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Common PrecedentsThe Presentness of the Past in Victorian Law and Fiction$
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Ayelet Ben-Yishai

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199937646

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199937646.001.0001

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Precedential Reasoning George Eliot's Middlemarch

Precedential Reasoning George Eliot's Middlemarch

Chapter:
(p.81) Chapter 2 Precedential Reasoning George Eliot's Middlemarch
Source:
Common Precedents
Author(s):

Ayelet Ben-Yishai

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199937646.003.0003

Chapter Two shows how George Eliot's paradigmatic Middlemarch - even though it has no overt legal themes or plots - borrows heavily from precedential structures in an attempt to fashion a common, stable and consistent realism, thus ensuring that change and the new will always remain in the realm of the known. Written just after the Second Reform Act of 1867 and taking place just before the first one of 1832, the novel straddles the history of electoral reform in nineteenth century England. Both George Eliot and her readers already knew the changes that were not only unknown, but also unknowable, to her characters. Eliot thus returns to the time before the Bill, and in the process, smoothes out historical unpredictability. Casting reform as continuity, the narrative of Middlemarch legitimizes this historical change, organically incorporating the reform bill into the ideology of incremental “progress.”

Keywords:   George Eliot, Middlemarch, incrementality, reform, reform bill, progress, victorian fiction, realism, novel history

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