The “organic appeal” in Felix Holt: Social problem fiction, paternalism, and the welfare state

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Nineteenth-century social problem fiction anticipated state-centralized collectivism by modernizing Britain’s centuries-old organic ideology. George Eliot’s Felix Holt, the Radical (1866) exemplifies modernized organicism in two ways, combining moderate upward mobility with traditional social hierarchy and relocating paternalism to impersonal state structures. The novel authorizes these projects through creative forms of consent. Formally, Felix Holt expresses this modernization through “organic appeals," which reconcile faith in a finely graded, centralized social system with individual and communal volition. Free of allegiance to mid-century political parties and their predictable hesitations over centralization, Eliot extended the elements of modernized organicism that she found in earlier social problem fiction, harnessing them to a robustly corporatist vision that New Liberal politicians would later find an inspiration to welfare reform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-635
Number of pages27
JournalVictorian Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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