George Elliot Clarke’s Literary Talents: Beatrice Chancy

Beatrice Chancy is an opera written by the famous playwright and poetry critic, George Elliot. Set in the 18th century Britain, the play revolves around the life and transformation of a young girl into a woman. Beatrice was the daughter of a rich farmer, who owned several slaves. In her upbringing, the woman was kept out of rich of the slaves, who were, in essence, her subjects. Throughout her childhood, the father took a keen role in her upbringing. In the strange turn of events, the daughter falls in love with a slave boy, Lead, who was working at her father’s home. The couple is faced with myriads of challenges. In the end, they are accused of leading a revolt. Beatrice is hanged while Lead is shot. The opera depicts the mainstream countryside life in the historical England and the challenges of everyday living faced by the middle class (Percy, 2011). In addition, the artistic work shows the vast differences between the slave and their masters.

Cultural differentiation takes center-stage in the opera, as it is apparent from the clashes between the slaves and their masters. The story of Beatrice is one of a determined woman who broke the shackles of brutality from her father (Donna, 2004). The playwright further illustrates the struggle for independence. In the end, the British agents of justice hanged Beatrice for her alleged role in the revolt. Elliot excellently wrote the opera. Since its screening, the opera has gained worldwide appreciation due to its historical significance. Literary critics find the work of Elliot not only alluring but also informative. The tale is spun in excellent rhetoric and incorporates various literary devices that have made it a marvel of literature. The elements of rhetorical analysis are carefully incorporated in the play, to create a perfectly blending artistic piece.

To begin with, the author uses logos to bring out the various thematic components in the play. Ad populum is carefully utilized to underscore the problem of slavery (Donna, 2004). In the early 18th century, slavery was rife in Britain and other English colonies. Slaves were brought from India and Africa to work on white farms. As was the custom, the only wages slaves received were the meager food rations and dilapidated settlements given by their slave masters. In exchange, the slaves labored on their masters’ farms. The conditions under which the slaves worked were dehumanizing.  Slaves were treated as second-class human beings. Often, they were abused, ridiculed, or tortured for the slightest mistakes. The act of the maiden daughter of the slave master falling in love with a slave boy was viewed an abomination. It was unheard of for slaves and their masters to intermingle, let alone enter into sexual relations. The subject of slavery is clearly brought out in the narrative, using the most appealing language of the narrator. Instead of directly broaching the subject, the author resolves to address the conflicts between the two classes of people as the core component of slavery (Donna, 2004).

The narration is full of genetic fallacy, as the society represented in the narration seeks to portray the slaves as the evil elements in the community. Deriving from their lowly backgrounds, slaves were expected to serve their masters diligently and without question. Slaves, especially of the African origin were seen as generally dirty and undeserving of any human dignity. At any point, they were used as the symbol of lowliness, backwardness, illiteracy, and mediocrity (Percy, 2011). The depiction of slaves is greatly generalized. It is not lost to a critical reader that the opinions propagated about the slaves were merely a random bad experience, which is now used to castigate all the slaves. The fallacious generalizations make the society suppose that nothing good can come out of a slave. It is then a shocker when a maiden daughter of a wealthy slave master falls in love with a slave.

Elliot uses the rhetoric of song to make the rendition of the play interesting. Music in the narrative represents the various cultural systems of the people of Britain. Western classical music finds relevance in the narrative. From its composition to its performance, the Western classical music has a unique beat and rhythm unmatched with any other (Donna, 2004). Various literary critics such as Rolfe have explored the use of music in the play. Music plays in the background even before the start of the play. Similarly, the music played by the slaves of African origin is of a different tune. Culture is interwoven in the play and is manifested through music. Just as music brings together audiences of varied origins, it is expected that cultural differences can be bridged through connecting elements. In this case, music is a preferred connecting element. African-American spirituals, English ballads, and fiddle tunes are played in the different Acts of the play. The music, aside from signifying the cultural diversity of the society, makes the rendition more captivating by breaking the monotony of narration.

The narration uses literary devices to make the prose more captivating and to drive home some points. Elliot uses symbolism when referring to slavery and human equality. In the 18th century, the western society was greatly polarized. Discrimination was prevalent. The Europeans considered themselves first class citizens, with the Indians at second class and third class respectively. At this time, it was unheard of for Europeans to support any cause by Africans. Doing so would be tantamount to betraying the community, and such an action would be met with widespread condemnation or even eviction from the society (Percy, 20110). From the incident of Beatrice falling in love with Lead, the narrator shows that love can conquer class barriers and cultural differences. The act of the maiden lady falling for a person of lowly indisposition indicates that circumstances can change for either party at any given point in time. However, the eventual shooting of Lead and hanging of Beatrice signifies the challenges in trying to overcome biases. Irrespective of the great efforts mounted by one in trying to overcome a challenge, the situation may nevertheless remain unchanged.

In the play, direct quotes are used to lay more emphasis. Besides, the direct quotes improve the rendition of the play. The direct quotes complement the songs to make a perfect fit for an opera rendition (Donna, 2004). In its actual performance, the play evokes various emotions in the audience. To a large extent, the songs illustrate the dire conditions in which the slaves operate. This situation is reflected in the unfortunate events that befall slaves who try to uplift their social statuses. In the end, it appears that Lead is shot not majorly because he was in the wrong, but by virtue of slavery. A casual observer will be thrilled by intercultural music. To a literary critic, the various songs, poems, and direct quotes in the play appeal for help. The African-American tunes in their somber mood rendition signify the sadness in the lives of the slaves. The last Acts of the play appeal to the emotions of the audience to ride above mere class differences and defend a just cause in society. In the end, it is apparent that the author of the play wanted the audience to learn to view matters objectively, as opposed to being led by their prejudices and biases.

Beatrice Chancy is a neatly crafted piece of literature. The author has gone to large extents to reveal the rot in the society. Various themes emerge in the narration, including slavery, class difference, and social prejudices. In the end, the play shows that irrespective of the hardships in overcoming the present challenges, one can still emerge the victor. However, social prejudices stand in the way of one overcoming their odds. Sometimes, circumstances may make it impossible for one to beat the odds, but that should not mean that one has to give up. Using the rhetorical devices of ethos and logos, the author creates an excellent flow of ideas that build on the themes of slavery and emancipation. For instance, ad populum is effectively used to underscore the challenge of slavery. Symbolism is used to signify the logical endings of the incidences in the narration. For instance, the hanging of Beatrice signifies the hardships one will go through in a bid to secure freedom. Besides, song and poetry are used to break the monotony of narration, thus make the rendition interesting. Overly, Beatrice Chancy a literary masterpiece.


Donna, Z. (2004). Singing History, Performing race: An Analysis of Three Canadian Operas: Beatrice Chancy, Elsewhereless, and Louis Riel. Unpublished PhD. Thesis. University of Victoria.

Percy, O. (2011). “Tri-Freedom: The Libretti of George Elliot Clarke” in Oboe, A. & Bassi, S. (eds), Experiences of Freedom in Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures. Taylor & Francis.