In George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860), a young Maggie Tulliver is somewhat perplexed to learn that her father’s head miller is not interested in knowing more of his ‘fellow creatures’ such as Dutchmen, a topic she feels she is pretty knowledgeable about, having read the hugely successful children’s travel picture book, Pug’s Tour Through Europe; or the Travell’d Monkey (1824). It is one of the many books embedded in this novel, and serves on the one hand to (further) demonstrate how Maggie’s identity is in some sense constructed out of what she reads, and on the other, subtly to historicize the narrative Eliot is telling, by particularizing the cultural practices of her characters, placed as they are in pre-Victorian provincial Lincolnshire rather than the metropolitan modernity in which the novel was written. Eliot, the implied author, stands with her implied readers to the side of this exchange, approving of Maggie’s attempt at the humanistic education of the parochial Luke, but also laughing, from the perspective of the more complete cosmopolitan, at her failure of imagination to think beyond the stereotypes her children’s book has offered her. (For more on Pug’s Tour see C. C. Barfoot (1997).
“But if I lent you one of my books, Luke? I’ve not got any very pretty books that would be easy for you to read; but there’s ‘Pug’s Tour of Europe,’–that would tell you all about the different sorts of people in the world, and if you didn’t understand the reading, the pictures would help you; they show the looks and ways of the people, and what they do. There are the Dutchmen, very fat, and smoking, you know, and one sitting on a barrel.”
“Nay, Miss, I’n no opinion o’ Dutchmen. There ben’t much good i’ knowin’ about them.”
“But they’re our fellow-creatures, Luke; we ought to know about our fellow-creatures.”
“Not much o’ fellow-creaturs, I think, Miss; all I know–my old master, as war a knowin’ man, used to say, says he, ‘If e’er I sow my wheat wi’out brinin’, I’m a Dutchman,’ says he; an’ that war as much as to say as a Dutchman war a fool, or next door. Nay, nay, I aren’t goin’ to bother mysen about Dutchmen. There’s fools enoo, an’ rogues enoo, wi’out lookin’ i’ books for ’em.”