“I am a woman’s life”: Representation of Women and Gender in George Eliot’s Fiction

Presented by Charlotte Fiehn
Department of English

When it comes to gender – representation and exploration – George Eliot presents a conundrum. In her novels, she develops female characters whose thoughts and actions confound modern feminist critics and a good number of readers. Many condemn Eliot for refusing to allow her heroines much in the way of autonomy or happiness – perhaps the most common objection from second-wave feminist critics of Eliot’s works. Yet, Eliot is far from unusual in this. Many of her contemporaries – from the Brontës onwards – denied their female characters, showing the constraints upon women during the mid-Victorian period. Eliot’s subject matter, even in its darker moments, is not especially unique either. She deals with infanticide, domestic violence, alcoholism, sexual desire, premarital pregnancy, and adultery throughout her works, but so did her contemporaries, both male and female, suggesting again that her negative evaluation by feminist critics pertains to some other aspect of her writing or her authorial persona. My paper explores how a tendency towards biographical reading (or biographically conscious reading) undermines the evaluation of women and gender in Eliot’s works. Challenging the conventional notion that Eliot outright rejects the feminist agenda of her day, I argue instead that Eliot’s treatment of women emphasizes her intense sympathy with the 'Woman Question' of the Victorian period, and that her consideration of gender presents a conundrum. In her novels, she develops female characters whose thoughts and actions confound modern feminist critics and a good number of readers. Many condemn Eliot for refusing to allow her heroines much in the way of autonomy or happiness – perhaps the most common objection from second-wave feminist critics of Eliot’s works. Yet, Eliot is far from unusual in this. Many of her contemporaries – from the Brontës onwards – denied their female characters, showing the constraints upon women during the mid-Victorian period. Eliot’s subject matter, even in its darker moments, is not especially unique either. She deals with infanticide, domestic violence, alcoholism, sexual desire, premarital pregnancy, and adultery throughout her works, but so did her contemporaries, both male and female, suggesting again that her negative evaluation by feminist critics pertains to some other aspect of her writing or her authorial persona. My paper explores how a tendency towards biographical reading (or biographically conscious reading) undermines the evaluation of women and gender in Eliot’s works. Challenging the conventional notion that Eliot outright rejects the feminist agenda of her day, I argue instead that Eliot’s treatment of women emphasizes her intense sympathy with the 'Woman Question' of the Victorian period, and that her consideration of gender demon- strates keen insight into the construction of the self, anticipating much in the way of psychoanalysis. Concentrat- ing upon two of her most famous works, Mill on the Floss (1860) and Middlemarch (1871-72), my paper offers a positive feminist reading of Eliot’s fiction and works to reframe her as at least a proto-feminist author.

Friday, October 5, 2018 at 12:00pm to 2:00pm


Garrison Hall (GAR), 4.100
128 INNER CAMPUS DR , Austin, Texas 78705

Event Type

Academics, Arts & Humanities

Target Audience

Students, Faculty

Website

https://www.facebook.com/events/30762...

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