The Rival Afterlives of George Eliot in Textual and Visual Culture : A Bicentenary Reflection. / O'Neill, Helen; Livesey, Ruth.

In: George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies, Vol. 73, No. 1, 2021, p. 1-28.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review




George Eliot (1819-1880) received markedly less national and international acknowledgement during the bicentenary of her birth in 2019 than Charles Dickens did for his bicentenary in 2012. In seeking to understand why, this article conducts a comparative evaluation of Eliot and Dickens in textual and visual media to examine how and where enduring authorial celebrity is constructed. Using Google Books Ngrams, the presence of Dickens and Eliot in textual culture from the 1800s to 2000 is assessed. Eliot is found to keep pace with and/or supersede Dickens in this mass digital repository, a fact which sits at odds with her secondary position in 21st century popular culture. The online catalogue of the British Film Institute Reuben Library discloses that adaptations of Eliot’s work in film and TV are vastly outnumbered by those of Dickens. We argue that this disparity between Eliot’s textual and visual legacies can be traced to extrinsic factors relating to the idea of celebrity and the posthumous management of her reputation, combined with the robust afterlife of nineteenth century insults about her appearance. At the same time, the intrinsic qualities of her works delimit their easy remediation into in mass visual culture. Despite this, our methods of distant reading Eliot’s vibrant afterlife in mass textual repositories open up new avenues for exploring her legacy beyond the bicentenary.
KEYWORDS: George Eliot; celebrity; author heritage; memorialisation; bicentenary; Charles Dickens; popular culture; adaptation; digital humanities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
JournalGeorge Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021
This open access research output is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

ID: 40072484