George Eliot and Romanticism : Romantic Elements in George Eliot's Thought and their Relation to the Structure of her Novels
Newton, Kenneth M.
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Romanticism can be seen as a fundamental change in some men's way of looking at the world: meaning was no longer immanent in external reality but derived from the nature of the mind and projected onto the world. As Romanticism developed, this form of thinking received an increasingly radical expression. George Eliot's intellectual development was towards the most radical Romantic thought. Her agreement with Peuerbach's and G. H. Lewes's philosophical positions illustrates this. This way of thinking had possibly nihilistic implications which she did not accept, but Darwinism, which justified in different terms some of these nihil¬ istic ideas, forced her to face them. Though she is commonly thought not to have been seriously affected by Darwin, it can be shown that she was well aware of his ideas and their implications. She accepted Darwin's basic position but resisted the negative interpretations that could be derived from this: most importantly that society like nature was a struggle with the fittest surviving and that the individual should therefore view his situation as one of struggle and adaptation, and also that in a world of chance there was no moral order which could justify moral values. A character like Tito in Romola who bases his life on implicitly Darwinian principles finds no tenable sense of identity. This is related to her concern with egoism. For her, the Romantic egoist who denies all values not derived from the self can only lead an alienated existence. There are two main groups of Romantics: organicist Romantics who seek a new orientation for the individual ana. for society at large, and egoistic or demonic Romantics who reject any authority superior to the ego and its right to selfrealisation. George Eliot belongs to the former and radically criticises the latter. A major difference between the two groups is over feeling. Though George Eliot had many philosophical ideas in common with a radical Romantic egoist like Metzsche, she fundamentally disagreed with him over feeling, which she thought could be the basis of a purely human world-view that could express Christian moral values in a new form. But feeling needed control and direction and this was in part provided by her vision of the good society. She believed that society must be organic, that the traditions and values of the past must develop organically so as to create continuity. Sooiety must have a sense of corporate consciousness which would prevent the development of a moral and intellectual relativism that could only lead to sterile forms of egoism or alienation. Related to the organic conception of society, is her view of memory as a means of creating continuity in the individual's life. Without this he is subject to alienation or swept along by feelings and impulses, and this provides no possibility of a secure sense of identity. The Mill on the Floss is oonoerned with memory both as a form of human transcendence and as a means of creating control and direction for feeling. Both Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda can be seen to be greatly concerned with Romantic ideas and their implications.