English, Department of



Ian Sutton

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 23 (1992)


Published by The George Eliot Review Online https://GeorgeEliotReview.org


This is the first of a series which will 'take full account of contemporary literary theory, providing collections of key modern readings of major authors.... Among the critical positions represented are British poststructuralism, deconstruction, feminism, psychoanalysis, Marxism and new historicism'.

Do not despair, however. Things are not quite as bad as they sound. Most of the essays here can be understood with a bit of effort and most of those are worth the effort. They have been carefully chosen not only to include the main schools of criticism but also to cover the whole range of George Eliot's work, and even to convey a real whiff of controversy by juxtaposing critics who radically disagree with each other (McCabe v. Lodge, Chase v. Newton).

What is chiefly worrying the academic world at the moment seems to be the problem of realism. Put crudely, the idea is that most Victorian novelists thought they could and should represent objective reality, whereas according to modem critical thinking they couldn't and shouldn't. It is not difficult to show that few of them held that belief naively and that they were just as well aware of the nature of fiction, the conventions of narrative and status of the authorial voice as any of their critics. J. Hillis Miller and Colin McCabe both devote keen attention to this point, suggesting that George Eliot was in some way making unjustified claims for what she was doing. Their views are answered by Jonathan Arac and, to my mind finally. by David Lodge in a splendid analysis of certain passages of Middlemarch leading to this conclusion: the authorial commentary, so far from telling the reader what to think or pulling him in a position of dominance in relation to the discourse of the characters, constantly forces him to think for himself and constantly implicates him in the moral judgements being formulated.'