“I Recognized Myself in Her”: Identifying with the Reader in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss and Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

Laura Green, Northeastern University
Vol. 24, No. 1 (Spring 2005), 57-79

A familiar feature of the realist novel of development is the experience of identification—the subject’s perception or projection of similarity between herself and another.  The identification effect has been central to charges of conservatism and bourgeois hegemony leveled at classical realism generally. Such critiques, however, often take no account of the reader’s gender.  In analyses of two narratives featuring female protagonists, George Eliot’s novel The Mill on the Floss (1859-60) and Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1959), this essay suggests two qualifications for the critique of identification. First, narratives of female development themselves entertain the possibility that identification may have stultifying rather than liberating effects. For example, Eliot in The Mill on the Floss represents identification for and with the novel’s protagonist, Maggie Tulliver, as a mise-en-abime. Second, the readers who identify with these protagonists—such as Beauvoir—may be inspired to struggle with and attempt to surpass these limits in their own lives and writing. For some texts and readers, a characterization of identification as simply hegemonic fails to capture either the complexity of identification within the novel of development or the persistence with which readers experience identification as transgressive or liberating.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]