Silas Marner Day 27 : A Quickening and a Growth Mindset and then Dress That Baby!

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Some growth mind set yellow flowers at Kew – at least tewn feet tall – what are they?

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly here (search ‘Silas Marner’) and  intermittently for a few months. I’m in Chapter 14, at the point where Dolly Winthrop is offering to  help Silas in looking after the child. I want to read this chapter very slowly, stopping to think a lot about Dolly, and why she matters as a human model. Why do I love Dolly Winthrop so much? She’s astute and quick, which is deeply attractive, but it’s her loving kindness, too, that pulls me towards her. Here is Silas, not just a bachelor, but an oddball, who has been called a witch and probably worse, in the village and is known to have fits; what does Dolly see? A human creature vulnerably roused to life by caring for a baby;

 “Eh, to be sure,” said Dolly, gently. “I’ve seen men as are wonderful handy wi’ children. The men are awk’ard and contrairy mostly, God help ’em–but when the drink’s out of ’em, they aren’t unsensible, though they’re bad for leeching and bandaging–so fiery and unpatient. You see this goes first, next the skin,” proceeded Dolly, taking up the little shirt, and putting it on.

“Yes,” said Marner, docilely, bringing his eyes very close, that they might be initiated in the mysteries; whereupon Baby seized his head with both her small arms, and put her lips against his face with purring noises.

“See there,” said Dolly, with a woman’s tender tact, “she’s fondest o’ you. She wants to go o’ your lap, I’ll be bound. Go, then: take her, Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then you can say as you’ve done for her from the first of her coming to you.”

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child. He took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted, of course, by Baby’s gymnastics.

Dolly’s general observations about men are undercut by specifics she has observed and noted, (‘I’ve seen men as are wonderful handy wi’ children’). There’s also the loving ,uncritical ‘god help ’em’ which seems to forgive or at least generously accept the general ways of things. But what I really love here is the inconsequential conversational meander from men being bad at leeching and bandaging ‘so fiery and unpatient’ with barely a full stop between her kind instruction to Silas, ‘You see this goes first, next the skin.’

She’s teaching and talking, talking partly almost to herself. Silas  has so much to learn – not just about the baby, but about being in a room with another creature, about conversation. Everything in this scene feels to me tender, almost raw, there’s something almost baby-like about Silas himself, he is a creature just born into this new part of life.  How lovely to have Dolly alongside. When the baby grabs him, she takes it as a clue:

“See there,” said Dolly, with a woman’s tender tact, “she’s fondest o’ you. She wants to go o’ your lap, I’ll be bound. Go, then: take her, Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then you can say as you’ve done for her from the first of her coming to you.”

Is Dolly imagining here, with an instinctive growth mindset, what will happen to Silas as the years of raising this child unfold? She is a parent herself. It’s the thought – that Silas might want, need, to say he has done for the baby from the first, that I find so moving. Dolly imagining the pride and sense of achievement Silas will build. I know right now that she is going to be a good friend, a guide, to him through whatever lies ahead. This generous – you take it – act is an act of belief. A less tactful, or a less sensitive, or a less feeling intelligence, would simply have dressed the child, instructing Silas verbally.  But Dolly trusts him and hands over.

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child. He took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted, of course, by Baby’s gymnastics.

I’d want to reread Silas’ trembling  ‘something unknown dawning on his life’  and ask my group have you ever had that feeling of something irrevocably serious in your life? Can we imagine how that feels?

My group will say things like:

I felt like  when I made my wedding vows.

I felt like it when I got my divorce papers someone else will laugh.

I felt it  when I got my diagnosis, though it wasn’t a happy feeling like this is, it was like, oh, this is my life now.

I felt it when my first child was born.

I’d want to think about how those feelings felt and whether or not we can think when we are feeling so much. I’d want to look again at the words in the paragraph;

Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child.

Silas is thinking  (gold/child/child/gold)  and feeling (gold/child/child/gold) at the same time. We know he loved the gold, felt warm companionship  when he gazed on the faces of the coins. But the word ‘love’ isn’t here, we only know, and he only knows, it is ‘an emotion mysterious to himself’. It is deeper than language or thought, this exchange of one love object for another. And dressing the child, taking parental responsibility for her, soon elbows complicated  language-less feeling aside.  In the next sentence he is dealing with baby’s gymnastics. So life pushes us on.

 

Things being Brilliant at Kew

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Agapanthus and Echinacea  in  The Broad Walk Border at Kew

Yesterday I went to Kew Gardens to attend the People’s Postcode Lottery Gathering 2017 – imagine a family and friends  party on a large-scale, with third cousins from every part of the  country and others flying in from much farther flung places, catch-up chats, meeting new people, delightful sausage rolls, very hot in the conservatory – phew –  and instead of the bouncy castle,  an inspirational speaker in the form of  Jonathan Peach to remind everyone to be the best version of themselves they could be, ‘every day is a best pants  day’.  That certainly gave me something to think about, and  this morning I surveyed my underwear drawer with new eyes.

I had set out early from my friends’ place in Highbury by overground train, intending to arrive early – the gathering was to start  about 11.00, and Kew Gardens  opens at 10.00. I’ve never been there before so was hoping I’d get an hours walk in before the day started to enjoy the Great Broad Walk Border. And so I did! Imagine you are an LFC supporter visiting Anfield for the first time, or a clothes maniac at British Fashion Week. That’s how this gardener felt at Kew,  drunk on it,  physically light-headed, overwhelmed with  delight.

Talk about inspiration. The word must be about fresh spirit –  I look it up in the Etymological Dictionary. Yes – inhaling, breathing in, being breathed into…I felt the great work of Kew inspiring me like lovely  great heady lungfuls of air.

I haven’t managed to do for my garden what this blog has helped me do for reading and writing –  developing (an almost) daily practice. My poor garden, love it as I do, suffers from lack of my loving time and attention – I’m so intermittent! But  seeing those borders –  the art of horticulture at the height of  energetic excellence – hugely encouraged me.

I don’t expect Jonathan Peach got out for a walk during the day,  but if he had, he’d have seen something being brilliant, made by the brilliance of a very dedicated team: I saw  lots of staff and volunteers working. But I also thought about the people I couldn’t see right now – the planners and plantsmen and women, the marketeers and accountants, the cleaners,  who had made ‘Kew’ happen. The Walk was big enough not to seem busy, but there were plenty of visitors at 10.10am. Gorgeous to see how many small children were enjoying the flowers.

I loved the plans/180 drawings that allowed me to  read the names of everything in each section of the border. I imagined someone working on the plans and later when Jonathan spoke about ‘right to left’ thinking, I remembered those plans.

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Plan of one section of the Great Broad Walk Borders

I remembered in my early twenties reading a short story by Virginia Woolf, ‘Kew Gardens’.  You’ll find it here. I remembered the blank puzzlement the story provoked, and when I reread it  this morning,  I felt some of that again. I read  everything Virginia Woolf ever wrote in my early twenties – she was a woman writer! I wanted a role model! But she was so posh! I don’t know if I realised that at the time, how class-bound she was… how far-off and other-world. She was writing about worlds I had  never imagined, never seen. Kew Gardens! And those people strolling. Somehow this connects to the odd sense of relief I had when I visited D.H. Lawrence’s childhood home in Bestwood – the two up two down terrace was just like the house my grandparents  had lived in, at  Eldon Terrace, Neston.  I can remember  a strong feeling of  connection –  he knows about my life. Not a feeling I usually seek in literature – at least not in that top level  way, we worethe same boots  kind of way.  This is something to think about another day.

When I reread the story this morning I  thought, she has caught some of that sense of life-connection between the flowers, the snail, the people, as if the people are part of the life of the gardens, moving in and  through them:

The figures of these men and women straggled past the flower-bed with a curiously irregular movement not unlike that of the white and blue butterflies who crossed the turf in zig-zag flights from bed to bed. The man was about six inches in front of the woman, strolling carelessly, while she bore on with greater purpose, only turning her head now and then to see that the children were not too far behind. The man kept this distance in front of the woman purposely, though perhaps unconsciously, for he wished to go on with his thoughts.

I liked very much the lens moving from close up minutiae to expanded horizon, like the almost scientific observation of the snail:

In the oval flower bed the snail, whose shell had been stained red, blue, and yellow for the space of two minutes or so, now appeared to be moving very slightly in its shell, and next began to labour over the crumbs of loose earth which broke away and rolled down as it passed over them. It appeared to have a definite goal in front of it, differing in this respect from the singular high stepping angular green insect who attempted to cross in front of it, and waited for a second with its antennæ trembling as if in deliberation, and then stepped off as rapidly and strangely in the opposite direction. Brown cliffs with deep green lakes in the hollows, flat, blade-like trees that waved from root to tip, round boulders of grey stone, vast crumpled surfaces of a thin crackling texture–all these objects lay across the snail’s progress between one stalk and another to his goal. Before he had decided whether to circumvent the arched tent of a dead leaf or to breast it there came past the bed the feet of other human beings.

And the procession of passers-by is still there –  first these Americans, then this grandfather and the three little girls, now two  nannies with  blond  babies in buggies, now an Indian family taking many pictures, here a serious photographer very close to the Coneflowers,  there an old lady reading on a  recessed bench, and now me, on my way to the Gathering…

I’d mentioned Pope yesterday and Clare  responded to remind me both of  Virginia Woolf and  the wonderful dog Diogenes in Dickens’ Dombey and Son. That  made me think I might sometime read  things about dogs here…meanwhile  I enjoyed the statue of the White Greyhound of Richmond, and here he is, outside the Palm House:

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A meeting at Kew

View from a friend’s flat into a London garden.

I’m travelling to Kew this morning and no time for daily practice but thinking of the couplet Alexander Pope had engraved on the collar of a dog he gave to the Prince of Wales…

I am his Highness’ dog at Kew;

Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

Silas Marner Day 26: Dolly Winthrop and Shakespeare’s Paulina, my top women

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Mature Beauties in the Long Border at Calderstones 11 August

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly here (search ‘Silas Marner’) intermittently for a few months. I’m in Chapter 14, at the point where Dolly Winthrop is offering to  help Silas in looking after the child.

Long quotations this morning, but I want to emphasis how important it is to read slowly and to notice things. People may  initially struggle with the way in which George Eliot writes dialect. No need to over-worry about that. Just read slowly and stop whenever  anyone is troubled. I don’t think it matters what kind  of accent you land on for reading – mine veers around from county to county!

Here’s Silas and Dolly as Dolly brings him clothes for the child. Let’s read  this aloud before we go on:

“Yes,” said Silas, meditatively. “Yes–the door was open. The money’s gone I don’t know where, and this is come from I don’t know where.”

He had not mentioned to any one his unconsciousness of the child’s entrance, shrinking from questions which might lead to the fact he himself suspected–namely, that he had been in one of his trances.

“Ah,” said Dolly, with soothing gravity, “it’s like the night and the morning, and the sleeping and the waking, and the rain and the harvest–one goes and the other comes, and we know nothing how nor where. We may strive and scrat and fend, but it’s little we can do arter all–the big things come and go wi’ no striving o’ our’n– they do, that they do; and I think you’re in the right on it to keep the little un, Master Marner, seeing as it’s been sent to you, though there’s folks as thinks different. You’ll happen be a bit moithered with it while it’s so little; but I’ll come, and welcome, and see to it for you: I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, for when one gets up betimes i’ the morning, the clock seems to stan’ still tow’rt ten, afore it’s time to go about the victual. So, as I say, I’ll come and see to the child for you, and welcome.”

“Thank you… kindly,” said Silas, hesitating a little. “I’ll be glad if you’ll tell me things. But,” he added, uneasily, leaning forward to look at Baby with some jealousy, as she was resting her head backward against Dolly’s arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a distance–“But I want to do things for it myself, else it may get fond o’ somebody else, and not fond o’ me. I’ve been used to fending for myself in the house–I can learn, I can learn.”

Dolly is one of my favourite women in literature. If she was to be in a Shakespeare play, she’d be Paulina, in The Winter’s Tale. I might want to stop here, after only a few lines and get my group thinking about her and her womanly wisdom. So I’d pick out this philosophical sentence which would give us all a chance to think about big things that had come, or gone, in our own lives:

We may strive and scrat and fend, but it’s little we can do arter all–the big things come and go wi’ no striving o’ our’n– they do, that they do;

A lot of the conversation which is typical of a Shared Re ading group would arise out of this – what can you control and what can’t you control – and we might be talking to each other for some time about our real experiences. But before we read on, I’d want to stop again to see some of the busy practicality of Dolly:

and I think you’re in the right on it to keep the little un, Master Marner, seeing as it’s been sent to you, though there’s folks as thinks different. You’ll happen be a bit moithered with it while it’s so little; but I’ll come, and welcome, and see to it for you: I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, for when one gets up betimes i’ the morning, the clock seems to stan’ still tow’rt ten, afore it’s time to go about the victual.

In the first sentence, she’s providing moral support in a world of village gossip where the possibility of a man taking care of a child is unlikely and odd –  as we saw from the Cass party, people would prefer if  the child went  to the workhouse, just as these days , the proper channels of Local Authority Care might be seen as the right  course of action. Dolly wants to make it clear she supports Silas, ‘seeing as its been sent to you.’ But after this she’s on to what the actual experience of taking in a toddler will be like – ‘You’ll happen be a bit moithered with it while it’s so little’. And from there to practical help: ‘but I’ll come, and welcome, and see to it for you: I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, ‘. And finally, we see something of her character.  she’s a busy intelligence, and not enough demands on made on her, ‘I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, for when one gets up betimes i’ the morning, the clock seems to stan’ still tow’rt ten, afore it’s time to go about the victual.’

Interesting that the power of Silas’ feeling for the child (or for his own needs) allows him the courage to argue with Dolly:

“Thank you… kindly,” said Silas, hesitating a little. “I’ll be glad if you’ll tell me things. But,” he added, uneasily, leaning forward to look at Baby with some jealousy, as she was resting her head backward against Dolly’s arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a distance–“But I want to do things for it myself, else it may get fond o’ somebody else, and not fond o’ me. I’ve been used to fending for myself in the house–I can learn, I can learn.”

I love the observation here in the body language of the child – it’s like a lovely quick sketch by a very confident artist; the child is ‘resting her head backward against Dolly’s arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a distance’.

Silas understands his own motives very clearly – so powerful and straightforward are they, ‘But I want to do things for it myself, else it may get fond o’ somebody else, and not fond o’ me.’

This self-interest leads to a key change. Where  before Silas has been stuck in his long years of spider-like repetitive behaviour, he now has motivation to change. It’s a great moment when he tells Dolly, ‘I can learn, I can learn.’

The next section is astonishingly tender, and seems built from the feelings new parents might have as they struggle to dress a brand new baby – but time’s up. I’ll paste it here in case you want to read it now. More tomorrow – no, not tomorrow as busy  early London day and won’t have time to write. See you Wednesday.

“Eh, to be sure,” said Dolly, gently. “I’ve seen men as are wonderful handy wi’ children. The men are awk’ard and contrairy mostly, God help ’em–but when the drink’s out of ’em, they aren’t unsensible, though they’re bad for leeching and bandaging–so fiery and unpatient. You see this goes first, next the skin,” proceeded Dolly, taking up the little shirt, and putting it on.

“Yes,” said Marner, docilely, bringing his eyes very close, that they might be initiated in the mysteries; whereupon Baby seized his head with both her small arms, and put her lips against his face with purring noises.

“See there,” said Dolly, with a woman’s tender tact, “she’s fondest o’ you. She wants to go o’ your lap, I’ll be bound. Go, then: take her, Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then you can say as you’ve done for her from the first of her coming to you.”

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child. He took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted, of course, by Baby’s gymnastics.

 

CBT in the C18: a poem by Ann Finch

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Buckler fern and Astrantia (and couch grass, naturally), front garden, 11 August

Thanks to Dave Kelly, via Chris Lines, at Liverpool Parks, who tells me the unrecognised shrub of yesterday  is Clerodendrum Bungei, a deciduous shrub ‘with unpleasantly-scented leaves and sweet-scented flowers’…  Thanks Chris, and thanks Dave. I did think the smell was strangely mixed! Will go back to the Old English Garden for another sniff today.

But back to Ann Finch and ‘Hope’ which I started yesterday.

Hope

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

Orientikate commented yesterday,

Reading the verse again it feels to me as if the 2 Trees are kind of done and dusted, like – OK, we’ve been told about those – we chose (for better, for worse?) knowledge over life.

Yes, I agree the information about the two trees does seem done and dusted – that happened. Now here we are. Kate also suggested we might read ‘earth’ in line three as the plant of heaven, the only plant…  yes… look at lines three and four again:

Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

If we read it that way we’d have a meaning which was something like: earth (where hope grows) is the only plant Heav’n (God) or Paradise ( or the initial creative act ) could want (need).  Hope then becomes a kind of power of earth directly linking life on earth to  life in heaven – it – could you go so far as to say – almost remakes paradise anew.

Thank you Kate!

Let’s go on into stanza two, which amplifies  Ann Finch’s thinking about ‘hope’ ;

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

The idea that came out of Kate’s reading, that hope is a kind of link between Earth and Heaven, is picked up here in ‘hell knows it not’.  For Christians  of  the seventeenth century, Hell is a third place in the cosmos (which is made of  Heaven, Earth, Hell and at least as far as Milton, which is where I get my information from,  is concerned,  there’s also Chaos or Void). But for us, reading now (and also for Ann Finch and others, at other times, I’d imagine)  ‘hell’ is also those times in life when we have no hope.

Hope is ‘to us alone confin’d’, and cannot be in Hell.  We seem to have moved back into a geo-cosmoligical  level  – the very nature of the universe doesn’t allow it to be there  – it is ‘confin’d’ to us.

The verb ‘confin’d is about keeping within limits, borders.  This is beginning to make me think about what can be where and how some places /states  have atmospheres or the ability to let things grow.

With hell within him, ( ‘where I am is hell’) Satan can never experience hope, as hell is a place  where ‘hope never comes, that comes to all’

No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv’d onely to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace [ 65 ]
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum’d:

Paradise Lost, Book 1

If hope is ‘confin’d’ to us  – to humans, if it sits within a natural border here within us, available only to us – not to  those who are forever in hell, then it is a sign of our possible movement – towards Heaven. It’s a special thing, given to, or held by us as part of that heavenly connection.

Now,  let’s think about cordial.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.

Online Etymological dictionary gives us:

late 14c., “of the heart,” from Middle French cordial, from Medieval Latin cordialis “of or for the heart,” from Latin cor (genitive cordis) “heart,” from PIE root *kerd- “heart.” Meaning “heartfelt, from the heart” is mid-15c. The noun is late 14c., originally “medicine, food, or drink that stimulates the heart.” Related: Cordiality.

So yes, let’s think of it as something that stimulates the heart. But Finch actually writes ‘mind’. What are you thinking when you are depressed, low, brought down, when things are hellish? Your heart may be sick but you need different thoughts. The medicine is hope.  Yet how to get yourself to take it?

I was thinking about the ‘only’  (cordial only to the human mind) and thinking at first of  other minds – animals, dogs, horses.  Do they not experience ‘hope’? But  on second or third reading I wondered if that distinction of ‘only the human mind’ was  more about the set up of the universe, the thing Kate called in her comment, the cosmology.  In all the universe, in the whole shebang,  hope is only found , like a rare and precious metal, in one place. In us.

Shall we  reread the whole poem now?

Hope

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

I like that ‘hope’ is a  plant rather than my analogy of a precious metal – it’s a natural cordial, like a herb, which eases the heart. It grows on earth, in us, and is antipathetic to hell. Making me think of magnetic attraction and reulsion: if hell, no hope. If hope, no hell.

Having established these clearly set out thoughts, Ann speaks directly to the person to whom she writes ( herself, perhaps):

Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

Now I see the poem has arisen from a particular place and a sort of argument, which has been ongoing. She (or the  person to whom she writes) has been denying hope, has not received it. This person is suffering ‘mortal Cares’ –  a double-edged word: these cares are human and they may be actually killing her, they are mortal to her. How do we know she has been actively denying this help?  The last line ‘ nor wave a med’cine’, where ‘wave’ is both wave as in the hand gesture (waving you and your medicine away) but also I think waive as in abandon, give up on.

We’ve got this amazing, rare, precious, transporting thing – use it!

Of course, if you are  badly depressed, no matter how hard you tell yourself, or someone else urges,  you can’t make yourself feel hope.

I read in Wikipedia that Ann Finch suffered depression.

I wonder if the poem’s language and thought pattern is a kind of home-made CBT. It is a set of thoughts, laid down in  a pattern. As your mind reads, it follows the pattern. If you put the word, and larger than that, the concept of ‘hope’ into a mind, there it is in some form, wher before it wasn’t. Psychologists have done many experiments which show that planting words in a mind affects the way it thinks.

Setting hope in this huge context adds perspective – it’s not just little you, an individual with an individual problem. It is a universal problem and there is a structural answer to it.  Read the poem again.

More poems by Ann Finch can be found here.