‘Romola’s Waking’: George Eliot’s Historical Novel

  • Andrew Sanders


No other major Victorian novelist owed so profound and pervasive a debt to Sir Walter Scott as did George Eliot, and few reverenced him as consistently. On New Year’s Day 1860, G. H. Lewes presented her with a set of the Waverley novels inscribed on the fly-leaf of the first volume ‘To Marian Evans Lewes. The best of Novelists, and Wives, These works of her longest-venerated and best-loved Romancist are given by her grateful Husband.’1 Towards the end of her life Lewes was to remark in a letter to Alexander Macmillan that Scott was ‘to her an almost sacred name’. In the year of Middlemarch George Eliot herself described the steady development of her ‘peculiar worship’ to her own worshipper, Alexander Main:

I began to read him when I was seven years old, and afterwards when I was grown up and living alone with my Father, I was able to make the evenings cheerful for him … by reading aloud to him Scott’s novels. No other writer would serve as a substitute for Scott, and my life at that time would have been much more difficult without him. It is a personal grief, a heart-wound to me when I hear a depredating or slighting word about Scott.2

This appreciation of the Waverley novels was not simply an extended adolescent sentiment, it was a vital shaping influence on the nature, form and intent of her own fiction.


Private Life Moral Tradition Moral Blindness Determined Tourist Brotherly Love 
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  1. 1.
    See G. S. Haight George Eliot: A Biography (Oxford 1968), p. 319.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    G. H. Lewes, Westminster Review, XLV, March 1846, p. 34ff. Lewes is reviewing Thornton Leigh Hunt’s The Foster Brother and Whitehall, by the author of Whitefriars.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    See Barbara Hardy, The Novels of George Eliot (London 1959), 1973 edn., pp. 170–6.Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    J. W. Cross, George Eliot’s Life as Related in her Letters and Journals (3 vols. Edinburgh and London 1885), Vol. II, p. 352.Google Scholar
  5. 22.
    Henry James, Atlantic Monthly (October 1866). Reprinted in A Century of George Eliot Criticism, ed. by G. S. Haight (London 1966), p. 52.Google Scholar

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© Andrew Leonard Sanders 1978

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  • Andrew Sanders

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