George Eliot Short Fiction Analysis
Overshadowed by her full-length novels, George Eliot’s short fiction is a writer’s apprenticeship, as is that of Jane Austen. Whereas Austen’s short pieces merely prefigure the themes and methods of her mature work, “Amos Barton,” “Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story,” and “Janet’s Repentance”—the three long stories that comprise Scenes of Clerical Life—show that from the start of her career George Eliot had identified the literary landscape that would prove so fertile under her cultivation. In this first book she records the commonplace struggles of commonplace people and the incremental blessings bestowed on society by provincial folk who “lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unremembered tombs.” Her concern with the crosscurrents that complicate the flow of even the most seemingly simple lives gives evidence that, though George Eliot had rejected orthodox Christianity, she retained her ardor for the “religion of humanity.”
For example, in “Amos Barton,” George Eliot demonstrates that humble folk can attain that wisdom through suffering which in Greek tragedy is the reward only of kings and heroes. The plight of the title character, a dull, bald curate “more apt to fall into a blunder than into a sin,” is too ordinary to be tragic: He has a large family, a small income, and a weak mind. The problems Barton inflicts on his congregation at Shepperton are likewise far from...
(The entire section is 1483 words.)
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