chapter  5
40 Pages

Moving Pictures George Eliot and Melodrama

This essay will dwell on several functions and effects of the melodra­ matic tableau within George Eliot’s realism, and in so doing it will attempt to refocus our understanding both of realism and of melo­ drama. On the melodramatic stage the tableau interrupts and punc­ tuates the ongoing action with its silent, composed stillness-calling for the audience to be likewise arrested yet all the while to be actively feeling and interpreting. So, too, the novelistic imitation of melodra­ matic tableaux represents and effects an invisible, silent activity of movement within and between subjects. The moments marked by tableaux appear unmediated and yet artifactual; they occur suddenly, with uncertain causal grounding, and they hang suspended as signs whose significance remains to be realized only retroactively, if at all; but in George Eliot s fiction, they are often posed within such an in­ sistent blazon of aesthetic purposiveness that their momentous po­ tential for future unfolding explodes with forward momentum.