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SPENCERIAN EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY IN DANIEL DERONDA

  • Lauren Cameron (a1)
Extract

George Eliot, notoriously sensitive to criticism of her novels, received a reassuring letter from her publisher, John Blackwood, one month into the publication of Daniel Deronda (1876) in Books or Parts:

Critics both public and private amuse me by their complaint that they do not quite understand Gwendolen. Did they wish you to lay down a chart of her character and fate on the first page? Did they ever fully know any human being at a first meeting or even after years of acquaintance? The objection is in reality the highest compliment, believing in fact the plainest confession of the interest excited. (GEL 6: 232)

While Blackwood was certainly trying to flatter and calm an anxious, important client, this letter also highlights a central element of Eliot's final completed novel: the depth, development, and realism of its psychological portraiture. What made the psychology of Gwendolen Harleth especially, but the eponymous Daniel Deronda as well, resonate with discerning readers from that time to this? This essay argues that it is the same cause that frustrates many readers: Eliot's engagement with the most famous and scientifically integrated psychological theory of her time – Herbert Spencer’s.

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Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
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