Date: 19 May 2003
On George Eliot
These notes on an English writer Proust greatly admired were hastily written in pencil, and first published in 1954.
What strikes me in Adam Bede is the attentive, meticulous, respectful, poetic and sympathetic portrayal of the humblest, most hardworking life. Keeping one’s kitchen clean is an essential duty, almost a religious duty and a duty full of attractions. And also the sense of the gravity of an evil intention, of a failure of the will whose dire repercussions are borne everywhere by the solidarity among human creatures, and the sense of the mysterious grandeur of human life and the life of nature, of the sublime mysteries of which we are part though as little conscious of it as the flower that grows (cf., Silas Marner). And also, above the sequence of our vices and misfortunes, a sort of higher order of a mightyprovidence which makes of our ills the incomprehensible instrument of our good (cf., Silas Marner). Adam loses Hetty and this had to be if he was to find Dinah. Siolas loses his gold and this had to be if he was to be opened up to the love of the child (cf., Emerson, Compensation, and ‘Man fidgets but God leads him’). Extremely keen feeling for nature which animates rather than depicts it. Especially in it’s tranquillity. Comforts of autumn days, beauty of meadows and woodlands, evenings when the clouds are scudding. Exact, picturesque, witty, eloquent way of making caricatural characters speak without caricature,, the more pointed for saying true as in Anatole France. Feelinf for how things and our hearts change over a lifetime. Return of Silas to the court, etc. In places, proof of a good knowledge of philosophy. Newness of the images coming from a quite new and affectionate view of things, which discovers unremarked sentiments in them and can then depict them as symbols of analogous sentiments (hearts melting like small streams, somewhat laboured jokes against society people). Feeling for the usefulness of suffering, of moral progress, of moral equivalences along the human scale, between a thought here, a path to the church there, dirty washing somewhere else. Conservative spirit: not too much education, not too many railways, not too many exhibitions, not too much equality, not too much religious reform, etc. A sincere feeling for the preoccupations of a carpenter, a weaver, etc. Keen feeling for the sympathetic leanings developing between people. Dinah, Silas Marner and his neighbours… Progressive nature of surrenders of the will: we leave the mother of the child in Silas determined not to take opium any more, and meet her again with an empty bottle. X… determined not to see Hetty again, straightaway afterwards in her arms. Feeling that people without a spiritual life suffer more, with no moral solidarity with others. One of the conclusions one might draw from her works (but which is not pointed to), is that the harm that we do is wrong (we do harm to ourselves and others), but that on the contrary the harm that befalls us is frequently the condition of a greater good that God wanted to do us.
Penguin 20th Century Classics 1988/1994, translated by John Sturrock[_shared_elements/comment_on_this_review.htm]