A Stick on Fire

Gillian Beer

  • Clarkey: A Portrait in Letters of Mary Clarke Mohl 1793-1883 by Margaret Lesser
    Oxford, 235 pp, £15.00, September 1984, ISBN 0 19 211787 4
  • George Eliot and Community: A Study in Social Theory and Fictional Form by Suzanne Graver
    California, 340 pp, £22.70, August 1984, ISBN 0 520 04802 4

In her first public writing after her elopement with George Henry Lewes in 1854, George Eliot compared the position of women in England and in France: ‘in France alone the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language, making crisp and definite what is elsewhere heavy and blurred.’ And, writing under cover of anonymity for the Westminster Review, she declared that one reason for the achievement of women in France is ‘laxity of opinion and practice with regard to the marriage-tie ... Gallantry and intrigue are sorry enough things in themselves, but they certainly serve better to arouse the dormant faculties of women than embroidery and domestic drudgery.’ She was then reviewing Victor Cousin’s Madame de Sablé, and Cousin had been briefly the lover of a woman whom Marian Evans (or George Eliot) already knew, and was to know better: Mary Clarke Mohl, whose style of writing and life might epitomise Marian Evans’s trenchant early views of women’s powers. Mary writes in her journal in 1826, when she was turning back from Cousin to her lover, Fauriel:

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