The subject of this chapter is large. It will have been apparent in the earlier chapters that Eliot’s novels adopt a consistently moral perspective. The nature of the moral vision is not always easy to assess, however, because of the varying tone of Eliot’s narrative style. The analyses of The Mill on the Floss, for example, have considered the cutting of Maggie’s hair as an expression of rebellion against the constraints of her family life, and the possible effect on her family of her relationship with Philip Wakem; she is judged morally by the standards of St Ogg’s, but those standards are in turn treated ironically by Eliot. The opening of Silas Marner deals with the sense of evil in rural communities, and the whole novel hinges on the falsely assigned crime in Silas’s past, his eventual overcoming of the oppression of Lantern Yard and the inhumanity of Godfrey’s treatment of his first wife. The extracts in this novel, too, have a moral aspect, focusing on Godfrey’s sense of guilt, or at least anxiety at the discovery of the woman in the snow, and the nature of the position of the Cass family in the community of Raveloe. Middlemarch establishes its moral perspective at once by opening with a discussion of St Teresa. Another extract, in which Celia and Dorothea consider their mother’s jewels, considers the propriety of wearing them.
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