English, Department of

 

Authors

Terence Dawson

Date of this Version

2005

Document Type

Article

Citation

The George Eliot Review 36 (2005) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/

Comments

The George Eliot Review 2019 (36)

Abstract

Let me declare my critical prejudices from the outset. Terence Dawson's study is a work of psychological criticism, of post-Jungian criticism to be exact, and I am frequently left unconvinced by such critical inquiry. As Dawson admits, 'it is often held that the weakness of psychological analyses of literary works is that they require the reader to accept their premises. This both is, and is not so.' In the case of Dawson's book, I can't help but feel that it is so, and by the end of a dense, if often suggestive, study, I remained unpersuaded as to the merits of this particular post-Jungian interpretation. As a reader always keen to learn more about George Eliot and her writing, I was left disappointed in the relatively scant attention paid her. The only work by her discussed at length is Silas Marner, although to say that it is discussed at length may misrepresent things; in fact, in a study of some 300 pages, George Eliot's novel warrants only 26 pages. Although the subtitle to the study suggests a far wider sweep - Scott, et al- the crux of Dawson's argument rests on readings of single novels by each author: lvanhoe, paired up in discussion with The Picture of Dorian Gray; Wuthering Heights paired with Silas Mamer. I'll come on to the unusual pairings in a moment, but for now, suffice to say that Dawson's project is not a sweeping one, so much as it about showing in very close detail how one might read these particular texts using quite specific post-Jungian ideas.

Dawson makes the case for his project in the Introduction, which is worth reading carefully because he's good at laying out exactly what he's taking from Jung and Jungian-minded critics, and explaining the terms and concepts (anima/animus, compensation, archetypes, in particular). It is in the Introduction - usually clearly and directly - that he maps out what he'll do. He coins the term 'effective protagonist' to mean

an axial character to which all the events of the novel can be related, without exception: even those events in which the effective protagonist takes no part reflect an aspect of a process affecting him or her. In other words, the effective protagonist is the character that determines both the structural and psychological coherence of the entirety of the narrative question.

In the case of Silas Mamer, the effective protagonist turns out to be Nancy Lammeter, and, 'by extension, she is also the "carrier" of a major aspect of the author's unconscious personality, and the novel thus gives expression to a psychological dilemma pertinent to George Eliot at the time of writing.' Well, okay, but I'm never really convinced about why I should care about the author's unconscious at the time of writing the novel.

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