Mahawatte explores George Eliot‘s use of the Gothic in Middlemarch (1871–72) and in particular the literary connections between Dorothea Casaubon and the heroine of the Gothic novel. He argues that Eliot has a conflicting relationship with this figure, at once wanting to satirize her, and yet also deploying Gothic images and resonances to add an authenticity of affect to her social commentary. Using Jerold E. Hogle‘s idea that the Gothic re-fakes what is already read as a copy, Mahawatte presents Dorothea as a quasi-reproduction of Sophia Lee‘s heroines in The Recess; or, A Tale of Other Times (1783–85) and also as part of a Gothic process within a social realist novel.
drives the development of the post-Romantic novel. 7
The matters raised here involve complex issues in literary history, particularly with respect to narrators and characters and the new technologies of nineteenth-century narrative fiction. In this chapter, though, I will confine myself to a discussion of two of the most fully achieved and most commonly discussed English novels from the mid-nineteenth century, Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1860–61) and George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871–72). And I will focus my discussion further by
This book argues that ignorance is part of the narrative and poetic force of literature, as well as an important aspect of its thematic focus: ignorance is what literary texts are about. The author argues that the dominant conception of literature since the Romantic period has involved an often unacknowledged engagement with the experience of not knowing. From Wordsworth and Keats to George Eliot and Charles Dickens, from Henry James to Joseph Conrad, from Elizabeth Bowen to Philip Roth and Seamus Heaney, writers have been fascinated and compelled by the question of ignorance, including their own. The book argues that there is a politics and ethics, as well as a poetics, of ignorance: literature's agnoiology, its acknowledgement of the limits of what we know both of ourselves and of others, engages with the possibility of democracy and the ethical, and allows us to begin to conceive of what it might mean to be human.
it and them head on and with feeling. He hated the bureaucracy that had enveloped it, the committees, the officers – and the exploitation that went with it, Mr Honeythunder being served by ‘a miserably shabby and underpaid stipendiary Philanthropist (who could hardly have done worse if he had taken service with a declared enemy of the human race)’. Above all, Dickens took exception to the platform style of public philanthropy.
George Eliot in Middlemarch (1871) was equally wide-ranging in her criticism of philanthropy. In her extended portraits of two types of
, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (1874)1
n G eorge E li ot ’ s celeb rat ed novel, Middlemarch, the young
and idealistic doctor, Tertius Lydgate, enters upon his career as a provincial general practitioner with hope, expectation and not a little pride. Schooled
in the avant-garde anatomo-clinical methods of Edinburgh and Paris, he
intends to make a great contribution to medical science, to move beyond
the pioneering work of the French anatomist, Xavier Bichat, and discover
the essential ‘primitive tissue’ from which the structures of the human body
those of Oliphant seem less ambitious and have fewer ‘serious’ intentions than a work by Eliot – in whose shadow Oliphant forever felt herself. It is part of the scheme of Middlemarch to explore just how we do relate ourselves and our lives to ‘the bigger picture’, and is a theme that runs through Eliot’s other work. A passage from her The Impressions of Theophrastus Such demonstrates the drive to get at the widest significance of human behaviour:
The most arrant denier must admit that a man often furthers larger ends than he is conscious of, and that while
seemingly adrift in narratological possibility (like in Brontë’s Villette, or perhaps Great Expectations).8
The ‘progressive end’ is one that steps into the future beyond the
immediate scope of the novel to explain, or merely suggest, the destinies
of its characters (like Middlemarch or James’s Washington Square).9 The
‘present end’ is a narrative that ceases without venturing into the future.
The most obvious and justifiable criticism of such an endeavour is that
it is not possible to discuss meaningfully the endings that occur in all
Victorian fiction. Such an
curiously prescient that the young reader/writer should articulate and admire this
observed quality in the older novelist which was to be so fatally lacking in
Edward Casaubon, in the yet unwritten Middlemarch, and so malignantly
perverted in Gilbert Osmond in the Portrait of a Lady. Dorothea Brooke
and Isabel Archer could both be said to long for ‘knowledge so ample and
active’ as indeed the heroines of his little clutch of stories already showed
interesting signs of doing – and continued to do throughout his work.
Reviewing Felix Holt sent James back to George Eliot in
-important lawsuit: ‘There are certain animals to which tenacity of position is a law of life – they can never flourish again after a single wrench: and there are certain human beings to whom predominance is a law of life and who can only sustain humiliation so long as they can refuse to believe in it, and, in their own conception, predominate still’ (Eliot: 2003 : 207). Even at the end of Middlemarch the narrator observes: ‘For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it’ (Eliot: 1965 : 896).
-consciously dominant artistic mode, but for the moment let us accept Realism on its own terms and look at how novels carried out this mission to faithfully mirror everyday reality. We focus on just a few of the main considerations for the Realist novel – setting, description and characterisation – before turning to a second principle.
The subtitle of George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch is A Study of Provincial Life , and this directs the reader to the fact that a certain type of social environment is the unifying feature and central focus of attention for the novel. This