The analytical tendency is pronounced in George Eliot’s works, which exhibit an exhaustive study of the feelings, the thoughts, the dreams, and purposes of the characters. They become known more through description than through action.
A striking characteristic of her men and women is their power to grow. They do not appear ready-made and finished at the beginning of a story, but, like real human beings amid the struggles of life, they change for the better or the worse. Tito Melema in Romola is an example of her skill in evolving character. At the outset, he is a beautiful Greek boy with a keen zest for pleasure. His selfishness, however, which betrays itself first in ingratitude to his benefactor, leads step by step to his complete moral degradation. The consequences of his deeds entangle him finally in such a network of lies that he is forced to betray “every trust that was reposed in him, that he might keep himself safe.”
George Eliot occasionally brightens the seriousness of her works with humor. Her stories are not permeated with joyousness, like those of Dickens, nor do they ripple with quiet amusement, like the novels of Thackeray; but she puts witty and aphoristic sayings into the conversations of the characters. The scene at the “Rainbow” inn is bristling with mother wit. Mr. Macey observes:—
“’There’s allays two ’pinions; there’s the ’pinion a man has of himsen, and there’s the ’pinion other folks have on him. There’d be two ’pinions about a cracked bell if the bell could hear itself.’"
Great precision and scholarlike correctness mark the style of George Eliot. Her vocabulary, though large, is too full of abstract and scientific terms to permit of great flexibility and idiomatic purity of English. She is master of powerful figures of speech, original, epigrammatic turns of expression, and, sometimes, of a stirring eloquence.
[Illustration: ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. From a photograph.]
Life.—By preferring romantic incident to the portrayal of character, Stevenson differed from his great Victorian predecessors in the field of fiction. He was born in 1850 in the romantic city of Edinburgh, which he has described so well in his Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. Being an invalid from early childhood, he was not sent regularly to school; yet he was ready at the age of seventeen to enter Edinburgh University. He says of himself that in college he neglected all the studies that did not appeal to him, to read with avidity English poetry and fiction, Scottish legend and history. During his summer vacations he worked at lighthouse engineering. The out-of-door life was just what he liked; but the office work was irksome to him. When finally he made his dislike known, his father, although bitterly disappointed at his son’s aversion to the calling followed by two generations of Stevensons, nevertheless consented to a change; and they compromised on the law. In 1875 Stevenson succeeded in gaining admission to the bar; but he soon realized that he would never feel at home in this profession. Moreover, he had always wanted to be a writer. He says:—