Middlemarch: Medieval Discourses and Will Ladislaw

Judith Johnston


Present-day critics of George Eliot have glanced at, discussed, but given no undue significance to the medieval context in her work. Gillian Beer for instance lists mythological systems woven into Eliot's work which include troubadour romance, courtly love, hagiography and martyrology, and suggests that exploring the context of these systems will enhance our reading of Eliot's texts. Earlier, Robert Preyer discussed the 'failure' of Daniel Deronda as attributable to the 'difficulty in handling ideas of this sort in works of realistic fiction'. However, Eliot uses medieval discourses such as romance and religious allegory to modify areas in an apparently realistic text so that conflict may be expressed in manageable terms. Orderly conflict permits positive reaction which is followed by partial resolution. Resolution cannot be complete, in response to the transitional and incomplete nature of society, especially Eliot's pre-reform society, and this intimates that further positive changes are still to come.

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