Much has been written on the influence of the Higher Criticism on George Eliot’s representation of the characters in her fiction. Historians and biographers have reconstructed with care how the author lost faith and subsequently became interested in the research on the historical literalness of the Bible, which was going on mainly in Germany at that time. The influence of Darwin’s re-representation of man’s role in nature has also had its full weight in examinations of Eliot’s way of presenting the individual in his social and natural environment. The use in _The Mill on the Floss_, however, of the revolution in scientific thinking that precedes Darwin’s _Origin of Species_ and is contemporary and in alliance with the findings of the Higher Critics has largely gone unnoticed. This essay sets out to investigate to what extent the conclusions of the Higher Critics are confirmed by those of the new natural science geology, and how Eliot blends these concepts in one coherent train of thought which is present behind Maggie’s desperate struggles. It is the river Floss, symbol both of continuity and change, that assumes this constant presence. The tragic ending of the novel has been much criticized. F.R. Leavis’ devastating evaluation of the denouement is largely responsible for this: “The flooded river has no symbolic or metaphysical value. It is only the dreamed-of perfect accident that gives us the opportunity for the dreamed-of heroic act - the act that shall vindicate us against a harshly misjudging world, bring emotional fulfilment and (in others) changes of heart, and provide a gloriously tragic curtain”. Walter Allen, even less sympathetic to the case than Leavis (and to the Victorian novel, it would seem), discards it as a “cliché-ending from the stock of Victorian fiction” and carries it even further to the extreme when he asserts that “the quite arbitrary ‘tragic’ ending, the flood of the Floss” spoils and ruins the novel. Both A.S. Byatt and Gordon S. Haight seem to me more subtle and helpful in their comments. Haight acknowledges that the flood is definitely not an arbitrary event in the novel - “the frequent foreshadowings scattered through the book warn us that death by water is to be Maggie’s fate” - but he adds that “yet we cannot feel satisfied that it was inevitable”. Byatt, too, sets out with the evidence for Eliot’s constant intentions of using a flood but somehow feels that “the Flood is no resolution to the whole complex novel we have - to the problems of custom, development, sexuality, intellectual stunting, real and imaginary duty, which we have been made to see and live.” All it ends, she adds a few lines later, is the conflictual relationship between Maggie and Tom. Although clearly less disturbed by the final deluge than an earlier generation of critics, they still "cannot feel satisfied" with Eliot’s ending. Although Mosaic typology invites the conclusion that through destruction providence has enacted the process of reconciliation, reading the flood in such terms is indeed laying bare structural deficiencies in _The Mill on the Floss_, as the flood cannot but fail as a final image to solve all the tensions which have been so carefully built up throughout it. Unlike that other English novel in which a flood takes on symbolical dimensions - D.H. Lawrence’s The _Rainbow_ - _The Mill on the Floss_ does not make use of the direct biblical significance of such an event, nor is there any mention of a rainbow. As Eliot’s story of loss of integrity and final release clearly does not fit the Mosaic context and its hermeneutics, it is not strange that if critics insist on reasoning from such premises they will conclude that the solution in the drowning is unsatisfactory or no solution at all. Although I concur with the opinion that the flood is no solution to all the problems the novel raises, I would not argue for structural deficiencies in the device of the flood, as, I think, it was not meant as a solution at all. My conclusion rests on grounds different from biblical hermeneutics, however. I argue from Eliot’s use of geological theory.

"I will ferry thee across": The Meaning of Fluvialism

KLAVER, JAN MARTEN IVO
2004

Abstract

Much has been written on the influence of the Higher Criticism on George Eliot’s representation of the characters in her fiction. Historians and biographers have reconstructed with care how the author lost faith and subsequently became interested in the research on the historical literalness of the Bible, which was going on mainly in Germany at that time. The influence of Darwin’s re-representation of man’s role in nature has also had its full weight in examinations of Eliot’s way of presenting the individual in his social and natural environment. The use in _The Mill on the Floss_, however, of the revolution in scientific thinking that precedes Darwin’s _Origin of Species_ and is contemporary and in alliance with the findings of the Higher Critics has largely gone unnoticed. This essay sets out to investigate to what extent the conclusions of the Higher Critics are confirmed by those of the new natural science geology, and how Eliot blends these concepts in one coherent train of thought which is present behind Maggie’s desperate struggles. It is the river Floss, symbol both of continuity and change, that assumes this constant presence. The tragic ending of the novel has been much criticized. F.R. Leavis’ devastating evaluation of the denouement is largely responsible for this: “The flooded river has no symbolic or metaphysical value. It is only the dreamed-of perfect accident that gives us the opportunity for the dreamed-of heroic act - the act that shall vindicate us against a harshly misjudging world, bring emotional fulfilment and (in others) changes of heart, and provide a gloriously tragic curtain”. Walter Allen, even less sympathetic to the case than Leavis (and to the Victorian novel, it would seem), discards it as a “cliché-ending from the stock of Victorian fiction” and carries it even further to the extreme when he asserts that “the quite arbitrary ‘tragic’ ending, the flood of the Floss” spoils and ruins the novel. Both A.S. Byatt and Gordon S. Haight seem to me more subtle and helpful in their comments. Haight acknowledges that the flood is definitely not an arbitrary event in the novel - “the frequent foreshadowings scattered through the book warn us that death by water is to be Maggie’s fate” - but he adds that “yet we cannot feel satisfied that it was inevitable”. Byatt, too, sets out with the evidence for Eliot’s constant intentions of using a flood but somehow feels that “the Flood is no resolution to the whole complex novel we have - to the problems of custom, development, sexuality, intellectual stunting, real and imaginary duty, which we have been made to see and live.” All it ends, she adds a few lines later, is the conflictual relationship between Maggie and Tom. Although clearly less disturbed by the final deluge than an earlier generation of critics, they still "cannot feel satisfied" with Eliot’s ending. Although Mosaic typology invites the conclusion that through destruction providence has enacted the process of reconciliation, reading the flood in such terms is indeed laying bare structural deficiencies in _The Mill on the Floss_, as the flood cannot but fail as a final image to solve all the tensions which have been so carefully built up throughout it. Unlike that other English novel in which a flood takes on symbolical dimensions - D.H. Lawrence’s The _Rainbow_ - _The Mill on the Floss_ does not make use of the direct biblical significance of such an event, nor is there any mention of a rainbow. As Eliot’s story of loss of integrity and final release clearly does not fit the Mosaic context and its hermeneutics, it is not strange that if critics insist on reasoning from such premises they will conclude that the solution in the drowning is unsatisfactory or no solution at all. Although I concur with the opinion that the flood is no solution to all the problems the novel raises, I would not argue for structural deficiencies in the device of the flood, as, I think, it was not meant as a solution at all. My conclusion rests on grounds different from biblical hermeneutics, however. I argue from Eliot’s use of geological theory.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11576/1888923
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