115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Extension of Sympathy in Middlemarch: George Eliot’s Response to Contemporary Science of Vision

Eri Satoh, Kobe College

According to Jonathan Crary, from the early 19th century the human body begins to be considered as “the active producer of optical experience” in a science of vision (Crary, 69). The purpose of this paper is to explore how George Eliot’s Middlemarch, in its response to contemporary science of  vision, depicts the heroine’s psychological crisis and reveals the process in which she comes to extend her sympathy with others.

Proposal: 

According to Jonathan Crary, from the early 19th century the human body begins to be considered as “the active producer of optical experience” in a science of vision (Crary, 69). George Eliot was interested in contemporary science and also regarded vision as a fundamentally subjective sense. Eliot and George Henry Lewes, who is considered to be the founder of modern psychology, shared a deep interest in the relationship between body and mind and considered that individuality affects how the human mind perceives the world. Specifically, in this paper, I will be looking at how Eliot, in her response to contemporary science of vision, originally showed that a person finds the way to “sympathetic understanding”, (a person grasps how others feel in their situation) through her visual experience.

The purpose of this paper is to explore how Eliot’s Middlemarch depicts Dorothea Brooke’s ppsychological crisis – which was caused by her disappointment with her own marriage – and reveals the process in which she comes to extend her sympathy with others. I focus on the way Eliot describes Dorothea’s visual experience in the novel. Using the epistemological and psychological arguments by Lewes, I first examine how Dorothea’s psychological crisis is metaphorically portrayed through the descriptions of ruins and relics in Rome which suggest a symbolic visual landscape of crisis. Secondly, I investigate Dorothea’s mental growth by studying how she changes her interpretation of Aunt Julia’s portrait miniature and the landscape. For example, she comes to throw a sympathetic glance at the portrait miniature of Aunt Julia, who had the unfortunate marriage. What’s more, gradually accepting her own situation, Dorothea projects her positive state of mind on the landscape. Finally, I clarify that, through the act of seeing – which helps one accumulate knowledge, experience and memory – one can achieve the mental and moral growth.

 

References

Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: MIT P, 1995. Print.

Rylance, Rick. Victorian Psychology and British Culture, 1850-1880. Oxford:  Oxford UP, 2000. Print.