Eliot and Feminist Theory Theories Term Paper

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George Eliot

Kristeva's philosophy can be applied to nearly every narrative especially in association with the body as a universal source of human language. In every narrative there are traces of description that help the reader understand the universal stance of the body, be it a description of a facial expression or the full description of a character based upon the description of his or her appearance. Eliot makes clear through her character descriptions that the body is the universal symbol of the person as all beings are objects exhibiting behavior within a certain context of their person. One quote from Amos Barton is especially telling of both the conservative context of Eliot's writing and the universal reliance on the abject body as a symbol of the whole being:

No,' said Mr. Hackit, who was fond of soothing the acerbities of the feminine mind with a jocose compliment, 'you held your petticoats so high, to show your tight ankles: it isn't everybody as likes to show her ankles.' This joke met with general acceptance, even from the snubbed Janet, whose ankles were only tight in the sense of looking extremely squeezed by her boots. But Janet seemed always to identify herself with her aunt's personality, holding her own under protest. 51

The ankle in this time was seen as one of the most erogenous pieces of the female anatomy and though there was laughter surrounding this mention it would have been clear that the eighty plus year old conservative woman who was being spoken of in this passage would have been mildly scandalized by such a joke. Eliot, challenges the strict role of women and also plays into the stereotypes, with all her characterizations of women.

Eliot's duality as both a persona and a feminist is often a point of modern analysis as can be seen here:

It seems right that the real George Eliot, if there ever was such a person, still lies in an unconsecrated corner of Highgate Cemetery next to George Henry Lewes, while the self she created with her novels has just been resurrected into the immodestly pompous eternity of Westminster Abbey. These dual graves are one dramatization of a divided life, whose painful care for its own privacy and artistic attentiveness to the private consciousness of others fought a hunger for self-dramatization and an irrepressible instinct for self-display.

Auerbach 253)

Through a quote from a letter that Eliot wrote the reader can see her conviction to better the position of women is very real yet she was continually pulled back by the context of her life and her education. She had strong beliefs and hopes for change:

On the subject of women's education she had something to say to Mrs. Peter Taylor and to Sara. To the first she wrote that she was hoping for much good from the serious presentation of women's claims before Parliament; to Sara she exclaimed Si muove! 'A woman's college, between London and Cambridge, in connection with Cambridge, sharing professors, examinations, degrees!' Writing Barbara Bodichon a little later, she expressed succinctly her wise judgment in regard to education and work both for men and for women. No good could come to either, she felt, while each aimed at doing the highest kind of work, which should be held sacred to the few. Only the few can do the best: the deepest disgrace is to insist on doing that for which we are unfit. (Williams 230-231)

With a careful reading of two of George Eliot's most well-known works, Scenes of Clerical Life: Amos Barton and Adam Bede it is clear that George Eliot was torn between the propriety of her station, which she so wished to reject and an attempt to challenge the position of women. On the one hand she tried to challenge the position of women through the discourse between the male characters within her works. On the other hand she makes clear through her descriptions of those same characters that though they are observable beings they are both foreign and objectified by sensuous description.

Kristeva would say that Eliot through Amos' reliance on the musical aspects of the new evangelical faith he wished to share with all he was attempting to refrain from rejecting the female voice.

Popish blacksmith had produced a strong Protestant reaction by declaring that, as soon as the Emancipation Bill was passed, he should do a great stroke of business in gridirons; and the disinclination of the Shepperton parishioners generally to dim the unique glory of St. Lawrence, rendered the Church and Constitution an affair of their business and bosoms. A zealous Evangelical preacher had made the old sounding-board vibrate with quite a different sort of elocution from Mr. Gilfil's; the hymn-book had almost superseded the Old and New Versions; and the great square pews were crowded with new faces from distant corners of the parish - perhaps from Dissenting chapels. (43)

Eliot's difficult position of wishing to prove the intellectual ability of women while cloaked as a man is fundamental when applied to the feminist philosophy of Kristeva. Kristeva addresses the language of the body as universal and in the first passage of Amos Barton the description of the church building is compared to a part of the Barton anatomy:

Now there is a wide span of slated roof flanking the old steeple; the windows are tall and symmetrical; the outer doors are resplendent with oak-graining, the inner doors reverentially noiseless with a garment of red baize; and the walls, you are convinced, no lichen will ever again effect a settlement on - they are smooth and innutrient as the summit of the Rev. Amos Barton's head, after ten years of baldness and supererogatory soap. Pass through the baize doors and you will see the nave filled with well-shaped benches, understood to be free seats; while in certain eligible corners, less directly under the fire of the clergyman's eye, there are pews reserved for the Shepperton gentility. (Eliot, pg. 41)

Through this description of Amos, Eliot creates both a caricature of Amos as solid and unwavering and at least a little self important.

When she is speaking of his self importance she also outlines a very clear expression of the human reliance upon appearances to both self determineation and public expression. "We are poor plants buoyed up by the air-vessels of our own conceit: alas for us, if we get a few pinches that empty us of that windy selfsubsistence!" (52) Eliot makes clear that through our ideas of self we build our ego and our ideas of self are often associated with confidence, real or imagined in how we look to others. "The very capacity for good would go out of us. For, tell the most impassioned orator, suddenly, that his wig is awry, or his shirt-lap hanging out, and that he is tickling people by the oddity of his person, instead of thrilling them by the energy of his periods, and you would infallibly dry up the spring of his eloquence." (52)

Kristeva would say that Eliot through Amos' reliance on the musical aspects of the new evangelical faith he wished to share with all he was attempting to refrain from rejecting the female voice.

Popish blacksmith had produced a strong Protestant reaction by declaring that, as soon as the Emancipation Bill was passed, he should do a great stroke of business in gridirons; and the disinclination of the Shepperton parishioners generally to dim the unique glory of St. Lawrence, rendered the Church and Constitution an affair of their business and bosoms. A zealous Evangelical preacher had made the old sounding-board vibrate with quite a different sort of elocution from Mr. Gilfil's; the hymn-book had almost superseded the Old and New Versions; and the great square pews were crowded with new faces from distant corners of the parish - perhaps from Dissenting chapels. (43)

Yet, regardless of this unquenching desire to be close to the resonance of sound, and therefore the first sounds of the mother within the womb he is still drawn to reject the mother and through ignorance and propriety so is his faithful wife.

By comparing his Amos' head to a building, which elicits no change and no progress Eliot begins to foreshadow her opinion of Amos as rather fixed, routine and in many ways unaware. Eliot describes Amos as innutrient, unable to offer a safe harbor for learning. She goes on to repeatedly describe him as daft, incapable of living up to his own opinions of himself.

Mr Barton mounted to his study, and occupied himself in the first place with his letter to Mr. Oldinport. It was very much the same sort of letter as most clergymen would have written under the same circumstances, except that instead of perambulate, the Rev. Amos wrote preambulate, and instead of 'if haply', 'if happily', the contingency indicated being the reverse of happy. (59)

Bumbleing on through his duties both unaware of mistakes and despite his unusual education. His plebian…

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