George Eliot is known as a modern moralist despite living in Victorian Age. Other Victorians did have a moral touch but Eliot had the moral earnestness. She wrote to inculcate moral in the people. She reshapes the perception of the people to remould the whole structure of the society. She believes in the presence of the moral code at the heart of the universe.
She made novels the epithet of her moral ideas. In “The Mill on the Floss”, she accuses the dominance of the self recklessness, loose-living etc and stresses on the absoluteness of duty, renunciation endurance, etc. Her concept of morality is based on human values and the laws of human heart.
Eliot attacks self-dominance in her novels. Egoism is at the center of her novels. She shows the egoistic-self coming in contrast with otherselves and leading to tragedy. Mr. Tulliver due to his obstinacy destroys his family. Eliot wants us to hit a balance between the interest of the self and the otherselves. She thinks that no one can be moral unless he redeems himself from the prison of the self and regenerates. She wants us to think for our fellow men, pity them and have sympathy for them. Even the weakest person should be admired. To her, temperate happiness comes by keeping constant relationship with people.
Eliot lays emphasis on the importance of sufferings and considers them a boon, and not a bane, for life. They help us come out of the egoistic self and develop our personalities on the right lines. She shows her characters suffering and learning a lot. Maggie suffers and develops into a matured lady. Adam’s sufferings widen his sympathies and he overcomes his flaw.
Eliot wants us to maintain emotional self control. She thinks passions should always be under the control of reason; sentimentality annihilates us. But for the sentimentality of Mr. Tulliver, his family couldn’t have been devastated. Austen also denounces sentimental attitude.
Eliot lays stress on the absoluteness of duty. To her, one must never compromise on duty at any cost. Maggie remains throughout dutiful. She disconnects her relationship with Philip for the sake of her duty towards her family and, then, breaks away from Stephan for being dutiful to Philip and Lucy.
Endurance and renunciation are certain for happy life. Maggie is a symbol of both. She loved Philip but on Tom’s interference, she endured and sacrificed herself. She never objected his resolution. Tom turned her out, but during the flood, she went out to rescue him endangering her life. Eliot teaches us that one has to sacrifice his interest for the sake of others, if one wants to have a happy life.
Eliot believes in freewill. To her, everyone’s character is in his own hands to mould into the right or wrong direction, but one must utilize all the powers to mould it right. Matthew Arnold declared conduct as three-fourths of life; Eliot proclaimed it as four-fourths. To her, our activities determine whole of our future life. Activities, if assist us to be good, are right, and, if lead us to become bad, are wrong; however, some are neither right nor wrong rather frivolous which can’t interest a serious fellow.
Eliot believes in the basic value of personality and that a fully matured personality is highly valuable and its innate qualities cannot be denied. To her, the vital object of all the religions is to develop the personalities on the right lines and to the maximum. She shows her characters learning and growing into fully developed personalities. Maggie, in the beginning, was impulsive and ill-mannered but she finally developed into a matured and sensible lady.
Eliot believes in the sovereign importance of ones inner consciousness, determining ones activities and ones future as well. Maggie’s inner consciousness was that elder brothers should be obeyed and whole of her activities were determined by this inner consciousness.
Moral conflict lies at the root of her chief characters. The conflict is possibly between duty and love or the ideal and the real. The characters, in a position to do right, are tempted to do wrong. Maggie thirsts for virtue, but she finds no way to satiate her desire. She miserably fails to please Tom and annoys him instead. Eliot’s serious characters are envisaged exclusively in their moral aspects. She concentrates on the moral side of human nature and her revolt has always been intellectual, and never moral.
Eliot linked ethics with aesthetics – the driving force of her novels. Earlier, she made her stories melodramatic. As time passed on, she attempted stories of emotional self-control.
The above points conclude that Eliot was definitely a moralist like other novelist. Her novels were ‘criticism of life’. However, her approach to moralization was aesthetic, and not conservative.