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?