English, Department of


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The George Eliot Review 28 (1997) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (28)


My favourite exam 'howler' came from a first year student who wrote lyrically of the episode in Wuthering Heights in which Cathy opened the window, 'and the Moors came pounding in' - as though a hundred dark-skinned men on horseback came trampling over Cathy's prostrate body. Susan Meyer's book, Imperialism at Home, while in no way suggesting anything so ludicrous as a north African invasion of a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors, does, nevertheless, lend a certain logic to the idea. Meyer's point is that we should read the abundant oriental imagery and allusions in Victorian fiction by women much more literally than we would usually be inclined. For Meyer, such imagery is not simply representative of some indeterminate exoticism, or passion, or power, but rather a sign of the real economic and social relations of colonialism that underpinned the domestic world represented in the novel.

This, of course, is not new ground. Since the publication of Edward Said's Orientalism (1979), the geo-political world of European literature has been opened up, exploded even, by the realization that within it can be identified signs of Europe's economic and cultural exploitation of the East. In her study Meyer draws on, and enters into debate with critics such as Said, and others who have explored these ideas specifically in relation to the nineteenth-century novel, such as Azim, Brantlinger, Spivak, and Sharpe. Often the differences between Meyer's work and previously published studies are small ones - points of emphasis rather than widely differing interpretations. Her particular focus is the way in which the insistent linking - or as she puts it, 'yoking' - of white women and peoples of non-European races is negotiated in the works of three canonical British women, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte and George Eliot