‘A Conductor of the Mind’: The Varying Languages of Realism
In an essay first written for the National Review in 1860, R. H. Hutton explained that George Eliot's strength and appeal as a realist novelist came not only from her ability to create compelling individual characters, but also from her commitment to revealing
the general depth and mass of the human nature that is in [those characters],—the breadth and power of their life—its comprehensiveness of grasp, its tenacity of instinct, its capacity for love, its need of trust.
This ‘depth and mass’ is synonymous with the complex undercurrent in George Eliot's novels—the almost unexplainable emotional and moral difficulties of life which are made manifest through the microscopic movements of her intricate syntax. These collective complexities become that whisper amidst ‘the roar of hurrying existence’ which George Eliot's language allows sensitive readers to begin to discern. As such, they are crucial components of her personal conception of a deeper realism, without which she would not have felt that her novels were able to ‘express life’ fully. But in recognizing George Eliot's vital contribution to the development of realism as a literary tradition, one must not forget that hers was not the only approach taken by realist novelists of the period.