Danielle Charette and Michael Wolf
Week XII Outline
April 8, 2013
George Eliot’s Middlemarch
I. Are there noticeable differences between Eliot’s Middlemarch (1864) and Mill on the Floss (1860)? Has she “matured” as an author?
a. Move from one family in Mill to task of representing entire community
i. Compare with ending in Mill
1. Ongoing Victorian ambiguity when it comes to endings?
2. Concluding with rivers
b. More of less of a “silly” novel by a lady novelist?
c. Character portrait of Dorothea – Can we make any guesses about character in this novel?
i. Christina’s Close Reading: “The description of Dorothea is odd. It appears to be a physical description of her beautiful appearance, but deals more with her mind and her character.”
II. Complex Character Relations
a. The Middlemarch “species”
b. The novel’s sheer length
i. Moving away from the lending libraries—wanting readers to buy rather than borrow
c. Convoluted marriage ties
i. Were Dorothea and Lydgate the only functional pair (who never actually were)?
d. The role of arbitrary chance in the plot
III. Eliot’s structure and elaborate paratext
a. Epigraphs (attributed and unattributed)
b. Prelude and finale
i. Three paragraphs in prelude
1. Question of social life: individuality and collectivity
a. How is this linked to gender and the “history of man”?
2. Thinking about the figure of Saint Teresa as framing the novel
ii. Prelude’s parallel with the ending
c. 86 chapters
d. “Readers’ fondness for quoting Eliot can ultimately be traced to the structure of her own narratives, punctuated with epigraphs and lapidary generalizations” (Price 105)
e. Price’s argument about anthologizing
i. Is Eliot actually well-suited for anthologies and mass-generalizations?
ii. Do her best literary achievements occur independently of plot?
f. Paratextual material maps out the margins of Middlemarch. Divided into eight books and eighty-six chapters, and bookended by a prelude and a finale, the novel itself contains a plethora of classificatory forms and organizational schemata. Among these ordering principles, the collected epigraphs and “mottos” that preface each chapter serve as paratextual synopsis (Sierra 2).
IV. Objects and Order in Middlemarch
a. Sierra’s Seminar Paper: Examining the epistemological implications of this structure– the order of orders in Middlemarch– requires a wider-angled approach, one that looks not at the text as a whole but at the paratext around it (2).
b. Eliot’s profuse detail and emphasis on furniture in the context of Barthes’s “Reality Effect”
i. Differences between Dorothea, Celia, and Rosamond and their interactions with material goods
1. Rosamond’s entire psychological state as attached to material objects
2. Dorothea and philanthropy (planning of “cottages,” donation to the hospital)
c. Scientific ordering
i. Farebrother’s “neat fitting-up of drawers and shelves and the bookcase filled with expensive illustrated books on natural history” (187)
ii. Faith in religion versus science
1. Eg. Vicar Farebrother’s “belief in the antipodes” (190).
2. “Science is properly more scrupulous than dogma. Dogma gives a charter to mistake, but the very breath of science is a contest with mistake and must keep conscience alive” (793-4)
iii. Mr. Casaubon’s obsessive library studies and scientific approach to his Key of All Mythologies
V. Each character’s escapist strategy for overcoming mundane Middlemarch life
a. Attempts at individualizing their environment
i. Dorothea: the educated ideal
ii. Lydgate: medical accomplishment—without medicine
1. Disconnect between work and homelife
iii. Rosamond: aristocratic imagination
1. Marrying someone other than Middlemarch man
iv. Ladislaw: pining after Dorothea
b. Miller’s argument about each character’s subjective vision
i. The role of metaphors in totalizing (or destabilizing) the text
ii. Danielle’s Criticism Summary: “Given their own subjective vision, Eliot’s characters encounter radical distortions of the world, in which they see only reflections of their own egotistical desires. Dangerously, the individual encounters an intricate ‘web of his own subjective visions” (Danielle 2)
a. Examples: Dorothea and Casaubon
i. Jeanette’s Close Reading: “[Dorothea] is mysterious and provocative to the male characters, who want to marry her, and to the female characters, who don’t understand her”
Others: Lydgate and Rosamond, James and Celia, The Garths
VII. Competing professions
a. How has the idea of “profession” changed throughout the course?
i. The novel and the construction of concept of profession
b. The Church v. Medicine v. farming v. banking
c. What distinguishes dignified work?
i. What is the role of education in dignified work?
ii. Character of Fred and his impractical education
d. Which profession is most privileged in the novel?
VIII. Relationship between political framing and representation of social classes
a. Backdating to early 1830’s
i. What do the 1830’s permit in terms of Eliot’s “Natural History of German Life”?
b. History of the Reform Bill
IX. The effects of indebtedness
a. Indebtedness drives the plot and binds characters to one another
i. Gambling at Green Dragon
b. Bulstrode’s fortune as “profits made out of lost souls” (661)
c. Does Eliot offer a commentary on capitalism (eg. social disruptions of the railroad), or simply individual decision-making?
d. Economics and social classes
i. Freedgood on commodity fetishes and symbolic value
1. Miriam’s Criticism Summary: “A key effect of Eliot’s underdetermination, which relies on a dense amount of cultural capital, is that it restricts readers to their correct social space by what knowledge is required to fully comprehend the allusions.”
2. Does Eliot successfully offer us a “moral philosophy”?