Quote Of The Day: Better Than Middlemarch

Quote Of The Day #40

“Scenes Of Clerical Life” by George Eliot

I was surprised to find that this book is better than “Middlemarch”, which I read long time ago. And I am sorry to say that the only reason I read “Middlemarch” was that it is recommended in many reading lists from google search, like “100 best novels in English,” or “50 books you have to read before you die,” or “must read” or “greatest novels 1 to 50.” I didn’t really like it and still don’t like it despite the clamor of praise. The dislike probably comes from the beginning of the book when Dorothea insisted on marrying Rev. Edward Casaubon who’s as old as her grandfather. If the author has written the book as a parody or a comedy, probably I would have liked it better, but the story is assuming a very serious and realistic tone.

The book “Scenes Of Clerical Life” is really better than “Middlemarch” in my opinion. It has three mid-length stories and I just love the second and the third stories. The first one is a little unrealistic and it only shows how much George Eliot didn’t understand the condition of a very poor family. Reverend Barton, being so poor and with so many children he could hardly provide for, was in no position to offer lodging to Countess Caroline. Having never been poor herself, the author didn’t understand that poverty prevents people from showing their kindness of providing a living place to a countess with expensive taste.

And just when I was thinking of dropping the book, the second story came and it is very interesting. It’s a story about the young and handsome Captain Anthony Wybrow, who is simultaneously flirting with Tina, a very poor girl, and proposing marriage to Beatrice, a very rich girl. And just when the two girls’ battle of love comes to an apex, Captain Wybrow drops dead. Isn’t this interesting?

And the third story is my favorite. Janet’s emotional and reasoning are so well explored that it is a delightful read. Janet is a long suffering wife of the lawyer Dempster, who drinks excessively and bullies her continuously. However Janet supports her husband no matter what. And she even joins her husband when he bullies the newcomer Reverend Tryan–surprisingly people who are bullied willingly behave like the devil’s advocate. Then one night, Dempster pushes his wife out of the door in a drunken stupor and it precipitates a reflection and an existential crisis in Janet. And she finally decides to stand up to the tyrant. She finds lodging in her neighbor for the night and Reverend Tryan comes to give her solace the next day. It’s such a wonderful story and some of the passages are so beautifully written that I almost cried. I am not really religious, even though my dream is to visit Bodh Gaya where Buddha achieved his enlightenment. Actually I am quite agnostic about religion even if I’ve had plenty of chances to get exposed to Buddhism and Christianity. However, I feel that these quotes, with religious tinge, are quite engaging and even intoxicating. I guess this is why so many people are drawn to religion.

“I loved my husband very dearly when we were married, and I meant to make him happy—I wanted nothing else. But he began to be angry with me for little things and … I don’t want to accuse him … but he drank and got more and more unkind to me, and then very cruel, and he beat me. And that cut me to the heart. It made me almost mad sometimes to think all our love had come to that … I couldn’t bear up against it.”

“And I thought all the more that God was cruel; for if He had not sent me that dreadful trial, so much worse than other women have to bear, I should not have done wrong in that way. I suppose it is wicked to think so … O can you tell me any way of getting strength? Have you ever known any one like me that got peace of mind and power to do right? Can you give me any comfort—any hope?’

‘Yes, dear Mrs. Dempster,’ he said at last, ‘there is comfort, there is hope for you. Believe me there is, for I speak from my own deep and hard experience.’ He paused, as if he had not made up his mind to utter the words that were urging themselves to his lips. Presently he continued, ‘Ten years ago, I felt as wretched as you do…”

“But,” said Janet, “I can feel no trust in God. He seems always to have left me to myself. I have sometimes prayed to Him to help me, and yet everything has been just the same as before. If you felt like me, how did you come to have hope and trust?”

‘Do not believe that God has left you to yourself. How can you tell but that the hardest trials you have known have been only the road by which He was leading you to that complete sense of your own sin and helplessness, without which you would never have renounced all other hopes, and trusted in His love alone?… You see, Mrs. Dempster, how deep my need was. I went on in this way for months. I was convinced that if I ever got health and comfort, it must be from religion. I went to hear celebrated preachers, and I read religious books. But I found nothing that fitted my own need. The faith which puts the sinner in possession of salvation seemed, as I understood it, to be quite out of my reach. I had no faith; I only felt utterly wretched, under the power of habits and dispositions which had wrought hideous evil. At last, as I told you, I found a friend to whom I opened all my feelings—to whom I confessed everything… “

Before leaving Janet, Mr. Tryan urged her strongly to send for her mother.

‘Do not wound her,’ he said, ‘by shutting her out any longer from your troubles. It is right that you should be with her.’

‘Yes, I will send for her,’ said Janet.‘Yes, I promise you. I know I have always been too proud; I could never bear to speak to any one about myself. I have been proud towards my mother, even; it has always made me angry when she has seemed to take notice of my faults.’

‘Ah, dear Mrs. Dempster, you will never say again that life is blank, and that there is nothing to live for, will you? See what work there is to be done in life, both in our own souls and for others. Surely it matters little whether we have more or less of this world’s comfort in these short years, when God is training us for the eternal enjoyment of his love. Keep that great end of life before you, and your troubles here will seem only the small hardships of a journey. Now I must go.’

6 thoughts on “Quote Of The Day: Better Than Middlemarch

  1. Just an afterthought on religion. When you read anything from this period you realise how central religion was to life in those days. It’s quite difficult for moderns to appreciate that. People regarded atheism with horror. It wasn’t just a question of not believing in God – it was almost viewed as a kind of depravity that could lead to all sorts of evil.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true. I totally agree. Religion in that era was almost like psychologist and anti-depressant and social-network messaging combined to help people go through their life. There’s such a strong pull of religion in the Asian community here in New Jersey since that’s where one can network for the next job, find clients, meet people who know this and that etc. I know the strong pull of it but for years I have stayed away.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is very useful and informative. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read anything by George Eliot – though I have seen a TV adaptation of Middlemarch. Oddly though, I once stumbled across a house in Geneva where she’d lived for a while. I was wandering randomly through the streets and saw a plaque on the wall. I’m currently reading “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy. I like the minimalist style, but it is very unpleasant and violent!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I watched “No Country for Old Men” and it is so violent that I had to stop watching it half way. It’s so bleak and no way out. Like real death. None of us can find a way out alive.

      Liked by 1 person

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