Abstract

In both Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871–72) an earnest and ambitious man falls in love with a superficial and beautiful woman named Rosamond. This essay explores the “Rosamond plots” to argue that Middlemarch stages a radical revision of the version of subjectivity vaunted in Jane Eyre. Via its invocation of Jane Eyre’s Rosamond plot, Middlemarch challenges the very nature of self-knowledge, questions the status of identification in intersubjective relationships, and insists upon the unknowability of the other. In Eliot’s retelling, the self-awareness promoted in Jane Eyre is not only insufficient, but also verges on self-absorption and even solipsism. One way in which Eliot enacts this revision is by shifting the focus of positive affective relationships away from models of identification. The change marks an evolution in our understanding of the way in which character and communal life is conceived by each author. More specifically, Eliot’s revisions situate empathic response as being dependent upon the recognition of the radical alterity of the other.

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