Saturday, June 14, 2014

Edward Casaubon as self-portrait

I am happy to accept Casaubon as a compound of George Eliot’s self-knowledge, self-criticism, elements from other difficult temperaments with which she was acquainted, and material fresh from her own mint. The choice of the name Casaubon for her character is not commented on in her extant writings. Like her Mr Casaubon, the Elizabethan Isaac Casaubon was a theological and classical scholar; unlike his fictional namesake, Isaac published many scholarly works of exegesis and was what Middlemarch’s Mr Casaubon aspired in vain to be, namely an internationally acclaimed scholar (his contemporary Joseph Scaliger described him as “the most learned man alive”). A subtle and not completely unsympathetic irony is observable in George Eliot’s gift of the name to her troubled character.

- Rosemary Ashton