Literature / Silly Novels by Lady Novelists

"She is the ideal woman in feelings, faculties, and flounces."

"Silly Novels By Lady Novelists" is an essay written by George Eliot in 1856, in which she skewers so many Common Mary Sue Traits it's amazing—everything from her beautiful singing voice to her hordes of admirers to her astounding intellect.

You can read it here.

Tropes diagnosed in this essay (not all of them Mary Sue Tropes, actually):

  • Altum Videtur
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: One of the characters Eliot says are almost invariably present is "a vicious baronet" who subjects her to plots and intrigues, but have no worries, for he is "sure to be killed in a duel" before he can do her any lasting damage.
  • Author Tract
  • The Beautiful Elite
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished:
    ...whatever vicissitudes she may undergo, from being dashed out of her carriage to having her head shaved in a fever, she comes out of them all with a complexion more blooming and locks more redundant than ever.
  • Big Fancy House
  • Blue Blood
  • Bold Inflation
  • Character Filibuster:
    We have often met with women much more novel and profound in their observations than Laura Gay, but rarely with any so inopportunely long-winded.
  • Curse
  • Dances and Balls
  • Deathbed Confession
  • Death of the Hypotenuse
  • Designated Heroinvoked
  • Distressed Dude
  • Duel to the Death
  • Easy Evangelism: In "Adonijah, a Tale of the Jewish Dispersion," the Jewish hero and his friends become "converted to Christianity after the shortest and easiest method approved by the 'Society for Promoting the Conversion of the Jews.'"
  • Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry
  • Genius Book Club
  • Gilded Cage
  • Historical Fiction
  • Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance: Elliot suggests that the authors in question are so impressed by their own education and literacy that they don't realize how trite their ideas are or how poor their writing really is. She says that female authors with more skill and self awareness don't publish their writing at all; those with more than that write books which are actually good.
  • Improbable Age
  • Informed Ability: Particularly her intellect. Eliot does praise one author for realizing this and keeping it off-screen, which makes the dialog much more readable than that of authors who try to write their heroines as smarter than themselves.
  • Little Professor Dialog
  • Long-Lost Relative
  • Love at First Sight
    "They see her at a ball, and they are dazzled; at a flower-show, and they are fascinated; on a riding excursion, and they are witched by her noble horsemanship; at church, and they are awed by the sweet solemnity of her demeanor."
  • Love Dodecahedron
  • Made a Slave
  • Mary Sue: invoked Particularly Canon Sue, as all the works are technically original fiction.
  • Melodrama
  • Moral Myopia
  • Most Writers Are Adults: Eliot takes a moment to skewer a story that includes a four-and-a-half year old child talking in Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.
  • Nice Guy: The designated hero of the Evangelical white neck-cloth species.
  • Omniglot:
    "Of course! Greek and Hebrew are mere play to a heroine; Sanscrit is no more than a-b-c to her; and she can talk with perfect correctness in any language, except English. She is a polking polyglot, a Creuzer in crinoline." note 
  • Parental Marriage Veto
  • Period Piece
  • Pimped-Out Dress
  • Purple Prose
  • Rags to Royalty
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness
  • Small Reference Pools: While the depiction of the upper classes is unrealistic, the writers in question display utter ignorance of the rest of society.
  • Starving Artist: Invoked as if subverted; the essay claims, ironically, that the romantic notion that lady novelists are poor but determined women writing to make a living is subverted by the upper crust settings. Later, dealing with a specific author, she observes that the dialog she writes shows her to be lower middle class.
  • Stock Aesop: Discussed:
    There is a striking resemblance, too, in the character of their moral comments, such, for instance, as that "It is a fact, no less true than melancholy, that all people, more or less, richer or poorer, are swayed by bad example;" that "Books, however trivial, contain some subjects from which useful information may be drawn;" that "Vice can too often borrow the language of virtue;" that "Merit and nobility of nature must exist, to be accepted, for clamor and pretension cannot impose upon those too well read in human nature to be easily deceived;" and that "In order to forgive, we must have been injured." There is doubtless a class of readers to whom these remarks appear peculiarly pointed and pungent; for we often find them doubly and trebly scored with the pencil, and delicate hands giving in their determined adhesion to these hardy novelties by a distinct très vrai, emphasized by many notes of exclamation.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Eliot expresses worry that people will take bad novels as proof that women as a whole are too dumb to be worth educating, since all it's apparently done for the authors is give them Delusions of Eloquence.
  • Virgin Power
  • Wrong Guy First