Tag Archives: George Eliot

Problems and Impressions: The Psychology Behind George Eliot’s _Impressions of Theophrastus Such_

by Scott C. Thompson

What are we to make of George Eliot’s last published work Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879)? It’s not a novel, and it’s not narrated in the third person, two mainstays of Eliot’s literary aesthetic. Instead, it’s a series of character sketches written from the perspective of a middle-aged bachelor named Theophrastus. My article “Subjective Realism and Diligent Imagination: G. H. Lewes’s Theory of Psychology and George Eliot’s Impressions of Theophrastus Such” attempts to make sense of Eliot’s highly experimental final publication by first demonstrating its intimate connection to George Henry Lewes’s psychological theory as conceived of in his Problems of Life and Mind (1874-79) and then by positioning it within Eliot’s career-spanning realist project.

Theophrastus. Line engraving. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY https://wellcomecollection.org/works/g8c85m2m

This piece began as a conference paper for S. Pearl Brilmyer’s “George Eliot and the Science of Description” class at the University of Pennsylvania. We read the second series of Lewes’s Problems, The Physical Basis of Mind, alongside Impressions. Both Problems and Impressions were written simultaneously, and Eliot helped edit, arrange, and publish the final series of Problems after Lewes’s death. Reading both texts together, I quickly realized that Impressions engages much more of Lewes’s work than just his theories on the materiality of the brain: it models Lewes’s entire psychological methodology. Problems is Lewes’s attempt to construct a method for psychological investigation that accounts objectively for subjective experience through what he calls “speculative knowledge.” Impressions fictionalizes this psychological method, and makes a case for “diligent imagination”—that is, imagination extrapolated from experience—as a means of transcending the limits of human subjectivity by extending speculative knowledge to the relationship between self and other.

An arrangement of the spinal nerves. Photolithograph, 1940, after a woodcut, 1543. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY https://wellcomecollection.org/works/bq2g5msr

So what are we to make of Impressions? It’s an exploration of Lewes’s psychological method and its limitations. It’s a meditation on the problem of other people. And it’s an argument for imagination’s crucial role in connecting people to the world and to each other.

To read more, see Scott C. Thompson, “Subjective Realism and Diligent Imagination: G.H. Lewes’s Theory of Psychology and George Eliot’s Impressions of Theophrastus Such.” Victorian Review, vol. 44 no. 2, 2018, p. 197-214. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/vcr.2019.0016.

Daniel Deronda and #MeToo

by Doreen Thierauf

For the past two years, #MeToo activists have insistently argued that rape culture prevents the maturation of a strong sexual subjectivity, especially among girls and young women. Such subjectivity is necessary for the realization that you own yourself—that you are, in fact, a person. Feminist critics like Frances Ferguson have long studied the psychological and legal intricacies of the rape plot as well as that plot’s power to help bring about the modern novel form. Eighteenth-century scholars often highlight the important role of Richardson’s Clarissa (1748) in pitting the pressures of heterosexual social configurations against the heroine’s longed-for, but ultimately impossible, claim to liberal self-possession. Yet some nineteenth-century works such as George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1878), imagine rape—marital rape, to be precise—as a way for willful women to ascend into moral selfhood, to become more fully human by being dispossessed of their own person in marriage.

The insight that rape in the nineteenth century—as today—functions as an occasion to create liberal subjects, an occasion that proves that women ‘have’ interiority to begin with and that they deserve some form of state recognition, is slowly being integrated into the larger scholarly project of fighting rape culture. We must foster stronger awareness among scholars that rape is not a singular occurrence attributable to isolated agents, but a system of behavior for which all parts of the societal system are, in some part, responsible and whose harmful effects we should center in our analysis. Rape is not an individualized phenomenon that is repeated randomly across societies; it’s not a private crime of passion or the result of natural sexual urges. It is a politically significant, “group-based injustice that constitutes a violation of the victim’s civil or human rights,” as Susan Brison noted in 2013. The fact that we often don’t perceive rape to be a random anomaly, but that rape testimonies appear plausible and predictable, means that we have naturalized, maybe even neutralized, rape culture, even as we try to counteract it. The pervasive psychological, physiological, and material fallout of misogyny in all its forms is a collective one.

George Eliot knew this. In my essay on marital rape in Daniel Deronda, I trace the extent to which Eliot held systemic, rather than merely individual forces, responsible for marital rape, a symptom of and contributing factor to the demise of upper-class moral power. When Eliot confronts the representational barriers erected by legally entrenched gender and class privileges, she depicts the female body as animalistic or pathologically hysterical, or uses Gothic, sensational imagery. Eliot’s narrative techniques negotiate married women’s claim to greater legal independence and tell stories for which public intellectuals had not yet developed a language. However, such stories were so well known by the late 1870s that the registers available to Eliot risked literary triteness, barely disguising a reality of systematic elite marital violence.

To read more, see Doreen Thierauf, Daniel Deronda, Marital Rape, and the End of Reproduction.” Victorian Review, vol. 43, no. 2, 2017, pp. 247-269.

Notes on the Economics of Library Economy



Stamps. From Library Bureau. Classified Illustrated Catalog of the Library Bureau …: A Handbook of Library and Office … Library Bureau, 1890. Internet Archive. Web. 13 Dec. 2016. Page 49

by Constance Crompton

While in Middlemarch, published serially in 1871 and 1872, dear Dorothea suffered great “annoyance at being twitted with her ignorance of political economy, that never-explained science which was thrust as an extinguisher over all her lights” (Eliot 42) there were many other economies being developed in the 1870s which would rely on women as employees and proselytizers. I will leave domestic economy to the side for the nonce — it’s the economy of knowledge storage devices and spelling reform that has my interest.

I have completely fallen for the late-century American passion for efficiency experts, so once again will, at the risk of taxing Victorian Studies readers, offer up a post that features more American cousins rather than British ones. I had touched earlier in this blog on the invention of the vertical file. I’d like to pick up where I left off with a few remarks about the company the marketed the vertical file, the Library Bureau and the Bureau’s founder, that great promoter of “library economy,” Melvil Dewey (Classification 5). I’ve been dipping of late into Dewey’s “Librarianship as a Profession for College-Bred Women”, published by the Library Bureau, while Dewey was Columbia’s chief librarian. Continue reading

Robert O’Kell: The History of VSAWC

By Sabrina Schoch and Reba Ouimet

At last year’s Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada conference, we interviewed Dr. Robert O’Kell, one of VSAWC’s founding members. Dr. O’Kell spoke with us about the origins of VSAWC, the ways in which the association has changed over the years, and the organization’s interdisciplinary function. The Victorian Review has been affiliated with VSAWC for several years, and the two organizations have often collaborated. Since VSAWC was first founded, in 1972, the association has brought Victorian studies scholars from Western Canada closer together, allowing them to share research and determine scholarly conventions.

Dr. Robert O’Kell and his colleagues formed VSAWC in order to meet “a need felt by scholars far and wide to get together” to share Victorian studies scholarship. At that point in the 1970s, there was significant difficulty in Victorian scholars’ ability to discus their research with academics in distant locations. There was a strong need for a central location to host a convention where scholars could share interdisciplinary research. At the first VSAWC meeting, in Edmonton in 1972, “55 or 60 of the 75 delegates were men,” but the association has shifted over the years and is now comprised primarily of women. In the early days of VSAWC, there were often two keynote speakers at each conference; usually, one represented literature and one history. Until the early 2000s, the conference tended towards literary criticism; Dr. O’Kell applauds the association’s recent attempts to balance literature and history.  Currently, there is a single conference held annually, typically with only one keynote speaker. The 2014 VSAWC convention was held in Banff, Alberta, on 26-27 April, and the keynote speaker was Dr. Aileen Fyfe, who presented on the communities behind Victorian scientific journals.

Dr. O’Kell concluded the interview with reflections on how technology has changed the ways in which we build scholarly communities in Canada:


Robert O’Kell

Professor Robert O’Kell is Dean Emeritus of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Manitoba. He holds a PhD in English, an MA ,and a Certificate of Victorian Studies from Indiana University, and he earned an honours BA from Carleton University. His interests include Victorian and Romantic literature, the history of the novel, and nineteenth-century politics. He is the author of Disraeli: The Romance of Politics and a founding member of VSAWC.