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Henry Auster’s chief aim is to provide an interpretation of George Eliot’s early work (and, by implication, her whole development as a writer) in the light of her feelings and ideas about the nature and value of the deeply rooted, closely interconnected, but already disintegrating social life of provincial England in the early years of the nineteenth century. He sees her work in the tradition of English regional fiction and argues that local attachments need not make a novelists’ work parochial—that, on the contrary, when exploited by a powerful and creative intelligence, they can direct it, nourish it, and enrich it.
The analysis of each of George Eliot’s first four books—Scenes of Clerical Life, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner—dwells on the author’s view of provincial existence, her presentation of physical environment and communal activity, and the significance of the natural and social contexts in the moral and psychological life of the individual. The study suggests that in her work on her first four books George Eliot articulated and clarified her views on the crucial problems of social existence.