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Novel Reading: Pedagogies of Form in George Eliot and Thomas Mann


This dissertation examines the intersection of novel form and questions of education in the novels of George Eliot and Thomas Mann. While each of the novels I consider structures its plot around the formative experiences of a young protagonist, whose development thereby constitutes both the arc of the story and the stakes of the novel, I argue that their concern with pedagogy extends beyond the diegetic representation of education to the form of the novel itself, in ways that are both continuous and in tension with some of their more obvious didactic workings. These novels put forth an implicit argument for the way that a novel can itself contribute to the formation of its readers: namely, by teaching them to be readers of novels, through a novelistic practice that sees form as pedagogical and pedagogy as formal. My first chapter traces the conjunction of form, formation, and the work of the novel in both the eighteenth-century German concept of Bildung, in which I locate the network of ideas that become crucial to my reading of Eliot and Mann’s pedagogy of form, and in Christoph Martin Wieland’s Geschichte des Agathon, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, which I read as forerunners of the self-reflexive novelistic practice that Eliot and Mann exemplify. Chapters two and three examine the way Eliot’s formal pedagogy informs and also challenges the explicitly stated realist projects of her novels. I argue that both Felix Holt, the Radical and Middlemarch displace the type of education that they initially seem to center— the political reform espoused by the eponymous Felix and the modes of book learning valued by Middlemarch’s scholars— in favor of modes of formation that they link to the novelistic, such as the sentimental and sympathetic lessons of their female protagonists, the novels’ own plotting, and the work of recognition and interpretation that they demand of both their heroine and reader. In privileging such acts of readerly formation, the novels don’t, however, put forth a monolithic definition of novel form but instead underscore the multiple, often contradictory modalities through which their own form moves and whose different demands they teach their reader to negotiate. In turning to Thomas Mann in chapter four, I examine Der Zauberberg’s explicit commentary on form in its meditation on the possibilities of Bildung in post-World War I Europe, and I argue that the “middle” way that its protagonist espouses serves as a description of both the novel’s own form and the pedagogic practice it represents and seeks to enact. An afterword to the dissertation suggests that such a middle space becomes synonymous with a model of novel reading that grows out of this intersection of novel form and pedagogy in Eliot and Mann’s work.

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