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Reading for Our Time

'Adam Bede' and 'Middlemarch' Revisited

J. Hillis Miller

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A masterclass in attentive reading that opens up brilliant insights into two of George Eliot's novels

Can reading Adam Bede and Middlemarch be justified in this time of climate change, financial meltdown and ineffective politicians? J. Hillis Miller shows how, to be read for today, they must be read slowly, closely and carefully, with much attention to linguistic detail and especially to figures of speech. By relating mistakes like Dorothea's about Casaubon to current affairs, Miller's 'readings for today' can help us to come to terms with our human, social and political situation and even inspire us to act to ameliorate it.

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Foreword: Required Reading or 'some of us, at least', Julian Wolfreys
1. Realism Affirmed and Dismantled in Adam Bede
Adam Bede and Romanticism
Adam Bede as Paradigmatic Realist Novel
Challenges to the Paradigm of Realism in Adam Bede
Four Passages Challenging Mimetic Realism
What Do These Passages Really Say?
The Irony of Mistaken Interpretation in Adam Bede
Hetty Sorrel as Sophist Figure
Adam Bede as a Story about the Reading of Signs and as a Text to be Read
Repetition in Adam Bede
The Community Restored
2. Reading Middlemarch Right for Today
Totalization Affirmed and Undermined in Middlemarch
Versions of Totalization
Middlemarch as Pseudo-History
Demystification of the Connection of Narrative and History
Totalizing Metaphors in Middlemarch
Middlemarch as Fractal Pattern
Middlemarch as Web
Middlemarch as Stream
Minutiae in Middlemarch
Triumph of Metaphorical Totalization
The Optical Metaphor
Creative Seeing as the Will to Power
The Parable of the Pier-Glass
Human Beings as False Interpreters
3. Chapter Seventeen of Adam Bede: Truth-Telling Narration
Down with the Art of the Unreal!
The Language of Realism
Performative Undecidability
4. Returning to Middlemarch: Interpretation as Naming and (Mis)Reading
Interpretation as the Creation of Totalizing Emblems
Money as Metaphor
The Boomerang Effect of the Monetary Metaphor
Money as Universal Measure
The Uses of Art
Conclusions About Metaphor
O Aristotle!
The Roar on the Other Side of Silence
The Ruin of Totalization in a Cascade of Misreadings: A Summary Description of the Ground Gained So Far
Form as Repetition in Unlikeness
A Finale in Which Nothing is Final
Dorothea's Limitless "Yes"
Dorothea as Ariadne
George Eliot's Life and Work as an Uneven Tissue of Ungrounded Repetitions

About the Author

J. Hillis Miller is UCI Distinguished Research Professor, University of California at Irvine. He has published many books and essays on 19th and 20th-century literature and on literary theory. His most recent books are Theory and the Disappearing Future: On de Man, On Benjamin with Tom Cohen and Claire Colebrook, and For Derrida. Miller is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society.


The sophistication of the arguments rules out beginning readers of Eliot's novels, but any scholar who wisher to think seriously about Eliot's fiction must read this book.
- S. Bernado, Wagner College, Choice: October 2012