chapter  6
14 Pages

Provoking George Eliot

W hen, in 1867, Nina (Mrs. Frederick) Lehmann writes to her hus­ band of her visits to George Eliot that “It is impossible to be with that noble creature without feeling better?1 she seems to be thinking not only of the comfort Eliot’s often unhappy women visitors are said to have sought and sometimes found in their visits to Eliot’s home, the Priory; Lehmann’s letter more clearly invokes instead the sense of titillated elevation that pilgrims might be imagined to have experi­ enced in the presence of the Priory’s alleged saint of ethical feeling. Feeling (comparatively) “better,” Lehmann understands herself en­ nobled by a desire to be (absolutely) good. No Lehmann in temporal access to the Priory’s “noble creature,” I know Eliot best in the form of what criticism and culture have taught me I am to see, reductively, as her noble creations: her novels. And, no Lehmann in contingen­ cies less temporal than temperamental, I find that this George Eliot makes me want to be bad.