“There’s debts we can’t pay like money debts, by paying extra for the years that have slipped by. While I’ve been putting off and putting off, the trees have been growing—it’s too late now. Marner was in the right in what he said about a man’s turning away a blessing from his door: it falls to somebody else. I wanted to pass for childless once, Nancy—I shall pass for childless now against my wish.”
A pure moral tone, a keen ethical instinct, mark all these earlier novels by George Eliot. Quite as noticeable is their spiritual atmosphere and their high place assigned to the religious life. Their teaching in these directions has a conservative tendency, and it is based on the most vigorous convictions.
Whatever differences there may exist between George Eliot’s earlier and later books are due rather to the materials used than to any change in purpose, methods or beliefs. In writing of the distinction drawn between her earlier and later books, she said,—
Though I trust there is some growth in my appreciation of others and in my self-distrust, there has been no change in the point of view from which I regard our life since I wrote my first fiction, the Scenes of Clerical Life. Any apparent change of spirit must be due to something of which I am unconscious. The principles which are at the root of my effort to paint Dinah Morris are equally at the root of my effort to paint Mordecai.
Her later books grow more out of conscious effort and deliberate study than the earlier, are more carefully wrought out, and contain less of spontaneity. The spiritual and ethical purpose, however, is not more distinct and conscious in Daniel Deronda than in The Mill on the Floss, in Romola than in Adam Bede. The ethical purpose may be more apparent in Daniel Deronda than in Adam Bede, more on the surface, and clearer to the view of the general reader, but this is because it takes an unusual form, rather than because it is really any more distinctly present. In The Mill on the Floss her teaching first became known to her readers, and in Romola this purpose to use the novel as the vehicle for propagating ideas became fully apparent. Her aim having once come clearly to view, it was not difficult to see how large