‘This Alarming Hearsay’: Public Opinion and the Crisis of the Liberal Imagination in Middlemarch



In Middlemarch two alternative interpretive models of scientific order are shown to be equally self-centred, albeit one rewrites as a trap what the other had designated as internal consistency. In the first, a candle illuminates no reality, but rather mandates the illusion of coherence in an empirically random field. An arbitrary source ‘creates’ a discipline which it also grounds. This positing of a unitary, recoverable origin seems entirely appropriate to the mid-nineteenth-century privileging of the intellectual search for some ‘instantiating moment’ shared by Cardinal Newman, Darwin, Casaubon with his Key to All Mythologies, Lydgate’s search for a ‘primary tissue’, or later, John Murray’s Oxford English Dictionary Project and its recovery of genealogies of verbal descent from a source. All meaning must be informed by some antecedent which lends it a priori intention.1


Public Opinion Private Life Social Reproduction Small Talk Liberal Imagination 
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Copyright information

© Jan B. Gordon 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tokyo University of Foreign StudiesJapan

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