Rachel Hollander responds to Beth Bevis Gallick
This response made me think of the feminist debates about the ending of Middlemarch; is it enough that Dorothea’s care for others, her mature ethical vision, will manifest itself in the limited role of wife and mother? Similarly, Gwendolen’s awakening will most obviously affect only her care for her mother and sisters. By contrast, however, Daniel’s encounter with otherness sends him outward on a nation-building and potentially world-changing quest. I wonder whether the inward turn of Eliot’s ethics, highlighted by Beth Gallick’s reading of Albrecht, is linked to gender, to trying to define an ethical space that is not dependent on the ability to affect directly the surrounding Victorian social space. Albrecht seems to think through the ethics/politics relation most clearly in the discussion of cosmopolitan ethics, as questions of empathy, commonality, and otherness are tested in the context of real world communities and loyalties. Ultimately, though, the novels show a clear tendency to dig in rather than out, to measure ethical progress through the motives and understanding of the individual, rather than through social or systemic change. On the one hand, this can feel less ambitious than sweeping Victorian calls for social reform, but on the other hand it may be Eliot’s honest assessment of the role – and the limits – of the realist novel.
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