George Eliot and the Landscape of Time: Narrative Form and Protestant Apocalyptic History

By Mary Wilson Carpenter | Go to book overview

Preface

He was absorbed in mastering all those painstaking interpretations of the Book of Daniel, which are by this time well gone to the limbo of mistaken criticism ... —Felix Holt

It is sometimes more productive to investigate those sources an author disclaims than those openly avowed. According to Jacques Lacan, the epos by which the individual "brings back into the present the origins of his own person" often includes a "discourse of earlier days in its own archaic, even foreign language. 1' We may not think it important that the interpretive discourse George Eliot here hastens to assure us was "well gone to the limbo of mistaken criticism" in fact was flourishing in the mid‐ Victorian era, as it continues to do in the late twentieth century. 2 But certainly more important than her deliberate underestimate of its popularity is her veiled admission of a personal knowledge of "those painstaking interpretations," for what is recognized as "mistaken" does not vanish into some welcome limbo but continues to construct our recognition of what we believe is not mistaken. The "archaic" discourse George Eliot consigns to limbo is actually one she employs extensively in her construction of personal and historical origins—and ends.

Like Rufus Lyon, the young Mary Ann Evans was for a time absorbed in the intricacies of apocalyptic "continuous historical" interpretation centering on the Books of Daniel and Revelation. My investigation therefore at first sought to recover an understanding of this traditionally Protestant interpretation of biblical prophecy in order to better understand George Eliot's "creation" as a historian. I wanted to know how this exegetical tradition presupposed "history" in narrative, what particular designs and strategies it might have furnished a Victorian novel-writer, how

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