1) Why do we retain the pseudonym when discussing George Eliot/Mary Anne (etc.) Evans but not when referring to other Victorian writers like Currer Bell/Charlotte Brontë?

2) Why is Eliot’s (supposedly unattractive) appearance mentioned so frequently in Eliot criticism?

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4 thoughts on “Two Questions about Eliot Scholarship for the Internets

  1. Whichever answers we come up with will likely be quite revealing about contemporary Eliot criticism. At the risk of dragging George Eliot month on into February, I’m going to think on these questions and get back to you.

  2. I think we retain the pseudonym because the narrative persona in her novels is so distinctive and important: this way we can talk about “George Eliot” and her novels while keeping more sense of distance between that character and the biographical figure. Or, to put it another way, “George Eliot” seems to me to refer to the implied author of the novels, who is embodied (if that’s the right word) in the narrator–the relationship between these aspects of the authorial identity seem to me configured differently in her case.

    The fixation on her appearance is a constant annoyance to me (when I was interviewed last May about Middlemarch the first question was precisely a comment on how plain she was). It’s true that prominent contemporaries commented on it, e.g. Herbert Spencer remarking about their failed love affair that “the lack of physical attraction [on his part] was fatal,” or Henry James calling her a “horsefaced bluestocking.” But Charlotte Bronte was plain too, and for that matter, so was Dickens.

  3. Rohan, I’m glad to hear that the focus on GE’s appearance aggravates you too!

    You make an interesting point about the pseudonym as a kind of barrier between GE’s biographical and narrative personas. Though, in my experience, critics always use “George Eliot” even when referring to the biographical figure. I wonder too why this separation of the author and the narrator through pseudonym would not extend to other Victorian writers like the Bronte sisters?

    I suppose that is my main question– why does Eliot remain Eliot when Bell changes to Bronte in the critical literature? Based on my reading so far, these women writers used their pseudonyms quite similarly. (For instance, both Eliot and the Bronte sisters never published under their own names even after their real names were known (Judd 257).

    (Judd, Catherine A. “Male Pseudonyms and Female Authority in Victorian England.” Literature in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century British Publishing and Reading Practices. Cambridge UP, 2003.)

  4. Could it be because the Bronte’s are often studied together, and it would be too confusing to discuss them as a group using each of their pseudonyms?
    Academicians do refer to Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens the same way we refer to GE/ME.

    Intreaguing question. As for myself, I do it because that’s how I’ve always read/heard it. I don’t believe it has been a conscious differentiation.

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