“National-Historical Time” from Goethe to George Eliot

Jed Esty

in Unseasonable Youth

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199857968
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919581 | DOI:

Series: Modernist Literature and Culture

“National-Historical Time” from Goethe to George Eliot

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This chapter isolates the Bakhtinian concept of the national chronotope as central to the theory (Lukács, Moretti) and practice (Goethe, Scott, Dickens) of the bildungsroman. In the chapter, a detailed reading of Eliot's The Mill on the Floss anchors a genealogical survey of the generic ideal of bounded progress as, first, a German philosophical concept and, second, a British literary motif. After Eliot, and with increasingly visible effects in literary history, modernism's untimely youths register the powerful unsettling effects of the colonial encounter on humanist ideals of national culture and aesthetic education that had, from the time of Goethe and Schiller, determined the inner logic of the bildungsroman. The modernist novel of frozen or untimely youth responds to an intensive phase of globalization and registers the end of a Eurocentric metahistorical narrative of progress and, at another level, the assimilation of lost progressivism into the fictional language of self-cultivation.

Keywords: goethe; m.m. bakhtin; franco moretti; georg lukács; george eliot; the mill on the floss; realism; closure; nation; bildungsroman

Chapter.  13889 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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