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Myth, Exorcism, and Maggie Tulliver

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Extract

Pater speaks here for a perception shared, differently, by George Eliot and Matthew Arnold. Deep respect for Greek learning as the font of humanism led Arnold to suspect that myth held more truth than did mere philosophy. As if in agreement, Eliot's novel, The Mill on the Floss, asks what that more might be. Is myth a religious expression? an illustration of fate? a model of nature? or of some irreducible essence within the grain and texture of reality eluding definition? All may apply. The gross sum of rural life in the novel, a “grovelling existence which even calamity does not elevate” (238; bk. 4, ch. 1), nevertheless possesses an obscure power that Eliot both dignifies and parodies through sustained allusions to the Ariadne myth. In addition and more particularly, Ariadne expresses Maggie Tulliver's otherwise mute impulses and suppressed motives, the same function it performs for Eliot's later heroines in conflict. This evidence of the myth's extended hold on Eliot's imagination strongly suggests that it spoke for personal as well as fictional experience. Here in her bildungsroman, myth begins to provide her with a vocabulary to express antagonism between nature and culture – to put this roughly – or between passion and idea that Eliot herself confronted and returned to time and again in her novels.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1988

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