I am disappointed with Felix Holt. First of all, there is the overbearing, smug, know-it-all narratorial voice, theorizing from generalities, and giving a washed-down ensemble of human behaviour laid out on a platter. The ending leaves you devastated; as the tragic ending of The Mill on the Floss leaves behind a bitter aftertaste and an insufferable sense of deprived vengeance, the fairy-tale closure of Felix Holt leaves you drained.
Harold Transome, with his male chauvinistic, callous and assertive-bordering-on-over-confident demeanour, who is allotted some rushed sympathy with late revelations of true parentage, and Felix, with his oft-harped-on virtues of having a sonorous, powerful eloquence, of being a rebellious, intellectual character of many ideas and ideals, are ultimately little more than puppets in Eliot’s hands. Thus, instead of spot-lighting the vagaries of fate and history in human endeavours as The Mill to some extent does, the fortunes here are over-determined and masterminded by the tyrannical narrator, who, in recounting the story makes it look like a tale, a fabrication of idle, nevertheless insightful, gossip. The only sensitive and convincing portrayals in the novel are that of Mrs Transome, old Mr Transome and Mr Lyon.
About Esther, I wondered if Eliot was deliberately being sarcastic about her and the conventions of femininity in the Victorian era. Even though she is imbued with charm, intelligence, personality, and instinctive actions, the narrator’s subliminal conditioning, perhaps mimicking society, leaves her deprived of a mind of her own. While Felix is known by his lofty ideas countered by his lowly appearance, Esther is simply appearance alone, though there are sure hints of a quick, intelligent mind too behind the façade of physical beauty. In the occasion where she does some admirable and worthy deed, she is described as a “bright, delicate, beautiful-shaped thing that seemed most like a toy or ornament”, to paraphrase, whose chords when struck (by the nobler mind of Felix), poured forth tear-jerking music.
Despite all my railing, the one thing that rivets you to the book is its impressive eloquence. Some of the best rhetoricians, including Felix, Mr Jermyn, Christian, (Mr Lyon, perhaps), and Philip Debarry dazzle you with words. A little disparagingly, however, Felix Holt could be considered as a useful manual on good and effective speaking.
CLOWNIN’ Rating: 2/5