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Sexual selection, automata and ethics in George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss and Olive Schreiner's Undine and From Man to Man

Burdett, Carolyn (2009) Sexual selection, automata and ethics in George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss and Olive Schreiner's Undine and From Man to Man. Journal of Victorian Culture 14 (1), pp. 26-52. ISSN 1355-5502.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/E1355550209000587

Abstract

This paper brings together two related areas of debate in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The first concerns how the courtship plot of the nineteenth-century novel responded to, and helped to shape, scientific ideas of sexual competition and selection. In The Mill on the Floss (1860), George Eliot strikingly prefigures Darwin's later work on sexual selection, drawing from her own extensive knowledge of the wider debates within which evolutionary theory developed. Maggie Tulliver's characterisation allows Eliot to explore the ethical complexities raised by an increasingly powerful scientific naturalism, where biology is seen to be embedded within morality in newly specific ways. The second strand of the paper examines the extension of scientific method to human mind and motivation which constituted the new psychology. It argues that there are crucial continuities of long-established ethical and religious ideas within this increasingly naturalistic view of human mind and motivation. The contention that such ideas persist and are transformed, rather than simply jettisoned, is illustrated through the example of Thomas Henry Huxley's 1874 essay on automata. Turning finally to focus on Olive Schreiner's Undine (1929) and From Man to Man (1926), the paper explores the importance of these persistent ethical and religious ideas in two novels which remained unpublished during her lifetime. It argues that they produce both difficulty and opportunity for imagining love plots within the context of increasingly assertive biological and naturalistic accounts of human beings.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in Journal of Victorian Culture 2009, 14(1), pp.26-52 [copyright Taylor & Francis], available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.3366/E1355550209000587
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Arts > English and Humanities
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 18 Feb 2011 15:31
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:33
URI: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/3086

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