English, Department of



Lesley Gordon

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 25 (1994)


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


These notes comment first of all upon some points in Joseph Wiesenfarth's article 'Mythic Perspectives in George Eliot's Fiction' in The George Eliot Review, 24, 1993.

One of his interpretations of an allusion to Greek myth relates to Farebrother's remark to Lydgate that:

I am not a mighty man - I shall never be a man of renown. The choice of Hercules is a pretty fable; but Prodicus makes it easy to work for the hero, as if the first resolves were enough. Another story says that he came to hold the distaff, and at least wore the Nessus shirt. I suppose one resolve might keep a man right if everyone else's resolve helped him (Ch. 18,218).

There is no evidence that, as Wiesenfarth claims, 'Lydgate thinks well of this Hercu1es' or that, as he further states, the doctor is displeased by the Hercules who holds the distaff and wears the Nessus shirt. Instead, part of the significance lies in the fact that this is one of the many allusions in the novel, by narrator or by characters, to 'heroes' in various fields of endeavor, references which help to establish and embellish the theme of heroism. In this case, Farebrother, despite his denial, does indeed become a hero of sorts in giving up the woman he loves, so making a Choice of Hercules in choosing the hard path of renunciation. Further, as Wiesenfarth also indicates, but in ways different from or additional to those he suggests, the remark adumbrates the future of the doctor. Though Lydgate, despite his faults, has the potential to be a hero of medicine, 'first resolves' - his medical ambitions - indeed will not be enough for this medical Hercules, 'one good resolve' not keeping him right because 'everyone else's', i.e. Rosamond's and those of the people of Middlemarch, do not. His fate will be to take the way of ease and 'to hold the distaff' in his submission to his wife, and to die, metaphorically wearing the Nessus shirt of his poisoned ambitions.