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Toward a History of Literary Underdetermination: Standardizing Meaning in Middlemarch

Toward a History of Literary Underdetermination: Standardizing Meaning in Middlemarch

Chapter:
(p.111) 4 Toward a History of Literary Underdetermination: Standardizing Meaning in Middlemarch
Source:
The Ideas in Things
Author(s):
Elaine Freedgood
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226261546.003.0005

This chapter uses George Eliot's Middlemarch as an example of the way in which the “literary” novel works to refigure, and stabilize, our perception of the symbolic ground of fiction. It argues that George Eliot, as a self-conscious producer of the novel as a particularly “literary” genre, begins to restrict and assign meaning to fictional objects, tying off the metonymic loose ends that the baggier novels of the earlier Victorian period had left—however unwittingly and unwillingly—dangling. It traces the structure and ideology of underdetermination, a figurative practice that attempts to prune away the highbrow or literary text from middlebrow or non-literary text. Metonymy is narrated to the point of exhaustion: all possible (that is, correct) connections are made by the narrator. The infinite individual possibilities for metonymic interpretation are reduced to proper metaphors. This newly restricted literary meaning makes the things of fiction symbolically alienable. This chapter also examines Eliot's realism in Middlemarch.

Keywords:   George Eliot, Middlemarch, fiction, meaning, underdetermination, metonymy, metaphors, realism

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