Scenes of Clerical Life

Author(s): George Eliot; Josie Billington; Thomas A. Noble (Editor)


Scenes of Clerical Life is the title under which George Eliot's first published fictional work, a collection of three short stories, was released in book form; it was the first of her works to be released under her famous pseudonym. The stories were first published in Blackwood's Magazine over the course of the year 1857, initially anonymously, before being released as a two-volume set by Blackwood and Sons in January 1858. The three stories are set during the last twenty years of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century over a fifty year period. The stories take place in and around the fictional town of Milby in the English Midlands. Each of the Scenes concerns a different Anglican clergyman, but is not necessarily centred upon him. Eliot examines, among other things, the effects of religious reform and the tension between the Established and the Dissenting Churches on the clergymen and their congregations, and draws attention to various social issues, such as poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence. At the age of 36, Marian (or Mary Ann) Evans was a renowned figure in Victorian intellectual circles, having contributed numerous articles to The Westminster Review and translated into English influential theological works by Ludwig Feuerbach and Baruch Spinoza. For her first foray into fiction she chose to adopt a nom de plume, 'George Eliot'. Her reasons for so doing are complex. While it was common for women to publish fiction under their own names, 'lady novelists' had a reputation with which Evans did not care to be associated. In 1856 she had published an essay in the Westminster Review entitled Silly Novels by Lady Novelists, which expounded her feelings on the subject. Moreover, the choice of a religious topic for "one of the most famous agnostics in the country" would have seemed ill-advised. The adoption of a pen name also served to obscure Evans' somewhat dubious marital status (she was openly living with the married George Henry Lewes). It was largely due to the persuasion and influence of Lewes that the three Scenes first appeared in John Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. He submitted the first story, The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, on 6 November 1856. At first it appeared anonymously, at Lewes' insistence. "I am not at liberty to reveal the veil of anonymity - even as regards social position. Be pleased, therefore, to keep the whole secret." Public and professional curiosity was not to be suppressed, however, and on 5 February 1857 the author's 'identity' was revealed to Blackwood's: "Whatever may be the success of my stories, I shall be resolute in preserving my incognito ... and accordingly I subscribe myself, best and most sympathising of editors, Yours very truly George Eliot." For the settings of the stories, Eliot drew on her Warwickshire childhood. Chilvers Coton became Shepperton; Arbury Hall became Cheverel Manor, and its owner, Sir Roger Newdigate, Sir Christopher Cheverel. Nuneaton became Milby. Shepperton Church, described in detail in The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, is recognisably that at Chilvers Coton. Further, the scandal attached to the curate of Chilvers Coton, whose wife was an intimate friend of the young Mary Ann Evans' mother, became the story of Amos Barton. Likewise, "Janet's Repentance" was largely based on events that took place in Nuneaton when the young Mary Anne Evans was at school, and which were recounted to her by her friend and mentor Maria Lewis. Mr Tryan is an idealised version of the evangelical curate John Edmund Jones, who died when Evans was aged twelve; the Dempsters seem to have been based on the lawyer J. W. Buchanan and his wife Nancy. Tryan's main area of concern, Paddiford Common, "hardly recognisable as a common at all", is similarly based on a real-life location, Stockingford.


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Product Information

General Fields

  • : 9780199689606
  • : Oxford University Press
  • : Oxford University Press
  • : September 2015
  • : 1.83 Centimeters X 14 Centimeters X 19.5 Centimeters
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : George Eliot; Josie Billington; Thomas A. Noble (Editor)
  • : Paperback
  • : 400