Felix Holt, the Radical, George Eliot
Felix Holt, the Radical George Eliot
The following entry presents criticism of Eliot's novel Felix Holt, the Radical (1866). For discussion on Eliot's complete career, see NCLC, Volume 4; for discussion of the novel Middlemarch, see NCLC, Volume 13; for discussion of the novel Daniel Deronda, see NCLC, Volume 23; for discussion of the novel Silas Marner, see NCLC, Volume 41; for discussion of the novel The Mill on the Floss, see NCLC, Volume 49; for discussion of the novel Adam Bede, see NCLC, Volume 89.
One of Eliot's lesser known works, Felix Holt, the Radical is often classified as a political novel although the work features a conventional courtship narrative more typically associated with domestic fiction. Featuring an ambivalently radical Radical, parallel but virtually separate narratives, and more than one paternity revelation, the novel has been criticized for its lack of cohesion and contrived plot devices. Like many of the author's other works, however, it also provides a poignant picture of a disappearing social order while commenting on the forces allied against it.
Plot and Major Characters
Felix Holt is set in the English Midlands at the time of the Reform Bill of 1832. It covers a nine-month period in the lives of the inhabitants of Treby Magna, a town caught up in the transition from the old England of rural farmland associated with a rigid class structure to the new England of manufacturing associated with the breakdown of that structure. Harold Transome, aristocratic heir to the Transome estate, and Felix Holt, working-class heir to a quack patent medicine business, both arrive home after being away for a number of years. Transome has amassed a fortune during his time abroad in Smyrna, and he returns as a widower with a young son, hoping to parlay that fortune into political power by running for Parliament as a Radical. The family estate, Transome Court, has long been mired in financial and legal difficulties, and Harold's mother is eager for her son to assume control of the property. Holt, meanwhile, has also been away from Treby Magna for a number of years studying medicine at the University of Glasgow and serving an apprenticeship to a country apothecary. When he discovers that his late father's patent medicine concoctions are worthless, he dissolves the business and, despite his education, takes work as a watchmaker in order to maintain his ties with the working class. His mother, dismayed by her son's actions, complains to the Dissenting minister Rufus Lyon. Convinced that God would not have allowed the business to flourish had it been based on fraud, Mrs. Holt bolsters her case by misquoting passages from Scripture that support the dispensing of ointments and cures.
Transome's parliamentary campaign is supported by the family lawyer, Matthew Jermyn, who employs another lawyer, John Johnson, to stir up support for his client among the lower classes. Holt complains to Transome about Johnson's rabble-rousing in the local pub, a strategy that he fears will cause the workers to riot. The political differences between Holt and Transome are exacerbated by their rivalry for the affections of Esther Lyon, daughter of the minister. When they first meet, Holt considers the beautiful Esther too refined and materialistic; he finds fault with her curls, her use of wax candles rather than tallow, and her appreciation of Byron. As they become better acquainted, however, he finds he has misjudged Esther and begins to appreciate her inner character.
On election day, Holt's fears about the mob's volatility are realized. When he attempts to lead the workers out of town to minimize the effects of the riot, he accidentally kills a constable and is charged with the murder. Although he is convicted, Esther defends him so eloquently that he is pardoned. Meanwhile, having lost the election, Transome takes charge of his family's property and discovers that Jermyn had been draining the estate of its resources for many years. In the ensuing legal battle it is revealed that Jermyn is Transome's father, the result of an affair with Mrs. Transome—who had carried the guilt of her son's illegitimacy for thirty years. The legitimate heir to the Transome fortune is Esther, whose true parentage had also been kept secret for many years. Esther, acknowledging her love for Holt, renounces her claim to her inheritance and rejects Transome as a suitor. By rejecting the fortune and the easy life associated with Transome Court in favor of a simple life with Felix Holt, Esther proves that she is not a “fine lady,” but a woman of principle and seriousness.
Felix Holt is concerned with the social and political changes taking place in England between the 1830s, the setting of the novel, and the 1860s, when the novel was written. The values of the old order, represented by the landed interests, are set in opposition to the working class values of Felix Holt. This struggle between power and moral virtue is the most prominent theme of the novel, with the values of the working class Felix and his bride-to-be represented as superior to those of the aristocracy, represented by the Transomes, and the bourgeoisie, represented by Jermyn and Johnson.
The novel also criticizes the shallowness associated with middle-class women during this period; such women are guilty of materialism, coquetry, sensuality, and “fine-ladyism,” as Holt calls it. Esther's rejection of these values, along with her inheritance, suggests that moral seriousness will triumph over a love of luxury and idleness.
While Eliot's personal vision of political and social reform enters into the construction of Felix Holt, the Radical, neither Eliot nor her title character are as radical as appearances suggest. While the landed interests come under fire for their conservative attempt to retain power, the working class is also criticized; the workers demonstrate their unworthiness to gain the franchise they seek by their susceptibility to bribes and demagoguery. Until the working class is educated, Eliot implies, they cannot be in charge of their own political destiny.
Felix Holt, the Radical is one of Eliot's least admired novels. Many scholars consider that its parallel narratives—political and domestic—result in a confusing, even incoherent plot. The fact that there are two subplots involving secrets of paternity has also led to charges that the narrative is contrived and convoluted. Nonetheless, at least two critics have emerged in the late twentieth century to make a case for the novel's unity. Florence Sandler argues for the “architectonic unity” of the political and domestic narrative strands—a unity which she believes is based on “the centrality of Esther, and the significance of her final decision; the role of Rufus Lyon; and the nature of the radicalism of Felix Holt.” Norman Vance concentrates on issues of land ownership and religious dissent, claiming that the novel's unifying factor is the comparison between the period in which it is set and the period in which it was written.
Several critics claim that the character of Felix Holt articulates Eliot's personal vision of the appropriate reform of English society. With that in mind, many take issue with Holt's “radical” credentials, maintaining that, like Eliot, the character is more conservative than the novel's subtitle suggests. The ambivalence surrounding the character's politics leads to additional charges of incoherence within the narrative and suggestions that Holt is not always a sympathetic character. Fred C. Thomson claims that “the dearth of camaraderie in Felix, his belligerent pedantry, his aloofness from the community life in Treby, to say nothing of the shadowiness of his background and motivations and the wooden dialogue, injure his effectiveness as a spokesman for George Eliot.” Feminist scholars have also criticized Holt's character, claiming his objections to Esther's refinement and aesthetic sensibilities make him no more desirable as a suitor than Transome, who believes that women are meant to be decorative rather than functional. Such critics claim that, despite the title, the main character of the novel is actually Esther, who must choose between two “misogynist radicals,” that is, “between the radical who sees women as useless delights and the radical who sees women as temptations unless useful,” as Alison Booth describes Esther's dilemma. Nonetheless, the novel was apparently much appreciated by Leo Tolstoy, who, according to Philip Rogers, admired it principally because of its criticism of “fine-ladyism”—materialism and frivolity in middle-class women, the very things Felix criticizes in Esther.
Many scholars consider Felix Holt a precursor to Eliot's masterpiece Middlemarch, suggesting that the concerns the author resolved unsuccessfully in the former novel were perfected in the latter. According to L. R. Leavis, “Felix Holt is a key novel in George Eliot's development not because of its own merits, but because of its failure in fundamental issues that establish the success of her next novel, Middlemarch.”
The Life of Jesus [translator; as Marian Evans] (essay) 1846
The Essence of Christianity [translator; as Marian Evans] (essay) 1854
*Scenes of Clerical Life (novel) 1858
Adam Bede (novel) 1859
The Mill on the Floss (novel) 1860
Silas Marner, the Weaver of Raveloe (novel) 1861
Romola (novel) 1863
Felix Holt, the Radical (novel) 1866
The Spanish Gypsy: A Poem (poetry) 1868
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (novel) 1871-72
The Legend of Jubal, and Other Poems (poetry) 1874
Daniel Deronda (novel) 1876
Impressions of Theophrastus Such (essays) 1879
The George Eliot Letters 9 vols. (letters) 1954-78
*All of Eliot's novels were originally published serially in magazines.
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SOURCE: Thomson, Fred C. “Politics and Society in Felix Holt.” In The Classic British Novel, edited by Howard M. Harper, Jr. and Charles Edge, pp. 103-20. Athens, Ga.: The University of Georgia Press, 1972.
[In the following essay, Thomson claims that Felix Holt is mistakenly considered a political novel and that Holt himself is more Positivist than radical, reflecting Eliot's basically conservative politics.]
Felix Holt, the Radical has seldom been considered altogether satisfying as a political novel. The rather mannered descriptions of electioneering and the heavy-handed didacticism of Felix's speeches suggest that George Eliot was ill at ease in the field of practical politics. Yet, properly understood, this neglected book is an important guide both to George Eliot's vision of English society and to the techniques of rendering it that she perfected in Middlemarch.
Despite the title (deliberately equivocal) it becomes readily apparent that Felix Holt is not a political novel as the genre is ordinarily understood. George Eliot was not attempting, like Disraeli, to disseminate a body of party principles; nor, like Trollope in Phineas Finn, to describe the vicissitudes of a career politician. Equally remote from her purposes was the strain of social protest to be found in the novels of Charles Kingsley and Mrs. Gaskell. She gives us no...
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SOURCE: Horowitz, Lenore Wisney. “George Eliot's Vision of Society in Felix Holt the Radical.” In Texas Studies in Literature and Language 17, no. 1 (spring 1975): 175-91.
[In the following essay, Horowitz discusses the way Eliot uses Felix Holt to articulate her personal vision for reform of English society.]
Not until Felix Holt the Radical does George Eliot bring industrial England from the periphery of her novels into the center. This is a dramatic shift in emphasis and brings to the forefront for the first time the profound concern with the problems of Victorian England characteristic of her mature fiction. Set in the year of the first election under the Reform Bill of 1832, Felix Holt presents a wide range of social problems and political philosophies. There is not only conflict among the social classes but intense rivalry among leaders who seek their support. But while the novel poses the problem of political leadership initially, conventional methods of political change are ultimately rejected in favor of a more far-reaching vision of social change. Instead of endorsing political reform, the novel creates a broad myth of social transition suggesting the selective incorporation of what is valuable in the past into a social order which is really new. This myth of social transition defines meaningful change as the reorientation of society towards the future rather...
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SOURCE: Bamber, Linda. “Self-Defeating Politics in George Eliot's Felix Holt.” Victorian Studies 18, no. 4 (June 1975): 419-35.
[In the following essay, Bamber discusses Eliot's efforts to deal with the political situation in Felix Holt dialectically and her failure to offer precise political options through her representatives of the new order.]
George Eliot's intention as a political novelist is to make dramatic situations out of the great conflicts within political philosophy: to dramatize the antitheses between private and public morality, between custom and justice, between immediate fellow-feeling and social theory. She is interested in these situations chiefly for their moral complexity and is endlessly preoccupied with the fact that neither side of a political conflict can ever claim exclusive justification. It is her intention as a moralist and as an artist to handle her political characters and situations in such a way that our sympathy and censure are equally divided between the conflicting elements. This excerpt from an essay on Sophocles' Antigone can be taken as a statement of her own political aesthetic:
It is very superficial criticism which interprets the character of Creon as that of a hypocritical tyrant and regards Antigone as a blameless victim. Coarse contrasts like this are not the materials handled by great dramatists....
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SOURCE: Gallagher, Catherine. “The Failure of Realism: Felix Holt.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 35 (1980): 372-84.
[In the following essay, Gallagher discusses Eliot's departure in Felix Holt from the conventions associated with English realism toward a more sophisticated narrative form.]
In a London art gallery in 1861, two middle-aged women stand before a painting of a stork killing a toad. The painting provokes a short, sharp argument. The older woman dislikes it intensely, calling it coarse and amoral; the younger woman admires it, explaining, somewhat condescendingly, that the purpose of art is a careful delineation of the actual. Good art, she insists, must show the world as it is. The older woman then pointedly asks whether it would be good art to delineate carefully men on a raft eating a comrade. According to the older woman's later report, the question silences her companion.1
In itself, the exchange is hardly remarkable. It seems still another iteration of a debate that was already wearing thin by 1861, the controversy between aesthetic idealists and realists. If the followers of the one orthodoxy required art to imbue reality with value, to show the world as it could be, followers of the other orthodoxy required art to record facts and show the world as it is. The two debaters, however, were more than followers of established orthodoxies. As an...
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SOURCE: Vance, Norman. “Law, Religion and the Unity of Felix Holt.” In George Eliot: Centenary Essays and an Unpublished Fragment, edited by Anne Smith, pp. 103-23. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble, 1980.
[In the following essay, Vance defends the unity and coherence of Felix Holt, concentrating on issues of land ownership and religious dissent, and comparing the period of the novel's setting with the period in which it was written.]
Felix Holt, the Radical has not been fully appreciated. Commentators have complained of the needlessly complicated legal plot, the apparently disappointing issue of the radical promise of hero and title, and a lack of overall imaginative coherence.1 This essay seeks to review these criticisms against the background of the 1830s and of the 1860s, the historical setting of the novel and the intellectual climate of the decade in which it was written.
The most obvious link between the two periods is the question of parliamentary reform. After the novel was published in 1866 George Eliot was induced to make explicit its implied topicality, the connection between the treatment of the 1832 Reform Bill and the political excitement which was to culminate in the second Reform Bill in 1867. In November 1867 she wrote “Felix Holt's Address to Working Men” which applied to the 1860s the essentially gradualist and ethical approach...
(The entire section is 7591 words.)
SOURCE: Sheets, Robin. “Felix Holt: Language, the Bible, and the Problematic of Meaning.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 37, no. 2 (September 1982): 146-69.
[In the following essay, Sheets explores issues of miscommunication and misunderstanding in Felix Holt.]
Mr. Wace, a successful brewer and minor character in Felix Holt, assumes that the ownership of land gives him the right to spread confusion and misunderstanding. When he decides not to sell a piece of property, he declares, “It's mine into the bowels of the earth and up to the sky. I can build the Tower of Babel on it if I like.”1 In fact, there is no need to build the Tower of Babel at Treby Magna: people already have trouble understanding one another's speech. In a society characterized by lies and secrets, George Eliot suggests that a fluent tongue is somewhat sinister. The narrator understands “why the saints should prefer candles to words” (p. 338), and the servants find Christian's clever puns “a little Satanic” (p. 91). The most articulate characters, like John Johnson and Matthew Jermyn, are mean-spirited and deceitful, while sincere speakers like the Rev. Rufus Lyon and Felix Holt are ineffective. Honest, direct discourse seems to have no place in the novel.
The listeners are often unable to formulate an intelligent response to the orations delivered in church, at the hustings, and...
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SOURCE: Sandler, Florence. “The Unity of Felix Holt.” In George Eliot: A Centenary Tribute, edited by Gordon S. Haight and Rosemary T. VanArsdel, pp. 137-52. London: Macmillan Press, 1982.
[In the following essay, Sandler examines the characters Esther and Rufus Lyon and the radicalism of Felix Holt, arguing for the unity of the novel's domestic and political themes.]
The commentators on Felix Holt, the Radical have fallen for the most part into two groups, each more or less dissatisfied.1 There are those who, taking their cue from the title, expect the book to have a radical hero with effective political as well as personal quality, and the action to entail a modern political analysis of the structure of personality and society. Such readers are likely to conclude that Felix is an ineffective radical and ineffective hero, and that the action falls apart from that defective centre.
Then there are those (the more self-consciously literary critics) who take their cue ultimately from F. R. Leavis. He vindicated the part of the book that comprised the ‘profoundly moving tragedy’ of Mrs Transome, and proceeded to damn the rest with faint praise. The elaboration of the main plot was perversely, if not desiccatingly, misdirected. The presentation of Felix himself (unbelievably ‘noble and courageous in act as in ideal’, ‘wholly endorsed by his creator’)...
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SOURCE: Pykett, Lyn. “George Eliot and Arnold: The Narrator's Voice and Ideology in Felix Holt The Radical.” Literature and History 11, no. 2 (autumn 1985): 229-40.
[In the following essay, Pykett examines the relationship between Eliot's Felix Holt and Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy.]
It has become commonplace for students of George Eliot to reach for their Arnold when discussing the ideology of her later novels. It is also clear, as a number of commentators have pointed out, that in that problematically transitional work, Felix Holt, the Radical, George Eliot made a common cause with the Arnold of the roughly contemporaneous Culture and Anarchy ‘in the task of redefining the relationship between what is and what ought to be’.1
Certainly George Eliot periodically strikes a distinctly Arnoldian note in letters written during the period of the gestation and writing of Felix Holt; for example, in the Arnoldian ennui which colours her thumbnail sketch of the ‘strange disease of modern life’ for Barbara Bodichon.
You will find the English world extremely like what it was when you left it—conversation more or less trivial and insincere, literature just now not much better, and politics worse than either.
(GEL [George Eliot Letters] IV, p....
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SOURCE: Rogers, Philip. “Lessons for Fine Ladies: Tolstoj and George Eliot's Felix Holt, The Radical.” Slavic and East European Journal 29, no. 4 (winter 1985): 379-92.
[In the following essay, Rogers discusses Eliot's criticism of frivolity and materialism in middle-class women in Felix Holt, a criticism shared by Leo Tolstoy, who admired the novel.]
Tolstoj read George Eliot's Felix Holt, the Radical twice in his lifetime: the first reading was probably in 1867-68;1 the second (in February 1885) he noted in a letter to his wife: “I'm reading Eliot's Felix Holt. It's a splendid book. I had read it before, but at a time when I was very stupid [he was then writing War and Peace], and I had completely forgotten it. It's a thing that needs to be translated, if it hasn't been translated. … I haven't finished it yet, and I'm afraid the ending will spoil it. My brother Seryozha gave it to me. Tell him that it's all true what he told me about the book—it has everything.”2
Plausible explanations of Tolstoj's admiration of Felix Holt and speculation as to Eliot's possible influence on Tolstoj have been advanced by Shoshana Knapp in her recent article on Tolstoj and Eliot.3 Although the novel deals with numerous topics relevant to the moral preoccupations of the converted Tolstoj, the primary basis of Tolstoj's...
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SOURCE: Leavis, L. R. “George Eliot's Creative Mind, Felix Holt as the Turning Point of Her Art.” English Studies 67, no. 4 (August 1986): 311-26.
[In the following essay, Leavis discusses how the failure of Felix Holt led to the success of Middlemarch.]
In our time when literary criticism has been generally discarded for the fashionable mechanics of structuralism and post-structuralism, George Eliot's novels can still raise extreme responses. The Jewish sections of Daniel Deronda or the ‘failed St. Theresa’ emphasis on Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch still find their admirers,1 while those hating her writing can reject even her best novels, labelling her as an infuriatingly emotional Victorian encumbered with a heavy pedantic style and often breaking into the sustained didacticism of the self-educated. Robert Liddell's The Novels of George Eliot (London, 1977) would appear to exemplify much of the previous account of an extreme hostility to her art, and while the present writer would not endorse the spirit of his book, when faced with the mass of her oeuvre the roots of his charge are perhaps more understandable than the uncritical acceptance of pure adulation. Among those who care for literature rather than for literary theory, it does seem an accepted view of sanity that George Eliot's art contains disturbing extremes of quality.
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SOURCE: Thompson, Andrew. “George Eliot, Dante, and Moral Choice in Felix Holt, The Radical.” Modern Language Review 86, no. 3 (July 1991): 553-66.
[In the following essay, Thompson evaluates Eliot's many references and allusions to Dante in Felix Holt.]
In his introduction to George Eliot—A Writer's Notebook 1854-1879, Joseph Wiesenfarth draws attention to the ‘substantial body of allusion’ to the Divina Commedia of Dante in Felix Holt, the Radical. In particular Wiesenfarth notes the use of Inferno Canto xiii (the Wood of the Suicides), which Eliot uses to make Transome Court ‘akin to a circle of Dante's Hell’ and to create ‘an atmosphere of hopeless suffering caused by Mrs Transome's sins’, in which she is tortured by her ex-lover, Jermyn, and her son, Harold.1 Wiesenfarth also notes how in the novel ‘growth through suffering … seems peculiarly susceptible to presentation in terms of Dantean imagery’ (Notebook, p. xxxviii). In this article, I shall examine these observations and argue that Eliot's use of Dante was rather more extensive, yet at the same time more specific, than the outline given by Wiesenfarth suggests.
George Eliot makes specific reference to Dante on three occasions within Felix Holt, the Radical, and uses lines from the Divina Commedia as epigraphs to two...
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SOURCE: Wilt, Judith. “Felix Holt, The Killer: A Reconstruction.” Victorian Studies 35, no. 1 (autumn 1991): 51-69.
[In the following essay, Wilt explores the transformation of Felix Holt from doctor to radical and the role of secrets within the narrative in accounting for that transformation.]
What on earth happened in Glasgow in the spring of 1832, to turn Felix Holt the Doctor into Felix Holt the Radical? This mystery remains well after a first reading of George Eliot's 1866 “political” novel has brought to light, more or less satisfactorily, the other secrets which have been guarded for generations by characters, and for many chapters by a narrative engaged, perhaps more than most, in that “blackmail,” “the management and exploitation of secrets,” which Alexander Welsh has identified as fundamental to George Eliot's novels (George Eliot 4).
Three of the secrets in Felix Holt have to do with births, and behind that, of course, with sexual passion; one has to do with religious, and the other with political, conversions. We learn that the eagerly awaited second son of the house of Durfey-Transome, who returns the first of September 1832 to Transome Court to take over the property and stand for a Reformed Parliament as a Radical on the death of the imbecile, vice-ridden, and mother-hated oldest son, is in fact the illegitimate son of Mrs. Transome and the...
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SOURCE: Booth, Alison. “Not All Men Are Selfish and Cruel: Felix Holt as a Feminist Novel.” In Gender and Discourse in Victorian Literature and Art, edited by Antony H. Harrison and Beverly Taylor, pp. 143-60. DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Booth discusses elements of feminism in Felix Holt, claiming that the novel criticizes injustices related to gender as well as to class.]
Once George Eliot had established herself as a great woman of letters in such works as the unpopular but authoritative Romola, she found herself in a difficult position. The stakes were higher perhaps even than they had been when she vindicated the fallen, strong-minded woman, Marian Evans “Lewes,” in the wise reminiscences of the clerical George Eliot. That gentleman had now been promoted to the position of Victorian sage, which could easily take the fun out of the novelist's job. Yet while she was expected to teach, she was still expected to dazzle; overt preaching was taboo in the Victorian almost as much as in the modern aesthetic code. Further, her now public womanhood burdened her; the suspicion cast on any woman not minding her domestic business could poison a political novel by a woman, not to mention a novel recklessly broaching the “woman question.” In Felix Holt, the Radical, Eliot veers close to feminist special pleading, yet the...
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SOURCE: Hockberg, Shifra. “Nomenclature and the Historical Matrix of Felix Holt.” English Language Notes 31, no. 2 (December 1993): 46-56.
[In the following essay, Hockberg explores Eliot's use of names in Felix Holt to encode literary and historical references.]
Felix Holt, one of the least read of George Eliot's works, provides a fascinating example of the ways in which the novelist uses onomastics to encode historical and literary allusions into her text. Jerome Meckier, for instance, suggests that Eliot's novel “rewrite[s] the Book of Esther for Victorian audiences,” with Esther Lyon, like her Scriptural counterpart, functioning as a potential savior of her people.1 In a similar vein, Donald D. Stone notes the Byronic reference in Harold Transome's first name, as well as the novel's satire of Esther's romantic obsession with Byronic heroes.2 Nonetheless, the full implications and relevance of the names of the main male characters in Felix Holt—Felix himself, Harold Transome, and Matthew Jermyn—are far more extensive. Each of these names is used by Eliot to encode deliberate references to historical figures and to literary history in order to create allusional subtexts and ironic undercurrents in the novel, undercurrents which are, on occasion, augmented by the etymological derivations of these very names. Indeed, Eliot's assertion in...
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SOURCE: Bode, Rita. “Power and Submission in Felix Holt, the Radical.” SEL 35, no. 4 (autumn 1995): 769-88.
[In the following essay, Bode suggests that Eliot's use of “politics” in Felix Holt extends beyond the scope of government and public life into the private relationships between men and women, and parents and children.]
In Felix Holt, the Radical, George Eliot considers carefully the difficult political demands, with all their troubling and threatening implications, that beset the era of Reform in nineteenth-century England. If we acknowledge, however, that politics involves the continual struggle between authority and submission, freedom and curtailment, assertion and compromise, then George Eliot's “political” novel moves beyond the sphere of public affairs and systems of government to encompass the dynamics of human interaction at every turn. From the steward's room at Treby Magna, where Scales and Christian engage in their battle of “wits,” through the questionable maneuverings to captivate an audience that occur at the Sugar Loaf, to the precarious relationships of parents and children, husbands, wives, and lovers, the question of who will gain ascendancy is a constant. The novel rings with the words and the enactments of “mastery” and “power,” “subjection,” “bondage,” and “powerlessness.”1 The personal destinies of Felix...
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SOURCE: Lesjak, Carolyn. “A Modern Odyssey: Realism, the Masses, and Nationalism in George Eliot's Felix Holt.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 30, no. 1 (fall 1996): 78-97.
[In the following essay, Lesjak discusses Eliot's representation of the working class, which she removes from the productive sphere and situates within the domestic sphere in order to minimize class conflicts and disparities in income.]
The industrial novel occupies a unique place in the context of debates about realism. As Erich Auerbach suggests, the subject matter of the realist novel—the masses or “the common people”—comes into being as a serious subject for literature as part of realism's inexorable logic:
Realism had to embrace the whole reality of contemporary civilization, in which to be sure the bourgeoisie played a dominant role, but in which the masses were beginning to press threateningly ahead as they became ever more conscious of their own function and power. The common people in all its ramifications had to be taken into the subject matter of serious realism.
Within realism's impulse or dynamic toward the representation of the masses lies the search for the ever more novel or strange, the desire for the discovery of new aesthetic material with which to work. Citing the Goncourts as exemplary of this driven...
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SOURCE: Carroll, Alicia. “The Giaour's Campaign: Desire and the Other in Felix Holt, The Radical.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 30, no. 2 (winter 1997): 237-58.
[In the following essay, Carroll discusses Eliot's use of Orientalism in Felix Holt through the character of Harold Transome, who is neither English nor Eastern.]
George Eliot's novels of “English life” often touch upon the outer limits of empire (Felix Holt 79). But in her hands, the English novel may be less engaged in redrawing contemporary imperialist plots than in challenging them. Featuring a heavily Byronic, Eastern exoticism or Orientalism in Felix Holt, The Radical, Eliot creates a dialogue between otherness and desire that is mediated through a presence which is neither fully English nor authentically Eastern.1 In doing so, she complicates Victorian notions of race in provocative, unconventional ways. With its seductive British national, at once a bastard, a gentleman, a radical political candidate, and “an Oriental, you know” (194), the novel probes deeply into notions of national identity and desire, deconstructing appearances of Englishness and otherness, deliberately confusing and subverting those values which other Victorian novelists like Dickens or Thackeray hold sacred. The political and domestic questions the novel's Orientalism raises do not start from...
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SOURCE: Hobson, Christopher Z. “The Radicalism of Felix Holt: George Eliot and the Pioneers of Labor.” Victorian Literature and Culture 26, no. 1 (1998): 19-39.
[In the following essay, Hobson claims that Eliot was the first major writer to invest a labor activist character with social importance and moral value, and to recognize that class divisions would not disappear with industrialization and modernization.]
With the death of Michael Zametkin last week at the age of 76 another of the thinning ranks of pioneers of the Jewish Socialist and Labor movements passed away. Few, indeed, are left of the gallant band of idealists, mainly immigrants from Russia, who came to the exploited and sweated Jewish workers in the congested Ghettoes of New York and other cities, brought them the inspiration of Socialism and organized them into great trade unions.
(“Michael Zametkin, Socialist Pioneer” )
Mrs. Zametkin came to the United States to continue her humanitarian work among the underprivileged Jewish people of New York City. She devoted her whole life to this work and was a widely known figure on the east side.
(“Mrs. Zametkin Dead” )
George Eliot's Felix Holt The Radical discusses a figure of enormous importance in the social...
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SOURCE: Starr, Elizabeth. “‘Influencing the Moral Taste’: Literary Work, Aesthetics, and Social Change in Felix Holt, the Radical.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 56, no. 1 (June 2001): 52-75.
[In the following essay, Starr discusses Eliot's beliefs on the relationship between authorship and commerce in Felix Holt.]
For George Eliot, as for many successful Victorian novelists, moral inquiry into the nature of “the author's vocation” inevitably turned to the relationship between fiction and commerce.1 In the section headed “Authorship” in her “Leaves from a Note-Book,” Eliot deplores the circumstances that lead writers to behave like industrialists, “producing calicoes [or fictions] as long and as fast as he can find a market for them” (Essays, p. 439). Yet rather than suggesting that authors should (or even could) separate themselves from this marketplace, Eliot explores how the market could disseminate authorial influence:
But man or woman who publishes writings inevitably assumes the office of teacher or influencer of the public mind. Let him protest as he will that he only seeks to amuse, and has no pretension to do more than while away an hour of leisure or weariness … he can no more escape influencing the moral taste, and with it the action of the intelligence, than a setter of fashions in furniture and dress can...
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Butwin, Joseph. “The Pacification of the Crowd: From ‘Janet's Repentance’ to Felix Holt.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 35 (1980): 349-71.
Compares Eliot's use of images of orderly crowds and disorderly mobs in one of the stories from her Scenes of Clerical Life and in Felix Holt.
Cohen, Susan R. “Avoiding the High Prophetic Strain: De Quincey's Mail-Coach and Felix Holt.” Victorian Newsletter no. 64 (fall 1983): 19-20.
Compares the introduction of Felix Holt with Thomas de Quincey's 1849 essay “The English Mail-Coach.”
Conway, Richard. “Silas Marner and Felix Holt: From Fairy Tale to Feminism.” Studies in the Novel 10, no. 3 (fall 1978): 295-304.
Discusses Felix Holt as an expanded version of Silas Marner, suggesting that in the relationship between Esther and Rufus Lyon, Eliot was revisiting the relationship between Eppie and Silas Marner.
Dramin, Edward. “‘A New Unfolding of Life’: Romanticism in the Late Novels of George Eliot.” Victorian Literature and Culture 26, no. 2 (1998): 273-302.
Examines Eliot's ambivalent attitude toward Romanticism as it informs her last three novels.
Ermarth, Elizabeth Deeds. “George Eliot's Conception of...
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