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Use Of The Epigraph In George Eliot's Middlemarch

628 words - 3 pages

Use of the Epigraph in George Eliot's Middlemarch

The epigraph is an unusual, though not uncommon, form of citation. It is a part of the text yet distinct from it. White space and specialized formatting, such as italics, separate the epigraph from the main text, thereby challenging the reader to determine the relationship between the two. Unlike a typical quotation, which dwells in the midst of the text, illuminating one point in the argument, the epigraph's unique positioning prior to the body of the text highlights particular ideas, words, or images and thereby guides the reading of the entire argument. In essence, its shadow falls across and affects the reading of the text it precedes. This shadow looms large because it is formed not only by the body of the epigraph but also by the scholar, philosopher, or poet, and textual source from which it is taken. Like all citations, the epigraph creates an intertextuality and a dialogue with another author.

The heuristic function of the epigraph may seem relatively simple when looking at a journal article that begins with an epigraph. However, things become much more complicated when examining a text like George Eliot's Middlemarch where Eliot begins each chapter with an epigraph and the whole work with a preface on Saint Theresa. Eliot's layers of epigraphs complicate the point above, that the epigraph casts a shadow over the entire argument, because the whole of Middlemarch is not captured in a single epigraph. The preface on Saint Theresa may come close, but technically it is not an epigraph. Nevertheless, scholars have used the epigraphs as a way to illuminate particular chapters of Middlemarch and have studied the epigraphs as a body in order to determine how Eliot uses them. In particular, David Leon Higdon, in an article entitled "George Eliot and the Art of the Epigraph," identifies four ways in which her epigraphs...

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