Carlyle’s “Captains of Industry” in conjunction with George Eliot’s “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft”

One intersection of Carlyle and Eliot’s text I find particularly interesting is their discussion of virtue. Yet, their discussions of virtue are not linked in agreement, but rather disagreement, with Eliot’s text allowing for an expansion of how to read Carlyle’s virtue. To wit, Carlyle’s conceptualization of virtue should be read as ‘virtue to exist’ while Eliot’s conceptualization is that of ‘virtue to subsist.’ In characterizing Carlyle’s ‘virtue to exist,’ this quote from paragraph 10 serves nicely as he notes, “All human interests, combined human endeavours [sic], and social growths in this world, have…required organising: and Work, the grandest of human interests, does now require it.” This quote is in direct reference to what Carlyle’s virtuous men must do, and that is to aspire and achieve. In contrast, Eliot’s conceptualization is colored by female disenfranchisement as she notes in paragraph 16 that the prescribed virtue to women (from the overarching masculine structure of Victorian England) is one of idleness. In other terms, the masculine conceptualization of virtue for women is pure subsistence, and only off of the most dominant male figure in their lives. This dichotomy of virtue in both the male and female conceptualization is important as the masculine reading (from the Victorian elite) of virtue lends men as aspiring to be leaders, whereas the female reading of virtue designates women as followers. Indeed, this unpacking of gendered virtues shows how patriarchal Victorian England subsists as women are either complacent within the system and retaining their virtue, or cast out and placed firmly as an enemy of structural normalcy.

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