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UBC Theses and Dissertations

George eliot's versions of the pastoral Harker, Mary J.


In an attempt to explain the discrepancy between the intellectual and imaginative elements in George Eliot's art, her version of the pastoral in Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner is examined. Based on the Warwickshire countryside of her childhood and on the Wordsworthian notion of childhood, her pastoral is the environmental correlative to the spiritual development of a character according to Ludwig Feuerbach's "Religion of Humanity." The pastoral is used to portray man's initial happy state* that is informed by his own egoism and limited viewpoint. The pastoral is also used to portray a kind of second Eden that is inherited by those men who have achieved a wider vision in the "Religion of Humanity." At the same time, the pastoral has certain unconscious associations for George Eliot which produce an imaginative pattern that is different from the one she consciously intends. The appeal of a sense of womb-like enclosedness generated by her pastoral and her apprehension of the world of intellectual and emotional maturity that lies beyond the infantile milieu create an imaginative pattern of psychological regression. The chief character within this pattern (who may also be the chief character within the intentional pattern) finally "dies" in the fatal attempt to remain within the infantile realm. At this low ebb in the imaginative pattern, the new celebrant in the "Religion of Humanity," having achieved an understanding of the not-self, is about to enter his new and shining second Eden. Thus, the enclosed and narrow point of view that corresponds to the initial stage in man's spiritual development is never imaginatively abandoned. Adam Bede is the chief inhabitant of Hayslope which shares his limited and self-centred outlook. The malfeasance of Adam's fiancee, Hetty Sorrel, initiates Adam and Hayslope into new awareness. Finally, Adam returns to an apocalyptic Hayslope with his superior Eve, Dinah Morris. Hetty Sorrel is the focus of the imaginative interest in the novel. Although the child-like Hetty initially seeks to quit the security of the Hall Farm, she later "dies"in the attempt to return. Her "death" and Adam's initiation into the "Religion of Humanity" are almost simultaneous. Through suffering and resignation, Maggie Tulliver learns to imitate Christ according to the precepts of Thomas a Kempis (and Ludwig Feuerbach). Her reward, in death, is a second childhood Eden which is much superior to the first one which was often shaken with egoistic squabbles. Imaginatively, Maggie's resignation takes on the form of a fatal timidity towards life and an inability to quit the infantile relationships within the family circle. She "dies" at the end of a regressive journey into the self at the same point where she receives the cross in recognition of her relationship and duty to others. In Silas Marner, the intellectual and imaginative elements are more closely aligned. Silas "dies" at the conclusion of a regressive journey into the self which also corresponds to his social withdrawl and spiritual death. Similarly, he is reborn and grows into an awareness of a beautiful pastoral world as his vision is widened to include the love and sympathy of fellow human beings. After Silas Marner, George Eliot seldom returned to the pastoral material she developed in the trilogy. Intellectually, her pastoral did not lend itself to a more critical examination of ideas and beliefs while imaginatively, it had become ultimately uncomfortable and unsatisfactory. That she had outgrown her pastoral and that she was unable to replace it with another imaginative system help explain her artistic sterility during the eighteen-sixties.

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