Regional Element in George Eliot Novels

Also Read

George Eliot As A Regional Novelist


      A regional novel is one that deals with a particular region or locality. The regional novelist is completely absorbed in this particular locality and describes the various, distinct characteristics of that region, its physical features, customs, traditions, etc., which separate and differentiate it from other regions. In other words, the regional novel is a novel about a particular setting or locality and the great originator in England of this type of novel was Miss Maria Edgeworth; She published her short novel ‘Castle Rackrent’ in the year 1800 and this year is of great importance as the novel made a great impact not only on the History of English Fiction but also on World Fiction.


      Those countries are rich in Regional literature where there exists great diversity of speech, customs, habits, scenes, climate and Character. According to Phyllis Bentley, a regional novel arises, “Where within the limits of a national culture there is a considerable diversity, a considerable variety corresponding to geographical divisions, patterns of life; in such a nation there exists considerable material for regional novels, and at one period or another of the national history, writers will be stimulated, by the presence of that material, to handle it.” In spite of the small size of England the literature of England is abundantly rich in regional novels, the reason being that, there is great diversity in m English landscape and lift. A study of the map of England shows that different parts of that country were conquered from time, to time by invaders from Europe and they left behind, indelible traces of their occupation. Such foreign conquests and their influence is one of the chief reasons: for so great, a diversity of life and customs in England.


      English regional novel reached its peak during the nineteenth century. The novelists were encouraged by the example of Maria Edgeworth, Sir Walter Scott, and others to write about the countryside they knew intimately. George Eliot was a voracious reader and she read the novels of Maria Edgewroth with great delight. She relished her tales about the Irish peasants, their manners, way of life and traditions. She was also influenced by Sir Walter Scott, whose love for natural scenery, tradition, history, folklore etc., prompted him to write about his beloved Scotland and the Scottish people. His aim was to present men rather than manners and he wanted to include the peasantry in his novels. He wanted not only to depict life of the nobility but also that of the humble Scottish peasants. These were also the aims of George Eliot and there is no wonder that she cherished Scott all her life. Her novels abound in low and humble peasants of the English Midlands. She loved the rustics and not only does she draw her minor characters from them, but her novels reveal that her hero and heroines also belong to this class.


      The Industrial Revolution played a major role in the development of regional hove in England. There were better and improved modes of communication, and so people could travel to other parts of the country and know about the different customs, habits, speech, and living conditions of their neighbors. The Industrial Revolution began encroaching into the countryside and poets like Wordsworth disgusted by the Industrial encroachment wrote strongly against it. They wrote about the beauty of the countryside and humble life, which, was threatened by industrialization. George Eliot in her novels also shows the evil effects of industrialization on the countryside, and the misery which it caused to the simple village folk. Silas Marner is a story of spiritual rebirth. Marner, “the Methodist weaver, pallid, undersized, a child of the dark, Satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution, loses his faith when he is accused of and found guilty by his fellow Medhodists of a particularly mean theft” (Walter Alien). He leaves Lantern Yard and settles down in Ravefoe, a village, which has not been touched by the Industrial Revolution, Here the bitter, lonely man undergoes a rebirth with the help of a child and kind neighbors who at first were, afraid of him. In this way is the disintegration of the rural community caused by industrialization highlighted.


      The influence of the poet Wordsworth on George Eliot was profound. In the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth stresses the choice of country life as the theme of poetry and his views can very well be applied to George Eliot’s practice as a novelist. Says Henry Auster “In her constant reading of Wordsworth she must have been impressed by his description and exploitation of the literary values of rural circumstances”. George Eliot writes about provincial characters, scenes and experiences she was familiar with. She does so, for the wants to reveal the life of the rural working class to the other half of society. Like other regional novelists, she writes not only about the life in the country but also contrasts the rural world, with its rustic beauty and simplicity, with the sophisticated and more affluent outside world. The outer world has its own values and its own advantages, but a regional novelist like George Eliot, brings out the fact that the humble peasant is rich in wisdom born out of simplicity and his working close to earth. He is wiser and also happier.


      “Regionalism”, says F.W. Morgan is an “absorption in a particular locality.” George Eliot’s novels reveal her absorption in her native Warwickshire, Derbyshire, and Lincon shire. In her novels, she describes the various, predominant characteristics of this region. For her very first novel Scenes of Clerical Life, she used Warwickshire as her background. On publication of it, the readers of Nuneaton recognized the characters and scenery. Milby, in “Amos Barton” described as “the nearest market town” is Nuneaton where she was at a boarding school from 1828-32. The action of her second novel Adam Bede takes place in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, which she calls Hampshire and Stonyshire. After she had finished Volume I of ‘The Mill on the Floss’ she went on a tour to Dorsetshire to look at mills near Weymouth but they did not satisfy her. After a trip to Lincolnshire, she picked Gainsbourgh for the locale of The ‘Mill on the Floss.’ It is situated on the Trent, and to it she gave the fictitious name of St. Ogg’s. She returned to her beloved homeland, Warwickshire, for Silar Marner and called it Ravefoe, Felix Holt and Middlemarch also have for their scenes of action Midland towns which were well known to her.


      Says Phyllis Bentley, “Turning to the George Eliot characters we find that many of her important characters are truly regional. They are drawn from humble walks of life and are shown carrying on their day to day activity. They are drawn from the rustics of the Midlands, and their activities are typical of midland life. When we read her novels we meet carpenters, mill owners, farmers, governors, factory workers, weavers, maids, gardeners, daily maids, innkeepers, and school masters. They are drawn from life and so are vital and living.

      These regional characters are not characters or comic, figures introduced for the sake of humor. She treated them With respect, sympathy, and understanding. Her sympathies are with the peasants, who earned their livelihood from the soil, and with regional craftsmen. In Adam Bede, in none of her many asides, she expresses her interest in such humble characters “I turn, without shrinking, from cloud bore angles, from prophets, sibyls, and heroic warriors, to an old woman bending over her flower pot, or eating her solitary dinner, while the noonday light softened perhaps by a screen of leaves, falls on her.” As a portrayer of the Midland rustic characters before the coming of the railways, George Eliot has no parallel except Thomas Hardy. The minor characters in her novels play an important part. They play the part of the Chorus, commenting on the action and the characters, and through their comments, they give us a better understanding of the action.


      George Eliot makes considerable use of regional dialects. The dialect that George Eliot heard as a child in Warwickshire was retained in memory and this stood in good stead when she embarked on her literary career. She skillfully uses dialect to give the regional flavor. The dialect spoken by her characters is not difficult to understand, as she does not use too many unfamiliar words. According to Phylis Bentley “She handles it very effectively with far fewer apostrophes and phonetic spellings then Charlotte Bronte or Mrs. Gaskell.” The speeches of her characters are idiosyncratic and contain images which have to do with their day to day activity. Mr. poyser’s speech is colored with images drawn from his vocation of a farmer, while his wife’s are that of a housewife. Adam Bede thinks and speaks in terms of his own vocation, that of a carpenter.

Previous Post Next Post