THEORY OF THE NOVEL.
Before George Eliot began her career as a novelist she had already turned her attention to what is good and bad in fiction-writing, and had given expression to her own theory of the novel. What she wrote on this subject is excellent in itself, but it now has an additional interest in view of her success as a novelist, and as throwing light on her conception of the purposes to be followed in the writing of fiction. In what she wrote on this subject two ideas stand out distinctly, that women are to find in novel-writing a literary field peculiarly adapted to their capacities, and that the novel should be a true portraiture of life.
She was a zealous advocate of woman’s capacity to excel as a novelist, and she saw in this form of literature a field especially adapted to her greater powers of emotion and sympathy. Very generous and appreciative are her references to the lady novelists whom she defends, the excellence of whose work she maintains entitles them to the highest places as literary artists. In the article on “Lady Novelists” she has drawn attention both to those qualities in which woman may excel and to those in which she may fail. In writing later of “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” she criticised unsparingly those women who write novels without comprehending life or any of its problems, and who write in a merely artificial manner. The width of her own culture, the vigor of her critical talent, the largeness of her conception of life and its interests, are well expressed in these essays. Only a large mind could have so truly conceived the real nature of woman’s relations to literature, and expressed them in a spirit so intelligent and comprehensive. She would have the whole of life portrayed, and she believes only a woman can truly speak for women. But her faith in woman seems not to have been of the revolutionary character. She rather preferred that women should achieve a higher social condition by deeds than by words. A great intellectual career like her own, which places a woman in the front rank of literary creators, does more to elevate the position of women than any amount of agitation in favor of suffrage. That she sought for the highest intellectual achievement, and that she labored to attain the widest results of scholarship, is greatly to her credit; but more to her credit is it, that she made no claim upon the public as a woman, but only as a literary artist. She asked that her work should be judged on its literary