Felix Holt, Volume 3

Knowing Esther to be the legal heir to the Transome estate, Harold and his mother invite her to stay at Transome Court. For Esther this is like a dream come true, but, since she met Felix, she is no longer certain that she wants this fairytale existence. He introduced her to “the high enthusiasm of life” (whatever that means) and she fears that this new, easy, luxurious life might forever shut her out from that.

In contrast to Esther’s broadened view of life (broadened beyond the gratification of her own little tastes) is Mrs. Transome. She is a lonely, bitter woman, resentful, fearing retribution, wrapped up in her own emotions — “the great story of this world reduced for her to the little tale of her own existence” (ch. 34). She feels divided from her son, yet cannot help making bitter comments that only drive her further from being consulted by him. Her regret for the past seems comprised of bitterness over having sinned for such a man as Jermyn has turned out to be, bitterness that all the ill-consequences seem to be falling on herself, and bitterness that Harold has not turned out the reward she hoped for. She becomes so lonely that one day, hearing her feeble husband and young grandson playing together, she wishes she could change something about her past behavior: “She would have given a great deal at this moment if her feeble husband had not always lived in dread of her temper and her tyranny, so that he might have been fond of her now” (ch. 35). Esther’s entrance into her life provides Mrs. Transome with one thing she has always craved: deference.

In her absorption in herself, Mrs. Transome hardly seems to care that her wrongdoing has greatly hurt her son. She really never seems to think about Harold’s finding out about his parentage as anything other than a punishment to herself. It is not until faced with financial ruin and disgrace that Jermyn admits that Harold has a right to know. But of course, Jermyn wants Mrs. Transome to be the one to tell him.

Sensing all the unhappiness around her, Esther’s longing for the kind of life that Felix has chosen becomes stronger, more certain. Her father is much distressed over Felix’s imprisonment. He fears that “in the fatal encounter with Tucker he had been moved by a rash temper, not sufficiently guarded against by a prayerful and humble spirit” (ch. 37). He tells Esther that, “My poor young friend is being taught with mysterious severity the evil of a too confident self-reliance.”

Felix’s trial was interesting. Witnesses were brought to testify that the now-deceased policeman’s attack on Felix had been “violently threatening” (ch. 46). Of course the police was threatening to Felix! Despite his good intentions, Felix was part of a mob which was threatening to kill a man. The police, Tucker, was trying to rescue that man. His goal was the same as Felix’s and I don’t understand why Felix didn’t try to assist him instead of knocking him down. In any case, Tucker’s “attack” on him is no defense for Felix. Felix admits that his action in the riot “seems rather mad to myself, now I look back upon it.” Several people, including Esther, testify to Felix’s good character and distaste for violence. Still, the court decides that, despite having a pretty woman on his side, Felix’s conduct was “not the less dangerous and foolish”. He is sentenced to four years imprisonment. A petition is put together, however, and Felix is soon released. The elections, riot, and Felix’s imprisonment occurred in December. His trial was in March. In April, he is again a free man. Hopefully he is a wiser man, too.

Felix Holt, volume 3In the meantime, both Harold and Esther are making momentous decisions. Unable to see Harold alone, Jermyn publicly tells Harold that he is his father. Harold fell in love with Esther and marrying her would solve the difficulty of inheritance. Now, however, he feels his name has been sullied and he must tell her something of what has happened. “It was the most serious moment in Harold Transome’s life; for the first time the iron had entered into his soul, and he felt … that mighty resistless destiny laid upon us by the acts of other men as well as our own” (ch. 49). He hopes that this will not cost him Esther, but he determines to do what is honorable despite the consequences.

On her side, Esther must decide whether to give up her riches and easy life for what she recognizes as greater, “the best thing that life could give her” (ch. 49). Privation would be heaven to her as the wife of Felix, but, as in Harold’s case, this reward is only a hope, not a certainty. She may choose hardship only to find herself alone and weary. “It is not true that love makes all things easy: it makes us choose what is difficult.” Ultimately, Esther chooses to renounce her inheritance, so, although Harold does not gain Esther, he is not turned out of his home. Esther leaves having made peace between Mrs. Transome and her son. She receives that which she wished for: she and Felix marry.

Naturally, since Esther was in love with Felix, she wished to marry him. And, of course, in order to marry Felix, Esther would have to give up being wealthy. It does not follow, however, that another station would have shut out “the high enthusiasm of life” for her, as she apparently thought. Felix’s chosen life is not the only one where great good can be done — a fact which he himself emphasized.

I like Felix Holt, but I think that George Eliot should have shown more of Felix’s actual efforts to better people — more details about his night school, for example. Felix tells Esther, “If there’s anything our people want convincing of, it is, that there’s some dignity and happiness for a man other than changing his station. That’s one of the beliefs I choose to consecrate my life to.” (ch. 45). This is probably the most clear statement of Felix’s goal in life in the book. Unfortunately, though we are given plenty of instances of Felix talking about what he desires in life, we aren’t shown the application. As a result, I didn’t get as clear a picture of him as I would have liked.


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 third volume of Felix Holt here: “?”.

Illustration: “‘Let me go, you scoundrel,’ said Harold fiercely, ‘or I’ll be the death of you.’” (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons.)

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