Eliot, George: Title Commentary

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Felix Holt, the Radical

Felix Holt, the Radical


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SOURCE: Szirotny, June Skye. "'No Sorrow I Have Thought More About': The Tragic Failure of George Eliot's St. Theresa." Victorian Newsletter, 93 (spring 1998): 17-27.

In the following essay, Szirotny opposes the critical tendency to deny Eliot the status of a proto-feminist, arguing that Middlemarch is a feminist novel and a damnation of a society that is oppressive to women.

Whether George Eliot was in some sense a feminist has remained a moot question from her day to this. Though she knew "the supremacy of the intellectual life" (M lxxiii, IV:188)1 and obtained for herself a "masculine" vocation that was life itself to her,2 though she argued that women have a right to education and that those deprived of love have a special need for independent work (L V: 107; see also DD xxxvi, III: 96), she speaks guardedly of women's right to self-fulfillment, and ultimately allows none of her idealistic heroines meaningful occupation outside the home. Dinah Morris, Maggie Tulliver, and Dorothea Brooke each makes a "sad … sacrifice" of her yearning for an "epic life" (M, Finale, IV: 370; Prelude, I: v, vi); Janet Dempster, Romola de'Bardi, and Fedalma, deprived of love, do not find the work that women need to give them "joy in things for their own sake" (L V:107). While George Eliot laments their lack of fulfillment, she insists, especially in her early works, on its necessity.

Prior to the revival of interest in George Eliot in the fifties, most readers had seen her as conservative, if not retrograde, in advocating women's rights—"shar[ing] the conventional Victorian views of a woman's proper role" (Spacks 58).3 At the same time, readers have always seen Middlemarch as posing the Woman Question. And many, like Virginia Woolf, affected by George Eliot's seeming identification with her aspiring heroines,4 and by her criticism of the oppression women suffer, have sensed that she rebels against women's conventional roles.

Since the seventies, feminists interested in George Eliot have been preoccupied with trying to ascertain her precise position on the Woman Question. At first, feminists, looking for support in one who had successfully rebelled against society's strictures on a woman's pursuing a vocation outside marriage, but, persuaded, as Kate Millet says, that George Eliot's advocacy of women's right to vocations is little more than "an eloquent plea" (139), often denounced one by whom they felt betrayed.5 then, when her critics had exhausted the vein they worked, others began to reclaim George Eliot as one of them. Some argued that she infuses the conventionally feminine with dignity, rejecting the notion that women's different nature makes them inferior to men.6 Others suggested that she views women as intellectually equal to men and deserving of the same autonomy, though tempering her enthusiasm for women's pursuit of the vocations men enjoy.7

But no one has seen in George Eliot that "healthy anger" that Ellin Ringler regards as appropriate in an author who depicts the imbalance between male and female strength (59). No one disputes Françoise Basch's contention that George Eliot's awareness of woman's tragedy "never leads to militant feminism" (94), or Jeanie G. Thomas's that George Eliot's sensibility is not "a reforming one" (393; cf. 412).8 Without disputing that George Eliot is ambivalent, I want to suggest that she presents her most authentic view of the Woman Question in Middlemarch, and that that novel is a systematic indictment of a society that proscribes achievement for women—an indictment that tears at the very fabric of the social order. I shall show that, in Middlemarch, George Eliot denies that women do good by sacrificing, rather than fulfilling, themselves; and, demonstrating that men do appreciable good only when allowed to develop their own potentialities in a sympathetic environment, I will argue that she damns a society that deliberately deprives women of such an environment, only to satisfy its own selfish interests.


Though Dorothea yearns to find a channel for doing great good, she fails both in her chosen vocation as helpmate to her first husband and in her attempts to secure independent work. Readers have often explained her failure to do good to Casaubon, her first husband, by saying that she was selfishly concerned to do what she, rather than he, sees as helpful (see Harvey, "Intro." 14-16). But while George Eliot admires Dorothea's ultimate attainment of selflessness, she does not (always allowing for her ambivalence) confound this virtue with doing good, as in her early novels (where a superhuman ideal of selflessness only makes George Eliot irrelevant for the modern reader). On the contrary, she seems to make Dorothea conform to the nineteenth-century ideal of women as self-sacrificing in order to explode the common view and show that a woman does good by fulfilling herself—by following her bliss, to use Joseph Campbell's phrase (see, e.g., Hero's Journey 33, 63-66, 210-214).

Intending to do good by trying to make herself into the person Casaubon wants her to be, Dorothea, "shut[ting] her best soul in prison" (xlii, II: 374), becomes a veritable Griselda. But no sooner does she attain this character than she understands that her self-sacrifice will be useless. Prepared to pledge that she will carry on Casaubon's work after his death, she knows she is consigning herself "to work as in a treadmill fruitlessly" (xlviii, III: 94). Only after his death, when "Dorothea's native strength of will was no longer all converted into resolute submission" (liv, III: 198)—when, possibly superstitious, she writes him that she will not go on with his work: "I could not submit my soul to yours, by working hopelessly at what I have no belief in" (liv, III: 202)—does she do good.

All her major acts after Casaubon's death show her doing good by following her inner warrant in opposition to society, though readers often cite two of these acts as evidence that Dorothea has finally become self-sacrificing and submissive enough to do good. Learning that Lydgate's reputation is besmirched, she sets about clearing his name. In disregarding others' "cautious weighing of consequences" (lxxii, IV: 180), she is seemingly moved by the same self-sacrificing passion to do good as Fedalma envisions in disciples spending their all, even if vainly, to save Christ from the cross (SG I: 154). But doing good being what she likes, she is by no means disregarding her own will. "The idea of some active good within her reach 'haunted her like a passion,' and another's need having once come to her as a distinct image, preoccupied her desire with the yearning to give relief" (lxxvi, IV: 230). Moreover, Dorothea succeeds in helping Lydgate because, in following her own inner warrant, she ignores the world's opposition. George Eliot creates an entire chapter to show that Farebrother, James, Brooke, and Celia all object to Dorothea's involving herself in Lydgate's problems. Likewise, in order to carry out her crowning work of charity—the ministrations that save Rosamond's marriage—Dorothea, believing that Rosamond has robbed her forever of all joy, must clutch her own pain. Yet because "[s]he yearned towards the perfect Right" (lxxx, IV: 282), her apparent self-denial is self-fulfillment—"self-forgetful ardour" (lxxxi, IV: 293). Furthermore, George Eliot seems bent on suggesting that Dorothea acts in opposition to public opinion. Even though no third person presumably knows what Dorothea says to Rosamond, George Eliot says that if Dorothea had not undertaken to save Rosamond, "why, she perhaps would have been a woman who gained a higher character for discretion, but it would certainly not have been as well for [Rosamond, Lydgate, and Ladislaw]" (lxxxii, IV: 309). Finally, defying both Casaubon's and society's proscription, she marries Ladislaw. And because she could have liked nothing better than that she should give Ladislaw "wifely help," she becomes the helpmate Casaubon had rejected, living a life of "beneficent activity" (Finale, IV: 366, 365) by fulfilling herself.

When Dorothea follows her own passionate impulses, she does the good that her renunciations do not accomplish. But despite her ardor, she never succeeds in building cottages, becoming learned, or founding a village. At the end of the novel, she tells her sister that she could never do anything she liked (lxxxiv, IV: 340). What good she accomplishes is "not widely visible" (Finale, IV: 371). And since George Eliot sees doing good as the summum bonum, she laments Dorothea's failure—laments it especially because it is not in "the supreme unalterable nature of things" ("Address to Working Men" 10).


Asking herself in this novel what in the nature of things enables one to do good, George Eliot argues that success requires commitment to follow one's "inward vocation" (L VI: 438; FH xxvii, II: 181), which in turn requires sympathetic support, especially of a spouse. Ranging over the whole of her society in this "Study of Provincial Life," she depicts each of her main male characters as encountering difficulties at the outset of his career that tempt him to succumb to the pressures of the world—either to ignore "the voices within" (xv, I: 254) in choosing a vocation, or to get entangled in money cares that cause him to abandon his calling. Only by marrying "a good unworldly woman" (xvii, I: 314) whom he cherishes as a partner—an intellectual equal—can he weather the battle with the Adam within and without (see xvii, I: 311-12), and succeed. He who marries one unsympathetic to his concerns or one his equal whom he refuses to regard as a partner—because supported in his vanity by tradition and a priori assumptions that women are ornaments, toys, or nurses—fails. Whereas, in Felix Holt, Esther says the lot of a woman depends on the love she accepts (xliii, III: 149-50; cf. M xxv, II: 58), in Middlemarch, George Eliot says the lot of a man depends on the love he accepts (see xv, I: 257).

Different as they are, Lydgate, Casaubon, Bulstrode, and Farebrother, for want of sharing their concerns with a sympathetic wife, all abandon their true vocations and so fail.

Classmates surely would have voted for Lyd-gate as the man most likely to succeed. "He was one of the rarer lads who early get a decided bent and make up their minds that there is something particular in life which they would like to do for its own sake, and not because their fathers did it" (xv, I: 253). Despite opposition from his guardian, Lydgate in pursuing medicine, which he considers "the grandest profession in the world" (xlv, III: 53; cf. xv, I: 258), is, as Farebrother says, "in the right profession, the work you feel yourself most fit for" (xvii, I: 314). But Lydgate never becomes another Vesalius. For when he tries to enlist his wife's aid, she, not identifying her interests with his, sabotages every one of his expedients for paying their creditors, with the result that he capitulates to the way of the world, renouncing his aspirations in order to amass money. Giving adornment "the first place among wifely functions" (xi, I: 163) and supposing it characteristic "of the feminine mind to adore a man's pre-eminence without too precise a knowledge of what it consisted in" (xxvii, II: 77), Lydgate supposed he had found the ideal wife in a conventional, small-souled woman. Too late he learns that to have married help, not care, he must have been able to accord equality to a wife who, like Dorothea, would share his concerns.9

Casaubon, regarding his scholarship as "an outward requirement," by which he is to acquit himself in the eyes of others (xxix, II: 102), is driven by none of Lydgate's enthusiasm for his work. But, having married a good unworldly woman, he, unlike Lydgate, has help at hand. "[A]nxious to follow [the] spontaneous direction of his thought" (xx, I: 357), Dorothea might have enabled him to refocus his energies; "in spite of her small instruction, her judgment in this matter [of his opus] was truer than his" (xlviii, III: 92). But the same male ego that kept Lydgate from choosing a proper wife keeps Casaubon from seeing in his wife the "heaven-sent angel" (xlii, II: 372) he needs. Like Lydgate, having married "to adorn his life with the graces of female companionship, to irradiate the gloom which fatigue was apt to hang over the intervals of studious labour with the play of female fancy, and to secure … the solace of female tendance for his declining years" (vii, I: 104); and expecting his wife to observe "his abundant pen-scratches and amplitude of paper with the uncritical awe of an elegant-minded canary-bird" (xx, I: 363), he regards one who exhibits a mind as something he had to contend against (see xxix, II: 105), and thus he "achieve[s] nothing" (xlii, II: 357).

Bulstrode likewise fails because, like Casaubon, he seeks mastery in marriage and rejects the wifely help at hand. Like Lydgate, he early felt called to his work, but, seduced by the opportunity to make easy money that ultimately leads him to disgrace, he abandoned his dream of becoming a missionary. Candor with his first wife, "a simple pious woman" (lxi, III: 348), would have saved him by forcing him to give up a dishonest trade.

Like Lydgate, Farebrother is a clever man who does not fulfill the promise of his nature (see motto to xvii, I: 301). Possibly influenced by a dominating mother, whose father was a clergyman, he took "the fatal step of choosing the wrong profession" (xl, II: 333). Without interest in the Church, he is no more than "a decent makeshift" of a clergyman (xvii, I: 316). In love with Mary Garth and conscious that a woman may play so important a part in a man's life that "to renounce her may be a very good imitation of heroism" (lxvi, IV: 75), he might well have turned out differently if he had had Fred's luck in winning her. But he did not win her, and he cannot do anything remarkable.10

Those who succeed are no more ambitious or able, no less liable to difficulties, than those who fail. But Caleb Garth, Fred Vincy, and Will Ladislaw succeed because, truly loving one who identifies her interests with his, each is able to stay focused on his true vocation.

Garth, motivated by his love of "business" (xxiv, II: 45; xl, II: 329; see also lvi, III: 238-39; lxxxvi, IV: 354), has pursued the work that had early been to him as poetry, philosophy, and religion (xxiv, II: 44-45)—the work that he regards as "the most honourable work that is" (xl, II: 329; see also xl, II: 321). But unable to manage finances, he once failed in his business (xxiii, II: 8). Only because he leaned on his exemplary wife, who "[a]doring her husband's virtues" (xxiv, II: 29), devoted herself to supporting his aims, did he ultimately succeed. Only because he so much respected his wife's opinion that he took no important step without consulting her—in fact, allowed her to rule in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred (lvi, III:247)—did he survive his money difficulties to become another Cincinnatus. As Farebrother says, without the partnership with his wife, Garth would hardly have pulled through (xvii, I: 314). With the partnership, Caleb, like his Biblical namesake, sees the promised land.

Fred, at the beginning of the novel, is as unpromising as Lydgate is promising. Desirous of feeding "a good appetite for the best of everything" (xii, I: 210), and pressured by parents to follow a genteel profession, he threatens to follow Bulstrode in letting the desire for money determine his vocation. But "thoroughly in love" (xiv, I: 248) with one who makes the condition of marriage with him renunciation of both his extravagant habits and a vocation in the Church for which he has neither taste nor aptitude, he takes up farming for which he has a penchant. Because he cherishes the love of a good, enlightened woman, he succeeds in becoming a distinguished farmer.

Ladislaw, not having early discovered his vocation, resists pressure that would make him "submissive to ordinary rule" (ix, I: 138)—in settling in a solid profession. Understanding that "[o]ur sense of duty must often wait for some work which shall take the place of dilettanteism [sic]" (xlvi, III: 59), he awaits "those messages from the universe which summon [genius] to its peculiar work" (x, I: 141; see also 142). But, abundant only "in uncertain promises" (xlvii, III: 78), though brilliant (xxxvii, II: 246; lxii, III: 369), he might have remained a dilettante but for his dread of doing what the woman he worships would disapprove (xxxvii, II: 263, 265; lxxvii, IV: 251). Without hope of winning Dorothea, he not only thinks to work at "the first thing that offers" (lxii, III: 377), but, dallying with a married woman, sees himself sliding "into that pleasureless yielding to the small solicitations of circumstance" (lxxix, IV: 272) that destroys Lydgate. With hope of winning Dorothea, he disentangles himself from Rosamond's snares and refuses to compromise himself by accepting Bulstrode's ill-gotten money (lxi, III: 362; lxxxiii, IV: 318). Married to Dorothea, he fulfills his dream of becoming an important reformer (see li, III: 146). For, humble enough to take "the pressure of [everyone's] thought instead of [like Casaubon] urging his own with iron resistance" (l, III: 126), and so respecting Dorothea's opinion (see xxii, I: 385; xxxvii, II: 251) that his feeling for her was "like the inheritance of a fortune" (xlvii, III: 74), he makes a partner of his wife. Readers who judge Ladislaw unworthy of Dorothea because of his dilettantism and dependence on a beloved woman are approving the conformist values George Eliot contemns.

None of her usual ambivalence infects the answer George Eliot gives in these stories to the question what enables one to do good. At the height of her career in 1871, she is writing out of experience that made her believe "devoutly in a natural difference of vocation" (xxii, I: 405) and in the worker's need for a sympathetic spouse. Unattached and lonely for years, during which she lost hope of ever fulfilling her dream of writing a novel (L II: 406), during which she could scarcely envision any future for herself except as the lamp-holder Dorothea aspires to,11 Mary Ann Evans became George Eliot only because, faithful to her "inward vocation,"12 she linked her life to one who, caring more for her work than for his own (see L II: 260; III: 179; IV: 59; V: 175, 215, 261, 322; VI: 380), anxiously watched over her career. Having refused a marriage that would have "involve[d] too great a sacrifice of her mind and pursuits" (L I: 184)—having understood the difficulty for "a woman [to] keep her steadfastness / Beneath a frost within her husband's eyes / Where coldness scorches" ("Armgart" ii, Legend, 1st ed., 110)—George Eliot succeeded because she formed a liaison with one whose "perfect love and sympathy" stimulated her to "healthful activity" (L II: 343).


The stories of George Eliot's male characters suggest that Dorothea Casaubon fails to effect great good because she can neither follow her bliss, except in befriending the Lydgates, nor secure her husband's approval. But why is Dorothea, married to Ladislaw—a sympathetic spouse, modelled on George Eliot's helpmate—"absorbed into the life of another" and "only known in a certain circle as a wife and mother" (Finale, IV: 366)? The answer is that the "epic life" she hungers after requires not only nurturing by a spouse but by society. Society's support is not lacking for the males in the novel, for an androcentric world approves of a man's pursuing a vocation, whereas it condemns a woman's ardor for meaningful work outside marriage as "extravagance" (Prelude, I: vii). And in a world where "the social air in which mortals begin to breathe" (Finale, IV: 370) lends no encouragement to the aspiring woman, where Dorothea's ardor finds no answering response in anyone but Ladislaw (xxii, I: 401; xxxvii, II: 252; see also xxviii, II: 89-90), she feels stymied. Never able to rally support for her projects (Celia regards Dorothea's interest in drawing plans for cottages as only a "favourite fad" [iv, I: 56]), she gives up. She says she might have done something better if she had been better, but no one in her environs "stated exactly what else that was in her power she ought rather to have done" (lxxxiv, IV: 342; Finale, IV: 366). In passages that enclose Dorothea's story—and George Eliot specifically directed a friend to the Prelude for an explanation of the story (L V: 330)—George Eliot plainly tells us that Dorothea fails because she cannot carve a life for herself outside "the framework of things" (xiii, I: 225).13 Forewarning us in the Prelude that Dorothea is a St. Theresa who is "helped by no coherent social faith and order" (I: vi), George Eliot explains in the Finale that Dorothea's "tragic failure" (Prelude, I: vi) is due to "the conditions of an imperfect social state" (Cabinet ed. III: 464), "[f]or there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it" (IV: 370; cf. SM iii, 40; FH iii, I: 88; see also MF VI, vi, III: 76; R xxi, VI: 577; M, motto to iv, I: 52).

Some strong souls will say that an unsympathetic environment is too simple-minded an explanation for Dorothea's failure. Assuming that genius will out regardless of circumstances, or perhaps unwilling to assume responsibility for having sent their infecting breath toward Dorothea (see xv, I: 257; see also Finale, IV: 370), some have insisted that Dorothea would have succeeded had she had the ability (as Maggie, had she had the initiative).14 But George Eliot stresses the worker's need for a sympathetic environment. In "Amos Barton," she had written, "That is a deep and wide saying, that no miracle can be wrought without faith—without the worker's faith in himself, as well as the recipient's faith in him. And the greatest part of the worker's faith in himself is made up of the faith that others believe in him" (ii, 7). In 1863, she commiserated with her friend Barbara Bodichon, who, living abroad, felt cut off from any artistic society that would help her and feed her faith:

It is hard to believe long together that anything is "worth while" unless there is some eye to kindle in common with our own, some brief word uttered now and then to imply that what is infinitely precious to us is precious alike to another mind. I fancy that, to do without that guarantee, one must be rather insane—one must be a bad poet, or a spinner of impossible theories or an inventor of impossible machinery.

(L IV: 119)15

In Middlemarch, George Eliot concerns herself with the influence of domestic conditions on success. But in other works, she shows that ardent men succeed or fail according as society smiles or frowns on them.16 The Rev. Mr. Tryan, supported by his congregation, does great good, but his pastoral work is cut short by his early death, due partially to his enemies' persecution of him; dependent on sympathy, suffering acutely from hatred and ridicule ("JR" viii, 203), and seeing death as the only escape (see xviii, 467), he "seemed bent on wearing himself out" (xi, 333). In "The Lifted Veil," written when George Eliot was suffering keenly over idle talk about her authorship, Latimer, endowed with the poet's sensibility but deprived of "the listening ear and answering soul"—suffering from "a fatal solitude of soul"—never becomes a poet: his nature "grew up in an uncongenial medium, which could never foster it into happy, healthy development" (i, 26). Savonarola is a formidable power as long as his party is dominant; when an antagonistic government imprisons him, he loses the faith in himself that no one, lacking external support, can sustain without "a stupid inflexibility of self-confidence" (R lxxi, VIII: 146), and withal his influence. Felix Holt, foiled by circumstances in which he is a lone voice crying in the wilderness, argues that he does not fear failure (FH xlv, III: 201), but, like Dorothea and George Eliot, he eventually moves away from his old home, presumably in search of a more sympathetic community. Zarca is, except for an assassin's blow, destined to save his people because he inspires their "savage loyalty" (SG V: 338). Daniel Deronda has good hopes of uniting his people because he feels supported by his ancestors and friends.

Except for Janet, who does not aspire to independent work, all George Eliot's ardent, idealistic heroines, who "care supremely for great and general benefits to mankind" (DD xlvi, III: 308), fail to find permanent, fulfilling work outside marriage because the world no more favors their aspirations than Dorothea's. Dinah gives up preaching when it is no longer sanctioned by the Wesleyan Conference. As "the only way of escaping opprobrium, and being entirely in harmony with circumstances" (MF I, xi, I: 193), Maggie renounces her aspirations for love and learning. Romola, commanded by Savonarola, abandons her hope to live as "an instructed woman" and devotes herself to charitable labors, for which "[s]he had no innate taste" (R xxxvi, VII: 25; xliv, VII: 294). Fedalma, obeying her father's commands, renounces love and undertakes the futile, and hence dreary, task of governing her people.

Behind George Eliot's insistence on the worker's need for sympathy lies her own insatiable need for it, which proceeds from insecurity so deep that she could write in 1859, "[I]t is so difficult to believe what the world does not believe, so easy to believe what the world keeps repeating" (L III: 44). Necessary as Lewes's constant support was to her, it was not sufficient. She craved universal praise. Her "extraordinary diffidence" (L V: 228) having kept her from writing for years, she was so depressed by adverse criticism that she could continue to write only by ignoring criticism. Lewes wrote in 1862, "A thousand eulogies would not give her the slightest confidence, but one objection would increase her doubts" (L IV: 58; see also III: 157, 164, 397; IV: 481; VI: 218, 224, 318). But even general popularity did not satisfy her after the early years of her authorship; she must have understanding and influence (see L III: 198; V: 213, 228, 229, 244, 245, 250, 367, 374; VI: 258, 379; Selections 370). Repeatedly she wrote her worshippers that their approval, after her husband's, was encouragement she desperately needed. Imagine, she wrote an admirer in 1866,

the experience of a mind morbidly desponding, of a consciousness tending more and more to consist in memories of error and imperfection rather than in a strengthening sense of achievement—and then consider how such a mind must need the support of sympathy and approval from those who are capable of understanding its aims.

(L IV: 300; see also II: 399-400; III: 6, 88, 170, 246, 393; IV: 248, 405, 434; V: 29, 185, 201, 229, 325, 358, 373; VI: 116, 226, 244, 394-95; Selections 370, 524)

The adulation did help to dissolve her "paralyzing despondency" (L V: 29). Lewes wrote Blackwood in response to the publisher's praise of Daniel Deronda, "Your note has been as good as a dose of quinine. As the drooping flower revives under the beneficent rain, so did her drooping spirits under your enthusiastic words" (L VI: 228). Though helplessly dependent on others' judgments—"I never think what I write is good for anything till other people tell me so" (L II: 260)—she came to have a sort of precarious belief in her power that enabled her to function. As Lewes wrote in 1871, when she was basking in the acclaim that followed publication of Book I of Middlemarch, "[S]he begins to feel that her life has indeed not been unavailing" (L V: 228). For while "[a]ll the ringing chorus of praise … does not stifle her doubt," "by repetition the curing influences tell, for they become massed, and … enable her to apperceive the fact that her books are something more than mere amusements" (L VI: 226; V: 228; see also II: 406; VI: 219).

Four of her characters, three in poems she wrote while working on Middlemarch or shortly after, and the other in the novel succeeding Middlemarch, suggest that the "excessive diffidence" (L IV: 58) that paralyzed her in the absence of sympathy is rooted in her neurotic character. Like George Eliot and Zarca (see SG I: 153; III: 251), all four fulfill their "Caesar's ambition" for a "[s]upreme vocation" ("Armgart" i, Legend, 1st ed., 77, 104) by determination to wrest success from a hostile world. But, deprived of their vocations and thus of the world's applause, they are assailed by guilt for the greatness they have secured by refusing to submit to the way of the world and "to be shapen after the average" (xv, I: 257). Recognizing the truth of the angel's words "'Twas but in giving that thou couldst atone / For too much wealth amid [others'] poverty," Jubal renounces his "little pulse of self" and accepts an ignominious death ("The Legend of Jubal," Legend 1st ed., 45, 38). Accepting the condemnation in her friend's asking, "Where is the rebel's right for you alone?" when there is "the mighty sum / Of claims unpaid to needy myriads" ("Armgart" v, Legend, Cabinet ed. 130), Armgart, reborn from "that monstrous Self" nurtured by her success, does penance by resigning herself to a life in which she feels herself "Beating upon the world without response" ("Armgart" v, Legend 1st ed., 140, 133). Arion expiates the "born kingship" ("Arion," Legend 1st ed., 237) that song confers on him, by consenting to his death. Though Leonora Alcharisi only temporarily loses her voice, she does not resume her glorious career. Behind her mysterious explanation—"I could not go back. All things hindered me—all things"—is loss of will begotten by guilt that she has pursued a career in defiance of her father and society. "I have been forced to obey my dead father," she says. "[E]vents come upon us like evil enchantments" (DD li, IV: 45, 29). With thunderous applause in her ears, George Eliot could forget that in writing she, like Leonora, was transgressing her family's and society's proscription against pursuing a vocation. But when the applause died away, then, aware that she had bought success by alienating the love that the child within her could not survive without, she ached for sympathy.


George Eliot's enormous need for sympathetic support, which she shared with many of her female contemporaries, was partly due to the world's belittling of women. She had early understood the a priori notions upon which her androcentric society was founded: a woman is intellectually inferior to a man—"[a] man's mind … has always the advantage of being masculine,—as the smallest birch-tree is of a higher kind than the most soaring palm,—and even his ignorance is of a sounder quality" (ii, I: 27),17—or if undeniably superior, then a "mistake of nature" (MF I, ii, I: 14; cf. M x, I: 161)—"a woman's no business wi' being so clever" (MF I, iii, I: 22)—who would master her husband. In Middlemarch, explaining the important role women play in making their husbands successful, George Eliot tries to show that in fact some women are the intellectual and moral equals of men, and that, as she had said in her essay on Fuller and Wollstonecraft, these women are not the threat to men that unenlightened women are. But in her late works, perceiving the oppression and exploitation of women—seeing that society's notions of women's inferiority are only rationalizations of ruthless egoism—understanding at last that society projected its own selfishness on women who pursued vocations, she savagely turned on a world that she more and more saw as stupid and sinister. In Middlemarch, she not only indicts society for depriving Dorothea of the support she needs to succeed in the projects she undertakes after marriage, but she bitterly accuses society of consciously and insidiously sacrificing Dorothea on the altar of sexism when she chooses her first husband. In the Finale of the first edition of the novel, George Eliot enumerates the conditions responsible for Dorothea's disastrous choice. She could not have married Casaubon if society "had not smiled on propositions of marriage from a sickly man to a girl less than half his own age—on modes of education which make a woman's knowledge another name for motley ignorance—on rules of conduct which are in flat contradiction with its own loudly-asserted beliefs" (IV: 370). Whatever reason George Eliot had for later deleting these words that have generated much controversy, she did not thereby delete from the novel the argument here.18

Society says nothing to disabuse Dorothea of the notion that in making a January-May marriage she is entering on what she thinks is a nurturing father-child relation. For indeed society approves what is in reality the master-slave relation that Casaubon seeks in deliberately choosing as wife "a blooming young lady—the younger the better, because more educable and submissive" (xxix, II: 98). When the "winter-worn husband" (xxxvii, II: 250) tells her, "The great charm of your sex is its capability of an ardent self-sacrificing affection, and herein we see its fitness to round and complete the existence of our own" (v, I: 80), he is clearly expressing a commonplace idea. Dorothea's friends would only substitute one such relation for another in preferring to Casaubon, James, who thought he would have been willing to put up with some predominance in Dorothea, since he could put it down when he liked (ii, I: 27).

In order to judge Casaubon rightly, Dorothea, who, as a woman, had been denied all but a toybox education (see x, I: 147; iii, I: 39), should have been privy to masculine learning. For what she needed to know was that Casaubon's clergyman's gown concealed no holiness, and his voluminous notes, nothing but dryasdust pedantry—information that her world, regarding Casaubon as "a man of profound learning" (i, I: 9; see also xxx, II: 114) could hardly have supplied. Furthermore, the objections of her circle—"Mrs Cadwallader's contempt for a neighboring clergyman's alleged greatness of soul," "Sir James Chettam's poor opinion of his rival's legs," "Mr Brooke's failure to elicit a companion's ideas," and "Celia's criticism of a middle-aged scholar's personal appearance" (x, I: 143)—could not rightly carry any weight with one "whose notions about marriage took their colour entirely from an exalted enthusiasm about the ends of life" (iii, I: 39; see also v, I: 79).

Readers who argue that "Dodo" is culpable for her mistake in marrying Casaubon point out that none of her friends would have made her mistake (see ix, I: 124). But friends who would have had her marry one (James) who not only would have made her miserable but would not have been so obliging as to leave her a young widow, are hardly wise counselors. If Dorothea's friends happen to be right in opposing her marriage, they are so only because, as George Eliot says in another context, "wrong reasoning sometimes lands poor mortals in right conclusions" (iii, I: 34). Readers who dispute the world's responsibility for Dorothea's marriage often impute to George Eliot an ironical view of her heroine's mistaken notions ("Dorothea … retained very child-like ideas about marriage"; "Celia, whose mind had never been thought too powerful, saw the emptiness of other people's pretensions much more readily" [i, I: 7; ii, I: 107]), forgetting that when Dorothea's marriage has failed, George Eliot no more blames Dorothea for her choice of husband than she blames Romola for hers. "Was it [Dorothea's] fault that she had believed in [Casaubon]—had believed in his worthiness?" (xlii, II: 374). Attributing Dorothea's naïveté both to ignorance for which she is not responsible, and to ardor that is more admirable than calculation and prudence,19 George Eliot merely smiles at Dorothea's naïveté as she smiles "with some gentleness" (Prelude, I: v) at the innocent child St. Theresa seeking martyrdom. Dorothea's idealizing of Casaubon (see iii, I: 31; v, I: 81; ix, I: 125), which is due to "that simplicity of hers, holding up an ideal for others in her believing conception of them, was one of the great powers of her womanhood" (lxxvii, IV: 252).

Not only Dorothea's ignorance but society's hypocrisy, which Milton says "neither man nor angel can discern" (Paradise Lost Bk. III, ll. 682-83), blinds Dorothea. Vociferous as are Dorothea's friends in objecting to her marriage, they do not fundamentally oppose the match. For it satisfies their most deeply rooted concerns that she marry money and social position. Dorothea's uncle and guardian reveals the priorities society dare not flaunt. He tells her he could not "have consented to a bad match. But Casaubon stands well: his position is good" (v, I: 72). Even faced with the disappointment of Mrs. Cadwallader, who consoles herself that Casaubon has money enough (vi, I: 92), shilly-shally Brooke holds firm. "I should have been travelling out of my brief to have hindered [the match].…He is pretty certain to be a bishop, is Casaubon" (vii, I: 110).

Professing to object to Dorothea's sacrifice of herself to Casaubon, her companions, regarding their own interest, actually manipulate her into making a sacrifice of the sort George Eliot had deplored in the forties. According to her pupil, Mary Sibree, Mary Ann

thought that though in England marriages were not professedly "arrangés," they were so too often practically: young people being brought together, and receiving intimations that mutual interest was desired and expected, were apt to drift into connections on grounds not strong enough for the wear and tear of life; and this, too, among the middle as well as in the higher classes.

(Cross ii, 58)

In fact, George Eliot emphasizes that society covertly approves of the match by implicitly comparing its reactions to Dorothea's two marriages. When Dorothea announces her intention to marry Casaubon, her friends do nothing but grumble behind her back. Brooke refuses to forbid the marriage until she is of age—considering marriage a cure for Dorothea's vagaries, he is disposed to hurry it on when he sees her opposed to marrying James (vii, I: 110)—and her clergyman, who says he knows no harm of Casaubon (viii, I: 114, 118), will not intervene. But when Dorothea marries a second time—marries one neither well born nor possessed of any fortune but his brains (xxx, II: 121)—society does not stand by helpless. Brooke threatens to disinherit her, and all her family excommunicate her. When one critic asks what more society could have done to prevent her marriage to Casaubon, short of putting strychnine in his tea (review of M 550; see also Harvey, "Criticism of the Novel" 133-34), the answer is plenty.

If society, while smiling on Dorothea's first marriage, is at the same time dismayed by it, that is so because, as George Eliot says elsewhere, "mortals have a great power of being astonished at the presence of an effect towards which they have done everything, and at the absence of an effect towards which they have done nothing but desire it" (DD xxii, II: 64-65). Not to see the malevolent character of a society that regards women as pawns in the marriage game is to identify with the world that George Eliot makes the object of her most trenchant irony—a world that she will excoriate in Daniel Deronda.


The angry feminist critics of the seventies have largely been silenced by feminist apologists who have rallied around George Eliot since the late seventies. Yet the battle is not over. Christina Crosby, focusing on Daniel Deronda, has recently written that George Eliot relegates women to "the realm of reproduction," making them "but instruments to further man's transcendence" (23, 27; see also 161 n. 20). One must still say that George Eliot "occupies a profoundly uneasy position among feminist literary critics," as Ringler wrote in 1983 (55).

And for many this is not likely to change, given certain ineluctable facts. Most important is George Eliot's emphasis on sacrifice and submission ("[a]ll self-sacrifice is good" [L I: 268]). But as I have tried to show, George Eliot questions the value of sacrifice in Middlemarch, even endorsing Ladislaw's dictum that "[t]he best piety is to enjoy" (xxii, I: 398). Her attitudes toward self-sacrifice and self-fulfillment are not the same throughout her works; at the end of her career, when she wrote Middlemarch, she was more given to "innovation" (TS ii, 40) than at the beginning.

Certainly, disposed to lead a contemplative, rather than an active, life (see L II: 383; IV: 473; V: 324-25, 344); plagued by a "doubting mind" (L IV: 472)—by "the labour of choice" (MF, II, i, I: 283);20 and hating to sit in the judgment seat (see L VI: 418; see also II: 306, 383; IV: 207; V: 76, 344, 367, 471; VII: 44; GE's "German Wit" 7), she embarrasses apologists by her hesitancy to take a stand on the Woman Question (see L II: 383, 396; IV: 364, 366; V: 58; VII: 44), except in the matter of women's right to a "masculine" education (see L IV: 364, 366, 399, 401, 468; "Woman in France" 472; "Art and Belles Lettres" 642-43). Cherishing "the relation of the sexes and the primary ties of kinship" as "the deepest roots of human wellbeing" (TS xvi, 286), she would not hold up a life of achievement as every woman's goal. Moreover, while she did not want any to suffer unjustly (L IV: 366; see also 364), she was, like her Armgart, an elitist, especially concerned that exceptional talent not be frustrated.21 Writing even as a radical youth22 that "woman does not yet deserve a much better lot than man gives her" (L II: 86; see also 157), she had no interest in spurring women on to imitate her in pursuing a career. Believing, as Klesmer insists in Daniel Deronda, that good work requires sacrifice23 andthatbadworkisan offense,24 she would not encourage dilettantes. Passionately concerned to disprove the conventional notion that women are inferior—convinced that they have "a precious specialty" ("Silly Novels" 461)—she was chiefly concerned with promoting the talented woman (see L V: 406).

Furthermore, if she would not encourage women to take up careers, neither would she tell women who needed no prodding to pursue a vocation that they, like her, could succeed if they, like her, were willing to suffer from prejudice. Many feminists are indignant that she did not present models of successful women. Lee R. Edwards says George Eliot could not imagine a world in which Dorothea could have succeeded by force of will ("Women, Energy, and Middlemarch" 234, 235-36, 237-38). Clearly she could, since she herself had succeeded by "willing to will strongly" (L VI: 166). But she wanted to expose the reasons of her suffering,25 not celebrate her expensive victory.26 Having dared to write only in middle age, though early preoccupied with fame (see L I: 7, 12, 47, 227, 237, 252; Cross ii, 53), and miserable that her life was of no consequence (L II: 93), then, able to write only by battling depression and despair that came partly from "suffer[ing] the slavery of being a girl" (DD li, IV: 30), she bitterly resented that, even though blessed with some conditions the most favorable for her development, she paid a terrible price, such as men do not pay, for her "far-resonant action" (M Prelude, I: vi). What she wanted to do, in her last three novels, Middlemarch especially, was to protest the sexism that made life intolerably hard for women like herself, able and ambitious—George Eliots who never find the living stream in fellowship with their own oary-footed kind (see M Prelude, I: vii).

And this brings me to another point. In an effort to ameliorate the conditions under which she labored, George Eliot, always aware of the arguments against granting women equality, wrote not so much for women as for men, especially young men, as still impressionable. At the end of 1867, when she was already contemplating Middlemarch, she wrote that "young men … are just the class I care most to influence" (L IV: 397; see also V: 212-13, 367; VI: 405). Having early understood that woman's lot in an androcentric society is dependent on the lot men give her (see FH xxvii, II: 182; xliii, III: 149-50), she strives in Middlemarch to enfranchise women not so much by inspiriting women, but by persuading men to see their own self-interest in according women the respect that would free them. Thus, while George Eliot, by showing Dorothea's support of Ladislaw's work, may not seem to have advanced an argument for women's right to an independent occupation, she was, by stressing Ladislaw's acceptance of Dorothea as his equal (if not his superior [see L VI: 394]), responding to those, like her Mr. Tulliver, who fail to see that their own interest lies in dispossessing themselves of the notion that women are too stupid to be partners with men.

Add to her ambivalence and elitism, her consciousness that radical views on the position of women did not come well from one damned for her irregular life (see L IV: 364, 425), as well as her lack of sympathy for some feminists (L V: 58),27 and one can understand her detachment, except as an "æsthetic" (L VII: 44), from the battle over the Woman Question.

Yet, despite the certainty that she would not have wanted to be called a feminist (had the word meaning an advocate of equal rights for women existed in her lifetime), I contend that her most authentic self was fiercely, if sometimes covertly, rebellious against the restrictions talented women suffered in pursuing a vocation, and that this self was passionately devoted to abolishing the prejudices of a society that would deny women public vocations. Having tried, unsuccessfully, in her earlier works to reconcile herself to women's sacrifice of their aspirations, as doing good; and having, in her latter years, won the "glorious achievement" (R lxxi, VIII: 147) that emboldened her to release her repressed anger at the establishment, she could express her true self in Middlemarch.

Feminists when they sensed in Middlemarch "a sacred text" saw more truly than when such of them as Edwards came to regard their original intuition as "an adolescent fantasy" ("Women, Energy, and Middlemarch" 238). Ellen Moers says that readers have always been surprised to discover that George Eliot was no feminist (194); and indeed one must disbelieve one's senses to think that George Eliot's experience would have made her other than passionately concerned with the right of women to pursue vocations. With Dorothea, commiserating with Lydgate over the failure of his life's work, George Eliot would have said, "There is no sorrow I have thought more about than that—to love what is great, and try to reach it, and yet to fail" (lxxvi, IV: 237; see also xlii, II: 367; lxxvi, IV: 243). And because in this novel she brilliantly and powerfully makes the case for reform—showing that women are deprived of their right to a public life because egoism and stupidity motivate the sexism of a society that exploits women to its own hurt—she has, I think, produced in Middlemarch the greatest feminist novel ever written28—a novel that the successes of the feminist movement have not rendered irrelevant in our time.


  1. Abbreviations of George Eliot's works are: Cross—George Eliot's Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals, ed. J. W. Cross; DDDaniel Deronda; FHFelix Holt; "JR"—"Janet's Repentance"; LThe George Eliot Letters; MMiddlemarch; MFThe Mill on the Floss; RRomola; SGThe Spanish Gypsy; SMSilas Marner; TSImpressions of Theophrastus Such. Unless otherwise noted, references to M are to the first edition. In GE's works, part numbers (book, chapter, or scene, or some combination of these) precede page, or volume and page, numbers. GE refers to George Eliot.
  2. Saying she lives for her art (see L III: 184, 187), GE repeatedly identified her work with her worth: L V: 133, 212, 244, 437; VI: 52; IX: 192; see also II: 221; VI: 23, 163; VII: 230; Selections 524.
  3. Ellen Moers, in her brilliant study Literary Women, argues that GE was "no feminist" (194). John Halperin (161) uses the same words. Barbara Hardy says the novelist's "books make their feminist protest in a very muted way": she does not write "as a proselytizing feminist" (52, 51). In her classic study of literary women, Elaine Showalter (24) approvingly quotes Donald Stone as saying that nineteenth-century heroines "are hardly concerned with self-fulfillment in the modern sense of the term."
  4. Virginia Woolf says the story of GE's idealistic heroines "is the incomplete version of the story of George Eliot herself" ("George Eliot" 658b; see also 658a). Cf. Woolson 9. Lewes likened GE to Dorothea (L V: 163, 308, 332, 338, 352, 360).
  5. Lee R. Edwards, in "Women, Energy, and Middlemarch," regarding Middlemarch as cherishing the values of Dorothea's world (see especially 224, 231, 237), declared that what had been "a sacred text" "can no longer be one of the books of my life" (224, 238). See also her Psyche as Hero 91-103. Jenni Calder says GE "diagnoses … 'the common yearning of womanhood' [i.e., women's aspirations—a misreading of GE, who, in M Prelude I: vi-vii, uses the phrase to mean women's desire for love], and then cures it, sometimes drastically, as if it were indeed a disease" (158). See Zelda Austen 549-61.
  6. Several writers see GE's feminism in her very refusal to grant her heroines fulfillment. Patricia Spacks (36-47, 316) and Nancy K. Miller, the latter writing on Maggie (see especially 44), say GE views her heroine's selflessness as fulfilling. Kathleen Blake, in "Middlemarch and the Woman Question," claims that Middlemarch is "a great feminist work" because in it GE protests that depriving women of their work as helpmates—"[w]omen's work is men" (285, 300)—is depriving them of identity. (Her argument is further supported by GE's repeatedly identifying herself with her work [see n. 2 above], and by her denial that the good of happiness is possible without the exercise of faculty [L VIII: 209; see also IV: 155-56, 168; V: 173].) Jeanie G. Thomas sees GE as "profoundly feminist" (393) in acknowledging women's disposition for nurture as a special strength. Susan Fraiman sees the author of The Mill on the Floss questioning whether women do not more effectively build character through social interaction than men through self-culture.
  7. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar attribute to GE covert rage against the patriarchal society that oppresses women, but argue that, in her later works, considering that "the injustice of masculine society bequeathes to women special strengths and virtues" (498), she balances her vengefulness against the countenancing of women's renunciation (499; see also 530). George Levine finds an ideal of vocations open to women "fully present in George Eliot's world," but colliding with "a strain of misogyny" that makes self-sacrifice "quintessentially the women's vocation" (13, 4). Blake, in a revision of her earlier article, more explicitly sees GE as arguing for women's right to a public life, but not as protesting the "selfpostponement" women suffer in making men their work (Love 41). Carol A. Martin says GE protests against the obstacles that prevent women from realizing their aspirations, but seasons her protest with moderation. Gillian Beer says that GE, though "persistently work[ing] at the central dilemmas of feminism in her time," "was not … either a feminist theorist or activist" (1). Similarly, Deirdre David sees GE as sympathetic with intelligent women's desire for cultural and social power, but says her views of women's "womanly" character and love for the past make her complicit with male authority; she was not "actively feminist" (251 n. 3). Suzanne Graver, in "'Incarnate History,'" no longer seeing GE as ambivalent toward feminism (64), argues that, in M, GE tries to fuse women's ethics of care and of rights—but says she legitimizes, as well as challenges, the status quo (73-74). (Earlier, in "Mill, Middlemarch, and Marriage" and George Eliot and Community, Graver argues that GE's responses to the Woman Question are contradictory. Like Spacks, Graver finds that "George Eliot's belief in the redemptive power of suffering caused her to see the very liabilities women suffered in marriage as contributing to their moral evolution" ["Mill," 62].)
  8. GE's contemporary Abba Gould Woolson is a possible exception. She says GE holds that "society is bound to promote [her heroines' ideals] by every means in its power. If, instead of this, it employs its institutions, customs, and prejudices towards crushing them out. GE would assign the whole structure of civilized society, as tending to the waste of its noblest energies, and to the cramping and debasement of the individual soul" (78; see also 46-47)
  9. Lydgate's story powerfully illustrates GE's argument, in her article on Fuller and Wollestonecraft, that men, by denying women partnership in marriage jeopardize their vocations.
  10. Mary suggests that one reason she married Fred rather than Farebrother was that she could save the former, not the latter. When Fred tells her that Farebrother was far worthier of her than he, she retorts, "To be sure he was,…and for that reason he could do better without me" (Finale, IV: 362-63; see also lvii, III: 277).
  11. In 1849, she wrote, "[T]he only ardent hope I have for my future life is to have given to me some woman's duty, some possibility of devoting myself where I may see a daily result of pure calm blessedness in the life of another" (L I: 322).
  12. See L II: 419; III: 24, 63, 202, 226-27, 405, 417; IV: 28, 123, 347; VI: 335-36, 379; VII: 215. She protested that she could not write to please others (see L II: 400, III: 393).
  13. GE uses the same phrase in SM xi, 209.
  14. Some suggest that Dorothea is stupid; see Leslie Stephen 180, Felicia Bonaparte 128, pp. below. Most argue she is handicapped by not having GE's genius; see Laurence Lemer 119; Patricia Beer 181; Zelda Austen 553-54; Marlene Springer 140, 142; George Levine 8; Carol A. Martin 22. But we do not know that she is not extremely intelligent. Brilliant Ladislaw respects her opinion (see p. above); dying Casaubon trusts her to complete his work (l, III: 119-20); Lovegood says she has "a real genus" (sic) for planning cottages (iii, I: 45); even Brooke admits that Dorothea is "clever enough for anything" (xxx, II: 114); and GE compares her to St. Theresa (Prelude, I: vi; x, I: 148; Finale, IV: 370), probably the most learned female saint, and to St. Catherine of Alexandria (liv, III: 195-96), patron of students.
  15. See also L IV: 494; VI: 96; MF I, viii, I: 139; M lxviii, IV: 96; DD xlv, III: 300; liv, IV: 106-07. Virginia Woolf wrote, "Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others" (Room iii, 85). Csikszentmihalyi writes: "Most of us deep down believe that a person who is creative will prevail regardless of the environment." But "even the greatest genius will not accomplish anything without the support of society and culture" (330).
  16. Closely related to GE's notion that sympathy is necessary to one's successful pursuit of an occupation is her notion that sympathy may be essential for one's stability. Janet Dempster, Hetty Sorrel, Silas Marner, Esther Lyon, Rosamond Vincy, Gwendolen Harleth, and Mirah Lapidoth are saved from despair by another's sympathy, while Catherina Sarti, Latimer, and Don Silva are destroyed by rejection. Cut off from others' sympathy, Latimer, like GE, who in 1840 attributed a fit of sensitiveness to her need for sympathy (L I: 75), develops diseased psychic powers.
  17. Silas Marner, who continues his weaving though "cut off from faith and love" (ii, 35), might seem to be an exception. But the world does not reject his work. Moreover, his work does not involve his ego; he weaves "like the spider, from pure impulse, without reflection" (SM ii, 26). See L VI: 48.
  18. Cf. the impressions of GE's friend and biographer, Oscar Browning, after looking over examination papers, that, "irrespective of the marks he might give, the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man" (qtd. in Woolf, Room iii, 81).
  19. Readers have seen GE's excising of the offending words as admission of her mistake. But it is more likely that she deleted the words on grounds that she had already made the meaning of her story clear (she expressed a doubt that there should have been an Epilogue [L V: 405]). Furthermore, she may have had second thoughts about inflicting on her readers so savage an excoriation of society; elsewhere in her writings she deleted passages to tone down her original.
  20. GE comments ironically on the superior insight Celia has about Casaubon by virtue of feeling less than Dorothea: "To have in general but little feeling, seems to be the only security against feeling too much on any particular occasion" (vii, I: 107).
  21. GE uses similar phrases in "JR" xxiv, 525; / R lxi, VII: 705 (2 references); lxviii, VIII: 133.
  22. In 1857, she wrote a friend, "'La carrière ouverte aux talen[t]s,' whether the talents be feminine or masculine, I am quite confident is a right maxim. Whether 'La carrière ouverte à la sottise,' be equally just, when made equally universal, it would be too much like 'taking sides' for me to say" (L II: 396). Feminists have criticized GE for isolating herself from her sister artists (see Showalter 107), but one can scarcely blame a woman naturally reserved, who was spit at by "the world's wife" (MF VII: ii, III: 249, 253). Incidentally, indifference to one's sisters is not now thought reason for questioning a woman's feminism.
  23. GE became more conservative after her liaison with Lewes, and, then, after working through personal issues in her fiction, returning in later years to something approximating the radicalism she adopted after her apostasy.
  24. In 1864, GE said that study, hard work, and heroism "must always go to the doing of anything difficult" (L IV: 159). See also I: 277; III: 177, 467; "Silly Novels" 460; DD, xxiii, II: 97. Lewes thought GE was performing a service in setting forth in DD "the arduousness and difficulties of a career so facile in imagination" (L VI: 193).
  25. See L II: 210, 396 n.7; III: 226, 241; IV: 367, 376, 425, 467; V: 33, 185, 212; VI: 113, 409; VII: 3; VIII: 384; "Silly Novels" 460-61. In 1879, GE refused to encourage a young writer whom she thought unpromising (L VII: 177-78).
  26. In 1874, GE wrote, "[W]hat evil can be got rid of on a sudden? Only it makes a difference when the evil is recognized as an evil, because then action is adjusted to gradual disappearance instead of contemplated permanence" (L VI: 47).
  27. Woolf, "George Eliot" (658b), saw GE's work as wearing her life away, as indeed GE herself did (L VI: 415).
  28. GE insisted that women should remain feminine (L IV: 468; V: 406).
  29. Was Lewes alluding to the feminist message of the novel when he wrote in December 1871 that he has "all along felt that women would owe [GE] peculiar gratitude for that book" (L V: 225)?

Works Cited

Austen, Zelda. "Why Feminist Critics Are Angry with George Eliot." College English 37 (Feb. 1976): 549-61.

Basch, Françoise. Relative Creatures: Victorian Women in Society and the Novel, 1837-67. Trans. Anthony Rudolph. London: Allen Lane, 1974.

Beer, Gillian. George Eliot. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986.

Beer, Patricia. Reader, I Married Him: A Study of the Women Characters of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot. London: Macmillan, 1974.

Blake, Kathleen. "Middlemarch and the Woman Question." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 31 (Dec. 1976): 285-312.

——. Love and the Woman Question in Victorian Literature: The Art of Self-Postponement. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester, 1983.

Bonaparte, Felicia. Will and Destiny: Morality and Tragedy in George Eliot's Novels. New York: New York UP, 1975.

Calder, Jenni. Women and Marriage in Victorian Fiction. New York: Oxford UP, 1976.

Crosby, Christiana. The Ends of History: Victorians and "the Woman Question." New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1991.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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