George Eliot's Middlemarch is perhaps the single most important document of the nineteenth-century English novel's aspiration to intellectual seriousness. Famously praised by Virginia Woolf in 1919 as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people," Middlemarch's critical status—indeed, its status as a kind of criticism in its own right—has only increased in subsequent years. In Barbara Hardy's assessment, Eliot's masterwork is "the first English novel to analyse the psychology of historical consciousness," and James Buzard has more recently argued that the book embodies the "autoethnographic project of grasping an English culture in its densely integrated and self-regarding totality." But while Middlemarch is arguably the most perfect realization of the novel's ambition to present a historicized picture of the social whole, it is, more disturbingly, a book that seems reluctant to share these intellectual riches with its characters. The critical consensus as to Middlemarch's achievement is haunted by a sense that this is a distinctly punitive novel, one that purchases its intellectual and critical authority at the expense of its fictional inhabitants. J. Hillis Miller, in a representative formulation, contends that "the narrator of [Eliot's] novels claims for herself precisely that all-embracing breadth of vision . . . which is denied to the characters." Troublingly for an author whose highest value is the sympathetic imagination, Eliot [End Page 583] seems incapable of conceiving of characters who might be capable of conceiving of something like Middlemarch.
A collection of essays from the last twenty years entitled Otherwise Known as the Human Condition was published in the US in April 2011 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.
- This essay explores Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel Tom Jones, which many critics identify as one of the most important texts of 18th Century Literature.
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, with a central theme of censorship, was censored for years before the unknowing and enraged author insisted on a reprint that left every hell and damn exactly where he had placed it (Lancto, 2003). If authors can be censored, even in small ways, without their consent, and author’s long gone have absolutely no say in how their works are changed, then how can we consider their literature free and unrestricted? Instead, literature comes to be a mutated account that conforms with what the general population chooses to promote and leads to a community in which individuals are not challenged to think and reason for themselves. Dunn (1998) recognizes that a call to banning and censorship threatens fundamental freedoms, because restricting access to information “dilutes a critical thinking approach”. A system that practices censorship cannot continue to be free.
Woolf's offhand remark gets at the heart of what concerns me in this essay, the fraught relationship between novelistic eroticism and social understanding. I have turned to Middlemarch to examine those relations because the novel's treatment of its desiring heroine seems to exemplify George Levine's recent claim that the refusal of desire is central to nineteenth-century narratives of scientific validity. If Eliot is the most prominent English novelist to stake fiction's claim to status as a kind of historical sociology, this claim, we will see, appears founded on an abjecting of the desiring Dorothea. This essay interrogates the grounds on which that abjection occurs, in order both to reconceptualize the role desire plays in Middlemarch and to re-open the question of what critical capacities may be exercised in the practice of novel-reading itself. My contention is that the relations between character and narrator may only tell us a limited...
Geoff is the author of four novels: Paris Trance, The Search, The Colour of Memory, and Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; a critical study of John Berger, Ways of Telling; two collections of essays, Anglo-English Attitudes and Working the Room; and many genre-defying books: But Beautiful, The Missing of the Somme, Out of Sheer Rage, Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It, The Ongoing Moment, Zona, about Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, and Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H W Bush.
If Dorothea Brooke is the most poignant of Eliot's failed heroines, it is perhaps because her story is on the face of it a happy one. Middlemarch may be the first great English social novel, but it is also, as Joseph Allen Boone puts it, "one of the last great marriage novels to conform to the Shakespearean dictum that 'journeys end with lovers meeting.'" But Dorothea's union with Will Ladislaw may be part of her problem; her romantic satisfaction, Eliot suggests, is an index of her intellectual failure. Dorothea, we are told, is possessed of a "passionate desire to know and to think," but it is precisely through her submission to the erotic that her passion loses its intellectual predicates and becomes a mere affair of the self. It is Woolf who makes clearest that the erotic is the ground of Dorothea's exclusion from insight when she writes of "Dorothea seeking wisdom and finding one scarcely knows what in marriage to Ladislaw." The comment suggests that if Dorothea can function as the narrative focal point of Middlemarch's socio-historical understanding, she cannot be the bearer of that understanding—and more particularly that this inability is tied to her willingness to forsake her intellectual ambitions in return for a satisfied sexual desire.
When you’ve seen all three plays you’ve got a vision of the whole book, and although you could see them in any order, I think it’s best to see them in the right order.” As the plays open in staggered style, twenty days apart, bringing Beevers’ vision of Middlemarch to the Orange Tree will be a similarly long process, gently unfolding as the evenings darken from autumn to winter.