George Eliot's realism and Adam Smith.
"Young ladies don't understand political economy," Mr. Brooke explains in Middlemarch, "I remember when we were all reading Adam Smith. There is a book, now." (1) Although references to economics are invariably in·var·i·a·ble
Not changing or subject to change; constant.
in·vari·a·bil satirical in George Eliot's fiction, her later novels borrow extensively from Smith. The images that George Eliot selects in Felix Holt as emblems of her own realism--a milkmaid, an election day mob, and a chessboard--are indebted to Smith, particularly to his focus on the ways in which each person's career interferes with that of every other, whether for good or for ill. Smith articulated for George Eliot the "ground up" quality of a modern society: that is, the emergence of its large-scale institutions from the day-to-day interactions of its citizens. His insistence that a society is shaped from below turned out to be more than a principle of sociological analysis; it was, unexpectedly, a rule of thumb for constructing a realistic novel. (2)
Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations would have been familiar to George Eliot early in her career, belonging as they did to the ordinary cultural competence cultural competence Social medicine The ability to understand, appreciate, and interact with persons from cultures and/or belief systems other than one's own of a nineteenth-century intellectual. Yet the allusions studied here turn up exclusively in her later writings. I suggest that George Eliot remembered Smith's language as her understanding of realism evolved in the sequence of novels from Silas Marner Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe is a novel by George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans) which was first published in 1861. Plot summary
The novel is set in the earlier years of the 19th century. to Middlemarch. On the evidence of these novels, it is likely that her assumptions about realism developed of their own accord; nonetheless, the uses to which George Eliot puts Smith help to pick out a number of her central literary and imaginative prejudices in Felix Holt and Middlemarch. In a real sense, I will argue, George Eliot deepens Smith's conviction that a society makes itself from below.
Like Middlemarch, the plot of Felix Holt dramatizes the interconnectedness of the lives of its many characters, or what George Eliot glosses as the "mutual influence of dissimilar destinies." (3) This phrase, however, does not refer to the direct and purposeful relationships between the novel's personages so much as to the indirect ways by which they influence one another. George Eliot explains that the purpose of her novel is to show that "there is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life, from the time when the primeval pri·me·val
Belonging to the first or earliest age or ages; original or ancient: a primeval forest.
[From Latin pr milkmaid had to wander with the wanderings of her clan, because the cow she milked was one of a herd which had made the pastures bare" (F, p. 50).
The economic language in which George Eliot expresses the basic commitment of literary realism--the recording of many lives intersecting in the medium of historical circumstance--indicates what is unusual about the vision of society in Felix Holt. Even in a novel of parliamentary reform and election day riots, "wider public life" is almost nonexistent non·ex·is·tence
1. The condition of not existing.
2. Something that does not exist.
non , because George Eliot treats large-scale social phenomena purely as the unintended aggregates of the microscopic transactions by which individuals unintentionally thwart or promote one another's pursuits. History, society, and public life disappear in Felix Holt and Middlemarch into this whirlpool of private interests and interactions. And this protosociological conviction, which George Eliot shares with (or even, in a sense, reads into) Smith, stands at the center of her novelistic nov·el·is·tic
Of, relating to, or characteristic of novels.
novel·is metaphysics until she abruptly reverses course in Daniel Deronda Daniel Deronda is a novel by George Eliot, first published in 1876. It was the last novel she completed, coming after Middlemarch and Felix Holt and the only one set in the contemporary Victorian society of her day. . But Daniel Deronda, charting the possible formation of a new society in the East, has long been recognized as something of a romance.
Felix Holt and Middlemarch, by contrast, have rightly been seen as characteristic of the realist project, which in contemporary thought has often been seen as philosophically flawed. Recent critics (assuming as I do here that the varieties of nineteenth-century realism have much in common) have found in these novels considerable evidence for realism's failures. Depending on how much consciousness one attributes to the author, George Eliot's realism seems to be either incoherent or self-unmasking. Catherine Gallagher Catherine Gallagher (born 16 February 1945) is a new historicist literary critic and Victorianist and is currently Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. , for example, treats Felix Holt as a textbook case of realism's vain effort to guarantee referentiality by "heap[ing] sign upon sign." (4) J. Hillis Miller J. Hillis Miller (born March 5, 1928) is an American literary critic who has been heavily influenced by—and who has heavily influenced—deconstruction. Life
Joseph Hillis Miller was born in Newport News, Virginia. He is the son of J. Hillis Miller, Sr. also objects to realism as a signifying process, arguing that the "incoherent, heterogeneous, 'unreadable,' or nonsynthesizable quality of the text of Middlemarch jeopardizes the narrator's effort of totalization to·tal·ize
tr.v. to·tal·ized, to·tal·iz·ing, to·tal·iz·es
To make or combine into a total.
to ." (5) In "Realism and the Fear of Desire," a more general treatment of nineteenth-century realism, Leo Bersani Leo Bersani is a literary theorist and Professor Emeritus of French at the University of California, Berkeley. Bibliography
1. Existing or remaining within; inherent: believed in a God immanent in humans.
2. Restricted entirely to the mind; subjective. to society," he writes, "whereas in fact they are the mythical denial of that society's fragmented nature." (6)
Typically these hostile interpretations assume that the realist novel is engaged in some kind of bad faith, passing off its own constructions as a transparent portrait of society as a whole. Yet the commitment of these critics to the belief that the epistemology of realism is inherently flawed obscures the relationship between the form of the realist novel and its purposes. Although Bersani, for example, believes that society is necessarily fragmented, and therefore devoid of order, George Eliot represents a society that is at once highly fragmented and highly organized. She turns to Smith, in fact, for this sense of a spontaneously formed social structure (rather than for his economics as such).
Looking at George Eliot through the lens of Smith makes her realism seem sociologically sophisticated rather than epistemologically naive. The dizzying sequence of perspectives found in Felix Holt and Middlemarch, as I will argue, is not motivated by the conviction that representation is necessarily arbitrary or self-undoing, but is part of a carefully worked out attempt to describe a decentralized society in which no single point of view can claim absolute authority. David R. Carroll argued almost forty years ago that society is not so much "an aggregation of individual relationships" in George Eliot's novels as "a collective entity" that she places "alongside the individual as an actor in the drama" in order to trace "their interrelationship in·ter·re·late
tr. & intr.v. in·ter·re·lat·ed, in·ter·re·lat·ing, in·ter·re·lates
To place in or come into mutual relationship.
in , insisting upon their interdependence by means of the structure of her novels." (7) Certainly George Eliot's uses of Smith do not account for all the features of her realism. Nonetheless, comparing George Eliot and Smith allows us to modify as well as to explain Carroll 's observation: to understand how it is that society, which seems to be an autonomous force in George Eliot's fictions, is ultimately a function of the interactions among many individuals.
Smith's presence in Felix Holt can be seen in the figurative language in which the text encodes its self-understanding. This kind of influence is a product of Smith's own inventiveness as a writer, since he facilitated his own dissemination by constructing images, paradoxes, and examples that a writer such as George Eliot could easily remember. The chess player in Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments demonstrates his ability to compress a whole theory into a single image. He warns his readers against the reformist politician, any "man of system" who tries to impose a plan upon his country in defiance of common sense. (8) Such a prince, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Smith, "seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chessboard. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chessboard have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great 'chessboard' of human society, every sing le piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. " (9) The chessboard belongs to the conventional imagery of political science, but what Smith makes of it is original. The chess player believes that he can remake society from above. Such manipulation, what we have come to call "social engineering," is impossible because society has a mind of its own, as it were. Its structure cannot be legislated but is generated by the fact that every figure on the board, including the chess player, has his or her own particular aims and interests. The unmanageable complexity of human affairs, according to Smith, arises from the intersection of every piece's movements with that of every other.
So the kind of order found in political institutions or in everyday life has to be established almost blindly, by chance, inheritance, and trial and error. In effect, Smith offers a sociological version of Immanuel Kant's directive to treat individuals as ends in themselves, or at least as independent centers of consciousness and activity. For Smith (and later for George Eliot), this warning may generally refer to all forms of activity that take human beings for their object, from the government of a commercial society to the mundane problems of daily life, and even, in a sense, to the construction of a novel in which the author should not openly manipulate her characters but allow them to work out their own destinies.
George Eliot turns to the figure of the chess player throughout her career to express precisely this advice. Because of her unsuccessful attempts at manipulation in "Amos Barton," the Countess Czerlaski is described as an unsuccessful chess player, as are Philip Wakem in The Mill on the Floss, the villain Christian and both Jermyn and Harold Transome (in an epigraph ep·i·graph
1. An inscription, as on a statue or building.
2. A motto or quotation, as at the beginning of a literary composition, setting forth a theme. ) in Felix Holt, Will Ladislaw and the blackmailer Raffles in Middlemarch. (10) Typical is the churchman Amos Barton, unaware that his attempt to undermine the Shepperton Dissenters dissenters: see nonconformists. by "introducing anti-Dissenting books into his Lending Library was something like his moves in chess--admirably calculated, supposing the state of the case were otherwise." (11) George Eliot's chess players outsmart out·smart
tr.v. out·smart·ed, out·smart·ing, out·smarts
To gain the advantage over by cunning; outwit.
Informal same as outwit
Verb 1. themselves by counting on their ability to control others, not realizing that such a game cannot be managed--one cannot literally treat other human beings as pawns.
The following passage from Felix Holt shows how George Eliot adapts Smith. While it concerns Jermyn's inability to control his election agent, George Eliot allows it to stand as a detached particle of argument at the beginning of a chapter:
Fancy what a game at chess A Game at Chess is a comic satirical play by Thomas Middleton, first staged in August 1624 by the King's Men at the Globe Theatre, and notable for its political content. would be if all the chessmen Chessmen can refer to the following:
See also: Sly ; if your bishop, in disgust at your castling, could wheedle whee·dle
v. whee·dled, whee·dling, whee·dles
1. To persuade or attempt to persuade by flattery or guile; cajole.
2. your pawns out of their places; and if your pawns, hating you because they are pawns, could make away from their appointed posts that you might get checkmate checkmate
end of game in chess: folk-etymology of Shah-mat, ‘the Shah is dead.’ [Br. Folklore: Espy, 217]
See : End on a sudden. You might be the longest-headed of deductive de·duc·tive
1. Of or based on deduction.
2. Involving or using deduction in reasoning.
de·duc reasoners, and yet you might be beaten by your own pawns. You would be especially likely to be beaten, if you depended arrogantly on your mathematical imagination, and regarded your passionate pieces with contempt ... Yet this imaginary chess is easy compared with the game a man has to play against his fellow-men with other fellow-men for his instruments.
(F, p. 278)
In this passage George Eliot lends Smith's chessboard a miniaturized form appropriate to the provincial milieu of Felix Holt. Despite the reduction in scale, the parable's applicability has actually been indefinitely widened, to include any "game a man has to play against his fellow-men with other fellow-men for his instruments." Smith's principles (as read by George Eliot) range beyond economic and political life to cover all forms of human interaction. As a reader of Smith, George Eliot is characteristically interested in applying his insights into the logic of action to a much broader set of concerns.
George Eliot's later novels deliberately highlight the complex forms of interdependence and interaction in a modem society. The nature of the economy is the most visible example of such interdependence. As Alan Mintz has observed, "The world of Middlemarch is poised at this threshold of giving way to ... the separate sovereignties of scientific farming, finance, manufacture, scholarship, novel-writing, the several occupations of politics, scientific discovery, and clinical medicine." (12) In a small community, such as that of George Eliot's Adam Bede, the individual is bound only to those around him or her. In the newly specialized economy of Middlemarch, by contrast, one depends upon those one may never know: the fictional town, in the words of one recent critic, "constitutes what is for fiction a highly elaborate instance of the division of labor." (13) In such a society each person can only thrive against the background of the efforts of a mass of largely anonymous others. George Eliot's plots are intended to drive home the primacy of this sociological fact in every individual's career. (14)
This concern underlies her well-known interest in the figure of the web. (15) "It's all one web, sir," exclaims Mr. Nolan, the hosier Ho´sier
n. 1. One who deals in hose or stocking, or in goods knit or woven like hose.
Noun 1. hosier - a tradesman who sells hosiery and (in England) knitwear in Felix Holt, "The prosperity of the country is one web" (F, p. 208). Felix Holt and Middlemarch generalize this perception of economic interdependence to realism's subject matter, the careers and private lives of individuals. Nolan's unifying economy, in other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently , becomes Middlemarch's society. (16) What may be the most discussed passage in Middlemarch enacts this revision. "I at least have so much to do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven in·ter·weave
v. in·ter·wove , in·ter·wo·ven , inter·weav·ing, inter·weaves
1. To weave together.
2. To blend together; intermix.
v.intr. , that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web," George Eliot writes (M, p. 141).
Because George Eliot is acutely conscious of the distorting power of figurative language, she employs metaphors rather carefully--and so we can place considerable interpretative pressure upon those she does use. The imagery of web and chessboard are not the only metaphors for society George Eliot uses, but they are probably the most significant. In them George Eliot crystallizes the sense of general human interdependence that characterizes nineteenth-century realism (at least in social novels such as Felix Holt and Middlemarch). Raymond Williams has criticized George Eliot's reliance on the figure of the web because "it tends to represent social-and indeed directly personal--relationships as passive: acted upon rather than acting," where, in fact, "every element in the complicated system [of a modem society] is active." (17) Williams's point about the metaphor of the web is reasonable; nonetheless, he is unfair to George Eliot who emphasizes the mutually entangling consequences of activity, something which is much clearer in the case of the chessboard. Web and chessboard complement one another to convey that sense of the social dimensions of human life so critical to the novelist. George Eliot's realism in Felix Holt and Middlemarch, then, cannot be defined as a method of observation or representation, a philosophy or a style, but rather as a commitment to examine human lives in their specifically "woven and interwoven" aspect. (18)
Felix Holt's politics are representative of George Eliot's realism. Written at the time of the second Reform Bill, the novel endorses a deflationary, satirical model of political change, representing the circumstances of the first Reform Bill with a pervasive historical irony. Little goes according to plan in Felix Holt. Yet the kinds of reversals and unintended consequences that dominate the story are not the ordinary stuff of literary plotting--at least they are not justified in the same way. In Felix Holt no one s purposes and intentions are properly carried to fruition, because every action contends with a number of simultaneous actions by other persons working at cross-purposes. The sociological mood is identical to Middlemarch: "any one watching keenly the stealthy stealth·y
adj. stealth·i·er, stealth·i·est
Marked by or acting with quiet, caution, and secrecy intended to avoid notice. See Synonyms at secret. convergence of human lots, sees a slow preparation of effects from one life on another, which tells like a calculated irony on the indifference or the frozen stare with which we look at our unintroduced neighbour. Destiny stands by sarcastic with our dramatis personae folded in her hand" (M, p. 95). Because Felix Holt's action is intended to stand as an image of human affairs, George Eliot carefully rationalizes the novel's developments. Although she does not posit any force external to the sphere of human activity, social processes in the novel are determined above the heads of any of the participants, whether Whig or Tory, working class or gentry.
Her narrator NARRATOR. A pleader who draws narrs serviens narrator, a sergeant at law. Fleta, 1. 2, c. 37. Obsolete. is especially interested when the plot is driven by mob activity, because, for George Eliot, crowds exemplify the nonpurposive quality of collective life. Felix Holt's election day mob is propelled by "that mixture of pushing forward and being pushed forward, which is a brief history of most human things" (F, p. 317). A riot ensues because "the multitudinous small wickednesses of small selfish ends, really undirected towards any larger result, had issued in widely-shared mischief that might yet be hideous" (F, p. 320). The language George Eliot chooses to frame this blind and propulsive image of society--"the multitudinous small wickednesses of small selfish ends, really undirected towards any larger result"--signals her debt to Smith. In the case of mob violence, though, the aggregate of "small selfish ends" is dangerous. While George Eliot appropriates Smith's conviction that society is made from below, then, she corrects the providential prov·i·den·tial
1. Of or resulting from divine providence.
2. Happening as if through divine intervention; opportune. See Synonyms at happy. tone of The Wealth of Nations.
Felix Holt's realism can be seen as a critique of naive historicism his·tor·i·cism
1. A theory that events are determined or influenced by conditions and inherent processes beyond the control of humans.
2. A theory that stresses the significant influence of history as a criterion of value. and sociology: large-scale order (or, indeed, disorder) is the result of innumerable actions, each of which is performed with little or no access to its macroscopic macroscopic /mac·ro·scop·ic/ (mak?ro-skop´ik) gross (2).
mac·ro·scop·ic or mac·ro·scop·i·cal
1. Large enough to be perceived or examined by the unaided eye.
2. consequences. History and society are shaped less by express purpose than by an ungovernable collision of purposes. It is in this sense that the novel seems to rule out the possibility of a sensible or coherent public life: nothing stable can be deliberately constructed from these warring atoms.
REALISM AND THE MULTIPLOT NOVEL
George Eliot's realist principles have disconcerting dis·con·cert
tr.v. dis·con·cert·ed, dis·con·cert·ing, dis·con·certs
1. To upset the self-possession of; ruffle. See Synonyms at embarrass.
2. effects for any of the novel's characters. Rosemarie Bodenheimer points out that the "stories in Felix Holt reproduce the view of action as anticlimax, revealing a perpetual frustration of anticipated relationships between thought, action and consequence." (19) Because realism rejects the imposition of plot or teleology teleology (tĕl'ēŏl`əjē, tē'lē–), in philosophy, term applied to any system attempting to explain a series of events in terms of ends, goals, or purposes. upon experience, it tends to rephrase re·phrase
tr.v. re·phrased, re·phras·ing, re·phras·es
To phrase again, especially to state in a new, clearer, or different way. outcomes as the functions of unintentional, but structured, processes. Instructed by the parable of the chess player, the novelist does not appear to intervene in the plot; instead she "stands by sarcastic" while the narrative is propelled by the interference between her characters' various projects. (20) The doctrine of unintended consequences, then, may be described as realism's redirection of plotting. The trajectory of a single individual is not an adequate sample of human life, because the unpredictability and resistance central to everyone's experience are functions of the web in which he or she pa rticipates. So the logic of George Eliot's realism demands the portrayal of multiple careers in unpredictable contact; it inclines, in other words, toward the multiplot novel.
On the basis of Felix Holt, Bodenheimer concludes that George Eliot's realism "pulls away from unitary views of society and naturalized accounts of history, toward the recognition that social history is an arena of competing narratives." (21) But Bodenheimer, relying here on an epistemological definition of realism, misrepresents the effect of George Eliot's multiplot novels. Narratives themselves do not compete, after all, but the persons, ideas, and institutions of which narratives are the continuous record may. In fact, the many strands of narrative in Felix Holt depend upon one another, since no single career in this novel, no single story line, makes discrete sense.
George Eliot's plotting increasingly replaces moral psychology with intersecting careers. In her earlier work Silas Marner, for example, the narrator deplores Godfrey Cass's reliance on chance, noting that the "evil principle deprecated in that religion [hoping for good fortune], is the orderly sequence by which the seed brings forth a crop after its kind." (22) Godfrey's moral development is largely internal. He finds that "his conscience, never thoroughly easy about Eppie, now gave his childless home the aspect of a retribution." (23) Such an "orderly sequence" is more difficult to conceive of in a genuinely multiplot fiction, in part because it is rare that an individual will have the time or opportunity to revise his or her moral convictions. The single career of moral education is replaced by a many-stranded history in which punishment and reward come increasingly from outside the character's own mind. (Significantly, Middlemarch was created when George Eliot abandoned the idea of writing separate novels about the careers of Dorothea and of Lydgate.)
George Eliot's narratological language registers this change in causality, substituting for "orderly sequence" phrases such as "the mutual influence of dissimilar destinies" (F, p. 50) and "the stealthy convergence of human lots" (M, p. 95). In Felix Holt and Middlemarch, unlike Silas Marner, an individual's success or downfall is caused neither by his conscience nor by the straightforward results of his own actions; the agents of retribution or compensation are those familiar Victorian figures who enact "the mutual influence of dissimilar destinies": lawyers, blackmailers, fellow criminals, benefactors, angelic women. (24)
The case of Nicholas Bulstrode, Middlemarch's evangelical banker and hypocrite, illustrates this rule. Throughout the novel Bulstrode is at peace with his former misdeeds. To him, "sin seemed to be a question of doctrine and inward penitence Penitence
Act of Contrition
prayer of atonement said after making one’s confession. [Christianity: Misc.]
former Lady Laurentini; a penitent nun. [Br. Lit. " (M, p. 523). George Eliot postpones his comeuppance come·up·pance
A punishment or retribution that one deserves; one's just deserts: "It's a chance to strike back at the critical brotherhood and give each his comeuppance for evaluative sins of the past" until the dramatic entrance of Raffles the blackmailer: "as if by some hideous magic, this loud red figure had risen before him in unmanageable solidity--an incorporate past which had not entered into his imagination of chastisements" (M, p. 523). Raffles makes present to Bulstrode what his own moral sense cannot, "an incorporate past." Paradoxically, the devices and contrivances of Victorian fiction--coincidence, blackmail, hidden relationships, surprise meetings--can be described as realistic in spirit, because they are synecdoches for the mass of connections, some visible and some invisible, between all the persons of a modem society. Under these conditions, power can scarcely be called a perquisite per·qui·site
1. A payment or profit received in addition to a regular wage or salary, especially a benefit expected as one's due. See Synonyms at right.
2. A tip; a gratuity.
3. of any particular individual; it is, instead, a property of the network.
In her later novels, George Eliot progressively frames her ethics as the necessary upshot of the existence of this network, moving, perhaps naturally, from deontological ethics to a kind of day-to-day prudence, that is, from "ought's" to "is's." George Eliot does not do away with the role of moral sense, sympathy, and fellow-feeling, but she construes the continuous pressure exerted by the network of persons on the individual as the basis of ethical life. Casaubon's "sense of moving heavily in a dim and clogging medium" in Middlemarch typifies the experience of a George Eliot character (M, p. 493). Opposed (or potentially opposed) by others, including his wife Dorothea and his dependent Ladislaw, Casaubon's bitter lesson is to find out that he lives in a world in which his own existence must be constantly crossed and interrupted by the tracks of others.
Casaubon's recognition of the difficulty of living within a network is a lesson George Eliot administers to several other characters, mostly male: Lydgate, Bulstrode, the lawyer Jermyn. Each character's moral education amounts to a bruising lesson in the proximity and the waywardness of other persons--something that heroines such as Romola and Dorothea learn largely at the hands of their husbands. Felix Holt's Harold Transome is representative. He never acquires integrity, nor much of an appreciation for justice. Instead he feels the truth of a sociological maxim in his "most serious moment," when "for the first time the iron had entered into his soul, and he felt the hard pressure of our common lot, the yoke of that mighty resisfiess destiny laid upon us by the acts of other men as well as our own" (F, p. 461). Transome's epiphany, ethical intone in·tone
v. in·toned, in·ton·ing, in·tones
1. To recite in a singing tone.
2. To utter in a monotone.
1. , is really a literary rendering of the fact of interconnectedness. Surprisingly, where Smith carefully excludes economic motivations from the sphere of private inte rcourse, George Eliot applies Smith's sociological insights to exactly these matters. The Theory of Moral Sentiments locates ethics in the moment of sympathy springing from one individual to another, while Felix Holt finds morality in the interaction between the individual and the network.
George Eliot's last book, Impresions of Theophrastus Such. clarifies her relationship to Smith. A "man often furthers larger ends than he is conscious of," her narrator remarks in the voice of Wealth of Nations: "while he is transacting his particular affairs with the narrow pertinacity of a respectable ant, he subserves an economy larger than any purpose of his own." (25) Moreover, any molecule of the body politic BODY POLITIC, government, corporations. When applied to the government this phrase signifies the state.
2. As to the persons who compose the body politic, they take collectively the name, of people, or nation; and individually they are citizens, when considered working towards his own interest in an orderly way gets his understanding more or less penetrated with the fact that his interest is included in that of a large number. I have watched several political molecules being educated in this way by the nature of things into a faint feeling of fraternity." (26)
George Eliot's sarcasm should not disguise her startling contention that a feeling for community, for shared interests and obligations, springs from the self-regarding activities of economic life. For Smith the weaving together of individuals' lives is a result of modern economic specialization, or division of labor--butcher, baker, and candlestick Candlestick
A price chart that displays the high, low, open, and close for a security each day over a specified period of time. maker require one another's services. Social fragmentation and social unity, in other words, are two halves of the same coin. (27) George Eliot applies this principle widely in her later novels. According to Alexander Welsh, Lydgate and Bulstrode are Middlemarch's "most modern characters of the characters concerned with knowledge." (28) The nature of their relationship signals this modernity: "they are not friends and have antithetical an·ti·thet·i·cal also an·ti·thet·ic
1. Of, relating to, or marked by antithesis.
2. Being in diametrical opposition. See Synonyms at opposite. feelings and personalities; they are brought into conjunction by their specialized functions within a modern social organization." (29) Whatever their feelings, specialists need other specialists to survive.
While this is a strictly economic mechanism in Smith, for George Eliot it is a synecdoche synecdoche (sĭnĕk`dəkē), figure of speech, a species of metaphor, in which a part of a person or thing is used to designate the whole—thus, "The house was built by 40 hands" for "The house was built by 20 people." See metonymy. for the "woven and interwoven" dimension of modern life. Herbert Spencer, George Eliot's sometime friend, makes explicit the way in which Smith's readers elaborated his economic theories, to indicate an informal, voluntary, and spontaneous sociability:
Wherever individuals join their actions for a common end that is not absolutely simple, some division of labour spontaneously arises. We see this even in such a transitory incident as a picnic. Immediately a spot for the repast has been decided on, some begin to unpack See pack. the hampers, others to collect fern for sitting upon, and presently, while the ladies lay the cloth and arrange the knives and forks, one of the gentlemen fetches water from a spring and another takes down the wine to be cooled in the neighbouring stream. Everyone feels that confusion would result if all did the same thing, and without direction they promptly undertake different things. (30)
George Eliot's use of Smith is licensed by a similar analogy, in that she reads Smith as an analyst of the forms into which human intercourse naturally crystallizes, whether in or out of the workplace. One might say that Middlemarch and Felix Holt examine the consequences of the powerful drive to sociability--the "social specialization" Spencer describes at his picnic--hidden beneath the surface of modern individualism.
POINT OF VIEW
Although this essay has treated Felix Holt and Middlemarch interchangeably, the later novel places much greater emphasis on George Eliot's perception that to live in a society means not only reckoning with the activities of innumerable other individuals, but also with their irreducibly plural viewpoints. One formal consequence of this belief may be seen in the fact that the narrator who coordinates the various story lines in Middlemarch does not seem to have a stable viewing position (unlike, say, otherwise comparable large-scale novels such as Walter Scott's Heart of Midlothian Heart of Midlothian can refer to:
Leo [Lat.,=the lion], northern constellation lying S of Ursa Major and on the ecliptic (apparent path of the sun through the heavens) between Cancer and Virgo; it is one of the constellations of the zodiac. Tolstoy's War and Peace). Moving toward and away from the situations she describes, the narrator is now almost a participant in them, now entirely distanced and impersonal in tone. Middlemarch, as Miller has observed, "is full of such shifts in perspective from close up to far away and back to close up again." (31) It may be possible to account for this peculiar instability by the fact that, for George Eliot as for Smith, a many-stranded society has no center: no single point of view can claim to represent the point of view of the entire society, for reasons that are just as much practical as moral. (To put it another way, the point of the chess player parable is that no one can really view society as a whole--the chess player's position is illusory.)
Smith's remarks on this subject go to the heart of his own project in Wealth of Nations. In a commercial society, he writes, "the sovereign is completely discharged from a duty, in the attempting to perform which he must always be exposed to innumerable delusions, and for the proper performance of which no human wisdom or knowledge could ever be sufficient; the duty of superintending the industry of private people, and of directing it." (32) The sovereign's problem is not contingent: "no human wisdom or knowledge could ever be sufficient" to manage a society organized from below. The force of the network of individuals far exceeds any specific agent's power and comprehension: no perspective corresponds to that of the network as such. Society, for Smith, has no voice. (33) In a sense, Smith argues that there is no such thing as society, there is only the effect of it. (This anti-teleological prejudice sharply distinguishes Smith from those of his nineteenth-century readers, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hege l, Auguste Comte, and Karl Marx, who try to construct society's overall point of view.)
The notorious image of the "invisible hand Invisible Hand
A term coined by economist Adam Smith in his 1776 book "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations". In his book he states:
"Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. " has often been interpreted as offering just such a general perspective on society. (34) But Smith's "invisible hand"--undetectable by definition--is a shorthand for the dispersal of agency throughout the web of human relationships. It is a way of naming the aggregate effect of the interactions among society's members; it prevents us from trying in some other way to represent society as a whole. We could say that the metaphor works something like a Zen paradox: clearing the mind, curing the reader of the natural desire to stand outside the messy, unpredictable fabric of human intercourse. Figurative language is Smith's indispensable tool because he wishes to convert his readers to a system of perspectives that cannot so much be argued for as internalized. In this sense, Smith's writing is a kind of therapy for political illusion, in the way Sigmund Freud conceived of psychoanalysis, or Ludwig Wittgenstein of philosophy: it works through and against language, using me taphor against the misleading power of other metaphors.
Smith's desire to give equal weight to each perspective is shared by George Eliot, and for much the same reasons: to insist that there is no point external to society from which to judge it, and so that human actions and perceptions are inherently social. As with the chessboard, George Eliot investigates the problem in a more intimate setting, treating it as a matter that is at once sociological and ethical. Interestingly, George Eliot's reading of Smith places far less emphasis on the mechanism of sympathy outlined in Theory of Moral Sentiments than on Smith's elementary sociology--not at all what one might have expected from a novelist's encounter with a political economist.
George Eliot's moralizing, then, tends to focus on the logic of spectatorship rather than on conventional moral topics such as self-restraint and impartiality. In the early novella novella: see novel.
Story with a compact and pointed plot, often realistic and satiric in tone. Originating in Italy during the Middle Ages, it was often based on local events; individual tales often were gathered into collections. "Janet's Repentance," the narrator admits that "anyone looking at [Mr. Tryan the cleric] with the bird's-eye glance of a critic might perhaps say that he made the mistake of identifying Christianity with a too narrow doctrinal system" amongst other flaws, "making Mr Tryan the text for a wise discourse on the characteristics of the Evangelical school.,, (35) But "I am not poised at that lofty height. I am on the level and in the press with him, as he struggles his way along the stony road, through the crowd of unloving fellow-men.,, (36) Sympathy, or fellow-feeling, is basic to moral consciousness for George Eliot, and is only possible from a local point of observation, one "on the level and in the press" with Tryan.
In Middlemarch the system of perspectives is not urged upon us as in "Janet's Repentance"; rather it is condensed, as in Smith, into sophisticated imagery. (37) The well-known reflection on the pier glass nicely illustrates this stylistic preference: "place now against it a lighted candle... and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement... These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism egoism (ē`gōĭzəm), in ethics, the doctrine that the ends and motives of human conduct are, or should be, the good of the individual agent. It is opposed to altruism, which holds the criterion of morality to be the welfare of others. of any person now absent" (M, p. 264). As with other such metaphors in George Eliot's writing, the example diverges quite dramatically from the narrative's immediate circumstances. In so doing, it advances a general statement about human coexistence. Composed in a logical and deliberative de·lib·er·a·tive
1. Assembled or organized for deliberation or debate: a deliberative legislature.
2. Characterized by or for use in deliberation or debate. voice, the passage verges on becoming a simple proverb ("it is only your candle"), but this moral concerning vanity is eclipsed by the force of the image as a whole. The satire on ordinary self-centeredness is finally controlled by the larger statement about the multiplicity of perspectives. (38)
Reading Middlemarch after Felix Holt, finally, makes it difficult to argue on deconstructive lines (as Miller does) that, in her images of cognition and spectatorship, George Eliot thematizes the inevitable failure of representation. It would be more accurate to say that George Eliot deliberately fuses sociology and morality in her insistence on the fact of human co-existence: that is, the unavoidable multiplicity of careers and perspectives. Only in the artificial frame of a novel can one stand, for a moment, outside the weave of historical process, that ongoing struggle among human beings of which the strongest indicator is the plurality of viewpoints.
Examining George Eliot and Smith together renews our sense of both their projects, at the core of which stands the simple conviction that society is shaped primarily by its members' intersecting trajectories. One might say that George Eliot and Smith are realists of the same kind (or at least that George Eliot believed that they were thus compatible). In embroidering and reusing Smith, moreover, George Eliot is representative of the nineteenth-century appropriation of Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments in that she addresses them less by direct argument than by invoking and revising Smith's language.
(1.) George Eliot, Middlemarch, ed. Rosemary Ashton (London: Penguin, 1994), p. 17. All subsequent references to Middlemarch will be to this edition, hereafter M, and will be cited parenthetically par·en·thet·i·cal
adj. also par·en·thet·ic
1. Set off within or as if within parentheses; qualifying or explanatory: a parenthetical remark.
2. Using or containing parentheses. within the text.
(2.) Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth recognizes this democratic quality of the realist novel, what I call its "ground up" nature, but she sees realism as the product of a union of many consciousnesses rather than as a way of representing the often unconscious connections between members of a modern society; her argument is phenomenological rather than sociological. See Realism and Consensus in the English Novel (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983), pp. 46, 67.
(3.) George Eliot, Felix Holt, the Radical Felix Holt, the Radical (1866) is a social novel written by George Eliot about political disputes in a small English town at the time of the Great Reform Act of 1832. , ed. Lynda Mugglestone (London: Penguin. 1995), p. 50. All subsequent references will be to this edition, hereafter F, and will be cited parenthetically within the text.
(4.) Catherine Gallagher, "The Failure of Realism: Felix Holt," NCF See National Cristina Foundation. 35, 3 (December 1980): 372-84, 376.
(5.) J. Hulls Miller, "Optic and Semiotic semiotic /se·mi·ot·ic/ (se?me-ot´ik)
1. pertaining to signs or symptoms.
2. pathognomonic. in Middlemarch," in The Worlds of Victorian Fiction, ed. Jerome H. Buckley (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 125-45, 144.
(6.) Leo Bersani, A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Columbia Univ. Press, 1984), p. 61.
(7.) David R. Carroll, "Felix Holt Society as Protagonist," NCF 17, 3 (December 1962): 237-52, 237.
(8.) Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976; rprt. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1994), p. 234. On the relationship between such game-based images of society and sociological theory, see Norbert Elias, On Civilization, Power, and Knowledge: Selected Writings, ed. Stephen Mennell and Johan Goudsblom (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 131-5.
(9.) Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, p. 234.
(10.) George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life, ed. David Lodge (London: Penguin, 1973; rprt. 1985), p. 98; The Mill on the Floss, ed. Gordon S. Haight Gordon Sherman Haight (1901-1985) was an American professor of English at Yale University from 1950 to 1968. He was the author of George Eliot: A Biography; editor of The George Eliot Letters. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. 1980), p. 422: Felix Holt, pp. 246, 330: Middlemarch, pp. 498, 528.
(11.) George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life, p. 85.
(12.) Alan Mintz, George Eliot and the Novel of Vocation (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1978), p. 14.
(13.) William Deresiewicz, "Heroism and Organicism or·gan·i·cism
1. The theory that all disease is associated with structural alterations of organs.
2. The theory that the total organization of an organism, rather than the functioning of individual organs, is the principal or in the Case of Lydgate," SEL (SELect) A toggle switch on a printer that takes the printer alternately between online and offline.
1. SEL - Self-Extensible Language.
2. SEL - Subset-Equational Language. 38, 4 (Autunm 1998): 723-40, 731.
(14.) Although George Eliot's female characters are relatively untouched by economic specialization, they are also subject to the difficulties of living within a network of other individuals. However, their unhappy experiences tend to be concentrated in marriage (as with Dorothea); and, as happens at the end of Romola, George Eliot's heroines (unlike her male protagonists) often accept and transvalue trans·val·ue
tr.v. trans·val·ued, trans·val·u·ing, trans·val·ues
To evaluate by a new standard or principle, especially by one that varies from conventional standards. the constraints imposed upon them by their society.
(15.) Miller discusses the epistemology of the web in "Optic and Semiotic," pp. 129-32.
(16.) Miller points out that "George Eliot's assumption is that in the social world, at least, such changes in scale reveal a strict homogeneity between the large-scale and small-scale grain or texture of things" (p. 129). This peculiarity follows from the assumptions that George Eliot makes about how a society freely determines its own structure. Broadly speaking, the metaphysics of realism demands that at every level of description, human institutions display a self-organizing texture like that of the web.
(17.) Raymond Williams, Culture and Society: 1780-1950 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1958; rprt. 1983), p. 108.
(18.) On realism as a style or a method of observation, see Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1957), pp. 9-34; Eric Auerbach, Mimesis mimesis /mi·me·sis/ (mi-me´sis) the simulation of one disease by another.mimet´ic
1. The appearance of symptoms of a disease not actually present, often caused by hysteria. : The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1953; rprt. 1974), pp. 454-92. Although both critics examine a much longer period, their descriptions are intended to hold true for nineteenth-century literary realism also.
(19.) Rosemarie Bodenheimer, The Politics of Story in Victorian Social Fiction (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 211-2.
(20.) As Kathryn Sutherland correctly observes, "Smith's economy, like the Victorian multi-plot novel (and unlike the providential eighteenth-century one), is a vast unintended design, with characters freely pursuing their own schemes in ignorance of the larger plan that they unconsciously promote." But Sutherland does not account for the existence of this analogy, that is, she does not see the realist or anti-teleological logic of Smith's "vast unintended design." See "Fictional Economies: Adam Smith, Walter Scott, and the Nineteenth-Century Novel," ELH ELH English Literary History
ELH North Eleuthera, Bahamas (Airport Code)
ELH Entity Life History (database)
ELH Early Life History
ELH Epic Level Handbook (Dungeons and Dragons) 54, 1 (Spring 1987): 97-127, 109.
(21.) Bodenheimer, p. 233.
(22.) George Eliot, Silas Marner, ed. Q. D. Leavis (London: Penguin. 1967; rprt. 1985), p. 127.
(23.) George Eliot, Silas Marner, p. 220.
(24.) Silas Marner, by my argument, is a transitional work, with its several clusters of characters; interestingly, it does contain a blackmailer, Dunstan Cass, but Dunstan succeeds only in killing himself rather than in forcing poetic justice upon his brother Godfrey.
(25.) George Eliot, Impressions of Theophrastus Such (London: William Pickering, 1994), p. 63.
(26.) Eliot, Impressions of Theophrastus Such, p. 63.
(27.) In her 1856 review "The Natural History of German Life," George Eliot translated and concurred with W. H. Riehl's observation that in "modern society the divisions of rank indicate division of labour, according to that distribution of functions in the social organism which the historical constitution of society has determined. In this way the principle of differentiation and the principle of unity are identical." See Selected Critical Writings, ed. Rosemary Ashton (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992), pp. 260-95, 292.
(28.) Alexander Welsh, George Eliot and Blackmail (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1985), p. 240.
(29.) Welsh, p. 240.
(30.) Herbert Spencer, Principles of Sociology, ed. Stanislav Andreski (Hamden CT: Archon, 1969), p. 644.
(31.) Miller, p. 129.
(32.) Smith An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations, ed. Edwin Cannan (New York: Random House. 1937), p. 651.
(33.) This is not an uncontroversial assessment. Evidence of my characterization rests on the analysis of the "invisible hand" as well as the fact that Smith is careful in descriptions of perspectives and observer figures. He qualifies, limits, and concretizes what looks on its introduction like a transcendental or systematizing principle--his figures for the voice of society. The rhetorical nature of such expressions as the "invisible hand" or the "impartial spectator" is foregrounded. The "impartial spectator," for example, becomes a "supposed impartial spectator" in Theory of Moral Sentiments. At one point, this spectator is an ally of the reader; at another, merely an expression for a single, divided consciousness (like Freud's superego superego: see psychoanalysis.
In Freudian psychoanalytic theory, one of the three aspects of the human personality, along with the id and the ego. ).
(34.) Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, p. 58.
(35.) George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life, p. 322.
(37.) Where I have argued that George Eliot's figures are a critical part of her realist project, Miller contends that they mark, instead, realism's failure: "The web of interpretative figures cast by the narrator over the characters of the story becomes a net in which the narrator himself is entangled and trapped, his sovereign vision blinded" (p. 144).
(38.) Miller argues that George Eliot criticizes here "the same projective pro·jec·tive
1. Extending outward; projecting.
2. Relating to or made by projection.
3. Mathematics Designating a property of a geometric figure that does not vary when the figure undergoes projection. , subjective, even egotistic act" common to every act of representation: "Middlemarch society perhaps appears to be a web only because a certain kind of subjective light is concentrated on it" (pp. 139-40).
Imraan Coovadia is an assistant professor in the Department of English Noun 1. department of English - the academic department responsible for teaching English and American literature
academic department - a division of a school that is responsible for a given subject at Clark University.