George Eliot is regarded as one of the 'giants' of Victorian literature, a critical evaluation which marks her out from the other women novelists in this study. Her placement in the 'great tradition' of nineteenth-century fiction has until lately tended to isolate her from specifically gender-oriented treatment. Without obscuring the importance of her formal artistry, recent critical discussions of her work have, however, stressed her significance as a woman writer concerned with issues of major concern to her own sex, an approach which has proved very fruitful.' Not only do her novels suggest a deep interest in the conditions of womanhood, but her own life reflects this interest, itself challenging many of the social and sexual creeds of her day. Her questioning of contemporary ideologies about women, while set in a wider social, political, and historical context than that of most Victorian women novelists, establishes her within the literary group which they represent, sharing assumptions and modes of articulation.