George Eliot’s Visual Moments: The Construction of Character in Daniel Deronda


  • Sara Håkansson Lund University



George Eliot’s last novel, Daniel Deronda, is insistently concerned with the visual and with the problematics of looking. Like many of Eliot’s novels, it examines the visual in relation to notions of reliability, perspective, interpretation, representation, the subjective versus the objective, and the relation between observation and imagination. This paper is concerned with the creation and development of character as unveiled through visual moments within the diegesis. Focus is on the function of the visual between characters and the study proposes that visual moments – understood as the combination of looker, “lookee”, the manner of looking or seeing, the context of looking and the form of narration – significantly contribute to the development of characterisation. Furthermore, it suggests that George Eliot, to a large extent, locates characters’ personal beliefs and ideologies in visual exchanges. Visual moments in Daniel Deronda are identified with the aid of corpus linguistic methods.  Corpora aid to pinpoint the frequency and range of lexical items related to the visual and this study examines the lexeme look, specifically, in order to trace and unravel character construction and development. By so doing, it aims to complement or qualify the composition of character as presented through the combination of direct speech, free indirect discourse and the agency of a reflective and analytical narrative voice.