From the erotic blush to the petrifying Medusa gaze in George Eliot's novels
CitationAlban, G. M. E. (2010). From the erotic blush to the petrifying Medusa gaze in George Eliot's novels. Victorian Newsletter, (118), 67-86.
Close reading of George Eliot's novels shows her characters betraying their emotions in a pattern of specular gazes. Certain of her female characters reveal their erotic feelings in a self-conscious blush, expressing the subject's embarrassment at the exposure of her passion. Such libidinal scenes, symbolized by blushing, signify a metonymously displaced orgasm. Eliot uses the blush as an expression of overwhelming passion, shown visually and kinesthetically as well as aurally (when accompanied by music), whether literally in the story or in her narrative commentary. In other, less successful, interactions between characters, the gaze is narcissistically reflected back to themselves either in mirrors or by others serving as mirrors. In such cases, the subject sees herself and her desire narcissistically expressed in others' eyes, indicating an obsession with her self-image leading to aggression and, ultimately, a death wish. Precisely at this third level, the objectifying look of the monstrous Medusa either petrifies her victim or is mirrored back onto the subject. (1) The trope of the gaze in human development is highlighted in Jacques Lacan's "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience," while Jean-Paul Sartre offers insight on the "look" from its most sublimely interactive to its most destructive, calling the latter the Medusa look (430). Sigmund Freud ("Medusa Head" 85) and Helene Cixous ("Laugh of the Medusa" 399) agree that the Medusa stare is both erotic and petrifying. This paper analyzes these highly-charged, ubiquitous interactions through four major novels by George Eliot.