Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 8, 2008

Scenes of Clerical Life, by George Eliot

Scenes of Clerical LifeScenes Of Clerical Life by George Eliot (1819-1880) was my freebie for Blog a Penguin Classic where readers from all over the world signed up to receive a randomly selected title from the Penguin Classics series.  I was so lucky to get it because some people – judging by their reviews online – were really miserable about having to read something difficult and unappealing. I love George Eliot, and I loved these three short stories. I read them on the train going in to the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, and I think I mystified the footy patrons cluttering up the train… I got some puzzled stares because they had obviously written me off as a *serious* person because (a) I was reading instead of talking nonstop about footy and (b) they could see the distinctive Penguin Classics cover.  I couldn’t stop chortling out loud on and off, and that’s not what you expect from someone reading The Classics.

There’s some silly stuff in the introduction about Eliot being conflicted about her faith blah-blah but I found nothing unkind or strident in any of it. Eliot is wickedly funny in her affectionate portraits of ordinary people, and their faults and foibles. She wrote, as Austen and Trollope did, with a gentle wit and clever satire, relying on the perspicacity of her readership to discern the issues that mattered. So she shows how the wife of Amos Bates is worn out by child-bearing; how the social strata of English county life could trifle with a foundling’s heart and break it, and how the religious controversies of the day were all so much of a storm in a teacup, but she does so in a gentle and good-humoured way.

I was sorry to come to the end of the book and have promised myself to read Middlemarch again before long.

The three stories are:

  • The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton
  • Mr Gilfil’s Love-Story
  • Janet’s Repentance

and you can read my very brief review of them at Blog a Penguin Classic (because I’m not sure who owns the copyright on it.)

Author: George Eliot
Title: Scenes of Clerical Life
Publisher: Penguin Classics, 1998, 370 pages
ISBN: 9780140436389
Review copy courtesy of Penguin.


  1. […] are so belatedly entering.  There is none of the gentle and affectionate humour that I found in Scenes of Clerical Life to relieve the impression of stupidity and crassness in Bush […]


  2. […] read them all, and also her short stories Scenes of Clerical Life (1857) (the only title, alas, reviewed here on this blog).  I have lost count of how many times I’ve read my favourites, Middlemarch (1871-2); Silas […]


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