Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot
George Eliot’s first published work consisted of three short novellas: ‘The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton’, ‘Mr Gilfil’s Love-Story’, and ‘Janet’s Repentance’. Their depiction of the lives of ordinary men and women in a provincial Midlands town initiated a new era of nineteenth-century literary realism. The tales concern rural members of the clergy and the gossip and factions that a small town generates around them. Amos Barton only realizes how much he depends upon his wife’s selfless love when she dies prematurely; Mr Gilfil’s devotion to a girl who loves another is only fleetingly rewarded; and Janet Dempster suffers years of domestic abuse before the influence of an Evangelical minister turns her life around.
One of my all time favourite books is Silas Marner so I hoped that Scenes of Clerical Life would be just as good and thankfully I was not disappointed. I truly loved reading this book and could not put it down.
The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton
One of the first things I noticed about this short story was how church hasn’t really changed from when Eliot wrote this story to the present day. As a church organist who has regularly attended church for many years I couldn’t believe how close the past and present are. The Rev Barton is almost in constant battle with his congregation because the congregation think they know better and there are always disagreements about the music.
The Rev Barton always tries to do his best and always tries to help those in need as much as possible even if this means his family suffers because of his generosity and the one who suffers the most is his poor wife. Mrs Barton never complains and spends all her time trying to provide for her ever growing family. Even when she goes to bed she continues with mending the children’s clothes. However, Mrs Barton’s efforts go mainly unnoticed by her husband but when Mrs Barton dies the poor Rev Barton realises just what a treasure he had in his wife.
I loved this little story and it is the shortest out of the three stories in the book. You can tell this is Eliot’s first story but you can see the promise of the amazing author she is going to become. I found the story funny, sad, frustrating and beautiful.
Mr Gilfil’s Love-Story
This is another sad tale from Eliot but a beautifully written one and one where you can see a more polished author. The story is a romance of unrequited love, of a room preserved through time and rarely opened, a room which holds painful memories for Mr Gilfil.
I love how this story shows how the parishioners all gossip around the village. How the ladies who were born and bred in the village look down their noses at the newcomers to the village especially if they are from town and not country people. We soon see all the different characters of the parish who Mr Gilfil, the vicar, watches over and they over him.
In this story we meet Mr Gilfil as an old man living in the vicarage and we learn his sad past by being transported back in time to when Mr Gilfil was a young man with his whole future ahead of him.
This was another story I couldn’t put down and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
This is the longest story in the book and I must admit I did find that it dragged at times but I still really enjoyed the story.
Janet starts off as a sad character who has a horrible home life but to everyone in the village she is nothing but sweetness and kindness. Janet helps out where she can and always has a smile for people but at home she is a the victim of domestic abuse. Her husband is positively cruel to poor Janet and she lives in fear of him. Her mother in law who lives with them refuses to see any fault with her son and blames everything on poor Janet because she sees her as a bad wife. The only person Janet can confide in is her own mother.
Eventually it all comes to a head and Janet seeks help and she finds it in the form of a dear friend and the Methodist Minister Mr Tryan. Mr Tryan is making waves in the village and because of this there is a divide between the people who follow Mr Tryan and the people who go to the village church. The main supporter of the anti Mr Tryan club is Janet’s husband.
This story shows the love and support people can show to those in need and how people can rally around to help. However, the story also shows the darker side of humanity where people turn a blind eye to what they can clearly see. Janet has lived as the victim of domestic abuse for many years and people have chosen to not see this fact.
I really enjoyed this book and found it beautifully written. I also found many similarities with the modern world in it because people have really not changed much. Overall, I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons.
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About the author
Mary Ann Evans, known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She was born in 1819 at a farmstead in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, where her father was estate manager. Mary Ann, the youngest child and a favourite of her father’s, received a good education for a young woman of her day. Influenced by a favourite governess, she became a religious evangelical as an adolescent.