Authorship, Gender and Identity: George Eliot in the 1850s
The purpose of this essay is to provide a historical context for the emergence of “George Eliot” as an authorial identity during the 1850s. The first part of the essay examines the discourse on “female authorship” in periodical reviews of women's novels during this period. I argue that at the same time the periodical press delimited and defined the roles of women novelists, it provided women journalists with the opportunity to resist these essentialized definitions through anonymous publication. Through an analysis of George Eliot's “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,” I examine the ways in which Eliot participated in the discourse on the “female author” in her literary reviews, while at the same time resisting this gendered identity in her own work as an anonymous journalist. In the second part of the essay, I demonstrate the ways in which the complexly gendered narrative persona Eliot developed as a periodical reviewer carried over into her early fiction, particularly her short story, “Amos Barton.” I argue that Eliot attempted to maintain the gender complexity of her narrative voice throughout her career, consciously manipulating her literary identity to resist culturally imposed notions of gendered writing.