The treatment of the recent past in nineteenth-century fiction, with particular reference to George Eliot
This thesis examines a practice of nineteenth-century novelists which has often been mentioned by critics but never studied in detail - the setting of much of their work in a period a generation or two before the time of writing. Its main focus is on the fiction of George Eliot set in the recent past: Scenes of Clerical Life (1857-58), Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Felix Holt, The Radical (1866), and Middlemarch (1871-72). However I begin by looking briefly at the pioneering novel in the field, Waverley (1814), and go on to discuss three more novels by Scott - Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquary (1816) and Redgauntlet (1824) - as well as three by Thackeray: Vanity Fair (1847-48), Pendennis (1848-50) and The Newcomes (1853-55). Since I aim to discover the attitudes these writers adopted to the recent past, and conveyed to their first readers, this study involves discussion not only of the periods in which the novels are set, but also of the periods in which they were written, so as to establish the knowledge and preconceptions which the books' early readers brought to bear on the fiction. Where possible I quote the responses of actual contemporary readers, notably those of the early reviewers. This thesis draws attention to the various functions a setting in the recent past could serve in nineteenth-century fiction: to arouse nostalgic feelings for a vanished but remembered past, or sympathy for the people of the past, to point out that change is sometimes more apparent than real, to comment obliquely on contemporary issues, to highlight the unchanging features of human nature and human predicaments, to examine the role of the individual in effecting change.