Master of Arts (MA)
Emily W. Heady
Primary Subject Area
Eliot, George, fat studies, Victorian period
This thesis uses six of the novels of George Eliot (those that take place entirely in rural England), works from the field of psychology, the concepts of realism and sympathy, and a metaphor of liquidity from Thomas Carlyle to explore several ways that body fat shapes identity and mediates relationships with others. Boundaries are the guiding concept: the chapters move from a demonstration of how boundaries between the self and others are created (padding), through a discussion of how sympathy can enable those boundaries to be broken (stuffing), to two case studies of characters whose boundaries of selfhood are in flux because of identity confusion. At the same time, the thesis demonstrates how Eliot pushes the boundaries of novelistic convention by portraying characters who do not fit into any easily defined role, and by refusing to create a tidy ending for all characters.