This essay contributes to George Eliot scholarship by examining the author’s interest in Eastern Europe, which spanned the length of her literary career, and its portrayal in her fiction. It situates Eliot’s Eastern European characters—from the minor ones, such as Countess Czerlaski’s late husband in “The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton” (1857), to major protagonists, such as Will Ladislaw of Middlemarch (1871–72)—in the context of England’s policy toward Poland vis-à-vis Russia during the course of the nineteenth century. The international political backdrop is especially useful in illuminating the Polish aspect of Middlemarch, whose publication date and the time period the novel covers (1829–32) happen to coincide with or shortly follow the two major insurrections Poland launched against Russia. Drawing on Eliot’s interactions with Slavic Jews in Germany, the essay shows how the creation of Will Ladislaw and his reprisal in the character of Herr Klesmer in Daniel Deronda (1876) serves the purposes of Eliot’s imagined cure for English insularity.
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