Typical Victorian men: Representations of men and masculinity in George Eliot's novels

Date of Completion

January 2000


Literature, English




The male characters in George Eliot's novels have usually been examined in one of two ways: either historically, by speculating whether they be thinly veiled depictions of her family and her friends or psychoanalytically, by suggesting a link between the author's supposed androgyny and her rhetorical skill in representing men. These approaches either ignore masculinity or assume it is an essentially negative, pathological, or oppressive condition. ^ Assuming masculinity to be socially constructed, positive, and various, this study investigates how Eliot dramatizes the condition of nineteenth-century British men in her novels. It analyzes recurrent male character types within their historical context and examines Eliot's judgment of them. Moreover, the manhood question is addressed. It consists in asking how a man might grow into and sustain an acceptable form of manhood in his society, given the commercial, religious, and cultural changes in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. Eliot's novels set in these centuries address different parts of this question. (Romola displaces it into Italian Renaissance Florence.) ^ Indeed, distinct character types' manhood plots abort: this failure to complete a trajectory that suits Victorian values of productivity and reproductivity corresponds to an embedded deviation from masculine norms. Her strong condemnation of some characters (those effeminate gentlemen, those Byronic dandies, those whose conduct might be homosexual or homosocial, those aesthetic and enthusiastic Christians and artists) seldom allows her reader to make up his or her own mind about them. ^ Eliot transforms traits from these unsuccessful masculinities into what she considered an acceptable form of Victorian masculinities in Daniel Deronda. In contrast to her evident sensitivity to the impact of colonialism on subjugated people, she approvingly describes Daniel's conversion from a ponderous romantic, aesthetic, and spiritual temperament into an active muscular Judaism. ^