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Bessie Parkes's Summer Sketches: George Eliot as poetic persona.

IN 1853 AN HISTORIC GROUP OF LITERARY VICTORIANS GATHERED AT THE KING'S Arms Inn at the foot of Leith Hill for a part of their summer holiday. A vanguard group of three women, Barbara Leigh Smith (later Bodichon), her aunt Julia Smith, and Bessie Rayner Parkes (later Belloc), arrived in the Surrey village of Ockley near the end of June and installed themselves in the snug little inn. After several days, during which they established an active yet restful rural routine, a party arrived from London to expand the group by three women and a man: Marian Evans (eventually George Eliot), Sara Hennell, Susanna Chapman, and her publisher husband John. (1)

Most of the group who met at the King's Arms were writers. Leigh Smith completed and published her Brief Summary of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women the following year. Sara Hennell plugged away at her metaphysics and brought out Christianity and Infidelity in 1856 and Thoughts in Aid of Faith in 1859. John Chapman continued writing occasional articles, including, in 1855, an essay on women's rights, and, in 1858, his single independent publication, a seven-page pamphlet on Chloroform and Other Anesthetics. Evans also wrote noteworthy articles, the most important of them for the Westminster Review. (2) By the end of the decade she had become one of England's most respected novelists. And Parkes, although she later found her place in literary London editing feminist periodicals, at the time was writing both prose and poetry, including Summer Sketches, an epistolary narrative poem set largely in the Surrey village she and her friends visited in the summer of 1853.

Despite writing four books of poetry containing more than a hundred poems, Parkes's verses, whether about Ockley or her many other subjects, never achieved for her much fame as a poet. (3) Instead, she figures in Victorian history as a women's rights activist, periodical editor, convert to Catholicism, mother of twentieth-century poet Hilaire Belloc, and early friend of Marian Evans/George Eliot. Her MP father Joseph Parkes commissioned Evans' first publication in book form, the translation of D. F. Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, which appeared in 1846. Nine years later, she and Barbara Leigh Smith took the unusual course of failing to ostracize their friend after her scandalous elopement to Germany with George Henry Lewes. Continually, Parkes prodded Evans/Eliot to show more of her feminist side in her writing and her life.

The singular poetic achievement of Summer Sketches also proceeds from Parkes's friendship with George Eliot, for in the poem she follows her two sections of narration of events at Ockley with a third part in which she takes the audacious step of creating the future novelist (at the time an important London editor) as her poetic persona. (4) In the early parts of the epistolary poem, the letter writer, "Lilian" (Parkes) describes the creative activities, political discussions, and immediate surroundings of herself, "Mistress Clare" (Julia Smith), and "Ella" (Leigh Smith) to her friend "Helen" (Evans), still hard at work in London. In the third section, supposedly posted from London, the prosaic, moderate voice of "Helen" most often conforms to usual interpretations of George Eliot's positions, practices, and beliefs as described by her many biographers. (5) To the ongoing George Eliot biographical project in general, this voice contributes a rare and credible portrait of an almost-young Marian Evans/George Eliot as interpreted by a close friend. (6)

Moreover, Parkes's plan for her three-part poem creates Evans as a presence well before she hands the narrative over to her, indeed from the opening salutation to "Dear Helen." Before Helen/Evans becomes the voice of the third letter, she figures as the addressee of its first two sections. This arrangement implies that Lilian selects her topics to appeal to the interests of Helen, and these choices in turn imply that in 1853 Evans was, like her friends, concerned with theories about social reform, especially women's rights and improved education. In addition, Parkes's descriptions of country excursions, as well as of some of the quieter interludes spent within the walls of the King's Arms, assume that Evans would have a friend's interest in the daily life shared by the three women already in Ockley.

In addition to subject matter presumably chosen with her audience in mind, Parkes creates another pattern tailored to Helen as recipient. Throughout the first two sections of the poem, she peppers Summer Sketches with cryptic references to friends and family as well as to more public Victorian personalities. The public personalities include Elizabeth Gaskell and Margaret Fuller, while the friends and family provide references to people less likely to be recognizable by a general audience. Helen/Evans, however, must possess the key to all of these poetic puzzles. And indeed as both friend of the Parkes family and member of the London community of authors and editors, Evans undoubtedly did.

Parkes and Evans met in 1850, and, after a slow start, their friendship flourished during the period when Evans was editing the Westminster Review and living at Chapman's publishing and lodging establishment at 142 Strand. (7) Parkes conveyed to Evans her parents' invitations for dinners, parties, and balls at the splendid family home, all of these occasions planned with a guest list strong in political/literary radicals. Indeed, Haight's venerable standard biography has immortalized Parkes's memories of this period by quoting her physical description of the youngish editor written more than forty years later. In the passage from "Dorothea Casaubon and George Eliot" (1894), Parkes describes her friend dressed in black velvet, "the only lady, except my mother" among the guests descending the staircase at evening parties in Savile Row. (8) The friendship underwent some strain when Evans took up seriously with George Henry Lewes, especially when she confided her elopement plans beforehand in 1854. But in 1855, when the renegade couple returned from their eight months in Germany, Parkes, despite her father's objections and her own reservations, did not participate in the general social ostracism. The friendship never waned entirely, although it changed when Parkes married Louis Belloc in 1867, partly because of the new bride's residence in France. The two were at their closest in 1853, both the time of writing and the temporal setting of Summer Sketches.

At that time, most of Evans' active urban social life, like the invitations she enjoyed through the Parkeses, resulted from her position as an important London editor and reviewer of, among other things, poetry. Parkes solicited Evans' response to her first book of poems in 1852, and her friend replied equivocally: "Publish the poems with all my heart, but don't stop there. Work on and do better things still" (GEL, 2:45). (9) While writing the Sketches that summer, conscious of the value of her editorial friend's opinion, Parkes asked Evans to read an early fragment of her work-in-progress. Consequently when she creates that same reviewer as the voice of the third part of the poem she is directly engaging one of the potential reviewers of the volume, and one whom she has already consulted about its content. By this point she has implicated Evans in the poem as addressee, voice, potential critic, and, because of their own epistolary exchange concerning Evans' response to the early fragment, quasi-collaborator.

Cryptic References

Parkes's first two letters intersperse social-reform theory and narration of the journey to Ockley with the cryptic references mentioned above, references which depend for their interpretation on the knowledge of family friend, member of the radical set, and literary cognoscento. The cryptic references to living people begin with Parkes's set of characters: Lilian, Ella, and Mistress Clare at their ease in a country inn. In 1853, the King's Arms Inn sat quietly on the edge of the village green along with a scattering of other red-tiled houses, some of them more than two hundred years old even then. Like many nineteenth-century rural hostelries, it gamed its peace partly because of the railways, which were eliminating the usefulness of such inns as coaching stages. From its front windows, the visitors could look out on the lopsided triangle of Leith Hill, the highest point in Surrey, whose slope begins to rise a few field-lengths away from the inn. To their left, the dandelion-covered crescent of the green stretched past a picturesque covered well and across to a school building on its opposite side. In the opening to Summer Sketches, Parkes describes the rooms occupied by the early arrivals:
 Lilian writing at night in a little country inn. Lights are upon the
 table and a jug, from the grotesque mouth of which immense ferns
 and foxgloves tower upwards, and cast trembling graceful shadows
 upon the wall. All the implements of an artist lie scattered about
 the room, and books lettered "Gervinus," "Keats," "Ruskin." A low
 hum of voices comes from the bar of the inn, and the night wind
 rustles softly among the trees of the garden. Lilian smiles to
 herself as she writes. (10)

After creating this cozy scene, Parkes doubles back to Lilian's departure for her holiday from London Bridge station and eventually reenforces her scene-setting description as she revels in her creation of the holiday as an industrious women's utopia: "Here we have a household plan / Framed without the help of man" (11.321- 322). According to the poem, the three of them alternate discussions of their ambitions for women with serious spates of writing and, for Leigh Smith, painting.

Parkes and Leigh Smith, frequent travel companions, had already established their trips as feminist gestures. Having journeyed through Europe together in 1850, without a chaperon, they took pride in the independence and productivity of their travel. (11) Leigh Smith always carried along her painting equipment and made frequent drawings and watercolors. In addition to her landscapes, she sketched herself and her friend in lighthearted lines wearing the shortened skirts, flaring jackets, and sturdy boots that they adopted for maximum freedom of movement. In Ockley, with no attendant other than a boy who took charge of the donkey, they wore these comfortable outfits as they got about the area by cart.

Narrating her railway journey from London to Dorking, Lilian follows up the sprightly opening quatrains which describe the bustle of departure at the station with more slowly paced descriptions of the terrible condition of London's poor children. As the train penetrates ever more deeply into Surrey, the scenery prompts reflections on one institution she believes provides some remedial hope for the youngest criminals produced by poverty. The Redhill Reformatory incorporated an emigration scheme for boys formerly imprisoned: "Perhaps across the oblivious sea / These boys shall build a fairer fame" (ll.93-94). (12) At this point Parkes inserts her first reference to one of her nameless heroes, one "who fills that hard and anxious part, / A mother's, to the motherless" (ll. 119-120). Parkes's Remarks on the Education of Girls, published the following year, explains this reference, which stems from her belief that women should head such reformatories whether they house girls or boys. In Remarks she praises a recent Bill "'brought from the Commons,' empowering magistrates to sentence juvenile offenders, not to a prison which shall corrupt them more and more, but to Reformatory Schools." (13) Parkes believes "New Reformatory Schools for girls, and those for young male offenders, must be superintended by women" (p. 23). She names the Kingswood school, a Bristol reformatory headed by Mary Carpenter whom she calls "at once an evidence and a symbol of the important functions which lie ready to the hands of benevolent women" (p. 23). In Summer Sketches the persona withholds the "labourer's name" (l. 111) out of "reverence" (l. 112). But because clergymen superintended most nineteenth-century reformatories for young people, including the establishment at Redhill, Carpenter stands out as the likely reference in Summer Sketches. Since Remarks appeared on Chapman's press the following year, Evans' position as his editor, as well as her friendly familiarity with Parkes's projects, accounts for Lilian's assumption that Helen will recognize her allusion to Carpenter.

Parkes's descriptions of Leigh Smith as Ella, on the other hand, proceed from Parkes's strong affection for both of her friends as well as her social concerns. In "Lilian's Second Letter" the persona observes the character Ella from an upper window of the inn as her friend saunters along the Stane Street. Parkes's character writes some dozen lines of praise, surrounding Ella with roses and sunshine. She inserts clues to her character's identity through use of her nickname, Bar, to describe effects of light. Along the lane, the sheltering trees "bar the road with light and shade" (l. 391). Indeed Lilian's catching sight of Ella prompts a passage of references to yet another nameless subject, a passage which implies an abandoned hope for a union between the new unidentified reference and the old, especially because she repeats her word-clue, "Bar," to describe her memories of her brother as well as her friend's illuminating presence.

To transition from one unnamed reference to the next, Lilian reports that "Suddenly to memory flew / Words of one whom once I knew" (ll. 394-395). The next lines describe an afternoon with a male companion who irritates her because
 He fell beneath the widest laws
 In his philosophy, loved more
 Some midland farm than mountain hoar,
 Sought Nature in her sunniest bloom,
 And hated women leaving home. (ll. 407-411)

In the scene that Lilian remembers, this character is describing his ideal woman: "very fair and very still, / With a halo round her thrown" (ll. 433-434). He continues to apply metaphors connected with Pre-Raphaelite, ecclesiastical settings. He wants his love "enshrined" in an "ancient gothic fane" (ll. 437-438) to become "her sacred niche" (l. 441). Neither queenly nor timid, his fantasy beloved is created as a pilgrim "secure in her own purity" (l. 451). He repeats his purity requirement.

Evans' status as family friend acquainted her with the Parkes family's major sorrow in the early fifties: the death of Priestley Parkes, the poet's brother, in 1850. Young Parkes meets Lilian's description, not only in his midlands origins and his bucolic inclinations, but also because of his early death. Parkes's character "is dead, dead long ago," and "Summer leaves and winter snow / Lie upon where he lies" (ll. 397-398). Unlike the tribute to Leigh Smith with its "bar" clues, the most specific details identifying young Priestley are his origins and his early death. As family friend, Evans would need no more in the way of clues.

The effectiveness of Parkes's third cryptic reference depends on Evans's editorial role, for the work of Elizabeth Gaskell was regularly reviewed in the Westminster. In the second letter, Lilian responds to Ella's demand that she embody her thoughts on women's lives in a poem which should take on the task of recounting "the daily life of I and you" (l. 773) by turning to address someone who creates such literature while she also "keepest a conscience in [her] pen" (l. 787). Two details identify this writer as Gaskell. In one line Parkes again inserts a punning clue: her author commands a large audience who "thy revealings learn with ruth" (l. 789), an allusion to Gaskell's novel which appeared earlier that same year. In addition, this unnamed author's writing echoes sounds of "thine own moorland hills" (l. 787). Both pun and place of origin point to Gaskell.

The final object of Parkes's praise in Summer Sketches again involves Evans as journalist. Lilian refers to her a> "Margaret" and alludes to her death, delivering praise for her work and sympathy for her sensational drowning. Only two years later, Evans also wrote in praise of Fuller, in an essay on "Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft"' in the October 13, 1856 Leader.

The Journey to Ockley

The travel-journal portions of Summer Sketches appeal to Parkes's specified audience more as an interested friend than a London journalist. Before Lilian comes to the sections on Leigh Smith, her brother, the admired educators, and Fuller, she must move her main Summer Sketches characters from the railway station in Dorking to the "model village" (l. 184) at the foot of Leith Hill. After the lines occasioned by the sight of the Redhill Reformatory and the praise for Mary Carpenter, Lilian resumes the narrative of the trip: "At Dorking we abjured the train / And started in a pouring rain" (ll. 127-128). Heretofore the persona has mentioned only herself: first as an observer at the station and then as a passenger on the train. But on this subsequent leg of the journey, Leigh Smith/Ella has clearly joined her. Despite the plural pronoun applied to at least two people who "abjured the train" at Dorking, the possibility remains that Leigh Smith has met her friend at the station. In any case at this point Parkes abandons serious reflection and resumes her jaunty iambic tetrameter to report the progress of the cart toward Ockley.

The route the cart takes from Dorking to Ockley, however, raises a small mystery, especially because they proceed in that "pouring rain" (l. 128). For some reason they do not take the Horsham road which goes directly south out of Dorking toward their destination. Instead they travel some five miles due west and stop in the village of Shere, thus lengthening their journey but also rendering it more beautiful. Several features of Shere could have interested them. With Catholicism lurking in Parkes's mind (she converted in 1864), and her corollary interest in convents and their inhabitants, the story of fourteenth-century anchorite Christine Carpenter might have attracted her to Shere. (14) The daughter of the village carpenter, she received permission in 1329 from the Bishop of Winchester to "remove herself to the fulfilment of a better life ... to vow herself solemnly to continence and perpetual chastity and to let herself be shut up in a narrow place in the churchyard adjoining the parish church of Shire." (15) Before three years were up, however, she "left her cell inconstantly and returned to the world." This act carried the risk of excommunication, but she appealed again to the Bishop, who permitted re-enclosure and deferred excommunication until she had time to demonstrate penitence. But although Parkes's traveling women walk in the very churchyard of St James', where the squint through which Carpenter communicated with the adjoining church remains a prominent feature, her poem makes no specific reference to the anchorite.

Another possibility accounting for the diversion to Shere arises from Parkes's other work in progress, her Remarks on the Education of Girls (London, 1854). As in the Redhill section, the school at Shere, founded the year before by Laura Augusta Susana Lomax, gains a reference in Summer Sketches: "O happy Christians taught at Shere" (l. 160). The cart approaches the village from the east, passing identifiable landmarks of the Gomshall / Shere area: manor house, mill, and ruined abbey. Then the persona responds to the English charm of the Shere churchyard, envisioning it as a tranquil final resting place where she might "lie unchill'd by mortal pang / While childish voices prayed and sang" (ll. 170-171). (16) When Lomax died in 1855, her will created Lomax's Educational Foundation, the interest of which financed the newly founded Shore School. Again Parkes's route was accommodating her interest in education and her preparation for Remarks on the Education of Girls.

But in the poem Parkes identifies a far more mundane occasion for making the pause at Shere: the two women "stop,--for ham and eggs, at Shere" (l. 150). Awaiting their meal, they "most joyful wander up and down" the village (1. 156). The next lines identity, where they eat as either the White Horse Inn or the tea room beside it because "two great trees over-hang the porch" (l. 157). (17) At the time of Parkes's visit, these elms occupied a grassy island in the middle of the road and framed the church beyond for observers positioned in front of the White Horse. A final possibility for the Shere detour might rest in the need to meet Julia Smith who was part of the vanguard party and therefore in Ockley, but whose presence Parkes mentions in connection with neither the railway journey nor the cart. Whether included for its educational/religious connections, to retrieve Julia Smith, or for "ham and eggs," the diversion to Shere meant that the final leg of their journey took the women travelers across charming scenic Surrey terrain: the winding, dipping road over Leith Hill that carried them through picture-perfect villages such as Abinger Hammer and Holmbury St. Mary.

Finally reaching Ockley, Parkes's character continues to express her interest in women and education. She devotes fifty-four lines to praising Jane Scott, who, like Lomax and many other well-off benevolent women, patronized a village school. This patchy, gabled building sits on the edge of the Ockley green and proclaims the name of its founder in carved stone seraphed letters above the main entrance. The green also accommodates the picturesque well Scott donated to the village, roofed against the weather and conveniently located to serve the houses around its edges. Parkes brings together both of Scott's gifts to her village, the school and the well, as she applies a water metaphor to them as "two springs of a nobler life" (l. 269). Abandoning the obscurity of her references to Carpenter, her brother, and Gaskell, she emphasizes the identity of this benefactor by drawing attention to the appearance of her name carved in relief above the schoolhouse door.

As the travelers settle down in the King's Arms, so does the poetic narrative, creating a charming scene of Victorians on holiday: reading, conversing, picking wild flowers, and working. The first passage describing specific events begins with breakfast. The three women meet at 8:30 to enjoy their food and the newspapers. Lilian ends her first letter with a playful plea for a return letter that reestablishes Evans as Lilian's correspondent. Lilian concludes:
 I give
 The sum of what we said; to keep you in
 The current of our lives, and you may find
 The rest in your imagination
 And knowledge of the speakers. (ll. 744-747)

She thus deliberately expresses her confidence in her audience's intimate knowledge of her characters and their concerns.

"Helen's Answer": Marian Evans/George Eliot

Parkes's third letter takes Evans' presence in Summer Sketches to its highest level by turning over the voice to Helen. By the time of her composition of the third letter, Parkes was not proceeding without encouragement. After Evans and her friend Sara Hennell joined the Ockley party, Parkes shared some of her work-in-progress with both of them. Evans responded favorably: "I will read as many verses of your 'Poem preparing for the press' as you like to send me. Miss Hennell and I were heartily amused by your specimen" (GEL, 2:109). Indeed, Parkes's request had taken up a second matter of appeal aimed specifically at the editor of the Westminster Review: she asked Evans to review the poetry of Mary Catherine Hume, yet another poetic daughter of a radical MP. Evans responded definitely and negatively: "Heaven preserve me from reading Miss Hume's poems! ... I was quite cowed by their first extract and bad not courage to proceed" (GEL, 2: 109). Although Parkes failed to elicit a Westminster review for Hume, she had received encouragement for her own efforts from its editor. She forged ahead with Summer Sketches.

The ideas voiced by Helen/Evans in the poem most often conform to the general shape of George Eliot biography. The first six lines of the third letter contrast Lilian's pastoral poetic freshness, "wash'd in country dew" (l. 767), with Helen's dimmer urban perspective, in the country, at the King's Arms, Lilian can "see the poetic side of everything" (l. 768), while Helen, presumably at Evans' then-home at 142 Strand, can "see chiefly prose" (l. 769). Here Parkes acknowledges her friend's present occupations and anticipates her future career. During the next few years Evans produced long, dense, and much-admired essays such as "Worldliness and Other-Worldliness," "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists," "The Natural History of German Life," and "Evangelical Teaching: Dr. Cumming," most of them written for the Westminster. Parkes's phrase about a prosaic vision on Helen's part also anticipates Evans' success as an author of prose fiction. No matter how seriously George Eliot took her own poetry, even the most frequently anthologized poems never earned her the admiration she won through her novels. As Angela Leighton asserts, "George Eliot's poetry is essentially the work of a novelist on leave" (p. 221). The contrast between Lilian's poetic spirit and her friend's prosaic inclinations anticipates the major criticism brought against George Eliot's poems: the heavily prosaic quality of the verse in "The Spanish Gypsy," "Armgart," and "The Legend of Jubal," as well as in the other even less admired poetry. The meter of this section of Summer Sketches also reflects Helen's prosaic inclinations. While the verses in Lilian's voice skip about from ballad quatrains, to blank verse, to tetrametric couplets, Helen confines herself to blank verse, the most prosaic of all possible meters.

A second link between Parkes's voice/character and her model occurs in the intensity of the work being done in London. Like many authors who create artistic characters, Parkes switches her character's talent from writing to painting. Nevertheless, she makes Evans' industry central to her effort as Helen reports:
 Now, as to me, my days in even course
 Run thro' the usual round of work; I paint
 From morn to eve, from morn to eve again,
 Striving against the hinderance of time
 And all the weight of custom. (11. 994-999)

Evans's Carlylean attitudes toward work appear throughout her fiction, from Adam Bede's proud industriousness through Dorothea Brooke's repeated quest for a worthwhile occupation. Meanwhile, her own duties on the Westminster required prolonged hard work, specifically enormous amounts of reading, writing, and correspondence (Haight, pp. 139-140).

Evans' attitude toward London also rings true to George Eliot biography. She first moved to London in 1851 and spent the rest of her adult life based in the city in four general locations: the central areas where she lodged while serving as Chapman's editor (Strand and Bayswater), the places south of the Thames where she lived during her earliest years with Lewes (East Sheen, Richmond Green, and Wandsworth), and her homes (including the most permanent, the Priory) in and around St John's Wood where they moved after Lewes' son Charles came to live with them. At the same time, the Leweses made a lifelong practice of escaping the London air as often as they could. During their decades together, they made more than fifty long and short journeys to England's seasides, spas, and country villages, until in 1876 they bought Witley Heights, a Surrey home that obviated the need for any more summer leases. After 1851, George Elicit always lived in London, but she also escaped to the country air (and to the Continent) enough to render the London homes effectively pieds a terre.

The lines in which Helen responds to Lilian's desire to change the world include more that is characteristic of George Eliot, specifically her political gradualism. Considering Lilian's radical ideas, Helen counsels patience in organic, evolutionary metaphors:
 Bethink thee then what processes were wrought
 (As you to me but lately did recall,
 Painting the landscape from the Firs of Leith)
 Thro' silent ages, patient and unsung,
 Ere this grand symmetry of Nature, shaped
 Into completest beauty, yearn'd for love,
 And brought forth Adam he both flower and seed,
 A fair suggestion of th' intent of Time. (11. 1018-24)

From Hetty Sorrel's culpable shallowness in Adam Bede, where the narrator compares the dairymaid to a plant with "hardly any roots" (1. 154), to Daniel Deronda whose last section George Eliot captions "Fruit and Seed," her organicist metaphors emphasize the importance of remaining connected with the past. In The Cambridge" Companion to George Elicit, Nancy Henry's "George Eliot and Politics" observes that "the organic metaphor had been a favorite with Marian Evans at least since the early 1840s" (p. 141). A. G. van den Broek's entry on "Politics," in the 2000 Oxford Companion to George Eliot, quotes J. W. Cross's description of her belief in improvement "by the slow stupendous teaching of the world's events" (p. 308). The passage Parkes puts into her friend's letter in Summer Sketches both acknowledges Evans' commitment to Parkes's favorite causes and anticipates metaphors she will apply frequently to what she herself called her "meliorism." (18)

Finally, the poetic voice maintains the tone of the actual correspondence between Parkes and Evans in the years preceding Summer Sketches. Some ten years older than her twenty-four-year-old friend, Evans assumed an affectionate young-aunt tone in her letters that also conveys her authority as a professional intellectual. In her letters to Parkes, Evans' diction sustains both wisdom and authority as it demonstrates a growing intimacy. In January of 1852 she salutes her recipient as "My dear Miss Parkes" (GEL, 2:7); by June it was "chOre enfant" (2:32), and then in a birthday letter that same month: "Dear Hamadryad" (2:35). In July she warns Parkes: "Now, dear child, don't be playing pranks and shocking people, because I am told they lay it all to me and my bad influence over you" (2:44). In May of the following year, she addresses Parkes as "dear pet" and requests "three hugs and a dozen kisses" (2:101) at their next meeting. In the poem, Helen addresses Lilian as "Dear Lilian" and then "my dear poet." She remonstrates with Lilian, counseling patience, for times "when you are impatient (as you are / Most often) at the dirt which clogs the wheels / And the slow ripening of the better time" (ll. 1015-17). In these ways the diction of the poem repeats that of the correspondence. The poetic voice sustains the air of greater authority tempered with fondness.

Another echo of the correspondence between Parkes and Evans occurs in the poem's diction, specifically the recurrence of the word "brave," especially to apply to women. After a spring interlude in the north, a letter from Evans to Parkes describes hem last stop in Warwickshire as an accumulation of courage that will enable her to go back to work in London: "Now I am here for a week [Coventry] among affectionate long-tried friends, and I feel brave for anything that is to come after" (2:65). When the Ockley party moved on, Evans, at loose ends about the remainder of her summer, considered rejoining the group of three who were traveling toward Stonehenge: "Would Bournemouth be any less pleasant to you for my being in it, supposing I felt in want of the neighborhood of dear, brave women friends?" (2:109). In the poem, Helen describes the American editors of feminist periodicals as "brave New England women" (1.975), an evocation of courage in connection with feminism common in both Evans' and Parkes's diction a the time.

With the mention of the American periodical, however, comes Parkes's major deviation from the accepted biographical profile of George Eliot, especially her political opinions. Lilian's second letter contains a request that her city-dwelling friend forward her some of the London news she cannot get in Ockley: "the 'Times' or 'Leader'" (l. 947). Though she hushes her tone--"I write whisperingly, among / These woods the very flowers are Tory" (ll. 950-951)--she longs for reading material the village would find shocking: "It is so very nice to sit, / And chew the cud of something wicked" (ll. 954-955). Helen responds, not with the Times or the Leader, but, mysteriously, by sending the American feminist periodical Una. She also sends the Liberator and a speech by abolitionist Wendell Phillips. The indexes to George Eliot's letters and journals offer no references to Phillips, Una, or the Liberator. (19) At this time in her life, she was capable of such expressions as "odious Yankee" (2:101), and she went on to maintain her distance from the women's periodicals Parkes came to edit. So silent was she on slavery and its abolition that neither word makes a topic in the Oxford Companion nor an entry in the index to the Cambridge Companion.

At the same time, an 1853 letter from Evans to Clementia Taylor touches on these topics to an audience that would share Parkes's positions as a co-worker in the same vineyards. In this letter Evans expresses her admiration for the article "American Slavery and Emancipation by the Free States" which appeared in her own periodical, the Westminster, in January 1853. She declares herself"converted to a profound interest in the history, the laws, the social and religious phases of North America" (2:85). She follows up with the comment: "Is it not cheering to think of the youthfulness of this little planet, and the immensely greater youthfulness of our race upon it?--to think that the higher moral tendencies of human nature are yet only in their germ?" (2:85). These words echo lines attributed to her by Parkes in Summer Sketches: "as this last creation, Man, / Is nobler than all others, he shall be / Matured at greater cost, more gradual care" (ll. 1055-57). Hence these lines conform to interests expressed in Evans' letter to Taylor but seldom associated with her life. In this way, Parkes's character draws attention to a neglected phase of Evans' politics.

Despite the initial encouragement Parkes received from Evans for her work-in-progress, its publication achieved neither a notice in the Westminster, nor a response to the presence of the periodical's editor. With Jane Sinnitt writing the "Belles Lettres" section of the Westminster in 1854, the timing of Summer Sketches meant that it did not fall to "Helen" for review. Evans's letters, too, avoid comment on her presence in the poem, whether as fictionalized letter recipient or voice, indeed, on its publication, she does not mention the title poem at all, though she reports, "I have read through your little book, and have had very sweet tears in my eyes over several passages" (2:129). Instead, she decides "as poetry, the 'Ballad of the King's Daughter' seems to me immeasurably the best in the book. But the thoughts are everywhere what I love" (2:129). (20) Parkes accepted her reviewer/friend's judgment when she republished only one of the Summer Sketches poems in her 1863 edition, the one about the King's daughter that Evans had praised.

Three years after Ockley, however, Evans did review a volume of Parkes's poems with observations that confirm the hazards of cryptic references and of assuming the voice of an identifiable historical personage. Although Haight describes this review as "kindly" (p. 184), Evans is hardly positive. In "Gabriel" Parkes writes in the voice of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Evans locates the poem's major flaw in the poet's handling of voice:
 Apparently it is Shelley's wife who is supposed, almost throughout,
 to be the speaker. This is a disadvantage, since it raises a demand
 for psychological verisimilitude which Miss Parkes has not
 satisfied. No sooner do we begin to perceive that Gabriel is
 Shelley, and that it is his wife who is staging to us of his early
 genius, his college days, and his spiritual struggles, than a new
 ground of criticism is introduced, and the poem has to justify
 itself not merely by lyrical beauties but by dramatic presentation.
 This mistake in structure, and the occasional obscurity and want of
 finish in the more emotional and reflective parts of the poem, are
 in some degree counter-balanced by the beauty of many descriptive
 passages. (21)

Having failed to respond to Parkes's creation of herself as "Helen," Evans objects to the creation of Mary Shelley as Gabriel's wife and the voice of the later poem on the plausible ground of insufficient "psychological verisimilitude" (p. 265). But she balances the objection with a satisfyingly lengthy quotation from one of the descriptive portions of "Gabriel."

Although Parkes never again implicated her literary friend in her work as fully and directly as she does in Summer Sketches, it was by no means Parkes's last construction of George Eliot for public view. Parkes was one of the last people to see George Eliot before her death in 1880, and her own longevity (1829-1925) made her a durable source of information on her friend, even though interest in George Eliot waned dramatically during the first half of the twentieth century, indeed the importance of Parkes as a source for Victorian biographies of both Evans and Leigh Smith renders Summer Sketches valuable regardless of its poetic merit or lack thereof. Although the descriptions of life in Ockley do not cover the portion of the holiday that occurred after the arrival of the Chapmans, Hennell, and Evans, the passages set the scene for the addition of the second group. Concerning the early days in the village, the verses yield a fascinating portrait of three of the most important Victorian feminists on holiday, especially in the account of breakfast at the King's Arms and the jaunt up Leith Hill. (22)

The breakfast conversation of Parkes, Julia Smith, and Barbara Leigh Smith turns on hopes for various reforms that require a serious tone. Parkes anticipates times "when some great thought, new cloth'd in form, / Shall rise and take the world by storm, / The all-including Church restore, / And make us Catholic once more" (ll. 530-533). (Georg Gervinus, mentioned along with Keats and Ruskin in the opening scene-setting prose paragraph, resurfaces here.) She also envisions a more completely evolved humanity living in harmonious social order and rejects limitations on women stemming from convictions about an essential inferiority. It is this lofty section that culminates with the reference to Margaret Fuller.

The loftiness yields to one of the more charming passages as Ella suddenly calls for activity rather than philosophy. The two young women take their cart to visit the area's main attraction, the peak of Leith Hill, with its extensive views north and south. The climb up the path through the fir trees occasions some difficulties for both woman and beast:
 Poor small pony, lank and thin,
 Surely expiates some sin
 Committed in a human state,
 Trudging on resign'd to fate.
 Women will not beat an ass,--
 Tempt him on with freshest grass. (11. 810-815)

Arrived at the crown of the hill, the climbers enjoy the south winds, the fragrant air, and the firs which Ella wants to paint. (23) With only a short break for their picnic, Ella paints all day while Lilian takes a nap. Their descent, amidst "mist gather'd round the pond-side flags" (1. 933), while "the little boy (who call'd us 'sirs') / Trotted beside us with the bags" (11. 934-935), brings them home again to the King's Arms at the end of a long day.

The arrival of the party from London, including John Chapman, changed the character of the women's utopia that had so pleased Parkes. Leigh Smith was continuing to gather blooms for her red-gold hair every morning, Parkes's affectionate leitmotif for the character Ella. She describes the Stane Street as the "rose-fringed lane" (1. 10), and Ockley also offers a specific ultra-romantic setting connected with roses, for the legend of the twisted rose and briar as a representation of unconsummated love (as in the ballad "Barbara Allen") is said to have originated in its churchyard. Among the roses, Chapman and Leigh Smith began to draw together. The following year they worked together preparing her Brief Summary, of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women for publication on his press. Two years after the summer at Ockley, their exchange of loving letters was well underway, and Chapman began waging his campaign to make Leigh Smith his mistress. (24)

The details of the narratives in Summer Sketches--of the chatty breakfasts, the donkey cart excursion, and hints of the launch of Chapman's interest in Leigh Smith--expand the biographical material on all of these important Victorian figures. Most of the participants in the holiday soon published work with John Chapman, including both Parkes's Remarks and Leigh Smith's Brief Summary. Hence, for scholars interested the publication history of some of the key texts of the nineteenth-century women's rights movement, in the lives of these individual Victorian feminists, and/ or in the life of Marian Evans before she became George Eliot, the Summer Sketches supply a valuable source.


(1) When referring to George Eliot before she assumed her pseudonym, I call her by her birth name, either Mary Ann or Marian Evans, depending on which she was going by at the time. Afterward I call her George Eliot, but, following Barbara Hardy's practice, without ever shortening it to the surname alone, as she was not really a person called George Eliot. Accepting the obligation of calling people what they want to be called would require applying the name Marian Lewes (which she preferred for most of her adult life) and shortening it to "Lewes" which could not help but cause confusion between herself and her life's companion. Meanwhile, my own preference lies with "Marian Evans." I must, however, apologize for the awkward but inescapable slashed identities, as in Evans/Helen.

(2) Many of these works appeared on Chapman's press, giving him an impressive list in 1850's women's rights literature.

(3) Anthologies of nineteenth-century women's poetry usually provide only a poem or two by Parkes. Isobel Armstrong, for example, includes "To Elizabeth Barrett Browning" and "For Adelaide" (Nineteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology, ed. isobel Armstrong, Joseph Bristow, with Cath Sharrock [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996]). Angela Leighton and Margaret Reynolds include both of these and add "To an Author who Loved Truth More than Fame" and portions of Summer Sketches (Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology, ed. Angela Leighton and Margaret Reynolds [Oxford: Blackwell, 1995]). On the other hand, Parkes gets gored space on the Indiana University Internet site "Victorian Women Writers Project" which includes all the 1863 Ballads and Songs.

(4) Gordon Haight mentions Summer Sketches in a note in The George Eliot Letters, identifying the characters accurately but somehow linking Ockley and Redhill together as a single "model village" and describing the second letter as "a symposium of ladies" that includes Helen (The George Eliot Letters, ed. Gordon S. Haight, 9 vols. [New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1954-79], 2:109; hereafter cited as GEL).

(5) The recent Oxford and Cambridge Companions to George Eliot synthesize and draw on the most generally accepted conclusions in biographies beginning with Mathilde Blind's in 1883 (The Oxford Companion to George Eliot, ed. John Rignall [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000]; The Cambridge Companion to George Elicit, ed. George Levine [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001]).

(6) Other sources for material on Evans' life in 1853 include her letters, the "Bray-Hennell Extracts," and her own journalism.

(7) Gordon S. Haight, George Eliot: A Biography (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1968), p. 103.

(8) Bessie Rayner Parkes, "Dorothea Casaubon and George Eliot," Contemporary Review (February 1894): 207-216. Ellen Bayuk Rosenman quotes Parkes's description of her friend to note how Evans' self-presentation combines the self-forgetfulness of a Dorothea with the coquettishness of Rosamond. She describes Parkes's young journalist as a "seductive charmer in the drop-dead black velvet dress ... dressing for effect as she crashes the serious-male party" ("More Stories about Clothes and Furniture: Realism and Bad Commodities," in Functions of Victorian Culture at the Present Time [Athens, Ohio: Ohio Univ. Press, 2002], p. 59). Despite the collojuial diction, Rosenman makes a valid point concerning how George Eliot assigns comments on clothes to narrative agents rather than attributing them to the primary narrators who are too serious to care for such frivolity.

(9) Haight (p. 104) attributes to Evans a brief, mixed notice of Parkes's first volume of Poems in the Westminster Review of January 1853.

(10) Bessie Rayner Parkes, Summer Sketches and Other Poems (London, 1854).

(11) Pam Hirsch, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: Feminist, Artist, Rebel (London: Chatto and Windus, 1998), p. 44.

(12) Many thanks to Sheila Evers on the Victoria Listserv who identified the reference in this passage. Evers adds that Charles Dickens had given recent attention to Redhill as well. Like Parkes, he found promise in its methods and administration.

(13) Bessie Rayner Parks, Remarks on the Education of Girls (London, 1854), p. 23.

(14) Parkes fulfilled this interest when she wrote Historic Nuns in 1896.

(15) Christine Carpenter: The Anchoress of Shere. Pamphlet published by St. James' Church, Shere.

(16) Because Parkes tempers her dread of death with a hope for burial in an attractive spot, she echoes the passages in "Adonais" where Percy Shelley rationalizes death through the aesthetic anticipation of burial in the Protestant cemetery in Rome where his ashes eventually did find their final resting place.

(17) Thanks to Elizabeth Rich of the Shere Museum for sharing the photographs that confirm the geography of the village in 1853.

(18) John Walter Cross, George Eliot's Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals (New York, 1885), 3:347.

(19) Parkes, on the other hand, participated in a "Committee for the Ladies' Address to their American Sisters on Slavery," which collected over 500,000 signatures deploring slavery (Constance Fulmer, "Bessie Rayner Parkes [Madame Belloc]," Dictionary of Literary Biography 240 [Farmington, Michigan: Gale, 2001], p. 186).

(20) Often consulted by friends for her opinion of their writing, George Eliot developed a practice of silently withholding comment on work she did not like. In 1877 she devastated Edith Simcox by offering no comment about her book on Natural Law, an "eloquent silence" from which Simcox never recovered (Edith Simcox, A Monument to the Memory of George Eliot: Edith Simcox's Autobiography of a Shirtmaker, ed. Constance Fulmer and Margaret Barfield [New York: Garland, 1998], p. 125).

(21) Marian Evans (George Eliot), "Belles Lettres," Westminster Review (January 1856): 264-265.

(22) While not a writer like her niece and her niece's friend, "Aunt" Julia Smith participated in important women's rights activities, notably the support of Bedford College (Hirsch, p. 40).

(23) Parkes excludes from her landscape the most conspicuous (and phallic) feature of the peak of Leith Hill: the Gothic folly tower built in 1766. It consists of a four-storey square crenellated tower attached to a taller circular one, both constructed of brick mixed with patchy irregular multicolored stones. A Gothic window near the top of the square tower improves still further the view from the hill.

(24) For discussions of Leigh Smith's difficult decision, see Haight; Hester Burton, Barbara Bodichon 1827-1891 (London: John Murray, 1949); M.C. Bradbrook, "Barbara Bodichon and the Limits of Feminism," A James Bryce Memorial Lecture, delivered in the Wolfson Hall of Somerville College, Oxford, March 6, 1975.
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Author:McCormack, Kathleen
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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