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^Disease and Cure in "Janet's Repentance": George Eliot's Change of Mind J. Clinton McCann, Jr. The only thing greater than the exdtement of interdisdplinary study is the anxiety it produces in the scholarly heart of the one who attempts it. As I prepare an essay on George Eliot for a journal entitled Literature and Medicine, I am acutely aware that I am an advanced student neither of English literature nor of medicine. Rather, I am a biblical scholar and a theologian. What assuages my anxiety considerably is the fact that George Eliot too was a biblical scholar and a theologian. Her early education centered upon the Bible; and even after her embrace of freethinking led her to rejed the Evangelical theology of her youth, George Eliot remained a student of Bible and theology. She became the translator of D. F. Strauss's Das Leben Jesu (The Life of Jesus) and of Ludwig Feuerbach's Das Wesen des Christenthums (The Essence of Christianty), two works that had a profound influence on the development of modern biblical studies and theology.1 The most telling evidence, though, of George Eliof s immersion in the Bible is the content of her fiction. "Janet's Repentance," for instance, is replete with the biblical language and imagery of crucifixion, resurrection , baptism, incarnation, and of course, repentance, as the title indicates .2 More specifically, George Eliot seems to have been heavily influenced by Scripture in the role she assigns to disease in "Janet's Repentance." In both the Old and New Testaments, disease represents not only physical malady but also mental or spiritual distress. Being healed is a way of describing salvation from distress. Thus, it is not surprising that the Song of Moses and Miriam (Exodus 15:1-21), which accompanies Israel's deliverance from the Egyptians and which addresses God as "my salvation," is followed immediately by a passage in which the Lord idenLiterature and Mediane 9 (1990) 69-78 © 1990 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 70 DISEASE AND CURE tifies the Lord's self to the people as "the Lord that healeth thee" (Exodus 15:26, KTV). The psalmist can utter "heal me" and "save me" in almost the same breath (Psalms 6:2, 4, KJV); and Jeremiah 3:22 (KJV) even assodates healing and repentance: "Return [the literal meaning of the Hebrew word often translated as 'repent'], ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." In the New Testament, the description of salvation as healing is evident in Mark 2:1-12, where Jesus' words accompanying the healing of a paralytic are, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee" (Mark 2:5, KJV). In what follows, I shall describe in detail how George Eliot follows the biblical precedent of using disease and healing to symbolize the experience of distress and deliverance from distress. George Eliot portrays the arrival of Evangelicalism in Milby as the spread of an infectious disease (p. 263). At this point, she seems poised to launch a narrative attack on Evangelicalism in line with her earlier essay in The Westminster Review (Odober 1855), "Evangelical Teaching: Dr. Cumming ," which Haight describes as follows: "She exposed the lack of scrupulous veradty, the absence of real charity, and the perverted moral judgement, not of Dr. Currurdng [a well-known Scottish Evangelical preacher] alone, but of all Evangelicals."3 It quickly becomes clear, however , that George Eliot had experienced a change of mind between 1855 and early 1857 when the work on "Janet's Repentance" began. Disease continues to figure prominently in the story, but the real victims of disease are the opponents rather than the proponents of Evangelicalism, which proves finally to be a healing force. The change of mind toward Evangelicalism was apparent already in her artide "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists ," in the October 1856 edition of The Westminster Review, where she wrote the following: " "The real drama of Evangelicalism—and it has abundance of fine drama for any one who has genius enough to discern and reproduce it—lies among the middle and lower dasses/ "4 In "Janef s Repentance," the drama of Evangelicalism unfolds largely in the language of disease. Each major character in the story...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 69-78
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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