THE THINGS WE TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT

Standard

A member of a book group of which I am a desultory member circulated by email yesterday a paragraph for group members to consider discussing when next they meet.  It’s from Middlemarch, by George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross).  In case you are unfamiliar with the novel, Middlemarch is a town in mid-nineteenth century England and Dorothea, mentioned at the beginning of the quoted paragraph, is an idealistic young woman who wants more than a conventional married woman’s life and has therefore married Causaubon, a dry scholar many years her senior, thinking she will find intellectual and personal fulfillment in helping him write a great book.  Mind you, marriage was permanent in that place at that time.  No “Oops! I made a mistake! I want out!”

A truly bad marriage today may not be, for most people,  as irreparable as it was for Dorothea.  But almost all of us have confronted a “new real future” which replaces “the imaginary.” What do you think of the paragraph, especially the part I’ve put in bold?

Not that this inward amazement of Dorothea’s was anything very exceptional; 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. Nor can I suppose that when Mrs. Causaubon is discovered in a fit of weeping six weeks after her wedding, the situation will be regarded as tragic.  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 heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”

Having been blogging and reading blogs for a year and a half now, I am more and more aware that under the torrents of words on the screen, some apparently quite personal (and often beautifully written), there are great silences. That’s certainly true of my own.  And even in the non-digital space of private life, much remains unsaid.  What’s more, do any of us let ourselves hear that roar on the other side of the silence? Don’t we wad our inner ears against it?  Could we bear it if we didn’t?

Or is that too serious a question for a blog?

Advertisements

29 thoughts on “THE THINGS WE TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT

    • Why would you suppose that, Shimon? I would suppose that most of us who began in innocence soon learn otherwise — life has a way of teaching “otherwise” — even if we usually keep it all to ourselves, and even from ourselves, when it’s too painful to contemplate.

      Like

    • I think most of us realize the otherwise very early… and lose our innocence… go through life enjoying the romance… the story… but always aware of what lies behind the story. In some cases, aware even of what we don’t know… aware of our limitations.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It helps to keep despairing when hope is so useless. It buffets one from dissapointment which is often the essence of things. It sounds negative but for me it has always been of great comfort. I read Middlemarch and remember it as a great read but have lost what it was about.
    I am sure that hearing the great silences is what gives my life some meaning and prevents the greatest blight of all, this insane search for happy happy.
    Having been married for over fifty years and with the same woman, I struck gold. Whatever one makes of it, it is finally the kitchen of give and take and may the devil take the hindmost etc.
    Nina; I liked ‘I am a desultary member’.
    (more coming)

    Like

  2. I read Middlemarch in college and in order to join this discussion I must familiarise myself with it again it was a great read so much is said in that book so much . I do remember feeling such despair for Dorothea after her marriage when she had to face the reality rather than the illusion. Two questions often entered my head could young girls read novels like say Wuthering Heights and not be caught looking for our own Heathcliff ? should it be mandatory to read and discuss say Middlemarch or The second Sex in order to grow as women? especially if we have been feeding on romantic novels. Then as a romantic woman still ha ha I am glad I read the romantic novels also , the second time I read wuthering heights as an older person all the illusions were really taken over by reality and I really thought addiction was a major factor in the leading characters oh too be young and romantic , but at what price at least today as you say we can if the marriage is unbearable get out without too many social problems unlike Dorothea’s day when it would have been socially unacceptable. Loved this post it makes me want to study literature again , That roar surely is what we can let loose with blogging , I think I know what you meant though sometimes we write for our readers rather than spill our truisms on the page , what to do ? do we retain a little mystery and therefore become objects of interest or do we bare our souls , our fears and joy with no guarantee that we will not be frowned upon . For the sake of my fellow bloggers I choose to bear my soul I think , I am not completely sure though a bit like Plato’s cave , I keep creeping back inside ha ha . Kind regards Kathy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The post certainly opened up a rich vein of thought and feeling for you, Kathy. Shall we conclude with your “[l]oved this post; it makes me want to study literature again”? That’s certainly one of the best ways to get in touch with our silences, and the roar behind them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just love the energy in your posts ,it is so refreshing . one of my favourite books was Simone de Beauvoir’s The second sex , I liked what she had to say about bad faith and often feel I am letting her down if I neglect to do something I really want to do , I do sometimes think she would have been a little disappointed in the way some of us females have not helped each other discover ways to overcome ‘the other’ she often refers to in that book. The one thing she feared was that when women got so far with equality they would just leave it at that, do you think women have equality taking into account that we must make allowances for our nature ;have we come together enough to overcome being mothers and grandmothers , after reading her book I envisaged that women could greatly enhance each others lives by sharing the child minding etc but this has not really happened much rather than sharing the child-minding etc women have made a business out of it surely it would be much more wholesome if we had all got together and helped each other to climb the corporate ladders knowing the childminding was shared etc , ha ha you really don’t need to reply to this , but if you do have views on that book I would love to hear them roars and all . Kind regards Kathy.

        Like

  3. I, too, read Middlemarch decades ago and have forgotten much. I do remember appreciating it at the time. Thank you Nina for bringing these questions to us. I like it when people bring deep questions, even if I can’t answer, it gives me something to think about. I love the sentence, ‘As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.’ This says so much. I guess I have done this for much of my life. I’m hoping I can drop the wadding now. I must look for my copy of the book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Much of our social fabric is wadding, Barbara. Think: television, most movies, chit-chat, the comment sections in many blogs, male bonding over sports. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So you’re certainly not alone; we’ve all done this for most of our lives. One (unintended) bonus of the post: The quoted paragraph seems to be driving many of us to look for the book again.

      Like

      • A quote from Robert Owen that my mother used to say,’ All the wold is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer.’ I think this sums up the dilemma for me. As I get older the more true it seems. xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Your mother’s version links to the Middlemarch quote better than the version I heard when growing up: “All the world is crazy but you and me, and sometimes I suspect you a little.”

        Like

  4. “Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual…” This happens so many times in life, not just in a marriage, but in education, in work, in all relationships – or the absence of relationships; when circumstances aren’t as we imagined or people aren’t what we believed or hoped them to be. Reality bites, but it is no excuse for depression – because it is just the experience of life, rather than the stuff of dreams.

    As for the silence… I would only say, if mine were an anonymous blog, it would be louder – much louder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, Julie. As usual, I can count on you to get past Dorothea’s unfortunate marriage, as I intended, to what I was really suggesting. Love your last sentence. (Although even so, it seems to me there are some things too difficult to put into words.)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Plenty to shout about under a cloak of anonymity. But yes, some things even then would be too difficult to put into words. And, always, there are other experiences and thoughts which must simply remain – even in our ‘sharing’ world – forever private and personal.

    Like

  6. Love this exchange. I try to be anonymous – but anonymity is hard to preserve. And it is the mere act of making it more real by writing it out that is often the truly scary part – more frightening sometimes than the idea of being known or discovered for who you are.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t find your question too serious for a blog at all. In fact, after some reflection, I confess I wad my ears against much of the noise; I do think doing so preserves our sanity. But, sometimes the noise makes its way through the wadding and at those times I try to listen, difficult though it may be. Finally, I deliberately choose not to discuss what I hear in my blog.

    Like

  8. Thank you, Nina, for reminding me of the kind of thing that makes ‘Middlemarch’ such a treasure–paragraphs such as this, that make your heart go ‘zing’ as George Eliot hits on the head nail after nail!
    Middlemarch is now right at the top of my Must-re-read Masterpieces.

    As for your questions:
    What’s more, do any of us let ourselves hear that roar on the other side of the silence?
    [Very occasionally. In my 86 years, I can count the number of such occasions on one hand.]

    Don’t we wad our inner ears against it?
    [Of course. But a little of that roar sometimes sneaks past the waddiest of wads.]

    Could we bear it if we didn’t?
    [No.]

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This question interests me deeply as a writer.
    I only read Middlemarch a year ago for the first time. I was struck, on every page, by the sharpness of her perception about the human condition.
    My work in experimental psychology placed me for many periods in a soundproof room, giving normal, healthy people innocuous words and asking for their first memory relating to that word. Time after time, at the end of the session, as I debriefed our positive, confident, cheery volunteers (of all ages), I would find that they were coping, with tragedies or chronic problems of devastating proportions.
    I believe very few people get through life without setbacks, some are luckier than others over the nature and duration of them and the support they receive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course you’re right, Hilary, about the human condition. (Life itself is a tragedy, if you consider its end.) That may be why this post in particular of all my posts has invited such an outpouring of substantive response. As for Middlemarch, you may be fortunate in having read it only recently for the first time. Its perceptions become more impressive the older one is when reading it.

      Like

  10. I must have a conversation with my daughters, who read (and fell for) Middlemarch in their teens and are now in their thirties. Certainly it was good to read it in old(er) age. I often feel guilt at the very kindness with which fortune has treated me (and it is clear that this is not so for some of your other readers, never mind the wider world). Yet even I, living in comfort, safety and a 40-year happy marriage, have had some very long dark years. Darkness is, of course, relative, and I always planned to restrict my blog to specific areas. The roar would be too great if we all let rip online, but for some it is the only and understandable outlet.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I can hear the roar. It’s what I read for and it’s why I write. I don’t think it’s necessarily dark, but it is the truth–the unspoken truth that grows in direct proportion to the silence. Each time we speak the truth, the silence shrinks a bit, and we scrape a sliver off the roar.

    But, I hear a lot of other things too, things that drown out the roar. I think some writers can only, could only, hear the roar–David Foster Wallace, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath. Lidia Yuknavitch does a good job of hearing and writing about the roar, as does Jeanette Winterson.

    Like

    • What a beautiful comment, Cynthia. I too read for the roar, and sometimes try to touch on it in writing. However, I agree with George Eliot that if we heard it all, not just as it affects our own lives but all the lives of others, we could not bear it and should die. Some wadding, of some sort, may be necessary to go on living.

      Like

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s