Reading George Eliot as a European novelist among other European novelists, John Rignall explores her use of European travel, scenes and locations in her fiction and also places her novels in conversation with the work of other major European writers. Throughout the book, Rignall shows Eliot's engagement with the cultures of France and Germany, suggestively making the case that Eliot's novels belong to the tradition of the European novel that descends from Cervantes. Rignall develops the fundamental theme of Eliot's position as a European novelist in chapters that explore the significance of Eliot's first visit to Germany with G. H. Lewes, Eliot's ideas on the cultural differences between French and German writing, the incidental part travel plays in novels such as Daniel Deronda and Middlemarch, the role of European landscapes in her fiction, the dialogical relationship between Eliot and Balzac, comparisons between Middlemarch and Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and connections between the novels of Eliot, Gottfried Keller and Theodor Fontane. Daniel Deronda is examined both within the wider context of European Jewish life and as part of a tradition of French novels that harkens back to Balzac and anticipates Proust. Rignall's final chapter takes up Nietzsche's notorious criticism of Eliot in Twilight of the Idols, showing that Eliot, with her sceptical intelligence, insight into the essentially metaphorical nature of language, and grasp of modernity, has something in common with this philosophical iconoclast.
"George Eliot, European Novelist is the first study to address George Eliot’s works in European contexts to such point and purpose, bringing to bear a thorough knowledge both of that author’s work and of the work of the French and German authors with whom John Rignall aligns her. His book wonderfully illuminates a surprising blind spot in previous George Eliot scholarship."
- Margaret Harris, University of Sydney, Australia
"A clear, jargon-free, useful study… Recommended."
"George Eliot, European Novelist offers an important reminder that many Victorian intellectuals ’did not see the culture of England and the British Isles as separate from that of Continental Europe’ (p. 11), and reveals the key role that George Eliot played at the heart of a complex web of European novelists."
- Review of English Studies
"… a valuable contribution to the growing field of transnational studies because of the way in which he connects the decline of Eliot’s reputation in the late nineteenth century with our faded sense of the ’wider culture of Europe which […] her novels respond to and in the context of which they ask to be read’…"
- Modern Language Review
"Through [Rignall’s] intensive engagement with Eliot’s language she admirably strives to articulate aspects of Eliot’s writing that are barely audible, beneath the surface of, but resonating with, the themes and plots of the novels… contribute[s] to a broader understanding of the endless complexities of nineteenth-century realism."
- Victorian Studies
"In connecting Eliot with various European authors, Rignall places her in a larger discussion of European authorship. His accessible prose and thoughtful comparative readings make George Eliot, European Novelist a worthy and important contribution to the field of transnational literary studies."
- Wendy Williams, John V. Roach Honors College