Thursday, January 8, 2015

George Eliot

Yesterday I came across two independent salutes to Brit Lit's George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans). Guess I need to read Middlemarch. I'll put it on the nightstand, right under War and Peace and The Phenomenology of Spirit.*
...the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. 
That's how Middlemarch ends, marvelously. I was alerted to it by her greatest fan, Rebecca Mead, who also shines a light on Eliot's philosophical smarts. For instance:
“Love does not say 'I ought to love'—it loves. Pity does not say, 'It is right to be pitiful'
—it pities. Justice does not say,'I am bound to be just'—it feels justly.” She goes on 
to say that dependency upon a rule or theory only  when moral emotion is weak. "We think experience, both in literature and in life, has shown that the minds which are pre-eminently didactic—which insist on a lesson and despise everything that will not convey a moral, are deficient in sympathetic emotion,” she writes. My Life in Middlemarch
Score that for Hume, against Kant, and against all hyper-intellectualism in philosophical ethics.

The other salute came from Robert Coles in his intro to volume 7 of William James's Correspondence,  noting Eliot's (and Tolstoy's) superior psychological acuity to that of most professional psychologists. Probably true still, certainly so in their time.

*Existential Comics - The Return Counter
I can give you the regular version, or for an extra $2.50 you can get the original Russian.

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