By John Peck
A quick heritage of English Literature offers a full of life introductory advisor to English literature from Beowulf to the current day. The authors write of their normally lucid variety which allows the reader to interact totally with the narrative and simply comprehend the texts when it comes to the social, political and cultural contexts within which they have been written. A masterpiece of readability and compression, this booklet is a must-have for an individual drawn to the background of literature from the British Isles.
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Although they were becoming evidently closer and closer – when writing to him, Marian would call herself Beatrice, alluding to their reading together, over the summer months, of Dante’s La Divina commedia – she would undoubtedly have realised the complexity of their relationship: they might have been, on the one hand, a courting couple, happy to share each other’s company, in private and in public, much in the way that had characterised Marian’s relationship with Lewes, but they were also, on the other hand, at the same time prophetess and disciple, artist and agent, recently widowed late-middle-aged woman and recently orphaned 30 LIFE AND CONTEXTS early middle-aged man, and woman with a past and man willing to make her respectable.
With the second of the Lewes boys, Thornie (Thornton), transferring, also in 1860, from Hofwyl to a school in Edinburgh and, in consequence, spending his vacations with the Leweses in London, their home became, in some ways, a conventional mid-Victorian family household – a rather paradoxical development given the unorthodox nature of Marian’s relationship with Lewes and her continued ostracisation by the majority of the London society of the day. The focus on family life and, in particular, on the development of a quasiparental relationship with her stepsons, which dominated Marian’s life from the summer of 1860 onwards, accounts for the signiﬁcance of the motifs of adoption, quasi-adoption and other variations on the theme of parenthood and quasiparenthood in virtually all of George Eliot’s later novels.
This private story of Janet’s spiritual journey is played out against the background of a public conﬂict splitting the community of Milby in a manner by no means untypical of the late 1820s and early 1830s, the period in which the action of the story is set: Janet’s husband, a prominent local lawyer, leads a traditionalist opposition against the supposed dangers of Mr Tryan’s Evangelical preaching and his social initiatives (see Life and contexts, p. 4). The power of the artistic vision of ‘Janet’s Repentance’ derives precisely from the way in which the private and the public stories are interwoven: without sacriﬁcing anything of the intimacy of the analysis of her protagonists’ emotional and moral dilemmas, George Eliot manages to present them against a broad picture of the life of a provincial English town in the Reform era, complete with its complex network of family structures, social contacts, business links and factional rivalries.
A Brief History of English Literature by John Peck