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UAL Research Online

“Life that is not clad in the same coat-tails and flounces”: the silver-fork novel, George Eliot and the fear of the material

Mahawatte, Royce (2009) “Life that is not clad in the same coat-tails and flounces”: the silver-fork novel, George Eliot and the fear of the material. Women's Writing, 16 (2). pp. 323-344. ISSN 0969-9082

Type of Research: Article
Creators: Mahawatte, Royce

This article investigates the connection between the writing of George Eliot and the silver-fork novel. As a journalist in the 1850s, George Eliot satirized the form for being patronizing to both female readers and writers alike, but as a novelist she had a preoccupation with the genre. Along with critics such as William Hazlitt, Eliot was uncomfortable with fashionable novels, with their narrowness and also with their superficial treatment of language and materialist aesthetic. In her fiction, Eliot sought to correct many of the narrative and linguistic strategies of silver-fork fiction, particularly by resisting the surface-orientated and metonymic nature of the writing. Consequently, in her fiction, fashionable life seems to lead to fear, alienation and even murder, sometimes real and sometimes metaphorical: it enters the territory of Gothic aesthetics. This slippage of genres finds its apotheosis in Daniel Deronda (1876–77), which is presented as a “re-imagining” of the silver-fork novel. Eliot uses the tropes and language of the genre, but subverts the surface-orientated descriptions and behaviour of her characters by giving them Gothic resonances. Taking passages from Catherine Gore's novel Mothers and Daughters: A Tale of the Year 1830 (1831), the author argues that fashionable fiction already had Gothic adumbrations which Eliot, in her reworking of the form, was able to exploit. Drawing additional material from a number of fashionable novels and critical sources, and also from Roland Barthes’ sociolinguistic study The Fashion System (1967), the author explores the notion of the “fashion text” in the hands of a secular humanist novelist.

Official Website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09699080902978351
Additional Information (Publicly available):

Published in a Special Issue: Silver Fork Novels, ed. Tamara Wagner.

Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: George Eliot, Catherine Gore, Daniel Deronda, Roland Barthes, Gothic aesthetics, female writers
Publisher/Broadcaster/Company: Taylor and Francis
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Central Saint Martins
Date: August 2009
Digital Object Identifier: 10.1080/09699080902978351
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2013 14:04
Last Modified: 03 Feb 2014 15:41
Item ID: 5758
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/5758

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