From The Atlantic Monthly:
[Ed. note: This review was originally published in the Atlantic Monthly, June 1860.]
IT is not difficult to understand how the reader’s attention may be attracted and his interest retained by a romance of the old chivalrous days whose very name and dim memory fill the mind with fascinating images, or by a novel whose high-born characters claim sympathy for their dignified sorrows and refined delights, or whose story is illuminated by the light of artistic culture and adorned with gems of rhetoric and fine fancy; but it is sometimes surprising to observe the favor which attends a simple tale of humble, unobtrusive, we might almost say insignificant people, whose plane of life appears nowhere to coincide with our own, and to whom romance and passion seem entirely foreign. Such a tale was Adam Bede, whose great success as a literary venture hardly yet belongs to the chronicle of the past; such a tale is also The Mill on the Floss, by the author of Adam Bede, and such, we are confident, will also be its success.
Both books have many elements in common, but the second is the greater work of art, and indicates more fairly the scope and vigor of the author’s mind. It is written in the same pure, hardy style, strong with Saxon words that admit of no equivocation or misunderstanding; it is illustrated with sketches of outward Nature and tranquil rural beauty, none the less vivid or truthful that they are drawn with the pen rather than the brush; and it is instinct with an honest, high-souled purpose. In these respects it resembles Adam Bede, but in others it surpasses its predecessor. It displays a far keener insight into human passion, a subtler analysis of motives and principles, and it suggests a mental and a moral philosophy nobler in themselves and truer to humanity and religion. The pathos, too, is more genuine; for it is not based upon the mere utterance of grief or of entreaty, — which the eloquent and the artful may, indeed, feign, — but it is found in that skilful combination of material circumstance and spiritual influence which impresses upon the feeling, more than it proves to the reason, that the hour of heart-break is at hand, and which depends less for its effect upon the dramatic power of the imagination than upon the instant sympathy of the soul.
More here. (Note: To this day, it remains one of my favorite and frequently re-read books!)