A Life That’s Good: Metaphor and Greatness in Eliot and Ishiguro

Emma Peters


At first glance, George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day seem wholly dissimilar. Eliot’s novel offers a panoramic view of English society just before the passage of the 1832 Reform Bill; the complex interactions of its large cast of characters are mediated for us by a wise, acerbic, philosophical narrator. Ishiguro’s, in contrast, immerses us in the perspective of Mr. Stevens, the unnervingly self-contained and, as we eventually learn, willfully self-deceived butler to a Nazi sympathizer during the appeasement era. As Emma Peters’s insightful essay shows, however, both novels are fundamentally concerned with how to live a moral life, perhaps even a great life, as a small person in a big world -- and both novels show us that the metaphors we rely on in our stories about the world are critical to our chances of making sure that, in Eliot’s words, “things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been.” —Dr. Rohan Maitzen

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