In the epigraph to the first chapter of Daniel Deronda, George Eliot writes that we "can do nothing without the make believe of a beginning. Even Science, the strict measurer, is obliged to start with a make believe unit.... No retrospect will take us to the true beginning." Her story sets out, she says, with "but a fraction of that all presupposing fact" (35). So it is too with endings. Even when something is at an end, in many ways its conclusion is only illusory, a convenient place to stop but by no means a finale. Rather, endings serve as peaks of observation, places to pause, to examine what has come before, and -- perhaps -- to serve as make-believe places for yet other beginnings.
Because this study has concerned itself with a particular moment in cultural history and is not a study of the development of the novel per se, I want to forego what might seem the obligatory closing: suggestions about how novels published after 1850 were engaged in interpretive competition with other discourses. Instead I want to return to some of the theoretical and textual implications that Novel Possibilities has raised. The issues that have surfaced in the preceding pages, concerns with class, morality, and the formation of both subjectivity and agency, are directly linked to my conviction that novels in the nineteenth century, especially in those years between the first Reform Bill and the demise of Chartism, function constitutively; in effect they function as discourse. Institutionalized, however loosely, they do cultural work that is more than epiphenomenal, and more than "merely" interpretive. And while they may indeed help to resolve temporarily some ideological contradictions within the cultural matrix, they also are instrumental in the formation of that matrix. Their interpretive achievements create possibilities for action, both resistive and consensual, as well as offer paradigms of understanding and being. Thus novels, and in this study specifically social-problem novels, go one better than Raymond Williams's claim that they make sense of a changing world; they help to make the very world they presume to interpret. By providing rep
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Publication information: Book title: Novel Possibilities:Fiction and the Formation of Early Victorian Culture. Contributors: Joseph W. Childers - Author. Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press. Place of publication: Philadelphia. Publication year: 1995. Page number: 179.
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