Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 27 (1996)
The seventeenth conference of the Australasian Victorian Studies Association was held at the University of Adelaide in February 1996. The conference theme 'The Victorians and Science' inspired several papers on George Eliot's relation to matters scientific.
Barbara Garlick (Senior Tutor, University of Queensland) examined passages from Daniel Deronda in her paper 'George Eliot's Optics and the "Solidity of Objects'“. Dr. Garlick premissed her account of Eliot's optics on Lewes's theory of vision as a psychological act which interiorizes the external world according to intuitions and ideas. Vision was used to demonstrate how ways of seeing structure the narrative as they do the self, and how, according to Eliot, the role of the novelist is to 'make ideas incarnate'. The world of Daniel Deronda seems predicated on right seeing, and it is dominated by visual metaphors. Chapter 54 alone contains more repetitions of the word 'image' than anywhere else in the novel. What Dr. Garlick called Eliot's 'highly developed pattern of techniques of seeing' is especially vivid in the metaphors used in Chapter 23, where Gwendolen is 'undeceived' in her ambitions to take to the stage by Klesmer, who brings together Gwendolen's surroundings which she thinks she is master of, and her inward chaos. At the chapter's end the physiological condition of Gwendolen's eyes allows her to see mnemonic aspects of her being as if they were objects, part of a 'departing fair’.
In 'The Message of a Magic Touch: Middlemarch and the Ether' Thomas Hoy (PhD Candidate at La Trobe University) explored the epistemology of Middlemarch. The characters all fail in their attempts to find unitary theories of knowledge, yet the narrator wants to attain a suffusive sense of interconnection. Hoy reads Eliot's 'troublous, fitfully embroiled medium' in terms of nineteenth-century ether theory, which satisfied the Victorians' desire for monisms. It was an imaginative construct which allowed continuity between material and non-material order. It is an arduous invention like Lydgate's. Like the scientific theory of ether, Eliot's web is an imaginative fiction, a working theory uniting the psychological and physical structure of the world.