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83 “The MotherTongue of Our Imagination”: George Eliot, Landscape-Shaped Subjectivity, and the Possibility of Social Inclusion Winner of the 2007 Hamilton Prize Kev in A. Mor r ison • By the time George Eliot published The Mill on the Floss in 1860, the question of the form and meaning of national belonging was being taken up in English parliamentary debates as it had been in the years before the Reform Bill of 1832. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, national subjectivity was grounded in property ownership. Until 1832, the nation was conceived largely in terms of an aggregate of landed properties; political power resided solely in the landed gentry.After the Reform Bill’s redefinition of property, the franchise was extended to a greater number of male professionals—lawyers, merchants, factory owners—in the middle classes.While property ownership remained an essential right of political representation, the definition of what counted as property expanded from fixed to portable.The oligarchic nature of the English nation was pressured by the definitional expansion of property, which permitted greater numbers of males to participate in state affairs.The effects of the 1832 Reform Bill, however, were “symbolic rather than practical ” (Morris 4); through it, only one in six adult males garnered the right to vote. Nevertheless, the passage of the Reform Bill set in motion a process of reforming and refining a sense of both what the nation was and who counted as a national subject. The rapid urbanization of the first half of the nineteenth century led to a widespread recognition that Britain could no longer be defined as economically or demographically rural, increasing pressure on Parliament to recognize these changing conditions through a further extension of the franchise. Reform Bills put forward by the Liberals were debated in 1852, 1854, and 1860, but none garnered sufficient support to pass. Conservatives, too, had“proposed a modest measure of enfranchisement” during their brief leadership of Parliament from 1858 to 1859 (Hall 2–3). Although there was little agreement between Liberals and Conservatives on the specific ways in which the franchise might victorian review • Volume 34 Number 1 84 be expanded, they shared a sense that a “radical shift in social relations,” as Pam Morris has argued, meant that “society would have to be ordered on principles of inclusion” (Morris 3). But the impulse to craft a socially inclusive society conflicted with a belief held by members of both parties that the franchise was “a privilege and a responsibility, to be exercised by those who had a propertied stake in the country” (Hall 1). This model of political subjectivity derives from John Locke. In his originary fantasy of liberal political thought, individual males band together to overthrow an absolutist ruler. In so doing, the men emerge as equals:“The Equality which all Men are in, in respect of Jurisdiction or Dominion … [originates in] that equal Right every Man hath, to his Natural Freedom, without being subjected to the Will or Authority of any other Man” (2.54). Because these men are now rendered equally free, they must decide to form a suitable system of political governance that will hold jurisdiction over them and safeguard their proprietary interests. Consenting to be governed under a political system whose end is the preservation of property, Locke’s men guarantee their citizenship in the new polity. For the most part, while nineteenth-century Liberals and Conservatives sought to formalize principles of social inclusion, their efforts remained constricted within a Lockean framework of property ownership. The very concept of inclusiveness thus remained, paradoxically, firmly rooted in social difference. Some reformers, however, did question the proprietary basis of national subjectivity. John Stuart Mill argued in Considerations on Representative Government that the “accident” of property ownership had “so much more to do than merit with enabling men to rise in the world” (308). In On Liberty, he advocated a society made up of reasonable men engaging in rational discussion about the affairs of the nation. In his account, enlightened and spirited debate represents “one of the leading essentials of well-being” (58).The liberal subject, weighing various competing interests and subjecting his own “private partialities” in dialogue with the “principles and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 83-100
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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