George Eliot by Kristin Brady (auth.)

By Kristin Brady (auth.)

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Assuming, on the contrary, that all biography is interpretation, I intend to look at the primary materials of Eliot's life as a collection of texts that invite different readings depending on the ideological premises of the reader. My premises are those of a feminist critic who rejects essentialist gender definitions. My intention is not to ignore gender difference, but rather to see it as culturally constructed and to consider Eliot's life, therefore, in terms of her overdetermined position as a feminine gendered subject within patriarchy.

Her reputation was partly protected, however, by the history of her first two works: no one could take back what had been said about them before they were known to be written by a lady novelist. A new strategy therefore emerged in the reviews: the greatness of Eliot's fiction was not denied, but she was compared chiefly with female writers and was championed, by those who praised her, as the greatest woman writer. This segregation and GEORGE ELIOT'S LIFE 51 tokenism served the double purpose of containing at once Eliot's reputation and those of her female contemporaries, who, as Showalter has pointed out, were 'forced into secondary status' in relation to Eliot.

Even Eliot's visit to Girton College - the first woman's college in the exclusive Oxbridge system, for whose founding Eliot had given a donation - was poisoned by moralistic self-righteousness: a reception planned in her honour was cancelled when the mistress learned of it. 42 GEORGE ELIOT Not surprisingly, Eliot's own brother was among those who condemned her actions. Even before he heard of Eliot's new situation, he had made her life difficult because she did not play the role of docile sister.

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