In this week’s TLS – A note from the History editor
It may seem perverse to call a writer “neglected” who is as widely and thoroughly studied as George Eliot. The three books that Alexandra Lawrie reviews this week are testament to the fact that Eliot remains a staple of English Literature departments, and both her life and work will continue to provide material for academic inquiry for decades to come. But as one of the essays discussed by Lawrie asks, why is it that Eliot lags behind other great nineteenth-century novelists when it comes to popular acclaim? If screen adaptations are a reliable barometer, “there have been relatively few reworkings of the novels, at least when compared with the seemingly endless adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations”. And of course, “when the Bank of England was casting around for a suitable woman to grace the new £10 note, it was Austen who got the gig”.
In Commentary, Rosemary Ashton revisits a perennial Eliot question: who provided the model for Edward Casaubon, the pedantic scholar whose proposed Key to all Mythologies is out of date because he does not read German? Ashton concludes that the candidate most often put forward was actually a devotee (like Eliot) of German thought, and so not a good fit. The more valuable conclusion is that it is to Eliot’s powers of imaginative sympathy that we should really ascribe her creations.
The three-volume Virgil Encyclopedia, “the first book of its kind in English”, is not quite a key to all mythologies, but it is an attempt to cover “everything of importance that enters into Virgil, that is in Virgil, and that comes out of Virgil into literature, art, and music”. Emily Gowers is not sure how easy a poet as notoriously slippery as Virgil is “to confine, segment and generalize”. Still, “in an encyclopedia, the epic poet’s dream of infinite capacity . . . can be said to come true”.
For those writers who have felt limited even by the ordinary conventions of punctuation, there have been numerous attempts to expand the repertoire of typographical marks, from the “interrobang” to the stand-alone tilde. Sebastian Carter reviews a history of these inventions by Keith Houston.