Friday, July 06, 2012

Fine ends

I am fascinated by Eliot, but I do not love her novels like I do those of Austen and Dickens, and it is partly because her sentence-writing seems to me significantly inferior to theirs, even aside from the lovability factor.  Here's my pick from book 2 (chapter 20) - the moral insight is superior to the wording (Adam Bede is my favorite novel of hers, though I think I will reread Deronda this summer also):
The excessive feeling manifested would alone have been highly disturbing to Mr Casaubon, but there were other reasons why Dorothea's words were among the most cutting and irritating to him that she could have been impelled to use.  She was as blind to his inward troubles as he to hers; she had not yet learned those hidden conflicts in her husband which claim our pity.  She had not yet listened patiently to his heart-beats, but only felt that her own was beating violently.  In Mr Casaubon's ear, Dorothea's voice gave loud emphatic iteration to those muffled suggestions of consciousness which it was possible to explain as mere fancy, the illusion of exaggerated sensitiveness: always when such suggestions are unmistakably repeated from without, they are resisted as cruel and unjust.  We are angered even by the full acceptance of our humiliating confessions -- how much more by hearing in hard distinct syllables from the lips of a near observer, those confused murmurs which we try to call morbid, and strive against as if they were the oncoming of numbness!  And this cruel outward accuser was there in the shape of a wife -- nay, of a young bride, who, instead of observing his abundant pen scratches and amplitude of paper with the uncritical awe of an elegant-minded canary-bird, seemed to present herself as a spy watching everything with a malign power of inference.  Here, towards this particular point of the compass, Mr Casaubon had a sensitiveness to match Dorothea's, and an equal quickness to imagine more than the fact.  He had formerly observed with approbation her capacity for worshipping the right object; he now foresaw with sudden terror that this capacity might be replaced by presumption, this worship by the most exasperating of all criticism, -- that which sees vaguely a great many fine ends and has not the least notion what it costs to reach them.
 I might have to put this in the style book - something in these sentences makes me cringe, and yet the observation is extremely striking...

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read all of Eliot but I adore the ones by her I have read, including Middlemarch which is brilliant. What a refreshing change to have an independent, intelligent heroine as opposed to all those nice but weedy (Dickens) or wholly domestic (Austen) females! I do love Dickens and Austen also but Eliot gets my vote for her creation of Dorothea --- esp once she got out from under "The Crank" (a type I have encountered all too often over the years in my day job!).