Vicarious Sages

Michael Mason

  • John Forster: A Literary Life by James Davies
    Leicester University Press, 318 pp, £25.00, June 1983, ISBN 0 7185 1164 6
  • Mr George Eliot: A Biography of George Henry Lewes by David Williams
    Hodder, 288 pp, £12.95, June 1983, ISBN 0 340 25717 2
  • Johnnie Cross by Terence de Vere White
    Gollancz, 153 pp, £7.95, September 1983, ISBN 0 575 03333 9

By a considerable coincidence there are now published within a short interval the first biographies of two substantial Victorian literary figures, over a hundred years after the death of either man. The coincidence is made more striking by the similarities between George Henry Lewes and John Forster. They were two of the stars of Victorian literary journalism: much in demand as editors, and absolutely reliable in their capacity to produce essays and reviews of first-rate quality on a huge range of topics at an intimidating speed. They both fulfilled unusual roles as advisers on the design and publication of work by more famous writers. Both strove for recognition as contributors in their own right to serious branches of study. Both made an adequate living at first by their prodigious writing efforts, but came to wealth at the end through their marriages, after they had more or less abandoned journalism. They were sociable men, fraternising widely and vigorously with the élite of the day. But no one was on a footing of unreserved friendship with either of them; both had enemies and detractors even among their close acquaintance.

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