Felix Holt, Volume 2

Jermyn collects information in case he wants to blackmail Harold, Felix and Esther fall in love, and Felix gets shot. I think two of the most important issues in volume 2 of Felix Holt are Esther’s relationship with Felix and Felix’s action in the riot.

Esther has changed. When she first met Felix, her highest goal was to be a “real fine-lady” — someone who “does not wear clothes that flare in people’s eyes, or use importunate scents, or make a noise as she moves”, but is “refined and graceful, and charming, and never obtrusive” (vol. 1, ch. 5). Felix’s contempt for this littleness shook her self-complacency and made her wonder whether there might be something more important worth living for. Her metamorphosis is shown by her words to her father: “That must be the best life. … that where one bears and does everything because of some great and strong feeling — so that this and that in one’s circumstances don’t signify” (ch. 26).

Felix Holt, volume 2Felix falls in love with this softened, thoughtful Esther and he sees that he is important to her. He is still determined not to marry, however, feeling that they would ruin each other’s lives. He wants to influence what he considers “the greatest power under heaven”: “public opinion — the ruling belief in society about what is right and what is wrong, what is honorable and what is shameful” (ch. 30). He thinks public opinion is even more important to the working man than the power to vote.

During the election held at Treby Magna, things get out of control and there is rioting. Felix gets stuck in the crowd and, hopeless of stopping them, tries to keep them from doing much harm. He takes the lead and, after getting one victim (a Mr. Spratt) out of their clutches, attempts to lead them out into the countryside where there isn’t so much damage to be done. He fails, however, and the rioters head to a Tory home to pillage. In the process of trying to lead the mob, Felix made himself very conspicuous amongst them; knocked down a policeman, killing him; and got shot. Naturally, he landed himself in jail. Though Felix saved one life, he caused the end of another. Whether his actions in the riot were wise is sure to cause him some debate — it did even at the time.

Jermyn has reason to fear losing much if Harold decides to investigate his affairs. He remembers “those distant years when he and another bright-eyed person had seen no reason why they should not indulge their passion and their vanity, and determine for themselves how their lives should be made delightful in spite of unalterable external conditions. The reasons had been unfolding themselves gradually ever since …” (ch. 21). Now, with the elections over, Jermyn’s and Harold’s interests are no longer the same. Foreseeing this time, Jermyn has been doing a little research in case his safety requires him to threaten Harold into suspending actions against him. The death of a second person during the riots, Tommy Trounsem, has opened the way for this.


This is part of the Eliot Project which “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter and I are doing. Read “Sophie’s” notes on the second volume of Felix Holt here: “Felix Holt: Volume II”.

Illustration: “You are very beautiful.” (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons.)

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