Milton's Patriarchal Society in George Eliot's NovelsMany of George Eliot’s female characters display a struggle within the patriarchal realm of education. In Middlemarch and Mill on the Floss Eliot portrays her female characters as reliant on a specific patriarchal figure. This patriarchal figure is likely based on a large number of individuals that Eliot encountered throughout her life or through literature. One main example of this is John Milton. Milton seems to be at the root of the patriarchal figures within Eliot’s novels as shown through allusions and direct quotes. Both novels contain female characters who exhibit a passion for education similar to Eliot’s. The setting of each is a patriarchal society in which many characters express the desire to prevent furthering female education. Dorthea and Maggie are left to find their own way to obtain the education that they desire. The way in which each girl fries to find a way is by leaning on a seemingly benevolent patriarch. Dorthea turns to Casaubon, and Maggie turns to Philip and constantly struggles with reliance on her brother. Each of these male characters can be compared to Milton in some way. Although not necessarily misogynistic, these male characters are meant to represent a male dominated society in which the novels take place. Eliot's female characters tend to show a need for a benevolent patriarchal figure in order to further their education. They are not satisfied with the standard female education so they manipulate the patriarchal structure to obtain the knowledge they desire. This is likely reflective of Eliot’s own life and her own struggles in finding her place within a patriarchal society.
Beth Kowaleski-Wallace defines a benevolent patriarch as “a strong, generous father figure—selfless, wise, and competent—provides a coherent world view” (275). She adds that “the benevolent patriarch achieves his recognized status as moral guardian only upon the willing submission of his daughters to his superior 'wisdom'” (277). A benevolent patriarch is one who educates his daughters or daughter figures, but never sees them as his equals. John Milton is a prime example of this. Milton employed his daughters to read to him so that he could continue his scholarly work after his eyesight began to fail (Nardo 328). This story of Milton is not distant to Eliot. She uses it to explain a detail of her character Dorthea in Middlemarch, as well as creating a similar situation in Romola (Nardo 328). Although the specific case of Milton as a benevolent patriarch is referenced in two of her novels, Eliot reflects these patriarchal ideas as presented by Milton in her other novels as well. For example, Gwendolen in Daniel Deronda constantly struggles with her need for a man to survive in the world, and Maggie in Mill on the Floss relies almost completely on males for her education. As this is a recurrent theme in Eliot's novels, it suggests that she dealt with some difficulties herself in her patriarchal society in much of the same way as Dorthea and Maggie. Dorthea provides the most explicit example of Eliot's female character's need for a benevolent patriarch.
Dorthea's society in Middlemarch would not have been horribly different from George Eliot's when she was growing up, or even from the society in which she lived while writing the novel. The idea of higher education for females was not popular until much later in Eliot’s life if at all. Eliot provides some examples of how people would have thought in this type of patriarchal society. For example Dorthea's uncle, Mr. Brooke, does not hold a high opinion of women's intelligence; he claims, “Young ladies don't understand political economy, you know” (392; bk.1, ch.1). He also says, “I cannot let young ladies meddle with my documents. Young ladies are too flighty” (383; bk.1, ch.1). Mr. Brooke's opinion of “young ladies” is not confined to him. Many members of the society feel the same way. For example, Mr. Bulstrode says, “I like a woman who lays herself out a little more to please us” (430; bk.1, ch.10). He is indicating here that a woman should act in a certain way which is pleasing to men. Mr. Bulstrode makes this comment, as well as other comments that could be equally offending to a woman in the presence of ladies, and they don’t object. Even Dorthea's mind has become ingrained with this patriarchal ideal. She sees the world as one where women are less than men. At one point, Dorthea is convinced that there are certain things that a woman just cannot understand. While trying to learn Latin and Greek, she becomes discouraged. The narrator observes, “Dorthea herself was a little shocked and discouraged at her own stupidity, and the answers she got to some timid questions about the value of the Greek accents gave her a painful suspicion that here indeed there might be secrets not capable of explanation to a woman's reason” (414; bk.1, ch.7). While this observation upsets Dorthea, she is still willing to accept it. Also, in response to Milton's daughters not wanting to read to their father, she says, “Yes; but in the first place they were very naughty girls, else they would have been proud to minister to such a father” (413; bk.1, ch.7). In Dorthea's mind, women exist to serve men. The society in which Dorthea lives has made her to believe that in order to learn, she needs a benevolent patriarch. Without one she would have no opportunity.
Dorthea sees the need to marry because the patriarchal structure of her society has become ingrained in her mind. Her awareness of the faults within feminine knowledge, and her general disposition to serve others makes her feel the need of a benevolent patriarch. Dorthea wants Casaubon to teach her what he can. The narrator observes, “Those provinces of masculine knowledge seemed to her a standing ground from which all truth could be seen more truly” (414; bk.1, ch.7). Dorthea feels that in expanding her education with Casaubon's help, she could do more to serve others, which seems to be a prominent goal in her life. She feels the full weight of her feminine responsibility; “All the energy of Dorthea's nature went on the side of responsibility—the fulfillment of claims founded on our own deeds, such as marriage and parentage” (621; bk.4, ch.37). This expresses the norm for a woman at that time, as ingrained in them through the patriarchal structure. Dorthea feels other weights on her responsibility as well, such as helping the less fortunate or bettering the housing situation of her neighborhood in the beginning of book one. An interesting aspect to Dorthea's desire to help others is found in her initial desire to help Casaubon with his work. When Casaubon hints that Dorthea might be good at learning Greek, the narrator says, “She would not have asked Mr. Casaubon at once to teach her the languages, dreading of all things to be tiresome instead of helpful; but it was not entirely out of devotion to her future husband that she wished to know Latin and Greek” (413; bk.1, ch.7). While Dorthea does want to be helpful, and outwardly serve her husband, she is really entertaining her own desire to learn. She does not, however, express this to Mr. Casaubon because it would not have been acceptable to him. So she instead masks her passion for learning in her passion for helping others.
Her passion for education started at an early age. She was soon questioning things that she, as a female, should not have. The narrator informs the reader that “Dorthea, early troubling her elders with questions about the facts around her, had wrought herself into some independent clearness as to the historical, political reasons why eldest sons had superior rights, and why land should be entailed” (612; bk.4, ch.37). Dorthea is curious about the way the world works. This curiosity, while it would have been normal for a male, is unbecoming of a female. Even Lydgate observes that “she did not look at things from the proper feminine angle” (435; bk.1, ch.11). Since the education that Dorthea desires is not acceptable for a woman to have, she must find a benevolent patriarch who would be willing to share his knowledge; this is her idea of marriage. She thinks that “the really delightful marriage must be that where your husband was a sort of father and could teach you even Hebrew, if you wished it” (377; bk.1, ch.1). This seems to be Dorthea's principal reason for submitting to Casaubon. Although she does feel the weight of her social responsibilities, and that plays a part in her decision, she chooses Casaubon primarily because of his ability to educate her. It is Dorthea's outlook on life and marriage as patriarchal structures draws her to desire Mr. Casaubon as a husband.
Mr. Casaubon is presented as very similar to Milton, the standard for a benevolent patriarch. Eliot's comparisons of Casaubon to Milton are meant to lead the reader to believe that Casaubon is indeed as much of a patriarchal figure as Milton. He is also, along with Milton, not as benevolent as he may seem on first impression. Casaubon is explicitly compared to Milton in the very beginning of the novel. Dorthea immediately sees him “as instructive as Milton's affable archangel” (386; bk.1, ch.2). This is to reference his vast knowledge of religion. Dorthea sees his work on finding a “key to all mythologies” as reputable work in which she would be honored to be a small part of (414; bk.1, ch. 7). She looks up to him based on his education and his ability to share his knowledge with her. She offers to help him with this grand work; she says, “Could I not be preparing myself now to be more useful. . . . Could I not learn to read Latin and Greek aloud to you, as Milton's daughters did to their father, without understanding what they read?” (413; bk.1, ch.7). In this situation, Dorthea is raising her opinion of Casaubon to the level of respect that she holds for Milton, as well as demonstrating actions taken to procure an education from Casaubon. It is, however, difficult to tell Eliot's opinion on this subject. On one hand, Milton's supposed view of women could be seen as extremely misogynistic. For example, in Paradise Lost Milton depicts Eve as a “satanical, sinful monster” (Gilbert 369). If Milton were a complete misogynist, it would seem that, as an intelligent woman, Eliot would not have held him in high regard. On the other hand, some critics say that Eliot herself was influenced by Milton's work, which would suggest that she had some form of respect for him (Postlethwait 199). This ambiguity of Eliot's true opinion of such a controversial historical figure reflects her female characters' struggles with the patriarchal system of education.
Dorthea's struggles with education are self inflicted. If she were content with a conventional feminine view on life, including education, she would not have married Casaubon. She would have instead married Sir James Chettam; as her uncle points out, “Chettam was just the sort of man a woman would like” (397; bk.1, ch.4). Dorthea’s rejection of Chettam is very surprising to her uncle because he does not understand her reasons for wanting to marry Casaubon. By marrying Casaubon, Dorthea has put herself in the position of being taught by a seemingly benevolent patriarch. Dorthea first sees Mr. Casaubon as “the most interesting man she had ever seen. . . . To reconstruct a past world, doubtless with a view to the highest purposes of truth” (382; bk.1, ch.1). She sees him as serving a greater power, and as only wanting to find the truth of religion. Dorthea respects this, and assumes that such a man would want all people to hold such knowledge. As the readers of Middlemarch soon find out, Casaubon is in fact not so benevolent. This does not, however, change Dorthea's reliance on him for more than just her education, since she still looks up to him as much more intelligent than herself. She says, “He thinks with me, or rather, he thinks a whole world of which my thoughts is but a poor twopenny mirror. And his feelings too, his whole experience—what a lake compared with my little pool” (387; bk.1, ch.3). Dorthea sets herself up to believe the best of people, specifically Casaubon. With her elevated view of him, she cannot believe that he could be wrong in action or thought. She whole-heartedly relies on him. When they argue, she is the one that gives in. The narrator observes her thoughts; “Having convinced herself that Mr. Casaubon was altogether right, she recovered her equanimity” (430; bk.1, ch.10). She cannot believe herself to be right when disagreeing with Casaubon because he is her educator, her benevolent patriarch; she is blindly obedient.
As discussed briefly above, Eliot's opinion of Milton is somewhat hard to discern, as is her view on the patriarchal structure of education. It is likely that Eliot respected Milton as a writer, but this would have added to her struggle of being a female author in a patriarchal society. Milton is still considered an important author who created a modern epic. As a previous critic and current author, Eliot would have been familiar with his work and have respect for what he had accomplished. Eliot herself became a recognized author during a time when Milton's patriarchal ideals were still socially enforced. The literary world embodied this patriarchal structure. Nardo observes, “Milton was for Eliot, as for other women writers, what Harold Bloom calls 'the Great Inhibitor, the Sphinx who strangles even the strong imaginations in their cradles'” (331). This quote is suggesting that Milton, who wrote the famous Paradise Lost, created a type of misogyny aimed specifically at women writers. Although this view is somewhat argumentative, it holds that Milton did not care to fully educate his daughters (Nardo 328). Sandra M. Gilbert backs up this idea with some in-text examples of how Milton creates this educational misogyny within Paradise Lost. She says, “Milton's myth of origins, summarizing a long misogynistic tradition, confuses and intimidates literary women of the patriarchal etiology that defines a solitary Father God as the only creator of all things” (368). In this, she is claiming that Milton took the Christian creation myth a step further in creating a patriarchal society.
The society in which Eliot was raised held Christianity, along with the patriarchal story of origins, as very important. Religion was not fully socially questioned until later in Eliot's life when Darwin published his Origin of the Species. The way in which Milton emphasizes the patriarchal quality of the Christian myth is by embellishing on Eve's sinfulness. Gilbert claims, “The story that Milton . . . most notably tells to women is of course the story of women's secondness, her otherness, and how that otherness leads inexorably to her demonic anger, her sin, her fall, and her exclusion from that garden of the gods which is also, for her, the garden of poetry” (370). While Gilbert does make a bit of a leap coming to the conclusion that the Garden of Eden was the “garden of poetry” for Eve, it remains true that Eve is depicted in a negative light in Paradise Lost. Milton seems to have caused problems for women writers of every generation following him. It would have been very confusing for a female writer to have any amount of respect for Milton. However, some critics claim that Eliot was actually inspired by Milton's work.
Diana Postlethwait addresses the misogynistic view of Milton by claiming that male and female truths and levels of intelligence are different from each other; males tend to be “self-empowering” whereas females tend to “create and sustain the higher community” (199). This argument is really stating that the misogyny of Milton is irrelevant. He simply explains a difference between men and women. She also claims that Eliot embraces this concept in Middlemarch. She says that Paradise Lost was “a source of inspiration to Middlemarch” (199). She makes this claim by asserting similarities in the themes of each story. While the claims of Postlethwait differ from those of Gilbert and Nardo, all three agree that Milton had a strong influence on Eliot. This influence is likely what caused her internal struggle of accepting the patriarchal norm. Nardo says, “Eliot was herself one of Milton's many spiritual daughters who internalized a misogynistic theology that imprisoned them in male texts” (329). In this quote, Nardo really gets at Eliot's struggle which is shown through many of her female characters, mainly Dorthea, Maggie, and Gwendolen. Milton's epic, Paradise Lost, appears in Middlemarch mainly because of Eliot's internal struggle with the patriarchal society that Milton has enforced. This struggle is strongly reflected in her character Dorthea through her explicit ties to Milton, religion, and struggle for knowledge.
This particular struggle for a woman to live complacently in a patriarchal world is not unique to Eliot or her female characters. It is a struggle that is ingrained in the Christian creation myth as presented by Milton through Paradise Lost. This is a likely reason that Eliot included references and parallels to Milton within Middlemarch. The most prominent parallel that Eliot draws is between Dorthea and Eve. Postlethwait says, “Like Dorthea, Eve aspires to 'learn everything,' to acquire 'the completest knowledge,'” she continues, “Eve's sin is intellectual; by ingesting the Logos, to usurp the exclusive province of patriarchy” (202). Eve, like Dorthea, has an inquiring personality that is unsuitable for a woman of either time or society, which creates an internal struggle. In chapter twenty nine of Middlemarch, “Dorthea struggles against the Miltonic imperative of wifely submission—as her sardonic asides suggest” (Postlethwait 210). Dorthea's struggle against this imperative is reflective of Eve's actions against her ultimate benevolent patriarch.
In marriage, Postlethwait draws a very specific parallel between Middlemarch and Paradise Lost to represent the need for human love in an imperfect world. While her connection between the two literary works does show this need, it also shows wifely submission for the greater good of the society by following societal norms. Postlethwait claims, “Having conquered the claims of self, Dorthea is able to offer Casaubon the redemption of the relationship: 'She put her hand into her husband's, and they went along the broad corridor together'” (212). This is a clear representation of Milton's ending of Paradise Lost; “They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow, / Through Eden took the solitary way” (12.648-49). Both women in these stories have submitted to their husbands, who are also their perceived benevolent patriarchs; Eve having reconciled her sinful nature with her husband, and Dorthea having given in to her husband's hubris, which leads into the parallel of education. As discussed above, Eve and Dorthea share a desire for intellect. They both seek knowledge beyond that of their female education. Eve does this by ingesting the fruit and Dorthea by forming a relationship with Casaubon. Postlethwait draws the connection, but takes the argument no further. She claims that it was “Satan's masculine hubris that set in motion this series of tragic events” (203). She could have easily pointed out Casaubon's masculine hubris, and self-righteous nature which caused his marriage to fall apart before it even began. In this aspect, though, it is Satan that acts as Eve's benevolent patriarch. It is he who offers her the opportunity of knowledge, just as Casaubon does for Dorthea. While Middlemarch contains the most explicit examples of Milton, his work, and benevolent patriarchs, it is important to look at these aspects in Eliot's other novels as well.
Eliot's earlier novel, Mill on the Floss, is filled with a woman's struggle to live, and more specifically to learn, in a patriarchal society. Maggie Tulliver begins her childhood with a knack for learning; it is even more prominent than Dorthea's. However, she too holds the view that she needs to rely on a benevolent patriarch for her education. Her patriarchal submissions are not instilled in her by her father. In fact, he thinks that she is rather bright. He says, “I don't know I' what she's behind other folks's children; and she can read almost as well as the parson” (947; bk.1, ch.2). Rather, Maggie is influenced by the greater society's view of women's education, which is revealed to her mostly through her brother Tom. Tom is constantly making Maggie feel less than he; he is quick to point out her mistakes and tell her when she is wrong (1041; bk.2, ch.1). Tom's teacher, Mr. Stelling, is meant to represent the overall view of male educators. He would be considered a benevolent patriarch, since he represents a strong educational figure to Tom, and therefore to Maggie as well.
Mr. Stelling is not altogether against the education of women. However, he still feels that they are far below the level of intelligence of their male counterparts. When questioned by Tom about the ability of girls to understand, he says, “They can pick up a little of everything, I dare say. They've a great deal of superficial cleverness, but they couldn't go far into anything. They're quick and shallow” (1043; bk.2, ch.1). He, as an educator, would represent many educated people's views on this subject as well. It is quite clear that his opinions quickly become ingrained in Tom as well. Maggie has this desire to learn, but Tom's views do not allow it. The narrator observes Maggie's view on the matter, “It was really interesting—the Latin Grammar that Tom had said no girls could learn: and she was proud because she found it interesting” (1041; bk.2, ch.1). It is perhaps this first experience with an educator, or perhaps past experiences with society's view in general on the matter, which forces Maggie to believe that she requires a man to educate her. In either case, she shows that it has become ingrained in her mind when she says to Philip, “But you are so very clever, Philip, and you can play and sing . . .. I wish you were my brother. I'm very fond of you. And you would stay at home with me when Tom went out, and you would teach me everything” (1067; bk.2, ch.6). Since Tom is not benevolent, Maggie turns to another male figure. This is very similar to Dorthea's mindset that stimulates her desire to marry Casaubon. The main difference is that Dorthea seeks a much more father-like figure, whereas Maggie chooses a companion near her own age to desire to learn from.
Since Maggie does not search for a father figure, it does not hold that she seeks out a benevolent patriarch; rather, it suggests that Maggie has more pride than Dorthea, but is still forced by society to rely on a male counterpart. Eliot brings up this idea of pride to further differentiate men from women. Since it is said through the narrator, it suggests that this is the view of society, and not necessarily of Eliot. The narrator observes that in Tom's education, Mr. Stelling's harsh treatment of him causes him to become more like a girl because his pride is now “met with nothing but bruises and crushings” (1036; bk.2, ch.1). This comment alone provides a great deal of insight into the society in which Maggie and Tom are living. In this society, women are not supposed to be prideful. If they are, it is likely that it is wrong, and it she is deserving of punishment because she would have no reason to be proud, especially in the area of education. Tom treats Maggie in this way as well; her pride is met by abusive comments from him. Tom becomes one of Maggie's patriarchs because she is willing to submit to him. As Tom benevolently tries to support his family after his father's death, Maggie submits and gives up her desire to learn out of a sense of duty. During Maggie's reminiscence on her past wishes for Philip, the narrator observes, “But that sort of wishing had been banished along with other dreams that savored of seeking her own will” (1134; bk.5, ch.1). Maggie submitted her mind to the simple, everyday tasks, and above all to her religion. She gave up any hope of gaining more knowledge, and put it out of her mind completely. The reason that she gives for these actions is the sorrow of losing her father. However, it stands true that Maggie is submitting to the patriarchal world that she lives in.
When Maggie and Philip speak to each other years after their first meeting, Maggie tries to continue in her placid existence, but her intellectual interest has become peaked. When Philip tries to give Maggie a book, because he remembers how much she used to love to read, she says, “No, thank you,” she continues, “It would make me in love with this world again, as I used to be—it would make me long to see and know many things—it would make me long for a full life” (1149; bk.5, ch.1). Her predictions are correct. As she continues to meet with Philip, and he continues to stimulate her intellectually, she begins to feel her old passion for learning and for living again. He becomes her “tutor,” her benevolent patriarch (1167-8; bk.5, ch.4). He allows her to hope again, to dream again. Maggie thinks,
She might have books, converse, affection—she might hear tidings of the world from which her mind had not yet lost its sense of exile; and it would be a kindness to Philip too, who was pitiable—clearly not happy; and perhaps here was an opportunity indicated for making her mind more worthy of its highest service—perhaps the noblest, completest devoutness could hardly exist without some width of knowledge (1162; bk.5, ch.3).
However, this quote is much more powerful than a simple dream; it expresses how Maggie feels in this oppressive, patriarchal society. It sums up how most of Eliot's prominent female characters feel, how Eliot herself likely felt. Maggie represents Eliot in many ways. They share struggles with religion, deaths of their fathers, and most importantly is the relationships between them and their brothers. If the relationship between Maggie and her brother is, in fact, a conscious representation of the relationship between Eliot and her brother, then it can be reasonable concluded that Eliot did have an internal struggle with her patriarchal society, and her brother contributed to this struggle.
Another hint that Eliot was struggling herself with the idea of a benevolent patriarch is found in her depictions of Gwendolen in Daniel Deronda. First of all, Gwendolen is also living in a patriarchal society in which the women, as well as the men, believe. The period in which this novel takes place is more contemporary to Eliot than many of her previous novels, including Middlemarch and Mill on the Floss. Even though it takes place many years later, the misogyny found in Eliot's earlier novels is still present. The majority of misogynistic quotes in this novel come, not from the men, but from the women. It is clear that the Miltonic patriarchy is fully ingrained in their minds. For example, the Gascoigne women often depreciate themselves. Anna says, “I am not at all clever, and I never know what to say. It seems useless to say what everybody knows, and I can think of nothing else, except what papa says” (26; bk.1, ch.3). Anna does not feel worthy of speaking of anything that she can come up with on her own. She relies completely on a patriarch to even appear educated. Her mother is not much different. Mrs. Gascoigne says, “I am not a good manager by nature, but Henry has taught me” (26; bk.1, ch.3). Her mindset is that she could not possibly have ever done anything on her own, but has always had to rely on her husband to teach her. The statements of these women paint Gwendolen's uncle as a benevolent patriarch. However, Gwendolen's views begin somewhat differently.
Gwendolen is not the type of woman to give in to anyone, let alone a man. Eliot wants the reader to see her as too proud and as trying too hard to be independent, when she is really not capable of doing so. But even this strong woman feels the need to follow society's patriarchal norms. The narrator describes Gwendolen's thoughts on marriage, “But her thoughts never dwelt on marriage as the fulfillment of her ambition . . . to become a wife and wear all the domestic fetters of that condition, was on the whole a vexatious necessity.” She sees marriage as something that she has to do because of society, rather than something that she wants to do. She continues, “of course marriage was a social promotion; she could not look forward to a single life; but promotions have sometimes to be taken with bitter herbs—a peerage will not quite do instead of leadership to the man who meant to lead; and this delicate-limbed sylph of twenty meant to lead” (31; bk.1, ch.4). This is where Gwendolen becomes a much more complex character. She willingly falls into the patriarchal norms, but secretly wants to break them by being master of her husband. To the outside world, to society, she would still appear to be a normal submissive wife. This idea is reflective of the reasons that Dorthea marries Casaubon; she wants to learn things that are not socially appropriate for young ladies to learn, so she finds a husband whom she hopes will teach her. Gwendolen's idea of marriage is that she would be able to find a husband whom she could lead. Both are breaking societal norms by manipulation of the patriarchal structure.
Gwendolen’s idea of marriage does not quite work out in the way that she plans. Her decision to marry Grandcourt is convoluted by her family’s poverty. Although Gwendolen allows herself to be persuaded into this marriage that she does not fully want, the man that has true hold over her is Deronda. The narrator observes, “This hidden helplessness gave fresh force to the hold Deronda had from the first taken on her mind, as one who had an unknown standard by which he judged her” (389; bk.5, ch.35). Gwendolen’s benevolent patriarch is quite different from the female protagonists in Eliot’s other novels. The main difference is that he is actually benevolent. He does not necessarily want to take responsibility for Gwendolen, but he feels a moral obligation to help her. When Grandcourt dies and Gwendolen is burdened with guild the narrator observes Deronda; “He dreaded the weight of this woman’s soul flung upon his own with imploring dependence” (626; bk.7, ch. 56). The narrator continues, “The tremor, the childlike beseeching in these words compelled Deronda to turn his head and look at her face” (627; bk.7, ch. 56). Deronda truly cares about Gwendolen’s well being. Also in comforting Gwendolen after her husband’s death, Deronda says to her, “What I most desire at this moment is what will most help you” (631; bk.7, ch. 56). Deronda helps Gwendolen during her mourning, and does not expect anything in return.
Gwendolen, for the most part, seems in control of herself—at least in how she appears to others. However, when she is broken down by the death of her husband and the guilt she feels toward it, she turns to a benevolent patriarch. Previous to this disaster, Gwendolen does turn to Deronda for advice. She asks him, “What should you do—what should you feel if you were in my place” (408; bk.5, ch. 36). Even though Gwendolen shows signs of reliance on a patriarchal figure, she does not fully rely on one until she is put in a situation that she cannot deal with on her own. When Deronda comforts her, the narrator observes, “That grasp was an entirely new experience to Gwendolen: she had never before had from any man a sign of tenderness which her own being had needed” (627; bk.7, ch.56). Gwendolen had previously never needed a man’s comfort. Her pride prevented her from feeling that need. This addresses another difference in the benevolent patriarch. While Maggie and Dorthea utilize the patriarchal system for their benefit within the realm of education, Gwendolen seeks moral guidance and comfort. Gwendolen struggles throughout the novel, mainly at the beginning, with submitting to a patriarchal figure. She wants to break the societal norms of marriage by leading her husband rather than being led by him. She only consciously seeks a benevolent patriarch when she needs moral guidance.
Eliot herself broke many societal norms, and likely struggled in the process. As seen by her depictions of female characters in many of her novels, Eliot struggled to find her place in a patriarchal society. With the majority of her contemporaries, as well as past influential writers, being male, Eliot would have felt the stress of her patriarchal profession and education more severely. Milton is one of these past influential writers that Eliot struggles with. Eliot reflects this through the struggle of her characters Maggie, Dorthea, and Gwendolen. It is clear that Eliot personally dealt with these struggles because even if Eliot was unconscious of the effect of including Miltonic ideals in her stories, it speaks volumes to they type of life she lived. It adds to the internal struggle of her female characters in a way which allows the reader to see the reality of Eliot's life. She was a woman in the time of a patriarchal society; she did struggle with it. This is evident in the perfect understanding she has of the confusion displayed in Gwendolen, the unsatisfied thirst for knowledge in Maggie, and Dorthea's struggle to submit to her patriarch.
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