Dorothea and Will discuss the meaning of life

We need something non-pandemic-related, or at least I do. A tweet by a philosopher reminded me of a passage in Middlemarch, so seeing as how it’s long out of copyright I’ll just share it. From chapter 39:

Dorothea felt wretched. She thought her husband altogether in the wrong, on more grounds than Will had mentioned.

“It is better for us not to speak on the subject,” she said, with a tremulousness not common in her voice, “since you and Mr. Casaubon disagree. You intend to remain?” She was looking out on the lawn, with melancholy meditation.

“Yes; but I shall hardly ever see you now,” said Will, in a tone of almost boyish complaint.

“No,” said Dorothea, turning her eyes full upon him, “hardly ever. But I shall hear of you. I shall know what you are doing for my uncle.”

“I shall know hardly anything about you,” said Will. “No one will tell me anything.”

“Oh, my life is very simple,” said Dorothea, her lips curling with an exquisite smile, which irradiated her melancholy. “I am always at Lowick.”

“That is a dreadful imprisonment,” said Will, impetuously.

“No, don’t think that,” said Dorothea. “I have no longings.”

He did not speak, but she replied to some change in his expression. “I mean, for myself. Except that I should like not to have so much more than my share without doing anything for others. But I have a belief of my own, and it comforts me.”

“What is that?” said Will, rather jealous of the belief.

“That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil—widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower.”

“That is a beautiful mysticism—it is a—”

“Please not to call it by any name,” said Dorothea, putting out her hands entreatingly. “You will say it is Persian, or something else geographical. It is my life. I have found it out, and cannot part with it. I have always been finding out my religion since I was a little girl. I used to pray so much—now I hardly ever pray. I try not to have desires merely for myself, because they may not be good for others, and I have too much already. I only told you, that you might know quite well how my days go at Lowick.”

“God bless you for telling me!” said Will, ardently, and rather wondering at himself. They were looking at each other like two fond children who were talking confidentially of birds.

“What is your religion?” said Dorothea. “I mean—not what you know about religion, but the belief that helps you most?”

“To love what is good and beautiful when I see it,” said Will. “But I am a rebel: I don’t feel bound, as you do, to submit to what I don’t like.”

“But if you like what is good, that comes to the same thing,” said Dorothea, smiling.

“Now you are subtle,” said Will.

“Yes; Mr. Casaubon often says I am too subtle. I don’t feel as if I were subtle,” said Dorothea, playfully. “But how long my uncle is! I must go and look for him. I must really go on to the Hall. Celia is expecting me.”

3 Responses to “Dorothea and Will discuss the meaning of life”