Doubtful realism : the changing dynamics of history in George Eliot.
George Eliot's realist project was one fundamentally undercut by doubt; doubt
both as to her ability to represent a coherent and essentially unified notion of
human existence, and also (and ultimately) doubt as to the nature of nineteenthcentury
reality itself. The barometer of this, this dissertation argues, is Eliot's
increasingly problematic representation of history and the historical process.
Towards the end of her literary career, it is argued, the doubt undermining her
realism culminated in a loss of faith in the historical process; not just in her ability
to accurately recreate history in her novels, but more significantly in the nature of
the process of history itself.
The oscillation between confidence and doubt prevalent in the novels is
seen to manifest itself in a tendency towards a totalising (narrative) conception of
the historical process, while at the same time Eliot is seen as acting to destabilise
these narratives. This process of depicting and then questioning totality and
narrative is viewed as relevant both to Eliot's depiction of human subjectivity and
also to her relationship with the Whig narrative of English history; a discourse of
nineteenth-century historiography that is implicated as crucial to an appreciation of
George Eliot. This is especially significant in terms of her latent nationalism, and
particularly in terms of the Orientalism identified as inherent in her representation