“That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”
Yesterday I finished Middlemarch by George Eliot. I don’t believe the following is a spoiler, as I don’t refer to the plot or individual characters, but if you are going to read the book, wish to start with a blank slate and don’t even need the persuasion, you might want to skip this, in case. 🙂 It was a surprise of a book… a slow and graceful waltz which illustrates life in a small English town in bygone days. I didn’t know if anything more would come of it, but in fact the pace quickens and there’s a strong finish. George Eliot is at pains to point out that life continues after that climax, with people either becoming what they want to be or getting lost along the way. Eventually they pass on, leaving room for young hopefuls, who tread similar paths while thinking them new. Major social events (such as weddings, births and funerals) tend to be skirted around, with the main focus falling on events both before and after: the things that make all the difference. It’s remarkable how a person’s life and character can be so affected and changed by individual decisions, both great and small. One person getting married or deciding to do good instead of evil, evil instead of good, or walk this way instead of that, could utterly transform the lives and characters of the people around him/her. It reminded me of An Inspector Calls in that respect… how separate and apparently irrelevant actions by different people could impact on one individual’s life in a major way. Parts of Middlemarch are dry and hard to follow, but there is plenty of humour and liveliness, and the style in general seems to loosen up in the latter half of the book. A quality I like about some of these older books is that there is a focus on redemption, forgiveness and change of heart, whereas many of today’s books and films have a shallow quality, demanding indignities and vengeance to be inflicted on unsympathetic characters.
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?”
Sometimes I couldn’t decide if I liked or sympathized with a Middlemarch character or not, which is like real life in that we don’t know everything about people. Our views are irrelevant anyway, because people have both good and bad things about them, and have good and bad experiences regardless of our opinion, and they make friends with people we like, even when we wish that they wouldn’t…
“‘I suppose we never quite understand why another dislikes what we like, mother,’ said Mary, rather curtly.”
I was amazed at the corners and shadows of human nature that George Eliot explored; it made you wonder what she has experienced in life to know all of this. Some of it falls in your own experience. It’s unsettling to know that you are thinking and feeling no differently from people back in the 1800s, but then you ask yourself what else you expected? As George Eliot said, these paths have been trodden and these stories told many times before.
“I protest against all our interest, all our effort at understanding being given to the young skins that look blooming in spite of trouble; for these too will get faded, and will know the older and more eating griefs which we are helping to neglect.”
“…people were so ridiculous with their illusions, carrying their fool’s caps unawares, thinking their own lies opaque while everybody else’s were transparent, making themselves exceptions to everything, as if when all the world looked yellow under a lamp they alone were rosy.”