12 May 2014

Review: George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Science by Sally Shuttleworth

Trade paperback, 257 pages
Published 1986 (originally 1984)
Acquired May 2012
Read November 2012
George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Science: The Make-Believe of a Beginning
by Sally Shuttleworth

Along with Levine's Darwin and the Novelists and Beer's Darwin's Plots, this is one of the three foundational monographs about Victorian literature and science to be published in the 1980s. While Levine and Beer look at narrow scientific field and a wide literary one, Shuttleworth sticks to Eliot, providing analyses of each of her major novels in the context of Victorian science. Shuttleworth brings out how Eliot does not use literature to simplify science, nor science to simplify literature: science is complex, and so are Eliot's subjects, and she uses the complexity of the one to bring out the complexity of the other. For example, she says that Middlemarch "offers no simple endorsement of theories of organic social harmony. Rather... it explores the complexities and contradictions within organicist social theory" (142). It was her discussion of Middlemarch that I found most illuminating, suggesting that the world and the people in it are perhaps ultimately unknowable... but that doesn't mean we should ever stop trying to know the world or each other.

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