Note 2 of the author's "Dorothea Brooke's 'Awakening Consciousness' and Pre-Raphaelite Aesthetic in Middlemarch"

In 'Reading The Awakening Conscience rightly,' Kate Flint points out that the intended 'dialogue' between Hunt's 2 paintings' was hard for the exhibition visitor to appreciate, since The Awakening Conscience was hung in the Middle Room, The light of the world in the West Room.'

Interestingly, Flint notes that:

The connection between 'readable'pictures on the one hand, and the combination of elaborate yet resolved plots, emphasis on the moral aspect of cause and effect, and the solid specificity of detail embraced by the mid-Victorian novel on the other, scarcely seems accidental. It is particularly tempting to draw a parallel between The Awakening Conscience and Wilkie Collins's Basil (1852). Hunt saw Ais friend Collins regularly during his painting of this picture, and there is a strong resemblance between the interior of Woodbine Villa and North Villa, Hollyoake Square, just north of Regent's Park, where Basil's inamorata ... lived; where 'Everything was oppressively new', with 'paper on the walls, with its gaudy pattern of birds, trellis-work and flowers', its 'round rosewood table'with picture books on it: 'not one leaf even of the music on the piano was dog-eared or worn' (p. 61), and where, later in the novel, Basil sees Margaret in a 'paroxysm of passion', with her black eyes flashing through her tears, her lips parted as she gasped for breath, one hand clenched on the mantlcpiece, the other convulsively clasping her dress as the cat kills her pet bird (p. 134). (51-2)

The materialism of Collins's North Villa and Hunt's Woodbine Villa interiors is strikingly similar to the materialism forced on Lydgate by his new wife. Eliot's 'reading' of The Awakening Conscience both endorses and extends Flint's thesis that multiple readings of the painting are possible.

[For an earlier discussion of the relation between The Light of the World and its companion piece, see Landow Replete with Meaning.]


Flint, Kate. 'Reading The awakening conscience rightly,' In The Pre-Raphaelites re-viewed. Ed. Marcia Pointon. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1989: 45-65.

Last modified 7 March 2001