Editor’s Note: “Take and Read” is a weekly blog that features other contributors’ thoughts on a specific book that changed their life. Good books, according to Congregation of St. Agnes Sr. Dianne Bergant and Michael Daley, “can inspire, affirm, challenge, change, and disturb.”
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life
by George Eliot
(William Blackwood and Sons, 1871-72)
Personal comments from a famous novelist led me to read George Eliot in June 1976, after receiving my master’s degree from the University of Chicago. At the time, I was making a case to include in my doctoral dissertation, which would demonstrate the usefulness of H. Richard Niebuhr’s “ethics of responsibility” for literary criticism.
In 1976, I did not read much of Niebuhr; What impressed me most at the time was what FR Leavis, a Cambridge University professor, wrote about Eliot, whose original name was Mary Ann Evans (1819-80). In The Great Story (1948), Leavis described him as one of the best novelists, despite the diversity of his writing. Leavis believes that Eliot’s strength lies in his “maturity,” and his weaknesses in “immaturity,” which (to him) is evident in the opinion about some of his novels, which is considered a woman.
Leavis agreed Middlemarch (1871-72) was Eliot’s greatest work, but he felt he was most identified with his heroine, Dorothea Brooke, comparing this young woman to her lover Will Ladislaw and releasing much to them from the humor he showed to others.
When Leavis turns to Eliot’s last book, Daniel Deronda (1876), which dealt with the themes of Jewish knowledge, found that he was guilty of greater errors: “Victorian wisdom is important in its Zionist efforts, but it does not undermine these ideas … The relationship between the intellectual Victorian and the woman … comes naturally and false. … Deronda … decides, that is what women do .”
What’s the point in the world? Leavis tells us more in “George Eliot’s Zionist Novel” (Statement of issue1960): “The provincial, lower-middle-class girl established herself as an icon of the English intellectual world as a teenager. has been a woman. She is a complete woman, with the virtues of a woman.”
In 1976, I felt that Leavis himself was guilty of suppressing the idea, and felt that he kept misogyny from being fully appreciated in the fiction and Eliot. To test that hypothesis, I began to study his actions closely.
That summer, I read Middlemarch a Daniel Deronda, then turns to Evans’ stories, which are beautiful and exciting. I also read a novel by Gordon Haight, and I approached his first novel, not caring at first sight. Silas Marner in high school.
From this reading grew a deep and lasting relationship with Mary Ann Evans, who, like me, had read Thomas à Kempis’ The likeness of Christ thankful for his youth, but unlike me, he left the devout Christianity of his childhood when he encountered serious Bible study in his 20s.
I, on the other hand, spent (most of) my 20s in a starched white coif and a long black habit, reading what was available in libraries and including syllabi for courses taken at Catholic institutions in an 11-year pursuit of a bachelor’s. degree in English is the old, first form of sister.
After two years in my novitiate in Rome, NY, I was sent to study at the age of 19. I spent nine years collecting credits, mainly through courses taken held after school, on Saturdays, during the summer. I followed the same plan to get my bachelor’s degree in English, taking classes at the University of Maryland depending on what was offered 4-6 pm or 7- 9 pm summer sessions.
I reduced the teaching load in my last semester there, and I was able to write the interdisciplinary thesis “Eschatological Perspective in the Major Novels of Graham Greene” which helped me get into the Chicago Divinity School program. School in religion and literature in 1973, although there are only eight undergraduate credits in religion, two of them in Gregorian chant.
I have felt the call to be a theologian since I studied the documents of Vatican II in 1967 and heard the talks of Monika Hellwig and Bernard Cooke at the same time. In the summer of 1969, I studied German as a student, and I asked my friends to send me to study theology full time in 1973.
My plan is to enter divinity school through a program that builds on my literature studies, then take theology and ethics courses to become a theologian. When I chose Chicago over other options, I wanted to avoid something I feared, perhaps innocently, from Catholic homes, namely, being humiliated as a religious woman. However, I wanted a place to learn from important Catholic scholars, and Bernard McGinn and David Tracy were at the Chicago School.
When I met the great critics of religion — Nietzsche, Freud, Marx — and modern atheists and agnostics, thinkers like Paul Ricoeur found ways to understand the problems that allowed me to develop a “two. naiveté” type of faith. In Mary Ann Evans’ day, however, the only realistic option she could see was to abandon the comforts of Christianity as a scientist.
I admire the courage and honesty she showed in making decisions as a young woman, and the openness she later showed in coming to see the value of religious tradition he did not support himself. I know, of course, that his contemporaries John Henry Newman and Matthew Arnold had different ways of dealing with the Victorian problem of faith, and I think that’s part of the appeal and Eliot to me is to see the comparison between the problems raised by the members of the church for him. in the 1840s and those that emerged in the 1970s about sexuality in Christianity.
In 1976, I realized that the choices for Catholics who believed in the equal dignity of both women were made by Mary Daly, who renounced all patriarchal religions, and Rosemary Radford Ruether, who who thought of the Christian Gospel in its balanced form, The job is to reinterpret and correct the tradition. Four years ago, I published my first essay on feminist ethics: a piece in Sister Formation Bulletin calling for the inclusion of women in all Catholic ministries, and a critical examination of “Sex-Role Stereotyping and Catholic Education.”
Imagine my delight when I discovered that George Eliot pre-dated me by more than a century, presenting Dinah Morris as the best speaker in Adam Bede (1859), and showing the problematic effects of sexist ideas and social arrangements in many works, including Middlemarch a Daniel Deronda!
I was defeated from the beginning Middlemarch when Eliot introduces his main character, Dorothea Brooke, she lacks the “faith and order” found when St.
Eliot considered all his novels to be “experiments in life,” and in this work he created an experiment that featured two young men, Tertius Lydgate, a doctor who intended to conduct research important when treating patients, and Dorothea, a good woman as well. the landing class, who felt in her youth that the only way to achieve important things was to marry a middle-class pedant, Edward Casaubon, and help him publish his “Key to All Mythologies.”
In the end, Lydgate leaves Middlemarch humiliated by the problems found there, and blames his misfortunes on his own wife, Rosamond Vincy. Dorothea’s first husband died before she could carry out her old project, and she ended up content to do good in the world as the wife of Will Ladislaw, “a powerful public figure” who make corrections through the White House.
Although Dorothea’s influence was not “historical”, it was judged a worthy success, while Lydgate, who had shown such promise in his youth, died in pain and unhappiness. Dorothea also suffered, but she saw the harmony of all life and her part in it, and she was able to overcome the experiences that led to sadness and depression. However, Lydgate did not end up seeing himself as alienated by others around him, especially the other woman he chose to marry.
When I finished reading MiddlemarchI have no doubt that the respected critic FR Leavis missed one of the most important insights that George Eliot gained from this “experiment in life,” namely, the damage it did to women. a men by the sexist ideas and social arrangements presented in Middlemarch. The novel also revealed other ideas that became important to me, including the social aspects of conscience, but Eliot’s critique of gender comparisons made the most sense to me. the first time. Finding a lot of evidence against the sexism of a prominent journalist in 1976 gave me confidence in my own opinion and raised my awareness of the importance of taking a feminist perspective. in Catholic theology and ethics.
[Sr. Anne E. Patrick is William H. Laird Professor of Religion and the Liberal Arts, emerita, at Carleton College, Northfield, Minn. She is a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.]