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Valences of Desire: The Suspended Eroticism of Middlemarch

Colleen M. Kropp (Temple University)

Abstract


This paper seeks to unpack moments of implicit sexual desire in George Eliot's realist novel, Middlemarch (1872), and focuses particularly on the sexually charged scene between Dorothea and Ladislaw in the library at Lowick. While previous readings of this moment have focused on economy or knowledge and their problematised relationships with desire, I argue that a truer understanding of how desire works here emerges from viewing these scenes in the light of Georg W.F. Hegel and Georges Bataille. Hegel, whose work Eliot would have known, lets us see the emergence of a recognised self-consciousness propelled by desire; but Eliot's novel also looks forward to Bataille's understanding of desire, particularly in his theorisations of general and restricted economies. If we are to grasp the realism of Eliot's text, we must come to terms with how desire structures this reality; if we are to grasp how the novel deals with the economies of its historical moment, we would profit from seeing it in the terms of Bataille's general and restricted economies. The dynamic nature of desire in Eliot's text requires this multivalent philosophical lens: one which historically influences her work and one which she greatly anticipates.


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