Middlemarch and Modern Society

  • T. B. Tomlinson


To go back for a moment to Jane Austen: after her conservative certainty about social issues — and her achievement marks the last point in literary history at which intelligent satire could at once criticise and bolster an exclusive society — the majority of nineteenth-century novelists dealt only precariously with social problems which, by the time George Eliot began to write, had assumed threatening proportions. The monstrous growth of bureaucracies, suburbias, governmental controls and industry which began soon after Jane Austen too often forced later novelists into a disastrously oversimplifying position. Trollope is indeed an exception here, and his best novels (especially the later ones in the political series) are firmly unterrified and unevasive in the face of problems that clearly dismayed a good many other mid-century writers, including some who were by nature more imaginative than Trollope himself. As the century went on, however, and as the initial Romantic impulse both weakened and spread more widely through the literate community, the temptation grew to sidestep social problems by adopting one version or other of the too-neat formula: the individual versus society.


Modern Society Moral Choice Walk Away Governmental Control Modem Society 
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© T. B. Tomlinson 1976

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  • T. B. Tomlinson

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