Middlemarch in the Twenty-First Century

Middlemarch in the Twenty-First Century

Middlemarch in the Twenty-First Century

Middlemarch in the Twenty-First Century

Synopsis

Middlemarch is the prime example of George Eliot's dictum that "interpretations are illimitable," and in this collection of new essays Middlemarch is re-examined as an open text responsive to gaps and fissures, and as resistant to authority as it is to other fixed notions of identity, idealism, and gender. What does the novel omit, and how do the omissions shape what is there? How shall we understand the materiality of the text? What problems does it pose to adaptation? The novel's plasticity becomes a basis for investigation into the multiple forms of expressiveness, and a consideration of how we might plot the patterns linguistically, ideologically, even cinematically. New spaces emerge within character, place, and narrative; what seemed absent or inaccessible assumes shape and definition; Middlemarch remains "Victorian" but it is a Victorianism understood through the dual perspectives of the 19th and 21st centuries. Scholars of George Eliot and students of Victorianism will be engaged by the wide-ranging scope of these essays, which nonetheless build on each other to form a coherent narrative of critical reflections. If there is something for everyone in Middlemarch, there is also something compelling about each of the essays in this collection.

Excerpt

What better justifies a collection of new essays on an old classic than an acknowledgment of interpretive evanescence? The phrase, “the varying experiments of Time” (prelude, 3) suggests why criticism always benefits from renewal, but it hardly narrows the field. With few editorial alterations, the text of Middlemarch remains unchanged: the novel withstands the pressures of time, circumstance, and personality. However, its meaning changes both within the culture and within the consciousness of individual readers. It is for each generation to chart the differences that ensure that the novel will not become a relic, but will continue to exert a pressure on the twenty-first century as vitally as it did in its nineteenth and our twentieth centuries.

Critical reassessments fill the space between “ambitious ideals” of the past and the “breathing forgetfulness” of the present (ch. 20, 181): if Dorothea had been accompanied by a more responsive critic on her Roman honeymoon, she might have been spared her first marital catastrophe. This recognition puts a gloss on Will Ladislaw's critique of Casaubon's datedness. We might say that Middlemarch ad-

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