May 20, 2008

Don't Quit Your Day Job...

Some support for George Eliot's view that, "among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous":
We cannot think that he will live as an English classic. He deals too much in accidental manifestations and too little in universal principles. Before long his language will have passed away, and the manners he depicts will only be found in a Dictionary of Antiquities. And we do not all anticipate that he will be rescued from oblivion either by his artistic powers or by his political sagacity.
The author in question? Charles Dickens. (The source is an 1864 essay by Justin McCarthy.) Another potential lesson here? Evaluation is a risky critical mode.

2 comments:

Amateur Reader said...

So true. I just read "The English Legend of Heinrich Heine" by Sol Liptzin. The way the English used and read Heine changed from generation to generation, sometimes quite radically. George Eliot, of course, played a central part in one of these shifts. Hard to believe that everyone was reading the same poet.

How long does it take for a reputation to really settle? Does it ever?

Miriam said...

Somewhere in my files, I've got a late-Victorian book review that praises Mrs. Humphry Ward as an author who will still be read after George Eliot has rightly been forgotten.