Greta Perletti

Consumptive Bodies and Diaphanous Types: The Vanishing Self in George Eliot's Daniel Deronda and Walter Pater's Imaginary Portraits

  • Abstract

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Keywords: Consumption in Literature; Diaphanous; Vanishing Self.

This article aims to show that the pervasive presence of consumption in 19th-century imagination can be used to work across the different cultures of science and medicine in order to bridge the gap between George Eliot's and Walter Pater's writings. By focusing on the special relation consumption holds with both medicine's visual turn and with the selfeffacement required by scientific epistemology, the article discusses the relevance of consumptive bodies to the realist project. While science's desire to make the invisible visible results in a fascination with the complete transparency of the self, literary texts like Eliot's "Daniel Deronda" and Pater's "Imaginary Portraits" use figures of consumptives as 'diaphanous types' that, as in Pater's theorisation, both evoke and resist the transparency of the vanishing self. Beyond the ideological and stylistic differences of Eliot's and Pater's texts, the article demonstrates that both authors reveal awareness of the aesthetical and moral value of receptivity and of the refinement and pathology associated with the vanishing self.

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