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The Healing of George Eliot’s Generational Trauma

Limiting and categorising women into ‘silly’ subjects is painful, and leaves our open wounds bleeding and vulnerable.

I first came across George Eliot (1819-1880) whilst reading English Literature at University. When I discovered that we were to study Eliot’s Silly Novels By Lady Novelists, I rolled my eyes. I had no prior knowledge of Eliot and therefore, must have seemed a fool when I undertook an anti-patriarchalism soliloquy mid-lecture. My lecturer, a little late into my martyr-esque monologue, explained that Eliot’s name was a pseudonym, a fictitious name used to conceal the author's true identity. It was then I realised that Silly Novels By Lady Novelists was not another masculine war treatise on sex, but that this war was declared by a woman, against women.

Silly Novels serve as the long-standing indoctrination that women are incapable of both writing and reading novels which are not primarily based around feminine fatuity. Originally published in the 1856 Westminster Review, Eliot details the painful accusations that women can only digest novels which are reflective of their primary truths. Meaning that, for Eliot, women do not possess the capability to comprehend a tale that is outside the bounds of their personal experience. Furthermore, Eliot describes books written by women as “frothy, pious and pedantic”, to infer that female-written books do not hold substantial weight within the literary landscape.

Of course as a woman and feminist, my heart broke reading Eliot’s review. Limiting and categorising women into ‘silly’ subjects is painful, and leaves our open wounds bleeding and vulnerable.

I wonder whether George Eliot herself truly believed this, or if she was simply trying to tread water, in a world monopolised by men? Nonetheless, the influential article represents Britain’s culture at the time. But how was Eliot to know that this same view would be held three centuries later?

So how do we heal these generational wounds?

In order to heal, we need to acknowledge both classical and contemporary women in literature, for I’m sure Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters would like some company other than dust mites gnawing away at their paper spines. To perhaps add contemporaries – Donna Tart, Sally Rooney and gender non-conforming authors like Corrine Manning, Micah Nemerever, Lexie Bean and P.Carl. For engaging with both female authoress’ and gender non-conforming artists, is a subtle act of rebellion, and an even subtler act of healing.

As I sit, practising sukhasana and mindfulness. I inhale and slowly exhale, thinking of the voices of unheard artists. Opening my eyes, I turn to my next book on my TBR – Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love, by Huma Qureshi. A little smile to myself as the year of healing begins…


Daisy Bignell is an aspiring poet, born in Surrey and raised in a small village. Having just finished her Masters degree in English Literature, from the University of Winchester. She is now taking time to focus exclusively on her writing. Her works have previously been published in literary magazines, most recently in the winter edition of 'Scribbles.' When she isn't writing and reading, she is playing with her family dog, Crumble.


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