Middlemarch

Some Aspects of Positivism in Middlemarch

George Eliot's unwillingness to write a Positivist novel has been clearly documented in her letters. Her responses to Frederic Harrison's suggestion that "the grand features of Comte's world might be sketched in fiction in their normal relations...under the forms of our familiar life" (Letters, IV, 287), are particularly unambiguous: "[if fiction] lapses anywhere from the picture to the diagramit becomes the most offensive of all teaching". (Letters, IV, 300-301). Art, for Eliot, must labor to "get breathing, individual forms, and group them in the needful relations, so that the presentation will lay hold on the emotions as human experience". (Letters, IV, 300-301). A Positivist novel such as that advocated by Harrison would have condemned Eliot to a schematic structure, requiring her to overlook the multiple elements and infinite shadings that she recognized as constitutive of a human personality. Eliot is aware, in a way that is less evident in Auguste Comte for example, of the limitless subtleties and gradations of human character: "Our vanities differ as our noses do: all conceit is not the same conceit, but varies in correspondence with the minuti of mental make in which one...

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