Worlds apart : Umwelt and the construction of sympathy in “The lifted veil” and Middlemarch
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This report modifies and re-envisions Jakob von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory as the “sympathetic umwelt,” in which sympathy is both the external object of desire and the internal means by which individual, subjective worlds are created. Through the application of this new paradigm to George Eliot’s “The Lifted Veil” and Middlemarch, this paper suggests that intersubjective relationships in the fictions she conceives are ephemeral illusions. Her early cognitive experiments and intellectual grappling with the nature of emotional connections culminates in the ambiguously defined concept of sympathy. Eliot’s focus on sympathy is not meant to reveal a solution to failures in human compassion and understanding, but to present it as the central problem – both in her own literature and in reality.