimately disastrous 
for his art suffered by James himself. It accounts for the neglect 
that embittered Conrad's life as a writer. It meant that Lawrence, 
after Women in Love, had to give up wrestling with his creative 
problems, as had been his habit, in an intensive and prolonged pro- 
cess of writing and re-writing slowly shaped major work, and, 
instead, dashed off and published novel after novel in quick succes- 
sion, turned his genius to journalism, and confined his finished art 
to short stories. 

However, the point to emphasize is that, for all the discourage- 
ment he suffered, even in his early phase, James produced in it a 
cluster of achieved masterpieces. The Portrait of a Lady is a great 
novel, and we can't ask for a finer exhibition of James's peculiar 
gifts than we get there and in The Bostonians (they seem to me die 
two most brilliant novels in the language). The later development 
brings extraordinary subtleties of art and poetic triumphs such as 
the method by which in The Lesson of the Master James dramatizes 
the complexities oFhis own attitude towards his career (about which 
he was clearly given to radical self-questioning) but, for all the 
interest of the development, with its ricji product of masterly 
tales, we can hardly follow it unregretting. 



(ii) The Later James 

THE cue for the low current estimation of Roderick Hudson seems, 
I have remarked, to have been given, in his Preface to it, by 
James himself. But the James cf the Prefaces the famous prefaces 
that he wrote for the 'New York* edition of his works is so much 
not the James of the early books that he certainly shouldn't be taken 
as a critical authority upon them, at any rate where valuation is 
concerned. The interest of the Prefaces is that they come from the 
mind that conceived the late work which is to say that, if they 
are not in any sense critically satisfying, they have distinct critical 
bearings. 

In bringing them together in The Art of the Novel Mr. R. P. 
Blackmur did something worth doing : James is so decidedly one 
of the very great, and such documents ought to be conveniently 
accessible. (It is very good news that the notebooks are at last going 
to b: edited by Mr. F. O. Matthiessen.) Yet, if we find Mr. Black- 
mur's Introduction disappointing, we have, after reading the book 
through, to recognize that the disappointment goes back to the 
Prefaces themselves. 

* Criticism has never been more ambitious, nor more useful. 
There has never been a body of work so eminently suited to 
criticism as the fiction of Henry James, and there has never been 
an author who so saw the need and had the ability to criticize 
specifically and at length his own work. He was avid of his 
opportunity and both proud and modest as to what he did 
with it. " These notes*', he wrote in the Preface to Roderick 
Hudson, "represent, over a considerable course, the continuity 
of an artist's endeavour, the growth of his whole operative 
consciousness. . . /" 

If this is high promise, it is a promise answering to our expecta- 
tion, to our general sense of Henry James. 

Mr. Blackmur, in the succeeding thirty pages of his Introduc- 
tion, disappoints because, though besides classifying the Prefaces and 
enumerating James's themes he also summarizes and comments, he 
conveys no effect of vigorous and lucid argument, of issues clearly 
perceived and decisively set forth : the Introduction, in fact, seems 

154 



THE LATER JAMES 

laboured and unenlightening. If we at first think this due to exces- 
sive modesty or lack of ambition in Mr. Blackmur to his having 
confined himself too much to listing and grouping, we afterwards 
discover that to have done anything more satisfying he would have 
to have been very much the reverse of modest and unambitious : he 
would have to have done what Henry James has not. And if we 
have finally a criticism to pass against him it is that he encourages us 
to expect what we are not, in fact, given. 

For such a failure (as I judge it) to come to the necessary recogni- 
tion there is a great deal of excuse : the Prefaces make not merely 
difficult but unrepaying reading. The extraordinary distinction of 
the mind they come from is apparent in them, and this distinction 
asserts itself in the very difficulty ; the impressed, modest and tired 
reader conies away crediting James with achievement that is not 
really there. If Mr. Blackmur, as we must grant, is an unusually 
well-qualified reader, he is also a specialist, and a formal introducer 
preoccupied with establishing his author's claims to attention. 

Mr. Blackmur has certainly read the Prefaces and knows diem 
through and through. It is characteristic of the contemporary cult 
of Henry James (if it can be called that), and evidence of a real need 
for re-stating his claims in general to attention, that several of the 
contributors to the Henry James number of the Hound and Horn 
(April-June 1934) in which Mr. Blackmur's Introduction first ap- 
peared expose themselves as not having read, or having not been 
able to read, the works they write about. The Portrait of a Lady is 
not of the late, difficult period (to which the Prefaces very much 
belong), but one critic (H. R. Hays, writing on Henry James the 
Satirist) tells us that the situation it presents *is resolved into a con- 
ventional happy ending with a divorce and a rescue by the American 
business man/ It is difficult to believe that anyone who had actually 
read, however carelessly or incompetently, to the end could have 
made that of it. But then it is difficult to believe that anyone capable 
of making anything at all of Henry James could pronounce as an- 
other contributor, Mr. Stephen Spender, does : * A third of this book 
is taken up with brush work which has nothing to do with the story, 
but much to do with James's determination that he would really 
present Isabel Archer to us/ After that we are hardly surprised 
when Mr. Spender tells us that 'there is something particularly 

155 



HENRY JAMES 

obscene about What Maisie Knew, in which a small girl is, in a rather 
admiring way, exhibited as prying into the sexual lives of her very 
promiscuous elders' hardly surprised, though the consummately 
'done* theme of What Maisie Knew is the incorruptible innocence 
of Maisie ; innocence that not merely preserves itself in what might 
have seemed to be irresistibly corrupting circumstances, but can 
even generate decency out of the egotistic squalors of adult personal 
relations. The intention described by James in the Preface is, in the 
story, realized : 

'No themes are so human as those that reflect for us, out of 
the confusion of life, the close connexion of bliss and bale, of 
the things that help with the things that hurt, so dangling before 
us for ever that bright hard metal, of so strange an alloy, one 
face of which is somebody's right and ease and the other some- 
body's pain and wrong. To live with all intensity and per- 
plexity and felicity in its terribly mixed little world would thus 
be the part of my interesting small mortal ; bringing people 
together who would be at least more correctly separate ; keep- 
ing people separate who would be at least more correctly 
together ; flourishing, to a degree, at the cost of many conven- 
tions and proprieties, even decencies, really keeping the torch of 
virtue alive in an air tending infinitely to smother it ; really in 
short making confusion worse confounded by drawing some 
stray fragrance of an ideal across the scent of selfishness, by 
sowing on barren strands, through the mere fact of presence, 
the seed of the moral life.' 

It would, one would have thought, be possible to read The Por- 
trait of a Lady quite lazily, 'for the story', without missing the whole 
point as completely as Mr. Spender misses it. What Maisie Knew, 
on the other hand, does certainly demand of the reader a close and 
unrelaxed attention, an actively intelligent collaboration ; it never 
permits us to find it 'as easy to read as a novel'. Nevertheless, that 
the general nature of the theme could, on any perusal, escape recogni- 
tion still seems remarkable. Yet it is not very especially remarkable 
in the criticism and appreciation of James's later work. For instance, 
as respectable a critic as Mr. Van Wyck Brooks can write l : 'A 
young man who is represented as "a gentleman, generally sound 

1 The Pilgrimage of Henry James, p. 133. 

156 



THE LATER JAMES 

and generally pleasant", straightway appears without any adequate 
explanation as engaged in the most atrocious of conspiracies (Merton 
Densher in The Wings of the Dove]' That would appear to amount 
to nothing better than the reading given us by H. R. Hays in the 
Hound and Horn : 'The villain, Merton Densher, or Kate, in The 
Wings of the Dove, Madame Merle in the Portrait. . . / 

Now, wherever The Wings of the Dove may fail, it is not in the 
presentment of Kate Croy and Merton Densher. All the subtleties, 
obliquities and indirections of Henry James's art are devoted, 
triumphantly, to showing us Densher being drawn, resisting and 
never acquiescing, into a position in which he cannot but, in spite 
of himself, be a party to a conspiracy & conspiracy which he has 
never connived at or countenanced. He is in love with Kate they 
are 'in love' in the full common sense of the phrase, and the direct 
strength with which the attraction between the lovers is conveyed 
(a strength not common, it must be confessed, in James, whose lack 
of freedom with the physical Mr. Spender finds 'vulgar') makes the 
presentment of Densher's unwilling complicity the more convin- 
cing. And even Kate Croy, whose resolute intention constitutes the 
conspiracy, is not presented as a villain if 'villain' denotes a char- 
acter whose 'wicked' behaviour we simply, without any motions 
of sympathy, condemn. Her resoluteness, as a matter of fact, 
appears to us as partly admirable: the pressures driving her 
her hateful outlawed father, the threatening fate represented by 
her married sister's overwhelming domestic squalors, the inflexible 
ambition of her magnificently vulgar aunt, Mrs. Lowder are con- 
veyed with such force as to make them seem, for a person of such 
proud and admirable vitality, irresistible. Henry James's art, that is, 
has a moral fineness so far beyond the perception of his critics that 
they can accuse him of the opposite. This fineness, this clairvoyant 
moral intelligence, is the informing spirit of that technique by the 
indirections and inexplicitnesses of which these critics are baffled. 

This fineness it is that, at James's best, the technique serves and 
expresses. But The Wings of the Dove is nevertheless not a successful 
work ; it does not as a whole show James at his Be t st. The great, the 
disabling failure is in the presentment of the Dove, Milly Theale. 
As he says in the Preface, 

'the case prescribed for its central figure sick young woman, 

157 



HENRY JAMES 

at the whole course of whose disintegration and the whole 
ordeal of whose consciousness one would have quite honestly 
to assist/ 

But later in the Preface he notes (finding it on re-perusal of the book 
'striking, charming and curious') 

'the author's instinct everywhere for the indirect presentation of 
his main image. I note how, again and again, I go but a little 
way with the direct that is, with the straight exhibition of 
Milly ; it resorts for relief, this process, whenever it can, to 
some kinder, more merciful indirection : all as if to approach 
her circuitously, deal with her at second hand, as an unspotted 
princess is ever dealt with ; the pressure all round her kept easy 
ifor her, the sounds, the movements, regulated, the forms and 
ambiguities made charming/ 

James was deceived. A vivid, particularly realized Milly might for 
him stand in the midst of his indirections, buc what for his reader 
these skirt round is too much like emptiness ; she isn't there, and the 
fuss the other characters make about her as the 'Dove' has the effect 
of an irritating sentimentality. 1 

This inveterate indirectness of the later James, this aim of present- 
ing, of leaving presented, the essential thing by working round and 
behind so that it shapes itself in the space left amidst a context of 
hints and apprehensions, is undoubtedly a vice in the Prefaces ; it 
accounts for their unsatisfactoriness. It appears there, in criticism, as 
an inability to state an inability to tackle his theme, or to get any- 
thing out clearly and finally. Not that the Prefaces don't contain a 
good deal that arrests the reader and that is particularly impressive 
in quotation; but the developed and done is exasper?tingly dis- 
proportionate to the laboured doing and the labour of reading. 

Still, the novels are another matter. Criticism is not the art of 
fiction, and James's technical preoccupations, the development of 
his style and method, are obviously bound up with his essential 
genius ; they are expressions of his magnificent intelligence, of his 
intense and delicate interest in human nature. No direct and per- 
emptory grasp could handle the facts, the data, the material that 
concerned him most ; and the moral situations that seemed to him 



i 



She was associated for him with his beloved and idealized cousin, Minny 
Temple, who died young ; out that doesn't give her any more substance for us. 

158 



THE LATER JAMES 

most worth exploring were not such as invited blunt and confident 
judgments of simple 'good 1 and 'bad*. Mr. Edmund Wilson, 
writing for the memorial number of the Hound and Horn what is 
by far the most distinguished contribution, calls his theme The 
Ambiguity of Henry James. After giving an original and extremely 
persuasive account of The Turn of the Screw, he goes on to argue 
that, as the later manner developed, the subtleties of James's tech- 
nique, the inexplicitnesses and indirections of his methods of present- 
ment, tended to subserve a fundamental ambiguity ; one, that is, 
about which he was not himself clear. For instance, of the central 
figure in The Sacred Fount we are left asking: 'Is the obnoxious 
week-end guest one of what used to be called the elite, a fastidious 
highly civilized sensibility, or is he merely morbid and a bore?' 
And Mr. Wilson suggests that James himself doesn't really know. 
The explanation ? 

'In Henry James's mind, there disputed all his life the Euro- 
pean and the American points of view ; and their debate, I 
believe, is closely connected with his inability sometimes to Se 
clear as to what he thinks of a certain sort of person.' 

Now it is certainly true that James's development was towards 
over-subtlety, and that with this development we must associate a 
loss of sureness in his moral touch, an unsatisfactoriness that in some 
of the more ambitious late works leads us to question his implicit 
valuations. But this unsatisfactoriness at its worst at any rate at 
its most important seems to be something more decided than the 
ambiguity that Mr. Wilson illustrates from The Sacred Fount. It is 
what we have in The Golden Bowl, for example, which is one of the 
late 'great' novels, and, beyond any question, representatively on 
the line of his development. There James clearly counts on our 
taking towards his main persons attitudes that we cannot take with- 
out forgetting our finer moral sense our finer discriminative feeling 
for life and personality. Adam Verver, the American plutocrat, 
and his daughter Maggie 'collect' the Prince in much the same 
spirit as that in which they collect their other 'pieces'. James is 
explicit about it : 

'Nothing perhaps might strike us queerer than this applica- 
tion of the same measure of value to sirch different pieces of 

159 



HENRY JAMES 

property as old Persian carpets, say, and new human acquisi- 
tions ; all the more, indeed, that the amiable man was not 
without an inkling that he was, as a taster of life, economically 
constructed. He put into his own little glass everything he 
raised to his lips ' (Vol. I, p. 175.) 

He acquires later Charlotte Stant, another fine ' piece * acquires her 
as a wife in order to settle the uneasiness that Maggie feels about the 
difference made in his life by her own marriage (though actually father 
and daughter seem to be as constantly and completely together as 
before). Thisishowheseesthemintheconcludingsceneofthenovel : 

'The two noble persons seated in conversation and at tea fell 
then into the splendid effect and the general harmony : Mrs. 
Verver and the Prince fairly "placed" themselves, however 
unwittingly, as high expressions of the kind of human furniture 
required estheticaUy by such a scene. The fusion of their pres- 
ence with the decorative elements, their contribution to the 
triumph of selection, was complete and admirable ; though 
tc a lingering view, a view more penetrating than the occasion 
really demanded, they might have figured as concrete attesta- 
tions of a rare power of purchase/ (Vol. II, p. 317.) 

And yet, though James can on occasion come to this point of 
explicitness, our attitude towards the Ververs isn't meant to be 
ironical. We are to feel for and with them. We are to watch with 
intense sympathy Maggie's victorious struggle to break the clan- 
destine relation between her husband and Charlotte, establish the 
pretence that nothing has occurred, and get Charlotte safely packed 
off under a life-sentence to America, the penal settlement. Actually, 
if our sympathies are anywhere they are with Charlotte and (a little) 
the Prince, who represent what, against the general moral back- 
ground of the book, can only strike us as decent passion ; in a stale, 
sickly and oppressive atmosphere they represent life. That in our 
feelings about the Ververs there would be any element of distaste 
Henry James, in spite of the passages quoted, seems to have had no 
inkling. * 

Mr. Wilson, o course, might find here another illustration for 
his theme of ambiguity. But actually what we have in this aspect 
of The Golden Bowl vrould sefcm to be, rather than any radical 

160 



THE LATER JAMES 

ambiguity in James, a partial inattention an inadvertence. It is as 
if his interest in his material had been too specialized, too much 
concentrated on certain limited kinds of possible development, and 
as if in the technical elaboration expressing this specialized interest 
he had lost his full sense of life and let his moral taste slip into abey- 
ance. 1 The Ambassadors too, which he seems to have thought his 
greatest success, produces an effect of disproportionate 'doing' of 
a technique the subtleties and elaborations of which are not suffici- 
ently controlled by a feeling for value and significance in living. 
What, we ask, is this, symbolized by Paris, that Strether feels him- 
self to have missed in his own life ? Has James himself sufficiently 
inquired ? Is it anything adequately realized ? If we are to take the 
elaboration of the theme in the spirit in which we are meant to take 
it, haven't we to take the symbol too much at the glamorous face- 
value it has for Strether ? Isn't, that is, the energy of the 'doing' 
(and the energy demanded for the reading) disproportionate to the 
issues to any issues that are concretely held and presented ? 

It is characteristic of Henry James's fate that, while it should ,be 
generally agreed that something went wrong with his development, 
it should at the same time be almost as generally agreed that the 
books we ought to know the books he ought to be known by 
are the three last long novels, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The 
Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1905). The Ambassadors 
in particular has probably, since Mr. Percy Lubbock picked on it 
in The Craft of Fiction (Mr. E. M. Forster confirmed him in Aspects 
of the Novel), been the book most commonly attempted by those 
wishing to qualify in Henry James. This is to be deplored, since not 
only is The Portrait of a Lady much more likely, once started, to be 
read through and read with unfeigned enjoyment ; it is much more 
worth reading. At any rate, as I have said, it seems to me to be 
James's finest achievement, and one of the great novels of the 
English language. 

The Portrait of a Lady (1881) belongs to his early maturity. Just 
before and after come Washington Square and The Bostonians. The 
two last named aro wholly American in theme and setting, and all 
three have the abundant, full-blooded life of well-nourished organ- 

1 The kind of interest in symbolism discussed by Mr. Quentin Anderson 
would have the same tendency. 

L l6l 



HENRY JAMES 

isms. It is, of course, in terms of his deracination that Henry James's 
unsatisfactory development is commonly explained. The theory is 
what we find, in its most respectable statement, advanced by Mr. 
Van Wyck Brooks in The Pilgrimage of Henry James. The less 
delicate expositions more or less bluntly censure James for not 
having stayed in America and become a thoroughly American 
novelist. He should have devoted his genius to his own country 
and inaugurated modern American the first truly American 
literature. 

What, we ask, when the theory becomes explicit to this point, 
does it mean ? That Henry James ought to have forestalled the 
work of Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis ? That he ought to have devoted 
himself to preparing the way for a much earlier Dos Passos ? It 
means that he ought at any rate to have been a totally different kind 
of writer from what he actually, either by endowment or through 
early life and environment, was. 

For his essential interests were inseparable from an interest in 
highly civilized manners, in the refinements of civilized intercourse. 
The social civilization that in America might have yielded him (or 
seemed to yield) what he needed was, as Mrs. Wharton, in her auto- 
biographical book, A Backward Glance, points out, vanishing with 
his youth. England had certainly more to offer him than America 
had. But, says Mr. Van Wyck Brooks, ' England was impenetrable/ 

'Granting that he had lost the immediate sense of life and 
character, that America had faded from his mind and that he 
knew that he could never write of English manners with the 
intimacy and freedom which his conception of the novelist's 
task necessitated . . / 

But how, remembering (for instance) The Awkward Age (1899) 
and What Maisie Knew (1897), can we grant this last proposition ? 
The author of these two masterpieces, which were written after that 
notorious dividing phase, the sustained and frustrate attempt upon 
the theatre (during which, as a matter of fact, he turned out a steady 
succession of stores), hardly suffered from any sense that he was not 
qualified to write of English manners with freedom and intimacy. 
Rather he knew English manners too well ; he had penetrated too 
thoroughly. 

162 



THE LATER JAMES 

The obvious constatation to start from, when the diagnosis of his 
queer development is in question, is that he suffered from being too 
much a professional novelist : being a novelist came to be too large 
a part of his living ; that is, he did not live enough. His failure in 
this respect suggests, no doubt, some initial deficiency in him. 
Nevertheless, the peculiarities in terms of which it demands to be 
discussed are far from appearing as simple weakness. It is no doubt 
at first appearances odd that his interest in manners should have gone 
with such moral-intellectual intensity. But the manners he was 
interested in were to be the outward notation of spiritual and 
intellectual fineness, or at least to lend themselves to treatment as 
such. Essentially he was in quest of an ideal society, an ideal civil- 
ization. And English society, he had to recognize as he lived into 
it, could not after all offer him any sustaining approximation to his 
ideal. Still less, he knew, could America. So we find him develop- 
ing into something like a paradoxical kind of recluse, a recluse living 
socially in the midst of society. 

But a real recluse, living in unmetaphorical retreat, is just what 
we cannot imagine him. In saying this we are, no doubt, touching 
on certain limiting characteristics of his genius. It was not the 
explorer's or the pioneer's, and it had nothing prophetic about it. 
It was not of a kind to manifest itself in lonely plumbings of the 
psyche or passionate questionings of the familiar modes of human 
experience. It was not, in short, D. H. Lawrence's or anything 
like it. James had no such immediate sense of human solidarity, 
no such nourishing intuition of the unity of life, as could make 
up to him for the deficiencies of civilized intercourse : life for 
him must be humane or it was nothing. There was nowhere in 
his work that preoccupation with ultimate sanctions which we 
may call religious. 1 (There comes to my mind here the sig- 
nificant badness of The Altar of the Dead, that morbidly 
sentimental and extremely unpleasant tale which it is, of 
course, late also illustrates poor James's weary, civilized lone- 
liness of spirit.) It was to the artist as such that die discrepancy 

1 This statement will have to be reconsidered in the light of Mr. Quentin 
Anderson's argument, when this is fully accessible (see footnote, p. 128, 
above). But I suspect that what will turn out to be required will be not so 
much withdrawal as a less simple formulation. 

163 



HENRY JAMES 

between the desiderated civilization and English society was 
peculiarly brought home : 

'The artist may, of course, in wanton moods, dream of some 
Paradise (for art) where the direct appeal to the intelligence 
might be legalized; for to such extravagances as these his 
yearning mind can scarce hope ever completely to close itself. 
The most he can do is to remember they are extravagances/ 

James has already remarked in this Preface (it is that to The 
Portrait of a Lady) that the novelist 

'is entitled to nothing, he is Lound to admit, that can come to 
him, from the reader, as a result on the latter's part of any act 
of reflexion or discrimination/ 

These bitter ironies abound in the Prefaces, which, he wrote to 
W. D. Howells, 

'are, in general, a sort of plea for Criticism, for Discrimination, 
for Appreciation on other than infantile lines as against the 
o almost universal Anglo-Saxon absence of these tilings ; 
which tends, in our general trade, it seems to me, to break the 
heart. . . / 

The comments in the Preface to The Lesson of the Master on the 
story called The Figure in the Carpet are especially significant. 
Speaking of his great unappreciated author James says : 

'I came to Hugh Vereker, in fine, by this travelled road of a 
generalization ; the habit of having noted for many years how 
strongly and helplessly, among us all, what we call criticism 
its curiosity never emerging from the limp state is apt to stand 
off from the intended sense of things, from such finely attested 
matters, on the artist's part, as a spirit and a form, a bias and a 
logic, of his own/ 

He has already referred with less detachment to 

'the poor man's attributive dependence, for the sense of being 
understood, on some responsive reach of critical perception that 
he is destined ne^ver to waylay with success. 

And the force of that attribution comes out unmistakably in the 
eloquent reticence of this : 

'As for the ingenious Figure in the Carpet, let me perhaps a 

164 



THE LATER JAMES 

little pusillanimously conclude, nothing would induce me to 
come to close quarters with you on the correspondences of this 
anecdote. . . . All I can at this point say is that if ever I was 
aware of ground and matter for a significant fable, I was aware 
of them in that connexion/ 

He was indeed ; and if he could have foreseen the criticism and 
appreciation, starting with Miss Rebecca West's characteristic 
tribute, his work would receive in the two decades following his 
death he would hardly have been consoled. 

The same conditions, then, that drove him back on his art made 
him profoundly aware that his art wasn't likely to be appreciated 
by many besides himself. 1 So he came to live in it and not the 
less so for living strenuously the life of a spiritual recluse ; a recluse 
in a sense in which not only no novelist but no good artist of any 
kind can afford to become one. His technique came to exhibit an 
unhealthy vitality of undernourishment and etiolation. His tech- 
nical preoccupation, to put it another way, lost its balance, and, in- 
stead of being the sharp register of his finest perceptions, as informed 
and related by his fullest sense of life, became something that took 
his intelligence out of its true focus and blunted his sensitiveness. 
That is the mischief of what he discusses in the Prefaces as a possible 
tendency in himself towards ' overtreatment'. Correlated with this 
tendency is that manifested in tht extraordinarily specialized living 
of his characters : 

'The immensity didn't include them ; but if he had an idea 
at the back of his head she had also one in a recess as deep, and 
for a time, while they sat together, there was an extraordinary 
mute passage between her vision of this vision of his, his vision 
of her vision, and her vision of his vision of her vision.' 2 

1 Cf. what the author says to his young visitor in The Author of Beltraffio : 
'If you're going into this kind of thing there's a fact you should know before- 
hand ; it may save you some disappointment. There's a hatred of art, there's 
a hatred of literature I mean of the genuine kinds. Oh the shams those 
they'll swallow by the bucket ! * ' 

2 What Maisle Knew, p. 163 (Pocket Edition). Cf. 'There were other 
marble terraces, sweeping more purple prospects, on which he would have 
known what to think, and would have enjoyed thereby at least the small 
intellectual fillip of a discerned relation between z> given appearance and a 
taken meaning.' The Golden Bowl, I, 318. 

165 



HENRY JAMES 

This last aspect of his development is the more significant 
significant in the sense suggested in that he was, it seems, quite 
unaware of it. Mrs. Wharton records (A Backward Glance, p. 191) : 

* Preoccupied by this, I one day said to him : " What was your 
idea in suspending the four principal characters in The Golden 
Bowl in the void ? What sort of life did they lead when they 
were not watching each other, and fencing with each other ? 
Why have you stripped them of all the human fringes we 
necessarily trail after us through life ?" 

'He looked at me in surprise, and I saw at once that the 
surprise was painful, and wished I had not spoken. I had 
assumed that his system was a deliberate one, carefully thought 
out, and had been genuinely anxious to hear his reasons. But 
after a pause of reflection he answered in a disturbed voice : 
"My dear I didn't know I had ! " and I saw that my question, 
instead of starting one of our absorbing liteiary discussions, had 
only turned his startled attention on a peculiarity of which he 
had been completely unconscious/ 1 

Of the peculiarities of his later style, with its complexities and 
exhausting delicacies and its incapacity for directness ('her vision of 
his vision of her vision' and ' the small intellectual fillip of a discerned 
relation between a given appearance and a taken meaning 'James 
himself is the complete Jamesian character), he cannot have been 
wholly unconscious. That there really was incapacity, essential loss 
of a power, that something had gone wrong in his life, Mrs. Whar- 
ton brings amusingly home to us. She rektes an episode showing 
him unable to ask the way so as to be understood. 2 The author of 
The Portrait of a Lady most certainly was not like that. 

The nature of the change comes out notably in James's imagery 

1 Mrs. Wharton goes on: 'This sensitiveness to criticism or comment of 
any sort had nothing to do with vanity ; it was caused by the great artist's 
deep consciousness of his powers, combined with a bitter, a life-long dis- 
appointment at his lack of popular recognition.' 

2 ' *' My good man, if you'll be good enough to come here, please ; a little 
nearer so," and as the old man came up : "My friend, to put it to you in 
two words, this lady and I have just arrived here from Slough ; that is to say, 
to be more strictly accurate, we have recently passed through Slough on our 
way here, having actually motored to Windsor from Rye, which was our 
point of departure; and* the darkaess having overtaken us, we should be 
much obliged if you would tell us where we are now in relation, say, to the 

166 



THE LATER JAMES 

his metaphors, analogies and so on. There is an extraordinary 
wealth of these in the earlier style, where they strike us with their 
poetic immediacy and their Tightness to feeling as well as their wit. 
They are to be found at any opening of The Portrait of a Lady, and 
it would be easy to illustrate; but illustration, by taking each 
natural unobtrusive effect out of the easy flow in which it comes, 
would convey a false impression (unless one quoted the sustained 
passage in Book II, 1 in which we are for the first time shown Isabel 
realizing the 'dark, narrow alley with a drab wall at the end' into 
which her marriage has trapped her) . Things of the same kind may 
be found in the later books, but what goes characteristically with 
the developed Jamesian style is a more deliberate and elaborated 
kind of figure, the kind exemplified at its most elaborate by the 
famous pagoda that opens Book II of The Golden Bowl or by the 
caravan later on in the same volume (p. 209). We are conscious in 
these figures more of analysis, demonstration and comment than of 
the realizing imagination and the play of poetic perception. Be- 
tween any original perception or feeling there may have been and 
what we are given there has come a process of judicial stock-taking ; 
the imagery is not immediate and inevitable but synthetic. It is 
diagrammatic rather than poetic. And that is so even when it 
makes a show of sensuous vividness, as here : 

'Just three things in themselves, however, with all the rest, 
with his fixed purpose now, his committed deed, the fine pink 

High Street, which, as you of course know, leads to the Castle, after leaving 
on^the left hand the turn down to the railway station." 

'I was not surprised to have this extraordinary appeal met by silence, and 
a dazed expression on the old wrinkled face at the window; nor to have 
James go on: "In short" (his invariable prelude to a fresh series of explan- 
atory ramifications), "in short, my good man, what I want to put to you in a 
word is this : supposing we have already (as I have reason to think we have) 
driven past the turn down to the railway station (which, in that case, by the 
way, would probably not have been on our left hand, but on our right), where 
are we now in relation to . . ." 

"'Oh, please," I interrupted, feeling myself utterly unable to sit through 
another parenthesis, "do ask him where the King's Rpad is." 

4 " Ah T: ? The K-in g' s R oad? Just sol Quite right 1 Can you, as a 
matter of fact, my good man, tell us where in relation to our present position 
the King s Road exactly is ? " 

'"Ye're in it," said the aged face at tfc window.' 

1 See p. 166 et seq., the Pocket Edition. ' 

167 



HENRY JAMES 

glow, projected forward, of his ships, behind him, definitely 
blazing and crackling this quantity was to push him harder 
than any word of his own coald warn him. All that she was 
herself, moreover, was so lighted, to its advantage, by the pink 
glow/ 

This hasn't the concrete immediacy of metaphor l ; it is, rather, 
coloured diagram. 

The trouble with the late style is that it exacts so intensely and 
inveterately analytic an attention that no sufficient bodied response 
builds up : nothing sufficiently approaching the deferred concrete 
immediacy that has been earned is attainable. Of Henry James him- 
self we feel that the style involves for him, registers as prevailing in 
him, a kind of attention that doesn't favour his realizing his theme, 
in the whole or locally, as full-bodied life. The relation between 
deficiency of this order (a deficiency in spite of the tremendous 
output of intellectual energy represented by each work in vitality) 
and the kind of moral unsatisfactoriness that we have observed in 
Thk Golden Bowl should be fairly plain. James himself suggests it 
well enough in the Preface to The Portrait of a Lady : 

'There is, I think, no more nutritive or suggestive truth in 
this connexion than that of the perfect dependence of the 
"moral" sense of a work of art on the amount of felt life con- 
cerned in producing it. The question comes back thus, obvi- 
ously, to the kind and degree of the artist's prime sensibility, 
which is the soil out of which his subject springs/ 

We do not feel in the late style a rich and lively sensibility freely 
functioning. 

But qualifications impose themselves at once. It will not do to 
suggest that there are not, in the late period, admirable successes, 

1 As the following, also from The Go! Jen Bowl y has : * Ah then it was that 
the cup of her conviction, full to the brim, overflowed at a touch ! There was 
his idea, the clearness of which for an instant almost dazzled her. It was a blur 
of light in the midst of which she saw Charlotte like some object marked by 
contrast in blackness, saw her waver in the field of vision, saw her removed, 
transported, doomed. And he had named Charlotte, named her again, and 
she had made him which was all she had needed more : it was as she had 
held a blank letter to the fire and the writing had come out still larger than 
she had hoped.' The anak>gy in the" last sentence brings out by contrast the 
metaphorical immediacy of what goes before. 

168 



THE LATER JAMES 

works in which distinctively late and difficult characteristics appear 
merely or mainly as achieved subtlety and fineness. Of these the 
most notable are The Awkward Age and What Maisie Knew. Of the 
latter something has already been said. Though it occupies only 
part of a volume, it might, with its packed and intensively organized 
three hundred pages, stand as a novel. The Awkward Age occupies 
a whole volume and may (though it doesn't occupy two) fairly be 
considered one of James's major achievements. It seems unlikely, 
however, to gain general acceptance as such : it was received at its 
first appearance, James tells us, wi:h 'complete disrespect', and the 
critics who have written about it seem to have found it not worth 
the extremely close and alert reading it demands. So qualified a 
critic as Mr. Edmund Wilson, for instance, opines that 'James could 
never have known how we should feel about the gibbering dis- 
embowelled crew who hover around one another with sordid 
shadowy designs in The Awkward Age 9 . Actually, the various ways 
in which we are to feel about the various characters are delicately 
but surely defined ; and the whole point of the book depends ujpon 
our feeling a strong distaste for some of the characters and sharing 
with James a critical attitude towards most of them. Yet for the 
general complete misreading James possibly bears some responsi- 
bility responsibility other than that of having merely been difficult 
and subtle. When, for exampK Mr. Percy Lubbock in The Craft 
of Fiction sees the ' highly sophisticated circle of men and women, 
who seem so well practised in the art of living that they could never 
be taken by surprise' (p. 191) as an admirable coterie to which one 
would be proud to belong ('Their intelligence counts for every- 
thing ..." 'It is a charmed world . . .') he might reasonably point 
to the Preface for his warrant. And he might reasonably invoke 
the same authority for his account of James's theme : 

'The girl Nanda, supposedly a helpless spectator, takes con- 
trol of the situation and works it out for her elders. She is the 
intelligent and expert and self-possessed one of them all ; they 
have only to leave everything to her light manipulations, ana 
the awkwardness which is theirs, not hers is surmounted. 
By the time she has displayed all her art the story is at an 
end ; her action has answered tfye question and provided the 
issue.' 

169 



HENRY JAMES 

That is the notion of the theme one gets from the Preface. It is 
an ironical commentary on the significance and drift of James's 
later technical preoccupation that, discussing ten years after having 
written The Awkward Age the triumphant tour deforce that it was for 
him (a novel completely dramatized, 'triumphantly scientific', 'the 
quantity of finish it stows away'), he should have forgotten to say 
anything about his essential theme about the intense moral and 
tragic interest that here justifies his technique and is justified by it. 
For The Awkward Age, though it exhibits James's genius for social 
comedy at its most brilliant, is a tragedy ; a tragedy conceived in an 
imagination that was robustly, delicately and clairvoyantly moral. 

The dialogue (and The Awkward Age is nearly all dialogue) is 
marvellously good, an amazing exhibition of genius. It is in this 
life of the dialogue that The Awkward Age differs most obviously 
from the late 'great', conventionally admired novels, where, while 
granting the author's right to stylize, we have to complain that his 
characters speak in a stylization that is too often intolerably like the 
author's own late style. And this life of the dialogue, fascinating 
in itself, also means a subtle, vivid and varied life of character. 
Nevertheless, perhaps even The Awkward Age, brilliant success as it 
is, represents a disproportionate amount of 'doing', a dispropor- 
tionate interest in technique. Certainly Nanda, the tragic heroine, 
is a more rarefied presence than Isabel Archer. To say which, of 
course, is to invite the reply that James didn't intend either to give us 
Isabel again or to give us with the same relative fulness anyone. Yet 
it still seems a fair comment that a James who had as much fulness of 
life to impart as informs The Portrait of a Lady couldn't have chosen 
to restrict himself by so 'triumphantly scientific' and so excluding a 
method of presentment as that of The Awkward Age. Interest in 
technique is usurping here upon the interest that, in the greatest art, 
technique subserves. 

'Ah, aren't we very much the same simple lovers of life ? 
That is of the finer essence of it which appeals to the conscious- 
ness !' 

This is said by one of the characters in The Awkward Age. The 
phrase, 'the finer essence . . . which appeals to the consciousness ', 
suggests very well the nature of James's own preoccupation. In The 

170 



THE LATER JAMES 

Portrait of a Lady, we may say, he seeks the essence of a very much 
richer life than in The Awkward Age. In connexion with the latter 
book 'consciousness* takes on a limiting suggestion: it suggests 
something too close to what is represented by the witty and sophisti- 
cated conversation into which the theme is distilled. And the reading 
that The Awkward Age exacts is, strcngly sympathetic as are the feel- 
ings generated towards Nanda, Mr. Longdon and Mitchy, too inten- 
sively and predominantly a matter of the 'wits', in a limiting sense, 
to permit of the profoundest and most massive imaginative effect. 

Isabel Archer, who in The Portrait of a Lady, loving life, seeks * the 
finer essence of it that appeals to the consciousness', may be said to 
symbolize for James that essence at his richest apprehension of it. 
It is not for nothing that a whole volume is required to present, 
place and duly charge Isabel before the 'story', in Mr. Stephen 
Spender's sense, begins ; or that the process involves the evocation of 
a rich and varied environment and background. And convincingly 
'there' as scene and persons are, and though the imagination that 
makes them so present to us is ironically perspicacious and supremely 
intelligent, there is something of James's ideal civilization about the 
England he evokes. Manners, the arts of social intercourse, do, in 
that mellow and spacious world the world of Lord Warburton 
and his sisters, Ralph Touchett, and the old American banker his 
father seem to express something truly and maturely humane, a 
spiritual fineness. That element of warm faith, or illusion, dis- 
appears from James's work along with the generous fulness of 
actuality as the 'scientific' elaborateness of 'doing' comes in. It is 
significant too that we cannot believe that the later James the 
James of The Golden Bowl would have dealt so mercilessly, would 
not have dealt at least a little complaisantly, with Gilbert Osmond, 
the aesthetic dilettante to whom Isabel falls a prey. 

This development might suggest critical reflections regarding the 
essential nature and conditions of James's concern for 'the finer 
essence'. So peculiar an intensity of concern for consciousness 
might perhaps be seen as in itself an index of some correlated 
deficiency an index of something, from the beginning, not quite 
sound, whole and thriving within and below. True, The Bostonians, 
with the poised wisdom of its comedy, and its richness of substance, 
derived from the experience and observation of childhood and 

171 



HENRY JAMES 

youth, doesn't encourage such reflections. But even of The Portrait 
of a Lady it might perhaps be suggested that its effect of rich vitality 
isn't quite simply an expression of rich and free first-hand living. 1 
The young American in The Author ofBeltraffio says of the Author's 
house : 

'there was imagination in the carpets and curtains, in the pic- 
tures and books, in the garden behind it, where certain old 
brown walls were muffled in creepers that appeared to me to 
have been copied from a masterpiece of one of the pre- 
Raphaelites. That was the way many things struck me at that 
time in England as reproductions of something that had existed 
primarily in art or literature. It was not the picture, the poem, 
the fictive page, that seemed to me a copy ; these things were 
the originals, and the life of happy and distinguished people 
was fashioned in their image.' 

Something of the effect of The Portrait of a LaJy is suggested there. 
And when, as in The Princess Casamassima (which brings so little 
comfort to those who would like to justify James by his interest in 
the class-war), he offers, uncharacteristically, something like an 
earthy and sappy vitality, it derives, significantly, from Dickens. 

But this is not the note to end on. It is a measure of our sense of 
the greatness of Henry James's genius that discussion should tend 
to stress mainly what he failed to do with it. But what achievement 
in the art of fiction fiction as a completely serious art addressed to 
the adult mind can we point to in English as surpassing his? 
Besides The Europeans, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, Wash- 
ington Square, The Awkward Age and What Maisie Knew, there is an 
impressive array of things novels, nouvelles, short stories that 
will stand permanently as classics. 

1 It is relevant here (and see pp. 162-3 above) to note that, for such an 
upbringing as that of the young Jameses, there was a price. Never allowed 
to become rooted in any milieu, one would be remarkable indeed to develop 
a strong sense of society as a system of functions and responsibilities. H. J.'s 
interest in 'civilization' betrays, tested by his actual selectiveness in the con- 
crete field before him, a grave deficiency. * He didn't know the right people/ 
* Q* once said to me, discussing James's criticism of the country-house. A fair 
point : after all, the admirable types, the public spirit and the fine and serious 
culture we come on when we study, e.g., the milieu of Henry Sidgwick (in- 
tense and intelligent admirer of George Eliot) were characteristic products 
of the England of the ' besj familiest in James's time. Why does he seem 
to know nothing about this real and most impressive best ? 

172 



IV 
JOSEPH CONRAD 

(i) Minor Works and 'Nostromo' 
N announcement once appeared in a quarterly, against the 



. name of the present writer, of an article to be entitled Conrad, 
the Soul and the Universe. The exasperation registered in this for- 
mula explains, perhaps, why the article was never written. For that 
Conrad has done classical work is as certain as that his classical status 
will not rest evenly upon his whole ceuvre, and the necessary dis- 
criminations and delimitations, not being altogether simple, clearly 
oughtn't to be attempted in any but a securely critical frame of 
mind. He has, of course, long been generally held to be among the 
English masters ; the exasperation records a sense that the greatness 
attributed to him tended to be identified with an imputed pro- 
fundity, and that this 'profundity* was not what it was taken tq be, 
but quite other, and the reverse of a strength. The final abandon- 
ment of the article may have been partly determined by Mr. E. M. 
Forster's note on Conrad tKat appeared in Abinger Harvest : 

'What is so elusive about him is that he is always promising 
to make some general philosophic statement about the universe, 
and then refraining with a gruff disclaimer. ... Is there not also 
a central obscurity, something noble, heroic, beautiful, inspiring 
half-a-dozen great books, but obscure, obscure e . . . These 
essays do suggest that he is misty in the middle as well as at the 
edges, that the secret casket of his genius contains a vapour 
rather than a jewel ; and that we needn't try to write him down 
philosophically, because there is, in this direction, nothing to 
write. No creed, in fact. Only opinions, and the right to throw 
them overboard when facts make them look absurd. Opinions 
held under the semblance of eternity, girt with the sea, crowned 
with stars, and therefore easily mistaken for a creed/ 

This might well have gratified the exasperatjon, and made its 
expression seem unnecessary. 

Mr. Forster, however, doesn't attempt discriminations or pre- 
cisions (his note is a reprinted review of Notes on Life and Letters). 

173 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

And he doesn't suggest those manifestations of the characteristic 
he describes in which we have something simply and obviously 
deplorable something that presents itself, not as an elusively noble 
timbre, prompting us to analysis and consequent limiting judgments, 
but as, bluntly, a disconcerting weakness or vice. Consider, for 
instance, how Heart of Darkness is marred. 

Heart of Darkness is, by common consent, one of Conrad's best 
tilings an appropriate source for the epigraph of The Hollow Men : 
'Mistah Kurtz, he dead*. That utterance, recalling the particularity 
of its immediate context, represer ts the strength of Heart of Darkness : 

'He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision he 
cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath 

"The horror! The horror !" 

'I blew the candle out and left the cabin. The pilgrims were 
dining in the mess-room, and I took my place opposite the 
manager, who lifted his eyes to give me a questioning glance, 
which I successfully ignored. He leaned back, serene, with that 
peculiar smile of his sealing the unexpressed depth of his mean- 
ness. A continuous shower of small flies streamed upon the 
lamp, upon the cloth, upon our hands and faces. Suddenly the 
manager's boy put his insolent face in the doorway, and said in 
a tone of scathing contempt 

'"Mistah Kurtz he dead." 

* All the pilgrims rushed out to see. I remained, and went on 
with my dinner. I believe I was considered brutally callous. 
However, I did not eat much. There was a lamp in there 
light, don't you know and outside it was so beastly, beastly 
dark/ 

This passage, it will be recognized, owes its force to a whole wide 
context of particularities that gives the elements here the pilgrims, 
the manager, the manager's boy, the situation their specific values. 
Borrowing a phrase from Mr. Eliot's critical writings, one might 
say that Heart of Darkness achieves its overpowering evocation of 
atmosphere by means of Objective correlatives'. The details and 
circumstances of tli voyage to and up the Congo are present to us 
as if we were making the journey ourselves and l(chosen for record 
as they are by a controlling imaginative purpose) they carry speci- 
ficities of emotion and suggestiqn with them. There is the gunboat 
dropping shells into Africa : 



MINOR WORKS AND MOSTROMO 
There wasn't even a shed there, and she was shelling the 
bush. It appears Jie French had one of their wars going on 
thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag ; the muzzles 
of the long six-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull ; the 
greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, sway- 
ing her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky and 
water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. 
Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns ; a small flame would 
dart and vanish, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech 
and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a 
touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious 
drollery in the sight ; and it was not dissipated by somebody on 
board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives he 
called them enemies ! hidden out of sight somewhere. 

'We gave her her letters (I heard the men in that lonely ship 
were dying of fever at the rate of three a day) and went on. 
We called at some* more places *with farcical names, where the 
merry dance of death and trade goes on in a still and earthy 
atmosphere as of an overheated catacomb. . . .' 

There is the arrival at the Company's station : 

'I came upon a boiler "wallowing in the grass, then found a 
path leading up the hill. It turned aside for the boulders, and 
also for an undersized railway-truck lying there on its back with 
its wheels in the air. One was off. The thing looked as dead as 
the carcass of some animal. I came upon more pieces of decay- 
ing machinery, a stack of rusty nails. To the left a clump of 
trees made a shady spot, where dark things seemed to stir feebly. 
I blinked, the "path was steep. A horn tooted to the right, and 
I saw bUck people run. A heavy, dull detonation shook the 
ground, a puff of smoke came out of the cliff, and that was all. 
No change appeared on the face of the rock. They were 
building a railway. The cliff was not in the way of anything ; 
but this objectless blasting was all die work going on. 

'A slight clanking behind me made me turn my head. Six 
black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked 
erect and slow, balancing small baskets full, of earth on their 
heads, and the dink kept time with their footsteps. Bkck rags 
were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind 
waggled to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of 
their limbs were like knots in a rope ; each had an iron collar 

175 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose 
bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking. Another 
report from the cliff made me think suddenly of that ship of 
war I had seen firing into a continent. It was the same kind of 
ominous voice ; but these men could by no stretch of imagina- 
tion be called enemies. They were called criminals. . . / 

There is the grove of death : 

'At last I got under the trees. My purpose was to stroll into 
the shade for a moment ; but no sooner within it than it seemed 
to me that I had stepped into the gloomy circle of some Inferno. 
The rapids were near, and an uninterrupted, uniform, headlong, 
rushing noise filled the mournful stillness of the grove, where 
not a breath stirred, not a leaf moved, with a mysterious sound 
as though the tearing pace of the launched earth had suddenly 
become audible. 

'Black shapes crouched, lay, sat beneath the trees, leaning 
against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half 
effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, aban- 
donment, and despair. Another mine of the cliff went off, 
followed by a slight shudder of the soil under my feet. The 
work was going on. The work ! And this was the place where 
some of the helpers had withdrawn to die. 

' They were dying slowly it was very clear. They were not 
enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly 
now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, 
lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. . . . These moribund 
shapes were free as air and nearly as thin. I began to distinguish 
the gleam of the eyes under the trees. There, glancing down, 
I saw a face near my hand. The black bones reclined at full 
length with one shoulder against the tree, and slowly the eye- 
lids rose and the sunken eyes looked up at me, enormous and 
vacant, a kind of blind, white flicker in the depths of the orbs, 
which died out slowly/ 

By means of this art of vivid essential record, in terms of things 
seen and incidents experienced by a main agent in the narrative, and 
particular contacts and exchanges with other human agents, the 
overwhelming sinister and fantastic 'atmosphere' is engendered. 
Ordinary greed, stupidity and moral squalor are made to look like 
behaviour in a lunatic asylum against the vast and oppressive mys- 
tery of the surroundings, rendered potently in terms of sensation, 

176 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 
This mean lunacy, which we are made to feel as at the same time 
normal and insane, is brought out by contrast with the fantastically 
secure innocence of the young harlequin-costumed Russian ('son of 
an arch-priest . . . Government of Tambov'), the introduction to 
whom is by the way of that copy of Tower's (or Towson's) Inquiry 
into Some Points of Seamanship, symbol of tradition, sanity and the 
moral idea, found lying, an incongruous mystery, in the dark heart 
of Africa. 

Of course, as the above quotations illustrate, the author's com- 
ment cannot be said to be wholly implicit. Nevertheless, it is not 
separable from the thing rendered, but seems to emerge from the 
vibration of this as part of the tone. At least, this is Conrad's art 
at its best. There are, however, places in Heart of Darkness where 
we become aware of comment as an interposition, and worse, as 
an intrusion, at times an exasperating one. Hadn't he, we find 
ourselves asking, overworked 'inscrutable', 'inconceivable', 'un- 
speakable' and that kind of word already ? yet still they recur. Is 
anything added to the oppressive mysteriousness of the Congo ,by 
such sentences as : 

'It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an 
inscrutable intention' ? 

The same vocabulary, the same adjectival insistence upon inexpress- 
ible and incomprehensible mystery, is applied to the evocation of 
human profundities and spiritual horrors ; to magnifying a thrilled 
sense of the unspeakable potentialities of the human soul. The 
actual effect is not to magnify but rather to muffle. The essential 
vibration emanates from the interaction of die particular incidents, 
actions and perceptions that are evoked with such charged con- 
creteness. The legitimate kind of comment, that which seems the 
inevitable immediate resonance of the recorded event, is represented 
here: 

'And then I made a brusque movement, and one of the 
remaining posts of that vanished fence leaped into the field of 
my glass. You remember I told you I had beon struck at the 
distance by certain attempts at ornamentation, rather remark- 
able in the ruinous aspect of the place. Now I had suddenly a 
nearer view, and its first result was to makt me throw my head 

M 17? 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

back as if before a blow. Then I went carefully from post to 
post with my glass, and I saw my mistake. Those round knobs 
were not ornamental but symbolic ; they were expressive and 
puzzling, striking and disturbing food for thought and also 
for the vultures if there had been any looking down from the 
sky ; but at all events for such ants as were industrious enough 
to ascend the pole. They would have been even more im- 
pressive, those heads on the stakes, if their faces had not been 
turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was 
facing my way. I was not so shocked as you may think. The 
start back I had given was really nothing but a movement of 
surprise. I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you 
know. I returned deliberately to the first I had seen and there 
it was, black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids, a head that 
seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken 
dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, waa smiling 
too, smiling continuously at some endless ?nd jocose dream of 
that eternal slumber. 

'I am not disclosing any trade secrets. In fact, the manager 
^aid afterwards that Mr. Kurtz's methods had ruined the dis- 
trict. I have no opinion on that point, but I want you clearly 
to understand that there was nothing exactly profitable in those 
heads being there. They only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked 
restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was 
something wanting in him some small matter which, when 
the pressing need arose, could Hot be found under his magni- 
ficent eloquence. Whether he knew of this deficiency himself 
I can't say. I think the knowledge came to him at last only 
at the very last, but the wilderness had found him out early, and 
had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. 
I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he 
did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took 
counsel with this great solitude and the whisper had proved 
irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he 
was hollow at the core. ... I put down the glass, and the head 
that had appeared near enough to be spoken to seemed at once 
to have leaped away from me into inaccessible distance/ 

That the 'admirer of Mr. Kurtz,' the companion of the narrator 
here, should be the fantastically sane and innocent young Russian is 
part of the force of tho passage. 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 

By such means as it illustrates we are given a charged sense of the 
monstrous hothouse efflorescences fostered in Kurtz by solitude and 
the wilderness. It is a matter of such things as the heads on posts 
a direct significant glimpse, the innocent Russian's explanations, 
the incidents of the progress up the river and the moral and physical 
incongruities registered ; in short, of the charge generated in a 
variety of highly specific evocations. The stalking of the moribund 
Kurtz, a skeleton crawling through the long grass on all fours as he 
makes his bolt towards the fires and the tom-toms, is a triumphant 
climax in the suggestion of strange and horrible perversions. But 
Conrad isn't satisfied with these means ; he feels that there is, or 
ought to be, some horror, some significance he has yet to bring out. 
So we have an adjectival and worse than supererogatory insistence 
on 'unspeakable rites', 'unspeakable secrets', 'monstrous passions', 
'inconceivable mystery', and so on. If it were only, as it largely is 
in Heart of Darkness, a*matter of an occasional phrase it would still be 
regrettable as tending to cheapen the tone. But the actual cheapen- 
ing is little short of disastrous. Here, for instance, we have MarV>w 
at the crisis of the episode just referred to : 

'I tried to break the spell the heavy, mute spell of the 
wilderness that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the 
awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of 
gratified and monstrous passions. This alone, I was convinced, 
had driven him out to the edge of the forest, towards the gleam 
of the fires, the throb of drums, the drone of weird incanta- 
tions ; this alone had beguiled his unlawful soul beyond the 
bounds of permitted aspirations. And, don't you see, the terror 
of the position was not in being knocked on the head though 
I had a very lively sense of that danger too but in this, that I 
had to deal with a being to whom I could not appeal in the name 
of anything high or low . . . I've been telling you what we 
said repeating the phrases we pronounced but what's the 
good? They were common everyday words the familiar 
vague sounds exchanged on every waking day of life. But 
what of that ? They had behind them, to my^mind, the terrific 
suggestiveness of words heard in dreams, of ph/rases spoken in 
nightmares. Soul ! If anybody had ever struggled with a soul, 

I am the man. And I wasn't arguing with a lunatic either 

But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had 

179 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

looked within itself, and, by heavens ! I tell you, it had gone 
mad. I had for my sins, I suppose to go through the ordeal 
of looking into it myself. No eloquence could have been so 
withering to one's belief in mankind as his final burst of sin- 
cerity. He struggled with himself too, I saw it I heard it. I 
saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, 
no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself.' 

Conrad must here stand convicted of borrowing the arts of the 
magazine-writer (who has borrowed his, shall we say, from Kipling 
and Poe) in order to impose on his readers and on himself, for thrilled 
response, a 'significance* that is merely an emotional insistence on 
the presence of what he can't produce. The insistence betrays the 
absence, the willed 'intensity' the nullity. He is intent on making a 
virtue out of not knowing what he means. The vague and un- 
realizable, he asserts with a strained impressiveness, is the profoundly 
and tremendously significant : 

'I've been telling you what we said repeating the phrases 
we pronounced but what's the good ? They were common 
everyday words the familiar vague sounds exchanged on 
every waking day of life. But what of that ? They had behind 
them, to my mind, the terrific suggestiveness of words heard 
in dreams, of phrases spoken in nightmares/ 

What's the good, indeed ? If he cannot through the concrete 
presentment of incident, setting and image invest the words with 
the terrific something that, by themselves, they fail to convey, then 
no amount of adjectival and ejaculatory emphasis will do it. 

'I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul,' etc. 

That, of course, is an ambiguous statement. I see that there is a 
mystery, and it remains a mystery for me ; I can't conceive what it 
is ; and if I offer this inability to your wonder as a thrilling affair of 
'seeing an inconceivable mystery', I exemplify a common trait of 
human nature. Actually, Conrad had no need to try and inject 
'significance' into his narrative in this way. What he shows him- 
self to have successfully and significantly seen is enough to make 
Heart of Darkness a disturbing presentment of the kind he aimed at. 
By the attempt at injection he weakens, in his account of Kurtz's 
death, the effect of thit culminating cry : 

i So 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 

'He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision he 
cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath "The 
horror! The horror !" ' 

The 'horror' there has very much less force than it might have 
had if Conrad had strained less. 

This final account of Kurtz is associated with a sardonic tone, an 
insistent irony that leads us on to another bad patch, the closing 
interview in Brussels with Kurtz's 'Intended' : 

'The room seemed to have grown darker, as if all the sad 
light of the cloudy evening had taken refuge on her forehead. 
This fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed sur- 
rounded by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out 
at me. Their glance was guileless, profound, confident, and 
trustful. * She carried her sorrowful head as though she were 
proud-of that sorrow, as though sKe would say, I I alone know 
now to mourn for him as he deserves.' 

It is not part of Conrad's irony that there should be anything 
ironical in this presentment of the woman. The irony lies in the 
association of her innocent nobility, her purity of idealizing faith, 
with the unspeakable corruption of Kurtz ; and it is developed (if 
that is the word) with a thrilled insistence that recalls the melo- 
dramatic intensities of Edgar Allan Poe : 

'I felt like a chill grip on my chest. "Don't," I said in a 
muffled voice. 

'"Forgive me. I I have mourned so long in silence in 
silence. . . . You were with him to the last ? I think of his 
loneliness. Nobody near to understand him as I would have 
understood. Perhaps no one to hear. ..." 

'"To the very end," I said shakily. "I heard his very last 
words. ..." I stopped in a fright. 

'"Repeat them," she murmured in a heart-broken tone. 

'"I want I want something something to live with." 

'I was on the point of crying at her "Don't you hear them ?" 
The dark was repeating them in a persistent whisper all around 
us, in a whisper that seemed to swell menacingly, like the first 
whisper of a rising wind. "The horror ! the horror !" 

"'His last words to live with," she insisted. "Don't you 
understand I loved him I loved him I loved him !" 

181 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

'I pulled myself together and spoke slowly. 

"'The last word he pronounced was your name." 

'I heard a light sigh and th^n my heart stood still, stopped 
dead short by an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of in- 
conceivable triumph and of an unspeakable pain. 

'"I knew it I was sure !" . . . She knew. She was sure/ 

Conrad's 'inscrutable', it is clear, associates with Woman as it does 
with the wilderness, and the thrilling mystery of the Intended's 
innocence is of the same order as the thrilling mystery of Kurtz's 
corruption : the profundities are complementary. It would appear 
that the cosmopolitan Pole, student of the French masters, who 
became a British master-mariner, was in some respects a simple soul. 
If anyone should be moved to question the propriety of this way of 
putting it, perhaps the following will be found something of a 
justification : 

'Woman and the sea revealed themselves to me together, as 
it were : two mistresses of life's values. The illimitable great- 
ness of the one, the unfathomable seduction of the other, work- 
ing their immemorial spells from generation to generation fell 
upon my heart at last : a common fortune, an unforgettable 
memory of the sea's formless might and of the sovereign charm 
in that woman's form wherein there seemed to beat the pulse 
of divinity rather than blood/ 

This comes from a bad novel, one of Conrad's worst things, The 
Arrow of Gold. It is a sophisticated piece of work, with a sophistica- 
tion that elaborates and aggravates the deplorable kind of naivety 
illustrated in the quotation. Not that the author's talent doesn't 
appear, but the central theme and the pervasive atmosphere is 
the 'unfathomable seduction' of the 'enigmatic' Rita ; a glamorous 
mystery, the evocation of which (though more prolonged and elab- 
orated) is of the same order as the evocation of sinister significance, 
the 'inconceivable* mystery of Kurtz, at the close of Heart of Dark- 
ness. If any reader of that tale had felt that the irony permitted a 
doubt regarding Conrad's attitude towards the Intended, the pre- 
sentment of Rita, should settle it. 

'Woman' figures in The Rescue, the book that in publication pre- 
ceded The Arrow of Gold (both came out just after the 1914 war, 
though The Rescue belongs essentially to Conrad's early period). 

182 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 

The glamour here is a simpler affair less sophisticated and more 
innocent. But if The Rescue lacks the positive badness of The Arrow 
of Gold, it is, on a grand scale, boring in its innocence. The seduc- 
tion of Woman as represented by Mrs. Travers is less insistently and 
melodramatically 'unfathomable' than in the later book, but cannot 
sustain the interest Conrad demands Tor it ; so to say that it is, in the 
formal design, adequate to balancing Heroic Action as represented 
by Lingard King Tom, idealized seaman-adventureris not to say 
anything very favourable about the whole. The Rescue, in short, is 
an Academy piece 'sombre, colourful, undeniably a classic* the 
reviewers may have said, and its Grand Style staging of the conflict 
between Love and Honour (a kingdom at stake) against a sumptu- 
ously rendered ddcor of tropical sea, sunset, and jungle is, in its slow 
and conscientious magnificence, calculated to engender more defer- 
ence than thrill, and so can't even be recommended as good boy's 
reading though it offers little to adults. The book, in fact, is not 
altogether a surprising kind of thing to have come from a sailor of 
pertinacious literary talent and French literary education. The 
reason for bringing it in just here is to enforce the point that Conrad, 
for all his sophistication, exhibits a certain simplicity of outlook and 
attitude. About his attitude towards women there is perceptible, 
all the way through his literary career, something of the gallant 
simple sailor. 

The sailor in him, of course, is rightly held to be a main part of 
his strength. It is not for nothing that Heart of Darkness, a pre- 
dominantly successful tale, is told by the captain of the steamboat 
told from that specific and concretely realized point of view : 
appraisal ofahe success of the tale is bound up with this consideration. 
But the stress up till now has fallen upon Conrad's weaknesses. It 
is time to ask where the strength may be found in its purest form. 
There will, I think, be general approval of the choice of Typhoon 
as a good example. But I am not sure that there is as general a 
recognition of just where the strength of Typhoon lies. The point 
may be made by saying that it lies not so much in the famous 
description of the elemental frenzy as in the presentment of Captain 
MacWhirr, the chief mate Jukes and the chief engineer Solomon 
Rout at the ^opening of the tale. O( course, it is a commonplace 
that Conrad's distinctive genius comprises a gift for rendering the 

183 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

British seaman. But is it a commonplace that the gift is the specific 
gift of a novelist, and (though the subtler artist doesn't run to 
caricature and the fantastic) relates Conrad to Dickens ? Consider, 
for instance, this : 

'He was rather below the medium height, a bit round- 
shouldered, and so sturdy of limb that his clothes always looked 
a shade too tight for his arms and legs. As if unable to grasp 
what is due to the difference of latitudes, he wore a brown 
bowler hat, a complete suit of a brownish hue, and clumsy 
black boots. These harbour togs gave to his thick figure an air 
of stiff and uncouth smartness. A thin silver watch-chain 
looped his waistcoat, and he never left his ship for the shore 
without clutching in his powerful, hairy fist an elegant umbrella 
of the very best qualit/, but generally unrolled. Young Jukes, 
the chief mate, attending his commander to the gangway, 
would sometimes venture to s?y, with the greatest gentleness, 
"Allow me, sir," and, possessing himself of the umbrella 
deferentially, would elevate the ferrule, shake the folds, twirl a 
mat furl in a jiffy, and hand it back : going through the perform- 
ance with a face of such portentous gravity, that Mr. Solomon 
Rout, the chief engineer, smoking his morning cigar over the 
skylight, would turn away his head in order to hide a smile. 
"Oh! aye! The blessed gamp. . . . Thank 'ee, Jukes, thank 
'ee," would mutter Captain MacWhirr heartily, without 
looking up.' 

Consider the exchanges between Captain MacWhirr and Jukes 
over the Siamese flag, deplorably, poor Jukes feels (' Fancy having 
a ridiculous Noah's ark elephant in the ensign of one's ship'), 
substituted for the Red Ensign. Consider the accounts of the home 
backgrounds of MacWhirr and the chief engineer. 

It is to be noted further that these backgrounds in their contrast 
with the main theme of the tale afford a far more satisfactory irony 
(it is, in fact, supremely effective) than that, in Heart of Darkness, of 
the scenes at Brussels. At the same time it is to be noted that there 
is in Typhoon no sardonic Marlow, commenting on an action that 
he is made to project ; whereas, though Heart of Darkness is given 
from the point of view of the captain of the steamboat, that captain 
is Marlow Marlow, for whom Conrad has more than one kind of 
use, and who is both feiore and less than a character and always 

184 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 

sometning other than just a master-mariner. For comment in 
Typhoon we have the letters home of Solomon Rout, the chief 
engineer, and the letter of Jukes to his chum. In short, nothing in 
the story is forced or injected ; the significance is not adjectival, 
but resides in the presented particulars the actors, the incidents and 
the total action : we are given the ?hip, her cargo and her crew of 
ordinary British seamen, and the impact on them of the storm. 

The ordinariness is, with a novelist's art, kept present to us the 
whole time ; the particular effect of heroic sublimity depends on 
that. 

'And again he heard that voice, forced and ringing feeble, 
but with a penetrating effect of quietness in the enormous dis- 
cord of noises, as if sent out from some remote spot of peace 
beyond the black wastes of the gale ; again he heard a man's 
voice the frail and indomitable sound that can be made to 
carry an infinity of thought, resolution and purpose, that shall 
be pronouncing confident words on the last day, when heavens 
fall, and justice is done again he heard it, and it was crying to 
him, as if from very, very far " All right". ' 

Conrad can permit himself this, because the voice is that of the 
unheroically matter-of-fact Captain Mac Whirr, whose solid specific 
presence, along with that of particularized ordinary sailors and 
engineers, we are never allowed to forget : 

'A lull had come, a menacing lull of the wind, the holding 
of a stormy breath and he felt himself pawed all over. It was 
the boatswain. Jukes recognized these hands, so thick and 
enormous tha* they seemed to belong to some new species of 
man. 

'The boatswain had arrived on the bridge, crawling on all 
fours against the wind, and had found the chief mate's legs with 
the top of his head. Immediately he crouched and began to 
explore Jukes' person upwards, with prudent, apologetic 
touches, as became an inferior.' 

Or take this : 

' The boatswain by his side kept on yelling. " What ? What 
is it?" Jukes 'cried distressfully; and the pther repeated, 
"What would my old woman say if she saw me now ?' 

'In the alleyway, where a lot of water had got in and 
splashed in the dark, the men were stiH as death, till Jukes 

185 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

stumbled against one of them and cursed him savagely for being 
in the way. Two or three voices then asked, eager and weak, 
"Any chance for us, sir ? " 

' "What's the matter with you fools ? " he said brutally. He 
felt as though he could throw himself down amongst them and 
never move any more. But they seemed cheered ; and in the 
midst of obsequious warning. "Lookout! Mind that manhole 
lid, sir," they lowered him into the bunker. The boatswain 
tumbled down after him, and as soon as he had picked himself 
up he remarked "She would say, 'Serve you right, you old 
fool, for going to sea'." 

'The boatswain had some means, and made a point of allud- 
ing to them frequently. His wife a fat woman and two 
grown-up daughters kept a greengrocer's shop in the East-end 
of London.' 

The seamen are their ordinary selves, the routine goes forward in 
the engine-room, and the heroic triumphs of the Nan-Shan emerge 
as matters-of-fact out of the ordinariness : 

'"Can't have . . . fighting . . . board ship",' 

says Captain Mac Whirr through the typhoon, and down into the 
'tween-deck, into the human hurricane of fighting coolies, go Jukes 
and his men as a routine matter-of-fact course, to restore order and 
decency : 

'"We have done it, sir," he gasped. 
'"Thought you would," said Captain MacWhirr. 
'"Did you ?" murmured Jukes to himself. 
'"Wind fell all at once," went on the Captain. 
'Jukes burst out : "If you think it was an easy job " 
'But his captain, clinging to the rail, paid no attention. 
'"According to the books the worst is not over yet".' 

And the qualities which, in a triumph of discipline a triumph of 
the spirit have enabled a handful of ordinary men to impose sanity 
on a frantic mob are seen unquestionably to be those which took 
Captain MacWhirr, in contempt of 'Storm-strategy', into the 
centre of the typhoon. Without any symbolic portentousness the 
Captain stands there the embodiment of a tradition. The crowning 
triumph of the spirit, iA the guise of a matter-of-fact and practical 

186 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 
sense of decency, is the redistribution ship devastated, men drop- 
ping with fatigue of the gathered-up and counted dollars among 
the assembled Chinese. 

In The Shadow Line, also in common recognition one of Conrad's 
masterpieces (it is, I think, superior to Heart of Darkness and even 
to Typhoon), we have the same art. It has been acclaimed as a kind 
of prose Ancient Mariner, and it is certainly a supremely sinister and 
beautiful evocation of enchantment in tropic seas. But the art of 
the evocation is of the kind that has been described ; it is not a 
matter of engendering 'atmosphere* adjectivally, by explicitly 
'significant' vaguenesses, insistent unutterablenesses, or the thrilled 
tone of an expository commentator, but of presenting concretely a 
succession of particulars from the point of view of the master of the 
ship, who, though notably sensitive, is not a Marlow, but just a 
ship's master ; an actor among the other actors, though burdened 
with responsibilities towards the crew, owners and ship. The dis- 
tinctive art of a novelist, and the art upon which the success of the 
prose Ancient Mariner essentially depends, is apparent in the ren4er- 
ing of personality, its reactions and vibrations; the pervasive 
presence of the crew, delicately particularized, will turn out on 
analysis to account for the major part of the atmosphere. The 
young captain, entering the saloon for the first time and sitting in 
the captain's chair, finds he is looking into a mirror : 

'Deep within the tarnished ormolu frame, in the hot half- 
light sifted through the awning, I saw my own face propped 
between myjiands. And I stared back at myself with the per- 
fect detachment of distance, rather with curiosity than with any 
other feeling, except of some sympathy for this latest repre- 
sentative of what for all intents and purposes was a dynasty ; 
continuous not in blood, indeed, but in its experience, in its 
training, in its conception of duty, and in the blessed simplicity 
of its traditional point of view on life. . . . 

'Suddenly I perceived that there was another man in the 
saloon, standing a little on one side and looking intently at me. 
The chief mate. His long, red moustache determined the 
character of his'physiognomy, which struck me as pugnacious 
in (strange to say) a ghastly sort of way.' 

The disobliging and disturbing oddity 6f the mate turns out 

187 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

to be due to the sinister vagaries and unseemly end of the late 
captain : 

'That man had been in all essentials but his age just such 
another man as myself. Yet the end of his life was a complete 
act of treason, the betrayal of a tradition which seemd to me as 
imperative as any guide on earth could be. It appeared that 
even at sea a man could become the victim of evil spirits. I felt 
on my face the breath of unknown powers that shape our 
destinies/ 

The sinister spell that holds the ship is characteristically felt in terms 
of contrast with the tradition and its spiritual values, these being 
embodied in the crew, a good one, who carry on staunchly against 
bad luck and disease. The visiting doctor himself is 'good* in the 
same way. The story ends, it will be noted, on the urexpected 
parting with the faithful Ransome, the exquisitely rendered seaman 
with a voice that is 'extremely pleasant to hear* and a weak heart : 

'"But, Ransome," I said, "I hate the idea of parting with 
you." 

'"I must go/' he broke in. "I have a right !" He gasped 
and a look of almost savage determination passed over his face. 
For an instant he was another being. And I saw under the 
worth and the comeliness of the man the humble reality of 
things. Life was a boon to him this precarious, hard life 
and he was thoroughly alarmed about himself. 

'" Of course I shall pay you off if you wish it." 

****** 

'I approached him with extended hand. His eyes, not 
looking at me, had a strained expression. He was like a man 
listening for a warning call. 

'"Won't you shake hands, Ransome ?" I said gently. He 
exclaimed, flushed up dusky red, gave my hand a hard wrench 
and next moment, left alone in the cabin, I listened to him 
going up the companion stairs cautiously, step by step, in 
mortal fear of starting into sudden anger our common enemy it 
was his hard fate tc\ carry consciously within his faithful breast/ 

These things are worth many times those descriptions of sunsets, 
exotic seas and the last plunge of flaming wrecks which offer them- 
selves to the compilers of prose anthologies. 

188 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 
This is at any rate to confirm the accepted notion of Conrad to 
this extent : that his genius was a unique and happy union of sea- 
man and writer. If he hadn't actually been himself a British seaman 
by vocation he couldn't have done the Merchant Service from the 
inside. The cosmopolitan of French culture and French literary 
initiation is there in the capacity for detachment that makes the 
intimate knowledge uniquely conscious and articulate. We are 
aware of the artist by vocation, the intellectual who doubles the 
seaman, only when we stop to take stock of the perfection of the 
rendering and the subtle finish of jhe art. 

But this fine balance, this identity, isn't always sustained. In 
Mario w, who (as remarked above) has a variety of uses, the detach- 
ment is separated off. As a main participant in events though, by 
his specific role as such, a detached one, he gives his technical 
function a dramatic status in the action, and the author a freedom of 
presence that, as we have seen, constitutes a temptation. Elsewhere 
Mario w is frankly a method of projection or presentation one that 
we learn to associate with Conrad's characteristic vices and w^ak- 
nesses. In Youth, for instance, one of the best-known of the tales, 
though not one of the best f he goes with the cheap insistence on the 
glamour, and with that tone which, here and in other places, makes 
one recall the formula of the early reviewer and reflect that the prose 
laureate of the British seaman does sometimes degenerate into a 
'Kipling of the South Seas'. (And this is the point at which to 
note that Conrad can write shockingly bad magazine stuff see the 
solemnly dedicated collection called Within the Tides.) 

In Lord Jim Marlow is the means of presenting Jim with the 
appropriate externality, seen always through the question, the 
doubt, that is the central theme of die book. Means and effect are 
unobjectionable ; it is a different matter from the use of Marlow 
elsewhere to pass off a vaguely excited incomprehension as tre- 
mendous significance. But Lord Jim doesn't deserve the position of 
pre-eminence among Conrad's works often assigned it : it is hardly 
one of the most considerable. There is, in fact, much to be said 
in support of these reviewers who (Conrad tetys us) 'maintained 
that the work starting as a short story had got beyond the writer's 
control', so that what we have is neither a very considerable novel, 
in spite of its 420 pages, nor one of Conrad's best short stories. 

189 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

The presentment of Lord Jim in the first part of the book, the 
account of the inquiry and of the desertion of the Patna, the talk 
with the French lieutenant these are good Conrad. But the 
romance that follows, though plausibly offered as a continued 
exhibition of Jim's case, has no inevitability as that; nor does it 
develop or enrich the central interest, which consequently, eked 
out to provide the substance of a novel, comes to seem decidedly 
thin. 

The eking out is done mainly from the world oAlmayer's Folly, 
An Outcast of the Islands, and Tales of Unrest, those excessively 
adjectival studies in the Malayan exotic of Conrad's earliest vein. 
Those things, it had better be said here, though they are innocuous, 
and no doubt deserved for their originality of setting some respectful 
notice when they came out, will not be urged by judicious admirers 
of Conrad among his claims to classical rank. In their stylistic 
eloquence, which suggests a descent from Chateaubriand, their 
wearying exoticism, and their 'picturesque' human interest, they 
aren't easy to re-read. 

No, Lord Jim is neither the best of Conrad's novels, nor among 
the best of his short stories. If, on the other hoid, his most con- 
siderable work had had due recognition, it would be known as one 
of the great novels of the language. For Nostromo is most certainly 
that. And it complicates the account of Conrad's genius in that it 
doesn't answer to the formula arrived at above. He is not here the 
laureate of the Merchant Service, the British seaman happily doubled 
with the artist an artist whose 'outsideness' with regard to the 
Merchant Service is to be constated only in the essential degree of 
detachment involved in an adequately recording art. In Nostromo 
Conrad is openly and triumphantly the artist by me'tier, conscious of 
French initiation and of fellowship in craft with Flaubert. The 
French element so oddly apparent in his diction and idiom through- 
out his career (he learnt French before English) here reveals its full 
significance, being associated with so serious and severe a conception 
of the art of fiction. 

The controlling conception of the novelist's art is severe, but the 
novel is luxuriant in its magnificence: it is Conrad's supreme 
triumph in the evocation of exotic life and colour. Sulaco, standing 
beneath snow-clad Higuerota, with its population of Indians, mixed- 

190 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 

bloods, Hidalgos, Italians and English engineers, is brought before 
us in irresistible reality, along with the picturesque and murderous 
public drama of a South American State. This aspect of Conrad's 
genius in Nostromo has had full recognition ; indeed it could hardly 
be missed. What doesn't seem to be a commonplace is the way in 
which the whole book forms a rich and subtle but highly organized 
pattern. Every detail, character and incident has its significant 
bearing on the themes and motives of this. The magnificence re- 
ferred to above addresses the senses, or the sensuous imagination ; 
the pattern is one of moral significances. 

Nostromo has a main political, or public, theme, the relation be- 
tween moral idealism and 'material interests'. We see the Gould 
Concession become the rallying centre for all in Costaguana who 
desire peace and order the constitutionalists, the patriotic idealists, 
the Robin Hood of the oppressed, the representatives of the financial 
power of Europe and North America. The ironical end of the book 
shows us a Sulaco in which order and ideals have triumphed, Pro- 
gress forges ahead, and the all-powerful Concession has become the 
focus of hate for workers and the oppressed and a symbol of crushing 
materialism for idealists and defenders of the spirit. This public 
theme is presented in terms of a number of personal histories or, it 
might be said, private themes, each having a specific representative 
moral significance. 

The Gould Concession is in the first place the personal history of 
its inheritor, Charles Gould and the tragedy of his wife. He, like 
the other main characters, enacts a particular answer to the question 
that we feel working in the matter of the novel as a kind of inform- 
ing and organizing principle : what do men find to live for what 
kinds of motive force or radical attitude can give life meaning, 
direction, coherence ? Charles Gould finds his answer in the ideal 
purpose he identifies with the success of the Gould Concession : 

'What is wanted here is law, good faith, order, security. 
Anyone can declaim about these things, but I pin my faith to 
material interests. Only let the material interests once get a 
firm footing, and they are bound to impose the conditions on 
which alone they can continue to exist. That's how your 
money-making is justified here in the face of lawlessness and 
disorder. It is justified because the security which it demands 

191 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

must be shared with an oppressed people. A better justice will 
come afterwards. That's your ray of hope * 

Charles Go-ild's faith is parodied by his backer, the American 
financier Holroyd, whose interest in furthering a 'pure form of 
Christianity' and whose rhetorical faith in the manifest destiny of 
the United States cannot without irony be said to give ideal signi- 
ficance to his love of power. Charles himself is absorbed by the 
Concession that killed his father, and Emilia Gould, standing for 
personal relations and disinterested human svmpathy, looks on in 
starved loneliness at the redeeming triumph that is an ironical 
defeat of the spirit. 

Nostromo, picturesque indispensable to his patrons and popular 
hero, has no ideal purpose. He lives for reputation, 'to be well 
spoken of for his reflection in the eyes of others, ?nd when, 
tempted by the silver, he condemns himself to clandestine courses 
the mainspring of his life goes slack. His return to find the new 
lighthouse standing on the lonely rock hard by his secret, and his 
consequent betrayal into devious paths in love, are magnificent and 
characteristic triumphs of symbolism. His appropriately melo- 
dramatic death is caused by the silver -md occurs during a stealthy 
visit to it. 

Martin Decoud, intellectual and * dilettante in life', Nostromo's 
companion in that marvellously rendered night of the Gulf (it is 
one of the most vivid pieces of sensuous evocation in literature), also 
has no ideal purpose. The voice of sceptical intelligence, with 'no 
faith in anything except the truth of his own sensations', he enjoys 
conscious advantages, and has no difficulty in summing up Nos- 
tromo : 

'Decoud, incorrigible in his sceptisicm, reflected, not cynic- 
ally but with general satisfaction, that this man was made 
incorruptible by his enormous vanity, that finest form of ego- 
ism which can take on the aspect of every virtue/ 

He can also place Charles Gould, that 'sentimental Englishman' who 

'cannot exist without idealizing every simple desire or achieve- 
ment. He could not believe his own motives if he did not 
make them first a part of some fairy tale/ 

192 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 

Decoud himself, contemptuously free from the 'sentimentalism of 
the people that will rever do anything for the sake of their passion- 
ate desire, unless it comes to them clothed in the fair robes of an 
ideal', is frankly moved by his passion for Antonio Avellanos, and 
that alone, when he initiates the step through which the mine is 
saved and the aims of the patriots and idealists achieved. In this 
respect he provides a criticism of Charles Gould's subtle infidelity 
to his wife. Yet, even apart from his passion, he is not quite self- 
sufficient. At a moment when we might have expected him to be 
wholly engrossed in practical considerations we find him, signi- 
ficantly, illustrating an essential human trait : 

'all the objectless and necessary sincerity of one's innermost 
life trying to react upon the profound sympathies of another's 
existence.' 

For 

'In the most sceptical heart there lurks at such moments^ when 
the chances of existence are involved, a desire to leave a correct 
impression of the feelings, like a light by which the action mry 
be seen when personality is gone, gone where no light of in- 
vestigation can ever reach the truth which every death takes 
out of the world. Therefore, instead of looking for something 
to eat, or trying to snatch an hour or two of sleep, Decoud was 
filling the pages of a large pocket book with a letter to his 
sister.' 

Marooned on the Great Isabel (site of the subsequent lighthouse) 
he discovers th^f his self-sufficiency is indeed radically qualified : 

' Solitude from mere outward condition of existence becomes 
very swiftly a state of soul in which the affectations of irony and 
scepticism have no place. It takes possession of the mind, and 
drives forth the thought into the exile of utter unbelief. After 
three days of waiting for the sight of some human face, Decoud 
caught himself entertaining a doubt of his own individuality. 
It had merged into the world of cloud and water, of natural 
forces and forms of nature. . . . 

' ... He had recognized no other virtue than intelligence and 
had erected passions into duties. Both his intelligence and his 
passion were swallowed up easily in the great unbroken solitude 
of waiting without faith. 

N 193 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

He shoots himself. The whole episode is given in painful im- 
mediacy. 

Of all the characters the one nearest to self-sufficiency is Dr. 
Monygham, the, disliked and distrusted, and he, for all his sardonic 
scepticism about human nature, does hold to an ideal. His sceptic- 
ism is based on self-contempt, for his ideal (he is, in fact, a stronger 
and quite unequivocal Lord Jim) is one he has offended against ; it 
is an exacting ideal of conduct. He oilers a major contrast with 
Nostromo too, since his success in the desperate venture that saves 
the situation and rehabilitates him (in his own eyes he expects 
death) depends upon his having no reputation except for 'unsound- 
ness' and a shady past, and his being ready to be ill-spoken of and 
ill-thought of. His ideal, of course, isn't merely personal it is of 
the same order as the moral idea of the Merchant Service (he is 'an 
officer and a gentleman') : it owes its strength to a traditional and 
social sanction ; and he has an outer stay in His devotion to Mrs. 
Gould. 

Perhaps the completest antithesis to Decoud is Giorgio Viola, the 
serene old Garibaldino, also self-sufficient, or very near it he by 
reason of his libertarian idealism, the disinterestedness of which is 
above all question. He represents witn monumental massiveness 
the heroic age of the liberal faith of Songs before Sunrise and the 
religion of humanity, and so provides a contrasting background for 
the representatives of Progress in Costaguana politics (by the end of 
Nostromo the Marxists are on the scene). He is commandingly real ; 
but it is part of the irony of the book that the achievements he stands 
for should have produced the South America we are shown. 

Captain Mitchell represents the Merchant Service. He is sane 
and stable to the point of stupidity. His inability to realize that he, 
Joe Mitchell ('I am a public character, sir'), has anything to fear 
from a ridiculously menacing Dago whose ruffians have stolen his 
presentation pocket-chronometer actually cows the all-powerful 
Dago into restoring both chronometer and freedom : 

'The old sailor, with all his small weaknesses and absurdities, 
was constitutionally incapable of entertaining for any length of 
time a fear of his personal safety. It was not so much firmness 
of soul as the lack of a certain kind of imagination the kind 

194 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 

whose undue development caused intense suffering to Seftor 
Hirsch ; that sort of imagination which adds the blind terror of 
bodily suffering and of death, envisaged as an accident to the 
body alone, strictly to all the other apprehensions on which 
the sense of one's existence is based. Unfortunately, Captain 
Mitchell had not much penetration of any kind ; characteristic, 
illuminating trifles of expression, action, or movement, escaped 
him completely. He was too pompously and innocently aware 
of his own existence to observe that of others. For instance, he 
could not believe that Sotillo had been really afraid of him, and 
this simply because it would never have entered into his head to 
shoot anyone except in the most pressing case of self-defence. 
Anybody could see he was not a murdering kind of man, he 
reflected quite gravely/ 

These traits, it will be seen, qualify him for an essential function in 
the presentment of "he action, 1,0 which he is related in a way 
symbolized by his triumphant sense a sense uninformed by any 
comprehension of what is going forward of being at the centre of 
things, whence history is directed, as he sits, an habitue*, in Mrs. 
Gould's drawing-room. 

On the significance of the other characters there is no need to 
enlarge : Sefior Avellanos, the liberal idealist, who dies of dis- 
appointment, and the sheets of whose Fifty Years of Misrule are * fired 
out as wads for trabucos loaded with handfuls of type' during the 
'democratic* meute\ the fanatical Father Corbe&n; Hirsch, the 
embodiment of fear, and so on. Instead, a negative point had better 
be made by way of stressing the distinctive nature of the impressive- 
ness of Nostromo. The impressiveness is not a matter of any pro- 
fundity of search into human experience, or any explorative subtlety 
in the analysis of human behaviour. It is a matter rather of the firm 
and vivid concreteness with which the representative attitudes and 
motives are realized, and the rich economy of the pattern that plays 
them off against one another. To suggest, as Edward Garnett does 
in his introduction to Conrad's Prefaces, that perhaps this or that 
character wouldn't really have behaved just as he does in the book is 
misdirected criticism. The life-like convincingness of Conrad's 
persons (which is complete as we read, and undisturbed by properly 
critical reflection) doesn't entitle us to psychologize them as lives 

195 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

existing outside the book. I am reminded of certain remaxks of 
T. S. Eliot's : 

'A "living" character is not necessarily "true to life". It 
is a person whom we can see and hear, whether he be true or 
false to human nature as we know it. What the creator of 
character needs is not so mucn knowledge of motives as keen 
sensibility ; the dramatist need not understand people, but he 
must be exceptionally aware of them/ 

It is an Elizabethan dramatist Eliot has in tront of him ; and it 
strikes me that there is something that recalls the strength of Eliza- 
bethan drama about the art ofNostromo something Shakespearean, 
in fact. The keen sensibility and the exceptional awareness are 
apparent in the vividness with which we see and hear Conrad's 
persons, and there is nothing about them that, on reflection, we find 
untrue to human nature as we know it. But the seeing and hearing 
is adequate understanding : they are present to us and are plainly 
wh?t they are ; and to try, by way of appreciation or criticism, to 
go behind that is to misunderstand what the book offers us. There 
is plainly no room in Nostromo for the kind of illustrated psychology 
that many critics think they have a right to demand of a novelist 
(and of Shakespeare). Consider the number of personal centres of 
moral interest, and the variety of themes. Consider the number of 
vivid dramatic scenes and episodes. Consider the different strands 
that go to the totality of the action. There is the private tragedy of 
the Goulds ; there is Nostromo's history, involving that of the 
Viola family ; there is the story of Decoud and Antonia ; there is 
that of Dr. Monygham and his self-rehabilitation ; and all these and 
so much else are subsumed in the public historical drama the study, 
concretely rendered, of the play of moral and material forces, 
political and personal motives, in the founding of die Occidental 
Republic. 

Clearly, Conrad's study of motives, and of the relation between 
the material and the spiritual, doesn't depend for its impressiveness 
on any sustained analytic exhibition of the inner complexities of the 
individual psyche. The impressiveness lies in the vivid reality of 
the things we are made to see and hear, and the significance they 
get from their relations in a highly organized and vividly realized 

196 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 

whole. It lies in such effects as that of the presence of Decoud and 
Nostromo in the lighter as it drifts with its load of silver and of 
Fear (personified by the stowaway Hirsch) through the black night 
of the Gulf ; and that of the unexpected nocturnal encounter be- 
tween Nostromo and Dr. Monygham, two sharply contrasted con- 
sciousnesses, in the vast deserted Custom House, and their discovery 
that the Shapeless high-shouldered shadow of somebody standing 
still, with lowered head' seen on the wall through a doorway, is 
thrown by the hanging body of the tortured Hirsch. We have it 
characteristically when Charles Gould, going out from his interview 
(consummate satiric comedy) with Pedrito Montero, would-be Due 
de Morny to the new Napoleon, runs into the 'constitutionalist* 
deputation he has refused to support ('The acceptance of accom- 
plished facts may save yet the precious vestiges of parliamentary 
institutions') : 

' Charles Gould on going out passed his hand over his fore- 
head as if to disperse the mists of an oppressive dream, whose 
grotesque extravagance leaves behind a subtle sense of bodily 
danger and intellectual decay. In the passages and on the stair- 
cases of the old palace Montero *s troopers lounged about insol- 
ently, smoking and making way for no one ; the clanking of 
sabres and spurs resounded all over the building. Three silent 
groups of civilians in severe black waited in the main gallery, 
formal and helpless ; a little huddled up, each keeping apart 
from the others, as if in the exercise of a public duty they nad 
been overcome by a desire to shun the notice of every eye. 
These were the deputations waiting for their audience. The 
one from the Provincial Assembly, more restless and uneasy in 
its corporate expression, was overtopped by the big face of Don 
Juste Lopez, soft and white, with prominent eyelids and 
wreathed in impenetrable solemnity as if in a dense cloud. The 
President of the Provincial Assembly, coming bravely to save 
the last shred of parliamentary institutions (on the English 
model), averted his eyes from the Administrador of the San 
Tom mine as a dignified rebuke of his little faith in that only 
saving principle/ 

Charles Gould's quiet unyieldingness in the face of Pedrito's 
threats and blandishments has already invested him for the moment 

197 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

with a larger measure of our sympathy than he in general commands. 
The brush with the deputation confirms this eftect, while at the same 
time reinforcing dramatically that pattern of political significance 
which has a major part in Nostromo a book that was written, we 
remind ourselves in some wonder, noting the topicality of its 
themes, analysis and illustrations, in the reign of Edward VII. 

Again, we have the symbolic pregnancy of Conrad's dramatic 
method in such a representative touch as this (the context is the 
flight of aristocrats and adherents of 'law and order' to the pro- 
tection of the 'master of the Campo') : 

'The emissary of Hernandez spurred his horse close up. 

'"Has not the master of the mine any message to send the 
master of the Campo ?" 

'The truth of the comparison struck Charles Gould heavily. 
In his determined purpose he held the mine and the indomitable 
bandit held the Campo by the same precarious tenure. They 
were equals before the lawlessness of the land. It was impos- 
sible to disentangle one's activities from its debasing contacts/ 

There is the adjective proposes itself at this point something 
rhetorical, in a wholly laudatory sense, about Conrad's art in 
Nostromo. One might add, by way of insisting further on the 
Elizabethan in it, that it has a certain robust vigour of melodrama. 
The melodrama, of course, is completely controlled to the pattern 
of moral significance. Consider, for instance, how the climax of the 
public drama is given us : it is a thrilling nick-of-time peripeteia, 
but it is given in retrospect through the pompous showmanship and 
uncomprehending importance of Captain Mitchell ('Fussy Joe'). 
The triumphs of the Progress he hymns are already assured and 
commonplace, and already (a few pages on) Dr. Monygham is 
asking : 

'"Do you think that now the mine would march upon the 
town to save their Seftor Administrador ? Do you think 
that? 1 " 

He has just pronounced : 

"'There is no peace and no rest in the development of 
material interests. They have their law, and their justice. But 
it is founded on expediency, and it is inhuman ; it is without 

198 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 

rectitude, without the continuity and the force that can be 
found only in a moral principle"/ 

This is only one instance of that subtle play of Jie order of pre- 
sentment against the time-order which the reader finds himself 
admiring in the book as a whole subtle, yet, once taken stock of, 
appreciated as inevitable. It is characteristic of Conrad's method, to 
take another instance, that we should have seen, in a prospective 
glimpse given us at the very opening of the book, the pitiable 
dlbacle of the Riblerist dictatorship of 'reform' before we are 
invited to contemplate the hopes and enthusiasms of its supporters 
at the inauguration. 

It will probably be expected, after so much insistence on the 
moral pattern of Nostromo, that something will be said about the 
total significance. What, as the upshot of this exhibition of hurftan 
motive and attitude, do we feel Conrad himself to endorse ? What 
are his positives ? It is easier to say what he rejects or criticizes. 
About the judgment on Decoud's scepticism we can have no doubt. 
And even Decoud concedes that the illusions 'those Englishmen* 
live on 'somehow or other help them to get a firm hold of the 
substance'. To this concession we can relate the observations of 
the engineer-in-chief : 

'"Upon my word, doctor, things seem to be worth nothing 
by what they are in themselves. I begin to believe that the only 
solid thing about them is the spiritual value which everyone 
discovers in his own form of activity " 

'"Bah!" interrupted the doctor.' 

The engineer has in mind Holroyd the millionaire and his pre- 
occupation with a 'pure form of Christianity'. But although Dr. 
Monygham, himself devoted to a moral idea, is as such clearly not 
disapproved by the author, he is made to seem Quixotic, and it is 
difficult to feel that the ironic light in which the 'spiritual values' 
discovered by the other main characters in their forms of activity are 
shown is less essentially dissociating than the irony focussed upon 
Holroyd. In fact, though Decoud is so decisively dealt with in the 
action, he remains at the centre pf the book, in the sense that his 
consciousness seems to permeate it, .even to dominate it. That 
consciousness is clearly very closely related to the author's own 

199 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

personal timbre, that which becomes representable in quotation in 
such characteristic sardonic touches as : 

'They had stopped near the cage. The parrot, catching the 
sound of a word belonging to his vocabulary, was moved to 
interfere. Parrots are very human. 

'"Viva Costaguana !" he shrieked. . . / 

It is not a question of a 'philosophy* ; Conrad cannot be said 
to have one. He is not one of those writers who clear up their 
fundamental attitudes for themselves in such a way that we may 
reasonably, in talking of them, use that portentous term. He does 
believe intensely, as a matter of concrete experience, in the kind of 
human achievement represented by the Merchant Service tradition, 
discipline and moral ideal ; but he has also a strong sense, not only 
of the frailty, but of the absurdity or unreality, in relation to the 
surrounding and underlying gulfs, of such achievement, a sense so 
strong that it often seems very close to Decoud's radical scepticism, 
whHi is, in the account of those last days, rendered with such 
significant power. In fact, Decoud may be said to have had a 
considerable part in the writing ofNostromo ; or one might say that 
Nostromo was written by a Decoud who wasn't a complacent dilet- 
tante, but was positively drawn towards those capable of 'investing 
their activities with spiritual value' Monygham, Giorgio Viola, 
Seflor Avellanos, Charles Gould. 

At any rate, for all the rich variety of the interest and the tightness 
of the pattern, the reverberation ofNostromo has something hollow 
about it ; with the colour and life there is a suggestion of a certain 
emptiness. And for explanation it is perhaps enough to point to 
this reflection of Mrs. Gould's : 

'It had come into her mind that for life to be large and full, 
it must contain the care of the past and of the future in every 
passing moment of the present. 

That kind of self-sufficient day-to-dayness of living Conrad can 
convey, when writing from within the Merchant Service, where 
clearly he has known it. We are made aware of hostile natural 
forces threatening his seamen with extinction, but not of meta- 
physical gulfs opening under life and consciousness: reality on 

200 



MINOR WORKS AND NOSTROMO 

board ship is domestic, assured and substantial. 'That feeling of 
life-emptiness which had made me so restless for the last few 
months', says the young captain of The Shadow-Line, entering on 
his new command, 'lost its bitter plausibility, its evil influence'. 
For life in the Merchant Service there is no equivalent in Nostromo 
no intimate sense conveyed of the day-by-day continuities of 
social living. And though we are given a confidential account of 
what lies behind Dr. Monygham's sardonic face, yet on the whole 
we see the characters from the outside, and only as they belong to 
the ironic pattern figures in the futilities of a public drama, against 
a dwarfing background of mountain and gulf. 

This kind of vision, this sense of life, corresponds, there can be no 
doubt, to something radical in Conrad. All his readers must have 
noticed how recurrent and important the theme of isolation is in his 
work. And they must have noticed too the close relation between 
the Decoud consciousness and the sympathetic hero of Victory, the 
English-speaking Swede, Axel Heyst. 



(ii) 'Victory,' 'The Secret Agent/ f Under Western 
Eyes/ and 'Chance* 

Heyst, 'uprooted' (his own word) and unattached, formed by a 
philosophically disillusioned father, 

'in solitude and silence had been used to think clearly and 
sometimes even profoundly, seeing life outside the flattering 
delusion of everlasting hope, of conventional self-deception, of 
an ever-expected happiness/ 

Having, in spite of himself, contracted a tie (the novel deals with 
his unwilling involvements and their consequences), he finds that 
'that human being, so near and still so strange, gave him a greater 
sense of his own reality than he had ever known in all his life*. 
Victory is a study of Heyst's case ; he is indisputably at the centre of 
the book. While he is wholly sympathetic in his scepticism, as 
Decoud is not, that scepticism presents itself as specifically condi- 
tioned, and, in the upshot of the action, it is renounced. A certain 
ambiguity does all the same attend it : Heyst's irony is dramatically 

201 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

rendered, yet it merges into .he author's own an intimate Delation 
becomes at times unmistakable : 

'The young man learned to reflect, which is a destructive 
process, a reckoning of the cost. It is not the clear-sighted who 
rule the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a 
blessed, warm mental fog, which the pitiless cold blast of the 
father's analysis had blown away from the son.' 

That is the author's own voice, and the tone is characteristic. Of 
Schomberg's infatuation we are told, a page later, by a Conrad 
whose relation to Heyst's father is plain : 

'Forty-five is the age of recklessness for many men, as if in 
defiance of the decay and death waiting with open arms in the 
sinister valley at the bottom of the inevitable hill. For every 
age is fed on illusions, lest men should renounce life early and 
the human race come to an end.' 

Schomberg is in every way unadmirable : what we recognize in 
thh tone is the Heyst-Mac Whirr or Decoud-Mitchell antithesis an 
antithesis that is implicit in the characteristic Conradian irony. 

However, Conrad in Victory doesn't rest at that antithesis. In- 
telligence and fine consciousness in Heyst are represented as very 
specially conditioned ; perverted, in fact, by the influence of a 
father who is a kind of genius of disillusion, and the 'victory* is a 
victory over scepticism, a victory of life. The tragic irony that 
makes it come too late and identifies it with death doesn't make it 
less a victory ; it is unequivocal : 

'"Ah, Davidson, woe to the man whose heart has not 
learned while young to hope, to love and to put its trust in 
life".' 

The process, a progressive self-discovery through relations with 
others, by which Heyst arrives here is rendered with poignant 
insight and convincing subtlety. To avoid the indignities, follies 
and illusions of involvement in life he has prescribed for himself an 
aloof self-sufficiency : 

'Heyst was not conscious of either friends or of enemies. 
It was the essence of his life to be a solitary achievement, accom- 
plished not by hermit-like withdrawal with its silence and 

202 



VICTORY 

immobility, but by a system of restless wandering, by the 
detachment of an impermanent dweller amongst changing 
scenes. In this scheme he had perceived the means of passing 
through life without suffering and almost withouc a single care 
in the world invulnerable because elusive !' 

But the wisdom of this scheme turns out to be inadequate, and life 
convicts Heyst of lack of self-knowledge. With his intelligence and 
moral fastidiousness goes a sensitive quickness of sympathy : 

'No decent feeling was ever scorned by Heyst/ 

That is the author's way of putting it. But Heyst is precluded from 
realizing the significance of this part of his make-up by habit, the 
persisting influence of his father, which may be represented by this : 

'"You still believe in something, then," he said in a clear 
voice, which had been growing feebler of late. "You believe 
in flesh and blood, perhaps? A full and equable contempt 
would soon do away with that too. But since you have not 
attained to it, I advise you to cultivate that form of contempt 
which is called pity".' 

Moved by an irresistible sympathetic impulse that is of the essence 
of the self-respect that qualifies him for * contempt', Heyst comes to 
the rescue of the cornered Morrison, and the history it is at first a 
comedy of his unwilling involvement begins. Morrison, himself 
a quixotically sensitive and generous man (an admirable piece of 
Conradian characterization, realized in a physical presence with 
Conrad's Dickensian vividness 'He was tall and lantern-jawed 
and clean-shaven, and looked like a barrister who had thrown his 
wig to the dogs'), is overcome with the thought of his inability to 
repay Heyst : 

'Poor Morrison actually laid his head on the cabin table, and 
remained in that crushed attitude while Heyst talked to him 
soothingly with the utmost courtesy. The Swede was as much 
distressed as Morrison, for he understood the other's feelings 
perfectly. No decent feeling was ever scorned by Heyst. But 
he was incapable of outward cordiality of manner, and he felt 
acutely his defeat. Consummate politeness is not the right 
tonic for an emotional collapse. They must have had, both of 
them, a fairly painful time of it in the cabin of the brig/ 

203 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

The tragi-comedy of their regions is given as foreshortenec, with 
admirable economy. When, early in the book, the second stage of 
Heyst's re-education opens we find him among the forlorn vestiges 
of the Tropical Coal Belt Company, the optimistic commercial 
enterprise that his combined generosity, indifference, and inexperi- 
ence of mutuality in personal Delations have made him unable to 
resist being drawn into. He is troubled with a sense of remorse over 
Morrison's death, which was the merest matter of ill-chance, and 
this sense associates intimately with a hurt feeling of having betrayed 
nis own life, ' which ought to have been a master-piece of aloofness'. 
In fact, his long-established equilibrium has been permanently upset ; 
his uneasiness is an obscure recognition of radical discrepancies be- 
tween his 'scheme' and the necessities of his own nature. Having 
resolved to keep himself out of reach of further involvements, he 
discovers with surprise that he now feels lonely : 

'Where could he have gone to after all these years ? Not a 
single soul belonging to him lived anywhere on earth. Of this 
fp ct no t such a remote one, after all he had only lately become 
aware ; for it is failure that makes a man enter into himself and 
reckon up his resources. And though he had made up his mind 
to retire from the world in hermit fashion, yet he was irration- 
ally moved by this sense of loneliness which had come to him 
in the hour of renunciation. It hurt him. Nothing is more 
painful than the shock of contradictions that lacerate our in- 
telligence and our feelings.' 

It is in this state that Heyst, making a winding-up call at Soura- 
baya, finds himself exposed once more to a claim on his humanity. 
The inevitability of the plunge that he once more take:, this time 
before our eyes, is brought poignantly home to us. The whole 
episode, with its circumstances and setting, is rendered in irresistible 
immediacy : the torrid desolation of the hotel, the malicious asin- 
inity of the manly bearded Schomberg, hotel-keeper and Officer of 
the Reserve, the limp subjection of his poor charmless rag of a wife, 
the squalidly sinister Zangiacomos, with their travelling concert- 
party, and die hopeless isolation of the girl-member who has the 
ill-luck to touch offSchomberg's inflamedimportunities the present 
reality of all this gives us at the same time the contained sensitiveness 
and aloof distinction of Heyst who registers it all, and his action 

204 



VICTORY 

comes as the one possible issue of the pressures evoked. He carries 
die girl off to the island that was to have been his hermitage. 

'He had no illusions about her, but his sceptical mind was 
dominated by his heart/ 

That is the account of his relations with her that he gives himself 
at the outset. The development of those relations and of his sense 
of them is the process of self-discovery. In spite of the limiting 
suggestion of the account just quoted, the tenderness he feels towards 
die girl carries with ic, we have seen, 'a greater sense of his own 
reality than he had ever known in all his life'. And on this follows 
a discovery that he is not so self-sufficient morally as he had sup- 
posed. To the delicately solicitous Davidson he has said : 

'"I took this course of signalling to you, because to preserve 
appearances might be of the utmost importance. Not to me, 
of course. I don't care what people may say, and of course no 
one can hurt me. I suppose I have done a certain amount of 
harm, since I allowed myself to be tempted into action. It 
seemed innocent enough, but all action is bound to be harmful. 
It is devilish. That is why the world is evil upon the whole. 
But I have done with it ! I shall never lift a little finger again". ' 

He is to discover, not only that he has not done with the world and 
with action, but that he cares so much what the world may say as to 
limit his capacity for action when the urgent need confronts him. 
Unarmed, and menaced by the sinister intruders upon the island, 
he deliberates : 

' "But what about that crowbar ? Suppose I had it ! Could 
I stand in ambush at the side of the door this door and 
smash the first protruding head. . . . ? Could I ? On suspicion, 
without compunction, with a firm and determined purpose ? 
No, it is not in me. . . ."' 

Then: 

'"Do you know what the world would say 2" 

'"It would say that I that Swede after luring my friend 

and partner to his death from mere greed of money, have 

murdered those unoffending shipwrecked strangers from mere 

funk. That would be the story whispered perhaps shouted 

205 



JOSEPH CONRAD 
certainly spread out, and believed and believed, my Hear 

T l 

Lena! 

That is the effect on Heyst or having learnt earlier from Lena, 
the girl, Schomberg's slanderous account of the death of Morrison. 
True, he says that the ruthless action ('And who knows if it isn't 
really my duty ?') isn't 'in' him ; but that he should associate his 
own scruple and inhibition with what people might say and believe 
is significant of the development he is undergoing. 

Melodramatic as is the action of the latter nart of the book (and 
so seen and this is true of the whole book as to invite the cinema- 
tographer), the focus of interest rests upon the subtleties of Heyst's 
relations with Lena. He finds himself committed to the establish- 
ment of a mutuality that is alien to the habit of a life-time a habit 
concretely present in his voice and speech, which we heir as if we 
knew him : 

'Heyst's tone was light, with the flavour of playfulness which 
seasoned all his speeches and seemed to be of the very essence 
of his thought.' 

This tone and manner baffle and alarm the girl ; but Heyst is the 
prisoner of his habit, and his efforts to escape constitute a poignant 
comedy. Attempting intimacy, he tells her about Morrison (this is 
before her shattering disclosure of Schomberg's account) : 

'"You saved a man for fun is that what you mean ? Just 
for fun?" 

'"Why this tone of suspicion e " remonstrated Heyst. "I 
suppose the sight of this particular distress was disagreeable to 
me. What you call fun came afterwards, when it dawned on 
me that I was for him a walking, breathing, incarnate proof of 
the efficacy of prayer. I was a little fascinated by it and then, 
could I have argued with him ? You don't argue against such 
evidence, and besides, it would have looked as if I wanted to 
claim the merit. Already his gratitude was simply frightful. 
Funny position, wasn't it ? The boredom came later, when we 
lived together on board his ship. I had, in a moment of 
inadvertence, created for myself a tie. How to define it pre- 
cisely I don't know. One gets attached in a way to people one 
has done something for. But is that friendship ? I am not sure 

206 



FICTOHY 

what it was. I only know that he w : io forms a tie is lost. The 
germ of corruption has entered into his soul"/ 

In so far as she understands, this can serve only to heighten Lena's 
painful sense of insecurity her doubt regarding his side of their 
relations with one another : he is a gentleman, he acted from pity 
on what, then, can she build ? His difficulty is not merely one of 
finding a suitable mode of expression ; that he can talk like this in 
attempting intimacy gives us a measure of his inability to keep her 
realized as a concrete individual sentience to be communicated with 
he is the old self-communing if sympathetic Heyst of * kindness 
and scorn' : 

'"I don't even understand what I have done or left undone 
to distress you like this." 

'He stopped, struck afresh by the physical and moral sense 
of the imperfection of their relations a sense which made him 
desire her constant nearness, before his eyes, under his hand, 
and which, when she was out of his sight, made her so vague, 
so illusive and illusory, a promise that could not be embraced 
and held. 

'"No ! I don't see clearly what you mean. Is your mind 
turned towards the future ?", he interpellated her with marked 
playfulness, because he was ashamed to let such a word pass 
his lips. But all his cherished negatives were falling from him 
one by one.' 

Upon this situation supervenes, as if precipitated by his 'Nothing 
can break in on us here ', the sinister invasion the visit of the world, 
represented by the languid Jones, his 'secretary' Ricardo and the 
anthropoid follower : 

"'Here they are, the envoys of the outer world. Here they 
are before you evil intelligence, instinctive savagery, arm in 
arm. The brute force is at the back".' 

If doubts should arise about the melodramatic boldness of this art 
(it is deliberately conceived 

"'No! Let it come!" Ricardo said viciously [of the 
thunderstorm that coincides with the dramatic crisis]. "I am 
in the humour for it ! " '), 

it seems in place to refer back to considerations thrown out above 

207 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

regarding the 'Elizabethan' qualities of Conrad's art in Ncrtromo. 
It is true that Victory, which aoesn't pretend to the weight and scope 
ofNostromo, has nothing corresponding to its packed and patterned 
structure of sig.iificances. Heyst is studied at length ; yet it may be 
argued that, convincing as he is, the extreme case that he is offered 
as being really amounts to a kind of Morality representation of the 
human potentialities he embodies, so that he is fittingly brought up 
against these embodiments of counter-potentialities. (Of Ricardo 
we are told that to Lena 'He was the embodied evil of the world'.) 
And they too are convincing (except for Ricardo's love-talk, and 
a speech of Jones's) ; they belong to that aspect of Conrad's art 
which makes us think of Dickens a Dickens qualified by a quite 
un-Dickensian maturity : they exist in strict subservience to Con- 
rad's quite un-Dickensian theme and to their function, which is to 
precipitate Heyst's predicament to an issue in a conclusive action. 
At the worst we might say about uie resolution thus brought about 
that it hasn't the finer inevitability that which is never lacking in 
the incomparably more complex and ambitious Nostromo : it is 
possible to reflect, on the one hand, that Heyst had shocking bad 
luck in the coincidence of Jones and Ricardo with Schomberg ; and, 
on the other, that the antithesis of lust in Ricardo and woman- 
loathing in Jones on which the denouement depends has no irresistible 
significance in relation to Conrad's main theme. 

But in any case the upshot of the action is to bring that theme to 
a poignant crystallization. Lena, mortally wounded (though un- 
aware of it), but in triumphant possession of the dagger of which 
she has disarmed Ricardo, dies 'convinced of the reality of her 
victory over death*. Her relation with Heyst, whom she doesn't 
understand and who doesn't understand her, has been enough to 
nerve her for her dealings with the killer \ 'she was no longer alone 
now ... she was no longer deprived of moral support.' Heyst, who 
knows her so little that he can immediately before the end assume 
her to have betrayed him, seduced by Ricardo's male fascinations, 
had nevertheless got from his relation with her that new sense of 
reality, and now. after her death, makes to Davidson his tragic 
pronouncement in favour of trust in life, before firing the bungalow 
and himself dying in the flames. It is an ironical victory for life, 
but unequivocally a victory. 

208 



THE SECRET AGENT 

The characteristic Conradian sensibility is that of the creator of 
Heyst ; that of the writer so intimately experienced in the strains 
and starvations of the isolated consciousness, and so deeply aware 
of the sense in which reality is social, something established and 
sustained in a kind of collaboration ('I have lived too long within 
myself/ says Heyst, 'watching the mere shadows and shades of 
life'). And complementary to Heyst, we realize, are Morrison and 
Davidson, upright, sensitive and humane individuals, in whom 
seems to be present a whole background of routine sanity and 
decency * we sailors', the feeling is ; for Conrad is as much and as 
significantly there as in Heyst. It is this background (which is rein- 
forced, in his own way, by Wang, the Chinaman) which makes the 
intention of the 'victory* unequivocal. The voice that winds up 
the story in a brief account of the tragic end is Davidson's 
Davidson's 'placid voice'. 

If a work of so deridedly a Lsser order than Nostromo has been 
given what may seem a disproportionate amount of space, that is 
because of the relation of Heyst to Decoud and to the distinctive 
tone of the great masterpiece, and the consequent advantage afforded 
the critic for the analysis of Conrad's sensibility. Victory is, at the 
same time, among those of Conrad's works which deserve to be 
current as representing his claim to ckssical standing ; and of the 
novels (as distinguished from nouvelks and tales) in that class it is 
the one that answers most nearly to the stock notion of his genius 
though even Victory is neither about the Malayan jungle nor 
about the sea. 

The Secret Agent, the one I come to next (not chronologically, 
of course it appeared in 1907, and Victory in 1915), is much more 
indubitably a classic and a masterpiece, and it doesn't answer to the 
notion at all which is perhaps why it appears to have had nothing 
like due recognition. If we call it an ironic novel, it is with the 
same intention of the adjective as when Jonathan Wild is called an 
ironic novel. To note this is to be reminded, with a fresh shock, 
of the inertia of conventional valuation that makes Jonathan Wild 
a masterpiece and the classic of its genre. Foi? The Secret Agent is 
truly classical in its maturity of attitude and the consummateness 
of the art in which this finds expression ; in the contrast there is 
nothing for it but to see Jonathan Wild us the clumsy piece of 
o 209 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

hobbledehoy dom, artistic ai d intellectual, that it is. The irony of 
The Secret Agent is not a matter of an insistent and obvious * signi- 
ficance' of tone, or the endless repetition of a simple formula. The 
tone is truly rubtle subtle with the subtlety of the theme ; and 
the theme develops itself in a complex organic structure. The effect 
depends upon an interplay of contrasting moral perspectives, and 
the rich economy of the pattern they make relates The Secret Agent 
to Nostromo : the two works, for all the great differences between 
them in range and temper, are triumphs of the same art the aim of 
The Secret Agent, of course, confmes the range, and the kind of irony 
involves a limiting detachment (we don't look for the secrets of 
Conrad's soul in The Secret Agent). 

The matter, the 'story', is that of a thriller terrorist conclaves, 
embassy machinations, bomb-outrage, detection, murder, suicide ; 
and to make, in treating such matter with all the refinements of his 
craft, a sophisticated moral intere. t the controlling principle is, we 
recognize, characteristic Conrad. His irony bears on the egocentric 
naiveties of moral conviction, the conventionality of conventional 
moral attitudes, and the obtuse assurance with which habit and self- 
interest assert absolute rights and wrongs. The pattern of the book 
is contrived to make us feel the different actors or lives as insulated 
currents of feeling and purpose insulated, but committed to co- 
existence and interaction in what they don't question to be a com- 
mon world, and sometimes making disconcerting contacts through 
the insulation. 

The Verlocs, husband and wife, take their mutual insulation so 
for granted as to be mainly unconscious of it. What Mr. Verloc 
is becomes plain to us very early on. We see him leaving behind 
him the shop, fly-staled and dusty, with its display of revolutionary 
literature and pornographic goods, and making his way westward 
towards the Embassy of a Foreign Power. Conrad's London bears 
something of the same kind of relation to Dickens as Henry James's 
does in The Princess Casamassima. The direct influence of Dickens 
is unmistakable in certain minor lapses into facetious humour (see, 
for instance, in the account of Verloc's walk, the bit about No. i 
Chesham Square) from the characteristic astringent dryness. There 
is also, later, a major instance of obvious and unfortunate indebted- 
ness to Dickens in the fantastic slow-motion macabre of the cab- 

210 



THE SECRET AGENT 

journey to the almshoase. But The S cret Agent (unlike The Princess 
Casamassima) is one of the author's most successful works ; its 
strength is something so utterly outside Dickens's compass as to 
have enabled Conrad to be influenced by him to pi rely Conradian 
ends. And the essential relation to Dickens, it should be plain, is 
not a matter of being influenced for good or ill, but lies in that 
energy of vision and characterization which, we have seen, is some- 
times as apt to make us say 'Shakespearean* as 'Dickensian*. 

We have it in the interview between Verloc and Mr. Vladimir, 
First Secretary of the Embassy. The dialogue and this is so 
throughout the book, for all the uncertainty about points of English 
usage apparent on practically every page of Conrad to the end is 
consummate in its blend of inevitable naturalness with strict econ- 
omy of relevance, and the whole is so dramatically realized that we 
are hardly aware of shifts to description, stage directions or reported 
thought : it all seems to be enaued before us. 

'In the pause Mr. Vladimir formulated in his mind a series 
of disparaging remarks concerning Mr. Verloc's face and figure. 
The fellow was unexpectedly vulgar, heavy and impudently 
unintelligent. He Iooke4 uncommonly like a master plumber 
come to present his bill. The first Secretary of the Embassy, 
from his occasional excursions into the field of American 
humour, had formed a special notion of that class of mechanic 
as the embodiment of fraudulent laziness and incompetency/ 

Mr. Valdimir himself we see with a vision heightened by Verloc's 
consternation and disgust : 

'This anger was complicated by incredulity. And suddenly 
it dawned upon him that all this was an elaborate joke. Mr. 
Vladimir exhibited his white teeth in a smile, with dimples on 
his round, full face posed with a complacent inclination above 
the bristling bow of his neck-tie. The favourite of intelligent 
society women had assumed his drawing-room attitude accom- 
panying the delivery of delicate witticisms. Sitting well for- 
ward, his white hand upraised, he seemed to hold delicately 

between his thumb and forefinger the subtlety of his suggestion.* 

J 

What he has enjoined upon Verloc, not as a joke but seriously, as 

a means of waking up the English police to a sense of their European 
responsibilities, is a bomb-attack upon Greenwich Observatory. 

211 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

Verloc, threatened in Irs ro ,tine comfort and indolence, fc els not 
only helpless anger but a sense of moral outrage too : 

'"It will cost money," Mr. Verloc said, by a sort of instinct. 

'"That cock won't fight," Mr. Vladimir retorted, with an 
amazingly genuine English accent. "You'll get your screw 
every month, and no more till something happens. And if 
nothing happens very soon you won't get even that. What's 
your ostensible occupation? What are you supposed to 
live by?" 

'"I keep a shop," answered Mr. Verloc. 

'"A shop ! What sort of shop ?" 

'"Stationery, newspapers. My wife " 

'"Your what?" interrupted Mr. Vladimir in his guttural 
Central Asian tones. 

"'My wife," Mr. Verloc raised his husky voice slightly. "I 
am married." 

'"That be damned for a yarn," exclaimed the other in 
unfeigned astonishment. "Married! And you a professed 
anarchist, too ! What is this confounded nonsense ? But I 
suppose it's merely a matter of speaking. Anarchists don't 
marry. It's well known. They can't. It world be apostasy". ' 

Actually Verloc is most respectably married. It is a triumph of 
the irony that we not only see him as a sympathetic character com- 
pared with Mr. Vladimir, but find ourselves on the point of saying 
that he is in all essentials an ordinary respectable citizen, concerned 
like any other to maintain himself and his wife in security and 
comfort : the shop, with its squalid trade and anarchistic frequenta- 
tion, and the complicated treacheries of his profession, we see with 
him as matters of habit and routine, means to the end. In the final 
scene with his wife, when he tries to make her understand the full 
enormity of Mr. Vladimir's conduct, he says with righteous ex- 
asperation and with all the unction of an outraged moral sense : 

'"There isn't a murdering plot for the last eleven years that 
I haven't had my finger in at the risk of my life. There's scores 
of these revolutionaries I've sent off, with their bombs in their 
blamed pocket:, to get themselves caught on the frontier. The 
old Baron knew what I was worth to his country. And here 
suddenly a swine conies along an ignorant, overbearing 



swine 

212 



THE SECRET AGENT 

Wh it Mrs. Verloc is comes out onl; bit by bit the perfection of 
the structure of the book shows itself aotably in the way in which 
we are put in possession of the necessary knowledge about her at the 
right time. We see her serving in the shop with intimidating 
aplomb, taking the frequentations of the revolutionists as a matter 
of course, and, placid good wife to i good husband, being tactfully 
solicitous about his health and comfort. His business, she knows, 
entails these and other associates, late absences from home, and 
occasional trips to the Continent ; further, she doesn't inquire : 

'Mrs. Verloc wasted no portion of this transient life in seek- 
ing for fundamental information. This is a sort of economy 
having all the appearances and some of the advantages of 
prudence. Obviously it may be good for one not to know too 
much. And such a view accords very well with constitutional 
indolence.' 

Her mother, who lives with them, and who isn't given to asking 
questions either, sometimes wonders why Winnie, an attractive girl, 
married Mr. Verloc. It was, as a matter of fact, for the very reason 
that leads the mother to withdraw to an almshouse, there to spend 
in loneliness the remainder of her life : concern for the future of 
Stevie, the half-witted younger brother. One of the most poignant 
touches of irony in the book is when Winnie says : 

'"That poor boy will miss you something cruel. I wish 
you had thought a little of that, mother".' 

They had both, as a matter of fact, sacrificed themselves for 
Stevie. And Winnie now, with concealed anxiety, sets to work to 
impress Verloc with Stevie's devotion to him. Verloc is lost in the 
obsessing dreads and perplexities associated with the face of Mr. 
Vladimir ; but, with Stevie's existence thus forced on his notice, he 
realizes Stevie's useful potentialities and is inspired with a timely 
idea. The result is the violent disintegration of Stevie when he 
stumbles with the bomb in Greenwich Park, and the immediate 
bringing home of the responsibility to Verloc by reason of the label, 
discovered among the rags and fragments by the police, that Winnie 
has sewn under the collar of Stevie's overcoat in case he should get 
lost. 

213 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

There follows one of the E .ost astonishing triumphs of geuius in 
fiction, the final scene betwe *n Verloc and his wife. To put it in 
this way, however, is misleading, since the effect of the scene 
depends upon what comes before depends upon the cunning 
organization of the whole book. We have been put in a position in 
which we can't fail to realize that, by the sudden knowledge of the 
death into which Verloc had led Stevie (' might be father and son', 
she had fondly remarked, seeing them go off together), Winnie's 
'moral nature had been subjected to a shock of which, in the 
physical order, the most violent earthquake of history could only 
be a faint and languid rendering'. And we appreciate to the full 
the moral insulation that has kept the Verlocs, in their decent 
marital domesticity, strangers to each other, 

'"Do be reasonable, Winnie. What would it have been if 
you had lost me ! " ' 

Here we have the assumption on which Verloc, with magnani- 
mous restraint (for did she not, without telling him, sew in that 
label which has done the mischief?), undertakes to help his wife to 
achieve a more reasonable attitude towards the misadventure. 

'In his affairs of the heart Mr. Verloc had always been care- 
lessly generous, yet always with no other idea than that of being 
loved for himself. Upon this matter, his ethical notions being 
in agreement with his vanity, he was completely incorrigible. 
That this should be so in the case of his virtuous and legal con- 
nection he was perfectly certain. He had grown older, fatter, 
heavier, in the belief that he lacked no fascinadon for being 
loved for his own sake.' 

It is extraordinary ironic comedy ; the tension is deadly and is 
to end in murder, but the ways in which Verloc's moral feeling 
exhibits the naiveties of its relation with his egotism are irresistibly 
comic. He has intense righteous indignation to work off: 

"'It wasn't the old Baron who would have had the wicked 
folly of getting me to call on him at eleven in the morning. 
There are two or three in this town that, if they had seen me 
going in, would have made no bones about knocking me on the 
head sooner or later. It was a silly, murderous trick to expose 
for nothing a man like me".' 

214 



THE SECRET AGENT 

The development is rich, surprising ; nd inevitable, and disturbing 

in its reality : 

'For the first time in his life he was taking that incurious 
woman into his confidence. The singularity of the event, the 
force and importance of the personal feelings aroused in the 
course of this confession, drove Stevie's fate clean out of Mr. 
Verloc's mind. The boy's stuttering existence of fears and 
indignations, together with the violence of his end, had passed 
out of Mr. Verloc's mental sight for a time. For that reason, 
when he looked uj/ he was startled by the inappropriate char- 
acter of his wife's stare. It was not a wild stare, and it was not 
inattentive, but its attention was peculiar and not satisfactory, 
inasmuch that it seemed concentrated upon some point beyond 
Mr. Verloc's person. The impression was so strong that Mr. 
Verloc planced over his shoulder. There was nothing behind 
him : there was just the whitewashed wall. The excellent 
husband of Winnie Verloc saw no writing on the wall. He 
turned to his wife again. 

It is 'the note of wooing' ('"Come here," he said in a peculiar tone 
from his relaxed posture on the sofa') that finally gives the signal 
for the plunge of tae knife between his ribs. That knife and its use, 
by the way, provide an illustration of the economy of form and 
pattern that gives every detail its significance. Not only does 
Verloc make (from his wife's point of view 'This man took the 
boy away to murder him' is the refrain running through her head) 
offensively insensitive use of it when, during the scene, he carves 
and grossly devours lumps of cold meat ; he actually refers to the 
possibility of a 'stab in the back' and so prompts her obsessed mind 
to the action. And early in the book Winnie, whose likeness to 
Stevie is significantly touched on from time to time, has had to 
'take the carving knife away from the boy', who 'can't stand the 
notion of any cruelty' and has been excited by the atrocity literature 
kept for sale. 

Upon the stabbing follows a gruesomely farcical coda in which 
the gallows r haunted Winnie, whose turn it now is to suppose her- 
self loved for her own sake, clings round the neck of the gallant 
Comrade Ossipon, who is quite prepared to succeed to Comrade 
Verloc's bank-account, but is terrified when he discovers to what 
possibilities of suspicion he has laid himself open. 

215 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

The scene between Verloc and his wife is balanced (to simplify 
with an inevitable crudeness, or the pattern is richly packed as well 
as subtle, and there can be no pretence of suggesting it fairly in 
summary) by tl e earlier scene between Chief Inspector Heat of the 
Special Crimes Department and the Assistant Commissioner. Heat 
is a magnificently done type, the higher-grade policeman, repre- 
sentative par excellence of Law and Order. ' Why not leave it to 
Heat?' asks Sir Ethelred, the great Personage, of the Assistant 
Commissioner. 

' "Because he is an old departmental hand They have their 
own morality. My line of inquiry would appear to him an 
awful perversion of duty. For him the plain duty is to fix the 
guilt upon as many prominent anarchists as he can on some 
slight indications he had picked up in the course of his investiga- 
tions on the spot ; whereas I, he would say, am bent upon 
vindicating their innocence".' 

Actually the Chief Inspector's morality is more interesting than 
thai. When the discovery of the label on the singed rag brings the 
Greenwich bomb-affair home to Verloc, Heat is faced with a pro- 
blem : luck having years before put Verloc in his way, he has been 
using this valuable source of information privately, and with great 
profit in respect of reputation and promotion. To follow up the 
clue would bring out all kinds of things and certainly destroy the 
source. 

The incomplete explicitness of the motives in play an incom- 
pleteness that may be said to take the positive form of a kind of 
resonance of righteous feeling is rendered with fine ironic subtlety : 

' He no longer considered it eminently desirable all round to 
establish publicly the identity of the man who had blown him- 
self up that morning with such horrible completeness. But he 
was not certain of the view his department would take. A 
department is to those it employs a complex personality with 
ideas and fads of its own. It depends on the loyal devotion of 
its servants, and the devoted loyalty of trusted servants is associ- 
ated with a certain amount of affectionate contempt, which 
keeps it sweet, as it were. By a benevolent provision of Nature 
no man is a hero to his valet or else the heroes would have to 
brush their own clothes. Likewise ao department appears 

216 



THE SECRET AGENT 

perfectly wise to the intimacy of i s workers. A department 
does not know so much as some o * its servants. Being a dis- 
passionate organism, it can never be perfectly informed. It 
would not be good for its efficiency to know too much. Chief 
Inspector Heat got out of the train in a state of ttioughtfulness 
entirely untainted with disloyalty, but not quite free of that 
jealous mistrust which so often springs on the ground of perfect 
devotion, whether to women or to institutions/ 

During his interview with his chief, the Assistant Commissioner, 
to whom he listens 'with outward deference (which means nothing, 
being a matter of duty) and inwardly with benevolent toleration', 
he settles down to the resolution of bringing the trail of suspicion 
home to Michaelis, a ticket-of-leave ex-convict who happens to be 
the only thoroughly sympathetic member of the revolutionary 
group : 

' "There will be no difficulty in getting up sufficient evidence 
against him," he said with virtuous complacency. "You may 
trust me for that, sir"/ 

He can take this line with the complete assurance of his moral 
judgment. 

'It was perfectly legal to arrest that man on the barest sus- 
picion. It was legal and expedient on the face of it. His two 
former chiefs would have seen the point at once ; whereas this 
one, without saying either yes or no, sat there, as if lost in a 
dream. Moreover, besides being legal and expedient, the arrest 
of Michaelis solved a little personal difficulty which worried 
Chief Inspector Heat somewhat. This difficulty had its bearing 
upon his reputation, upon his comfort, and even upon the 
efficient performance of his duties. For if Michaelis no doubt 
knew something about this outrage, the Chief Inspector was 
fairly certain that he did not know too much. This was just as 
well. He knew much less the Chief Inspector was positive 
than certain other individuals he had in his mind, but whose 
arrest seemed to him inexpedient, besides being a more com- 
plicated matter, on account of the rules of the game. The rules 
of the game did not protect so much Michaelis who was an 
ex-convict. It would be stupid not to take advantage of legal 
facilities. . . / 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

When the Assistant Commisj ioner disconcerts him with an onde- 
partmental scepticism (' Now /hat u it you've got up your sleeve ? '), 
Heat is not only very annoyed (' "You, my boy," he said to himself 
. . . "you, my bey, you don't know your place, and your place won't 
know you very long either, I bet'"), he is morally outraged : 

'He had discovered in this affair a delicate and perplexing 
side, forcing upon the discoverer a certain amount of insincerity 
which, under the names of skill, prudence, discretion, turns up 
at one point or another in most human affairs. He felt at the 
moment like a tight-rope artist might feel if suddenly, in the 
middle of the performance, the manager of the Music Hall were 
to rush out of the proper managerial seclusion and begin to 
shake the rope/ 

His indignation responds musically, as it were, to that of Comrade 
Ossipon (along with a great deal else) when he hears of the bomb- 
explosion, and exclaims that 'undei the present circumstances it's 
nothing short of criminal'. 

Heat has a further reason for not following up the clue. He has 
just, in one of the most memorable of the many vivid and pregnant 
scenes and episodes in the book, had his chance meeting in the 
narrow by-street with the Professor, who made the bomb. The 
Chief Inspector is not in any case in his element where revolutionists 
are concerned : 

4 At the beginning of his career Chief Inspector Heat had been 
concerned with the more energetic forms of thieving. He had 
gained his spurs in that sphere, and naturally enough had kept 
for it, after his promotion to another department, a feeling not 
very far removed from affection. Thieving was not a sheer 
absurdity. It was a form of human industry, perverse indeed, 
but still an industry exercised in an industrious world ; it was 
work undertaken for the same reason as the work in potteries, 
in coal mines, in fields, in tool-grinding shops. It was labour, 
whose practical difference from the other forms of labour con- 
sisted in the nature of its risk, which did not lie in ankylosis, or 
lead-poisoning, or fire-damp, or gritty dust, but in what may be 
briefly defined in its own special phraseology as "Seven years 
hard." Chief Inspector Heat was, of course, not insensible to 
the gravity of moral differences. But neither were the thieves 
he had been looking alter. They submitted to the severe sanc- 

218 



UNDER WESTERN EYES 

tiors of a morality familiar to CMef Inspector Heat with a 
certain resignation They were his ellow-citizens gone wrong 
because of imperfect education Chief Inspector Heat believed ; 
but allowing for that difference, he could understand the mind 
of a burglar, because, as a matter of fact, the mind and the in- 
stincts of a burglar are of the same kind as the mind and the 
instincts of a police officer. Bota recognize the same conven- 
tions and have a working knowledge of each other's methods 
and of the routine of their respective trades. They understand 
each other, which is advantageous to both, and establishes a sort 
of amenity in their relations. Products of the same machine, 
one classed as useful and the other as noxious, they take the 
machine for granted in different ways, but with a seriousness 
essentially the same/ 

The Professor, physically insignificant, but happy in the superiority 
given him by the bomb he always carries on his person and by his 
reputation for a reckless readiness to touch it off rather than be 
arrested, represents revolutionary abnormality in its most discon- 
certing and repugnant form : 

'After paying this tribute to what is normal in the constitu- 
tion of society (for the idea of thieving appeared to his instinct 
as normal as the idea of property), Chief Inspector Heat felt 
very angry with himself for having stopped. . . . 

'The encounter did not leave behind with Inspector Heat 
that satisfactory sense of superiority the members of the police 
force get from the unofficial but intimate side of their inter- 
course with the criminal classes, by which the vanity of power 
is soothed, and the vulgar love of domination over our fellow- 
creature: is flattered as worthily as it deserves. 

' The perfect anarchist was not recognized as a fellow-creature 
by Chief Inspector Heat. He was impossible a mad dog to be 
left alone. . . . This being the strong feeling of Inspector Heat, 
it appeared to him just and proper that this affair should be 
shunted off its obscure and inconvenient track, leading goodness 
knows where, into a quiet (and lawful) siding called Michaclis.' 

Conrad 'himself shows an unmistakable dislike of revolutionists. 
In The Secret Agent he explains them mainly in terms of indolence 
(though the Professor and Michaelis are contrasting and comple- 
mentary special cases). In Under Western Eyes (1911), which comes 

210 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

up for notice next, his revolt tionists are Russians, and, wh ; le his 
presentment is hardly more fl ttering, his general reflections are on 
different lines : 

' "... in a real revolution not a simple dynastic change or a 
mere reform of institutions in a real revolution the best char- 
acters do not come to the fronf . A violent revolution falls into 
the hands of narrow-minded fanatics and of tyrannical hypo- 
crites at first. Afterwards comes the turn of all the pretentious 
intellectual failures of the time. Such are the chiefs and the 
leaders. You will notice that I Lave left out the mere rogues. 
The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted 
natures ; the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a move- 
ment but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders 
of a revolution. They are its victims : the victims of disgust, 
of disenchantment often of remorse. Hopes grotesquely be- 
trayed, ideals caricatured that is the definition of revolution- 
ary successes. There have been in every revolution hearts 
broken by such successes"/ 

Tlieuold teacher of languages, the presence in the story of 'western 
eyes', is here warning Natalia, sister of Haldin the heroic assassin; 
and the revolutionists we are shown 

'"Bearers [comments Razumov] of the spark to start an 
explosion which is meant to change fundamentally the lives of 
so many millions in order that Peter Ivanovitch should be the 
head of a state" ' 

leave no room for doubt that he speaks for Conrad. In Peter 
Ivanovitch, 'the heroic fugitive', eloquent, woman-exploiting 
egoist, and 'Russian Mazzini', we have, we suspect, an actual 
historical person. 

The space given to The Secret Agent doesn't leave much for 
Under Western Eyes. But The Secret Agent is one of Conrad's two 
supreme masterpieces, one of the two unquestionable classics of the 
first order that he added to the English novel, and, in its own way, 
it is like Nostromo in the subtle and triumphant complexity of its 
art like, too, in not having had due critical recognition. Under 
Western Eyes cannot be claimed with the same confidence for that 
order, though it is a most distinguished work, and must be counted 
among those upon which Conrad's status as one of the great English 

220 



UNDER WESTERN EYES 

masters securely rests. It is related to The Secret Agent not only by 
the revolutionists, but by the theme of isolation (for this figures a 
great deal in that book Winnie Verloc jumps to her death from the 
night Channel-steamer at least as much to escape the void in which 
Stevie's death followed by Ossipon's desertion has left her as from 
fear of the gallows). Under Western Eyes has for theme moral isola- 
tion as represented by the case of the Russian student Razumov. 

Never having known parents, and without connexions, Razumov 
even at the outset of the history is 'as lonely in the world as a fish 
swimming in the sea'. He is wholly bent on his career, and we are 
told characteristically : 

'There was nothing strange in the student Razumov's wish 
for distinction. A man's real life is that accorded to him in the 
thoughts of other men by reason of respect or natural love/ 

His prospects are destroyed by the uninvited confidence shown in 
him by Haldin, a student revolutionist, who, having brought off a 
political assassination, takes refuge in Razumov's rooms. From the 
moment of finding him there Razumov is doomed to endure a 
trapped and tormented conscience in utter loneliness : 

'Who knows what true loneliness is not the conventional 
word, but the naked terror ? To the lonely themselves it wears 
a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or 
some illusion. Now and then a fatal conjunction of events may 
lift the veil for an instant. For an instant only. No human 
being could bear a steady view of moral solitude without going 
mad. 

' Razumov had reached that point of vision/ 

This is his state as he tramps the streets in the winter night, crystal- 
lizing his decision to give Haldin up. 

'Indeed, it could hardly be called a decision. He had simply 
discovered what he had meant to do all along. And yet he Felt 
the need of some other mind's sanction/ 

Giving Haldin up doesn't save Razumov's career. He is involved, 
and the police have a use for him. He seeks to terminate his inter- 
view with Councillor Mikulin, a creepily convincing Russian 

22T 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

bureaucrat, by asserting his ' /ight to be done once for all wi<~h that 
man', and 'to retire simply to retire' : 

'An unhurried voice said 

'"KiryloSidorovitch." 

'Razumov at the door turned his head. 

'"To retire," he repeated. 

'"Where to ?" asked Councillor Mikulin softly.' 

Razumov's mental conflicts and stresses during the Part I that 
ends on this note are rendered from the inside with extraordinary 
power. We are thus put in a position to appreciate the observations 
from the outside recorded through the English teacher of languages 
at Geneva, where Razumov, now a spy among the revolutionists, 
complicates his problem by falling in love with Haldin's sister. The 
earlier inside account of his tormented consciousness shows the in- 
fluence of Dostoievsky, and the effc " is to bring out the antipathetic 
detachment of Conrad's radical attitude from all that Dostoievsky 
stands for. If Conrad knows his Dostoievsky, he sees him through 
'western eyes', and sees him, along with 'the lawlessness of auto- 
cracy and lawlessness of revolution', as among the 'moral condi- 
tions ruling over a large part of this earth's surface' that the old 
language teacher, in telling Razumov's story, perceives himself to 
be rendering. 

Having, by confession to Haldin's sister and to the revolutionists, 
escaped at last from the worst of his moral isolation, Razumov ends, 
a cripple, his ear-drums deliberately burst by the champion revolu- 
tionary killer, in the less intolerable isolation of stone deafness. 

Moral isolation is again the theme of Chance (1914); which is, 
again, a very different kind of book different from Under Western 
Eyes and from the other novels. Flora de Barral, daughter of the 
great de Barral, grand-style financial adventurer, suffers first, at the 
time of her father's deb&cle, the shock of a fiendish moral assault 
from her governess (Flora having no mother having no one but 
her father) ; then, her father in jail, suffers further bad luck in the 
form of odious relatives, and has bad luck again even in her good 
luck: her rescue by the chivalrous Captain Anthony, 'son of the 
poet'. 

We have, in fact, a variant of the Heyst-Lena situation : while 

222 



CHANCE 

each needs, neither knows, the other, and the nature and circum- 
stances of the rescue leave each exquiitely and inhibitingly scrupu- 
lous about taking advantage of the o Jier's helplessness or chivalry. 
The woman is not, this time, the minor focus of interest, but rather 
the reverse Flora is the central character of the cook ; and An- 
thony, on the other hand, reintroduces the Lord Jim theme : 

'The inarticulate son had set up a standard for himself with 
that need for embodying in his conduct the dreams, the passion, 
the impulses the poet puts into the arrangements of verses, 
which are dearer to him than his own self and may make his 
own self appear sublime in the eyes of other people, and even 
in his own eyes. 

'Did Anthony wish to appear sublime in his own eyes ?' 

Again : 

'If Anthony's love had been as egoistic as love generally is 
it would have been greater than the egoism of his vanity or of 
his generosity, if you like.' 

In any case, 'She beat him at his own honourable game'. The 
question about h<*r is givep here (the pilgrimage is a rendezvous 
with Anthony in the East End) : 

'She had had an ugly pilgrimage, but whether of love or 
necessity, who could tell.' 

The technical distinction of Chance has not lacked recognition. 
That no doubt is because Chance invites the description 'technical 
triumph* in a way which Nostromo and The Secret Agent do not. 
One's sense that the 'doing' (see the significant terms of Henry 
James's appreciation in the essay called The New Novel, 1914, to be 
found in Notes on Novelists) was not so strictly as in their case a 
preoccupation with getting the essential theme or themes 'done* is 
perhaps not fair not fair, expressed so. The fact is that Conrad's 
essential interest here didn't yield him anything like so rich a pattern 
as in either of those two books, and the theme indicated by the title, 
ingeniously exploited as it is in the mode of> presentation, has no 
essential relation with the main theme : chance' plays no notably 
different part from that it must play in any story offering a novelist 
a study of human nature, and Conrad (it may be suggested) by 

223 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

calling the novel Chance aixd insisting a great deal on the word 
implicitly concedes the critic 1 point in question : the point regard- 
ing the difference between Chance and the other two. 

One tends to make the point a little unfairly because of irritation 
with Marlow, who is essential to the presentation 

' "But we, my dear Marlow, have the inestimable advantage 
of understanding what is happening to others'* ' 

but is also, in a way touched on earlier, too easy a convenience : 

'Marlow emerged out of die shadow of the book-case to get 
himself a cigar from a box which stood on a little table by my 
side. In the full light of the room I saw in his eyes that slightly 
mocking expression with which he habitually covers up his 
sympathetic impulses of mirth and pity before the unreasonable 
complications the idealism of mankind puts into the simple but 
poignant problem of conduct on this earth/ 

This suggests well enough the kind of direct injection of tone and 
attitude that Marlow licenses, and the consequent cheapening effect. 
Nevertheless, the view from the outside, the correlated glimpses 
from different angles, the standing queries and suspended judgments 
this treatment, applied by means of Marlow and the complication 
of witnesses, is, quite plainly, the kind dejnanded by the essential 
undertaking of the book. And it is applied successfully ; even the 
most difficult part of all, the rendering of the 'tension of the false 
situation* on board the Ferndale, comes off pretty well (though there 
is a touch of sentimentality about the handling of Flora). 

The genius is amply apparent in Chance. It is most apparent in 
the force of realization with which the characters are evoked, and 
which has led above to the mention of Dickens. That which 
suggests Dickens in Chance and there is a great deal of it ic all 
strongly characteristic Conrad. There is the Shipping Office and 
old Powell-Socrates, with his ' tall hat very far at the back of his head 
... a full unwrinkled face, and such clear-shining eyes that his grey 
beard looked quite false on him, stuck on for a disguise* ; there 
are the Fynes the comedy of Mario w's intercourse with them is 
characteristic and good ; the great deBarral himself; Flora's odious 
relative, the cardboard box manufacturer, who 'had all the civic 
virtues in their meanest form' ; Franklin the mate 

224 



CHANCE 

' The mate who, on account of his peculiar build, could not 
turn his head quite freely, twisted Hs thick trunk slightly, and 
ran his black eyes in the corners to vards the steward.' 

There we have an illustration of the vivid particularity with which 
things are seen. For another, here is the sinister old de Barral : 

' gliding away with his walk which Mr. Powell described to me 
as being as level and wary as his voice. He walked as if he 
were carrying a glass full of water on his head/ 

The solemn little Fyne, irreproachable Civil Servant, is epitomized 
in the picture of him escaping with his gravity from under the noses 
of the dray-horses : 

'He skipped wildly out of the way and up on the curbstone 
with a purely instinctive precision ; his mind had nothing to do 
with his movements. In the middle of his leap, and while in 
the act of sailing gravely tiirough the air, he continued to 
relieve his outraged feelings.' 

The distinction of mind is as apparent in Chance as this kind of 
vitality ; it is certainly a remarkable novel. 

There is no other that need be discussed. The Rover, the latest 
one finished, with its pathos of retrospect and its old man's sense of 
the unreality of life, comes plainly from a mind conscious of being 
at the end of its own days : it has a remote vividness, but no central 
energy. The unfinished Suspense so little lives up to its title that 
the published part of it is hard to get through. But Nostromo, The 
Secret Agent, Under Western Eyes, Chance, Victory it is an impressive 
enough tale of books (all produced within a decade and a half) for 
any man to have to his credit. And not to the credit of English 
literary culture or English criticism it went, the evidence obliges 
us to conclude, without recognition. True, Conrad enjoyed a 
vogue in the early nineteen-twenties, when he was bringing out a 
series of inferior novels ; and he had been for some time an estab- 
lished name. But for all the odd success of Chance he had too 
good reason to feej that he was regarded as the author of Lord Jim ; 
the writer of stories about the sea, the jungle and the islands, who 
had made some curious ventures outside his beat, but would yet, 
one hoped, return to it. Perhaps what may be found against his 
p 225 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

calling the novel Chance an.d insisting a great deal on the word 
implicitly concedes the critic.- 1 point in question : the point regard- 
ing the difference between Chance and the other two. 

One tends to make the point a little unfairly because of irritation 
with Marlow, who is essential to the presentation 

'"But we, my dear Marknv, have the inestimable advantage 
of understanding what is happening to others'" 

but is also, in a way touched on earlier, too easy a convenience : 

'Marlow emerged out of the shadow of the book-case to get 
himself a cigar from a box which stood on a little table by my 
side. In the full light of the room I saw in his eyes that slightly 
mocking expression with which he habitually covers up his 
sympathetic impulses of mirth and pity before the unreasonable 
complications the idealism of mankind puts into the sinaple but 
poignant problem of conduct on this earth/ 

This suggests well enough the kind of direct injection of tone and 
attitude that Marlow licenses, and the consequent cheapening effect. 
Nevertheless, the view from the outside, the correlated glimpses 
from different angles, the standing queries and suspended judgments 
this treatment, applied by means of Marlow and the complication 
of witnesses, is, quite plainly, the kind demanded by the essential 
undertaking of the book. And it is applied successfully ; even the 
most difficult part of all, the rendering of the 'tension of the false 
situation* on board the Ferndale, comes off pretty well (though there 
is a touch of sentimentality about the handling of Flora). 

The genius is amply apparent in Chance. It is most apparent in 
the force of realization with which the characters are evoked, and 
which has led above to the mention of Dickens. That which 
suggests Dickens in Chance and there is a great deal of it k all 
strongly characteristic Conrad. There is the Shipping Office and 
old Powell-Socrates, with his ' tall hat very far at the back of his head 
... a full unwrinkled face, and such clear-shining eyes that his grey 
beard looked quite false on him, stuck on for a disguise* ; there 
are the Fynes the comedy of Marlow' s intercourse with them is 
characteristic and good ; the great de Barral himself ; Flora's odious 
relative, the cardboard box manufacturer, who 'had all the civic 
virtues in their meanest form' ; Franklin the mate 

224 



CHANCE 

'The mate who, on account of his peculiar build, could not 
turn his head quite freely, twisted Hs thick trunk slightly, and 
ran his black eyes in the corners to vards the steward/ 

There we have an illustration of the vivid particula r ity with which 
things are seen. For another, here is the sinister old de Barral : 

' gliding away with his walk whicii Mr. Powell described to me 
as being as level and wary as his voice. He walked as if he 
were carrying a glass full of water on his head/ 

The solemn little Fyne, irreproachable Civil Servant, is epitomized 
in the picture of him escaping with his gravity from under the noses 
of the dray-horses : 

'He skipped wildly out of the way and up on the curbstone 
with a purely instinctive precision ; his mind had nothing to do 
with his movements. In the middle of his leap, and while in 
the act of sailing gravely tnrough the air, he continued to 
relieve his outraged feelings/ 

The distinction of mind is as apparent in Chance as this kind of 
vitality ; it is certainly a remarkable novel. 

There is no other that need be discussed. The Rover, the latest 
one finished, with its pathos of retrospect and its old man's sense of 
the unreality of life, comes plainly from a mind conscious of being 
at the end of its own days : it has a remote vividness, but no central 
energy. The unfinished Suspense so little lives up to its title that 
the published part of it is hard to get through. But Nostromo, The 
Secret Agent, Under Western Eyes, Chance, Victory it is an impressive 
enough tale of books (all produced within a decade and a half) for 
any man to have to his credit. And not to the credit of English 
literary culture or English criticism it went, the evidence obliges 
us to conclude, without recognition. True, Conrad enjoyed a 
vogue in the early nineteen-twenties, when he was bringing out a 
series of inferior novels ; and he had been for some time an estab- 
lished name. But for all the odd success of Chance he had too 
good reason to feeji that he was regarded as the author of Lord Jim ; 
the writer of stories about the sea, the jungle andf the islands, who 
had made some curious ventures outside his beat, but would yet, 
one hoped, return to it. Perhaps what may be found against his 
p 225 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

name in the new Concise Cambridge History of English Literature gives 
what is still the prevalent view. 

But he was not only by fai the greatest of the Edwardians ; there 
is more to be said than that. Scott, Thackeray, Meredith and Hardy 
are commonly accounted great English novelists : if the criterion 
is the achievement in work addressed to the adult mind, and capable 
as such of engaging again and again its full critical attention, then 
Conrad is certainly a greater novelist than the four enumerated. 
This, which may seem a more striking claim to some critics than to 
others, is merely a way of insisting on the force of the judgment 
that Conrad is among the very greatest novelists in the language 
or any language. 



226 



V 
'HARD TIMES' 

An Analytic Note 

TTARD TIMES is not a difficult work ; its intention and nature 
JTjL are pretty obvious. If, then, it is the masterpiece I take it for, 
why has it not had general recognition ? To judge by the critical re- 
cord, it has had none at all. If there exists anywhere an appreciation, 
or even an acclaiming reference I have missed it. In the books and 
essays on Dickens, so far as I kncrv them, it is passed over as a very 
minor thing ; too slight and insignificant to distract us for more 
than a sentence or two from the works worth critical attention. 
Yet, if I am right, of all Dickens's works it is the one that has all the 
strength of his genius, together with a strength no other of them 
can show that of a completely serious work of art. 

The answer to the questio* asked above seems to me to bear on 
the traditional approach to 'the English novel'. For all the more 
sophisticated critical currency of the last decade or two, that ap- 
proach still prevails, at any rate in the appreciation of the Victorian 
novelists. The business of the novelist, you gather, is to ' create a 
world', and the mark of tlie master is external abundance he gives 
you lots of 'life'. The test of life in his characters (he must above 
all create 'living' characters) is that they go on living outside the 
book. Expectations as unexacting as these are not when they en- 
counter significance, grateful for it, and when it meets them in that 
insistent form where nothing is very engaging as 'life* unless its 
relevance is fully taken, miss it altogether. This is the only way in 
which I can account for the neglect suffered by Henry James's The 
Europeans, which may be classed with Hard Times as a moral fable 
though one might have supposed that James would enjoy the 
advantage of being approached with expectations of subtlety and 
closely calculated relevance. Fashion, however, has not recom- 
mended his earlier work, and this (whatever appreciation may be 
enjoyed by The Ambassadors) still suffers from the prevailing ex- 
pectation of redundant and irrelevant 'life'. 

I need say no more by way of defining the moral fable than that 
in it the intention is peculiarly insistent, so that, the representative 
significance of everything in the fable character, episode, and so 
on is immediately apparent as we read. Intention might seem to 
be insistent enough in the opening of Hard Times, in that scene in 

227 



HARD TIMES 

Mr. GradgrincTs school. Bui then, intention is often very insistent 
in Dickens, without its being taker up in any inclusive significance 
that informs and organizes a * oherent whole ; and, for lack of any 
expectation of an organized whole, it has no doubt been supposed 
that in Hard Times the satiric irony of the first two chapters is merely, 
in the large and genial Dickensian way, thrown together with 
melodrama, pathos and humoiu and that we are given these in- 
gredients more abundantly and exuberantly elsewhere. Actually, 
the Dickensian vitality is there, in its varied characteristic modes, 
which have the more force because they are free of redundance : 
the creative exuberance is controlled by a profound inspiration. 

The inspiration is what is given in the title, Hard Times. Ordin- 
arily Dickens's criticisms of the world he lives in are casual and 
incidental a matter of including among the ingredients of a book 
some indignant treatment of a particular abuse. But in Hard Times 
he is for once possessed by a comprehensive vision, one in which 
the inhumanities of Victorian civib' Cation are seen as fostered and 
sanctioned by a hard philosophy, the aggressive formulation of an 
inhumane spirit. The philosophy is represented by Thomas Grad- 
grird, Esquire, Member of Parliament for Coketown, who has 
brought up his children on the lines of the experiment recorded by 
John Stuart Mill as carried out on himself. What Gradgrind stands 
for is, though repellent, nevertheless respectable ; his Utilitarianism 
is a theory sincerely held and there is intellectual disinterestedness in 
its application. But Gradgrind marries his eldest daughter to Josiah 
Bounderby, * banker, merchant, manufacturer', about whom there 
is no disinterestedness whatever, and nothing to be respected. 
Bounderby is Victorian 'rugged individualism* in its grossest and 
most intransigent form. Concerned with nothing but self-assertion 
and power and material success, he has no interest in ideals or ideas 
except the idea of being the completely self-made man (since, for 
all his brag, he is not that in fact). Dickens here makes a just 
observation about the affinities and practical tendency of Utilitarian- 
ism, as, in his presentment of the Gradgrind home and the Grad- 
grind elementary school, he does about the Utilitarian spirit in 
Victorian education. 

All this is obvious enough. But Dickens's art, while remaining 
that of the great popular entertainer, has in Hard Times, as he renders 
his full critical vision, a stamina, a flexibility combined with con- 
sistency, and a depth that he seems to have had little credit for. 
Take that opening scene in the school-room : 

228 



DICKENS 

'"Girl number twenty," said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing 
with his square forefinger, "I don't know that girl. Who is that girl ?" 

"' Sissy Jupc, sir," explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, 
and curtsying. 

"'Sissy is not a name," said Mr. Gradgrind. "Don't call yourself 
Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia." 

'"It's father as call me Sissy, sit," returned the young girl in a 
trembling voice, and with another curtsy. 

' " Then he has no business to do it," said Mr. Gradgrind. "Tell him 
he mustn't. Cecilia Jupe. Let me see. What is your father ?" 

'"He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir." 

'Mr. Gradgrind frowned, and waved off the objectionable calling 
with his hand. 

'"We don't want to know anything about that here. You mustn't 
tell us about that here. Your father breaks horses, don't he ?" 

'"If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break 
horses in the ring, sir." 

'"You mustn't tell us about the ring here. Very well, then. De- 
scribe your father as a horse-breaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare 
say?" 

"Oh, yes, sir!" 

'"Very well, then. He is ! a veterinary surgeon, a farrier, and horse- 
breaker. Give me your definition of a horse." 

(Sissy Jupe thrown in:o the greatest alarm by this demand.) 

'"Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!" said Mr. Grad- 
grind, for the general benefit of all the little pitchers. "Girl number 
twenty possessed of no facts in reference to one of the commonest 
animals ! Some boy's definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours." 

'"Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely, twenty-four 
grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring ; 
in marshy countries, sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to 
be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth." Thus (and 
much more) Bitzer.' 

Lawrence himself, protesting against harmful tendencies in 
education, never made the point more tellingly. Sissy has been 
brought up among horses, and among people whose livelihood 
depends upon understanding horses but 'we don't want to know 
anything about that here'. Such knowledge isn't real knowledge. 
Bitzer, the model pupil, on the button's being pressed, promptly 
vomits up the genuine article, 'Quadruped. Graminivorous', etc. ; 

229 



HARD TIMES 

and 'Now, girl number twenty, you know what a horse is'. The 
irony, pungent enough locally, is richly developed in the subsequent 
action. Bitzer 's aptness has *ts evaluative comment in his career. 
Sissy's incapacity to acquire this kind of 'fact* or formula, her un- 
aptness for education, is manifested to us, on the other hand, as part 
and parcel of her sovereign and indefeasible humanity : it is the 
virtue that makes it impossible tor her to understand, or acquiesce 
in, an ethos for which she is 'girl number twenty', or to think of 
any other human being as a unit for arithmetic. 

This kind of ironic method might seem to commit the author to 
very limited kinds of effect. In Hard Times, however, it associates 
quite congruously, such is the flexibility of Dickens's art, with very 
different methods ; it co-operates in a truly dramatic and profoundly 
poetic whole. Sissy Jupe, who might be taken here for a merely 
conventional persona, has already, as a matter of fact, been estab- 
lished in a potently symbolic role : she is part of the poetically- 
creative operation of Dickens's gei/ *s in Hird Times. Here is a 
passage I omitted from the middle of the excerpt quoted above : 

'The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on 
Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sun-light 
which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely white- 
washed room, irradiated Sissy. For the boys and girls sat on the face 
of an inclined plane in two compact bodies, divided up the centre by a 
narrow interval ; and Sissy, being at the corner of a row on the sunny 
side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at 
the corner of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught 
the end. But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired that 
she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun 
when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that 
the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he 
ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the 
short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contras* 
with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His 
short-cropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy 
freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely 
deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, 
he would bleed white.' 

There is no need to insist on the force representative of Dickens's 
art in general in Hard Times with which the moral and spiritual 
differences are rendered here in terms of sensation, so that the sym- 
bolic intention emerges out of metaphor and the vivid evocation of 

230 



DICKENS 

the concrete. What may, perhaps, be emphasized is that Sissy 
stands for vitality as well as goodness- -they are seen, in fact, as one ; 
she is generous, impulsive life, finding self-fulfilment in self-forget- 
fulness all that is the antithesis of calculating self-interest. There 
is an essentially Laurcntian suggestion about the way in which 'the 
dark-eyed and dark-haired' girl, contrasting with Bitzer, seemed 
to receive a 'deeper and more luscrous colour from the sun', so 
opposing the life that is lived freely and richly from the deep 
instinctive and emotional springs to the thin-blooded, quasi- 
mechanical product of Gradgrindery. 

Sissy's symbolic significance is Hound up with that of Sleary's 
Horse-riding, where human kindness is very insistently associated 
with vitality. Representing human spontaneity, the circus-athletes 
represent at the same time highly-developed skill and deftness of 
kinds that bring poise, pride and confident ease they are always 
buoyant, and, ballet-dancer-like, in training : 

'There were two o*. three !.cuidsome young women among them, 
with two or three husbands, and their two or three mothers, and their 
eight or nine little children, who did the fairy business when required. 
The father of one of the families was in the habit of balancing the father 
of another of the families on the top of a great pole ; the father of the 
third family often made a pyramid of both those fathers, with Master 
Kidderminster for the apex, and himself for the base ; all the fathers 
could dance upon rolling casks, stand upon bottles, catch knives and 
balls, twirl hand-basins, ride upon anything, jump over everything, 
and stick at nothing. All the mothers could (and did) dance upon the 
slack wire and the tight-rope, and perform rapid acts on bare-backed 
steeds ; none o^them were at all particular in respect of showing their 
legs ; and one of them, alone in a Greek chariot, drove six-in-hand into 
every town they came to. They all assumed to be mighty rakish and 
knowing, they were not very tidy in their private dresses, they were 
not at all orderly in their domestic arrangements, and the combined 
literature of the whole company would have produced but a poor 
letter on any subject. Yet there was a remarkable gentleness and child- 
ishness about these people, a special inaptitude for any kind of sharp 
practice, and an untiring readiness to help and pity one another, deserv- 
ing often of as much respect, and always of as much generous construc- 
tion, as the every-day virtues of any class of people in the world/ 

Their skills have no value for the Utilitarian calculus, but they 
express vital human impulse, and they minister to vital human needs. 
The Horse-riding, frowned upon as frivolous and wasteful by Grad- 



HARD TIMES 

grind and malignantly scorned by Bounderby, brings the nwchine- 
hands of Coketown (the spirit-quenching hideousness of which is 
hauntingly evoked) what the/ are starved of. It brings to them, not 
merely amusement, but art, and the spectacle of triumphant activity 
that, seeming to contain its end within itself, is, in its easy mastery, 
joyously self-justified. In investing a travelling circus with this kind 
of symbolic value Dickens expresses a profounder reaction to in- 
dustrialism than might have been expected of him. It is not only 
pleasure and relaxation the Coketowners stand in need of; he feels 
the dreadful degradation of life that would remain even if they were 
to be given a forty-four hour week, comfort, security and fun. 
We recall a characteristic passage from D. H. Lawrence. 

'The car ploughed uphill through the long squalid straggle of 
Tevershall, the blackened brick dwellings, the black slate roofs, glisten- 
ing their sharp edges, the mud black with coal-dust, the pavements wet 
and black. It was as if dismalness had soaked through and through 
everything. The utter negation of naiu/al beaaty, the utter negation 
of the gladness of life, the utter absence of the instinct for shapely 
beauty which every bird and beast has, the utter death of the human 
intuitive faculty was appalling. The stacks of soap in the grocers' shops, 
the rhubarb and lemons in the greengrocers' ! the awful liats in the 
milliners all went by ugly, ugly, ugly, followed by the plaster and gilt 
horror of the cinema with its wet picture anouncements, "A Woman's 
Love,*' and the new big Primitive chapel, primitive enough in its stark 
brick and big panes of greenish and raspberry glass in the windows. 
The Wesleyan chapel, higher up, was of blackened brick and stood 
behind iron railings and blackened shrubs. The Congregational chapel, 
which thought itself superior, was built of rusticated sandstone and had 
a steeple, but not a very high one. Just beyond were the new school 
buildings, expensive pink brick, and gravelled playground inside iron 
railings, all very imposing, and mixing the suggestion of a chapel and a 
prison. Standard Five girls were having a singing lesson, just finishing 
the la-me-do-la exercises and beginning a "sweet children's song." 
Anything more unlike song, spontaneous song, would be impossible 
to imagine : a strange bawling yell followed the outlines of a tune. It 
was not like animals : animals mean something when they yell. It was 
like nothing on earth, and it was called singing. Connie sat and 
listened with her heart in her boots, as Field was filling petrol. What 
could possibly become of such a people, a people in whom the living 
intuitive faculty was dead as nails and only queer mechanical yells and 
uncanny will-power remained ?' 



DICKENS 

Dickens couldn't have put it in just those terms, but the way in 
which his vision of the Horse-riders insistb on their gracious vitality 
implies that reaction. 

Here an objection may be anticipated as a way of making a 
point. Coketown, like Gradgrind and Bounderby, is real enough ; 
but it can't be contended that the Horse-riding is real in the same 
sense. There would have been some athletic skill and perhaps some 
bodily grace among the people of a Victorian travelling circus, but 
surely so much squalor, grossness and vulgarity that we must find 
Dickens's symbolism sentimentally false? And 'there was a re- 
markable gentleness and childishness about these people, a special 
inaptitude for any kind of sharp practice' that, surely, is going 
ludicrously too far ? 

If Dickens, intent on an emotional effect, or drunk with moral 
enthusiasm, had been deceiving himself (it couldn't have been 
innocently) about the nature of the actuality, he would then indeed 
have been guilty of sentimental falsity, and the adverse criticism 
would have held. But the Horse-riding presents no such case. The 
virtues and qualities that Dickens prizes do indeed exist, and it is 
necessary for his critique of Utilitarianism and industrialism, and for 
(what is the same thing) his creative purpose, to evoke them vividly. 
The book can't, :n my judgment, be fairly charged with giving a 
misleading representation of human nature. And it would plainly 
not be intelligent critidsm to suggest that anyone could be mis- 
led about the nature of circuses by Hard Times. The critical 
question is merely one of tact : was it well-judged of Dickens 
to try to do that which had to be done somehow with a 
travelling circus ? 

Or, rather, tae question is : by what means has he succeeded ? 
For the success is complete. It is conditioned partly by the fact that, 
from the opening chapters, we have been tuned for the reception of 
a highly conventional art though it is a tuning that has no narrowly 
limiting effect. To describe at all cogently the means by which this 
responsiveness is set up would take a good deal of 'practical 
criticism' analysis analysis that would reveal an extraordinary flexi- 
bility in the art of Hard Times. This can be seen very obviously in 
the dialogue. Some passages might come from an ordinary novel. 
Others have the ironic pointedness of the school-room scene in so 
insistent a form that we might be reading a ^ork as stylized as 
Jonsonian comedy : Gradgrind's final exchange with Bitzer (quoted 
below) is a supreme instance. Others again are 'literary', like the 



HARD TIMES 

conversation between Grandgrind and Louisa on her flight home 
for refuge from Mr. James Harthouse's attentions. 

To the question how the reconciling is done there is much more 
diversity in Hard Times than these references to dialogue suggest 
the answer can be given by pointing to the astonishing and irresist- 
ible richness of life that characterizes the book everywhere. It 
meets us everywhere, unstrained and natural, in the prose. Out of 
such prose a great variety of presentations can arise congenially with 
equal vividness. There they are, unquestionably 'real'. It goes 
back to an extraordinary energy of perception and registration in 
Dickens. 'When people say that Dickens exaggerates', says Mr. 
Santayana, 'it seems to me that tney can have no eyes and no ears. 
They probably have only notions of what things and people are ; 
they accept them conventionally, at their diplomatic value'. 
Settling down as we read to an implicit recognition of this truth, we 
don't readily and confidently apply any criterion we suppose our- 
selves to hold for distinguishing varieties of relation between what 
Dickens gives us and a normal 'real . His flexibility is that of a 
richly poetic art of the word. He doesn't write 'poetic prose' ; he 
writes with a poetic force of evocation, registering with the re- 
sponsiveness ofa genius of verbal expression what he so sharply aees 
and feels. In fact, by texture, imaginative mode, symbolic method, 
and the resulting concentration, Hard Times affects us as belonging 
with formally poetic works. 

There is, however, more to be said about the success that attends 
Dickens's symbolic intention in the Horse-riding; there is an 
essential quality of his genius to be emphasized. There is no Hamlet 
in him, and he is quite unlike Mr. Eliot. 

The red-eyed scavengers are creeping 

From Kentish Town and Golders Green 

there is nothing of that in Dickens's reaction to life. He observes 
with gusto the humanness of humanity as exhibited in the urb?n 
(and suburban) scene. When he sees, as he 'sees so readily, the 
common manifestations of human kindness, ana the essential virtues, 
asserting themselves in the midst of ugliness, squalor and banality, 
his warmly sympathetic response has no disgust to overcome. There 
is no suggestion, for instance, of recoil or of distance-keeping 
from the game-eyed, brandy-soaked, flabby-surfaced Mr. Sleary, 
who is successfully made to figure for us a humane, anti-Utilitarian 
positive. This is not sentimentality in Dickens, but genius, and a 
genius that should be f6und peculiarly worth attention in an age 

234 



DICKENS 

when, as D. H. Lawrence (with, as 1 remember, Mr. WyndAam 
Lewis immediately in view) says, 'My God ! they stink', tends to 
be an insuperable and final reaction. 

Dickens, as everyone knows, is very capable of sentimentality. 
We have it in Hard Times (though not to any seriously damaging 
effect) in Stephen Blackpool, the good, victimized working-man, 
whose perfect patience under inflation we are expected to find 
supremely edifying and irresistibly touching as the agonies are piled 
on for his martyrdom. But Sissy Jupe is another matter. A general 
description of her part in the fable might suggest the worst, but 
actually she has nothing in common with Little Nell : she shares 
in the strength of the Horse-riding. She is wholly convincing in 
the function Dickens assigns to her. The working of her influence 
in the Utilitarian home is conveyed with a fine tact, and we do really 
feel her as a growing potency. Dickens can even, with complete 
success, give her the stage for a victorious tete-a-tete with the well- 
bred and languid elegant, Mr James Harthouse, in which she tells 
him that his duty is to leave Coketown and cease troubling Louisa 
with his attentions : 

* She was not afraid of him, or in any way disconcerted ; she seemed 
to have her mind entirely preoccupied with the occasion of her visit, 
and to have substituted that consideration for herself.' 

The quiet victory of disinterested goodness is wholly convincing. 

At the opening of the book Sissy establishes the essential distinc- 
tion between Gradgrind and Bounderby. Gradgrind, by taking her 
home, however ungraciously, shows himself capable of humane 
feeling, however unacknowledged. We are reminded, in the 
previous school-room scene, of the Jonsonian affinities of Dickens's 
art, and Bounderby turns out to be consistently a Jonsonian char- 
acter in the sense that he is incapable of change. He remains the 
blustering egotist and braggart, and responds in character to the 
collapse of his marriage : 

"Til give you to understand, in reply to that, that there unquestion- 
ably is an incompatibility of the first magnitude to be summed up in 
this that your daughter don't properly know her husband's merits, 
and is not impressed with such a sense as would become her, by George ! 
of the honour ot his alliance. That's plain speaking, I hope.'" 

He remains Jonsonianly consistent in his last testament and death. 
But Gradgrind, in the nature of the fable, Has to experience the con- 

235 



HARD TIMJS 

futaiion of his philosophy, and to be capable of the change involved 
in admitting that life has proved him wrong. (Dickens's art in 
Hard Times differs from Ben Jonson's not in being inconsistent, but 
in being so very much more flexible and inclusive a point that 
seemed to be worth making because the relation between Dickens 
and Jonson has been stressed of late, and I have known unfair 
conclusions to be drawn from f he comparison, notably in respect 
of Hard Times.) 

The confutation of Utilitarianism by life is conducted with great 
subtlety. That the conditions for it are there in Mr. Gradgrind 
he betrays by his initial kindness, ungenial enough, but properly 
rebuked by Bounderby, to Sissy. 'Mr. Gradgrind', we are told, 
'though hard enough, was by no means so rough a man as Mr. 
Bounderby. His character was not unkind, all things considered ; 
it might have been very kind indeed if only he had made some 
mistake in the arithmetic that balanced it years ago'. The in- 
adequacy of the calculus is beautifully exposed when he brings it 
to bear on the problem of marriage in the consummate scene with 
his eldest daughter : 

'He waited, as if he would have been glad that she said somethirg. 
But she said never a word. 

'"Louisa, my dear, you are the subject of a proposal of marriage 
that has been made to me.*' 

'Again he waited, and again she answered not one word. This so 
far surprised him as to induce him gendy to repeat, "A proposal of 
marriage, my dear." To which she returned, without any visible 
emotion whatever : 

'"I hear you, father. I am attending, I assure you." 

'"Well !" said Mr. Gradgrind, breaking into a smile, after being for 
the moment at a loss, "you are even more dispassionate than I expected, 
Louisa. Or, perhaps, you are not unprepared for the announcement 
I have it in charge to make ?" 

'"I cannot say that, father, until I hear it. Prepared or unprepared, 
I wish to hear it all from you. I wish to hear you state it to me, father." 

'Strange to relate, Mr. Gradgrind was not so collected at this moment 
as his daughter was. He took a paper knife in his hand, turned it over, 
laid it down, took it up again, and even then had to look along the 
blade of it, considering how to go on. 

'"What you say, my dear Louisa, is perfectly reasonable. I have 
undertaken, then, to let you know that in short, that Mr. Boun- 
derby 

236 



DICKENS 

His embarrassment by his own avowal is caused by the perfect 
rationality with which she receives his overture. He is still more 
disconcerted when, with a complete! 1 * dispassionate matter-otfact- 
ness that does credit to his regime, she gives him the opportunity to 
state in plain terms precisely what marriage should mean for the 
young Houyhnhnm : 

' Silence between them. The deadly statistical clock very hollow. 
The distant smoke very black and heavy. 

'"Father/* said Louisa, "do you think I love Mr. Bounderby?" 

'Mr. Gradgrind was extremel/ discomforted by this unexpected 
question. "Well, my child," he icturned, "I really cannot take 
upon myself to say." 

'"Father," pursued Louisa in exacdy the same voice as before, "do 
you ask me to love Mr Bounderby ?" 

'"My dear Louisa, no. I ask nothing." 

'"Father," she still pursued, "does Mr. Bounderby ask me to love 
him?" 

'"Really, my dear," said Mr. Gradgrind, "it is difficult to answer 
your question " 

'"Difficult to answer it, Yes or No, father ?" 

'"Certainly, my dear. Because" here was something to demon- 
strate, and it set him up again "because the reply depends so materi- 
ally, Louisa, on the sense in which we use the expression. Now, Mr. 
Bounderby does not do you the injustice, and does not do himself the 
injustice, of pretending to anything fanciful, fantastic, or (I am using 
synonymous terms) sentimental. Mr. Bounderby would have seen 
you grow up under his eye to very little purpose, if he could so far 
forget what is Jue to your good sense, not to say to his, as to address 
you from any such ground. Therefore, perhaps, the expression itself 
I merely suggest this to you, my dear may be a litde misplaced." 

'"What would you advise me to use in its stead, father ?" 

' "Why, my dear Louisa," said Mr. Gradgrind, completely recovered 
by this time, "I would advise you (since you ask me) to consider the 
question, as you have been accustomed to consider every other ques- 
tion, simply as one of tangible Fact. The ignorant and the giddy may 
embarrass such subjects with irrelevant fancies, and other absurdities 
that have no existence, properly viewed reallv no existence but it 
is no compliment* to you to say that you know better. Now, what are 
the Facts of this case ? You are, we will say in round numbers, twenty 
years of age ; Mr. Bounderby is, we will say in round numbers, fifty. 
There is some disparity in your respective years, but . . ."' 

23*1 



HARD TIMES 

And at this point Mr. Giadgrind seizes the chance for a happy 
escape ijito statistics. Bat Louisa brings him firmly back : 

'"What do you recommc id, father?" asked Louisa, her reserved 
composure not in the least affected by these gratifying results, "that I 
should substitute for the term I used just now ? For the misplaced 
expression?" 

'"Louisa," returned her father, "it appears to me that nothing can be 
plainer. Confining yourself rigidly to Fact, the question of Fact you 
state to yourself is : Does Mr. Bounderby ask me to marry him ? 
Yes, he does. The sole remaining question tben is : Shall I marry 
him ? I think nothing can be plainer than that." 

'"Shall I marry him ?" repeated Louisa with great deliberation. 

'"Precisely."' 

It is a triumph of ironic art. No logical analysis could dispose of 
the philosophy of fact and calculus with such neat finality. As the 
issues are reduced to algebraic formuKtion they are patently emptied 
of all real meaning. The instinct-free rationality of the emotionless 
Houyhnhnm is a void. Louisa proceeds to try and make him un- 
demand that she is a living creature and therefore no Houyhnhnm, 
but in vain ('to see it, he must have overleaped at a bound the 
artificial barriers he had for many years been erecting between 
himself and all those subtle essences of humanity which will elude 
the utmost cunning of algebra, until the last trumpet ever to be 
sounded will blow even algebra to wreck'). 

'Removing her eyes from him, she sat so long looking silently 
towards the town, that he said at length: "Are you consulting the 
chimneys of the Coketown works, Louisa ?" 

'"There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous 
smoke. Yet, when the night comes, Fire bursts out, father!" she 
answered, turning quickly. 

' " Of course I know that, Louisa. I do not see the application of th- 
remark." To do him justice, he did not at all. 

' She passed it away with a slight motion of her hand, and concen- 
trating her attention upon him again, said, "Father, I have often 
thought that life is very short". This was so distinctly one of his 
subjects that he interposed : 

'"It is short, no doubt, my dear. Still, the average duration of 
human life is proved to have increased of late years. The calculations 
of various life assurance and annuity offices, among other figures which 
cannot go wrong, have established the fact." 

238 



DICKENS 

'"I speak of my own life, father." 

' '* Oh, indeed ! Still," said Mr. Gradgrinu, "I need not point out to 
you, Louisa, that it is governed by the laws which govern lives in the 
aggregate." 

'" While it lasts, I would wish to do the little I can, and the little I 
am fit for. What does it matter ?" 

'Mr. Gradgrind seemed rather at a loss to understand the last four 
words ; replying, "How, matter ? What matter, my dear ?" 

'"Mr. Bounderby," she went on in a steady, straight way, without 
regarding this, "asks me to marry him. The question I have to ask 
myself is, shall I marry him ? That is so, father, is it not ? You have 
told me so, father. Have you not ?" 

'"Certainly, my dear." 

"'Let it be so."' 

The psychology ot Louisa's development and of her brother 
Tom's is sound. Having no outlet for her emotional life except in 
her love for her brother, sh^ 1 ;ves for him, and marries Bounderby 
under pressure from Tom for Tom's sake ('What does it 
matter ?'). Thus, by the constrictions and starvations of the Grad- 
grind regime , arc natural affection and capacity for disinterested 
devotion turned to ill. As for Tom, the regime has made of him a 
bored and sullen whelp, and 'he was becoming that not unpre- 
cedented triumph of calculation which is usually at work on number 
one' the Utilitarian philosophy has done that for him. He 
declares that when he goes to live with Bounderby as having a post 
in the bank, 'he'll have his revenge'. 'I mean, I'll enjoy myself a 
little, and go about and see something and hear something. I'll 
recompense myself for the way in which I've been brought up'. 
His descent into debt and bank-robbery is natural. And it is natural 
that Louisa having sacrificed herself for this unrepaying object of 
affection, should be found not altogether unresponsive when Mr. 
James Harthouse, having sized up the situation, pursues his oppor- 
tunity with well-bred and calculating tact. His apologia for genteel 
cynicism is a shrewd thrust at the Gradgrind philosophy : 

"'The only difference between us and the professors of virtue or 
benevolence, or philanthropynever mind the nameis, that we 
know it is all meaningless, and say so ; while they know it equally, 
and will never say so." 

'Why should she be shocked or warned by this reiteration ? It was 
not so unlike her father's principles, and her early training, that it need 
startle her.' 

259 



HARD TIMUS 

"When, fleeing from temptation, she arrives back at her father's 
house, tells him her plignt, and, crying, 'All I know is, your phil- 
osophy and your teaching wiU not save me', collapses, he sees *the 
pride of his heart and the triumph of his system lying an insensible 
heap at his feet'. The fallacy now calamitously demonstrated can 
be seenfocussed in that 'pride', which brings together in an illusory 
oneness the pride of his system and his love for his child. What 
that love is Gradgrind now knows, and he knows that it matters to 
him more than the system, which is thus confuted (the educational 
failure as such being a lesser matter). There is nothing sentimental 
h^re ; the demonstration is impressive, because we are convinced 
of the love, and because Gradgrind has been made to exist for us as 
a man who has 'meant to do right' : 

'He said it earnestly, ind, to do him justice, he had. In gauging 
fathomless deeps with his little mean excise rod, and in staggering over 
the universe with his rusty stiff-legged compasses, he had meant to do 
great things. Within the limits of hi "hort *ether he had tumbled 
about, annihilating the flowers of existence with greater singleness of 
purpose than many of the blatant personages whose company lie kept.' 

The demonstration still to come, that of which the other 'triumph 
of his system', Tom, is the centre, is sardonic comedy, imagined 
with great intensity and done with the sure touch of genius. There 
is the pregnant scene in which Mr. Gradgrind, in the deserted ring 
of a third-rate travelling circus, has to recognize his son in a comic 
negro servant ; and has to recognize that his son owes his escape 
from Justice to a peculiarly disinterested gratitude to the oppor- 
tunity given him by the non-Utilitarian Mr. Sleary, grateful for 
Sissy's sake, to assume such a disguise : 

'In a preposterous coat, like a beadle's, with cuffs and flap: exagger- 
ated to an unspeakable extent ; in an immense waistcoat, knee breeches, 
buckled shoes, and a mad cocked-hat ; with nothing fitting him, and 
everything of coarse material, moth-eaten, and full of holes ; with 
seams in his black face, where fear and heat had started through the 
greasy composition daubed all over it ; anything so grimly, detestably, 
ridiculously shameful as the whelp in his comic livery, Mr. Gradgrind 
never could by any other means have believed in, weigh able and 
measurable fact though it was. And one of his model children had 
come to this ! 

'At first the whelp would not draw any nearer but persisted in re- 
maining up there by himself. Yielding at length, if any concession so 

240 



DICKENS 
sullenly made can be called yielding, tc the entreaties of Sissy for 



isv. he disowned altogether he came c'own, bench by bench, 
until he stood in the sawdust, on the verge of the circle, as far as 
possible, within its limits, from where LJ father sat. 

'"How was this done?" asked the father. 

'"How was what done ?" moodil/ answered the son. 

'"This robbery," said the father, raising his voice upon the word. 

1 "I forced the safe myself overnight, and shut it up ajar before I went 
away. I had had the key that was found made long before. I dropped 
it that morning, that it might be supposed to have been used. I didn't 
take the money all at once. I pretended to put my balance away every 
night, but I didn't. Now you know all about it." 

*"If a thunderbolt had fallen on me," said the father, "it would have 
shocked me less than this !" 

'"I don't see why," grumbled the son. "So many people are 
employed in situations of trust ; so many people, out of so many, will 
be dishonest. I have heard you talk, a hundred times, of its being a 
law. How can I help laws ? * ou have comforted others with such 
things, father. Comfort yourself!" 

'The father buried his face in his hands, and the son stood in his dis- 
gra~eful grotesqueness, biting straw : his hands, with the black partly 
worn awa) inside, Booking Wee the hands of a monkey. The evening 
was fast closing in ; and, from time to time, he turned the whites of his 
eyes restlessly and impatiently towards his father. They were the only 
parts of his face that showed any life or expression, the pigment upon 
it was so thick.' 

Something of the rich complexity of Dickens's art may be seen 
in this passage. No simple formula can take account of the various 
elements in the vvhole effect, a sardonic-tragic in which satire con- 
sorts with pathos. The excerpt in itself suggests the justification for 
saying that Hard Times is a poetic work. It suggests that the genius 
of the writer may fairly be described as that of a poetic dramatist, 
and that, in our preconceptions about 'the novel', we may miss, 
within the field of fictional prose, possibilities of concentration and 
flexibility in the interpretation of life such as we associate with 
Shakespearean drama. 

The note, as we have it above in Tom's retort, of ironic-satiric 
discomfiture of th<? Utilitarian philosopher by the rebound of his 
formulae upon himself is developed, in the ensuing scene with 
Bitzer, the truly successful pupil, the real triumph of the system. 
He arrives to intercept Tom s flight : 
Q 241 



HARD TIMES 

'Bitzer, still holding the paralysed culprit by the collar, stood in the 
Ring, blinking at his olc patron through the darkness of the tw Jight. 

'"Bitzer," said Mr. Gradgrind, broken down, and miserably sub- 
missive to him, "have you a near:?" 

'"The circu^tion, sir," returned Bitzer, smiling at the oddity of the 
question, "couldn't be carried on without one. No man, sir, ac- 
quainted with the facts established by Harvey relating to the circulation 
of the blood, can doubt that I have a heart." 

'"Is it accessible," cried Mr. Grandgrind, "to any compassionate 
influence?" 

'"It is accessible to Reason, sir," returned the excellent young man. 
"And to nothing else." 

'They stood looking at each other ; Mr. Gradgrind's face as white as 
the pursuer's. 

'"What motive even what motive in reason can you have for 
preventing the escape of this wretched youth," said Mr. Gradgrind, 
"and crushing his miserable father ? See his sister here. Pity us !" 

'"Sir," returned Bitzer in a very bu^Jiess-iike and logical manner, 
"since you ask me what motive I have in reason for taking young 
Mr. Tom back to Coketown, it is only reasonable to let you know . . . 
I am going to take young Mr. Tom back to Coketown, in ordei to 
deliver him over to Mr. Bounderby. Si*., I have ro doubc whatever 
that Mr. Bounderby will then promote me to young Mr. Tom's 
situation. And I wish to have his situation, sir, for it will be a rise to 
me, and will do me good." 

'"If this is solely a question of self-interest with you " Mr. Grad- 
grind began. 

'"I beg your pardon for interrupting you, sir," returned Bitzer, 
"but I am sure you know that the whole social system is a question of 
self-interest. What you must always appeal to is a person's self- 
interest. It's your only hold. We are so constituted. I was brought 
up in that catechism when I was very young, sir, as you are aware." 

'"What sum of money," said Mr. Gradgrind, "will you set agains; 
your expected promotion ?" 

'"Thank you, sir," returned Bitzer, "for hinting at the proposal; 
but I will not set any sum against it. Knowing that your clear head 
would propose that alternative, I have gone over the calculations in my 
mind ; and I find that to compound a felony, even on very Ugh terms 
indeed, would not be as safe and good for me as my improved pros- 
pects in the Bank." 

'"Bitzer," said Mr. Gradgrird, stretching out his hands as though 

242 



DICKENS 

he would have said, See how miserable 1 am ! "Bitzer, I have but cne 
chance left to soften you. You were many years at my school. If, in 
remembrance of the pains bestowed upon you there, you can persuade 
yourself in any degree to disregard your present interest and release my 
son, I entreat and pray you to give him the benefit of that remem- 
brance." 

'"I really wonder, sir," rejoined the old pupil in an argumentative 
manner, "to find you taking a position so untenable. My schooling 
was paid for ; it was a bargain ; and when I came away, the bargain 
ended." 

'It was a fundamental principle of the Gradgrind philosophy, that 
everything was to be paid for. Nooody was ever on any account to 
give anybody anything, or render anybody help without purchase. 
Gratitude was to be abolished, and the virtues springing from it were 
not to be. Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to 
death, w^s to be a bargain across the counter. And if we didn't get to 
Heaven that way, it was not a politico-economical place, and we had 
no business there. 

'"I don't deny," added Bitzer, "that my schooling was cheap. But 
that comes right, sir. I was made in the cheapest market, and have to 
dispose of myself in the dearest."' 

Tom's escape is contrived, successfully in every sense, by means 
belonging to Dickensian high-fantastic comedy. And there follows 
the solemn moral of tae whole fable, put with the tightness of 
genius into Mr. Sleary 's asthmatic mouth. He, agent of the artist's 
marvellous tact, acquits himself of it characteristically : 

'"Thquire, you don't need to be told that dogth ith wonderful 

animalth." 

'" Their instinct," said Mr. Gradgrind, "is surprising." 
'"Whatever you call it and I'm bletht if I know what to call it" 

said Sleary, "it ith athtonithing. The way in which a dog'll find you 

the di'thtanthe he'll come !" 
'"His scent," said Mr. Gradgrind, "being so fine." 
'"I'm bletht if I know what to call it," repeated Sleary, shaking his 

head, "but I have had dogth find me, Thquire . . ."' 

And Mi. Sleary proceeds to explain that Sissy's truant father is 
certainly dead because his performing dog, who \vould never have 
deserted him living, has come back to the Horse-riding : 

'"he wath lame, and pretty well blind. He went round to our chil- 

243 



TIM2S 

dr ?n, one after another, ath if he wath a theeking for a child he knowed ; 
and then he come to me, . nd thro wed hithelf up behind, and thtcod on 
his two fore-legth, weak as he wath, and then he wagged hith tail and 
died. Thquire, that dog was Merrylegth." ' 

The whole passage has to be read as it stands in the text (Book III, 
Chapter VIII). Reading it there we have to stand off and reflect at a 
distance to recognize the potentialities that might have been realized 
elsewhere as Dickensian sentimentality. There is nothing senti- 
mental in the actual effect. The profoundly serious intention is in 
control, the touch sure, and the structure that ensures the poise 
uiiassertively complex. Here is :he formal moral : 

"'Tho, whether her father bathely detherted her; or whether he 
broke hith own heart alone, rather than pull her down along with 
him ; never will be known now, Thquire, till no, not till we know 
how the dogth fmdth uth out !" 

'"She keeps the bottle that he sent her for, to this hour; and she 
will believe in his affection to the last moment of her life," said Mr. 
Gradgrind. 

'"It theemth to prethent two thingth to a perthon, don't it, 
Thquire ?" said Mr. Sleary, musing as he looked down into the depJis 
of his brandy-and-water : "one, that there ith a love in the world, not 
all Thelf-interetht after all, but thomething very different ; t'other, that 
it hath a way of ith own of calculating or not calculating, whith thome- 
how or another ith at leatht ath hard to give a name to, ath the wayth 
of the dogth ith!" 

'Mr. Gradgrind looked out of the window, and made no reply. 
Mr. Sleary emptied his glass and recalled the ladies/ 

It will be seen that the effect (I repeat, the whole passage must be 
read), apparently so simple and easily right, depends up on a subtle 
interplay of diverse elements, a multiplicity in unison of timbre and 
tone. Dickens, we know, was a popular entertainer, but Flaubet 
never wrote anything approaching mis in subtlety of achieved art. 
Dickens, of course, has a vitality that we don't look for in Flaubert. 
Shakespeare was a popular entertainer, we reflect not too ex- 
travagantly, we can surely tell ourselves, as we ponder passages of 
this characteristic quality in their relation, a closely organized one, 
to the poetic whole. 

Criticism, of course, has its points to make against Hard Times. 
It can be said of Stephen Blackpool, not only that he is too good and 
qualifies too consistently for the martyr's nalo, but that he invites 

244 



DICKENS 

an adaptation of the objection brought, from the negro point of 
view, against Uncle Tom, which was to the effect that he was a 
white man's good nigger. And certainly it doesn't need a working- 
class bias to produce the commenu that when Dickens comes to the 
Trade Unions his understanding of the world he oilers to deal with 
betrays a marked limitation. There were undoubtedly professional 
agitators, and Trade Union solidarity was undoubtedly often 
asserted at the expense of the individual's rights, but it is a score 
against a work so insistently typical in intention that it should give 
the representative role to the agitator, Slackbridge, and make Trade 
Unionism nothing better than the pardonable error of the m:> 
guided and oppressed, and, as such, an agent in the martyrdom of 
the good working man. (But to be fair we must remember the 
conversation between Bitzer and Mrs. Sparsit : 

'"It is much to be regretted," said Mrs. Sparsit, making her nose 
more Roman and her eyebrows more Coriolanian in the strength 
of her severity, "thai the ^nted masters allow of any such class 
combination." 

'"Yes, ma'am," said Bitzer. 

'"Being united themselves, they ought one and all to set their faces 
against employing any mar. who is united with any other man," said 
Mrs. Sparsit. 

'"They have done that, ma'am," returned Bitzer; "but it rather 
fell through, ma'am." 

"'I do not pretend t6 understand these things," said Mrs. Sparsit with 
dignity. "... I only know that those people must be conquered, and 
that it's high time it was done, once for all.'") 

Just as Dickens has no glimpse of the part to be played by Trade 
Unionism in bettering the conditions he deplores, so, though he 
sees there are many places of worship in Coketown, of various kinds 
of ugliness, he has no notion of the part played by religion in the life 
of nineteenth-century industrial England. The kind of self-respect- 
ing steadiness and conscientious restraint that he represents in 
Stephen did certainly exist on a large scale among the working- 
classes, and this is an important historical fact. But there would 
have been no such fact if those chapels described by Dickens had 
had no more relation to the life of Coketown than he shows them 
to have. 

Again, his attitude to Trade Unionism is not the only expression 
of a lack of political understanding. Parliament for him is merely 

245 



HARD TIMES 

the national dust-yard', where the 'national dustmen' entertain 
one another 'with a great many noisy little fights among them- 
selves', and appoint commissions which fill blue-books with dreary 
facts and futile statistics of a kind that helps Gradgrind to 'prove 
that the Good Samaritan was a bad economist*. 

Yet Dickens's understanding of Victorian civilization is adequate 
for his purpose ; the justice and penetration of his criticism are un- 
affected. And his moral perception works in alliance with a clear 
insight into the English social structure. Mr. James Harthouse is 
necessary for the plot ; but he too has his representative function, 
lie has come to Coketown as P prospective parliamentary candi- 
date, for 'the Gradgrind party wanted assistance in cutting the 
throats of the Graces', and they * liked fine gentlemen; they pre- 
tended that they did not, but they did ' . And so the alliance between 
the old ruling class and the 'hard' men figures duly in the fable. 
This economy is typical. There is Mrs. Sparsit, for instance, who 
might seem to be there merely for db- plot. But her 'husband was 
a Powler', a fact she reverts to as often as Bounderby to his mythical 
birth in a ditch; and the two complementary opposites, when 
Mr. James Harthouse, who in his languid assurance of class- 
superiority doesn't need to boast, is added, form a trio that suggests 
the whole system of British snobbery. 

But the packed richness of Hard Times is almost incredibly varied, 
and not all the quoting I have indulged ir suggests it adequately. 
The final stress may fall on Dickens's comnand of word, phrase-, 
rhythm and image : in ease and range there is surely no greater 
master of English except Shakespeare. This conies back to saying 
that Dickens is a great poet : his endless reSource in felicitously 
varied expression is an extraordinary responsiveness to life. His 
senses are charged with emotional energy, and his intelligence plays 
and flashes in the quickest and sharpest perception. That is, his 
mastery of 'style* is of the only kind that matters which is not to 
say that he hasn't a conscious interest in what can be done with 
words ; many of his felicities could plainly not have come if there 
had not been, in the background, a habit of such interest. Take 
this, for instance : 

'He had reached the neutral ground upon the outskirts of the town, 
which was neither town nor country, but either spoiled . . .' 

But he is no more a stylist than Shakespeare ; and his mastery of 
expression is most fairly suggested by stressing, not his descriptive 

246 



DICKENS 

evocations (there are some magnificent ones in Hard Times- -the 
varied dtcor of the action is made vividly present, you can feel the 
velvety dust trodden by Mrs. Sparsit in her stealth, and feel the 
imminent storm), but his strictly dramatic felicities. Perhaps, how- 
ever, 'strictly* is not altogether a good pointer, since Dickens is a 
master of his chosen art, and his mastery shows itself in the way in 
which he moves between less direct forms of the dramatic and the 
direct rendering of speech. Here is Mrs. Gradgrind dying (a cipher 
in the Gradgrind system, the poor creature has never really been 
alive) : 

' She had positively refused to take to her bed ; on the ground that, 
if she did, she would never hear the last of it. 

'Her feeble voice sounded so far away in her bundle of shawls, and 
the sound of another voice addressing her seemed to take such a long 
time in getting down to her ears, that she might have been lying at the 
bottom of a well. The poor lady was nearer Truth than she ever had 
been : which had mucii to d / with it. 

'On being told that Mrs. Bounderby was there, she replied, at cross 
purposes, that she had never called him by that name since he had 
m xried Louisa ; and that pending her choice of an objectionable 
name, she had called him J ; and that she could not at present depart 
from that regulation, not being yet provided with a permanent sub- 
stitute. Louisa had sat by her for some minutes, and had spoken to her 
often, before she arrived at a clear understanding who it was. She then 
seemed to come to it all at once. 

'"Well, my dear," said Mrs. Gradgrind, "and I hope you are going 
on satisfactorily to yourself. It was all your father's doing. He set his 
heart upon it. And he ought to know." 

"'I want to hear of you, mother ; not of myself." 

'"You want to hear of me, my dear ? That's something new, I am 
sure, when anybody wants to hear of me. Not at all well, Louisa. 
Very faint and giddy." 

"'Are you in pain dear mother ?" 

'"I think there's a pain somewhere in the room," said Mrs. Grad- 
grind, "but I couldn't positively say that I have got it." 

'After this strange speech, she lay silent for some time. 



"'But there is something not an Ology at all that your father has 
missed, or forgotten, Louisa. I don't know what it is. I have often 
sat with Sissy near me, and thought about it. I shall never get its name 

247 



HARD TIMES 

now. But your father may. It makes me rcstlrss. I want to write to 
him, to find out, for God's sake, what it is. Give me a pen, gi/e me 
a pen/' 

'Even the power of restlessness was gone, except from the poor 
head, which could just turn from side to side. 

'She fancied, however, that her request had been complied with, 
and that the pen she could not Irve held was in her hand. It matters 
little what figures of wonderful no-meaning she began to trace upon 
her wrappers. The hand soon stopped in the midst of them ; the 
light that had always been feeble and dim behind the weak trans- 
parency, went out; and even Mrs. Gradgrind, emerged from the 
shadow in which man walketh and disquieteth himself in vain, took 
upon her the dread solemnity of the sages and patriarchs.' 

With this kind of thing before us, we talk not of style but of 
dramatic creation and imaginative genius. 



248 



Appendix 

DANIEL DERONDA: A Conversation 
By HENRY JAMES 

Theodora, one day early in tLe autumn, sat on her verandah 
with a piece of embroidery, the design of which she made up as 
she proceeded, being careful, however, to have a Japanese screen 
before her, to keep her inspiration at the proper altitude. Pulcheria, 
who was paying her a visit, sat near her with a closed book, m a 
paper cover, in her lap. Pulcheria was playing with the pug-dog, 
rather idly, but Theodora was stitching, steadily and meditatively. 
'Well', said Theodora at last, 'I wonder what he accomplished in 
the East'. Pulcheria took the little dog into her lap and made him 
sit on the book. ' Oh' she replied, * they had tea-parties at Jerusalem 

exclusively of ladies and he sat in the midst and stirred his tea 

and made high-toned remarks. And then Mirah sang a little, just 
a little, on account of her voice being so weak. Sit still, Fide', she 
continued, addressing thelittle dog, 'and keep your nose out of my 
face. But it's a nice little nose, all the same', she pursued, 'a nice 
little short snub nose and not a horrid big Jewish nose. Oh, my 
dear, when I think what a collection of noses there must have been 
at that wedding!' At this moment Constantius steps upon the 
verandah from within, hat and stick in hand and his shoes a trifle 
dusty. He has some distance to come before he reaches the place 
where the ladies are sitting, and this gives Pulcheria time to murmur, 
'Talk of sHub noses!' Constantius is presented by Theodora to 
Pulcheria, and he sits down and exclaims upon the admirable blue- 
ness of uhe sea, which lies in a straight band across the green of the 
little lawn ; comments too upon the pleasure of having one side of 
one's verandah in the shade. Soon Fido, the little dog, still restless, 
jumps off Pulcheria's lap and reveals the book, which lies title 
upward. 'Oh', says Constantius, 'you have been finishing Daniel 
Deronda*.' Then follows a conversation vhich it will be more 
convenient to present in another form. 

THEODORA. Yes, Pulcheria has been reading aloud the last chap- 
ters to me. They are wonderfully beautiful. 

249 



APPENDIX 

CCNSTANTIUS (after a moment's hesitation). Yes, they are very 
beautiful. I am sure yea read well, Pulcheria, to give tLe fine 
passages their full value. 

THEODORA. She reads well when she chooses, but I am sorry to 
say that in some of the fine passages of this last book she took quite 
a false tone. I couldn't have read them aloud myself; I should have 
broken down. But Pulcheria would you really believe it ? when 
she couldn't go on it was not for tears, but for the contrary. 

CONSTANTIUS. For smiles ? Did you really find it comical ? One 
of my objections to Daniel Deronda is the absence of those delight- 
fully humorous passages which enlivened the author's former works. 

PULCHERIA. Oh, I think there are some places as amusing as any- 
thing in Adam Bede or The Mill on the Floss : for instance where, at 
the last, Deronda wipes Gwendolen's tears and Gwendolen wipes 
his. 

CONSTANTIUS. Yes, I know what you mean. I can understand 
that situation presenting a slightly ridiculous image ; that is, if the 
current of the story don't swiftly carry you past. 

PULCHERIA. What do you mean by the current of the story * I 
never read a story with less current. It is not a river ; it is a series of 
lakes. I once read of a group of little uneven ponds resembling, 
from a bird's-eye view, a looking-glass which had fallen upon the 
floor and broken, and was lying in fragments. That is what Daniel 
Deronda would look like, on a bird's-eye view. 

THEODORA. Pulcheria found that comparison in a French novel. 
She is always reading French novels. 

CONSTANTIUS. Ah, there are some very good ones. 

PULCHERIA (perversely). I don't know; I think these are some 
very poor ones. 

CONSTANTIUS. The comparison is not bad, at any rate. I know 
what you mean by Daniel Deronda lacking current. It has almost as 
little as Romola. 

PULCHERIA. Oh, Romola is unpardonably slow ; it is a kind of 
literary tortoise. 

CONSTANTIUS. Yes, I know what you mean by that, but I am 
afraid you are not friendly to our great novelist. 

THEODORA. She likes Balzac and George Sand and other impure 
writers. 

250 



DANIEL DERONDA 

CONST ANTIUS. Well, I must say I understand that. 

PULCHERIA. My favourite novelist is "Tiackeray, and I am ex- 
tremely fond of Miss Austen. 

CONSTANTIUS. I understand thac too. You read over The New- 
comes and Pride and Prejudice. 

PULCHERIA. No, I don't read them over now ; I think them over. 
I have been making visits for a long time past to a series of friends, 
and I have spent the last six months in reading Daniel Deronda aloud. 
Fortune would have it that I should always arrive by the same train 
as the new number. I am accounted a frivolous, idle creature ; I am 
not a disciple in the new school of embroidery, like Theodora ; so 
I was immediately pushed into a chair and the book thrust into my 
hand, that I might lift up my voice and make peace between all the 
impatiences that were snatching at it. So I may claim at least that 
I have read every word of the work. I never skipped. 

THEODORA. I should hop^ not, indeed ! 

CONSTANTIUS. And do you mean that you really didn't enjoy it ? 

PULCHERIA. I found it protracted, pretentious, pedantic. 

CONSTANTIUS. I see ; I can understand that. 

THEODORA. Oh, you understand too much ! This is the twen- 
tieth time you have used that formula. 

CONSTANTIUS. What will you have ? You know I must try to 
understand ; it's my *rade ! 

THEODORA. He means he writes reviews. Trying not to under- 
stand is what I call that trade ! 

CONSTANTIUS. Say then I take it the wrong way ; that is why it 
has never madt my fortune. But I do try to understand ; it is my 
-my (He pauses). 

THEODORA. I know what you want to say. Your strong side. 

PULCHERIA. And what is his weak side ? 

THEODORA. He writes novels. 

CONSTANTIUS. I have written one. You can't call that a side. 
It's a little facet, at the most. 

PULCHERIA. You talk as if you were a diamond. I should like to 
read it not aloud ! 

CONSTANTIUS. You can't read it softly enough. But you, Theo- 
dora, you didn't find our book too 'protracted' ? 

THEODORA. I should have liked it to continue indefinitely ; to 

251 



APPENDIX 

kcef coming out always; to be one of the regular things of 
life. 

PULCHBRIA. Oh, come here, little dog ! To think that Daniel 
Deronda might be perpetual when you, little short-nosed darling, 
can't last at the most more than pine or ten years ! 

THEODORA. A book like Daniel Deronda becomes part of one's 
life ; one lives in it, or alongsidt of it. I don't hesitate to say that I 
have been living in this one for the last eight months. It is such a 
complete world George Eliot builds up ; it is so vast, so much- 
embracing ! It has such a firm earta and such an ethereal sky. You 
can turn into it and lose yourself in it. 

PULCHBRIA. Oh, easily, and die of cold and starvation ! 

THEODORA. I have been very near to poor Gwendolen and very 
near to that sweet Mirah. And the dear little Meyricks also ; I 
know them intimately well. 

PULCHERIA. The Meyricks, I grant you, a-e the best thing in the 
book. 

THEODORA. They are a delicious family; I wish they lived in 
Boston. I consider Herr Klesmer almost Shakespearean, and his 
wife is almost as good. I have been near .0 poor, prand Mordecai 

PULCHERIA. Oh, reflect, my dear ; not too near ! 

THEODORA. And as for Deronda himself I freely confess that I am 
consumed with a hopeless passion for him. He is the most irresist- 
ible man in the literature of fiction. 

PULCHBRIA. He is not a man at all. 

THEODORA. I remember nothing more beautiful than the de- 
scription of his childhood, and that picture of his lying on the 
grass in the abbey cloister, a beautiful seraph-faced b^y, with a 
lovely voice, reading history and asking his Scotch tutor why the 
Popes had so many nephews. He must have been delightfully 
handsome. 

PULCHERIA. Never, my dear, with that nose ! I am sure he had a 
nose, and I hold that the author has shown great pusillanimity in her 
treatment of it. She has quite shirked it. The picture you speak of 
is very pretty, but a picture is not a person. And why is he always 
grasping his coat-collar, as if he wished to hang himself up ? The 
author had an uncomfortable feeling that she must make him do 
something real, something visible and sensible, and she hit upon 

252 



DANIEL DERONDA 

that clumsy figure. I don't see what you mean by saying you have 
been njar those people ; that is just what r.ne is not. They produce 
no illusion. They are described and analysed to death, but we don't 
see them nor hear them nor touch chem. Deronda clutches his coat- 
collar, Mirah crosses her feet, Mordecai talks like the Bible ; but 
that doesn't make real figures of them. They have no existence 
outside of the author's study. 

THEODORA. If you mean that they are nobly imaginative I quite 
agree with you ; and if they say nothing to your own imagination 
the fault is yours, not theirs. 

PULCHBRIA. Pray don't say they are Shakespearean again. Shake- 
speare went to work another way. 

CONSTANTIUS. I think you are both in a measure right ; there is a 
distinction to be drawn. There are in Daniel Deronda the figures 
based upon observation and the figures based upon invention. This 
distinction, I know, is r ather a rough one. There are no figures in 
any novel that are pure observation, and none that are pure inven- 
tion. But either element may preponderate, and in those cases in 
wlrch invention has preponderated George Eliot seems to me to 
have achieved at the best but so many brilliant failures. 

THEODORA. And are you turning severe ? I thought you admired 
her so much. 

CONSTANTIUS. I defy any one to admire her more, but one must 
discriminate. Speaking brutally, I consider Daniel Deronda the 
weakest of her books. It strikes me as very sensibly inferior to 
Middlemarch. I have an immense opinion of Middlemarch. 

PULCHERIA. r lot having been obliged by circumstances to read 
Middlemarc^ to other people, I didn't read it at all. I couldn't read 
it to myself. I tried, but I broke down. I appreciated Rosamond, 
^ut I couldn't believe in Dorothea. 

THEODORA (very gravely). So much the worse for you, Pulcheria. 
I have enjoyed Daniel Deronda because I had enjoyed Middlemarch. 
Why should you throw Middlemarch up against her ? It seems to 
me that if a book is fine it is fine. I have enjoyed Deronda deeply, 
from beginning to end. 

CONSTANTIUS. I assure you, so have I. I can read nothing of 
George Eliot's without enjoyment. I even enjoy her poetry, though 
I don't approve of it. In whatever she writes I enjoy her intelli- 

253 



APPENDIX 

genc^ ; it has space and air like a fine landscape. The intellectual 
brilliancy of Daniel Dercnda strikes me as very great, in e:.cess of 
anything the author has done. In the first couple of numbers of the 
book this ravished me. I delighted in its deep, rich English tone, 
in which so ma^iy notes seemed melted together. 

PULCHERIA. The tone is not English, it is German. 

CONSTANTIUS. 1 understand that if Theodora will allow me to 
say so. Little by little I began to feel that I cared less for certain 
notes than for others. I say it under my breath I began to feel an 
occasional temptation to skip. Roughly speaking, all the Jewish 
burden of the story tended to weary me ; it is this part that produces 
the poor illusion which I agree with Pulcheria in finding. Gwen- 
dolen and Grandcourt are admirable Gwendolen is a masterpiece. 
She is known, felt and presented, psychologically, altogether in the 
grand manner. Beside her and beside her husband a consummate 
picture of English brutality refined and distfUed (for Grandcourt is 
before all things brutal), Deronda, Mordecai and Mirah are hardly 
more than shadows. They and their fortunes are all improvisation. 
I dou't say anything against improvisation. When it succeeds i' has 
a surpassing charm. But it must succeed. With Geoige Eliot it 
seems to me to succeed, but a little less than one would expect of 
her talent. The story of Deronda's life, his mother's story, Mirah's 
story, are quite the sort of tiling one finds in George Sand. But 
they are really not so good as they would be in George Sand. 
George Sand would have carried it off with a lighter hand. 

THEODORA. Oh, Constantius, how can you compare George 
Eliot's novels to that woman's ? It is sunlight and moonshine. 

PULCHBRIA. I really think the two writers are very *nuch alike. 
They are both very voluble, both addicted to moralizing and 
philosophizing a tout bout de champ, both inartistic. 

CONSTANTIUS. I see what you mean. But George Eliot is solid, 
and George Sand is liquid. When occasionally George Eliot 
liquefies as in the history of Deronda's birth, and in that of Mirah 
it is not to so crystalline a clearness as the author of Consuelo and 
Andrt. Take Mirah's long narrative of her adventures, wnen she 
unfolds them to Mrs. Meyrick. It is arranged, it is artificial, ancien 
jeu, quite in the George Sand manner. But George Sand would 
have done it better, lae false tone would have remained, but it 

254 



DANIEL DERONDA 

would have been more persuasive. It would have been a fib but 
the fit would have been neater. 

THEODORA. I don't think fibbing neatly a merit, and I don't see 
what is to be gained by such comparisons. George Eliot is pure and 
George Sand is impure ; how can you compare thorn ? As for the 
Jewish element in Deronda, I think it a very fine idea ; it's a noble 
subject. Wilkie Collins and Miss Lraddon would not have thought 
of it, but that does not condemn it. It shows a large conception of 
what one may do in a novel. I heard you say, the other day, that 
most novels were so trivial thit they had no general ideas. Here 
is a general idea, the idea interpreted by Deronda. I have never 
disliked the Jews as some people do ; I am not like Pulcheria, who 
sees a Jew in every bush. I wish there were one ; I would cultivate 
shrubbery. I have known too many clever and charming Jews ; 
I have known none that were not clever. 

PULCHERIA. Clever, Hut not charming. 

CONSTANTIUS. I quite agree with you as to Deronda's going in 
for the Jews and turning out a Jew himself being a fine subject, and 
this quite apart from the fact of whether such a thing as a Je wish 
revival be at all a possibility. If it be a possibility, so much the 
better so much the better for the subject, I mean. 

PULCHERIA. A la bonne heure! 

CONSTANTIUS. I rather suspect it is not a possibility ; that the 
Jews in general take themselves much less seriously than that. They 
have other fish to fry. George Eliot takes them as a person outside 
of Judaism aesthetically. I don't believe that is the way they take 
themselves. 

PULCHEP T \. They have the less excuse then for keeping them- 
selves so dirty. 

THEODORA. George Eliot must have known some delightful 
Jews. 

CONSTANTIUS. Very likely ; but I shouldn't wonder if the most 
delightful of them had smiled a trifle, here and there, over her book. 
But that makes nothing, as Herr Klesmer would say. The subject 
is a noble one. The idea of depicting a nature able to feel and 
worthy to feel the sort of inspiration that takes possession of 
Deronda, of depicting it sympathetically, minutely and intimately 
such an idea has great elevation. Thereas something very fasti- 

255 



APPENDIX 

natir g in the mission that Deronda takes upon himself. I don't quite 
know what it means, I don't understand more than half o r Mor- 
decai's rhapsodies, and I don't perceive exactly what practical steps 
could be taken. Deronda coulu go about and talk with clever 
Jews not an unpleasant life. 

PULCHERIA. All that seems to me so unreal that when at the end 
the author finds herself confronted with the necessity of making 
him start for the East by the train, and announces that Sir Hugo 
and Lady Mallinger have given his wife 'a complete Eastern outfit', 
I descend to the ground with a ludicrous jump. 

CONSTANTIUS. Unreal, if you please ; that is no objection to it; 
it greatly tickles my imagination. I like extremely the idea of 
Mordecai believing, without ground of belief, that if he only wait, 
a young man on whom nature and society have centred all their 
gifts will come to him and receive from his hands the precious 
vessel of his hopes. It is romantic, but it is not vulgar romance ; it 
is finely romantic. And there is something very fine in the author's 
own feeling about Deronda. He is a very liberal creation. He is, 
I thiiJc, a failure a brilliant failure ; if he had been a success I should 
call him a splendid creation. The audio- meant to do tilings very 
handsomely for him ; she meant apparently to make a faultless 
human being. 

PULCHERIA. She made a dreadful prig. 

CONSTANTIUS. He 15 rather priggish, and one wonders that so 
clever a woman as George Eliot shouldn't see it. 

PULCHERIA. He has no blood in his body. His attitude at 
moments is like that of a high-priest in a tableau viv int. 

THEODORA. Pulcheria likes the little gentlemen in fhe French 
novels who take good care of their attitudes, which are always the 
same attitude, the attitude of 'conquest' of a conquest th?t tickles 
their vanity. Deronda has a contour that cuts straight through the 
middle of all that. He is made of a stuff that isn't dreamt of in their 
philosophy. 

PULCHERIA. Pulcheria likes very much a novel which she read 
three or four years ago, but which she has not forgotten. It was by 
Ivan Turg&iiefF, and it was called On the Eve. Theodora has read 
it, I know, because she admires Turgenieff, and Constantius has 
read it, I suppose, because he had read everything. 

256 



DANIEL DERONDA 

CONSTANTIUS. If I had no reason but that for my reading, it 
would je small. But Turgenieff is my man. 

PULCHERIA. You were just now praising George Eliot's general 
ideas. The tale of which I speak contains in the portrait of the hero 
vecy much such a general idea as you find in the portrait of Deronda. 
Don't you remember the young Bulgarian student, Inssaroff, who 
gives himself the mission of rescuing his country from its subjection 
to the Turks ? Poor man, if he had foreseen the horrible summer 
of 1876 ! His character is the picture of a race-passion, of patriotic 
hopes and dreams. But what a: difference in the vividness of the 
two figures. Inssarofi is a man ; nc stands up on his feet ; we see 
him, hear him, touch him. And it has taken the author but a couple 
of hundred pages not eight volumes to do it. 

THEODORA. I don't remember Inssaroff at all, but I perfectly 
remembei the heroine, Helena. She is certainly most remarkable ; 
but remarkable as she is, I should never dream of calling her as 
wonderful as Gwendolen. 

CONSTANTIUS. Turgemcft is a magician, which I don't think I 
shorld call George Eliot. One is a poet, the other is a philosopher. 
One cares ibr the aspect of things and the other cares for the reason 
of things. George Eliot, in embarking with Deronda, took aboard, 
as it were, a far heavier cargo than Turgenieff with his InssarofF. 
She proposed, consciously, to strike more notes. 

PULCHERIA. Oh, consciously, yes ! 

CONSTANTIUS. George Eliot wished to show the possible pictur- 
csquencss the romance, as it were of a high moral tone. Deronda 
is a moralist a' moralist with a rich complexion. 

THEODORA. It is a most beautiful nature. I don't know anywhere 
a more complete, a more deeply analysed portrait of a great nature. 
\Ve praLc novelists for wandering and creeping so into the small 
corners of the mind That is what we praise Balzac for when he 
gets down upon all fours to crawl through Le Pere Goriot or Les 
Parents Pauvres. But I must say 1 think it a finer thing to unlock 
with as firm a hand as George Eliot some of the greater chambers of 
human character. Deronda is in a manner ar ideal character, if you 
will, but he seems to me triumphantly married to reality. There 
are some admirable things said about him ; nothing can be finer 
than those pages of description of his moral temperament in the 
R 257 



APPENDIX 

fourdi book his elevated way of looking at things, his impartiality, 
his universal sympathy, and at the fame time his fear of their turning 
into mere irresponsible indifference. I remember some of it verb- 
ally : 'He was ceasing to care for knowledge he had no ambition 
for practice unless they could be gathered up into one current 
with his emotions/ 

PULCHERIA. Oh, there is plenty about his emotions. Everything 
about him is 'emotive*. That bad word occurs on every fifth page. 

THEODORA. I don't see that it is a bad word. 

PULCHERIA. It may be good German, but it is poor English. 

THEODORA. It is not German at all ; it is Latin. So, my dear ! 

PULCHERIA. As I say, then, it is not English. 

THEODORA. This is the first time I ever heard that George Eliot's 
style was bad ! 

CONSTANTIUS. It is admirable ; it has the most delightful and the 
most intellectually comfortable suggestions But it is occasionally 
a little too long-sleeved, as I may say. It is sometimes too loose a 
fit for the thought, a little baggy. 

THEODORA. And the advice he gives Gwendolen, the thing' he 
says to her, they are the very essence of wisdom, of warm human 
wisdom, knowing life and feeling it. 'Keep your fear as a safe- 
guard, it may make consequences passionately present to you/ 
What can be better than that ? 

PULCHBRIA. Nothing, perhaps. But what can be drearier than a 
novel in which the function of the hero young, handsome and 
brilliant is to give didactic advice, in a proverbial form, to the 
young, beautiful and brilliant heroine ? 

CONSTANTIUS. That is not putting it quite fairly. Tlie function 
of Deronda is to make Gwendolen fall in love with him, to say 
nothing of falling in love himself with Mirah. 

PULCHBRIA. Yes, the less said about that the better. All we know 
about Mirah is that she has delicate rings of hair, sits with her feet 
crossed, and talks like an article in a new magazine. 

CONSTANTIUS. Deronda's function of adviser to Gwendolen does 
not strike me as so ridiculous. He is not nearly so ridiculous as 
if he were lovesick. It is a very interesting si tuation that of a man 
with whom a beautiful woman in trouble falls in love and yet whose 
affections are so preoccupied that the most he can do for her in 

258 



DANIEL DERONDA 

return is to enter kindly and sympathetically into her position, pity 
her ai d talk to her. George Eliot always gives us something that is 
strikingly and ironically characteristic of human life ; and what 
savours more of the essential crookedness of our fate than the sad 
cross-purposes of these two young people ? Poor Gwendolen's fall- 
ing in love with Deronda is part of her own luckless history, not 
of his. 

THEODORA. I do think he takes it to himself rather too little. No 
man had ever so little vanity. 

PULCHERIA. It is very inconsistent, therefore, as well as being 
extremely impertinent and ill-mannered, his buying back and send- 
ing to her her necklace at Leubronn. 

CONSTANTIUS. Oh, you must concede that; without it there 
would have been no story. A man writing of him, however, would 
certainly- have made him more peccable. As George Eliot lets 
herself go, in that quarter, she becomes delightfully, almost touch- 
ingly, feminine. It is like her making Romola go to housekeeping 
with Tessa, after Tito Melema's death ; like her making Dorothea 
m?rry Will Ladislaw. If Dorothea had married any one aftor her 
misadventure with Casaufcon, she would have married a trooper. 

THEODORA. Perhaps some day Gwendolen will marry Rex. 

PULCHERIA. Pray, who is Rex ? 

THEODORA. Why, Pulcheria, how gan you forget ? 

PULCHERIA. Nay, how can I remember? But I recall such a 
name in the dim antiquity of the first or second book. Yes, and 
then he is pushed to the front again at the last, just in time not to 
miss the falling of the curtain. Gwendolen will certainly not have 
the audac'*y to marry any one we know so little about. 

CONSTANTIUS. I have been wanting to say that there seems to me 
to be f.vo very distinct elements in George Eliot a spontaneous 
one and an artificial one. There is what she is by inspiration and 
what she is because it is expected of her. These two heads have been 
very perceptible in her recent writings ; they are much less notice- 
able in her early ones. 

THEODORA. You mean that she is too scientific ? So long as she 
remains the great literary genius that she is, how can she be too 
scientific ? She is simply permeated with the highest culture of 
the age. 

R* 259 



APPENDIX 

PU T .CHBRIA. She talks too much about the 'dynamic quality' of 
people's eyes. When she uses such a phrase as that in tLe first 
sentence in her book she is not a great literary genius, because she 
shows a want of tact. There can't be a worse limitation. 

CONST ANTIUS. The 'dynamic quality' of Gwendolen's gknce has 
made the tour of the world. 

THEODORA. It shows a very low level of culture on the world's 
part to be agitated by a term perfectly familiar to all decently edu- 
cated people. 

PULCHERIA. I don't pretend to be decently educated ; pray tell 
me what it means. 

CONSTANTIUS (promptly). I think Pulcheria has hit it in speaking 
of a want of tact. In the manner of the book, throughout, there is 
something that one may call a want of tact. The epigraphs in verse 
are a want of tact ; they are sometimes, I think, a trifle more pre- 
tentious than really pregnant ; the importunity of the moral re- 
flections is a want of tact ; theverydiffusenessisawantoftact. But 
it comes back to what I said just now about one's sense of the author 
writLig under a sort of external pressure. I began to notice it in 
Felix Holt ; I don't think I had before, ohe strikes me as a person 
who certainly has naturally a taste for general considerations, but 
who has fallen upon an age and a circle which have compelled her 
to give them an exaggerated attention. She does not strike me as 
naturally a critic, less still as naturally a sceptic ; her spontaneous 
part is to observe life and to feel it to feel it with admirable depth. 
Contemplation, sympathy and faith something like that, I should 
say, would have been her natural scale. If she had fallen upon an 
age of enthusiastic assent to old articles of faith, it seems to me 
possible that she would have had a more perfect, a more consistent 
and graceful development than she has actually had. If she liad cast 
herself into such a current her genius being e^ual it might have 
carried her to splendid distances. But she has chosen to go into 
criticism, and to the critics she addresses her work ; I mean the 
critics of the universe. Instead of feeling life itself, it is * views ' upon 
life that she tries to feel 

PULCHBRIA. She is the victim of a first-class education. I am so 
glad! 

CONSTANTIUS. Thanks to her admirable intellect she philoso- 

260 



DANIEL DERONDA 

phizes very sufficiently ; but meanwhile she has given a chill <x> her 
geniul. She has come near spoiling an ?rtist. 

PULCHERIA. She has quite spoiled one. Or rather I shouldn't say 
that, because there was no artist to spoil. I maintain that she is not 
an. artist. An artist could neverjiave put a story together so mon- 
strously ill. She has no sense of form. 

THEODORA. Pray, what could be more artistic than the way that 
Deronda's paternity is concealed till almost the end, and the way 
we are made to suppose Sir Hugo is his father ? 

PULCHERIA. And 'Mirah his Sister. How does that fit together ? 
I was as little made to suppose h was not a Jew as I cared when I 
found out he was. And his mother popping up through a trap-door 
and popping down again, at the last, in that scrambling fashion ! 
His mother is very ba*d. 

CONST^NTIUS. I think Deronda's mother is one of the unvivified 
characters ; she belongs to the cold half of the book. All the Jewish 
part is at bottom cold ; that is my only objection. I have enjoyed 
it because my fancy often warms cold things ; but beside Gwen- 
do^n's history it is like the empty half of the lunar disk beside the 
full one. It is admirably studied, it is imagined, it is understood, 
but it is not embodied. One feels this strongly in just those scenes 
between Deronda and his mother; one feels that one has been 
appealed to on rather an artificial ground of interest. To make 
Deronda's reversion to his native faith more dramatic and pro- 
found, the author has given him a mother who on very arbitrary 
grounds, apparently, has separated herself from this same faith and 
who has been kept waiting in the wing, as it were, for many acts, 
to conic en and make her speech and say so. This moral situation 
of hers we are invited retrospectively to appreciate. But we hardly 
care to do so. 

PULCHERIA. I don t see the princess, in spite of her flame-coloured 
robe. Why should an actress and prima-domia care so much about 
religious matters ? 

THEODORA. It was not only that ; it was the Jewish race she hated, 
Jewish manners and looks. You, my dear, ojight to understand that. 

PULCHERIA. I do, but I am not a Jewish actress of genius; I am 
not what Rachel was. If I were I should have other things to think 
about. 

261 



APPENDIX 

corsiANTius. Think now a little about poor Gwendolen. 

PULCHERIA. I don't care to think about her. She was a scjond- 
rate English girl who got into a flutter about a lord. 

THEODORA. I don't see that she is worse than if she were a 
first-rate American girl who should get into exactly the same 
flutter. 

PULCHERIA. It wouldn't be the same flutter at all ; it wouldn't be 
any flutter. She wouldn't be afraid of the lord, though she might 
be amused at him. 

THEODORA. I am sure I don't perceive whom Gwendolen was 
afraid of. She was afraid of her misdeed her broken promise 
after she had committed it, and through that fear she was afraid of 
her husband. Well she might be ! I can imagine nothing mor^ 
vivid than the sense we get of his absolutely clammy selfishness. 

PULCHERIA. She was not afraid of Deronda when, immediately 
after her marriage and without any but the mnst casual acquaintance 
with him, she begins to hover about him at the Mallingers' and to 
drop little confidences about her conjugal woes. That seems to me 
very indelicate ; ask any woman. 

CONSTANTIUS. The very purpose of the author is to give us an 
idea of the sort of confidence that Deronda inspired its irresistible 
potency. 

PULCHERIA. A lay father-confessor horrid ( 

CONSTANTIUS. And to give us an idea also of the acuteness of 
Gwendolen's depression, of her haunting sense of impending 
trouble. 

THEODORA. It must be remembered that Gwendolen was in love 
with Deronda from the first, long before she knew it. She didn't 
know it, poor girl, but that was it. 

PULCHERIA. That makes the matter worse. It is very disagreeable 
to see her hovering and rustling about a man who is indifferent 
to her. 

THEODORA. He was not indifferent to her, since he sent her back 
her necklace. 

PULCHERIA. Of all the delicate attention to a charming girl that I 

ever heard of, that little pecuniary transaction is the most felicitous. 

CONSTANTIUS. You must remember that he had been en rapport 

with her at the gaming-table. She had been playing in defiance of 

262 



DANIEL DERONDA 

his observation, and be, continuing to observe her, had been : n a 
measure*responsible for her loss. 'There w;>s a tacit consciousness of 
this .between them. You may contest the possibility of tacit con- 
sciousness going so far, but that is nbt a serkn;s objection. You may 
potnt out two or three weak spot* in detail ; the fact remains that 
Gwendolen's whole history is vividly tojd. And see how the girl 
is known, inside out, how thoroughly she is felt and understood. 
It is the most intelligent thing in all George Eliot's writing, and that is 
saying much. It is so deep, so true, so complete, it holds such a 
wealth of psychological detail, it is more than masterly. 

THEODORA. I don't know where the perception of character has 
sailed closer to the wind. 

^ULCHERIA. The portrait may be admirable, but it has one little 
fault. 4 You don't care a straw for the original. Gwendolen is not 
an interesting girl, and when the author tries to invest her with a 
deep tragic interest she loqs-so at the expense of consistency. She 
has made her at the outset too light, too flimsy ; tragedy has no hold 
on such a girl. 

TK2OPORA. You are hard to satisfy. You said this morning that 
Dorothea was toc\ heavy, nd now you find Gwendolen too light. 
George Eliot wished to give us the perfect counterpart of Dorothea. 
Having made one portrait she was worthy to make the other. 

PULCHERIA. She has committed the fatal error of making Gwen- 
dolen vulgarly, pettily, drily selfish. She was personally selfish. 

THEODORA. I know nothing more personal than selfishness. 

PULCHERIA. I am selfish, but I don't go about with my chin out 
like that ; at lease I hope I don't. She was an odious young woman, 
and one can't care what becomes of her. When her marriage turned 
out ill she would have become still more hard and positive ; to 
make hei soft and appealing is very bad logic. The second Gwen- 
dolen doesn't belong* to the first. 

CONSTANTIUS. She is perhaps at the first a little childish for the 
weight of interest she has to carry, a little too much after the pattern 
of the unconscientious young ladies of Miss Yonge and Miss Sewell. 

THEODORA. Sin,ce when is it forbidden to make one's heroine 
young ? Gwendolen is a perfect picture of youthfulness its eager- 
ness, its presumption, its preoccupation with itself, its vanity and 
silliness, its sense of its own absoluteness.* But she is extremely 

263 



APPENDIX 

intelligent and clever, and therefore tragedy can have a hold upon 
her. Her conscience doesn't make the tragedy ; that is an eld story 
and, I think, a secondary form of suffering. It is the tragedy that 
makes her conscience, which chei. reacts upon it ; and I can think of 
nothing more powerful than the way in which the growth of her 
conscience is traced, nothing more touching than the picture of its 
helpless maturity. 

CONSTANTIUS. That is perfectly true. Gwendolen's history is 
admirably typical as most things are with George Eliot : it is the 
very stuff that human life is made of. What is it made of but the 
discovery by each of us that we are at the best but a rather ridiculous 
fifth wheel to the coach, after we have sat cracking our whip and 
believing that we are at least the coachman in person ? We think 
we are the main hoop to the barrel, and we turn out to be but a very 
incidental splinter in one of the staves. The universe foicing itself 
with a slow, inexorable pressure into a narrow, complacent, and yet 
after all extremely sensitive mind, and making it ache with the pain 
of the process that is Gwendolen's story. And it becomes com- 
pletely characteristic in that her supreme perception of the fact- that 
the world is whirring past her is in the disappointment not of a base 
but of an exalted passion. The very chance to embrace what the 
author is so fond of calling a 'larger life' seems refused to her. She 
is punished for being narrow, and she is not allowed a chance to 
expand. Her finding Deronda pre-engaged to go to the East and 
stir up the race-feeling of the Jews strikes me as a wonderfully happy 
invention. The irony of the situation, for poor Gwendolen, is 
almost grotesque, and it makes one wonder whether the whole 
heavy structure of the Jewish question in the story was not built up 
by the author for the express purpose of giving its proper force to 
this particular stroke. 

THEODORA. George Eliot's intentions are ^xtremely complex. 
The mass is for each detail and each detail is for the mass. 

PULCHERIA. She is very fond of deaths by drowning. Maggie 
Tulliver and her brother are drowned, Tito Melema is drowned, 
Mr. Grandcourt is drowned. It is extremely unlikely thaf Grand- 
court should not have known how to swim. 

CONSTANTIUS. He did, of course, but he had a cramp. It served 
him right. I can't imagine a more consummate representation of 

264 



DANIEL DERQNDA 

the most detestable kind of Englishman the Englishman who 
thinks* j** low to articulate. An<J in Grandcourt the type and the 
individual are so happily met : the type with its sense of the pro- 
prieties and the individual with h* aUsence of all sense. He is the 
apotheosis of dryness, a human expression ot 'the simple idea of the 
perpendicular. 

.THEODORA. Mr. Casaubon, in Middlemarch, *vas very dry too ; 
and yet what a genius it is that can give us two disagreeable husbands 
who are so utterly different ! 

PULCHERIA. You must countnhe two disagreeable wives too 
Rosamond Vincy and Gwendolen* They are very much alike. 5 r 
know the author didn't mean it ; it proves how common a type the 
worldly, pincte, selfish young woman seemed to her. They are both 
disagreeable ; you cant get over that. 

CONSTAHTIUS. There is something in that, perhaps, I think, at 
any rate, that the secondary people here are less delightful than in 
Middlemarch ; there is notning so good as Mary Garth and her 
father, or the little old lady who steals sugar, or the parson who is 
in love with Mary, or the country relatives of old Mr. Featherstpne. 
Rex Gascolghe is not so good as Fred Vincy. 

THEODORA. Mr. Gascoigne is admirable, and Mrs. Davilow is 
charming. 

PULCHERIA. And y</u must not forget that you think Herr 
Klesmer * Shakespearean'. Wouldn't ' Wagnerian' be high enough 
praise ? 

CONSTANTIUS. Yes, one must make an exception with regard to 
the Klesmers ard the Meyriqjcs. They are delightful, and as for 
Klesmer himself, and Hans Meyrick, Theodora may maintain her 
epithet. Shakespearean characters are characters that are born of the 
verf>ou: of observation characters that make the drama seem 
multitudinous, like life. Klesmer comes in with a sort of Shake- 
spearean 'value', as a painter would say, and so, in a different tone, 
does Hans Meyrick. They spring from a much-peopled mind. 

THEODORA. I think Gwendolen's confrontation with Klesmer one 
of the finest things in the book. 

CONSTANTIUS. It is like everything in Ge6rge Eliot ; it will bear 
thinking of. 

PUtCHERiA. All that is very fine, but you jcannot persuade me that 

265 



APPENDIX 

Deronda is not a very ponHe*ous and ill-made? story. It has nothing 
that one can call a subject. A silly young girl and a solemn, sapient 
young man who doesn't fall in love with lie/ ! That is the djnnte 
of eight monthly volumes. I call it very fLt. Is that what the 
exquisite art of Thar <^eray *.nd Miss Austen and Hawthorne has 
come to ? I would as soon read a German novel outright. 

THEODORA. The*e is something higher than form there is spirit. 

CONSTANTIUS. I cm afraid Pulcheria is sadly aesthetic. She had 
better confine herself to Merimee. 

PULCHERIA. I shall certainly to-dry read ov^r La Double Mfyrise. 

THEODORA. Oh, my dear, y pnsez-vous* 

CONSTANTIUS. Yes, I think there is little art in Deronda, but I think 
there is a vast amount of life. In life without art you can find your 
account ; but art without life is a poor affa ; r. The book is full of 
the world. 

THEODORA. It is full of beauty and knowledge, and that is quite 
art enough for me. 

PULCHERIA (to the little dog). We are silenced, darling, but we 
are not convinced, are we ? (The pug begins to bark.) No, we 
are not even silenced. It's a young woman with two ^a^ 

THEODORA. Oh, it must be our muslins ! 

CONSTANTIUS (rising to go). I see what you mean ! 

1876. 



266 



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