Voice and vocation in the novels of George Eliot

da Sousa Correa, Delia (2014). Voice and vocation in the novels of George Eliot. In: Bernhart, Walter and Kramer, Lawrence eds. On Voice. Word and Music Studies, 13. Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 105–116.

URL: http://www.rodopi.nl/senj.asp?BookId=WMS+13


Nothing moved George Eliot (1819-1880) more than fine vocal music. Thanks to early recording technologies, we can still hear one auditory trace of her world: not Eliot herself, but the singing voice of George Henschel, which inspired her during the 1870s. Voice is a constant preoccupation of Eliot’s. Her novels are populated by numerous singers, and the precise qualities of her characters’ speaking voices are as significant as their other attributes. In her fiction, this emphasis on voice frequently generates sustained analogies with opera. In her work as a critic, the possession of a ‘voice’ becomes emblematic of affective power and moral authority. In Eliot’s final novel, Daniel Deronda (1876), voice shades into issues of ‘vocation’: the Zionist vocation of the novel’s Jewish characters and the vocational quests of others, including women. Eliot sought to make vocation rather than romance the chief impetus of her fiction, and this central issue is given literal force in images of music and voice. For women, singing is a possible vocation, and, in its direct sense of ‘giving voice’, a channel of utterance unavailable in speech. The singer also enacts the vocation, power, and vulnerability of the published author, provoking us to ponder relationships between the singing voice and the ‘voice’ of the writer as received by her audience.

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