George Eliot and the Conflict of Interpretations: A Reading by David Carroll

By David Carroll

Types of George Eliot, either influential, have emerged from the examine of her existence and paintings. One is the unconventional Victorian philosopher, formidably realized in a complete variety of highbrow disciplines; the opposite is the reclusive novelist, celebrating via her fiction the communal values which have been being eroded within the sleek international. This chronological examine of the novels brings the 2 jointly and areas her in the drawback of trust and cost acted out within the mid-nineteenth century. George Eliot observed this predicament as certainly one of interpretation, in a bright, nearly apocalyptic expertise that conventional modes of studying the realm have been breaking down irrevocably. This examine indicates how, in reaction, she redefined the character of Victorian fiction, trying out to the purpose of destruction various Victorian myths, orthodoxies and ideologies in every one of her novels.

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In her intense grief, George Eliot spent six months of careful labour preparing the rough manuscript drafts for the press. Collins shows how in this process she thoroughly re-examined and to some extent revised Lewes's central conclusions about the moral sense. In doing so, it seems, she was seeking to re-assert the centrality of the true hypothetical method in the moral life. In the nineteenth-century controversy between the utilitarians and the intuitionists, George Eliot clearly felt that Lewes had misrepresented the situation by coming down too firmly on the side of the former, underestimating the 'a priori principles that make moral experience intelligible in the first place'.

This is Barton's significance. He is the open space where competing social and religious forces meet without interacting and without resolution. This is the reason why, though middling to the nth degree, he fails as a 'medium' between conflicting ideas and conflicting social groups in the community. All the warring elements are present in his character in suspension and so he remains inchoate, without identity. In fact, the whole story can be 41 42 George Eliot and the conflict of interpretations seen as a play on the words 'middling', 'medium', 'mediocrity', with Barton's conversion conducting him from middlingness to mediation.

This central discontinuity prevents him becoming the kind of comic 'character' George Eliot's more conventional readers are hoping for, but whose naive expectations are firmly dealt with. The story is full of such briefly typical characters, ranging from the doctor to the gallery of grotesques in the workhouse, but Barton is not allowed to congeal into such an intelligible mould. Is there any way in which he can become coherent to himself and intelligible to the bewildered community? The 'mongrel' is married to a 'madonna' who represents everything missing from Barton's fragmentary, contradictory life of projects, bustle, and fads.

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