A case of neglect: ‘Felix Holt: the Radical’ by George Eliot.

This novel has not received the popular attention of ‘The Mill on the Floss’, ‘Middlemarch’ or ‘Daniel Deronda.’ It is not a book which has received the critical plaudits awarded to ‘Middlemarch.’ Nobody has claimed that ‘Felix Holt: the Radical’ is “one of the few English books written for grown-up people”- Virginia Woolf’s verdict on the superb ‘Middlemarch.’ However, this historical novel possesses certain features which make it a compelling narrative.

Firstly, some of the realist novel is anchored in the ordinary lives of ordinary people. Secondly, many of the characters are depicted in a solid fashion. Thirdly, much of the dialogue is presented in an effective manner. Unfortunately, there is a bit of melodrama and a Dickens-like reliance on coincidence, but George Eliot is honing her skills as she had yet to write her masterpiece. She demonstrates her appreciation of Shakespeare and the Bible throughout; her use of these sources gives her story resonance with its period.

It would appear that this book has partly slipped from view for several reasons. Political novels are often undervalued by the reading public who have been taught to want entertainment which is focused on the personal. In addition, the politics of years gone by are seldom seen as relevant to the politics of today. Furthermore, elements of the literary establishment prefer ‘art for art’s sake.’ Eliot was a fine writer and she understood that our private lives are shaped by wider socioeconomic forces. In an age where some individuals still accept postmodernism uncritically, her perspective remains pertinent. 

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