English, Department of


Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 16 (1985)


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


Throughout both her essays and her fiction, George Eliot shows little patience with ignorance. in the epigraph to chapter 21 of Daniel Deronda she states, "It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly considered or set forth the power of Ignorance?" (bk. 1) The failure of an individual to fulfill his role in society with a reasonable level of competence because of inadequate knowledge or an inability to apply information properly is a matter for concern. Beginning with her earliest fiction, Eliot uses characterisation and plot to demonstrate her contempt for a wide spectrum of incompetence.

By today's standards, most occupations were comparatively unregulated in the nineteenth century, and even the traditional professions lacked effective external or internal guidelines to ensure a reliable standard of performance. Therefore, a significant number of professionals did not have adequate education in their fields, possessed only outdated information, were unrestrained in unethical practices, or were simply lacking in ability. Eliot focuses -her harshest criticism of ineptitude on characters in the clergy, law, and medicine -- those who, because of their prestige and their power over the behaviour and welfare of others, were in positions to do the greatest harm.

Eliot presents glaring examples of incompetence among clergymen who work with congregations, those who appear primarily as teacher's, and those whose main interest is scholarship.