Date Thesis Awarded

5-2015

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

English

Advisor

Adam Potkay

Committee Member

Simon Joyce

Committee Member

Robert Leventhal

Committee Member

Deborah Morse

Abstract

Before George Eliot, penname of Mary Ann Evans, wrote the novels that brought her an enduring reputation as one of the great English novelists, she translated three influential works of German philosophy into English: David Strauss’s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity, and Benedict de Spinoza’s Ethics. In this study I will assess how these three thinkers, with particular emphasis on Spinoza, influenced George Eliot’s life, philosophy, and novels. I argue that Middlemarch’s central protagonist Dorothea Brooke, a woman with a great amount of emotional and intellectual energy, is at first unable to properly use that energy to attain personal happiness. As the novel progresses, Dorothea develops in her understanding of her own mind, as well as the world around her; her increased understanding allows her to properly direct her energies toward productive outlets by the novel’s end. Using Spinoza’s language, Middlemarch chronicles Dorothea’s progression toward a greater knowledge of her own desires, emotions, and the external world, such that she can more actively control her emotional states, and organize her life in a way that increases her own virtue, power, and personal freedom— which for Spinoza are all synonyms.