George Eliot and Schiller: Narrative, Ambivalence in Middlemarch and Felix Holt

By Guth, Deborah | The Modern Language Review, October 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

George Eliot and Schiller: Narrative, Ambivalence in Middlemarch and Felix Holt


Guth, Deborah, The Modern Language Review


Much has been written about the various literary and philosophical currents that contributed to the making of George Eliot's work. In a woman as intensely intellectual as she was this can be fascinating work, especially as she was widely read in English, French, and German ideas, and within each one in a variety of fields, from literature and philosophy to phrenology, social thought, Biblical criticism, and scientific ideas, to name but the most prominent. Most significant, however, is to look at how Eliot integrated the work of these authors, often challenging, recontextualizing, or adapting those she admired in order to suit her own unique perspective and fictional purpose. When one listens closely, one may hear many 'voices' within her work, not replicated as such (she should not be seen as a simple repository of others' thoughts) but inspiring and dialogizing her own thinking. As she herself stated: 'No mind that has any real life is a mere echo of another.' (1) Elsewhere she makes the case more clearly:

I wish you thoroughly to understand that the writers who have most profoundly influenced me [...] are not in the least oracles to me. [...] [Even if] Rousseau's views of life, religion, and government are miserably erroneous [...] it would not be the less true that Rousseau's genius [...] has awakened me to new perceptions, which has made man and nature a fresh world of thought and feeling to me--and this is not by teaching me any new belief. It is simply that the rushing mighty wind of his inspiration has so quickened my faculties that I have been able to shape more definitely for myself ideas which had previously dwelt as dim 'ahnungen' in my soul--the fire of his genius has so fused together old thoughts and prejudices that I have been ready to make new combinations. (Letters, I, 277)

One of the many voices that resonates in this way, but has received scant attention, is that of Schiller. (2) His reputation and popularity during the first half of the nineteenth century was enormous and is well documented. (3) From the time his early play Die Rauber came out in the late eighteenth century, causing an enormous stir, until the time when Goethe's reputation overtook his in the mid-nineteenth century, Schiller was widely read and much discussed in England. His influence on Coleridge is well known; other admiring readers include Shelley, Byron, Walter Scott, Thomas Campbell, Southey, De Quincey, Hazlitt, Carlyle (who wrote his biography), Bulwer-Lytton (who translated his poetry), and later on, Thackeray, John Stuart Mill, Macaulay, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, to name but a few. Many of them wrote of him in the most exalted terms. Thackeray saw him as second only to Shakespeare; De Quincey's entry on Schiller for the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1837 is typical of many responses: 'Schiller is the representative of the German intellect in its highest form [...] and his works are not more worthy of being studied for their singular force and originality than his moral character for its nobility and aspiring grandeur.' (4)

George Eliot, as we know, was widely read in German literature and thought altogether. She read it fluently from her late teens, she travelled to Germany no fewer than eight times with G. H. Lewes, often for lengthy periods. She knew many prominent intellectuals personally; she collaborated with Lewes on his major biography of Goethe. Her work for the Westminster Review included numerous reviews of German letters as well as five lengthy articles, and her letters and journals, liberally sprinkled with comments on her reading, testify to her continuing and intimate acquaintance with German ideas.

Given her affinity to the literature, given also Schiller's standing at that time as one of the great stars in the German firmament, it is hardly surprising that Eliot read most of his work and expressed great admiration for it. (5) She started learning German in March 1840 and by October of the same year she was reading Schiller's Maria Stuart.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

George Eliot and Schiller: Narrative, Ambivalence in Middlemarch and Felix Holt
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?