In contrast to standard accounts of George Eliot and nineteenth-century intellectual culture, I argue that Eliot makes a case for the novel, over science or philosophy, as the most promising intellectual paradigm. In Middlemarch, Eliot directs an anti-dogmatic skepticism—one that I argue is distinctively novelistic—toward empiricism, the dominant epistemology in nineteenth-century Britain. She embeds the empirical association of visual experience and knowledge in a complex plot of desire and marriage, reputation and ruin, demonstrating the dangers of dogmatic empiricism for ordinary lives. In its place, Eliot formulates a new, skeptical mode of visuality that encompasses and exceeds the epistemological affordances of sight. By interpolating a constructive skepticism within novelistic form—and showing that it is inseparable from that form—Eliot makes her case for the novel’s unique intellectual promise. I argue, finally, that Eliot’s skepticism both anticipates and complicates Stanley Cavell’s concept of “acknowledgement.”


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pp. 269-287
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