George Eliot and the Politics of National Inheritance

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Oxford University Press, Mar 31, 1994 - History - 176 pages
In this stimulating history of the ideas behind George Eliot's novels, Bernard Semmel explores Eliot's imaginative use of the theme of inheritance, as a metaphor for her political thinking. Through detailed analyses of Eliot's novels and other writings, and a study of the intellectual currents of the time, Semmel demonstrates how and why Eliot's views on inheritance provided central ideas for her fiction. Semmel uncovers Eliot's intent when she wrote of the obligations of inheritance both in the common meaning of the term, as in the transfer of goods and property from parents to children, and in the more metaphoric sense of the inheritance of both the benefits and burdens of the historical past, particularly those of the nation's culture and traditions. He believes Eliot's novels dwelt so insistently on the idea of inheritance in good part because she viewed herself as intellectually "disinherited," writing as she did at a time when much of England was being transformed from a traditional community to an alienating modern society, and when, moreover, she suffered from a painful estrangement from her family. In this thought-provoking study, Semmel dissects the politics of Eliot's novels, including Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, Romola Felix Holt, and Adam Bede, and convincingly displays the relationship between Eliot's variations on the theme of inheritance and her acceptance of Britain's traditional policies of compromise and reform. All those interested in Victorian literature, history, and political thought will appreciate Semmel's George Eliot and the Politics of National Inheritance.

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1 The Myth of the Disinherited One
2 Free Will and the Politics of Inheritance
3 The Positivist Novel
4 Positivism and the Politics of Compromise in Middlemarch
5 The Disinherited Races

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Page 108 - I saw it might be taken as a symbol of the part which is played in the general human lot by hereditary conditions in the largest sense, and of the fact that what we call duty is entirely made up of such conditions...
Page 51 - ... compels him to reproduce external traits that serve, in some degree, as a corrective to his frequently false psychology, his preternaturally virtuous poor children and artisans, his melodramatic boatmen and courtesans, would be as...
Page 125 - I really can't see how you arrive at that sort of certitude about changes by calling them development," said Deronda. " There will still remain the degrees of inevitableness in relation to our own will and acts, and the degrees of wisdom in hastening or retarding; there will still remain the danger of mistaking a tendency which should be resisted for an inevitable law that we must adjust ourselves to, — which seems to me as bad a superstition or false god as any that has been set up without the...
Page 45 - We have an inheritable crown; an inheritable peerage ; and a house of commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties, from a long line of ancestors.
Page 36 - Is not the idea of the unity of the divine and human natures a real one in a far higher sense, when I regard the whole race of mankind as its realization, than when I single out one man as such a realization?
Page 45 - You. will observe, that from magna charta to the declaration of right, it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties, as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity ; as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right.
Page 11 - Ideas are often poor ghosts ; our sun-filled eyes cannot discern them ; they pass athwart us in thin vapor, and cannot make themselves felt. But sometimes they are made flesh, they breathe upon us with warm breath, they touch us with soft responsive hands, they look at us with sad, sincere eyes, and speak to us in appealing tones ; they are clothed in a living human soul, with all its conflicts, its faith, and its love. Then their presence is a power...

About the author (1994)

Bernard Semmel is Distinguished Professor of History at the Graduate School, City University of New York. He is the author or editor of several books including The Liberal Ideal and the Demons of Empire: Theories of Imperialism from Adam Smith to Lenin (1993).

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