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Marriage As Slavery In Middlemarch Essay

2663 words - 11 pages

Marriage as Slavery in Middlemarch

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 it, saying, "It means 'to set aside,'... A parable is set or thrown at some distance from the meaning which controls it and to which it obliquely or parabolically refers." Eliot's decision to self-consciously utilize a parable resembles her allusion to the ancient statue. Unable to fully explain something by itself, Eliot takes advantage of literary devices to displace the content and coat it so that her reader may swallow the meaning.


Sir Thomas Browne's definition of "satire," which Eliot includes at the begining of chapter 45, further admits Eliot's awareness of the "displacing" (as Miller says) literary tact she employs in describing ideas that her reader will not otherwise be comfortable with, like her sexual female character or her complex theory on perspective. "Without the borrowed help and satire of times past;" goes the quotation from Browne, "condemning the vices of their own times [passed times], by the expressions of vices in times which they commend [present times]... [Satirists] cannot but argue the community of vice in both" (422). A bit earlier, Eliot puts the definition more subtely in the words of Mr. Brooke, Dorothea's father, "Satire, you know," he states, "should be true up...

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