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Artful ExperimentsWays of Knowing in Victorian Literature and Science$
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Philipp Erchinger

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474438957

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474438957.001.0001

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Following the Actors: G. H. Lewes’s and George Eliot’s Studies in Life

Following the Actors: G. H. Lewes’s and George Eliot’s Studies in Life

(p.76) Chapter 3 Following the Actors: G. H. Lewes’s and George Eliot’s Studies in Life
Artful Experiments

Philipp Erchinger

Edinburgh University Press

Opening with a look at the character of Benjulia from Wilkie Collins’s novel Heart and Science, this chapter turns to G. H. Lewes’s Sea-Side Studies. As it argues, Collins’s Benjulia is unhappily tied to a position-based notion of knowledge that separates him from whatever he seeks to grasp. By contrast, Lewes’s studies exemplify an enquiry that goes along with its subject-matters, rather than trying to capture and contain them in an ideal place apart from the observer. Thus, Lewes’s essays invite their readers to learn with, rather than from, them. Instead of merely transmitting knowledge about marine life, these works take their readers through an experimental field that is still in the process of being explored. The section goes on to argue that George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss outlines a non-propositional reason that cannot be abstracted from the particular situations and actions in and through which it is expressed. The chapter therefore puts the case that Eliot’s novels and Lewes’s studies investigated different problems through similar methods. This explains why Eliot described her novels as “experiments in life”, a claim that the chapter clarifies by placing it in the context of Emile Zola’s theory of the experimental novel.

Keywords:   Sea-Side Studies, human and animal life, method of enquiry, natural history, G.H. Lewes, George Eliot, human nature, peregrinations, Emile Zola, experimental novel

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