George Eliot

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Discuss the representation of women in the works of George Eliot.

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For a novelist with such an extensive range of works as George Eliot, it is of course very difficult to generalise about the presentation of women in her works. However, it does seem that Eliot's didactic Victorian tone presents the majority of her female protagonists in a way that shows them to be rather innocent and naive, if not selfish to begin with, and then, through the experiences that they endure, they become far more wise and experienced because of their sufferings or the hardships they have to face. Thinking of Gwendolen Harleth in Daniel Deronda, who starts off so fiercely independent and selfish yet matures significantly thanks to her disastrous marriage to Henleigh Grandcourt, or Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch, who makes a very unwise marriage to Mr. Casaubon and suffers as a result, this does seem to be the general model of Eliot's heroines. Even some of the minor female characters in her works, such as Nancy Lammeter, who later becomes Nancy Cass in Silas Marner, shows that she changes a great deal through not being able to have a child:

Nancy's deepest wounds had all come from the perception that the absence of children from their hearth was dwelt on in her husband's mind as a privation to which he could not reconcile himself.

In all of these characters, it is necessary for them to go through quite painful experiences and suffering in order for them to gain a measure of happiness, wisdom and maturity. This seems to be the governing way in which Eliot presents her heroines, with but a few exceptions. After all, in Middlemarch, whilst Dorothea Brooke is very different with her idealism and naivety to Dorothea Ladislaw, the beautiful and flighty Rosamond remains unchanged through the novel, staying just as selfish and just as concerned about wealth and status as she was at the very beginning, and quite happy to see her husband sacrifice all of his ideas so that her wants can be met. In this novel, however, Dorothea and Rosamond are clearly foils for each other, and the moral superiority lies entirely with Dorothea by the end.  

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