One of George Eliot's challenges in Middlemarch is to depict a sexually desirous woman, Dorothea, within the confines of Victorian literary propriety. The critic, Abigail Rischin, identifies the moment that Dorothea's future husband, Ladislaw, and his painter-friend see her alongside an ancient, partially nude statue of the mythic heroine, Ariadne, in a museum in Rome as the key to Eliot's sexualization of this character. Ariadne is, in the sculpture, between her two lovers. Theseus, whom she helped to escape from her father's labyrinth in Crete has already left her, while the jubilant God, Bacchus, her next lover, has yet to arrive. "By invoking the silent visual rhetoric of ancient sculpture," writes Rischin, "George Eliot is able to represent the erotic female body far more explicitly than Victorian conventions of... language would permit... By juxtaposing the statue with Dorothea, Eliot displays Dorothea's erotic potential." Here, Eliot uses an allusion to another type of narrative to fully illustrate her own heroine, and empower her with emotions that Victorian women were not supposed to possess.
Later, Eliot, the novel's omnicient narrator, uses a parabol to explain her theory of perspectivism. She compares the self-centered characters of her creation to candels, who all see "concentric" patterns of events ("scratches," in the parabol) develop around themselves because their vision ("light") only extends so far in every direction; not because, as they think, events revolve around them (ch 27). J. Hillis Miller, in "Optic and Semiotic in 'Middlemarch,'" explains the etymolgy of the word "parable," a word which Eliot herself uses in the midst of telling i...
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...e institutionalized. --May West
Bogdanor, Vernon, The People and the Party System, London: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
Eagleton, Terry, "George Eliot: Ideology and Literary Form," in Middlemarch: New Casebooks, Ed. John Peck.
Eliot, George, Middlemarch, Great Britain: Penguin, 1994.
Graner, Suzanne, "Organic Fictions," in in Middlemarch: New Casebooks, Ed. John Peck.
Miller, J. Hillis, "Narrative and History," in ELH (English Literary History), vol. 41 (1974). pp. 455-473.
Miller, J. Hillis, "Optic and Semiotic in Middlemarch," in Middlemarch: New Casebooks, Ed. John Peck.
Morgan, Kenneth O. (Ed.), The Oxford Popular History of Britain, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Rischin, Abigail S., "Ekphrasis, Narrative and Desire in Middlemarch," in PMLA, vol. 111. pp. 1121-1132.
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