Last time reading Silas, chapter 16, (text here) I’d been thinking about modes of knowing things about our lives: thinking and feeling. We had read about Dolly Winthrop turning her attention to the old problem of Silas’ traumatic early life. And today she comes back to it.
Having trouble with Dolly’s country accent? Read it aloud and take it slowly:
Dolly was too useful a woman not to have many opportunities of illumination of the kind she alluded to, and she was not long before she recurred to the subject.
“Master Marner,” she said, one day that she came to bring home Eppie’s washing, “I’ve been sore puzzled for a good bit wi’ that trouble o’ yourn and the drawing o’ lots; and it got twisted back’ards and for’ards, as I didn’t know which end to lay hold on. But it come to me all clear like, that night when I was sitting up wi’ poor Bessy Fawkes, as is dead and left her children behind, God help ’em–it come to me as clear as daylight; but whether I’ve got hold on it now, or can anyways bring it to my tongue’s end, that I don’t know. For I’ve often a deal inside me as’ll never come out; and for what you talk o’ your folks in your old country niver saying prayers by heart nor saying ’em out of a book, they must be wonderful cliver; for if I didn’t know “Our Father”, and little bits o’ good words as I can carry out o’ church wi’ me, I might down o’ my knees every night, but nothing could I say.”
“But you can mostly say something as I can make sense on, Mrs. Winthrop,” said Silas
“Well, then, Master Marner, it come to me summat like this: I can make nothing o’ the drawing o’ lots and the answer coming wrong; it ‘ud mayhap take the parson to tell that, and he could only tell us i’ big words. But what come to me as clear as the daylight, it was when I was troubling over poor Bessy Fawkes, and it allays comes into my head when I’m sorry for folks, and feel as I can’t do a power to help ’em, not if I was to get up i’ the middle o’ the night– it comes into my head as Them above has got a deal tenderer heart nor what I’ve got–for I can’t be anyways better nor Them as made me; and if anything looks hard to me, it’s because there’s things I don’t know on; and for the matter o’ that, there may be plenty o’ things I don’t know on, for it’s little as I know–that it is. And so, while I was thinking o’ that, you come into my mind, Master Marner, and it all come pouring in:–if _I_ felt i’ my inside what was the right and just thing by you, and them as prayed and drawed the lots, all but that wicked un, if _they_’d ha’ done the right thing by you if they could, isn’t there Them as was at the making on us, and knows better and has a better will? And that’s all as ever I can be sure on, and everything else is a big puzzle to me when I think on it. For there was the fever come and took off them as were full-growed, and left the helpless children; and there’s the breaking o’ limbs; and them as ‘ud do right and be sober have to suffer by them as are contrairy–eh, there’s trouble i’ this world, and there’s things as we can niver make out the rights on. And all as we’ve got to do is to trusten, Master Marner–to do the right thing as fur as we know, and to trusten. For if us as knows so little can see a bit o’ good and rights, we may be sure as there’s a good and a rights bigger nor what we can know–I feel it i’ my own inside as it must be so. And if you could but ha’ gone on trustening, Master Marner, you wouldn’t ha’ run away from your fellow-creaturs and been so lone.”
This is probably almost enough for a Shared Reading session by the time we’ve really read it and considered Dolly’s words. I’d first want to stop and think about Dolly, who tells us about her own relation to her own thoughts:
but whether I’ve got hold on it now, or can anyways bring it to my tongue’s end, that I don’t know. For I’ve often a deal inside me as’ll never come out;
This uneducated, illiterate, country woman is a thinker, though she doesn’t have as much language as she needs for some of the complicated things she needs to think about. I would be keen to consider how many of us have thoughts or feelings or ways of knowing inside us that can’t come out, and for me this would be a chance to introduce a really big thought into the group. That thought comes from the psychotherapist Wilfred Bion and I’ve written about it here and elsewhere before because it seems to me central to some of our biggest problems.
If a person cannot ‘think’ with his thoughts, that is to say that he has thoughts but lacks the apparatus of ‘thinking’ which enables him to use his thoughts, to think them as it were, then the personality is incapable of learning from experience. This failure is serious. Failure to eat, drink or breathe properly has disastrous consequences for life itself. Failure to use emotional experience produces a comparable disaster in the development of the personality.
W.R.Bion, Learning From Experience
Dolly is one of those remarkable human beings whose power of thought is so great that she finds ways of thinking – using her emotional experience to understand life and lives – all that stuff she refers to as ‘a deal inside me as’ll never come out’ – without much in the way of formal language to help her do so.
And what is ‘thought’ anyway, in such a context? It’s not an academic, or even a rational, spelling an argument out by logic. It feels deeper than that. I’m thinking more of a deliberate, concentrated engagement with life, but an engagement, a grappling with, that takes place internally. As a maker, say a cook or a potter, grapples with the physical materials of their trade, a thinker like Dolly Winthrop grapples mentally with the stuff of life. Not in language perhaps but in pure thought/feeling, in gut responses.
Would you take the Bion quotation to a Shared Reading group? Why not? I’m really interested in it and I think it helps me think some things about the experience of being a human…Would you take it to any Shared Reading group? No, I@d take it somewhere where I thought there would be readers who because of our previous Shared REading would be able to respond with some sort of confidence. But I’d still take it 80% of groups I’ve been in. People are intersted in thinking – trust them!
But to return to the text! Dolly, thinking in her own feeling way, finds thoughts forming when she is tending the sick or doing other practical things for people in the village and,
it comes into my head as Them above has got a deal tenderer heart nor what I’ve got–for I can’t be anyways better nor Them as made me; and if anything looks hard to me, it’s because there’s things I don’t know on; and for the matter o’ that, there may be plenty o’ things I don’t know on, for it’s little as I know–that it is.
Now I probably need to stay here a while to feel out my responses to this, and those responses come on a number of levels.
For Dolly, God (though it is interesting she refers to God as ‘Them’) is above and made us, made humans. So far, so primitive – old man or men or higher caste folk up in the sky who create us. This thought has been around for humans since we began to develop language and perhaps even before. All over the world, early human conceived of God or Gods, who made and affect humans. Dolly is part of a long-established tradition that seems to fit only loosely with the Christianity she experiences every week at Church, most of which, by over own admission, goes over her head. She has the feeling of there being a ‘Them above’ and that is enough for her to work with.
She believes ‘I can’t be anyways better nor Them as made me’, which you might read as Dolly being a humble working woman and knowing her place. I think it is deeper and odder than that. Dolly seems very certain of it – her ‘anyways’ points that way. She feels there is ‘them’ and that they are both mysterious and benign. Shes not better than them, they are better than her. Better in what way? They created her – whatever they are.
if anything looks hard to me, it’s because there’s things I don’t know on;
Better in how they understand, comprehend? Dolly’s incomprehension – why is there suffering if God is good – is an old theological problem, but she doesn’t know that: she only knows she feels the problem and she doesn’t know an answer. And she takes her own ignorance as a strange comfort. This is Dolly, without a complex theological language, yet able to think her thoughts.
When I read this I am thinking about forces in life, patterns, necessities, underlying structures in our experience. When I read ‘Them above’ I am thinking – hhhmm there is no God in that sense, there’s no above, there’s only in everything, through everything. Then I make myself rethink that. Take out the ‘only’, which is rarely a good word or thought response.
There’s everything. In the sense of its enormous complexity it is certainly above my head. When I think of everything I realise that like Dolly, I don’t know much.
I have to leave to one side, for now, her thought,
if anything looks hard to me, it’s because there’s things I don’t know on;
because I don’t believe that: I believe if anything looks hard to me it’s because it is hard. I don’t expect the universe to be kind, everything to be ultimately good. I don’t believe in a loving personal God.
Oh dear, back to that rocky place again. Will continue with this tomorrow.