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Novel InstitutionsAnachronism, Irish Novels and Nineteenth-Century Realism$
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Mary L. Mullen

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474453240

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474453240.001.0001

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George Eliot’s Anachronistic Literacies

George Eliot’s Anachronistic Literacies

(p.108) Chapter 3 George Eliot’s Anachronistic Literacies
Novel Institutions

Mary L. Mullen

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter focuses on narrative metalepsis in the novels of George Eliot, the most central figure in studies of Victorian realism and often the standard through which Irish novelists are deemed not realist enough. But William Carleton’s and Charles Kickham’s ethnographic realism allows us to understand Eliot’s provincial realism in a new way: as divided rather than integrative. In novels that encourage institutional consolidation, Eliot uses narrative metalepsis to question modern institutionalism’s drive toward futurity. Adam Bede (1859) and The Mill on the Floss (1860) produce a form of anachronistic literacy—a mode of reading and remembering that collapses historical distance as it celebrates the immediacy of the past—to question women’s fraught relationship to modern institutionalism. Eliot’s embrace of anachronism is surprising because her novels seem to produce a form of historicism grounded in path-dependency: in her novels, past choices tend to constrain present decisions. But, in novels that otherwise confirm the existing path, Eliot’s anachronistic literacy creates radical ruptures that mobilise anachronisms to imagine otherwise.

Keywords:   George Eliot, Realism, Metalepsis, Path-dependency, Literacy, historicism

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