George Eliot is known as a modern novelist in spite of living in Victorian Age. She wrote in the fashion contrary to that of her contemporaries, Dickens, Thackeray, etc. She is not completely divorced from the traditions. She draws her picture in the Victorian style, but she develops it in a new direction.
The Victorians, on the whole, were instructive and they wrote what they wanted to write. Eliot, on the other hand, was an intellectual and she wrote what she should have written. She is known as the first intellectual novelist. Her novels are the embodiment of her ideas.
The main charm of the Victorians lies in the individual expression, whereas, in Eliot, our interest is kept up in the way she analyses and diagnoses problems. Eliot rejects dogma and wants to analyze the causes of every problem she comes across.
Her scenes are more real than those of the Victorians because her realism is not only documentary but also psychological. To other novelists, realism is an intellectual necessity but in her case, it is a creed and emotion rather ambition which follows avidly. Her picture is more realistic owing to her clear perception of realities. She draws her characters inside out.
The Victorians were satisfied with the apparent realities whereas Eliot penetrated deep into the phenomenon and brought to light the hidden causes.
The Victorians, too, were satirist but they satirize just to create humour so they were ordinary humorist, whereas, Eliot satirized as a serious thinker. Her humour was of a distinct type i.e. intellectual and psychological humour soaked into deep pathos. She fused together comic irony and mild satire to create humour and her end was to moralize. Her humour had a serious message underlying it. This kind of humour is employed by the modern novelists.
Other Victorians did have a moral touch but, in Eliot, we find moral earnestness. Like Fielding, she wrote to inculcate moral in the people. But her concept of morality was quite different from that of Fielding’s. She reshapes the consciousness of the individuals in order to remould the whole structure of the society. She believes in the presence of the moral code at the heart of the universe. She made novels the embodiment of her moral ideas. In “The Mil on the Floss”, she denounces the dominance of the self recklessness, loose-living etc and emphasizes on the absoluteness of duty, endurance, renunciation etc. her concept of morality is based on human values and the laws of human heart.
Her psychological approach also makes her modern. The clear sighted vision of the essential of character gives her a definite edge over the Victorians like Bronte, Dickens, Austen, etc. The grasp on the psychological essentials makes her draw complex characters better than the Victorians, because she draws them inside out.
The insight into human nature makes Eliot’s picture of human nature more homogeneous than that of Dickens, etc. She shows that saints and sinners are made of the same clay; however, the latter lack the necessary strength of mind. She has ardent sincerity which compensates for many of the feelings of her aesthetic judgment.
Eliot is revealer of the self. Characters like Maggie are the self-portraitures of Eliot. She unveils herself through her female characters.
Eliot broke away from the fundamental conventions of form and matter. She rejected the standardized formula. She conceived one idea and its logical development.
She is modern in inspiration, too. Earlier, novel was meant only for the entertainment of the middle class reading public. Eliot’s intellectual approach made novel a ‘meeting place of problems’. She studied Man in relation to higher aspects of life. Eliot was the first novelist to discover this particular track on which the modern novelists are treading today.
Though Eliot lived in the Victorian era yet she is modern novelist since she wrote in the modern fashion. But she cannot be called ‘Victo-Modern’. Eliot, in contrast, is exclusively orthodox and Victorian in her ideas and modern in her approach. She can also be differentiated from Hardy in the sense that he is peculiarly Victoria in his style and approach and modern in his ideas. To be curt, Eliot is a modern novelist living amongst the Victorians.