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120Philosophy and Literature nonetheless from such argumentative energy diat the major insights flow. There are too many, and many too finely crafted, to display in a brief review — from die proposal that Circe's swine are not allegories ofmoral debasement but images ofpersonae in the process of initiation, to the demonstration that Woolfs Orlando affirms personhood through a consistent thematic and rhetorical expression of die mind's imaginative freedom. This last interpretation also presents a paradigm of Skulsk/s literary and philosophical defense of personhood as a concept necessary, for good and ill, to human existence. Because his defense rests on asserting die autonomy of mind, the terms in which the author abjures psychological interpretation strike a discordant note. His particular approach gives him the right to ignore it; but to say that "die lemguage ofdie individual or collective unconscious" constitutes a separate "text," irrelevant because "its meaning, be it ever so deep, is peculiar to itself (p. 9), is to introduce a separation between consciousness and unconsciousness that undermines the very autonomy of mind he so eloquendy affirms. Whitman CollegeEdwin Stein George Eliot, Romantic Humanist: A Study of the Philosophical Structure ofher Novels, by K. M. Newton; vii & 215 pp. Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes & Noble, 1981, $26.50. Though the veil is not yet completely lifted from George Eliot's philosophical face, K. M. Newton has made substantial progress in rendering its fabric less opaque. After publication of George Eliot, Romantic Humanut, we are certainly no longer warranted in tolerating die stock view of Eliot as a didactic novelist with a lamentably overkeen penchant for philosophy. If he did nothing else in his insightful book, Newton would be due commendation for taking Eliot seriously as a philosopher. Fortunately Newton offers more — a great deed more. His thesis is that George Eliot ". . . was an advanced Romantic who developed the anti-metaphysical implications of Romantic thinking to an extreme" (p. 3). Eliot was a skeptic, an atheist, and a cultural relativist, espousing a feeling-based morality and agreeing with later existentialists that meaning has to be created, not simply found. Yet unlike "egotistic" Romantics such as Byron and Nietzsche, Eliot strove to counter die nihilistic implications of adveuiced Romantic dunking. She was an "organistic" (the term derives from Herder) Romantic, positing die ". . . need for a society to possess a common culture and a sense of corporate consciousness" (p. 79). Only in such a society does Eliot see any possibility of morality; only diere can a moral agent accurately test his feelings against the touchstones of tradition and common experience, providing for moral truths the kind ofverification that Eliot saw as answering the threat of nihilism. Despite interesting discussions of Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, and Eliot's poetry, the strength of Newton's book rests in two separate discussions (for different purposes) of Romola. Rather than standardly attributing the novel's weakness to its overtly Reviews121 philosophical concerns, Newton more correctly attributes die problem to Romola's historical design (p. 14). Eliot failed to portray fifteenth-century Florence with sufficient vividness and vigor, no doubt because her preoccupations were, as Newton demonstrates, so thoroughly post-Romantic. Romola is the novel most friendly to Newton's argument, and his reading of it is compelling. Tito is the "egotistic" Romantic, the nihilist; Savonarola is the believer in an outmoded religious metaphysics, the fanatic; whereas Romola is the "organistic" Romantic, struggling to wed Savonarola's humanity to Tito's accurate first premise: the world is without God. All the same, Eliot and Romola contend , human beings must forge a workable morality — an acknowledgment oftheir shared circumstances, shared traditions, and common plight. There are two disappointments in Newton's book. The first and most serious is the total omission of any discussion of Spinoza among philosophical influences on Eliot. Given, first, Eliot's arduous labor to complete unpublished translations of Spinoza's main works and, second, the significant impact of Spinoza on the Romantic movement, most especially upon Goedie (who was in turn die subject of a famous biography by G. H. Lewes, Eliot's husband), this omission is surprising indeed. The other disappointment is that Newton plays it too close to die vest in discussing other influences on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 120-121
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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