This is the third and final installment of my thoughts for Middlemarch Week. If you missed post one, A Preview of Middlemarch, click here. If you missed post two, George Eliot on Marriage, Human Nature, Money, Politics, Religion, Feminism, and Gossip in Middlemarch, click here. If you’re sick of Middlemarch (1874), which is number 20 on the BBC book list, then click to a different webpage.
This post is a collection of all of the best quotes (and my commentary on them) from Middlemarch. I starting writing them down in my notes as I read, and by the time I had finished, I had an overwhelming number of George Eliot’s (whose real name was Mary Ann Evans) beautiful ideas to share. Enjoy!
“Souls have complexions too: what will suit one will not suit another” (9).
“It is so painful in you, Celia, that you will look at human beings as if they were merely animals with a toilette, and never see the great soul in a man’s face” (16). It is like Dorothea was rebuking me instead of her sister Celia. Guilty as charged, but I’m working on that!
“Many things are true which only the commonest minds observe” (44). This certainly adds to the argument the entire book makes about the harm of gossip.
“We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, ‘Oh, nothing!’ Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts―not to hurt others” (57). I wish the guy driving the white Cadillac SUV that cut me off the other day could read and understand this quote. His vanity plates said, “I DO OK.” I thought perhaps they should say, “Beware of Pride,” but I guess that won’t fit on a license plate.
“[I]t is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view” (61). Think politics…
“I am not magnanimous enough to like people who speak to me without seeming to see me” (108). Yep.
“[F]or the majority of us scarcely see more distinctly the faultiness of our own conduct than the faultiness of our own arguments, or the dullness of our own jokes” (178).
“With a favour to ask we review our list of friends, do justice to their more amiable qualities, forgive their little offences, and concerning each in turn, try to arrive at the conclusion that he will be eager to oblige us” (218).
“But selfish people always think their own discomfort of more importance than anything else in the world” (241). We all know somebody like this, right? (It may be the person in the mirror…)
“I know that people who spend a great deal of money on themselves without knowing how they shall pay, must be selfish. They are always thinking of what they can get for themselves, and not of what other people may lose” (241). I can’t help but think of the recent financial crisis in my country.
“Oh, stinginess may be abused like other virtues: it will not do to keep one’s own pigs lean” (365).
“A bad workman of any sort makes his fellows mistrusted” (387). Hence, my distrust of doctors.
“When one sees a perfect woman, one never thinks of her attributes―one is conscious of her presence” (413). I don’t know what to think about this one. I get the idea, but it strikes me as strange because nobody is perfect.
“[W]hat loneliness is more lonely than distrust?” (418).
“In my opinion Mrs. Casaubon should do what would give her the most repose of mind. That repose will not always come from being forbidden to act” (468).
“But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope” (475).
“Men outlive their love, but they don’t outlive the consequences of their recklessness” (490). Any adulterer can tell you that, and if he or she can’t, they someday will (or should).
“They say Fortune is a woman and capricious. But sometimes she is a good woman and gives to those who merit” (512). Ah, meritocracy. If only it really existed.
“Oh dear, yes; appearances have very little to do with happiness” (621).
“People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors” (700). Why don’t we glorify kindness a little more?
The best quote, in my opinion:
“[C]haracter is not cut in marble―it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do” (700). I love this quote. But I love what Dorothea responds even more. She says, “Then it may be rescued and healed” (700).
I hope you enjoyed these pearls of wisdom from Middlemarch. I will treasure this book forever (I know. What a cliché!), and I’m glad I had a chance to write down my random thoughts about it before I’m on to the next big book and forget all of the talent, observations, and wit of George Eliot.
What’s your favorite quote from those above? (Or did I miss any gems from the book?)
Eliot, George. Middlemarch. New York: Modern Library, 2000.