Macquarie University
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Utopias, dystopias, and abjection: pathways for society's others in George Eliot's major fictions

posted on 2022-03-29, 02:20 authored by Sung-Ae Lee
Within a framework based on Mikhail Bakhtin's dialogism and Julia Kristeva's theory of abjection, this thesis investigates how Utopian impulses are manifested in George Eliot's novels. Eliot's utopianism is presented first by a critique of dystopian elements in society and later by placing such elements in a dialogic relationship with utopian ideas articulated by leading characters. Each novel includes characters who are abjected because they have different ideas from the social norms, and such characters are silenced and expelled because society evaluates these differences in terms of its gender, class and racial prejudices. Dystopia is thus constituted as a resolution of the conflict between individual and society by the imposition of monologic values. Dialogic possibilities are explored by patterned character configurations and by the cultivation of ironical narrators' voices which enfold character focalization within strategic deployment of free indirect discourse. -- Eliot's early works, from Scenes of Clerical Life to Silas Marner, focus their dystopian elements as a critique of a monologic British society intolerant of multiple consciousnesses, and which consigns "other" voices to abjection and thereby precludes social progress by rejecting these "other" voices. In her later novels, from Romola to Daniel Deronda, Eliot presents concrete model utopian societies that foreshadow progressive changes to the depicted, existing society. Such an imagined society incorporates different consciousnesses and hence admits abject characters, who otherwise would have been regarded as merely transgressive, and thus silenced or eliminated. Abjected characters in Eliot's fiction tend also to be utopists, and hence have potential for positively transforming the world. Where they are depicted as gaining agency, they also in actuality or by implication bring about change in society, the nation and the wider world. -- An underlying assumption is that history can be changed for the better, so that utopian ideals can be actualized by means of human agency rather than by attributing teleological processes to supernatural forces. When a protagonist's utopian impulses fail, it is both because of dystopian elements of society and because of individual human weaknesses. In arguably her most utopian works, Romola and Daniel Deronda, Eliot creates ideal protagonists, one of whom remains in the domestic sphere because of gender, and another who is (albeit voluntarily) removed from British society because of his race/class. However, Romola can be seen as envisaging a basis for female advancement to public life, while Daniel Deronda suggests a new world order through a nationalism grounded in multiculturalism and a global utopianism.


Alternative Title

Pathways for society's others in George Eliot's major fictions

Table of Contents

Introduction -- Female subjectivity, abjection, and agency in Scenes of clerical life -- A questionable Utopia: Adam Bede -- Dystopia and the frustration of agency in the double Bildungsroman of The mill on the floss -- Abjection and exile in Silas Marner -- Justice and feminist Utopia in Romola -- Radicalism as Utopianism in Felix Holt, the radical -- The pursuit of what is good: Utopian impulses in Middlemarch -- Nationalism and multiculturalism: shaping the future as transformative Utopia in Daniel Deronda.


Bibliography: p. 250-270

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Division of Humanities, Department of English

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

John Stephens


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Sung-Ae Lee 2003.




v, 270 p

Former Identifiers

mq:6339 1348785