“I have a belief of my own, and it comforts me.””What is that?” said Will, rather jealous of the belief.”That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil—widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower.””That is a beautiful mysticism—it is a—”
“Please not to call it by any name,” said Dorothea, putting out her hands entreatingly. “You will say it is Persian, or something else geographical. It is my life. I have found it out, and cannot part with it. I have always been finding out my religion since I was a little girl. I used to pray so much—now I hardly ever pray. I try not to have desires merely for myself, because they may not be good for others, and I have too much already. I only told you, that you might know quite well how my days go at Lowick.”
“God bless you for telling me!” said Will, ardently, and rather wondering at himself. They were looking at each other like two fond children who were talking confidentially of birds.
“What is your religion?” said Dorothea. “I mean—not what you know about religion, but the belief that helps you most?”
“To love what is good and beautiful when I see it,” said Will. “But I am a rebel: I don’t feel bound, as you do, to submit to what I don’t like.”
“But if you like what is good, that comes to the same thing,” said Dorothea, smiling. (p. 387)
What Dorothea can’t part with…well, nothing sums it up better than the novel’s final paragraph but I won’t quote it here, in part because no matter how many times I re-read it, it makes me weep. But it’s something to do, to put it in decidedly un-Eliot-like and non-mellifluous terms, about bringing all of one’s guts and loyalty to the relationships that matter–and they all matter. And gentleness, so much gentleness, which is everything because others “may seem idle and weak because they are growing. We should be very patient with each other” (p. 80). There are so many moments like this; scratch this, the whole thing, every word, constitutes a moment like this–one of supreme and humbling generosity.
In Casaubonesque futility, I could just keep amassing journals of important Middlemarch quotations until I finally felt like I had everything I needed to finally write something worthy of my subject matter…but then I would simply have reproduced the novel in its entirety. Which might, actually, be the only monument that could do justice to Eliot’s genius. Certainly nothing I produce can do so.
*I use this word far too much. I know this. But alternatives such as consummate, supreme, or unsurpassed just don’t really cover the beauty of the literary perfection I want to convey here. Superlative is, itself, a lovely word; ugly, neutral, or workman like words simply aren’t adequate.