Felix Holt: The Radical
When the young nobleman Harold Transome returns to England from the colonies with a self-made fortune, he scandalises the town of Treby Magna with his decision to stand for Parliament as a Radical. But after the idealistic Felix Holt also returns to the town, the difference between Harold's opportunistic values and Holt's profound beliefs becomes apparent. Forthright, brusque and driven by a firm desire to educate the working-class, Felix is at first viewed with suspicion by many, including the elegant but vain Esther Lyon, the daughter of the local clergyman. She discovers however, that his blunt words conceal both passion and deep integrity. Soon the romantic and over-refined Esther finds herself overwhelmed by a heart-wrenching decision: whether to choose the wealthy Transome as a husband, or the impoverished but honest Felix Holt.
2016 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Felix Holt. The Fellowship has commissioned a reprint of the Wordsworth Classics edition, with a new cover showing Nuneaton Market Place in the 19th century by Patty Townsend, a local artist who died in Nuneaton in 1907. Nuneaton is thought to be the inspiration for Treby in the novel.
To mark the 150th anniversary we are setting up and encouraging reading groups. We will provide books to reading groups at a cost of £1.50 each, with a minimum order of 10 books. Carriage/delivery to be arranged on an individual basis.
We are also publishing the background notes from Denis Baylis and Vivienne Wood from the reading group they are running in Bedworth for members of the Fellowship. 24 members have so far joined the group.
The cover of our edition of Felix Holt.
Copies are £3 each, £4 post paid in the UK; for reading groups ordering 10 or more copies they are £1.50 each.
You can join our online reading group by reading the notes from each of our sessions, which are:
Wednesday 20th April
Wednesday 4th May
Wednesday 18th May
Wednesday 8th June
Wednesday 29th June
Wednesday 6th July
Notes from Denis and Viv will be published here near to those dates.
Notes from Wednesday 20th April
Extracts from Journal of George Eliot
March 29 I have begun a novel
Oct 14 At p74 of my novel. The last fortnight has been almost unproductive from bad health.
Oct 20 p 92. Went into town with G to make some purchases
Oct 31 At p 107. Headache – unable to work
Nov 15 Yesterday the news came of Mrs Gaskell's death. She died suddenly while reading aloud to her daughters.
Nov 16 Writing Mr Lyon's story which I have determined to insert as a narrative. Reading the Bible
Nov 22 Sara Hennell lunched and dined with us. At the end of Chapter VII
Her record of reading at this time is:
Dec 4 The other day read to the end of chapter IX of my novel to G, who was much pleased and found no fault.
Dec 24 At p.146. For two days I have been sticking in the mud, from doubt about my construction: I have just consulted G, and he confirms my choice of incidents.
January 20 For the last fortnight I have been unusually disabled by ill health. At p 296.
I have been consulting Mr Harrison about the law in my book with satisfactory result.
Feb 9 At p300. G & I both ailing still.
March 7 We have so much happiness in our love and uninterrupted companionship, that we must accept our miserable bodies as our share of mortal ill. Last night at p 374. I am reading Mill's Logic again, Theocritus still, and English History and Law.
March 26 Read my MS to G up to p 468. He was delighted with it.
March 31 Sickness has hindered me for the last fortnight. I am only at p. 484, commencing the scene at Duffield.
April 12 Finished Vol II.
April 21 Sent 2 vols MS to Blackwood. At p 41 (of Vol III)
April 25 Blackwood has written to offer me £5000 for Felix Holt.
May 15 Blackwood came to lunch and I gave him the MS of Vol III to p139
May 16 Wrote to p168. Corrected proofs in the evening.
May 18 Not well and unable to write much. Translated mottoes from Sophocles etc
May 22 Horribly ill. Finished the scene in the prison between Felix and Esther.
May 31Finished Felix Holt.
Epigraph: Michael Drayton
'Upon the Midlands now the industrious Muse doth fall,
The shires which we the heart of England well may call.
My native country those, which so brave spirits hast bred
If there be virtues yet remaining in thy earth
Or any good of thine thou bred'st into my birth,
Accept it as thine own, whilst now I sing of thee,
Of all thy later brood the unworthiest though I be...'
1. 'Five-and-thirty-years ago the glory had not departed from the old coach-roads....the mail still announced itself by the merry notes of the horn'.
JW Cross's 'George Eliot's Life' p4 – 'In her childhood the great event of the day was the passing of the coach before the gate of Griff House, which lies at the bend of the highroad between Coventry and Nuneaton'.
2. The coachman's journey:
We are following the journey of the 'passenger on the box' (coach)
'Suppose only that his journey took him through that central plain, watered at one extremity by the Avon, the other by the Trent'.
NB The location Avon – Trent indicates precisely where her sympathies lie.
Handley writes: 'The choice of these Midlands locations is a conscious emotional identification, allowing her to release into her fiction the moods and sympathies, the suffering and love of her own experience'.
(George Eliot's Midlands: Passion in Exile p 30).
3. Nuneaton - Bedworth
'the land would begin to be blackened with coal-pits'
Cross notes in his 'Life' (p4) that Griff House, the home of GE's childhood, lay, 'within a couple of miles of the mining village of Bedworth'. In Felix Holt the 'coal mines of Sproxton' are given as 'two miles off the town'. (Treby is Nuneaton).
'It was worth the journey only to see those hedgerows, the liberal homes of unmarketable beauty – of the purple-blossomed ruby-berried nightshade, of the wild convulvuus...of the many-tubed honeysuckle...But there were trim cheerful villages too, with a neat or handsome parsonage and grey church set in the midst.....
But as the day wore on the scene would change: the land would begin to be blackened with coal-pits, the rattle of handlooms to be heard in hamlets and villages. Here were powerful men walking queerly with knees bent outward from squatting in the mine...going home to throw themselves down in their blackened flannel and sleep through the daylight, then rise and spend much of their high wages at the ale-house...here the pale eager faces of handloom-weavers, men and women, haggard from sitting up late at nights to finish the week's work. Everywhere the cottages and the small children were dirty, for the languid mothers gave their strength to the loom...'
'In those days there were pocket boroughs, a Birmingham unrepresented in parliament and compelled to make strong representations out of it, unrepealed corn laws, three-and sixpenny letters, a brawny and many-breeding pauperism, and other departed evils; but there were some pleasant things too, which have also departed. ...The land around was rich and marly, great corn-stacks stood in the rickyards, - for the rick-burners had not found their way thither; the homesteads were those of the rich farmers who paid no rent, or who had the rare advantage of a lease, and could afford to keep their corn till prices had risen...'.
5. Transome Court
'oh, that was Transome Court, a place there had been a fine sight of lawsuits about. Generations back, the heir of the Transome name had somehow bargained away the estate and it fell to the Durfeys, very distant connections, who only called themselves Transomes because they had got the estate...'
6. Mrs Transome & Harold
'And the eldest son had been just such another as his father, only worse – a wild sort of half natural, who had got into bad company. They said his mother hated him and wished him dead; for she'd got another son, quite of a different cut, who had gone to foreign parts when he was a youngster, and she wanted her favourite son to be heir'
'But heir or no heir, Lawyer Jermyn had had his picking out of the estate. Not a door in his big house but what was the finest polished oak, all got off the Transome estate. If anybody liked to be believe he paid for it, they were welcome'.
'filled the air with eager unrest. Here was a population not convinced that old England was as good as possible; here were multitudinous men and women ..who.. might alter many things which now made the world perhaps more painful than it need be, and certainly more sinful.'
'The poets' she refers to are primarily Virgil & Dante – idea of trees containing the souls of the dead, which bleed and speak if broken.
From Dante's Canto VIII – Inferno
'we entered a wood where there was no path to be seen. There was nothing green here; but only dark, discoloured leaves. There were no tender shoots, but only gnarled mis-shapen branches. ..I reached out and broke a small branch from atall thorn-tree, and immediately the tree cried out: 'Why are you dismembering me?' Then it grew dark with blood and again the tree cried: Why dismember me? Have you no pity? We that are now trees were once human'
(iii) Wordsworth's 'Wanderer' in the 'Excursion'
In the Author's Introduction we are in the company of the coachman - like the poet's travels in the company of Wordsworth's 'Wanderer' in the 'Excursion' – 1814 – a philosophical poem, containing views of Man, Nature and Society (the novel is an 'excursion' into the world of early 19th century – interestingly - the last section of the Excursion deals with the influence on the working class of the Industrial Revolution - and places Education as the remedy for social evil).
On the 1st of September, in the memorable year 1832, someone was expected at Transome Court.
But I shall not be a Tory candidate.'
Mrs Transome felt something like an electric shock.
'What then?' she said, almost sharply. 'You will not call yourself a Whig?'
'God forbid. I'm a Radical'.
And so it was, that when she had moved to the door to meet him, she had been sure she should clasp her son again, and feel that he was the same who had been her boy, her little one, the loved child of her passionate youth. An hour seemed to have changed everything for her. A woman's hopes are woven of sunbeams; a shadow annihilates them'.
'He chose always to dress in black, and was especially addicted to black satin waistcoats, which carried out the general sleekness of his appearance; and this, together with his white, fat, but beautifully shaped hands, which he was in the habit of rubbing gently on his entrance into a room...'
'I am a Radical only in rooting out abuses'
'That's the word I wanted, my lad' said the vicar, slapping Harold's knee. 'That's a spool to
wind a speech on..'
'I remove the rotten timbers,' said Harold, 'and substitute fresh oak. That's all.'
These social changes in Treby parish are comparatively public matters, and this history is chiefly concerned with the private lot of a few men and women; but there is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life'.
Letter from GE to John Blackwood: 27 April 1866
'I took a great deal of pains to get a true idea of the period. My own recollections are childish, and of course, disjointed, but they help to illuminate my reading. I went through The Times of 1832-3 at the British Museum to be sure of as many details as I could'. Letters IV 248.
Some of the reading group for Felix Holt at the first meeting, held at Bedworth Almshouses.
FELIX HOLT: THE RADICAL - Reading Group Notes - First session 20th April 2016
The first paragraph is made up of a single sentence, a paean to a departed age, pin-pointed to 35 years ago: ‘the glory had not yet departed from the old coach-roads’. The ‘mail still announced itself by the merry notes of the horn…’ John Cross in his life of George Eliot (1885) records that in her childhood the passing of the coach on its route between Birmingham and Stamford was ‘the great event of the day’ as, twice a day ‘it passed before the gate of Griff House, which lies at a bend of the high road between Coventry and Nuneaton’. The hedge-cutter, the rick-thatcher, knew the exact hour by the sound of its passage.
We already sense two things from this paragraph. A relief that she has come from the labour of research and reading for The Spanish Gypsy, channelling her writing through blank verse, to recalling something she knew vividly from childhood, and being able to write about it in unfettered prose. Then, she is returning to write about the Warwickshire and Midlands landscape of her early fiction: ‘My native country’ as the epigraph from Michael Drayton states.
The next paragraph describes the conditions of those days, not so glorious:
Parliamentary representation: ‘pocket boroughs’ constituencies under the control of a single individual, who could ensure that his dependents voted for him, major conurbations such Birmingham without a representative, while an under-populated Cornwall was able to return forty-four MPs. The Reform Bill of 1832 was intended to deal with this problem.
Unrepealed corn laws: The corn laws were intended to stop the import of cheaper corn to keep up the price, protecting the national agricultural interest. The problem was it disproportionately affected the poor. The laws were finally repealed in 1846
Three and sixpenny letters This was a facility which only the rich could benefit from. The penny post was introduced in 1840.
‘brawny and many breeding pauperism’ Wages at the bottom of the scale were so low that they had to be supported by poor relief. The relief was calculated by the number of children a family had, and came to be seen as encouraging ‘breeding’ for the sake of economic advantage. The Poor Law of 1834 was intended to eradicate abuses.
Eliot with a dash of irony sees these things (in 1866) as ‘departed evils’. She adds that ‘some pleasant things’ were departing too, and gives a classical quotation:
Non omnia grandior aetas quae fugiamus habet. She gives the sense of this as ‘you have not the best of it in all things’. It is from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, and is spoken by Minerva, goddess of wisdom. In escaping from the past, don’t forget you have things to learn from those who have gone before. It is a major theme of the novel, continuity; practised by Felix Holt. Set out later by GE in the ‘Address to Working Men, by Felix Holt’ (1868).
Not the least of the enviable memories of ‘elderly men’, is to recall a journey on the outside of a stage coach in those times. She contrasts this with an experiment being made in speed travel, propelling a railway carriage through a tunnel by means of creating a vacuum, fans at each end, to impel it forward. She pours scorn on this, with a snide reference to ‘vacuum’. ‘The tube journey can never lend much to picture and narrative; it is as barren as an exclamatory O!’
Whereas the happy outside passenger seated on the box from dawn to the gloaming gathered enough stories of English life, enough of English labours in town and country, enough aspects of earth and sky, to make episodes for a modern Odyssey.
It is just one of these stories, episodes, that she is now preparing to relate, situating it in the territory of her youth, ‘that central plain, watered at one extremity by the Avon, at the other by the Trent’. The stages of the journey are vividly described. The shepherd, whose solar system is the parish, the hedgerows, ‘the liberal homes of unmarketable beauty’; the contrast of a small hamlet, labourers’ cottages with little dingy windows telling, like thick-filmed eyes, of nothing but the darkness within’ with the ‘trim cheerful villages’ – the handsome parsonage and the grey church, the activity of the blacksmith and wheelwright, cottages with ‘bright transparent windows showing pots full of blooming balsams and geraniums’, great corn stacks in the rick-yards (the rickburners had not found their way there – a reference to rural protests of 1830-31 by desperately poor agricultural workers; they did not occur in the Midlands). Well-to-do farmers here would look at the coach with some contempt, taking people who wanting to travel to London ‘and such distant places, belonged: to the trading and less solid part of the nation’.
‘Clean little market towns without manufactures.’ But as the day wore on the landscape began to change: ‘the land begins to blacken with coal pits, the rattle of handlooms to be heard in hamlets and villages’ Scenes of minors walking queerly from squatting in mines, grimy with coal dust; the pale and haggard faces of men and women handloom workers, dirty cottages and neglected children. The gables of Dissenting chapels are a visible sign of religion for these people, a meeting place to counter balance the ale-house. The breath of a manufacturing town makes a cloudy day and a red gloom by night on the horizon. It fills the air with eager unrest. The religion of these people is not exactly the religion of their rulers – it raises the question that they might be better , so might alter things now more painful that they need be. In these midland districts the traveller passes rapidly from one phase of English life to another, from the pavement of a manufacturing town, the scene of riots and trades-union meeting to the countryside where the nearby town is seen only as a market for its produce:
The busy scenes of shuttle and the wheel, of the roaring furnace, of the shaft and the pulley, seemed to make but crowded nests in the midst of the large-spaced slow-moving life of homesteads and far-away cottages and oak-sheltered parks.
It is easy for the traveller to imagine that the town and country have no pulse in common.
The coachman made an excellent commentator on the paradoxes of these diverse scenes, he could tell the names of sites and persons, explain the meaning of groups; he brought to mind the Virgil of Dante’s Divina Commedia, and the Wanderer in the ‘Excursions’. He knew the stories of the landed gentry houses that they passed, which of the proprietors were Reformer or Anti-Reformer. It was a paradox that would trouble him: why would men or old family and large estate who voted for the Bill.
Close to the town of Treby Magna, in the village of Little Treby there was behind the tree a river winding through a finely timbered park and a great house Transome Court. He told the story of it without being asked. The heir had bargained it away to the Durfey’s very distant connections who adopted the Transome name. It had led to years of lawsuits that had reduced the family to penury. Mr Transome was a poor half witted fellow, and the eldest son just such another, only worse. She was the master
had come from a high family, and had a spirit - you might see it in her eye and the way she sat on a horse. Forty years ago she had come into this country, they said she was a pictur’; but her family was poor so she took up with a hatchet-fellow like this Transome.
She hated the son, they said, and wished him dead, but she had another son, quite of a different cut, who had gone abroad; she wanted to make him the heir. Lawyer Jermyn had had his pickings out of the estate. If the listener pressed for more Mr Sampson (for that was the coachman’s name) would only say that there had been fine stories – meaning ironically, stories not altogether creditable to the parties concerned.
George Eliot has one of her authorial reflections at this point, that seems to seek out a deeper truth. It needs to be read in full. It speaks of wrong doing that might escape a downfall, an entail of suffering, but will seldom escape a curse of woeful progeny, ‘such as has raised the pity and terror of men ever since they began to discern between will and destiny,’ It is the world of the House of Atreus, classical tragedy.
But these things are often unknown to the world, human agonies a mere whisper in the roar of hurrying existence. There are glances that stab, that leave man or woman for ever beggared of peace and joy, yet kept secret by the sufferer.
The poets have told us of a dolorous enchanted forest in the under world. The thorn-brushes there, and the thick-barked stems, have human histories hidden in them; the power of unuttered cries dwells in the passionless-seeming branches, and the red warm blood is darkly feeding the quivering nerves of a sleepless memory that watches through all dreams. These things are a parable.
The epigraph poem speaks of a mother awaiting the return of a son. He had left with the down upon his lip ‘Like the shadow of a hovering kiss’, promising to bring his beautiful mother the fruits of the fortune he has built…he is coming now – but I am grey.’
‘On the 1st of September in the memorable year 1832, someone was expected at Transome Court. The lodge-keeper has opened the heavy gate, the elderly matrons in their best gowns sit in their cottage doorways waiting to curtsy to the visitor; several boys are on the lookout ready to alert the sexton to ring the church bell in joyful agitation just at the right moment. On the side of the house, where the carriage entrance was and the entrance hall – scagliola pillars, marble statues, a broad stone staircase, its matting worn into large holes - a lady is pacing, watching and listening. She is described as slim, tall, finely formed though she was between fifty and sixty; proud looking, abundant grey hair, dark eyes, a somewhat eagle-like yet not unfeminine face. It is Mrs Transome: rare jewels flash on her hands, which lay on her folded black-clad arms like finely cut onyx cameos. She moves to the anteroom of the Library where she has her sitting room. Near her chair is a picture of a youthful masculine face which bore a strong resemblance to her own. She sits looking at it involuntarily from time to time, checking herself and turning away when its young brown eyes meet hers. Prompted by some sudden thought she moves into the Library where she finds an enfeebled man, nearer seventy than sixty, arranging a series of shallow drawers some containing dried insects, others mineralogical specimens. As he becomes aware of her presence he ‘paused in his work and shrank like a timid animal looked at in a cage where flight is impossible’. As she continues to watch he puts the drawers away; she turns away when he has completed this task. She peeps in on him again a few moments later to find him with his arms round his dog Nimrod’s neck, uttering his thoughts to the dog in a loud whisper.
At last she hears the sound of the church bell, and starts up quivering – it is her son who has returned. Was this the moment when she was going to reap an assured joy, that ‘the doubtful deeds of her life were justified by the result, since a kind Providence had sanctioned them’? Her agitation was made the greater by the news just received that he was bringing a little grandson with him; he already had an heir born to him. She glanced at the portrait again: ‘Of course he will be altered!’ So it proved as he walked in and kissed him on the cheek.
‘You would not have known me, eh, mother?’ It was true that she might not have recognised him in a crowd: the likeness to herself was no longer striking, but the years had overlaid it with another likeness which would have arrested her.
‘Everything has changed, Harold. I am an old woman, you see.’ But straighter and more upright than some of the young ones. Inwardly he notes age has made her face very anxious and eager. He says to her ‘How have I avoided the trick of getting fat? And holds out a plump hand to prove it. He remembers his father as thin as a herring and goes in to see him. She gives way to tears: she must tell him that she expects to be consulted in all things, as the one who could make up for his lack of local experience as a landholder.
Her part in life had been that of a clever sinner, and she was equipped with the views, the reasons, and the habits which belonged to that character: life would have little meaning for her if she were to be gently thrust aside as a harmless elderly woman. And besides there were secrets which her son must never know.
Harold comes back from seeing his father ‘what a poor wreck he is – well, it’s a slow and easy death’ Mrs Transome suppresses any’show of unasked for feelings. Harold is scanning the local paper, hardly noticing her. She asks about the little boy – Dominic will be bringing him ‘with the rest of the luggage’. In these two episodes GE powerfully indicates Harold’s self centreness, which denies him any appreciation of the life his mother has had in the years of his absence, and betrays his equating his son with another piece of luggage.
The same will occur when they come to discuss the future of the estate. It is clear Harold intends to take over and exclude her: ‘Ah, you’ve had to worry yourself about things that don’t properly belong to a woman – my father being weakly. We’ll set all that right. You shall have nothing to do now but to be grandmamma on satin cushions.’ The last thing she wants. He will bring Dominic in to take over the kitchen; Hickes the butler will be useful to him as ‘a neat little machine’.
The real shock comes when he notices in the local paper that it is young Debarry rather than his old friend Sir Maximus who will be offering himself as candidate for North Loamshire. His mother interposes: There is no other Tory candidate spoken of, and you would have all the Debarry interest. Harold says he would not a Tory candidate. ‘What then? You will not call yourself a Whig?
‘God forbid! I’m a Radical?
‘Mrs Transome’s limbs tottered’ It was a confirmation of her worst fears, that the son who had returned was a complete stranger to her. He says later that the country he has come back was always ‘deuced pretty…but the people were a stupid set of old Whigs and Tories. I suppose they are much as they were.’
‘I am, at least, Harold.’
‘The ‘Radical sticks are growing, mother, and half the Tory oaks are rotting.’
They have arranged for Jermyn to see him next day, and Mrs Transome is left to herself.
A long passage follows, one of the soliloquies GE is so good at. She scrutinises herself unsparingly in the mirror, and says in a loud whisper ‘What a likeness! yet, perhaps, no one will see it besides me.’ She had clung to the belief that somehow possession of this son was the best thing she lived for. She had darkly nurtured the desire for the other ‘rickety, ugly, imbecile’ son to die and leave room for her darling. This had happened, but the ‘hideous lottery’ of life had denied her (cf. penultimate paragraph of the introduction). ‘Her life had been like a spoiled shabby pleasure-day, in which the music and the processions are all missed, and nothing is left at evening but the weariness of striving after what had been failed of.’
She had begun to live merely in all small immediate cares and occupations, and, like all eager-minded women who advance in life without any activity of tenderness or any large sympathy, she had contracted small rigid habits of thinking and acting, she had her ‘ways’ that must not be crossed.
Her one refuge is the company of Denner, Mrs Hickes, the born servant who submissively accepts the rigid fate that has given her born superiors, who knows all her mistress’s secrets, who can speak plain and unflattering to her ‘yet with wonderful subtlety of instinct she never said anything which Mrs Transome could feel humiliated by, as by a familiarity from a servant who knew too much.’ Denner tries to stir her out of her depression: ‘put a good face on it..I want to see you make the best of your hand, madam, for your luck has been mine these forty years now.’
Later Mrs Transome descends the stone staircase ‘in her black velvet and point’. Her person was too typical of social distinctions to be passed by with indifference by anyone. For thirty years she had led the monotonous narrowing life which used to be the lot of our poorer gentry. In her youth she had been ambitious of intellectual superiority, had read the lighter passages of French authors, laughed at the Lyrical Ballads, ridiculed Biblical characters, yet
She believed all the while that truth and safety lay in due attendance on prayers and sermons, in the admirable doctrines and ritual of the Church of England, equally remote from Puritanism and Popery…a view of this world and the next as would preserve the existing arrangements of English society quite unshaken, keeping down the obtrusiveness of the vulgar and the discontents of the poor…Christianity hand in hand with civilization, and the providential government of the world, though a little confused and entangled in foreign countries, in our favoured land…clearly seen to be carried forward on Tory and Church of England principles, sustained by the succession of the House of Brunswick.
Her education had left her able to write a good letter and able to express herself with propriety on general subjects. These had served her well for a few seasons in London in elegant society, but in the long painful years that followed what she had once regarded as knowledge and accomplishments had become as valueless as old fashioned ornaments of which the substance was never worth anything. Her imperious will had availed little to ward off the great evils of her life; she found the opiates for her discontent in the exertion of her will about smaller things. She liked every little sign of power her lot had left her.
She liked that a tenant should stand bareheaded below her as she he sat on horseback. She liked to insist that work done without her orders be undone from beginning to end, She liked to be curtsied to and bowed to by all the congregation as she walked up the little barn of a church. She liked to change a labourer’s medicine prescription fetched from the doctor, and substitute a prescription of her own.
She was no harridan or tyrant. No one said exactly that about her, but they never said anything like the full truth about her, or divined what was hidden under that outward life – a woman’s keen sensibility and dread.
The epigraph is a pen picture of a ‘jolly parson’, with the character of the Reverend John Lingon who is introduced in the chapter in mind: ‘a little lax in doctrine and in life…but holding true religion was to do as you’d be done by – which could never mean that he should preach three sermons in a week.’
Harold Transome wanted to get away from a whole evening with his mother, despite its being the first he had with her. He had said all he wanted to say, asked the questions he needed to ask, and had been dissatisfied with the meal set before him. He was characteristically brusque, but good humoured – speaking kindly to his father, rousing his mother’s jealously. When he said he would go over to the parsonage to see uncle Lingon, she answered ‘Very well. He can answer more questions for you.’ Harold was quite deaf to the innuendo.
Uncle Lingon became very talkative over the second bottle of talk; he unbosomed himself very freely about hunting and the glorious lost days of cock-fighting. Harold managed to gather amidst the pompous full-toned triviality some impressions that were of practical importance. ‘Among the Rector’s dislikes, it appeared was Mr Matthew Jermyn’. But he was equally emphatic that Jermyn must be Harold’s agent; he could only quarrel with him after the election was over. Harold’s bold declaration that he would stand as a Radical had initially shocked him, but ‘beatified by the sipping of port wine’ he became reconciled to this. After all, with their capitulation over Catholic Emancipation, the Duke of Wellington and Peel and had made anything worth calling British Toryism entirely extinct (they had been drawn into this when the Irish insisted on sending the Catholic Daniel O’Connell to parliament. To have continued to refuse him would have courted a massive rebellion. But this was seen by people such as Mrs Transome as a betrayal of Tory principles). And the Whigs trying to pacify the wild beast of protest with a bite were a ridiculous monstrosity. It was for men of sense and good family to try to retard the national ruin by declaring themselves Radical and take the inevitable process of changing everything out of the hands of beggarly demagogues and purse proud tradesmen. This conclusion had been prompted by Harold’s argument, and the Rector became quite ardent about it. Harold knew that he would feel less sure about this in the ‘uninspired hours of the morning’, but the old gentleman was sure to take the facts easily in the end.
The meeting of Harold with Jermyn took place next morning. Harold was surprised to see how little Jermyn had changed from the man he had known fifteen years ago. Sleekness, a suggestion of toilette about him, beautifully-shaped hands he was in the habit of rubbing gently as he came into a room. This was one characteristic his uncle had disliked about him, those conspicuous hands; ‘but his own were soft and dimpled, and as he too was given to the innocent practice of rubbing those members, his suspicions were not yet deepened.’ But as the talk went over breakfast Harold’s mind was busy constructing what he would discover about Jermyn’s mismanagement of the estate. Jermyn was closely observing him, thinking that he would from now on have someone formidable to deal with. Mrs Transome was there ‘not observing the two men; rather her hands were cold, and her whole person shaken by their presence; she seemed to hear and see what they said and did with preternatural acuteness, and yet she was also seeing and hearing what had been said and done many years before, and feeling a dim terror about the future.’
When they began to discuss politics, she erupted about Harold’s betrayal of his birth and nation, his work for the overthrow of his class. Harold not angry, but with quick impatience saying ‘`you must really leave me to take my own course in these matters, which properly belong to men’. Jermyn looks on quite impassive: it was not the first time he had seen Mrs Transome angry, and her anger might be quite useful to him. As she leaves the men talk on about the politics and the condition of the estate. Jermyn attempts to give Harold advice, much to the latter’s irritation. They end with ‘determined amicableness’.
Later Harold encounters his Uncle, out for a spot of hunting with the pointers. He asks Harold how he got on with Jermyn: ‘Oh, I don’t think I shall like the fellow; he’s a sort of amateur gentleman. But I must make use of him. I expect whatever I get out of him will only be something short for what he has got out of us.’ Lingon raises ‘the nasty business of your calling yourself a Radical’ and proceeds to ask for some assurances. Will he attack the Church? Only the incomes of the bishops. But what about respecting the constitution handed down and all the rest of it, you’ll rally round the throne, the usual toasts, eh? ‘Of course, of course. I am a Radical only in rooting out abuses.’
‘That’s the word I wanted my lad!’ said the Vicar, slapping Harold’s knee. ‘I remove the rotten timbers,’ said Harold, inwardly amused, ‘and substitute fresh oaks, that’s all.’
‘Well done, my boy! By George, you’ll be a speaker.’ But you need a little Latin to flavour it.
‘He’s a cleverish chap,’ muttered the Vicar as Harold rode away.
When he’s had plenty of English exercise, and brought out his knuckle a bit, he’ll be a Lingon again as he used to be. I must go and see how Arabella takes to his being a Radical. It’s a little awkward, but a clergyman must keep peace in a family. Confound it! I’m not bound to love Toryism better than my own flesh and blood, and the manor I shoot over. That’s a heathenish, Brutus-like sort of thing, as if Providence couldn’t take care of the country without my quarrelling with my sister’s son!
The epigraph poem calls up a town that is ‘country too’, a nostalgic backward glance to a vanishing age. Is it Treby Magna? The subject of the chapter is indeed Treby Magna, the social, political and religious changes that had affected it by 1832, and how these affected the central characters of the story.
Treby at the beginning of the century was still a typical old town, impregnated with traditional Tory values. The Debarrys were lords of the manor; at the Reformation they cleared out statues of the Virgin and saints from the parish church and replaced them with their own tombs. Sir Maximus was the current heir, whose line went back to the builders of the fortified castle, now a ruin that overlooks the town, Their power remained in society and religion, the Rector was always of the Debarry family, and only associated with county people.
But change was on the way, first the canal, then the coal mines of nearby Sproxton. More recently there had been a venture to turn Treby into a watering place, promoted by a clever lawyer Matthew Jermyn, with funding from Sir Maximus. He blamed Jermyn when it failed, and dislike intensified when his plans for a benevolent college resulted in the building becoming a tape manufactory.
In this way it happened that Treby Magna gradually passed from being simply a respectable market town – the heart of a great rural district, where trade was only such as had close relations with the local landed interest – and took on the more complex life brought by mines and manufactures, which belong more directly to the great circulating system of the nation than to the local system to which they have been superadded.
Religious change was on the way too. Treby’s had been Anglican, well to do, quiescent, not given to doctrinal zeal. The small congregation of Independents fell into this pattern; the established church saw it as no threat. Everything changed with the kind of Dissenter ‘the more complex life’ of mining and manufacturing brought in. The independent chapel filled with eager men and women fired with a sense of their exceptional possession of religious truth. Inevitably it brought divisions where there had been an easy tolerance. The high-bred Rector was seen as the blind leader of the blind. The Catholic Emancipation Bill led to mistrust of neighbour for neighbour: there could be amongst us those very injurious to each other and to mankind generally, Dissenters, Deists, Socinians, Papists and Radicals, who were in league to destroy the Constitution.
Thus Treby Magna, which had lived quietly through the great earthquakes of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, which had remained unmoved by the ‘Rights of Man’, and saw little in Mr Cobbett’s ‘Weekly Register’ except that he held eccentric views about potatoes, began at last to know the higher pains of a dim political consciousness; and the development had been greatly help by the recent agitation about the Reform Bill.
But these defining labels, as they always do, prove inadequate guides to character. There were Radicals who were rogues, Tories who were open-handed. Reform was in the ascendant after the 1832 Act, the wheels were going where it was pulling. Some saw it as their task to hang on to the wheels, to get them to stick. Others would regard themselves as bigots if they clung to one view. If they were expected to ‘rally’ to it, they would prevaricate, holding a little with different sides, not sure that they should even vote at all.
The social changes in Treby parish are comparatively public matters, and GE tells us that she wants chiefly to be concerned with the private lot of a few men and women. But there is no private life, she argues, that has not been determined by a wider public life. The lives that we are about to look back upon are rooted in a common earth, having to endure all the ordinary chances of past and present weather. If Treby had not been changed by mixed political conditions, if the Reform Bill had not been passed, Harold Transome would not have present himself as a candidate, Treby could not have been a polling place. And the life of Harold would not have been affected by another young man, Felix Holt. They came from very different backgrounds, but each declared himself a Radical. Each had a troubling inheritance, in the case of Felix a business in quack medicine. Each had a mother who saw him as a betrayer of his inheritance. But whereas Mrs Transome was not disposed to reveal her troubles, Mrs Holt looked for a counsellor into whose ear she could pour hers. It was such a support that she was preparing to visit the next morning, the second day of September, the Reverend Rufus Lyon, minister of the Independent Chapel usually spoken of as ‘Malthouse Yard’.
Dr Brenda McKay came up from London for the session. She is shown here with Denis Baylis and Barbara Elson.
FELIX HOLT: THE RADICAL Reading Group Notes
Session 2 4 May 2016
From Viv Wood
Characters in Felix Holt
Mrs Transome – 'a tall proud-looking woman, with abundant grey hair, dark eyes and eyebrows, and a somewhat eagle-like yet not unfeminine face'. 55 yrs old.
Mr Transome - 'As for Mr Transome, he was as poor half-witted a fellow as you'd wish to see'. (Introduction - coachman). 67 yrs old.
Durfey – (family's original name). 'imbecile eldest... a wild sort of half natural, who had got into bad company.' Gambled away his inheritance, left debts, died in Jersey a year before opening of novel.
Harold - 2nd son - 'quite of a different cut...favourite son...' (Introduction) 'Harold was a clever, frank, good-natured egoist' (ch 8)
Mr Hickes – butler
Denner/Mrs Hickes – Mrs Transome's 'maid'/confidante for 40 years. Housekeeper at Transome Court.
Dominic – Harold's 'useful' manservant: 'cook, valet, major-domo, and secretary all in one' – Harold brought him back with him from the East.
* * * *
Mr Matthew Jermyn – lawyer, lives in 'highest respectability' on estate. Harold's agent for election. 60 yrs old.
'He observed that the farm held by Jermyn was in first-rate order, that a good deal had been spent on the buildings, and that the rent had stood unpaid. Mrs Transome had taken the opportunity of saying that Jermyn had had some of the mortgage-deeds transferred to him, and that his rent was set against so much interest. (ch 8)
* * * *
'he was massively built. The striking points in his face were large clear grey eyes and full lips' – (GE writes seeing Felix through Esther's eyes -ch 5)
Mrs Holt - Felix's mother
* * * *
Rufus Lyon – non-conformist minister of Malthouse Yard chapel. Based on Rev Francis Franklin, the Baptist minister of the Cow Lane chapel in Coventry for fifty-four years until he died in 1852. Marian Evans attended the school run by his daughters the Misses Franklin from 1832 – 1835.
Esther - 'nice-stepping, long-necked peacock for his daughter?' (Felix's first impression of Esther).
Lyddy – Rev Lyon's dismal servant
(Annette Ledru – Frenchwoman, Esther's mother, Rufus's wife, died before Esther 5 yrs old. Esther's father - Maurice Christian Bycliffe ('Henry Scaddon').
* * * *
Rev John Lingon – C of E parson, Mrs Transome's brother, Harold's uncle.
Sir Maximus Debarry – 'Lord of the Manor' – Treby Manor; magistrate
Philip Debarry – their son - Tory candidate for North Loamshire.
Rev Augustus Debarry – Rector – brother of Maximus
Christian – Philip's manservant/secretary (Henry Scaddon)
GEF Reading group Felix Holt ch's 4-9 4 May 2016
* Rev Rufus Lyon
• Mrs Holt (he (Felix) talks more than his father did...')
• What do we learn about Felix before we meet him?
Chapter 5 A fascinating chapter.
1. Felix & Rufus talk. Topics include:
• candles - tallow or wax
• outward appearances
• medicines and integrity
• Felix's 'conversion' - debauchery, politics and class
• should politics be brought into the pulpit?
Rufus & Felix enjoy getting to know each other and discover they both go to Sproxton once a week. 'we shall see more of each other and I trust shall have much profitable communing'.
2. Esther & the tea-party. Another richly comedic episode. Topics include:
• Byron (theme of Esther dreaming, illusions etc, her awakening and others imprisoned in their delusions is central to the novel
• Mr Jermyn (Esther gives French lessons to his daughter)
• Dissenters v Church people
• What makes a 'lady'? (as useful to life as 'a pair of tweezers to the clearing of a forest' - Felix)
• Pilgrim fathers & other puritans - George Whitfield (covered because Esther can't bear his ugliness. Again, her self-deluding retreat from reality...)
3. What does Felix think of Esther?
• 'Of course he saw more clearly than ever that she was a fine lady.'
• Eliot: 'Esther had that excellent thing in woman (Eliot is quoting King Lear - about Cordelia), a soft voice with a clear fluent utterance. Her sauciness was always charming, because it was without emphasis, and was accompanied with graceful little turns of the head. Felix laughed at her thrust with young heartiness
• 'A peacock!' thought Felix. 'I should like to come and scold her every day, and make her cry and cut her fine hair off...
4. Use of language in this chapter
• Eg Felix's mother's 'Cancer cure' is 'bottled ditch-water' Byron is a 'misanthropic debauchee'
• use of adverbs: Felix's words are variously delivered 'loudly, brusquely, bluntly, good-humouredly; contemptuously
Felix went on 'triumphantly'. (whereas Rufus = 'gravely', 'ponderingly').
5. What does Esther think of Felix?
Read last page of ch 5 from: 'I think he is very coarse and rude'...
Rev Lyon's love-story, Rufus Lyon's history
'Though she be dead, yet let me think she lives,
And feed my mind, that dies from want of her.' (Tamburlaine the Great- Marlowe)
1. The story of Annette Ledru & Maurice Christian Bycliffe, baby Esther
3. Where have we seen this story before in Eliot's fiction? Caterina in Mr Gilfil's Love Story
N.B.: 'a locket containing her husband's hair and bearing his baptismal name. This locket she said exactly resembled one worn by her husband on his watch-chain, only that his bore the name of Annette and contained a lock of her hair.'
'Upstairs, downstairs'... More rich comedy
1. Sir Maximus Debarry & Lady Debarry visit Mrs Transome to pay their respects to Harold whom they knew as a boy. They assume he is standing like their son Philip as a Tory candidate. He is not in but they arrange to meet him for dinner. On the way home they are told by Christian that Harold intends to stand as a Radical (the dinner engagement will not go ahead).
• What does Sir Maximus think of Mrs Transome?
• What does Lady Debarry think of Mrs Transome?
2. Denis will share his research into Philip Debarry and Weston Hall, Bulkington (near Nuneaton). 'There is a portrait of Mr Philip Debarry still to be seen at Treby Manor, and a very fine bust of him at Rome, where he died fifteen years later. A convert to Catholicism'. (Ch 14)
3. And downstairs....'The focus of brilliancy at Treby Manor that evening was in no way the dining room..'
Read from half way way through ch 7 - 'There was fast revelry in the steward's room and slow revelry in the Scotch bailiff's room...' (Paragraph beginning 'Perhaps Sir Maximus would not have been so sanguine...')
4. More clues: two pages further in, Mr Crowder is speaking: 'That's a wicked thing though.' Christian is clumsy with the punch bowl..
5. N.B. Reform & radicalism are also on the servants' mind: 'So the stream must be running toward Reform and Radicalism' says Christian.
The Transome family
1. Harold's story
2. Mrs Transome We have already noted the trees imagery in connection with Mrs Transome and Transome Court. Now the 'finest threads...bound cunningly... a worst bondage than any fetters..fatal threads...bitterness of this helpless bondage..'
3. Eliot's observations on mothers:
• 'It is a fact perhaps kept a little too much in the background, that mothers have a self larger than their maternity..'
• 'After sharing the common dream that, when a beautiful man-child was born to her, her cup of happiness would be full..'
4. The shadow of Mr Jermyn always: ('long shadows lay on the grass..')
Harold says to his mother: 'O, Jermyn be hanged. It seems to me if Durfey hadn't died and made room for me, Jermyn would have ended by coming to live here, and you would have had to keep the lodge and open the gate for his carriage.'
5. Read the last paragraph of this chapter: 'She was standing...' (pictures = lies; mirrors = truth).
Matthew Jermyn visits Mrs Transome.
(NB: Plot construction: Mrs T is absent from the end of this chapter until ch 34).
The second session of the group was held at the Old Meeting URC schoolroom. We couldn't access the Almshouses room but Lynda had keys to the Old Meeting, about 200 yards away -the church was reputedly visited by GE, so were late starting. The group is shown here during the interval. Two more photos appear after Denis's notes for session two.
Denis's notes on chapters 4-9
This is a lovely chapter; we see George Eliot at her best, two contrasting characters that just leap off the page.
First, the Reverend Rufus Lyon, introduced at the end of the last chapter, and here with the epigraph, ‘A pious and painful preacher’. He lives in a small house, ‘not quite so good as the parish clerk’s’, adjoining the entrance to Chapel Yard. His study is a ‘low upstairs room’ where the book shelf overflows, books are piled on the floor, leaving just space enough for him to pace up and down during his hours of meditation. His person is little and low too, a shrunken body on tiny legs, but his head dominates; he is compared to a Hermes. A bald head with a fringe of auburn hair hanging about his neck, the face looks old and worn, but the short-sighted eyes are still clear and bright. A figure of fun in the town, ‘a very odd-looking rusty old man’; boys laugh at him and call him ‘Revelations’, respectable Church people say old Lyon with his little legs and large head make Dissent look just that bit more preposterous. Rufus was ‘too absent from the world of small facts and petty impulses’ to take note of these titterers. His mind, his ire and his egotism are wholly caught up in wrestling with the great questions of belief and teaching; he was only aware of his small nervous body when ‘he trembled under the pressure of some agitating thought’.
The character is said to be based on Eliot’s memories of the father of her Coventry schoolteacher Miss Franklin who was the Baptist minister, Francis Franklin. A school friend remembered how greatly Miss Evans had admired Mr Franklin, and could trace many slight resemblances in this portrayal.
We find him thinking out his Sunday morning sermon. His text speaks of a servant of God standing up and delivering his message, and the great shout of ‘Amen’ from the people of Israel. He follows up the theme: ‘My brethren, do you think that great shout was raised in Israel by each man waiting to say ‘amen’ till his neighbours had said amen?...But this is what you do’: you don’t ‘lay your souls beneath the Word as you set out plants beneath the falling rain’. No, one of you sends his eyes to all corners, he smothers his soul with small questions. And another –
The flow is broken when the old servant Lyddy opens the door to say with a groan that Mrs Holt has arrived ‘out of season’ to speak to him. He reproves her for her despondent outlook with a scriptural quote, and tells her to show Mrs Holt up. Thinking aloud and walking, he feels he lacks the grace to deal with ‘these weak sisters’; their needs are out of track with his meditation, take him unawares. And he has to cope with ‘this woman’s folly. - Come in Mrs Holt, come in.’
A tall woman, dressed in black, a black band around her head, enters. He clears a chair for her and she sits, looking fixedly at the opposite wall. She wears a hurt, argumentative expression. There is silence; he has to ask her if she has something on her mind. She’s prickly; why else should she be there? She begins to speak about her husband who was a member of the church before Mr Lyon’s time.
He would have been a good judge of your gifts, might not have agreed with your doctrine.
Have you come to talk about my preaching?
I’m not the woman for that. What I will say is that my husband had a great gift of prayer.
Has anyone been aspersing his character?
Sir, they daren’t.
She taxes Mr Lyon’s patience with rambling on how she came to marry, and an assertion that, though she’s not a member of Mr Lyon’s congregation, she always does her duty, and more. Her husband had promised her, ‘when he was a-dying’, Mary, he said, ‘the Elixir, the Pills and the Cure will support you, for they’ve a great name in the country round…To say they’re not good seems to me it’s flying in the face of heaven.’ She breaks off, stifling tears. Mr Lyon divines the problem.
Is your son objecting in some way to sale of the medicines?
He’s wild and uncontrollable, breaking off his apprenticeship, goes to Glasgow getting through the bit of money his father has left for his bringing up – what has all his learning come to? He says I’d better never open my Bible, for it’s as bad poison to me as the pills are to half the people as swallow ‘em. I suppose a Christian can understand the word o’ God without going to Glasgow, and there’s texts upon texts about ointment and medicine, and there’s one as might have been made for the receipt of my husband’s.
Rash words of his, Mrs Holt. But we may err in giving too private an interpretation to the Scriptures. The word of God has to satisfy the wider needs of His people. Would it not be well that I should see your son?
That’s what I wanted to ask you, Mr Lyon. Perhaps he’ll not talk you down as he does his poor mother. If he writes to tell everyone that the medicines are worth nothing, how will I ever keep him and myself?
Tell him to come to me this evening.
He counsels her to pray, asking for ‘a spirit of humility and submission’. She bridles: she’s not proud or obstinate. Why should she be sent this trouble?
I haven’t told you all. He’s made himself a journeyman to Mr Prowd, the watchmaker. And has little boys to teach. Coming in all weathers with dirty shoes.
We must not judge rashly, Mrs Holt. It may even be the disguised working of grace within him.
More bridling. She has been a well-spoken-on woman. Not her biggest enemy can turn round and say she deserved this trouble. Few women could have done all the work preparing the medicines for sale as she has. She appeals to ‘One that’s worthy to know’ to make it up to her: she has ‘purchased’ the blessing.
As she leaves. it is Rufus’s turn to groan:
This woman has sat under the Gospel all her life, and she is as blind as a heathen, and as proud and stiff-necked as a Pharisee; yet she is one of the souls I watch for.
To summarise can’t give the full flavour of this confrontation. George Eliot excels in portraying the unstoppable, argumentative Mrs Holt. Unsparing in its presentation of her absurdity and her ‘words without knowledge’, and of Rufus at a loss, trying to make his words carry weight, it is never unkind; we feel for both of them. Rich human comedy in the dialogue, delighting in the game play.
The epigraph has a special relevance to the portrayal of the radicalism of young Felix Holt in this chapter:
The hurry in the veins of youth, that makes a vice of virtue by excess.
But what if coolness of our tardier veins be loss of virtue?
All things cool in time to reach a general level, nowhere in excess.
‘Tis a poor climax, to my weaker thought, that future middlingness.
The scene is set for the entrance of Felix Holt to the dismal sitting room of Rufus Lyon’s house. Rufus is sitting reading. There is a general air of sombreness and privation, and, at the same time, a delicate scent of dried rose leaves; the light comes from a good wax candle and, on the table near the fireplace is ‘a dainty work basket, frilled with blue satin’. When Felix enters, at the minister’s invitation he sits near the table, and stares at the candle. When he sees this Rufus is uneasy, interpreting it as surprise at seeing the luxury of a wax candle instead of the cheaper tallow. He explains that it is paid for out of his daughter’s earnings; she cannot tolerate the smell of tallow. He is surprised by Felix’s reply: ‘I heeded not the candle, sir. I thank Heaven I am not a mouse to have a nose that takes note of wax or tallow.’
The loud abrupt tone of this shakes Rufus. He had been thinking that he would have to be quiet and deliberate in his treatment of this young man. He searches for his spectacles to peer more closely at the interlocutor. Felix smiles in response to this inspection: ‘Tis the quality of the page you care about, not the candle. You’re thinking that you have a roughly-written page before you now.’ It was true: he was used to the well-turned-out air of the provincial townsman; here was a young man ‘shaggy-headed, large-eyed, strong-limbed, without waistcoat or cravat’. Looking back to his conversation with Mrs Holt he senses again that there might be a ‘disguised work of grace’ going forward in this son of her’s. He says he doesn’t judge by appearances, he knows that when we are experiencing doubt, under some stress, it’s easy to forget the normal decencies. Felix replies loudly and brusquely as before. It it’s a matter of ‘those absurd medicines’ he has no doubts. He would be a rascal to allow their continued sale. His father was ignorant, ‘he knew neither the complication of the human system nor the way in which drugs counteract each other’. He himself will keep his mother in good stead out of the honest labour of his hands.
Rufus has to walk up and down, a sign of his unsureness. He has to test the soundness of this ‘loud-spoken integrity:
How long have you known this young man?
Well put, sir. I’ve known it a good deal longer than I’ve acted on it, like plenty of other things. But you believe in conversion?
So do I. I was converted by six weeks’ debauchery.
The minister is shocked. Felix goes on to describe his moment of truth, lying in the garret of a gin-shop (or brothel?). Did he want to turn his life into the pursuit of easy pleasure?
Then I began to see what else it could be turned into. Not much, perhaps. This world is not a very fine place to live in for a good many of the people in it. But I’ve made up my mind that it shan’t be the worse for me, if I can help it. They may tell me I can’t alter the world – that there must be a certain number of sneaks and robbers in it, and if I don’t lie and filch somebody else will. Well, then, somebody else shall, for I won’t. That’s the upshot of my conversion, Mr Lyon, if you want to know it.
More walking up and down from Mr Lyon.
Did you sit under any preacher at Glasgow, young man?
No. I heard most of the preachers once, but I never wanted to hear them twice.
Rufus brushes aside his slight feeling of resentment at this want of reverence, and asks how he proposes to keep his mother: ‘With my watch and clock cleaning, and teaching one or two little chaps that I’ve got to come to me, I can earn enough.’ But with his education, couldn’t he get something better? Here we get the full statement of Felix’s radicalism; it is in fact socialism avant la lettre. His father had begun as a weaver; it would have been better him if he had remained at this honest trade. His special ire is directed at the ‘best heads’ who for financial gain join the middle classes and ‘forsake their born comrades’. Rufus feels an impulse to smile, but it would not be well to give way to readily ‘at what seemed but a weedy resemblance of Christian unworldliness. On the contrary, there might be a dangerous snare in an unsanctified outstepping of average Christian practice.’
Nevertheless, it is by such self-advancement that many have been able to do good service to the cause of liberty and to the public wellbeing.
O yes, your ringed and scented men of the people! I won’t be one of them. Let a man throttle himself with a satin stock and he’ll get new wants and new motives. I’ll have none of your clerkly gentility. I might end by collecting greasy pence from poor men to buy myself a fine coat and a glutton’s dinner, on pretence of serving the poor men.
Then you have a strong interest in the great political movements of these times?
I should think so. I despise every man who has not – or, having it, doesn’t try to rouse it in other men.
Right, my young friend, right.
All consideration of ‘Felix Holt’s spiritual interest’ is lost in the discovery of this political sympathy. They share views on seeing the pulpit as a place for teaching men their duties as members of the commonwealth. Rufus has had ‘puerile blame’ for meddling with public matters in the pulpit; ‘I should say, teach any truth you can, whether it’s in the Testament or out of it’ says Felix. A meeting of minds, but Rufus feels the need to pause in front of Felix and warn. Plainness of speech is good, but great natural gifts can bring the temptation of pride and scorn for the lesser.
The mind that is too ready at contempt and reprobation is, I may say, as a clenched fist that can give blows, but is shut up from receiving and holding ought that is precious –though it were heaven-sent manna.
I understand you, sir, But I’m not inclined to clench my fist at you.
The warning was interrupted by the arrival of Lyddy with the tea try. Rufus invites Felix to stay; it will give him a chance to meet his daughter. Felix is less interested in the daughter, who would probably be ‘some Miss, neat sensible, pious’. It was a surprise, then, when Esther came in: ‘he had a sense of an elastic walk, the tread of small feet, a long neck, and high crown of shining brown plaits’. He was determined to notice her as little as possible: ‘A fine lady was always a sort of spun-glass affair.’ The thought of associating her with his new-found friend, ‘this rusty old Puritan’ was especially offensive to him.
When her father gives the signal to move towards the table, Esther has the opportunity to observe Felix, ‘a peculiar-looking person, not insignificant…massively built’. She’s struck by his large clear grey eyes and full lips. As Felix gets up he knocks over the rickety table near him and sends the work-basket flying. Among the contents spilling out is a book. He has to look at the title, and at last directly at Esther: ‘Byron’s Poems…What! do you stuff your memory with Byron, Miss Lyon? He’s looked at her ‘with a strong denunciatory and pedagogic intent’. She reddens: ‘I have a great admiration for Byron.’ A ‘worldly and vain writer, I fear’ says her father (who has never read him) while Felix expands on his denunciation. She parries his forceful thrust ‘with graceful little turns of the head’. (Felix’s denunciation of Byron reflects GE’s own lack of sympathy with his attitudes and characteristics. Yet Byronic characters are a strong presence in her novels and poetry.)
Mr Lyon turns the conversation to words, where he is eager for precision, and his daughter is his critic, in her turn eager for niceties of expression. ‘O, your niceties, I know what they are’, bursts in Felix, in his usual fortissimo, ‘roundabout euphuisms that dress up swindling till it looks as well as honesty. I hate your gentlemanly speakers.’ ‘Then you won’t like Mr Jermyn, I think,’ says Esther. It is an opportunity to tell her father that Jermyn wishes to see him; he had asked this of her earlier, when she was giving a lesson to his daughter. What is it likely to be about? ‘Politics, of course,’ says Felix. It must be connected with the Transome family he acts for, the heir is said to have recently returned with a fortune, and is likely to stand for the Tories in the Debarry interest. Why should Jermyn want to consult us, Esther wonders, Miss Jermyn had told her the other day that she couldn’t understand how she came to be so well educated and ladylike; she through Dissenters were ignorant, vulgar people. Felix again counters, dismissing altogether all her notions of ‘fine ladyism’ along with admiration for Byron. So the conversation proceeds until Felix rises, saying that he doesn’t want to take up any more of Mr Lyon’s valuable time. It emerges that Rufus goes every week to Sproxton where he has a small congregation, almost wholly of women, and he needs to work with the miners; he hopes to establish a small chapel there. He suggests to Felix that he should walk out there with him, to see how the population has grown. In fact, Felix says, he already goes there several times a week, where he has a ‘congregation’ of his own, the miners. He offers them a little education and his academy is the alehouse. They agree to go out there together.
After he has left, Rufus and his daughter discuss him. ‘A singular young man,’ judges Rufus, and he discerns much good in him. For Esther, he is ‘vey coarse and rude’, there is anger in her voice, ‘but he speaks better than most of our visitors. What is his occupation?’ When she hears what it is her response is, ‘Dear me, I thought he was something higher than that.’
Felix, strolling out in the evening air, wonders how ‘that queer devout old man, with his awful creed…came to have a daughter so little of his own likeness’. He works up a picture of a foolish marriage, of the type hewas determined to avoid for himself, and of Miss Esther, preparing her trap of gentility for some man or other.
I could ground my teeth at such self-satisfied minxes, who can tell everybody what is the correct thing, and the utmost stretch of their ideas will not place them on the level of intelligent fleas. I should like to see if she could be made ashamed of herself.
The epigraph gives the heart of this chapter, and is repeated as a conclusion:
Though she be dead, yet let me think she lives,
And feed my mind, that dies for want of her.
‘Hardly any one in Treby who thought at all of Mr Lyon and his daughter, had not felt the same sort of wonder about Esther as Felix felt.’ In a long opening paragraph, George Eliot sets out the conflicting impressions Esther had produced in Treby when she returned after being sent away by her father for her education. She had come back to live permanently with her father, and to take pupils in the town. The girls of various ages she taught expressed an astonished admiration of her cleverness; her knowledge of French was putting Treby on the map. The young men who fell for her were treated ‘with a distant scorn which was hardly to be tolerated in a minister’s daughter’. She was not much liked by her father’s church and congregation, and she made it clear that she did not wish to be considered part of them. ‘Esther’s own mind was not free from a sense of irreconcilableness between the objects of her taste and the conditions of her lot.’
Rufus grieved about what he saw as her spiritual deficiencies, but he was under her spell, in timorous subjection to her wishes: in this small dingy house of the minister in Malthouse Yard, there was a light-footed, sweet-voiced Queen Esther’. Esther had affection for her father but was frankly embarrassed by him. She felt she would have loved her mother better, if only she could have known her. All she had were the confused memories of her caressing and physical touch, and a few French words, from earliest childhood. Her father felt too agonised to speak about her, and promised to do only when she became a woman on the verge of marriage, when he would deliver to her her mother’s ring and all that was hers.
His inability to speak came had two deeply-seated causes. He had not the courage to tell Esther that he was not her real father, fearing the consequences. Then, ‘the deep sorrows of his life as a Christian minister..were hardly to be told to a girl’. He had been the admired pastor of a large Independent congregation in one of the southern seaport towns, but had suddenly voluntarily resigned from this charge and left the town. Religious doubts and newly awakened passion had paralysed his ministerial gifts. The story unfolds of how, returning home late one evening, he had found by the roadside a young woman with a baby on her lap, pleading for help. He had taken her into his house, seen that she and the baby were cared for; not the first time he had undertaken such a charitable act. The woman was strikingly beautiful, when she looked at Rufus with her blue-grey eyes it was ‘a new kind of good’ to Rufus. It was as if a frenzy had seized him, and he dreaded lest she had a husband. He knew that these ‘mad wishes’ were irreconcilable with his role as a Christian minister, but he had never known a passion that so penetrated his soul.
He gradually learned Annette’s (for that was her name) story. She was the daughter of a high-ranking French officer who had fallen in the Russian campaign, and had come to England to re-join the husband she had met when he had been detained in France as a prisoner of war. A short time after their marriage he had been moved to a different town, then returned to England in a prisoner exchange, and had sent a message to come to join him. With great difficulty she had managed this, she had arrived at Southampton, ill, now with her baby and running out of funds. The message came from her husband that he was unable to meet her, he was himself in some distress, and gave her the name of an inn in London where they should meet. She waited three days for him there, and on the fourth day had a letter in a strange hand, saying that he had died. On the evening that Mr Lyon had found her she had pawned her last things except her marriage ring and ‘a locket bearing her husband’s name and bearing his baptismal name. This locket, she said, exactly resembled one worn by her husband on his watch chain, only that his contained a lock of her hair and bore the name Annette’. The only guarantee of this story ‘besides the exquisite candour of her face’, was a small cache of letters.
Rufus did not for a moment doubt her story; his one desire was to keep her. He went through the motions of looking for her husband, she had not kept the London address, and of seeking to appeal to her relatives and friends in France; he has helped here by her disinclination to return. ‘His love was the first love of a fresh young heart, full of wonder and worship.’ But it was also a spiritual fall. Annette remained in his house and, against himself, he had raised her situation with the matrons of his congregation. Anything they proposed would involve her being taken away from him. He came under severe disapproval from the church and in anticipation of formal proceedings he resigned his ministry.
With Annette and the child he moved to another town, where they lived on the remainder of his stipend and the earnings he could make by proof reading. Annette was grateful, passive, seeming only to desire the unattainable. For a year he did not speak of his love to her, and she seemed incurious about everything. Then one day, she divined his secret. He had come in and taken from her the crying baby; on this different shoulder she had been successfully quietened into sleep. This at last aroused Annette’s curiosity: had he nursed a baby before, why had be never married? ‘Because I never loved a woman - until now.’ So a declaration of love; characteristically he held back from what he held would be ignoble, to urge a claim.
Annette trembled and looked miserable. They quickly moved on and nothing more was said.
Within days he was too ill to go to work. Overwrought and under-nourished he fell into a serious illness. Annette nursed him back to health; this sudden demand on her shook away some of her torpor. The day came when she looked at him and said ‘she was getting very wise’ selling some of his books to make money, with plans to make caps and bonnets for local shops, and when he was well enough for them to go out and be married. A fortnight later they were married. She had agreed to abjure her Catholic faith – it was part of the past that had gone away, along with les fleurs, les bals, la musique et mon mari qui était beau. It was clear that Annette (like Caterina in ‘Mr Gilfil’s Love Story’) regarded her present life as a sort of death to the world. She fell again into a torpor to everything except her child. The next three years were a slow and gentle death. For Rufus it was a time renunciation more thorough than he had ever known in his ministerial career: ‘untiring work, untiring devotion, untiring patience, untiring wakefulness even to the dumb signs of feeling in a creature whom he alone cared for’.
He was left with little Esther as the one visible sign of that four years’ break in his life. A year later he resumed his ministry, and worked to provide for Esther’s education, so that she could get her own bread in case of his death. A French school was chosen: it was Protestant, correct in its theology. ‘It was understood that Esther would contract no Papistical superstitions; and this was perfectly true; but she contracted, as we see, a good deal of non-Papistical vanity.’ Echoes of the mother in the daughter: les fleurs, les bals, la musique… Rufus’s reputation as a preacher revived, but he was found to show greater latitude on the possibilities of salvation. Suspicions of laxity led to his quitting his old pastorage and move to the less important church of Malthouse Yard. Doubtless it was the searing experience of recent years that had led to this humanisation; a case study for GE, perhaps, of Feuerbach: God rediscovered through plumbing the depths of human love.
The epigraph anticipates the ripples of shock and speculation caused by Harold in his return as rich heir of the Transomes, the subject of the chapter.
Sir Maximus Debarry and his lady are travelling in grand style, in ‘carriage and pair, with coachman and footman in crimson and drab’ to visit Transome Court; you sense it is their first visit in a long time. He’s ‘a hale good-natured-looking man of sixty’; she’s ‘a well-featured, middle-aged overdressed ‘mountain’. Sir Maximus is exultant, he sees the returning Harold as the answer for another Tory to stand in the election alongside his nephew Philip. Lady Debarry is more circumspect, thinking about Mrs Transome: how is she feeling, she’s been in the shade too long. They skirt over the reasons for this; he’s never believed in the reasons for it. It’s a point of contention between them. He’s more ready to forget the rumours than she is.
They find Mrs Transome perfectly composed, but pale, her hands are cold. They don’t yet know what Harod’s politics are. The conversation soon turns to this. If he and Philip can run in harness ‘we can keep out the Whigs’. It’s really quite a providential thing. ‘Of course he’ll stand – has he made up his mind to it? She is spared an answer by the entrance of her husband, quite different from the figure sunk in gloom of the opening chapter. He has a gentle smile, little Harry is urging him forward as a ‘poor-paced horse’, a cord around his waist. The Debarrys soon guess the identity of the child, Lady Debarry is really amazed: ‘I never heard you speak of marriage. He has brought you home a daughter-in-law, then? “No,” said Mrs Transome coldly; “she is dead.” “O-o-oh!” said Mrs Debarry, in a tone ludicrously undecided.’ Harry is tugging at the aged spaniel and when Mrs Transome intervenes, warning him of a bite, he gets the idea he should bite her arm instead. The resulting consternation causes the Debarrys to beat a hasty retreat, saying that they expect her and Harold to come and dine with them, ‘Sir Maximus is longing to see him, and Philip will be down.’ Mrs Transome is almost glad of the painful bite. It has saved her from further questioning.
In the carriage on return there is further speculation. ‘That poor creature is not happy,’ says Lady Debarry. Something annoys her about her son. Is there something unpleasant about his character? And that savage boy, ‘he doesn’t look like a lady’s child.’ Sir Maximus brushes this aside, the minutiae that women think so much of. What really matters is a man’s position and his politics – the Transomes have always been a good Tory family. The conversation continues in this vein, until it is suddenly interrupted by a well-dressed man who stops the carriage, to hand Sir Maximus a poster he draws from his pocket. Sir Maximus at first thinks it is for the Whigs, then discovers that the subject is a Radical: ‘What fool is he?- he’ll have no chance.’ Then he shouts out the name “Harold Transome!’ Lady Debarry feels vindicated: ‘I had an instinct that we should find him an unpleasant person.’ Sir Maximus says ‘He has become a regular beast among those Mahometans.’
He wishes Christian had managed to contact them before they had set out on the journey. ‘He’s an uncommonly adroit, useful fellow, that factotum of Philip’s. I wish Phil would take my man and give me Christian. I’d make him house steward; he might reduce the accounts a little.’ Perhaps Sir Maximus would not have been so sanguine as to Christian’s ‘economical virtues’, if he had seen him later in the day, relaxing among ‘the other distinguished dependents of the family’. We then get a picture of a household run in such a way that those ‘below stairs’ had ‘a merry time of it and often did extremely well’. Sir Maximus, everyone said, was a gentleman ‘of the right sort’. He addressed his head-servants with a ‘good evening, gentlemen’, ‘snarled in a subdued way’ over the accounts, willing to endure some personal inconvenience ‘in order to keep up the institutions of the country, to maintain his hereditary establishment.’
That evening the focus of brilliancy at Treby Manor was not in the gloom of the dining room; no, the centre of ‘eager talk and enjoyment’ was the steward’s room, where Mr Scales, the head-butler, distributed cigars, cognac and whisky to various colleagues and guests. The subject of speculation was, naturally, Harold Transome, and the size of his fortune. Scales exhibits a ‘knowingness’ that leads him to expect a certain deference, challenging the statements of the lesser participants in a deprecating way. But it was easy to see that the newcomer, Mr Christian, was challenging his position, reducing him to a secondary character. They speculate on the reason for the decline of the Transomes: was it gambling? ‘It was law – law – that’s what it was. Not but what the Transomes always won.’ ‘And always lost,’ said the too-ready Scales. ‘Yes, yes, I think we all know the nature of law.’
They said the last suit of all made the most noise. Some young man pretended to be the true heir. Lawyer Jermyn won it. What was the young fellow’s name? it was Scaddon, Henry Scaddon. Christian has a moment of awkwardness that clearly jars him; he covers it over with further questioning. The discussion shifts to Harold’s radicalism, and on to the meaning of the word, a subject on which Christian teases Scales, eventually resorting to a pun on his name: being weighed in the scales and found wanting. There is some word fencing and Scales counters ‘I’ve heard of a party before now calling himself a Christian, and being anything but it.’ As Mr Christian leaves, those remaining began to speculate about him: Mr Philip picked him up in foreign parts, a courier, with a deal of experience, even in that rank of life where he fought a duel; a wonderful hand at cards. The hilarity of the evening had been chilled somewhat, but ‘the punch was drunk, the accounts were duly swelled, and, notwithstanding the innovating spirit of the times, Sir Maximus Debarry’s establishment was kept up in a sound hereditary British manner.’
This is an important chapter for the reader’s understanding of Harold Transome. The previous chapter has seen speculations about the extent of his fortune and the political clout this brought him. The opening of this chapter, introducing ‘that talkative character, Rumour’, carries this forward. The extent of his fortune is magnified, adding lustre to his opinions in the eyes of Liberals; even those opposed to him admitted that a fortune increased his eligibility to become a member for the constituency.
But while the fortune was getting larger in the imagination of constituents, Harold saw it differently; it was shrinking in the possibilities of what it would enable him to do. He had heavy mortgages to pay off, repair bills for the buildings, many calls for the maintenance of the estate, and the problem of unproductive tenants. And it did not take him long to see that timber had been mismanaged, woods recklessly thinned and insufficient planting, no accounts for the large sums received for timber. Jermyn was under suspicion, and his mother had allowed things to go wrong. He put that down to ‘the general futility of women’s attempts to transact men’s business’.
Mrs Transome understood this, she was aware of her own shortcomings. But she protested about what he had in mind for the tenants: the times had been dreadful, and old families liked to keep their old tenants, ‘I daresay that is Toryism’. Harold could see that his mother should have been in some sort of subjection to Jermyn. And he couldn’t take action while he still had use for him.
There was some subject in the local press on how Harold had come to be a Liberal, in opposition to all the traditions of his family. Opinions veered between describing him as betraying the institutions that had made his country great, to seeing him as a man who had liberated himself from the trammels of prejudice. Neither of these did justice to the particular case of Harold. When he was very young the world seems rather ill-arranged for him; his stupid elder brother had stood in his way for inheritance. He had little success at Eton, and there was no money to send him to Oxford. He turned his back on Transome Court which he loved, and on his Mother, of whom he was rather fond. ‘I’ll get rich somehow, have an estate for myself and do what I like with it.’
And he had achieved this. On the way he had acquired a shrewdness of judgment. He had to zigzag between conformity and rebellion. To be a through Englishman again he had to stand up for the change that the economical condition required, and what common sense and the increasing self-assertion of the majority demanded. What pride he had was moulded in an individual rather than an hereditary form.
But what of his mother? GE raises a question of profound interest to feminists: ‘mothers have a self larger than their maternity’. The departure of their sons leaves wide spaces of their time. Mrs Transome had moved from thinking that a beautiful man child would fill her cup of happiness to find him utterly unmanageable when he came back to her. Harold was a kind son, but she trembled under his kindness. What if it should cease, give way to something else? She felt that she was in helpless bondage. If all the past could be dissolved and leave no solid trace of itself, she would have tasted some joy.
‘One day... an occasion came on which she chose to express directly a part of her inward care.’ An idyllic charming picture of English life in the garden of which she was part: Harry, old Mr Transome, playing with Nimrod, the dog, in the sun. But she is turning her face away from this picture. She hears footsteps behind her which startle her: it was Mr Jermyn’s.
The epigraph, two quotations from Shakespeare, speaks of a woman fearful and trembling; some ‘unborn sorrow’ awaits her.
Jermyn smiles at Mrs Transome, but she does not return his smile. They walk together; he has come to try to find out Harold’s attitude towards him; he suspects this is unfavourable. He is impressed by Harold, thinks he will do well in Parliament if he gets there. For her, he is good at giving her things, but she is then expected to be ‘contented under contempt and neglect’.
But has he shown any unpleasant feelings about your management of the affairs?
My management! Mrs Transome looks at him with fierce rage. But she checks herself, she has to be careful with this man: she must never quarrel with him, tell what she sees him to be.
He protests that he has always met her wishes, in happy and unhappy circumstances. This only increases her feelings of resentment towards him, at the hold he had gained over her, which he had exploited for selfish reasons. That he was beneath her, both in feeling and in the status of a dependent servant, made it far worse. But she asks him to take her arm as they walk further on. She tries to extract a promise from him that he would not quarrel with Harold, fearful of what this might lead to. He says that he did not wish to quarrel, but he was not prepared to bear anything. She takes her arm away as Jermyn adds ‘I shall use him as he uses me.’
There was a half-formed wish in both their minds – even in the mother’s – that Harold Transome had never been born.
Jermyn, recovering himself, reiterates that they are working hard for the election:
‘It’s better for a man in his position to be in Parliament on the wrong side than not to be in at all.’
Never. I am too old to learn to call bitter sweet and sweet bitter.
He leaves, and Mrs Transome is standing alone, shivering.
A quarrel with Harold might require him to raise money and possibly raise a scandal. He had an expensive establishment to maintain and a large professional business. He did not feel himself to blame in his dealings:
He had had to do many things in law and in daily life which, in the abstract he would have condemned; and indeed he had never been tempted by them in the abstract. Here in fact was the inconvenience; he had sinned for the sake of particular concrete things, and particular concrete consequences were likely to follow.
If he could get Harold elected it would put him in a good humour, give him something to do, and give himself more time to prepare for any crisis.
That evening there was a family party for his eldest daughter’s birthday, into which he entered with high spirits. The party was smaller than usual, for some families in Treby refused to visit Jermyn, now that he was concerned for a Radical candidate.
The group has resumed discussion after their tea and coffee break, then worked through till 9.30!
Wednesday 18th May.
Notes from Viv Wood on chapters 10-21
'He made love neither with roses, nor with apples, now with locks of hair' (Theocritus)
Felix & Esther.
'But now she had been stung'.
The Sugar Loaf (Sproxton).
'I'll take one of their little fellows and set him in the midst. Till they can show there's something they love better than swilling themselves with ale, extension of the suffrage can never mean anything for them but extension of boozing'.
Mr Johnson: 'You've got no votes, and that's a shame. But you will have some day, if such men as Transome are returned..'
GE's notebooks indicate that her interest only gradually moved towards a political theme.
Let's read what Pack, Gills, Old Sleck & Dredge think of Johnson – end of chapter.
Following Sunday lunch at the Rectory, Philip Debarry leaves his pocket book behind with important papers in it. He sends his manservant Christian to collect it....
Walking home from Sproxton to Treby, Felix crosses Treby park and finds the pocket book. Not wishing to have any connection with people at the Manor, he takes it to Rufus Lyon.
Effect on Rufus?
How is Esther changing?
Very slight words and deeds may have a sacramental efficacy, if we can cast our self-love behind us, in order to say or do them'. (– little acts of kindness?)
Rufus writes to the Debarrys.
Christian calls at Malthouse Yard to claim the items.
('How did Dissenters, and Methodists, and Quakers, and people of that sort first come up, uncle?' said Misd Selina, a radiant girl of twenty, who had given much time to the harp.')
1. Let's read the opening of ch 15 to understand Rufus's anguish about his past. From 'To understand..'.
2. Eliot's barbed comment on some clerics:
'And that these pulpits were filled, or rather made vacuous, by men whose privileged education in the ancient centres of instruction issued in twenty minutes' formal reading of tepid exhortation or probably infirm deductions from premises based on rotten scaffolding'.
3. In recompense for returning the pocket book, Rufus asks the Rector for a public debate on the 'Constitution of the true Church'.
4. Esther reflects 'her life was a heap of fragments, and so were her thoughts: some great energy was needed to bind them together'.
1. Harold Jermyn & Jermyn call at Lantern Yard to engage Rufus' support for the election.
And Harold's? '...a pity the room was so small...this girl ought to walk in a house where there were halls and corridors.'
2. Rufus' views on secret ballot
Secret ballot: The actual casting of votes continued 'open' after the 1832 reform Bill (hence the importance and vulnerability of 'tenant-voters'). The principle of a 'secret ballot' was one of the Six Points of the Chartists - and not achieved until Ballot Act of 1872.
3. Rufus asks to see Jermyn on some 'private business'.
4. Felix meets Harold:
'I wish to ask you, Mr Transome, whether it is with your knowledge that agents of yours are bribing rough fellows who are no voters – the collies and navvies at Sproxton..'
NB: Felix's statement: 'I'm a Radical myself and mean to work all my life long against privilege, monopoly and oppression'.
5. Let's read from : 'If a cynical sprite had been present.... (penultimate paragraph)
Harold & Felix go to Jermyn's office to challenge him about the 'treating'.
'I can only say... that if you make use of those heavy fellows when the drink is in them, I shouldn't like your responsibility. You might as well drive bulls to roar on our side as bribe a set of collies and navvies to shout and groan'.
(Johnson is seated at the bureau behind Jermyn).
Harold: 'And who is Johnson? An alias I suppose. It seems you are fond of the name'.
Why does he say that? Let's read the last page of the chapter.
Read first 2 paragraphs of chapter 18.
More acts of kindness from Esther to her father.
She expresses a desire to hear Harold Transome speak in the market place.
Esther joins Mr Jermyn's daughters in their carriage at the hustings.
Christian & Dominic meet – they had known each other in Europe from 16 years before.
Let's read the last page of the chapter together – from 'You've not got grey as I have..'.
Dinner at the Marquis. Men gossip and chat about the election.
Jermyn arranges to meet Christian.
Christian goes to 'Mr Jermyn's handsome house'.
'A – a – your name – a – is Henry Scaddon'.
Following the meeting, Jermyn writes to Johnson about the 'old business Scaddon alias Bycliffe, or Bycliffe alias Scaddon' to see if there is a 'hair's- breadth of a chance that another claim should be set up'. ( 'I shall hold all the threads between my thumb and finger')
'And so, if Mr Harold pushes me to extremity, and threatens me with Chancery and ruin, I have an opposing threat which will either save me or turn into a punishment for him'.
Let's read together the last two paragraphs (Bycliffe – Esther' father - had been thrown into prison & died – ' It had been a deucedly unpleasant thing for him to get Bycliffe arrested and thrown into prison as Henry Scaddon -perhaps hastening the man's death in some way'). The final ghostly paragraph.
Notes from Denis Baylis on chapters 10-21
A telling epigraph: ‘He made love neither with roses, nor with apples, nor with locks of hair.’ Theocritus
Felix arrives at Malthouse Yard on a Sunday afternoon. He can hear Mr Lyon’s voice preaching in the chapel, but he knows there will be someone to open the door for him: Esther never went to chapel in the afternoon. In the past few weeks Felix had got rather intimate with Mr Lyon. They shared the same political sympathies, but they can only be ‘onlookers at the election; neither qualified to vote. And they had formed a delightful friendship: much disputation, much agreement, and yet more personal liking. For the little minister, Felix perhaps out to be seen as caught up in profound heresy, but he preferred to regard it as orthodoxy ‘in the making’. ‘To cultivate his society with a view to checking his erratic tendencies was a laudable purpose’; but to have reduced Felix to conformity would have made the conversation much flatter.
Esther had seen less of him, but had begun to find him amusing and irritating to her woman’s love of conquest. He criticised her, opposed her, looed at her as if he never saw a single detail about her person. Ought he not to be a little in love with her. Clearly he held himself to be immeasurably her superior, and Esther was vexed with a secret consciousness that he was. Despite this she found herself admiring him more and more. She wished she could meet a 'finished' gentleman, who would certainly admire her, and make her aware of Felix's inferiority.
She is sitting comfortably in front of the kitchen fire, reading Chateaubriand’s Réné (a key work of French Romanticism, which had a wide and enthusiastic readership; Réné is devoured by a profound melancholy and unsatisfied longings). She was like a ‘remarkable Cinderella’. When she was aware that Felix was coming in her first instinct was to hide it, but she deliberately left the book open, on the table beside her. He had come on purpose to see her; she counters ‘You thought I had no afternoon sermon, so you came to give me one.’ He had come, he admits, with a sort of sermon; he wanted to dissuade her from her tendency to put good taste before ‘right opinions'. Sure enough he seizes on the copy of Rene as an example: ‘idiotic immorality dressed up to look fine with a little bit of doctrine tacked to it’. He wants her to change. She feels he is outrageously ill-bred, but she manages to keep her self possession. ‘I can’t bear to see you going the way of the foolish women who spoil men’s live…Ah! now you are offended with me, and disgusted with me. I expected it would be so. A women doesn’t like a man who tells her the truth.’ ‘That virtue is apt to be easy to people when they only wound others and not themselves.’ ‘But I see I have set your vanity aflame – nothing else.’ That is his parting shot.
There was a strange contradiction of impulses in the mind of Esther in the first moments after he had left. She had run up to her bedroom and burst into tears. She could not bear that he should not respect her, yet she could not bear that he should see her bend before his denunciation. ‘She revolted against his assumption of superiority, yet she felt herself in a new kind of subjection to him.’ But were his indignant words not a tribute to her? He thought she was worth more pains than the women of whom he took no notice. Could it be that he loved her ‘one little bit’. She was quite sure that she did not love him. But he wanted her to change: for the first time in her life Esther felt herself shaken in her self-contentment. Every word of his had burned itself into her memory: would she always from now on be dogged by inward questions? She was now stung even into a new consciousness concerning her father. Was it true that his life was so much worthier than her own?
She could not change for anything that Felix said, but she told herself he was mistaken if he supposed her incapable of generous thoughts. She treated her father with a spontaneous tenderness as he came in, exhausted, for his tea. ‘My sweet child.’ He said gratefully, thinking with wonder of the treasures still left in our fallen nature.
The epigraph is a foretaste of the abuse of the political process we are about to witness.
Felix was going to Sproxton that Sunday afternoon.
He always enjoyed his walk to that outlying hamlet; it took him (by a short cut) through a corner of Sir Maximus Debarry’s park; then across a piece of common, broken here and there into red ridges below dark masses of furze; and for the rest of the way alongside the canal…The canal was only a branch of the grand trunk, and ended among the coal-pits, where Felix, crossing a network of black tram roads, soon came to his destination – that public institute of Sproxton, known to its frequenters chiefly as Chubb’s.
(This description fits closely with a walk from Griff House – on the corner o the Arbury estate – down to the canal and from there to Marston junction, where there would have been a network of black tramlines coming to the canal from the coal pits, on the northern edge of Bedworth.)
When Felix arrived, the great Chubb was standing at the door of his ale house (its proper name was the Sugar Loaf). He was unlike the normal run of publicans; thin and sallow he was never the worse for liquor, had a ‘charmed sobriety’. He had thoroughly considered what calling would yield him a livelihood for the least possible exertion, and had prospered from his ‘public’ of well-paid miners, so that, as a forty-shilling freeholder, he qualified for a vote for the county. He regarded his vote as part of his investment: his one political ‘idee’ was that society existed for the sake of the individual, and that the name of that individual was Chubb. He had reserved his vote for Mr Peter Garstin, the mine owner from whom the Sugar Loaf was rented. But at the same time he dropped the hint that he might waver, now that there was a Radical in the field; he wanted to ascertain what possibilities of profit there might be to the Sugar Loaf in this altered state. So he greeted Felix with a high civility, despite the fact that he drank so little ale. He had ascertained that there was a way of using voteless miners and navvies at Nominations and Elections.
He suspected that Felix was an election agent. Felix took care to keep from him his real purpose, which was to win the ear of the best of the colliers, to set up a meeting to educate them to save something from their wages to pay for a schoolmaster for their boys. As things stood, the extension of the suffrage could never mean anything for them more than an extension of their boozing. Mr Chubb is taken up with this enigmatic customer and questions him further. He finds, at least then he isn’t a Tory, and he pours scorn on the Debarrys. They are interrupted by the arrival of two groups. First, a group of colliers, scrubbed clean in their Sunday clothes, including, as an item of fashion, ‘coloured handkerchiefs serving as cravats, with the long ends floating’. The second group is led by a smart, imposing man on horseback, followed by a motley crew of shabby-looking men and Sproxton boys of all sizes. Chubb has the wild idea that this is Harold Transome – a Radical fawning on the poor instead of the rich, and someone who might bring him more customers. The visitor dismounts and enters the pub.
Chubb asks Felix if he knows who he is, and Felix immediately goes down in his estimation when he discovers he doesn’t. The visitor goes into the parlour with Chubb, leaving the colliers to ruminate. It’s very likely he’s one of the election men, and that could mean for them drinks and money ‘for hollerin’. Felix tries to explain that there’s more to Reform than that; if he came to his talk at Peggy Button’s cottage they’ll learn more about it. ‘Isn’t that where the Wednesday preachin’ is? asks Dredge, one of them. ‘I’ve been aforced to give my wife a black eye to hinder her from going to the preachin’. Lors-a-massy, she thinks she knows better nor me, and I can’t make head nor tail of her talk.’ But he does agree to bring his little boy to the meeting.
Further talk is interrupted by the return of Chubb with the visitor, who is introduced as Mr Johnson. Chubb announces that the visitor has been kind enough to treat the company and will take a cup with them himself. Felix declines the treat, but stays on to hear what Johnson has to say. He begins with flattering praise for the miners: ‘the nation has more and more need of you’. They should be rewarded with the franchise, but meanwhile they should support as candidates those who would work in Parliament for their interests. They had to make Reform work, and they had an excellent candidate in Mr Transome of Transome Court to do this. ‘It’s a crisis – I pledge you my word it’s a crisis.’
He did not suppose that one of his audience knew what a crisis meant; but he had large experience of uncomprehended words; and in this case the colliers were thrown into a state of conviction concerning they did not know what, which was a fine preparation for ‘hitting out’, or any other act carrying a due sequence to such a conviction.
Felix was in danger of getting into a rage. He was seeing ‘our own serious phrases, our own rooted beliefs, caricatured by a charlatan or a hireling’. He said nothing until Johnson warned his audience against other men who talked ‘a little too big’. They say they want to befriend colliers, but ‘I should like to ask them ‘What colliers?”
There are colliers up at Newcastle, and there are colliers down in Wales. Will it do any good to honest Tom, who is hungry in Sproxton, to hear that Jack at Newcastle has his bellyful of beef and pudding?’
‘It ought to do him good,’ Felix bursts out, appalled at this betrayal of class solidarity. This provokes cutting words from Johnson, and the venom of Chubb who suggests that Felix should leave. He does leave, seeing that if he stayed it might cause a disturbance.
Johnson suggests Felix was likely to be a Tory in disguise. He resumes his glib address. He contrasts Transome, who will serve the working men and had money to back this up, with Spratt, the coal pit’s manager, a screwing and domineering fellow, in league with Garstin, the Whig who was no better than a Tory. They had the chance to change things: they didn’t have a vote, but they could cheer for the right man; and if they lost a day’s wages, Transome would make it up. But he does warn them against violence, ‘pommelling’. They would have the law and constable against them. Just a ‘little rolling in the dust and knocking hats off, a little pelting with soft things’. Johnson leaves, but not before ensuring that there was an organisation in place to see that the men, liberally ‘treated’, came as a body to the nomination and speechifying. The last words in the chapter are given to Dredge:
It’s wriggling work – like follering a stoat. It makes a man dry. I’d as lief hear preachin’, on’y there’s nought to be got by’t. I shouldn’t know which end I stood on if it wasn’t for the tickets and the treatin’.’
The scene moves to Treby Manor on the same Sunday. In the morning Mr Philip Debarry had after church gone to the rectory to have lunch with his uncle August, and while there he had dealt with some letters of importance and other papers. He had prepared these to take back to the Manor with him, but later realised he had left them on his uncle’s escritoire. He is anxious to have them, so commissions Christian to go over to fetch them. Christian is not happy about this, and it emerges that he has a bodily weakness that puts him in constant pain, which he wishes to keep private so as to maintain his position in the household. His remedy is to take opium, to the extent that he is close to being an addict. There is even the question that ‘if the pains ever became intolerably frequent a considerable increase in the dose might put an end to them altogether’.
On this particular day it found he needed to take a slight dose, but when he set out to return from the rectory with the valuable packet stowed away in his back pocket, he felt the need for another dose. This made him sleepy. He had chosen a back route to avoid contact with other servants, and could not avoid resting on a bench under some sycamores, where he fell into a deep sleep. It so happened that Mr Scales, the head butler had chosen the same sequestered walk taking with him Mrs Cherry, the younger lady’s-maid ‘in pursuit of a slight flirtation’. On discovering the sleeping Christian, his arch-rival in the servant community, he can’t resist the chance of ‘a fit bit of fun’ to make him the butt of jokes back at the Manor. He cuts off his coat-tail, noticing that there is something bulky there but thinking it is a cigar case and throws the coat-tail some distance away under the trees. Exploding with laughter with Mrs Cherry he returns home awaiting developments.
Christian awakes shocked to find himself in twilight, and even more disturbed when he finds that his coat-tail and the valuable contents are missing. Without looking for these, he assumes that they have been stolen; it is too dim to see now, anyway; the main thing was to let Mr Philip know. Scales is already having second thoughts on what he has done; even more so when he finds Mr Philip disturbed by the lateness of Christian to return and when he sees Christian back without his coat-tail, greatly agitated and then closeted with Philip. The contents of the coat-tail must have been important, he must recover them. He gets a groom with a lantern to accompany him to search, but they find only the discarded coat-tail. He returns with ‘the lanterns and the coat-tail and a most uncomfortable consciousness in that great seat of a butler’s emotion, the stomach’. Mrs Cherry is distraught, the rector and the constable are coming, and she fears that they should ‘all be hanged’. He has no remedy but to confess everything. His story relieves Christian a little but does not relieve Mr Debarry. A further search of the spot in the park is made but in vain: ‘many of the family at the Manor had disturbed sleep that night’.
It so happened that the last part of Felix’s return from Sproxton that evening was along this secluded route; he felt that he needed its quietness to relieve the irritation and bitterness of spirit the earlier confrontation had left him with. He half hoped that Johnson would have overtaken him earlier on the road (the present road through Collycroft?) so that he could have it out with him, even resorting to a thrashing. He was appalled by the electioneering trickery. In his mind he compared Johnson to ‘a hungry cod-fish’, goggle-eyed, with a stupid gluttonous mouth, the little fishes worth nothing except in relation to his own inside. Felix guessed that Johnson had upset all his own plans with the colliers. His only course seemed to be to contact Transome to put a veto on what was being planned, but the mischief might be past mending.
In the twilight he was following a general direction, veering off the path, and in the dark grass he stumbled over something bulky: it was a large leather pocket book fastened with a sealed ribbon; but he also found nearby ‘an ornamental notebook of pale leather stamped with gold; this has broken open and protruding from it was a gold chain with seals and other trifles attached to it by a ring. Felix felt that there was a connection of these objects to the Manor and the Debarry family. His pride made him averse to any contact with the aristocracy, and even more to their servants. He thought of several alternatives, and came down in favour of asking Rufus Lyon to handle this for him. He found Mr Lyon in the vestry after the Sunday evening service. In conversation with Mr Nuttwood, a church member about the use of music in the services and the demeanour of the singers. Mr Nuttwood thought they were getting above themselves putting on a musical performance, ‘adapting the most sacred monosyllables to a multitude of wandering quavers’ quite out of keeping with the primitive simplicity a Dissenter style. Mr Lyon felt that a choir was necessary to lead the singing though he could see this was not an ideal situation, Felix could not resist joining in the ensuing discussion with great mockery; he could see that ‘private judgment could lead everyone to sing at the time with a different tune. Mr Lyon joins in with gathering excitement despite his exhaustion. Further discussion is postponed to the next day and Felix is at last able to raise with him the objects he has found.
Mr Lyon notices that the little book is open, so that they might venture to look at it for some signs of ownership. He takes the chain as it falls out and tries to decipher a name written on the inner leather. He looks long, and his hands begin to tremble; he makes a movement as if he were going to examine the chain and the seals, but breaks off and cannot speak for a time, then says in answer to Felix’s concern. ‘It was a name I saw – a name that called up a past sorrow. Fear not; I will do what is needful.’ He asks Felix to take him home, and he’s tottering under the impact of a shock. Felix puts him under the care of Lyddy the servant and leaves sure that this is what Mr Lyon would prefer. Esther now comes in and sees that her father is ill; she takes special care to feed him his supper of warm porridge in front of the kitchen fire. Her concern touches him: ‘Child, what has happened? you have become the image of your mother tonight.’ His tears come freely; they talk about her.
She was very good to you?...Father, I have not been good to you; but I will be, I will be.
He kisses her head. Go to bed, my dear; I would be alone.
As Esther lies down she feels as if the little incidents between herself and her father on this Sunday night have made an epoch. ‘Very slight words and deeds may have a sacramental efficacy if we can cast our self love behind us, in order to say and do them. And it has been well believed, through many ages that the beginning of compunction is the beginning of a new life.’ But the compunction did not include bending to any criticism from Felix. She remained full of resentment against his rudeness, and yet more against his too harsh conception of her character.
In these last chapters GE causes us to pause and reassess our view of Felix’s character. Weaknesses can be perceived. First the lame way in which he leaves the field to Johnson and Chubb, not staying to expose their machinations, and so losing the opportunity to show the colliers an alternative. His irritation at the opening of this chapter is in part directed against himself, and his desire to meet up with Johnson alone to quarrel, even to thrash him, is in part almost self-loathing. Then there is almost ridiculous pride, a kind of inverse snobbery, in his repugnance in having any contact with the ‘aristocrats’. In fact a meeting of himself and the intellectual Philip might have proved enlightening on both sides. What is he afraid of? we might ask; it betrays insecurity in both cases. He is happier directing his criticisms and mockery at Mr Nuttwood and Esther, much easier targets. In the latter case the criticisms have some point, and we shall see that Esther draws some benefit from them. But they are callow and if she had read further and experienced more, she could have seen their limitations. He is young and still has a lot to learn! Mr Lyon, as usual, makes an insightful assessment:
Play not with paradoxes. That caustic which you handle in order to scorch others, may happen to sear your own fingers and make them dead to the quality of things.
Felix, to his credit, admits this: ‘Forgive me, Mr Lyon; I was wrong, and you are right.’ We can agree with Mr Lyon that the admission is a mark of grace within him.
The epigraph is worth noting (as always)
Next morning a letter arrives at the Manor from Rufus; in elaborately courteous phraseology it describes the articles he has, and his wish to see them returned to the rightful owners. He says he will only part with them if a claimant can give a precise description of the seal and of the device and name on the locket. Sir Maximus mocks his precautions – what an old fox it is! – but the rector thinks they are justified. Philip sets about devising a courteously worded letter in return. Before she gives the contents of the letter, GE digresses carefully to describe the appearance of Philip, saying that a portrait of him can still be seen at Treby Manor, and there is a fine bust of him in Rome, where he died fifteen years later, a convert to Catholicism. It adds nothing to the story and you wonder why she included it and to whom she is referring, a member of the DeBary family of Weston Hall, Bulkington, perhaps, who was at Oxford and part of the Tractarian Movement with John Henry Newman - who did convert to Catholicism alongside Newman. It may refer to Newman himself; ‘the stamp of gravity and intellectual preoccupation in his face and bearing’ fits the portraiture we have of him; the quality of voice here described corresponds to contemporary accounts of his preaching. GE was a known admirer of Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864).
The letter expressed a deep obligation to Mr Lyon for his care and trouble; and went on to press him to point out some service he could offer in return. Sir Maximus objected testily to this addition: you should think twice before offering a blank cheque to ‘one of these quibbling meddlesome Radicals’; why not offer to send him ‘a few head of game’ instead. Philip thought he could do not less, and that the present of game would be interpreted just now as an insult. His uncle the rector agreed. So Christian was commissioned to deliver the letter immediately.
Mr Lyon was expecting the claimant with palpitating agitation, haggard after a sleepless night. He looked at the chain and locket, stirred by memory and a sense of dread, taking out his own oval locket and comparing it with the one which hung on the gold chain. There was the same device of clasped hands surrounded with blue flowers. Both had round the face a name in gold italics on a blue ground. The name on the one he took from the drawer was Maurice, the other bore the name Annette. He noted the colours of the hair in each of them. In the notebook there was the name Maurice Christian and a third name he could not decipher. There were notes there on fresh paper, but he could not connect these meaningfully with the smeared names in yellowing letters. He thought of asking the claimant to write a description of the locket. Everything would depend on what he saw in the visitor who was coming. He would be suspicious that he might be making a false claim, but he himself was guilty of deception, his concealment from Esther that he was not her natural father. If he was really going to find himself face to face with Annette’s husband, Esther’s father, he would have to be open and accept the consequences; he prayed that he might be able to accept the pain this would entail.
But there were other possibilities. He may not be the husband, the husband may be dead, and the claimant had possession the locket and the chain, as a legacy, a gift or a purchase. They may have passed through many other hands before reaching the claimant; the claimant may have no connection with the Debarrys. All these speculations presented themselves, but his strongest feeling was dread: ‘The child will not be sorry to leave this poor home, and I shall be guilty in her sight’
There was a rap on the outer door that shook him, and Lyddy brought in Christian. He says in an off-hand way that he has brought the letter. ‘This rusty little man in his dismal chamber, seemed to the Ulysses of the steward’s room a pitiable sort of human curiosity.’ As Mr Lyon read the letter he was discomfited to discover that the distinguished personage before him was a servant. The word put him on his guard: he must think of Esther and do nothing rashly. After he had compared the seal to the impression on the pocket book he delivered it to the visitor. Then the visitor announced
The other things – the chain and the little book – are mine.
Your name then is –
Maurice Christian Mr Lyon had hoped to hear another name and to be freed from anxiety. Another question escapes from his mouth impulsively:
And you have no other name?
What do you mean? Said Christian sharply. He says he is in a hurry to get away. Bur Mr Lyon has wrought himself up to find out if this man really was Annette’s husband. He says that he does not wish to detain him unreasonably but he must ask:
How long have these articles been your property?
Oh, for more than twenty years.
Have you been in France and in Germany?
I have been in most countries on the Continent.
Be so good as to write me your name. Christian was much surprised but not greatly alarmed: why is he so curious? He’s not going to commit himself.
Before I oblige you there, sir, I must know exactly the reasons you have for putting these questions to me. You wished, I think, I should tell you what the locket is like. He goes on with a detailed description, fulfilling the request in the letter.
If you wish for anything more from me, you will be good enough to tell me why you wish it.
The cool stare, the hard challenging voice that accompanied these words left Rufus irresolute and helpless. He knew that the words he wanted to say would fall on this man like tender fingers on a brazen glove (see epigraph). Could he deliver Esther up to this man? Nothing could be done today; everything must be deferred. He hands the note-book and the chain over, and they bid each other Good Morning. For Rufus the work was still to be done: he had to learn everything that could be learned about this man’s relation to himself and to Esther. Thoughts in Christian’s mind as he returns:
This old fellow has got some secret in his head. It’s not likely he can know anything about me; it must be about Bycliffe. But Bycliffe was a gentleman: how should he ever have had anything to do with such a seedy old ranter as that?
After Christian’s departure Rufus Lyon was occupied with church matters – including a rebuke to rebellious singers – so that it was only later that he was able to take note of the offer made at the end of Philip Debarry’s letter. I struck him powerfully as a gift he was meant to to take advantage of, a chance to be faithful to his true vocation as a minister, atoning for following too much the devices and desires of his own heart.
Nothing had been more exasperating to a zealous preacher like himself than to see thousands of pulpits in large, advantageously placed churches, filled with ‘or rather made more vacuous by men whose privileged education in ancient centres of instruction issued in twenty minutes’ formal reading of tepid exhortations or probably infirm deductions from premises based on rotten scaffolding’ (cf GE’s essay, ‘Evangelical Teaching: Dr Cumming’). Among these unfortunate butts of his scorn he would place the Reverend Augustus Debarry, though his life ‘could not be pronounced blameworthy, except for its negatives’. Rufus longed to challenge him, not to discredit him with suggestions of vice, but with the choicer weapons of ‘illuminated thought, finely-divided speech’. In other words, to focus on the issues, not character. Here would be the opportunity for a debate between them on what had led to the English Reformation and on the Constitution of the true Church. Before he went down to breakfast he quickly wrote a letter to Philip Debarry, to say that he was sure the offer had been intended seriously and he would be glad to take it up with this suggestion.
At the breakfast table his mind was still wholly taken up with the project. It was only when Esther spoke to him that the image of that ‘hard-eyed worldly man who might be the dear child’s father’ made him realise that he could not let that matter rest, he would have to make further enquiries. But where was he to turn? A spiritual adviser would not serve, it needed to be someone more worldly, who had studied human law. When Esther reminded him that Mr Jermyn would be coming to see him later, possibly with someone else, he gave a sudden start at the name.
Esther went from him to Lyddy to tell her to expect possibly two gentlemen. She gave her usual groan: ‘no end of these great folks coming to Malthouse yard’, and described the gentleman from the Manor who had called yesterday. Esther didn’t question her further about this, but she had noticed that her father had seemed unusually preoccupied and she thought it might have a connection with that visit. She went to sit in the parlour, unable to read and thinking in spite of herself about Felix Holt. She took up work on her netting: it showed off to advantage her delicate hand and foot. She longed for someone to admire her beauty; Felix would doubtless reproach her for that. What did he want from her, did he really expect her to renounce these things? Her life was falling into fragments, she was becoming unsure of herself, needing ‘reliance on one whose vision was wider, whose nature was purer and stronger than her own’. But that someone would not be rude and predominating, have civility in him; it would not be Felix. ‘In this way Esther strove to see that Felix was thoroughly in the wrong – at least if he did not come again expressly to show that he was sorry.’
Two visitors came through the door at noon. Esther, waiting in the parlour, thought that one of them might be Felix. But the man Jermyn introduced could not have been more of a contrast. He was ‘dressed in the perfect morning costume of that day’, so different, GE comments, from the fashion of her own. Its chief feature was a broad stiffener propping up the chin and a collar with a voluminous roll. No wonder Felix had stated when we first meeting him, that he would not throttle himself with such a get-up. But, irrespective of dress, the thirty-five year old Harold Transome was striking and handsome. Esther felt a pleasure quite new as he turned his eyes towards her, a glow of delight at the sense that she was being looked at. Harold was paying a sort of homage to her beauty, but he regarded women as slight things that should never interfere with the course of his serious ambition. They flirted in a way Esther felt would have made Felix very angry. ‘Must you go?’ Harold says as she has to excuse herself. As she leave Harold thinks it a pity that the house is so small: a girl like that ought to walk in a house where there were halls and corridors.
He had come to gain some sort of political adhesion from Mr Lyon, since a minister, though no elector himself, might have a considerable influence over Liberal electors. As they talked the difference emerged between them, the one a man of ideas, the other the one who was expected to apply them. Rufus took the opportunity for some ‘comprehensive speaking’ about principle. He was taken with Harold, examining him as if he might be a disciple. Jermyn looked at his watch and sought to excuse himself; Rufus anxiously told him that he had some serious private business to discuss and they arranged a meeting for later. When the resumed discussion turned to the question of the ballot, Harold also tried to get away. However, Lyddy came in to say that Mr Holt was outside and anxious to speak to the gentleman. ‘You should meet him,’ says Rufus, ‘no voter, but a man of study and ideas.’ Harold immediately sizes Felix up as a ‘formidable fellow, capable of mounting a cart in the market-place tomorrow and cross-examining me, if I say something that doesn’t please him.’
Felix tells him of his experience with Johnson and the colliers at Sproxton, warning of what was being planned. Harold professes complete ignorance; as a candidate he was at the mercy of his agents, especially so in his case, a stranger to the men actually conducting business. But they would take up the matter with Jermyn. A mutual dislike emerges, Felix distrustful of Harold as someone posing as a Radical but in practice no better than those on the other side; Harold irritated by his impracticable notions of loftiness and purity. Rufus was more amendable on this point, he agreed with Harold that it was rather too much for any man to keep the consciences of all in his party. If you had lived in the East, as I have, says Harold, it would have made you more tolerant. Felix is unmoved.
GE reflects on the illusions of the little minister (and indeed of Felix) who brought so much conscience to bear on the production of so slight an effect. His ardent appeals and nice distinctions meant little to the men of power. But, GE says, what we call illusions are often, in truth, a wider vision of past and present realities, ‘a willing movement of a man’s soul with the larger sweep of the world’s forces’. The sadder illusion lay with Harold Transome ‘ who was trusting in his own skill to shape the success of his own morrows, ignorant of what many yesterdays had determined for him beforehand.’
The epigraph: You can’t turn curds to milk again
Nor Now, by wishing back to Then;
And having tasted stolen honey,
You can’t buy innocence for money.
We have come to the meeting of Jermyn with Harold Transome and Felix Holt. Both Jermyn and Harold are annoyed by Felix’s pressing for an enquiry into election details. Harold doesn’t want to look to closely into them: a good man has to seek a good end by the only possible means. At the same time he held in detestation anything that was disgraceful.
There is another person present, seated writing at a bureau; Jermyn is standing in front of him. Felix makes his complaint about the bribery expedition to Sproxton, and at first Harold supports his complaint. Jermyn replies hesitantly but at the same time fixing Felix with a steady stare. Felix was inexperienced in these matters, and in any case it was now too late to stop them. The men might be stopped from making a voice on our side, but if they made a voice on the other side, would your purpose be answered better, Sir? Felix protests that it could be impossible to check the disorder that might result. Jermyn answers that steps would be taken to prevent this on the Liberal side; we have an experienced gentleman who will take care of this. Felix in a tone of disgust: You mean Johnson? Harold breaks in ‘The long and the short of it is this, Mr Holt: I shall desire and insist that whatever can be done by way of remedy shall be done, Will that satisfy you? You see now some of a candidate’s difficulties?’
‘I suppose I must be content,’ says Felix, and, caving in, leaves.
Harold asks who this Johnson is, and he turns out to be the person already present, in the background. Johnson, who comes from London, had worked with Mr James Putty (note GE’s choice of name) has had experience of two hard-fought election campaigns; Putty is one of the first men in the country as an agent. The glib Johnson nw has a chance to speak. He says he has learned from Putty two ways of speaking to an audience: you tell them what they don’t understand and tell them what they’re used to (in modern spin-doctoring parlance, overawing them with tendentious facts and figures, and giving a focus-group driven interpretation of what they want to hear). Harold is in a state of contemptuous resignation; he can only warn Johnson to avoid an ugly situation. Johnson reiterates the point that they had to get the Sproxton men first, to undermine the Garstin people. And they needed to keep Chubb, the publican, on side.
When Johnson has gone, Harold vents his helpless anger on Jermyn and also leaves leaving Jermyn feeling uneasy: he means to get to the bottom of everything and there are annuities n the estate, held in Johnson’s name. Jermyn can tell him he has propped up the family; he doesn’t know where they would have been without him. He might be in a difficult position in law, but the Transomes owed him a go deal more than he owed them.
Jermyn did not forget to call on the minister in Malthouse Yard that evening. His interview with Harold Transome earlier had left him in a mingled state of dread irritation and defiance, that had many and far-reaching causes. But after the interview with Mr Lyon it was replaced by a sense of triumph: he had learned a secret that would give him a new power over Harold. He had been able to assure Mr Lyon that he could ascertain whether the man who calls himself Maurice Christian had been Annette’s husband. Keeping Mr Lyon in ignorance of this, he had already reached a conclusion on the matter and would seek to confront Christian as soon as the opportunity arose.
The next day was to be market, when an election-candidate was expected to show his paces. Places at convenient windows had been secured ‘for the best bonnets’. Esther want to find a suitable place where she could see and hear, and her father had agreed to this. Her motives were mixed: she wanted to learn more about politics, to see why Felix cared so much about them; and she wanted to hear Harold Transome speak, ‘he suggested to her that brighter and more luxurious life on which her imagination dwelt without the painful effort it required to conceive the mental condition which would place her in complete sympathy with Felix Holt’.
Her father seemed quite serene and she fussed over him, brushing his hair, enjoying a new feeling of intimate affection towards him. Rufus did not want her prettifying to go too far. This produces a beautiful passage from GE.
"though there is that in apparel which pleases the eye, and I deny not that your neat gown and the colour thereof – which is that of certain little flowers that spread themselves in the hedgerows and make a blueness there as of the sky when it is deepened in the water, - I deny not, I say, that these minor strivings after a perfection which is, as it were, an irrecoverable yet haunting memory, are a good in their proportion. Nevertheless, the brevity of our life, and the hurry and crush of the great battle with error and sin, often oblige us to an advised neglect of what is far less momentous. This, I conceive, is the principle on which my friend Felix Holt acts; and I cannot but think the light comes from the true fount, though it shines through obstructions."
The focus for Esther moves back to Felix. Her heart beats faster. He had been coming to the house when he knew she was not there; was he avoiding her, did he think her stupid enough not to get over the rudeness he had shown towards her? ‘Such distrust of any good in others, such arrogance of immeasurable superiority, was extremely ungenerous.’ But she still wants to hear Harold speak. Rufus suggests she goes with him to Mistress Holt’s and maybe Felix will take her in safety to his friend’s house. She is glad of this, it would enable her to show Felix that she bears no resentment. On the way, however, they meet Jermyn, who suggests that she share a carriage with his daughters. She will see and hear, yet will be sorry to miss Felix. ‘There was another day for her to think of him with unsatisfied resentment, mixed with some longing for a better understanding.’
The setting for the election speech by Harold Transome is described. Blue cockades and streamers, faces at all the windows, a crushing, buzzing crowd, the small hustings in front of the Ram Inn, the venerable Marquis of Granby in the background; two carriages near the hustings, in the one Jermyn’s daughters with Esther, and in the other the olive-skinned Dominic with little Harry.
The speakers were to be Harold and his Uncle Lingon. Other Liberal speakers had tried to come forward including Mr Lyon, but the audience wanted least anything that reeked of the pulpit, and they were sure that they would not get it from ‘Parson Jack’ Lingon, rector of Little Treby. A ‘charicter’ not entirely out of connection with Sunday and sermons, ‘it seemed entirely in keeping that he should have turned sharp round in politics, his opinions being only part of the excellent joke called Parson Jack’. The epigraph is apposite here: ‘Consistency? – I‘ve never changed my mind, which is, and always was, to live at ease.’ Dissenters hardly cheered this questionable Radical, while the Tory farmers gave him a friendly ‘hurray!’ It was a skilful speech. The men who are the best Liberals used to be the best Tories; what’s good for one time is bad for another. My nephew here comes from rich old Tory blood and takes this with him into the Radical camp. So that if anyone tries to dismiss the Radicals as a set of sneaks, you can say, look at the Member for North Loamshire. And you’ll hear him say he’ll go for making everything right – Poor-laws, Charities and Church. What, you’ll say, Parson Lingon talking about Church reform? So he’ll need reforming too, and you’ll be right: by and by you’ll hear that Parson Lingon is a new man.
Harold was pleased with this, it put everyone in a good humour. And his speech ‘did’: his full and penetrating voice cried down the questioning. Read in print the next day it wouldn’t have seemed pregnant or conclusive, but at the time it was an eloquent performance and content predominated. Further speeches followed and the crowd melted away as savoury smells came from the inn kitchens. Jermyn had noticed that Christian was there, talking with Dominic. They had met years before and recognised one another. While they were talking Christian stared about him, and his eyes rested on Esther to the extent of embarrassing her. ‘Does he see some likeness in the girl?’ thinks Jermyn, and he wishes he hadn’t invited her to come in the carriage.
The market dinner at ‘the Marquis’ was in high repute in Treby and the neighbourhood. And it was a Tory house, devoted to Debarry; even so it was too much to expect that such tenants of the Transomes as had always been used to dine there should consent to eat a worse dinner, with worse company, because they found themselves under a Radical landlord, so recent political divisions had not reduced the size of the clientele. The following will give a little flavour of their discussion.
Nolan, a rich retired London hosier, who had moved in the highest circles. The country has seen its best days.
Wace, a brewer. A nasty thought that these Radicals are to turn things round so as one can calculate on nothing.
Nolan When Peel and the Duke turned round about the Catholics in ’29, I saw it was all over with us. We could never trust ministers any more.
Joyce, a young farmer of superior information The Radicals want us to be governed by delegates from the trades-unions…I should just like all the delegates in the country mustered for our yeomanry to go into – that’s all. They’d see where the strength of Old England lay then.
Nolan, pained by the defects of provincial culture It isn’t the fault of trade, my good sir. Plenty of sound Tories have made their fortune in trade. The prosperity of the country is one web. Trade makes property and property is Conservative.
Christian, making himself agreeable to the company. To be sure, but we can’t do without nobility. Look at France, when they got rid of the old nobles they were obliged to make new.
Nolan True, very true. It’s the French Revolution that has done us harm here. Mr Pitt saved us. I knew Mr Pitt.
Wace If a man’s got property, a stake in country, he’ll want to keep things square. That’s what makes it such an uncommonly nasty thing that a man like Transome should take up with these Radicals. I believe he does it only to get into Parliament; he’ll turn round when he gets there.
Dibbs, a Transome tenant farmer I don’t give two straws who I vote for; it stands to reason a man should vote for his landlord.
Sircombe, a great miller I wonder if Jermyn’ll bring him in, though. He’s an uncommon fellow for carrying things through. Eh, Christian? Come, what do they say about it now at the Manor?
Christian They think it will be a hard run between Transome and Garstin. It will depend on the ‘plumpers’ (the second preference votes)
Wace Well, I shall not split for a Whig. A man’s either a Tory or not a Tory.
Rose, ‘gentleman farmer’, characterised by spontaneous servility I don’t like showing favour either way.
Sircombe I’m not altogether against Whigs. They don’t want to go as far as the Radicals do; they’ll be a check on them.
Nolan Mr Fox was a great leader of Opposition: Government requires an Opposition. The Whigs should always be in opposition, and the Tories on the ministerial side. That’s what the country used to like.
Wace Well I don’t like Garstin. Of the two I like Transome best. If a nag is to throw me, I say, let him have some blood.
Salt, a wool factor, a bilious man These Transomes are not the old blood.
Wace Well, they’re the oldest that’s forthcoming, I suppose, unless you believe in mad old Tommy Trounsem. I wonder where that old poaching fellow is now.
Joyce I saw him half drunk the other day
Wace I thought the old fellow was dead.
At this point he sees Mr Jermyn entering: ‘You Radical! How dare you show yourself in this Tory house?’ Jermyn smiles, always ready to take a joke. A prosperous lawyer, he’s not afraid to show himself anywhere in Treby. He spots Christian and asks him in a haughty tone of superiority if Mr Philip is at the Manor, No, he is expected tomorrow. Will Christian be so good as to call on him that evening at his house to collect a message. As Jermyn prepares to leave, Wace calls after him, ‘We’re not so badly off for votes as you are – good sound votes…Debarry at the top of the poll!’ The lawyer was already out of the door.
‘A man can never separate himself from his past history’ is the message of the epigraph.
The scene moves to Mr Jermyn’s handsome house, and the setting is carefully described: the garden, the lawn and a ‘plantation of hopeful trees’. Approaching it Christian notes the length of wall and iron railings. These men do well for themselves out of ‘this cursed conjuring secret of theirs called Law’; this Jermyn, he’s as sleek as a rat and has as vicious a tooth. He is shown into a room where the attorney is leaning back into his leather chair behind a desk with his back to the windows opening on to the garden; he is ‘surrounded with massive oaken bookcases and other furniture to correspond..It was the sort of room a man prepares for himself when he feels sure of a long and respectable future.’
When he is seated, Christian at first sees no threat to himself, indifferent to the fact that Jermyn is in shadow and the light falls on himself. He is disabused as Jermyn speaks with slow emphasis:
Your name is Henry Scaddon. After your father died you ran through most of the property, compromised yourself by attempting to defraud your creditors, and subsequently to rob your father’s elder brother. You found it expedient to leave the country under military disguise and were taken prisoner by the French. You had switched identities with a fellow-prisoner who had more pressing reasons than yourself in making a visit to England. You then escaped without the exchange of identity being discovered, and it was reported that you had been drowned. I have to congratulate you on the falsehood of that report, and you have been left confident that, after a lapse of twenty years, you are now in perfect safety.
Christian responds to this ‘in a dogged tone: Suppose I say that I am not Henry Scaddon?
In that case you could lose something that would be to Henry’s Scaddon’s advantage. And your denial would not prevent me from using information and evidence I have on this point.
Well, Sir, suppose we admit for a moment that what you say is true. What advantage would you have to offer to the man named Henry Scaddon?
It is problematical, but it may be considerable. It might free you from your present role, allow you to be your own master. And I am not inclined to use my knowledge of your secret to your disadvantage; I may be able to use it to your advantage.
It is as if you are offering me a lottery ticket?
Precisely. It may yield you a prize if you can answer certain questions as to the experience of Henry Scaddon.
Very good. Go on.
What articles of property once belong to Maurice Christian Bycliffe do you still retain?
Christian lists them, the ring, his watch and the little things attached to its chain, the case of papers. He intends to return them if ever they meet up again. He was a witness to Bycliffe’s marriage to Annette at Vesoul, but he knows nothing further about him.
Jermyn thanks him for the information; his use of it will only be in connection with ‘a mouldy law-case that might be aired some day’. He would ask Christian to retain perfect silence on what had passed between them; that would be a condition of the lottery prize that might be his. The only other thing he needed an assurance of was that he would retain the papers and all the other articles.
Before they part there is another brief conversation.
I think you’re too clever, Mr Jermyn, not to perceive that I’m not to be made a fool of.
It may be a still better guarantee for you, that I see no use in attempting that - a -metamorphosis.
The old gentleman, who ought never to have felt himself injured, is dead now, and I’m not afraid of creditors after more than twenty years.
There may be claims which can’t assert themselves - a – legally, which yet are molesting a man of some reputation. A pause. Good-day.
Alone once more, Jermyn pens a letter to Johnson asking him when he returns to London to see his old legal connections and to ascertain whether they had any reason to believe that Bycliffe was married and expected to have a child. He wanted to discover whether there was ‘a hair’s breadth’ of a chance that another claim should be set up to the Durfey-Transome title.
We are then given his inmost thoughts after he has sealed the letter.
Now, Mr Harold, I shall shut up this affair in a private drawer till you choose to take any extreme measures which will force me to bring it out. I have the matter entirely in my own power. No one but old Lyon knows about the girl’s birth. No one but Scaddon can clench the evidence about Bycliffe, and I’ve got Scaddon under my thumb. No soul except myself and Johnson, who is a limb of myself, knows that there is one half-dead life which may presently leave the girl a new claim to the Bycliffe heirship…I can use the evidence or I can nullify it.
Looking out over the lawn and its fringe of shrubs, he saw in thought his ‘five and thirty years filled with devices more or less clever, more or less desirable to be avowed’. He had devoted so many of them to the Transome affairs. He had never been fully paid for these services, so why should he not have considered his own advantage? If it came to a question of right and wrong instead of law, he had done some ‘deucedly unpleasant things’ for the Transomes, getting Bycliffe arrested and thrown into prison as Henry Scaddon ‘perhaps hastening the man’s death in that way’. If he had not done such things he would like to know where the Durfey-Transomes might have been by this time. If ‘the truth were known, the very possession of the estate by the Durfey-Transomes was owing to law-tricks that took place nearly a century ago, when the original old Durfey got his base fee.’ These thoughts merged into anger at Harold’s interference, an anger that was beginning to amount to hatred.
Just then he sees his third daughter, a tall slim girl wrapped in a white woollen shawl, cross the lawn towards the greenhouse. He did not at first identify the figure, rather identified it falsely with another tall white-wrapped figure that had set his heart beating quickly more than thirty years ago. For a moment he was fully back in those distant years, himself and other bright person, the headlong passion of it. He, the handsome, soft-eyed, slim young Jermyn. He is interrupted by his ‘affectionate and expensive’ daughter wrapping on the window calling him to get ready for dinner.
This was one of the possible pictures for our front cover of Felix Holt but there were problems of access to a high resolution image so we chose Nuneaton Market instead.