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This is the challenge thrown down to Esther Lyon, George Eliot's heroine in Felix Holt: The Radical (1866). Esther's "airs and graces", her proud and sensitive dreams of marrying into a life of refinement are transformed in the course of the novel, as she makes her choice between Harold Transome, who has returned to Treby Magna to claim his inheritance, Transome Court, and to campaign in the wake of the 1832 Reform Act for a Radical seat in Parliament, and Felix Holt, a young radical of a different kind. For this Penguin Classics edition Lynda Mugglestone provides an introduction, bibliography and notes, together with appendices on the legal background to the plot and on the "Address to Working Men, By Felix Holt."
When the young nobleman Harold Transome returns to England from the colonies with a self-made fortune, he scandalizes the town of Treby Magna with his decision to stand for Parliament as a Radical. But after the idealistic Felix Holt also returns to the town, the difference between Harold's opportunistic values and Holt's profound beliefs becomes apparent. Forthright, brusque and driven by a firm desire to educate the working-class, Felix is at first viewed with suspicion by many, including the elegant but vain Esther Lyon, the daughter of the local clergyman. As she discovers, however, his blunt words conceal both passion and deep integrity. Soon the romantic and over-refined Esther finds herself overwhelmed by a heart-wrenching decision: whether to choose the wealthy Transome as a husband, or the impoverished but honest Felix Holt.
George Eliot was born Mary Ann (Marian) Evans in 1819. After her mother died in 1836, Marian was her father's housekeeper, educating herself in her spare time. After moving to Coventry in 1841 she met progressive intellectuals and became managing editor of the Westminster Review in 1851. She lost her Christian faith and was alienated from her family, moving to London where she met the separated George Henry Lewes. They lived together until his death in 1878. During those years she wrote the fiction, journalism and philosophy she is remembered for under the pseudonym of George Eliot. Edited with an introduction and notes by Lynda Mugglestone