This dissertation project began as an investigation of the moral, sociological, and material dimensions of George Eliot’s literary realism. Scholars of Victorian literature have long established the realist novel’s place in shaping how the contemporary reader understands the contours of physical bodies and metaphysical concepts, the many and intricate relation between subject and object, and the novel’s enduring relevance to our modern and secular notion of character as an ethical value. In connecting Eliot’s translation of Spinoza’s Ethics with her literary work, we can better understand what connects Eliot with a contemporary body of criticism that also owes a significant debt to Spinozist ontology, often referred to by “new materialism” or the “speculative turn.” These contemporary thinkers inherit from Spinoza a fundamental understanding of material life and social reality that de-hierarchizes the relation between mind and body, and contests a notion of agency based on individual self-determination. It is in this context that this dissertation will pursue the manifold dimensions of ‘character’ as a formal, ethical, and material concept in Eliot. I will also demonstrate that Thackeray, as different as he is in his writerly disposition from Eliot, speaks to a shared Victorian occupation with individual self-determination and moral consciousness in the face of complex and complicating relations of thought, feeling, and action. Eliot’s picture of character and human life speaks to a non-deterministic, involuntary, and changeable social process – a process that also lies at the heart of Spinoza’s radical secularism.
Kim, Peter Hyun,
"Reading Character in George Eliot and William Thackeray"
English Theses and Dissertations.
Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.