chapter  6
Mary and Elizabeth: Reconfiguring Gender and Power
Pages 37

In Chapter Five I argued that Dorothea Casaubon exemplifies a movement from literal to metaphorical queenliness, a shift which, I suggested, was the chief and perhaps the only available strategy for reconciling female power of the particular kind celebrated by Strickland or Ruskin with dominant beliefs about women's proper place in society. For a queen to be compatible with Victorian gender ideology, she had to be dethroned, placed within a private and domestic rather than a public and political context. However, the resolution Eliot's novel achieves between the discourses of history and femininity, and the model Middlemarch offers for representations of female rule, do not obviate the difficulty posed by and for historical (or, for that matter, fictional) treatments of real queens. In Chapter Two I noted that most Victorian women historians define their own work in opposition

to "general history," the history of the public sphere, but in making this ideologically and thus strategically crucial distinction they rather disingenuously ignore the truth about their subjects: even a queen consort is a public figure as much as a private one, her personal affairs inseparable from the affairs of state. And while at least a queen consort can, as a wife and mother, be seen as strictly analogous to the metaphorical queen who ruled over the Victorian home, a queen regnant, sovereign in her own right, defies such easy containment within conventional parameters. Unlike the novelist, the historian works within a genre still largely defined by its adherence to fact and thus lacks the option of doing away with such difficulties by inventing a heroine to fit her agenda. Her task is not one of simple transcription, of course, but is, as historical writing always is, accounting for and narrating facts so that they cohere, so that they make sense-and what counts as "making sense" depends heavily on the plots and narrative structures available within a given culture.3 As I have already argued, the plots and narratives most readily available and widely accepted in the nineteenth century did not include stories of female agency, individuality, or self-determination, at least not expressed through public, political, or military action of the kind associated with sovereign rule.