Daniel S. Malachuk, “Sympathy and Pride in George Eliot’s Fiction” (pp. 32–58)

Sympathy’s undisputed champion, George Eliot, has also long been associated with modern liberalism’s aspiration to inclusion. In her fiction, though, Eliot reaches conclusions more aligned with Rousseau’s Second Discourse: only a balance of sympathy for others with pride in oneself will foster the reciprocal relationships that enable inclusive societies. This essay illuminates Eliot’s unwavering conviction that sympathy and pride must be harmonized as moral motivations in three of her major novels. What did waver, though, was Eliot’s political confidence that liberal states would promote this harmonizing program. If the tragic conflict between Tom’s pride and Maggie’s sympathy in The Mill on the Floss (1860) was optimistically resolved by the harmonious protagonists of Middlemarch (1871–72), Eliot’s political skepticism returns in Daniel Deronda (1876): here, the proudly powerful at best only pretend to sympathize, while the sympathetic are empowered by pride only if they’re lucky. Rousseau’s final lesson to Eliot, then, is his pessimism.

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