Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Unhistoric acts.

I recently finished a book by George Eliot called Middlemarch. George Eliot had been recommended to me by a friend who loved Daniel Deronda. So when I found myself perusing my German friend's bookshelf in search for something to read while traveling the European countryside (:sigh:), I picked out the book described by Virginia Woolf as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people." Yes, I just finished. Yes, it's been 9 months.

It took me awhile to get through because I didn't think the story was very captivating -- grown-up people books rarely are -- I kept reading, though, because I liked the author. I thought she had such interesting insight into human nature and the character of life. Take this, for example:

"Many souls in their young nudity are tumbled out among incongruities and left to 'find their feet' among them, while their elders go about their business. Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual, and we do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. 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."

Mmm, delicious...but why am I dedicating a post to this book about which I feel so seemingly tepid? Because the last 60 pages of Middlemarch launched it into my top 5. Shocking, no? I thought so too.

I will try to explain.

This book is mostly about two characters, full of ardent potential, who strive to achieve greatness...and fail...sort of. The main character, Dorothea Brooke, is a wonderfully ideal and noble creature. "She yearned towards the perfect Right, that it might make a throne within her, and rule her errant will. 'What should I do -- how should I act now, this very day if I could clutch my own pain, and compel it to silence!'" she asks.

The climax of the book for me occurred as Dorothea committed a sublime, "self-subduing act of fellowship." She acted out of compassion and a sense of right, laying aside her wounded heart in order to spare others pain. She did not live an epic life. Her name was not heralded among martyrs and heroines. She was a failed Antigone, "foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness trembled off and were dispersed among hindrances, instead of centering in some long-recognizable deed."

"Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth."

Every once in awhile I want my life to be heroic. Historic. I want to change the world. But for me, like Dorothea, there will be no "constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes." I do not expect my name to be trumpeted from rooftops or my life to be ideal or admirable. But I do hope that somewhere along the chalky white outline of my bumbling life I will have made a measurable difference to someone around me. That my memory will be held dear by those who really knew me.

There were some who considered Dorothea's life a tragedy, a waste of divine efficaciousness, and it would have been if it wasn't so nobly human. I wrote a post a couple years ago about a song someone performed in church. I want my life to be that song and this book and her character -- imperfect, but moving. The wonderful thing about Dorothea was that, "The effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts."

And that's what I'm depending on, too.