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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: March 2012

5 - The Initial ‘Transformation of Pain into Sympathy’ in Adam Bede

from Part Two - ‘The Mercy for Those Sorrows’—Syntax and Sympathy


We have seen how George Eliot's search for ‘a language subtle enough to follow the utmost intricacies of the soul's pathways’ results in complex syntactical presentations of consciousness, from the intensely personal and concentrated focus on Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss to the wider community of individualized thought-processes in Felix Holt. The carefully constructed passages of psycho-narration throughout the works increase the potential of full sympathetic connection between character and reader. But a clearer sense of individuality is not everything, for we must also come to understand that individuality in the context of human relationships. I would like to return to a previously cited observation made by critic Gillian Beer:

George Eliot's interest is in relationships. ‘Independence’ did not stir her artistically. Interdependence may have been her ideal, but the imbalances of feeling, the dependences and the repudiations between people, are the matter of her art.

It is in Beer's discussion of ‘imbalances of feeling’ that some of those most difficult moments in George Eliot's fiction become particularly relevant. We need only remind ourselves of those subtle shifts between Romola and Tito as Romola begins to sense the irreconcilable distance between herself and her husband even as he remains her husband, or of the empty emotional space between Mrs Transome and Harold as the mother longs for the love of a son who has never fully existed.

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