Metaphors of shame in George Eliot's Middlemarch

Kamila Walker, Antonina Harbus

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Shame is a significant concept in George Eliot's Middlemarch thematically, narratively, and linguistically. Integral to the discursive representation of this emotion in the novel is the artistic use of ordinary conceptual metaphors and metonymies as a component of its noted realism. The figurative language deployed is both familiar and extraordinary. It is partially influenced by universal bodily responses to the experience of shame, and partially made accessible through culturally mediated meanings. Eliot's language is also distinctly unique, in that in its discursive context it enacts her own sharp psychological and moral analysis. This article investigates how Eliot uses familiar metaphors of embodied shame—especially blushing and sensations of oppression—to signal the often conflicted and suppressed emotional states of her characters. This nuanced use of familiar figurative constructions relies on conceptual norms shared with the reader, and provides a rich reading experience that arises from the recognition of common embodied affective experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-102
Number of pages28
JournalGeorge Eliot - George Henry Lewes Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020


  • Middlemarch
  • George Eliot
  • conceptual metaphor
  • shame
  • meaning construction
  • figurative language
  • Metonymy


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