Though this essay's title may at first the strike reader as an anachronistic conceit of contemporary theory, as Michael York Mason has observed, "'Constructions,' 'theory,' 'acquired knowledge,' 'demonstration,' 'evidence,' 'perception of facts,' 'probabilities,' — this is part of the language of the moral life in Middlemarch" (Mason 166). Indeed, the scientific language of Middlemarch, its construction in relation to scientific theory, the science of its form as well as its content, have been observed by a growing body of criticism.1 As J. Hillis Miller observes, the subtitle of the novel itself, A Study of Provincial Life, alludes strongly to "scientific study" (66). The introductory phrasing of the Preface — "Who that cares much to know the history of man and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time. . . " — immediately connects the novel to science. The connection is maintained throughout; the attention given to the professional ruminations of a medical doctor (Lydgate), the centrality of optical metaphor, and the engagement with Darwinistic and other evolutionary theory, all demonstrate the importance of science to Middlemarch.
Such allusions may not jar the sensibilities of contemporary readers, but for Eliot's contemporaries, the use of scientific references was more conspicuous (Beer 149). Middlemarch's scientific jargon jolted its first critics; the novel may be considered a forerunner for incorporating specialized scientific language into fiction and for habituating fiction readers to such language.
As Nancy L. Paxton has commented in her book on George Eliot and Herbert Spencer, much contemporary discussion of the novelist in relation to science has been in fact largely a study of her influences (Paxton 3-4). This criticism has effectively colonized a consideration of Eliot's writing in relation to science, using it as a kind of linchpin on which to hang the controversies of her day.2 Though these critics do well to elucidate the scientific underpinnings of Eliot's thought, they tend to view her work as syncretic rather than seeing her as a theorist in her own right. Even George Levine, who is generally more appreciative of Eliot's own scientific understanding, states in reference to her grasp of determinism, "that at best she was an amateur philosopher" (268).
Paxton's own work rescues Eliot in terms of her challenges to Spencer and Darwin in the course of her novels and other works, with specific reference to their implications and assertions regarding sex and gender (passim). At the very least, these challenges, discussed below, suggest that Eliot should be read as a competent critic of her scientific contemporaries. At the most, they suggest that Eliot's challenges to science were far-reaching. Yet Eliot works within scientific theory, using many of its own assumptions as tools to interrogate it.
The fictionalizing of science happens to be a meta-theme in Middlemarch, and one which, I will argue, Eliot sets out consciously and masterfully to interrogate. In the process, I hope to show that Eliot's use of science is far from naive or merely syncretic.3 To the contrary, I will venture to argue that in Middlemarch Eliot actually anticipates a greater discursive shift in scientific theory of which Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (l962) is the watermark in the philosophy of science, and which Michel Foucault marks and notes in his various archaeologies of knowledge.4 She does so only to the extent possible within later nineteenth-century thought, but in writing the first novel to appropriate and interrogate scientific discourse "as an explicit theme" (Shuttleworth 143),5 she assumes a distinctively advantageous historical and critical position. Undertaking a peculiar investigation of science within fiction, Eliot destablizes both, blurring the border between them. By placing the events of Middlemarch some forty years earlier than the time of narration, the historical and subjective contingency of science is exposed. Cures once taken for granted already appear ludicrous in light of Lydgate's methods, and the doubt cast on Middlemarch's medical establishment is heightened by the narrative interval, during which further changes are assumed to have taken place. The same scrutiny is levied against scientific theory. The effect is an implicit questioning of the authority that science holds in the time of Eliot's contemporaries, as well as in that of Middlemarch's subsequent readers.
On the other hand, the serious consideration given in a cultural medium to science extends the reach and currency of its theories. The novel lends itself to a wider dissemination of ideas than that available to 'pure' scientific texts. Eliot probably exposed to evolutionary and other materialistic theory some unwary readers who might not have seen it elsewhere. That she did not hold to a strict Spencerian or Darwinian model, especially as applied to the social, may have mattered less to many readers than the very fact that she negotiated with determinism and evolutionism at all. Such ideas were quite unsettling to many Victorians, and Eliot was far more comfortable with them than most of her contemporaries. As K.M. Newton remarks, "George Eliot's attitude to Darwinism is of especial interest because she tried to oppose some of its dangerous consequences from an interesting standpoint while accepting the theory itself as valid" (278-9). Whether she actually "accepted" or worked within the theory as a culturally-contingent medium, is a question I will explore.
The construction and deconstruction of science in Middlemarch comes by way of imagery, allusion, metaphor, analogy and parable in her passages, the relations of which to science are sometimes best illustrated when compared to the work and thought of pure scientists, if such a category exists in the nineteenth-century. Of course, Eliot has her debts — like any other man of science, she stands (sometimes precariously) on the shoulders of others: Bichat (Lydgate's mentor), Lyley, Claude Bernard, T.H. Huxley, John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte, William Whewell, Herbert Spencer, and of course, G.H. Lewes. She drew from all of them, most especially Herbert and Lewes. She did, however, go beyond mere appropriation. Her effort has its own merit in relation to the corpus of science.
Middlemarch initially appears to reveal a bias towards what Michael Mason has identified as the Whewellian view of scientific theory (159). According to Whewell, scientific laws were concepts "superinduced" onto the "facts." In The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Whewell asserted that these originary concepts were a priori, natural tendencies in the mind. John Stuart Mill opposed Whewell's 'super-inductive' theory with a strict empiricism.
For empiricists, scientific theory is derived from strict observation, and law is only found through the discovery of repetitive natural phenomena. For Whewellians, on the other hand, experience (or observation) has no meaning without guiding, innate ideas which organ-ize and make them accessible, and in effect, "sensible" (Mason 158-69). Empiricism in science is homologous to the naive realism in fiction that may be thought to characterize Eliot's earlier work, such as Adam Bede and Mill on the Floss. Later, Eliot tends towards Whewellian theory, although, as I will discuss below, she eventually collapses the two perspectives into one another. Her collapsing of this dichotomy has epistemological and cultural implications, as well as structural ones for the novel itself, as the experiment struggles with its own containment.
Middlemarch begins by establishing itself within the "superinduced," experimental framework of science: "Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under varying experiments in Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa...?" (Prelude, 1).6 Not only is science invoked, but a particular kind of science is indicated. It is historical and experimental. To the scientific mixture is already added an anachronism in the figure of Saint Theresa. Saint Theresa is superinduced onto an otherwise strictly contemporary, scientific jargon. The willfulness involved in the juxtaposition suggests that the work will be more than mere observation, but rather an experiment conducted by the narrator.7 We have from the outset a peculiar blend of science and history.
As Sally Shuttleworth implies, the strict techniques of realistic observation — homologous to natural history and empiricism in Eliot's early works, are complicated with what H.G. Lewes, a scientist and close associate of George Eliot's, called "Ideal Construction" in Middlemarch. Lewes believed that science moved ahead by imaginative leaps rather than by empirical plodding alone (143-49). He considered imagination the most important requirement for any scientific discovery.
Middlemarch does not abandon observation for experiment, but rather involves experiment in order to discover the underlying principles which animate phenomena. In order for connections to be made, the imagination must be involved. From Middlemarch and other of Eliot's writing, as compared to those of scientific theorists, we can see this distinction illustrated. After beginning to read Darwin's The Origin of the Species, Eliot writes to her friend and feminist activist, Barbara Bodichon:
We have just been reading Darwin's book on the 'Origin of Species' just now: it makes an epoch, as the expression of his thorough adhesion, after long years of study, to the Doctrine of Development — and not the adhesion of an anonym like the author of the 'Vestiges', but of a long-celebrated naturalist. The book is ill-written and sadly wanting in illustrative facts — of which he has collected a vast number, but reserves them for a future book. . . So the world gets on step by step towards clearness and honesty! But to me the Development theory and all other explanations of processes by which things came to be, produce a feeble impression compared with the mystery that lies under the processes. [Letters, qtd. in Newton 278]
This passage at once confirms the relative value of observation for Eliot, of "illustrative facts," while simultaneously criticizing the "adhesion" to "explanations of processes" of a "long-celebrated naturalist" who misses "the mystery" "underlying the processes."
Eliot elaborates this view in Middlemarch's passages, the most impressive of which is the description of Lydgate's developing theory:
Many men have been praised as vividly imaginative on the strength of their profuseness in indifferent drawing or cheap narration: — ...But these kinds of inspiration Lydgate regarded as vulgar and vinous compared with the imagination that reveals subtle actions inaccessible by any sort of lens, but tracked in that outer darkness through long pathways of necessary sequence by the inward light which is the last refinement of Energy, capable of bathing even the ethereal atoms in its ideally illuminated space. [ch. 16, 147]
Here the scientist probes the mystery underlying the processes, and the methodology involves an imagination which connects phenomena which are inaccessible to observation alone, and at best, merely inferred by the senses. Consonant with Whewellian scientific theory, the discovery of "ethereal atoms" is the provenance of the imagination in the construction of "ideally illuminated space." "Cheap narration," plain empiricism (or bad realistic fiction), is "vulgar" and limited in scope by comparison. As Foucault articulates in terms strikingly relevant to the passage at hand:
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, doctors described what for centuries had remained below the threshold of the visible and the expressible, but this did not mean that, after over-indulging in speculation, they had begun to perceive once again, or that they listened to reason rather than to imagination; it meant that the relation of between the visible and invisible — which is necessary to all concrete knowledge — changed its structure, revealing through gaze and language what had previously been below and beyond their domain. [xii, emphasis mine]
The imagery recalls a passage of John Tyndall's important enough to G.H. Lewes for the latter to quote it in his Problems of Life and Mind:
Knowledge once gained casts a light beyond its own immediate boundaries. There is no discovery so limited as not to illuminate something beyond itself. The force of intellectual penetration into this penumbral region which surrounds outward knowledge is not, as some seem to think, dependent upon method, but upon the genius of the investigator. [Tyndell, qtd. by Lewes in Foundations of a Creed, I, 32]8
In the terms established by the narrator of Middlemarch, scientific theory and image always contain the seeds of their own undoing. Another view lies "beyond" or "below," as the association of these passages suggests. Empiricism is limited by its transience. Likewise, we may expect the scientific images presented to imply a continuum of subversion or meta-version, as the image of the variable lens of the microscope illustrates:
Even with a microscope directed on a water-drop we find ourselves making interpretations which turn out to be rather coarse; for whereas under a weak lens you may seem to see a creature exhibiting an active voracity into which other smaller creatures actively play as if they were so many animated tax-pennies, a stronger lens reveals to you certain tiniest hairlets which make vortices for these victims while the swallower waits passively at his receipt of custom. [ch. 6, 50]
This passage suggests an endless possibility of revision, which is, of course, analogous to science's own history. Furthermore, not only are interpretations tentative, but they involve an active projection on the part of the viewing subject, as seeming to "see an active voracity," "so many animated tax-pennies," and "victims," are finally metaphorical descriptions dependent upon the subject's "interpretations."
In Middlemarch passages regarding science, there is almost always a connection or correlation drawn between science and narration or fiction. Science is invoked to discuss the unfolding of character and plot, and vice versa. The microscope image above, for example, illustrates Mrs. Cadwallader's matchmaking, "producing what may be called thought and speech vortices to bring her the sort of food she needed" (ch. 6, 50). The connection of language to the material of science is telling here, because in Middlemarch, science finally depends on metaphor. As J. Hillis Miller notes in this context, "if for Eliot all seeing is falsified by the limitations of point of view, it is an even more inevitable law, for her, that we make things what they are by naming them" (79). Likewise, Eliot can establish a connection between science and fiction in the form of language, and fiction and science make their way into one another.
The above passage about Lydgate's scientific theory putatively draws a connection between science and fiction by way of the inapposite appearance of the word "narration," in connection with the "long pathways of necessary sequence." Fiction (narration and necessary sequence) is held intact, it is implied, by the same experimental and imaginative sequences as scientific discovery. The image of "outer darkness through long pathways," also reverberates with the "labyrinth of petty courses" (3, 22) through which Dorothea must travel (as well as with the other, numerous references to the labyrinth in Middlemarch). Guided also by a "light," "[h]er flame," which, "fed from within, soared after some illimitable satisfaction" (Prelude, 1), Dorothea's project resembles Lydgate's. As a "later-born" Theresa, living on the crest of nineteenth-century materialist science and philosophy, she is "helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul" (Prelude, 1). The novel is an experiment in making up for this lack by means of science and philosophy, which substitute for "faith and order."
As remarked by Ronald Schleifer in Rhetoric and Death: The Language of Modernism and Postmodern Discourse Theory, it is "[t]he very success of positive science in the nineteenth century [which] conditioned this failure" or "breakdown of what Steiner perceives as the 'centrality' of our 'Western inheritance' which provided 'touchstones of order and of that unbroken continuum'" (Schleifer 10; Steiner qtd. in Schleifer 10). Likewise, the novel functions as "an experiment in time" in terms of its own historical moment, as well as intrinsically, as narration. It is also an experiment for its protagonists, who must, like the narrator, seek unifying principles — a scientific search, made necessary, in part, by science itself, or by the conditions which permitted science its expansion into matters human. This paradoxical realization in Middlemarch accounts, in part, for its ambiguous treatment of science. Science is both problem and tool, as an early exchange, during which Chettam hopes to impress Dorothea but is interrupted, suggests:
"I am reading the Agricultural Chemistry," said this excellent baronet [Chettam], "because I am going to take one of the farms into my own hands, and see if something cannot be done in setting a good pattern of farming among my tenants. Do you approve of that, Miss Brooke?"
"A great mistake, Chettam," interposed Mr. Brooke, "going into electrifying your land and that sort of thing, and making a parlor of your cow-house. It won't do. I went into science a great deal myself at one time; but I saw it would not do. It leads to everything; you can let nothing alone." [ch. 2, 12]
Mr. Brooke is as shallow and frivolous a character as Middlemarch presents, yet the novel largely proves his statement correct. In science as well as other scholarship, leading to everything is often the equivalent to leading nowhere. As Dorothea senses regarding the "Key to all Mythologies" during her honeymoon, "the large vistas and wide fresh air which she had dreamed of finding in her husband's mind were replaced by anterooms and winding passages which seemed to lead nowhither" (ch. 20, 176). Casaubon "can let nothing alone" in his search for a generalizing theory of mythology, and thus his mind is described as a "labyrinthine" cul de sac. Dorothea's desire to "learn everything" (ch. 3, 23) leads her to the "ungauged reservoir" of Casaubon's mind where she sees "reflected there in vague labyrinthine extension every quality she herself brought" (ch. 3, 18). With these characters, Eliot subtly undermines any totalizing view offered by generalizing theories, whether of life, culture, or science.
Lydgate's future is subtly presaged in the continuation of the above description of his scientific quest in search of the "Primitive Tissue":
He for his part had tossed away all cheap inventions where ignorance finds itself able and at ease: he was enamoured of that arduous invention which is the very eyes of research, provisionally framing its object and correcting it to more and more exact relation; he wanted to pierce the obscurity of those minute processes which prepare human misery and joy, those invisible thoroughfares which are the first lurking-places of anguish, mania, and crime, that delicate poise and transition which determine the growth of happy or unhappy consciousness. [ch. 16, 147]
While Rosamond is generally thought of as having been the impediment to Lydgate's research, she may have actually provided the laboratory. It is, after all, through his marriage to Rosamond that Lydgate finds "the first lurking-places of anguish, mania, and crime." Middlemarch itself may in a sense be his "Primitive Tissue" that "counted on swallowing Lydgate and assimilating him very comfortably" (ch. 15, 137). It did just this, proffering its finest allurements. As Nancy Paxton observes:
Lydgate's determination to take a more strictly scientific view of 'woman' after his disastrous affair with Madame Laure becomes doubly ironic when we recognize not only that Lydgate succumbs, in spite of himself, to Rosamond's similarly superficial charms, but also that he marries a woman, who, according to the most advanced scientific principles of evolutionary theory in the 1870s, is the perfect mate. 
Paxton's argument — that Eliot's use of Rosamond to baffle a progressive scientist such as Lydgate is intended to undercut Herbert Spencer's evolutionary theory of sex selection — is clearly demonstrable (171-97). Rosamond (unlike George Eliot herself9) meets all of Spencer's evolutionary criteria for sexual selection as a wife. Yet she fails posterity (her egoism in "personal beauty" causing her to lose a child). According to Spencer, the beauty of women was their primary worth with respect to the future of the species (see note 9). Rosamond was also, to Lydgate's early satisfaction, "instructed to the true womanly limit and not one hair's breadth beyond," which met Spencer's requisite qualifications as well. Having read and personally argued with Herbert's conclusions, Eliot obviously set out consciously to refute them in Middlemarch. The miserable marriage of Lydgate and Rosamond brings forth no issue in terms of children, science, or the general welfare of the two. The marriage serves to undermine the altruism that Spencer ascribed to women and marriage.
By Lydgate's failure in perception, science itself, at least incidentally, may be implicated. The theory of sexaul selection doesn't hold in his social case. The metaphor is subverted by its failure in application. Eliot significantly uses a scientist to test Herbert's theory of sex selection. Not only is a theory provisionally framed and debunked, but a scientist is also frustrated. This sacrifice of a scientist to the ramifications of a scientific theory, "presents," as Paxton argues, "a cautionary tale about the revenge that history takes on pioneers of science like Lydgate or — for that matter — like Herbert Spencer himself" (174). Of all the characters, Lydgate is the one who should be expected to see "below and beyond" the "feeble impression" of a Rosamond, to discover "what lies under the processes." He lacks the very vision he espouses and may stand for the provisionally framed and historically contingent scientific fiction.
Yet these samples may not necessarily serve as metonymic representatives for the whole vision of science in the novel. Rather, it may be that they are specious samples of subjective "selection" offered to the voracious appetite of scientific evolution, rendered unfit by their lack of "adaptation" to the cultural environment.
One of Eliot's most celebrated passages, which begins with a reference to Spencer himself,10 complicates the question of subjectivity and science in an apparent overriding of our earlier observations. Its centrality to this discussion merits extended quotation:
An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has show me this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a center of illumination, and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent — of Miss Vincy, for example. Rosamond had a Providence of her own who had kindly made her more charming than other girls, and who seemed to have arranged Fred's illness and Mr. Wrench's mistake in order to bring her and Lydgate within effective proximity [ch. 27, 237-8, emphasis added]
This passage is indeed, as J. Hillis Miller has observed, "more complicated than it at first appears" (76), and I should like to take it a bit further than I believe he has. Without, for the moment, commenting on the initial tone and language, I will go directly to the central image of the candle and the lamp. The first order of the signified appears to be egoism and subjectivity: the "arrangement" of "events" according to one's own "flattering" design. The world appears to conform to the wishes of the egoist by the projection of the same from the subjective light. The image applies most directly to Rosamond, "for example," though it does not exclude others, such as Bulstrode, who obviously had "a Providence of his own."
The perspective of this subject can hardly be a scientific vantage point, since "[i]t is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially." Rather, it would appear that science or the "objective" observer is given a transcendent power of vision which disqualifies that of the relative subject. If there is any critique of science here, Eliot would seem to inveigh against the "Ideal Construction" theory in favor of an extended empiricism; with further observation "[i]t is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially." Yet such a demonstration is only possible by removing the observer (the candle or light) — "The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent." But the question then becomes — when the lamp is removed, who remains to witness the "events?"
In this case the novel implies that someone is present for the impartial view; "an eminent philosopher," the narrator, the scientist. The question here is a central one for the novel and for its view of science. The novel consistently suggests the possibility of an over-arching scientific view, of an omniscient philosophic narrator. "A systole and diastole in all inquiry" has aimed at "continually expanding and shrinking between the whole human horizon and the horizon of an object-glass" (ch. 63, 576); from wide-angle, to telescopic, to microscopic, to that view "inaccessible by a any sort of lens." As J. Hillis Miller has brilliantly argued, however, in this particular sample, "[t]his objective vision, such is the logic of Eliot's parable, shows that what is 'really there' has no order whatsoever, but is merely random scratches without pattern or meaning" (77).
The problem with this reading, Miller argues, is that it is at odds with the other prevalent, structuring metaphors in the novel — the web, the channel, the labyrinth, the optics — which aim at metaphoric organization of experience by the narrator. These metaphors offer means of ordering experience (67-81). The question then becomes whether "an implication ... has by accident, as it were, slipped in along with implications which are 'intended'" (78), — chaos has invaded the novel — or whether Eliot has constructed this very deconstruction intentionally. By "constructed the deconstruction," I mean that she has built up a metaphor designed to fall apart, with the aim of demonstrating its instability and therefore the instability of what it might represent.
What should be pointed out here is that which has been quite overlooked in this line of inquiry. The very first image is that of placing an object of inquiry ("your ugly furniture") "into the serene light of science." The parable is circular and self-referential, implicating its own "serene light" in the lesson it gives. Yet, in hastening the reader towards its illustration, it manages to slip the candle in below the "serene light of science," making the candle — rather than the serene light of science — that "which produces the flattering illusion." The philosopher's "pregnant" fact gives birth. It reproduces its own 'truth' in the form of the candle's projection, thereby having its own projection escape notice. The serene light of science "produces the flattering illusion" of objectivity that orders the parable, just as the candle orders the scratches on the lamp.
The resonance of these images is unavoidable once noticed, and "the serene light of science" becomes implicated in the "light falling with an exclusive optical selection." If light produces a flattering effect inside the parable, it must also do so from the outset, from the light that illuminates the lesson itself, from "the serene light of science." In the reproduction of "serene light" in the form of the candle, science is set aside, pretending to disengage itself from its own viewing subject. Thus the passage becomes a parable about science itself as it attempts to construct its objectivity by means of eliding its own subjective participation in observation. It also a passage about the objective realist narrator, which Eliot has by this time long rejected.
The novel is too skeptical of absolute points of view to allow this kind of image without subverting it in the process. Numerous suggestions throughout the novel of alternate points of view support this skepticism. Even the over-arching view of narration, which would propose to collect and balance subjective interpretations, is undermined by the narrator's own statement: "all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web" (ch. 15, 126, emphasis mine). "The lights and shadows must always fall with a certain difference" (ch. 10). Thus, the narrator, homologous to the model of objective scientist prevalent in the nineteenth-century, would appear to be creating the same kinds of patterns as the candle on the lamp. The narration, which, like scientific observation, only presents "the fragment of a life, however typical, is not the sample of an even web" (Finale, 746). The use of the word, "selection" as a direct result of the candle's action, as an obvious reference to evolutionary theory, further implicates science in this subjectivity.
This interpretation is further supported by the fact the above passage echoes strongly a similar, earlier passage of Spencer's in The Principles of Psychology (1871), in which he describes the failure of "class reasoning." According to Spencer, "'the very act of 'predication' brings into 'prominence those members of the class which fulfill the predication' and leaves 'in the background those members of the class which do not fulfill it,' just as a candle before a mirror creates the illusion of 'arcs of circles having the light as its center'" (Spencer, Psychology, qtd. in Paxton). Eliot's passage mirrors Spencer's, and as Paxton observes, "raises much larger questions about contemporary scientific methods as well" (174). "Class reasoning" is what Spencer's theory of sex selection itself is guilty of. In this way, the scientist's own imagery and methodology is applied against the scientist himself. Like Bultrode's, the scientist's subjectivity 'contaminates' his view
as obstinately as when we look through the window from a lighted room, the objects we turn our backs on are still before us, instead of the grass and trees. The successive events inward and outward were there in one view: though each might be dwelt on in turn, the rest still kept their hold in the consciousness. [Ch. 61, 554-5, emphasis added]
Eliot's notion of subjectivity is not that pertaining to an autonomous, independent individual whose relation to the whole is one of participation, contribution and exchange. Middlemarch, written at the same time as Lewes's Foundation of a Creed, accords with the latter's theory of the social medium's importance in the construction of subjectiviy, as differentiated from the view of "[t]he psychologist, [who is] accustomed to consider the Mind as something apart from the Organism, individual and collective, [and who] is peculiarly liable to this error of overlooking that all mental manifestations are simply the resultants of the conditions external and internal" (Lewes, Foundations of a Creed, I 128). Furthermore, these conditions are not merely the present circumstances of society, but "the collective accumulations of centuries, condensed in knowledge, beliefs, prejudices, institutions, and tendencies" (Lewes, Foundations of a Creed, I, 124). Bichat's physiological "conception that living bodies, fundamentally considered, are not associations of organs which can be understood by studying them first apart, and then as it were federally; but must be regarded as consisting of certain primary webs or tissues" (ch. 15, 131-2), is by implication to be extended to the social organism, which Eliot also describes in terms of a 'web.' Thus the individual is not to be studied apart and then as against or within a social framework. Rather, "the events inward and outward are there in one view." As Shuttleworth deftly puts it, Eliot's works "do not simply explore the relationship between an autonomous individual and an external society: social values and conceptions are actually inscribed within the personality itself" (19).
Thus Eliot collapses subjectivity into the cultural, while at the same time resolving the empiricism/super-induction, Mill/Whewell dichotomy. The historical imbrication of the observer accounts for the experience upon which empiricism depends. Just as Bulstrode, as in attempting to look through the window from a lighted room, is unable to eradicate a vision of his past, so the scientist, in looking at observable objects, is caught in his own historical and cultural reflexivity. Since history is essentially the "accumulations" of experience, however, the connection to empiricism is thereby ensured. Likewise, the theory of super-induction does not run counter to empiricism, but is really of the same substance, having been derived from "accumulations of centuries, condensed in knowledge." Of course, this rings of a kind of higher-order Spencerian or Darwinian adaptation model of knowledge, in which theories are fitted for or by experience in a long process of evolution. But this does in no way reverse or undermine the deconstructive tendency in such a view of science. What Foucault says about his own work, can be applied to Middlemarch: "It is a structural study that sets out to disentangle the conditions of its own history from the density of discourse" (xix). Or, as the narrator of Middlemarch puts, it: "I at least have so much to do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web" (ch 15, 126). Interestingly, both of these statements are made to distinguish the historical method of the respective writer from that of a different kind of historian. Theirs is the kind of historiography that aims to understand what produces discourses and "how they were woven and interwoven," rather than which statements were true or false, or what action caused what result. Likewise, Middlemarch does not as much attempt to disestablish the validity of rationality within its given parameters as to interrogate the cultural and historical conditions that account for those parameters in the first place. For "[w]hat counts in the things said by men is not so much what they may have thought or the extent to which these things represent their thoughts, as that which systemizes them from the outset" (Foucault xix).
In Middlemarch, Eliot not only considers the discourse of "men" of science, but examines that which conditions the discourse. At the same time, she examines that which conditions the discourse of fiction as well, with the narrator's "double change of self and beholder" (11, 83). Parallel to the rationality that was developing in science, nineteenth-century fiction attempted a totalizing view, both of which Eliot at once constructs and destablizes in Middlemarch. The implications of these challenges are great, for not only was the hegemonic impulse represented in science and fiction, but in economics as well.
Last modified 19 December 2008