ABSTRACT

Middlemarch provides us with yet another example of how reading Eliot through Schiller foregrounds significant tensions within her narrative art. While in Romola she separates the destiny of high idealism expressed through Savonarola from the more muted version illustrated in Romola herself, in this novel the path from high aspiration to an acceptance of the limitations of the real is encoded within the progression of one character, Dorothea Brooke. Like Schiller, Eliot returns repeatedly to the topos of the idealist tested through a confrontation with the complexities of actual life. Her novelistic purpose, however, is rather different from that reflected in Schiller's drama. His plays concentrate on the tragedy of moral idealism taken to its most extreme outcome — death — and his arena is mostly the intense aspirations and struggles of high-born figures. With the exception of Savonarola, Eliot in contrast deals intentionally with the lives and circumstances of more ordinary folk: 'My only merit must lie in the faithfulness with which I represent to you the humble experience of an ordinary fellow-mortal. I wish to stir your sympathy with commonplace troubles — to win your tears for real sorrow: sorrow such as may live next door to you', states the narrator of 'Amos Barton'. 1 In line with her lower-key realistic purpose, 2 she does not seek to follow the idealizing impulse to its Schillerian climax in a 128sacrificial death that places the ideal above life itself. Rather, she wants to maintain it within the frame of life, to give it a future among the living, as it were, and sets out to delineate a path through which her characters evolve from moral absolutism to a state in which they can reconcile their aspirations to the limitations of the actual world, finding moral goodness as well as integrity within it. As she herself wrote: 'Never to beat and bruise one's wings against the inevitable but to throw the whole force of one's soul towards the achievement of some possible better, is the brief heading that need never be changed.' 3