The rapturous consciousness of life beyond self

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The rapturous consciousness of life beyond self

I decided to reread the novel Middlemarch by George Eliot because it is considered one of the great depictions of community life, and when I read it last, probably as a teenager, I wasn’t thinking about community at all. What I’d forgotten is that it is also about female aspiration and the longing for a life of significance. From the opening:

That Spanish woman who lived three hundred years ago, was certainly not the last of her kind. Many Theresas have been born who found for themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity; perhaps a tragic failure which found no sacred poet and sank unwept into oblivion. With dim lights and tangled circumstance they tried to shape their thought and deed in noble agreement; but after all, to common eyes their struggles seemed mere inconsistency and formlessness; for these later-born Theresas were helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul. Their ardor alternated between a vague ideal and the common yearning of womanhood; so that the one was disapproved as extravagance, and the other condemned as a lapse.

Eliot, George (2009-04-22). The Complete Novels of George Eliot (Kindle Locations 46066-46070).

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