Tag Archives: orphan

George Eliot – Silas Marner (1861)

PLOT: Silas Marner, a weaver living in Lantern Yard, is excommunicated after he is framed for robbery by one of the religious elders in his town, who eventually marries the woman Silas had been intending to marry. He leaves and goes to Raveloe, where he weaves on the outskirts of town, amassing a fair amount of gold in the process. Meanwhile, Godfrey Cass (son of Squire Cass) is in a monetary pickle after leading to his dissolute brother Dunsten. To get out of the bind, he lets Dunsten try to sell his horse, but he manages to kill it in the process. Desperate, he robs Silas Marner and goes out into the night. Silas comes home and is stricken with loss–his gold having been his sole comfort and companion. He goes into town, but the thief cannot be found. Meanwhile Godfrey sets about wooing Nancy, the town belle. There’s a big New Year’s party that’s interrupted when Silas comes to announce that a woman has collapsed outside and that a baby has crawled into his house, etc. The woman turns out to be Molly, Godfrey’s first wife that he has tried to hide. He is relieved, and deos not claim his child, who has telling golden hair. Silas raises Eppie. Sixteen years pass. Godfrey has married (no children) and Eppie has grown up. Godfrey finds the skeleton of his brother in the Stone Pits outside Silas’ house. The money is returned. Godfrey confesses all to Nancy, tries to go reclaim Eppie but she refuses. She marries a rustic boy from town named Aaron after her and Silas visit Lantern Yard and see that it has been replaced with a grim factory.

Written between Mill on the Floss and Romola, but it shares, strangely, many of the the mythical preoccupations of the latter historical novel. It is a short, concentrated portrait of rustic life, that is deliberately a-historical (as opposed to Middlemarch)

Gold: the golden coins get replaced by Eppie’s golden hair. The coins allowed him to withdraw from society, whereas Eppie forces him back into social “circulation.”  Connect to the “golden” water at the end of Mill on the Floss: the pastoral can only be accessed through the protocols of the aesthetic: in Silas Marner, deployed as myth and myth-making.

Myth: Not located in a particular time or space. Employs the “sixteen years pass” trope, recognizable from The Winter’s Tale, etc.

History: It consists of the breaking of brown pots and their reconstruction as memorials–c’est tout–or can consist of artistic intervention, plotting, etc (the novel as such). The intrusion of historical time at the end of the novel (factory churning out workers) stands in stark contrast to the de-historicized world of craft and agriculture (Eppie wants to be a gardener). Compare to the ending of Mill on the Floss.

Work: Silas’ work, the act of weaving, has meaning-making capacity. Talk about in terms of craft: Ruskin, William Morris, etc.

Double-plot: a paired down version of a device that will be exploited more fully in Daniel Deronda.

Repeated image of the rivulet: Silas’ mind is likened to a rivulet, which contracts and expands throughout. As Eppie grows up, his mind begins to unfold into things like memory and the social.

Catalepsy: why does Eliot need Silas to be cataleptic? Discuss as plot device.

Short-sighted: Silas is also literally short-sighted. Why these physical disabilities?



Charles Dickens – Great Expectations (1860-1)

The orphan Pip is brought up by his sister and her husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. One night Pip encounters a convict in the cemetry, and he does him an act of kindness which the convict, who will turn out to be Magwitch, Mr. Provis and Mr. Campbell all in one, will never forget. He soon goes to Miss Havisham’s house to be a playmate with Estella. He starts to become ashamed of himself and his lower-cultured childhood friends. He becomes and apprentice with Joe, and works alongside Orlick, who is a sort of double that plays out all the crimes that Pip almost commits but never does. [An instance of shadowing the protagonist with doubles, sorta like Bertha Rochester and Jane Eyre.] Pip receives an inheritance (via Jaggers) from an unknown source, but he assumes it is from Miss Havisham. This enacts the processes of accumulation that correlate with the field of desire associated with Miss Havisham.  But he soon gets into debt and it is revealed that Abel Magwitch–and it is further revealed that he is the father of Estella (her mother is Molly, Jagger’s housemaid). Pip tells Havisham this story, she stands to close the fire and dies from her injuries, despite Pip’s attempts to save her. Magwitch is arrested and dies; Pip is about to be put into debtor’s prison, but he gets sick, and then is nursed back to health by Joe. He returns to Joe’s home, where they have had a child named Pip [cf. Sydney Carton at the end of Tale]. He visits Stalis house, where he meets Estella. It’s ambiguous whether they marry or not.


Guilt vs. desire – One can frame Pip’s two worlds according to this tension. Pip is marked by guilt from the very beginning, as his actual inheritance. The world of desire, or lack, is associated with Havisham and Estella. Cognitively adjusting to the knowledge that his inheritance comes from guilt rather than desire entails a confrontation with a world of crime that does not square with the tenants of individuality and subjectivity he had adopted in the middle part of the book. Rather, crime seems somehow universal: Magwitch somehow emerges from the landscape, he is an atmosphere of sorts. Pip himself will toggle between these two spheres.

Is Pip being a bad reader because he has not yet grown up? (structure of dramatic irony to deal with how these things can be known at all) Contrast this with Maisie (does not give signification, only registers impressions). As an example of better reading by way of negative contrast: Magwitch shows Pip how he acted poorly towards Joe. But where do we locate this knowledge?

In David Copperfield, the impetus to give full signification (retrospective and fully) is the same impulse as in Great Expectation (Pip as narrator does know things that phenomena subject does not know) but sometimes we just get the narrated Pip and we see his ignorance negatively. In the end, Pip the narrator and narrated converge but there is not a full knowledge. Indeed, the reduplication of Pip as a young boy points to the “bad infinity” that could ensue: the second Pip is able to effectively truncate the narrative with a new beginning. And to the degree that “family” is posited as a source of final cohesion, it should be noted that Pip is excised from that family.

Two ends in Great Expectation: 1. very clear that Estella and Pip don’t get married 2.  you don’t know whether they get married or not, structurally undecideable.

More broadly: Can think of Thackeray, Dickens and Trollope as obsessed with evidentiary character of narration, must give an account fo how the narrative has come into being. On the other hand, Eliot, Hardy and James fully accept the arbitrary nature of the narrative–they can’t justify it, so they just start. [in Hardy in particular, one has the sense that anyone walking along a road could furnish the novelist with a story]


Jean Rhys – Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

A “rewrite” of Jane Eyre, this novel tells the back-story of Bertha Rochester (Antoinette Cosway) before she is locked in the attic at Thornfield. Antoinette is a white creole living in Jamiaca, the daughter of a slave-owner and a mother who is purportedly crazy. Her nurse/maid  is Christophine, who plays a similar roll to St. John Rivers (neither novel can fully contain their stories). At a young age, Antoinette’s house is burnt down, following the Emancipation of slaves. After a brief sejour in a convent (her mother has moved to the countryside) her step-father Mr. Mason “provides for her” by arranging a marriage between her an unnamed man from England, presumably Mr. Rochester. He narrates the second part of the novel, which tells of their marriage that goes through a honeymoon phase before souring completely. Rochester has married for money, and now he feels the burden of having what some angry quack has called a “madwoman.” He readily adopts these fears, believing that Antoinette, Christophine and the entire Jamaican landscape harbor the secret that will destroy him (the secret turns out to be nothing other than the violence of colonial slavery). Antoinette, whom he violently renames Bertha, want shim to love her, so has Christophine (who practices the magical obeah) give him a “love potion” that makes him sick.  Ant moves with Christophine to some place in the countryside where she attempts to recover from an illness. The third section opens with Antoinette now narrating. She is in England, being nursed and jailed by Grace Poole. She  assaults he step-brother Richard Mason after he does not “recognize” her. She then burns down the house, but not before seeing herself in the mirror as the ghost that haunts Thornfield Hall.

As re-writing of Jane Eyre, the political consequences of Rhys’ novel cuts both ways. On the one hand, it gives a face and history to a character that, in the original, was merely a “madwoman in the attic” that needed to be repressed for Jane’s emergence as chaste, moral, properly feminine, etc. But Spivak argues, convincingly, that such an argument appropriates the form of individualization that radical feminism, and critique more generally, should unsettle or reject. In Spivak’s reading, Bertha self-immolates so that Jane can emerge as the individualized feminist heroine  of European literature. The true Other, Christophine, remains outside this circuit of Western literature, the dialogue between literary feminists, because she is not just a white Creole, but a servant that is displaced from her home country Martinique from the very beginning.

Interesting endpoint for looking at the trope of the looking-glass. Antoinette sees herself in Tia just as the latter the latter throw a rock at her head. She herself in the eyes of the other. What are the ethical stakes of this identification. How does it differ from the self-recognition that occurs at the end of the novel, where Antoinette sees herself as the necessary sacrifice for the emergence of Jane Eyre/Jane Eyre? Connect to Wilde’s comments on cracked looking-glass, Joyce on cracked looking glass, and deKoven on mirrors, water, etc.

Mother-daughter text – Rhys’ novel is the daughter text that seeks to be the mother text. Compare to Zadie Smith’s rewriting of Howard’s End.

Literary history – the patronymic in the form of English literature is eaten away as Rochester scans the decaying book collection at the old mansion.

Narration – Rochester granted the role of narrator for all of second part. Does this render him sympathetic? Perhaps. Talk about the novel as Antoinette’s “quest” for a voice. The opening section’s voice is able to ventriloquize the thoughts of the town itself…the voice of the third section has fully imbricated itself into a text that has already been written. How qualified is that power of writing? Connect to the emergence of Stephen’s voice at the end of Portrait.

Thomas Carlyle – Sartor Resartus (1833-4)


From the Introduction to the Oxford edition (2008):

The fundamental Carlylean doctrines are all articulated, or at least, adumbrated here: the horrors of Utilitarianism; the religious base of society; the pattern of conversion–from everlasting No, through the Center of indifference to the Everlasting Yea–which showed that, in the the words of Thomas Henry Huxley, ‘a deep sense of religion was compatible with the entire absence of theology’; the importance of vocation; the superiority of renunciation to the pursuit of happiness; the moral imperatives of work, duty, and reverence; the need for heroes; and the social vision that saw Britain divided into the two nations of rich and poor.

Anne Mellor presents Sartor  as a ‘self-consuming artifact’ that ‘does not preach the truth, but asks that its readers discover the truth for themselves.’ Sartor Resartus is a fictional work ‘designed to consume itself by revealing the limitations both of its own symbolic language and of language as such. It is intended not as a monument of truth but as a goad to action.’ (English Romantic Irony (1978)

Much depends on whether we share the doubts of the Editor or whether we read those doubts as the result of his miscomprehension of Teufelsdöckh’s system. That system is a paired down version of German Idealism, meant to counterpoint English utilitarianism. Teufelsdröckh distinguishes in Hegelian mode between Understanding (phenomenal, sensory experience) and Reason (noumenal, synthetic thought), which is able to somehow pierce through the mere facts of everyday an understand the Everlasting:

To the eye of vulgar logic,” syas he,” what is man? An omnivorous Biped that wears breeches. To the eye of Pure Reason what is he? A Soul, a Spirit, and a divine Apparition. Round his mysterious Me, there lies, under all those wool-rags, a Garment of Flesh (or of Senses), contextured in the Loom of Heaven; whereby he is revealed to his like, and dwells with them in Union and Division; and sees and fashions for himself a universe, with azure Starry Spaces, and long Thousands of Years. Deep-hidden is he under that strange Garment; amid Sounds and Colour and Forms, as it were, swathed in, and inextricably overshrouded: yet it is sky-woven, and worthy of God. (51)

Throughout, Carlyle is anxious about the soul converging with its digestive counterpart, the stomach. “if man’s soul is indeed…a kind of Stomach, what else is the true meaning of Spiritual Union but an Eating Together? Thus we, instead of Friends, are Dinner-guests; and here as elsewhere have cast away chimeras” (91). So this begins to mark  fine line between the daily requirements of the omnivorous biped and the insatiable consumption (and production) that conditions Industrial Capitlaism:

To me the universe was all void of Life, of Purpose, of Volition, even of Hostility: it was one huge, dead, immeasurable Steam-Engine, rolling on, in its dead insignificance, to grind me limb from limb. (127)

Here the utilitarian outlook converges with nihilism in the section devoted to the Everlasting No. From here Teufelsdröckh undergoes his “Baphometic Fire-baptism”  which leads to him becoming a Man. The center of Indifference, strangely, takes up the subject of nascent democracy “in its birth pangs” and “Great Men.” This can be read as moment of historical transition condensed into psychological transformation. The Everlasting Yea is something very much like a full sublimation, wherein “contradiction is solved,” yet the process of completion is strictly negative: “the Fraction of Life can be increased in value not by increasing you Numerator, as by lessening you Denominator” (145). Further, this subtraction seems centered on the subject: “a black spot in our sunshine: the Shadow of Ourselves.” This the is a giving account of one’s investment (and position) in a world that is experiential from the start.

This will all conclude in the tour de force “Natural Supernaturalism” chapter that posits God’s in(ter)vention of Time and Space as natural clothing to all noumenal existence. Basically acknowledges limits as the very things that give us a capacity to experience the world at all (time, space, etc.)…interesting bridge to talking about Hegel and, later, Gadamer.

There is also a parallel between the editorial attempts to gather together Teufel’s papers and any attempt to reconstruct history:

History in authentic fragments lay mingled with Fabulous chimeras, wehre also was reality; and the whole not as dead stuff, but as living pabulum, tolerably nutritive for a mind as yet so poetic. (79)

Also refers to orphan as a loan that needs to be made good on (read as critique of hoe Victorian novels would end up treating the orphan as a means to an end of narrative denouement….

George Eliot – Daniel Deronda (1876)

Begins with the English plot: Daniel sees Gwendolen at a roulette table (in Germany), finds her attractive, sees her pawn a necklace (which he buys back and returns to her). Flashback to when Gwendolen meets Henleigh Grandcourt, whom she almost marries until finding out that he has a separate family with Miss Glasher. She flees. Meanwhile, Daniel (who is being raised by Sir Hugo Mallinger) sees Mirah Lapidoth floating in the river. He saves her, and eventually gets mixed up with Mordecai Cohen, the consumptive Jewish mystic who dreams of Gemeinschaft and utopia. Meanwhile, Gwendolen tries to avoid marriage by becoming a singer but Klesmer tells her straight that she’s not an artist, only a dilettante. She eventually marries Grandcourt, thinking she can tame him, but she fails. They go to Italy on their honeymoon, where Grandcourt drowns (Gwendolen hesitates to save him and is then racked with guilt). Daniel is in the same town, where he meets his mother, Princess Halm Eberstein. She tells him that she was asked to raise him as an English gentleman with no knowledge of his Jewishness. He returns feeling better about his connection to Mirah, marries her. Gwendolen, in love with Daniel, is rejected by him, and instead she gets a little moral lesson by being good, etc. She eventually writes a litter on Daniel’s wedding day telling him she has been made better. Mordecai dies, and Dan and Mirah set off to the East to help the Jewish race.


The double plot. Relate to Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. Different temporalities. Stultified English cultue vs. vibrant Jewish gemeinschaft. Different ethical systems. Read out of Hume and Smith, look forward to Levinas. Displacing, getting rid of the protagonist, the narratable exceeding the narrative (cf. Miller).

The thread, its relation to history

Insect metaphors (relate to Darwin)

Cynthia Chase argument “Double-reading”

Amanda Anderson on Jews and Deronda

Daniel as aimless type


William M. Thackeray – Vanity Fair (1848)

Becky Sharpe (marries Rawdon Crawley) and Amelia Sedley (marries Geroge Osborne and later Major Dobbin) are central characters. Jos Sedley is a gourmand who lives in colonies, a parody of King George, I think. Younger George Osborne and Rawdon Crawly replace Becky and Emmy, but with equalized social positions; Lady Jane (married to Sir Pitt) replaces Becky as the mother.


Form is sloppy, vulgar, corporeal, rambling, unformed  Contrast with Henry Esmond

Authorial (narratorial) interventions: 88 (on insignificance of chapter, content), 109 (on privacy, concealment), 116 (on title), 117 (on characters), 154 (on form, digression), 198 (on cause and effect: determinate effects of narrative; cf. Cynthia Chase and D.A. Miller), 220 (advice for women, e.g.), 293 (non-chronological temporal ordering), 310 (on marriage in novels), 453 (fortune), 493 (funerals: occasion for clustering vanities; cf. Middlemarch funeral), 586 (the “best”) , 650 (dissection of affect), 663 (more advice), 721 (narrator comes out, enters stream of narrative), 792 (the “last page),

Implicating Reader: 572 (allowed to choose at feast), 583 (can’t enter upper echelons of society), 660 (I can see Vanity Fair yawning: ambiguity of “vanity fair” personae), 750 (ambiguous “we”),

Hero/Heroine: 353 (“If this is a novel without a hero, at least let us lay claim to a heroine”), 659 (female martyrdom), 798 (“She has her enemies…Her life is answer to them”)

Proliferating list: 104 (dinner), 589 (satirical dinner party list; cf. Joyce)

Novel dominated by exchange principle. 438-9 (secrets of living on nothing: effects on working class—the base-line currency of exchange principle and exploitation), 467 (deceiving others about means), 715 (Jewish slight, one of many),

Veiling, concealment, knowledge: 100 (active veil thrown over event), 389 (the novelist knows all), 440 (on unknowability of women’s fashion), 583 (can’t enter upper echelons of society: “tremble before those august portals”), 592 (the possibilities generated by veiling: connect to potentiality of debt; cf. Sedgwick and Francois on Open Secrets), 621 (Rawdon exposes Becky’s private papers), 738-40 (truth/falsity of Becky’s story; selective representation), 759 (active veling, “skipping”)

History: 214 (grand events connect to insignificance characters; cf. Gwendolen in Deronda ‘thread’), 420 (war tourism),

Transience: 584 (who doesn’t like roast beast even though it’s transient), 685 (Jos’s eating), 725 (how characters age),

Education: Advantage of Georgy’s education, 720 (Amelia’s vulgar education)


Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility (1811)

The novel can be summarized by listing a whole bunch of doubles: thematic, ideological, charaterological, etc. In short, Marianne Dashwood, with much “sensibility,” is educated into being more sensible, like her sister, Elinor Dashwood. The parallel lives of these sisters, one marrying the reserved, old Colonel Brandon and the other the somewhat irresolute, flaky Edward Ferrars, constitute the plot. Willoughby, who picks up and drops Marianne, is a free radical of sorts, playing double to many different characters. How he is read determines the interpretation of the novel as whole (much like the reading of Heathcliff determines Wuthering Heights).

The setting moves between Delaford, Barton, and London, the latter being completely fraught with chaotic social upheavel and emotional crises. THe countryside is pastoral in all the expected ways. There is a long discourse on COTTAGES, which are at once picturesque and genuinely authentic emblems of simple, rustic, moral living, but also (in Robert Ferrars’ judgment) objects of tourism and vacation…

The novel is in dialogue with Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. Elinor and Brandon epitomize Smith’s ideal of deservedness and propriety, concealing emotion and accommodating expressiveness according to the given situation—the betterment of the community is first and oremost. Marianne (with a name that harkens back to the French revolution and the jacobins) is dangerously individualistic, and this also turns out to be Willoughby’s error, rather malicious deceit. Likewise, Fanny Dashwood (wife of Elinor and Marianne’s brother John) and Lucy Steele (one time lover of Edward and later wide of Robert) are portraits of individualistic and selfish desire gone unchecked. [Put this in dialogue with the shifting attitudes to community in Wuthering Heights as it moves between romantic and Victorian mores…)

Connect Smith with larger tropes of concealment, veiling, propriety, etc.

Narration: Imbedded narrators include Willoughby (competent self-narrator), Brandon (awkward narrator), Mrs. Jennings (rumor mill), and others. Austen imbeds these narrators and uses them to focalize and counter-focalize the action. There is also an explicit training of the reader, especially in the mode of correct comparison—which demands not only the correct drawing of contrasts, but also the correct choice of binary. Reader is trained alongside Marianne.

Cause and Effect (Cynthia Chase) is complicated in the novel.

Eliza, an orphan loved by Brandon and disabused by Willougby, is yet another portrait of the problems of urbanism. Counterpoint Petter Brooks’ claim that orphan status represents social mobility and possibility rather than misery.

Edward, like Daniel Deronda, is unemployed and undirected man to begin with, and needs other to set his course for him. This is the case with many characters: their happy outcomes are shownt o be the explicit result of a social web that is not entirely savory. Elinor and Edward’s union is premised on Lucy’s selfish ambition.