In Middlemarch, The Portrait of a Lady and To the Lighthouse, a development process as a gaze refinement and Bildung-durch-Bilder process takes place. In this thesis, the Awakening Conscience Model is developed to discuss the heroines’ developments. The model combines painting theory, a visual reading of the text and a psychological understanding that images reveal a viewer’s state of maturity. It is built on Millais’s Mariana and Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience which are evoked at different points in the novels and mark crucial moments in the heroines’ self-consciousness building processes. Stage 1 of the model represents a dreaming gaze; Stage 2 the awakened gaze; Stage 3 the production of this awakened gaze – an image – which allows for the claim that, with a mature gaze, certain power over one’s representation can be gained. An emancipation story is studied within the novels and across the novels. In Middlemarch, the heroine manages to develop an idea of her self-representation, but is still deeply rooted in the limiting Victorian world. Isabel, although believed much freer, is stuck on the threshold – just like Henry James’s novel remains on the threshold
between Victorian and modern literature. Lily is clearly modern and emancipates herself as a female artist and positions the novel as a discussion of female agency through an active and productive own gaze. Own and others’ views are limiting if not developed properly – not only men’s of women, but also women’s own.