Cloud-Borne Angels, Prophets and the Old Woman’s Flower-Pot: Reading George Eliot’s Realism alongside Spinoza’s ‘beings of the imagination’

Although enormously popular in her lifetime, by the early twentieth century George Eliot's novels had fallen from favour. It was F.R. Leavis, in his influential 1948 monograph The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, who revived interest in her work and guaranteed her place in the British canon as a great realist novelist. However, by the last quarter of the twentieth century it was this very achievement that made her a prime target. Poststructuralist literary theorists came to question what they saw as Eliot's naivety in supposing that language could be a transparent medium for the representation of reality. By insisting on the materiality of language, and the production of subjects within and through language, they ventured that Eliot's realist novels were no more or less constructed than a Dadaist poem. What could realism mean if all reality is constructed in and through language and other signifying systems? Colin MacCabe, for example, criticised Eliot for assuming that her narratives offer a kind of 'transparent window onto an evident reality' (15, 37).

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Published 1 October 2013 in Volume 28 No. 3. Subjects: George Eliot.

Cite as: Gatens, Moira. ‘Cloud-Borne Angels, Prophets and the Old Woman’s Flower-Pot: Reading George Eliot’s Realism alongside Spinoza’s ‘beings of the imagination’.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, 2013. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.a38bcb13ed.