Incommunicable Consciousness: A Study on Perspective in Middlemarch
Dunavin, Anna Michele
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CitationDunavin, Anna Michele. 2010. Incommunicable Consciousness: A Study on Perspective in Middlemarch. Master's thesis, Harvard University, Extension School.
AbstractThis study investigates the function of communication and its correlation with perspective in George Eliot’s sixth novel Middlemarch. In particular, it focuses on the function of communication in disclosing communal and individual perspectives; examines the narrator’s role in mediating multiple points of view and shaping readers’ interpretations; and considers the relationship of communication to Eliot’s epistemological and ethical concerns. Middlemarch is widely recognized as one of the great experiments in nineteenth–century literary realism. Scholars have examined Eliot’s engagement with realist discourse from a variety of approaches and usually include some mention of perspective or language, yet none have examined the function of communication at length or its connection to perspective. I draw on principles from narrative theory to evaluate how and to what extent George Eliot uses communication in Middlemarch to further her rhetorical objective. In doing so, I argue that Eliot deliberately structures Middlemarch from many points of view in order to show the subjectivity of perspective and to reveal the individual’s capacity, or incapacity, for self–knowledge and sympathy for others. In contrasting verbal and nonverbal communication she demonstrates how a narrow perspective contributes to misperceptions and misinterpretations, as evidenced by many, if not the majority, of the novel’s characters. I argue that the inability of language to communicate consciousness speaks to Eliot’s interest in assisting readers to enlarge their understandings of the fictive world she represents and of their own realities. My interpretations are based on a close reading of the text as well as on the philosophical and sociological ideas that influenced George Eliot’s thinking as outlined in her essays and personal correspondence. I also make use of critical studies of Eliot and her works and studies of literary form and theory to interrogate my reading of Middlemarch. Ultimately, the study shows that Eliot uses both communication and silence in the pursuit of her aesthetic and moral aims to represent life realistically and to foster sympathy.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37367553
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