Middlemarch 2.0

Dorothea, of Middlemarch, imitates Christ in offering a wide and generous grace to the despairing doctor, Lydgate. The grace that she offers is as profound– and as profoundly affecting– as it is simple: she believes in him. More precisely, she believes in him when everyone else, including his wife, suspects him of a gravely dishonorable and shameful act. Dorothea offers him a lifeline when he, Lydgate, is drowning in despair.

What she offers is so simple, and so beautiful. It’s the essence of love that she offers him, purified of the self-interest that attends to romantic attachment. Or– to change the metaphor– she sees him, and does not judge. It is under this accepting gaze that we are confirmed as precious in the world.

Here is the passage:

“You [Dorothea] want to decide whether you should give a generous support to the hospital,” said Lydgate. “I cannot conscientiously advise you to do it in dependence on any activity of mine. I may be obliged to leave the town [on account of being socially outcast].”

He spoke curtly, feeling the ache of despair….

“Not because there is no one to believe in you?” said Dorothea, pouring out her words in clearness from a full heart. “I know the unhappy mistakes about you. I knew them from the first moment to be mistakes. You have never done anything vile. You would not do anything dishonourable.”

It was the first assurance of belief in him that had fallen on Lydgate’s ears. He drew a deep breath and said, “Thank you.” He could say no more; it was something very new and strange in his life that these few words of trust from a woman would mean so much to him. [Emphasis added]

via What George Eliot Teaches Us : The New Yorker.

Middlemarch

Religion in the Balance has been in winter hibernation while Ribeye Films has been hard at work on our film “Atwood.” Apparently I can’t sustain both at the same time.

At 800-and-something pages, George Eliot’s Middlemarch has required an investment of time– usually late at night– as well. I always wondered what the fuss was about this novel. Now I know. Frank Kermode calls it a “masterpiece,” and he’s right. Eliot is as penetrating into the complex motivations of human beings, as any writer I know. She masterfully creates a world in which her characters are forced into crises; these crises, in turn, refine and wisen, deepen, and sometimes defeat her protagonists and foils. It’s real life refined to its essence: in other words, it’s art.

Here’s one of many passages I marked for its insight into human psychology. It’s about the way we are susceptible to flattering self-deception when it comes to religious belief. Bulstrode is the character she’s describing:

“There may be coarse hypocrites, who consciously affect beliefs and emotions for the sake of gulling the world, but Bulstrode was not one of them. He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs and who had gradually explained the gratification of his desires into satisfactory agreement with those beliefs. [Emphasis added] If this be hypocrisy, it is a process which shows itself occasionally in us all, to whatever confession we belong, and whether we believe in the future perfection of our race or in the nearest date fixed for the end of the world; whether we regard the earth as a putrefying nidus for a saved remnant, including ourselves, or have a passionate belief in the solidarity of mankind.”

via BBC – History – George Eliot.