Silas Marner Day 41: George Eliot and George Saunders: Live Human Being

 

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It’s not human, but it’s sure a live presence: unidentified plant, Zakynthos, July 2018

Long time since I read and wrote on Silas Marner.  (See that previous post here )I’ve been away from my routine, such as it is,  and latterly I’ve been even further away – having a long swim and lot of sleep and reading in  lovely Zakynthos, which I found a land of  great plants, generous hospitality and welcome, fine courgettes and  the cooking of courgettes.

I asked our host, Demetrios, why Zakynthos has two names (sometimes Zakynthos, sometimes Zante) and he replied, Let’s start with the bigger picture… Why does  Greece have two names? Hellas (as the Greeks call it) and Greece (from the Latin, as the Romans called it…) Ah, there was time there for slow answers.

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Courgette Balls, home-made  by Maria at Dopia’s House,  Vasilikos, Zakynthos

I didn’t do much apart from read and swim and in the cool evenings walk to Dopia’s House for fine home  cooking and a visit to the one of the  three village shops. But I did think, when I get back, I will re-establish my daily reading and writing practice. So here we go.

I look back and see I last read and wrote about Silas Marner on the 30th April.  Hoooo.  That’s not good.

Silas was in my mind because before I went on holiday a much-respected colleague told me she was reading Silas Marner, but she didn’t say ‘reading’, she said ‘getting through’, which made me think she was finding it hard going, and when I asked her, she said she was…Which made me think ‘most people would find it hard going’.  Which made me think, ‘how could it not be like that?’ And it’s such a wonderful book –  what a shame to be put off by the slow opening chapters, or the ongoing problem of it being hard-to-get-through.

Reading aloud with others would help, because one of the hard-to-get through things is the  length and complexity of sentences. That is made easier by the slowness and added concentration of reading aloud. Another – the long-ago-ness.  Shared Reading would help share the strangeness – you’d ask each other questions about hand-loom weavers and poultices and the like. Another, things to do with tone. Tone is still hard to get right in reading aloud, but it is more likely to be got right by your voice when voiced than when read silently.

In my experience, when you are reading something hard-to-get-through in your head two things happen – you drift away from the hard sentences and don’t absorb them, and you lose sense of the longer rhythms of meaning which are often about tone of voice.  Recently, have I had this experience with George Saunders  prize-winning novel, Lincoln in The Bardo.

I like to think of myself as George Saunder’s greatest fan, so it’s not easy to admit I found that novel hard going.  I was, like my colleague, getting through it, because I wanted to, because I love George Saunders, because it is his first full-length novel and I wanted it to be great. I wanted to love it. I didn’t want to give up on it. I wanted to get it!  But I couldn’t concentrate enough to make it come to life.

So I was delightful to I find Audible has a brilliant recording, with many great voices.  And that got me into it.  The recording  fails a little in that it records all the  historical research notes, which in a written text you’d pass over, and they got in the way during my listening… but even so, listening  broke the book open for me, and got the tone and voices in my head.  So I was sorry to see so many disappointed and perplexed reviews on the Audible page –  this is just not a good a starting place for getting to know George Saunders.  Disappointed readers/listeners: start with  the short story collections – I’ve written about them, in passing, before:  Pastoralia, Tenth of December.

I’m going to have some downtime in August when I will be having an operation on my foot. Have been stockpiling things to read, and will add Lincoln In The Bardo to that pile, as I think it is time for a re-read.

But meanwhile, back to Silas. Last time I was writing about George Eliot as a kind of pre-psychology psychologist, working out how human minds work. Thinking about Nancy Lammeter and  her husband Godfrey Cass. We’d been reading about Godfrey’s desire to adopt  Eppie (his own child, though no one but he knows it), and his inability to imagine Silas’ feelings;

It seemed an eminently appropriate thing to Godfrey, for reasons that were known only to himself; and by a common fallacy, he imagined the measure would be easy because he had private motives for desiring it. This was rather a coarse mode of estimating Silas’s relation to Eppie; but we must remember that many of the impressions which Godfrey was likely to gather concerning the labouring people around him would favour the idea that deep affections can hardly go along with callous palms and scant means; and he had not had the opportunity, even if he had had the power, of entering intimately into all that was exceptional in the weaver’s experience. It was only the want of adequate knowledge that could have made it possible for Godfrey deliberately to entertain an unfeeling project: his natural kindness had outlived that blighting time of cruel wishes, and Nancy’s praise of him as a husband was not founded entirely on a wilful illusion.

This is interesting, isn’t it?  We’d probably be naturally inclined to want to cross Godfrey off – to  set him up as a no-good-nik, and take no notice of  his inner workings. But that, George Eliot feels, would be a mistake; her big premise is, it’s better to try to understand people we are not naturally sympathetic to.

What do we learn here?  Godfrey, as posh person, doesn’t have an opportunity to realise poor people have feelings in the same way he has:

we must remember that many of the impressions which Godfrey was likely to gather concerning the labouring people around him would favour the idea that deep affections can hardly go along with callous palms and scant means

Some radical education would be needed to overcome this  natural seeming state of social affairs. Godfrey doesn’t know these people, doesn’t mix with them, doesnt meet them, talk to them.

It’s all very well, for me as a twenty-first century middle class  Guardian-reader, being outraged that a posh landed gentry type didn’t know what it meant to be one of his own villagers. But then I think back to before The Reader and ask myself how much time I actually spent with homeless multiply addicted young men living with psychosis before I began reading in hostels and rehabs?  I  give the pseudonym  ‘Jay’ to one of those young men…I  would theoretically have known  that Jay has feelings like me, but I’d never have  been close to Jay, never seen him moved to tears or being loving to another person, only seen him as a threatening  presence  in a deserted car park. Never saw him have his feelings. Not to my credit, but true. I had not gathered the impressions – him asking me for change at the car park exit frightened me – which could have helped me overcome my fears of Jay. Without getting to know him, how could I really know him?

Now I look at this choice of word, ‘adequate’, thinking of myself or other modern versions of this Cass problem.

It was only the want of adequate knowledge that could have made it possible for Godfrey deliberately to entertain an unfeeling project:

Think of fear of refugees, fear of  others, fear of those not like us… what is ‘adequate knowledge’ in such situations, where people are not seeing others as fully human. Very few of us would be ‘deliberately unfeeling’ if we knew (‘adequately’) what it meant to be other person.  ‘Adequate’ – it’s not a lot of knowledge.  It’s enough to make us feel. But  perhaps we are becoming too kind to Godfrey?  Here’s a real corrective;

his natural kindness had outlived that blighting time of cruel wishes, and Nancy’s praise of him as a husband was not founded entirely on a wilful illusion.

How complex he is!  He has  had a ‘blighting time of cruel wishes’  – that person who did not  own up to nor  take responsibility for his first wife and his own child – that was Godfrey. Who suffered the blight? The cruelty? Yes – his dead wife, yes, his abandoned child. But also  – prehaps – he, himself?

As well as that cruelty, there is in Godfrey, ‘natural kindness’.  That’s real, too, though how  I am to hold the two things (  ‘cruel wishes’ and ‘natural kindness’ ) in balance is a real and very life-like question.  Despite the kindness, I’m still worried about the now past time of cruelty.  And that worry is extended by the  added comment on Nancy.

Nancy’s praise of him as a husband was not founded entirely on a wilful illusion.

He is naturally kind, when not pressed by more terrible needs. Nancy is  not entirely tricking herself. Oh, but the presence of that ‘wilful illusion’, even as a partial negative!

Being a live human is complicated business.

Is that why I love George Saunders despite sometimes not getting it and not getting through it? Yesterday I re-read his short story ‘The Falls’. ( It’s in Pastoralia.) Highly recommended for some live human being.

 

 

 

Silas Marner Day 40: Unspeakable Ignorance re Human Character

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Dark Red Rhododendron in the Azalea walk at Calderstones

Oh, I’ve been having trouble with myself, lost my rhythms and struggling to do anything other than get my daily work at The Reader done – I’ve been busy interviewing new people for roles at The Reader, probably the most important thing I have to do there, preparing for  the AESOP Conference, and then travelling to meet with Flemish colleagues… but also simply lost. rhythms, habits, do not come easily to me and somehow I lost them and now I am struggling to get them back.  Family came to visit. Our old people  have needed time and attention. None  of which stops me writing at 6.00 am but it has stopped me.

Yesterday I said to myself, you’ve got to get it back. You’ve got to. I was angry and used my anger to  dig up and destroy a massive ivy  root I’ve been battling in the garden. I don’t really care why I am like this – my chaotic childhood, oh, I’m sick of hearing about it –  I care about why I can’t consistently be different. I want order!

Yesterday it came to a head and I took myself to task in the garden as a way of fighting it out. I dug and bashed and cursed and sweated and cut my finger and sawed and heaved and jimmied and cursed this tortured thing out of the ground. It’s about as big as a bull’s head. It’s the root of a large-leaved ivy  I planted about twenty years ago.  I planted it! I planted it! I did it myself! Oh, ignorance.

root

I was filthy and exhausted and had a sore finger. I felt better.  I had a long bath and, as so many times before, agreed to  ‘forgive myself the lot’ as Yeats says, and resolved to try to pick up again. ‘The urge to destroy is also the urge to create…’ as Mikhail Bakunin said.

Books I’ve been reading away from this page include Tara Westover’s Educated. (Yes, lost  the rhythm of recording ‘Just Started’ – need to do a batch lot).  This is book about the awakening of a mind: the story of an end-of-the-world Mormon girl from a mountain in Utah learning to think outside of her family. Last night I read a section where she discusses  being touched by a single line from John Stuart Mill in On the Subjugation of Women. Marvellous section. The sentence: ‘It is a subject on which nothing final can be known’ …Mill writes of ‘women’, and Tara  –  bullied, abused and subjugated as a female  in her family – responds from her deepest, most hidden self.

Blood rushed to my brain. I felt an animating surge of adrenalin, of possibility, of a frontier being pushed outward. Of the nature of women, nothing final can be known. Never had I found such comfort in a void, in the black absence of knowledge. It seemed to say: whatever you are, you are a woman.

this morning when I came to my desk I looked up On The Subjugation of Women, a book I’ve not read in  more than thirty years.  Gosh. It’s very good. I would like to read it again. Saturday Dayschool perhaps, along with some of  George Eliot’s women?

Why that connection? This was one of the sentences that struck me as I browsed:

Of all difficulties which impede the progress of thought, and the formation of well-grounded opinions on life and social arrangements, the greatest is now the unspeakable ignorance and inattention of mankind in respect to the influences which form human character.

I was looking over my last post on Silas Marner, (find a full text of the novel here) and  had been thinking about George Eliot as a mind-mapper, a literary psychologist.  She does exactly what John Stuart Mill thinks is needful to be done. She shines the light of intelligent observation on the ‘influences which form human character’.

We’d been reading about Nancy Cass (nee Lammeter), and her instinctive repugnance to the idea of adoption. The narrative switches adroitly to Godfrey, and the reader understands, with a shock, that Godfrey is thinking of adopting not just any child, but his own child, Eppie, happily adopted by Silas.

Godfrey had from the first specified Eppie, then about twelve years old, as a child suitable for them to adopt. It had never occurred to him that Silas would rather part with his life than with Eppie. Surely the weaver would wish the best to the child he had taken so much trouble with, and would be glad that such good fortune should happen to her: she would always be very grateful to him, and he would be well provided for to the end of his life–provided for as the excellent part he had done by the child deserved. Was it not an appropriate thing for people in a higher station to take a charge off the hands of a man in a lower? It seemed an eminently appropriate thing to Godfrey, for reasons that were known only to himself; and by a common fallacy, he imagined the measure would be easy because he had private motives for desiring it. This was rather a coarse mode of estimating Silas’s relation to Eppie; but we must remember that many of the impressions which Godfrey was likely to gather concerning the labouring people around him would favour the idea that deep affections can hardly go along with callous palms and scant means; and he had not had the opportunity, even if he had had the power, of entering intimately into all that was exceptional in the weaver’s experience. It was only the want of adequate knowledge that could have made it possible for Godfrey deliberately to entertain an unfeeling project: his natural kindness had outlived that blighting time of cruel wishes, and Nancy’s praise of him as a husband was not founded entirely on a wilful illusion.

This becomes an analysis of how Godfrey could make such a callous mistake when George Eliot  looks beyond any desire he might have stated himself, to a general law she observes in many humans. Godfrey thinks,

Was it not an appropriate thing for people in a higher station to take a charge off the hands of a man in a lower?

This is Godfrey’s inner voice, thinking its own thoughts.

Next comes George Eliot’s thought, as she observes her subject:

It seemed an eminently appropriate thing to Godfrey, for reasons that were known only to himself; and by a common fallacy, he imagined the measure would be easy because he had private motives for desiring it.

The ‘common fallacy’ is the law of behaviour, observable over countless subjects: you want something to happen so you think it will be easy to make it happen. (Thinking of myself and the need to develop habits. Want them! Should be easy! Not easy! Failed again!). Now George Eliot turns her attention to the relations between people of different classes and their ability to understand each other.  The tone here (‘we must remember’) is one that includes us, as the reader, with her as the scientific observer.

This was rather a coarse mode of estimating Silas’s relation to Eppie; but we must remember that many of the impressions which Godfrey was likely to gather concerning the labouring people around him would favour the idea that deep affections can hardly go along with callous palms and scant means; and he had not had the opportunity, even if he had had the power, of entering intimately into all that was exceptional in the weaver’s experience.

It’s personally damning of Godfrey as well as damning  our social structures: Godfrey ‘had not had the opportunity, even if he had had the power, of entering intimately into all that was exceptional in the weaver’s experience’.

The lack of power to enter into another’s experience is also self-damaging, I think, Godfrey can’t imagine what it is or means to be Silas, but he is also hidden, disguised from himself, like Tara, like me.

George Eliot believed that women were no different to men in that we are all subject to our experience and education. Men had more of it but, as with Cass here, that more was often also limiting.  How are we to get out of our ignorance and lack of self and experience understanding?  Education, my dears, but education of a particular sort. Education that speaks to us in the places we need it – as John Stuart Mill spoke to Tara Westover.

Joseph Gold writes in The Story Species,

Literature is a form of language that humans have evolved to help  themselves cope with the world they inhabit. Creating and sharing complex stories is an adaptation of language to help humans survive well.

Tara’s story of the voice coming out of the darkness to a place of darkness within her, its meaning as yet unknown, is a wonderful example of  the way in which literature may be the means of education (and survival). Godfrey Cass needs to read more.

As for me? Just got to come here and do it every day.

Silas Marner Day 39: Truth, Lies & Life before psychology was invented

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Muscari March 18

The women in Silas Marner  (full text here) are humans who struggle under the  difficulty of not being emancipated in different ways: Eppie’s drug-addicted mother Molly, the scrub-polish-make-bake-and-run-your-household-like-an-army Dolly Winthrop, and here, Nancy Lammeter. She is somewhat educated, but for no purpose, and having  no children, her days are emptier than  her childed sister’s, her  consciousness left to ruminate on  what seem at first to be the smallest  and least significant of things.

What I get interested in here, as I read about Nancy, is how the author, George Eliot, an exceptionally well (self) educated woman of immense intelligence imagines the movements of the human mind. This is psychology before William James, before Freud.

Watch the way we go in and in:

Her mind not being courted by a great variety of subjects, she filled the vacant moments by living inwardly, again and again, through all her remembered experience, especially through the fifteen years of her married time, in which her life and its significance had been doubled.

Nancy’s like a  woman in prison, imprisoned in her life. There is no stimulation, only repetitive reflection on her ‘remembered experience’. But what else is there for her mind to dwell on? Having little external stimulation, she must live ‘inwardly’. The only subject matter of  depth she has is her relationship with her husband.  At First we have no idea what Nancy is going to think about.  Only very gladually do we  dig down the the realiy of what is bothering her.

She recalled the small details, the words, tones, and looks, in the critical scenes which had opened a new epoch for her by giving her a deeper insight into the relations and trials of life, or which had called on her for some little effort of forbearance, or of painful adherence to an imagined or real duty– asking herself continually whether she had been in any respect blamable.

She won’t say – Nancy won’t think, won’t put into words – whatever it is we are talking about. we’re going roundthe houses.

At the same time as George Eliot is observing this action of a mind turned in on itself, she’s also noting that this is a kind of norm. This is likely, in the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century, to be the lot of a middle class woman: inwardness, self-judging, obsessive, the mind pacing like a caged polar bear, in its too-small arena:

This excessive rumination and self-questioning is perhaps a morbid habit inevitable to a mind of much moral sensibility when shut out from its due share of outward activity and of practical claims on its affections–inevitable to a noble-hearted, childless woman, when her lot is narrow.

Later, George Eliot will pick up this idea in the persons of other women  – the Aunts’ Glegg in Mill on the Floss, obsessed with the designs of their china and muslin, the only choices they have really had, Romola, who comes to massive life  through calls from without in a national tragedy in the novel of her name, Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch. For an under-occupied childless man of a similar class there was study, Darwinian collecting, politics, horses, gambling or  other dissipations. For a woman? The mind turning in on itself:

“I can do so little–have I done it all well?” is the perpetually recurring thought; and there are no voices calling her away from that soliloquy, no peremptory demands to divert energy from vain regret or superfluous scruple.

I notice now that George Eliot doesn’t seem quite to be talking about Nancy.  She has looked up from the story, from the character  she’s writing about, to  think on a more generalised level about laws of being.  She’s taken an example, but drawing a wider conclusion. ‘And there are no voices calling her away from that soliloquy’  The pronoun ‘her’ in that sentence is not simply referring to Nancy.

But now we turn back to Nancy, and see some of the precise and particular moments of Nancy’s particular experience, and uncover something painful and hard to admit:

There was one main thread of painful experience in Nancy’s married life, and on it hung certain deeply-felt scenes, which were the oftenest revived in retrospect. The short dialogue with Priscilla in the garden had determined the current of retrospect in that frequent direction this particular Sunday afternoon. The first wandering of her thought from the text, which she still attempted dutifully to follow with her eyes and silent lips, was into an imaginary enlargement of the defence she had set up for her husband against Priscilla’s implied blame. The vindication of the loved object is the best balm affection can find for its wounds:–“A man must have so much on his mind,” is the belief by which a wife often supports a cheerful face under rough answers and unfeeling words. And Nancy’s deepest wounds had all come from the perception that the absence of children from their hearth was dwelt on in her husband’s mind as a privation to which he could not reconcile himself.

Oh dear.  Her sister finds fault with Godfrey because Godfrey is not happy about having no children – that was the conversation in the garden. I wonder, does he blame Nancy? ‘The vindication of the loved object is the best balm affection can find for its wounds’ Sounds like  she is wounded, and wounded by the loved object – Godfrey – she now defends. He cannot ‘reconcile’ himself to no children. How does that make her feel?

But of course we, unlike Nancy,  know that one of the drivers for Godfrey’s inability to reconcile himself is the fact that he has a child, a child he  cannot acknowledge, and that child lives with Silas Marner, in the village outside Godfrey’s house. Godfrey  has seen his daughter every week at church for the last ten, twelve, fourteen years.

Nancy, imagining and feeling her way through this complex  and  not entirely known emotional situation, has only part of the story.  She makes excuses for her husband but retains  great control over her own emotional life:

Yet sweet Nancy might have been expected to feel still more keenly the denial of a blessing to which she had looked forward with all the varied expectations and preparations, solemn and prettily trivial, which fill the mind of a loving woman when she expects to become a mother. Was there not a drawer filled with the neat work of her hands, all unworn and untouched, just as she had arranged it there fourteen years ago–just, but for one little dress, which had been made the burial-dress? But under this immediate personal trial Nancy was so firmly unmurmuring, that years ago she had suddenly renounced the habit of visiting this drawer, lest she should in this way be cherishing a longing for what was not given.

Did I not notice it before or have I only just learned that Nancy had indeed had a baby but  that baby had died?

I  read back and realise that this is the first I’ve heard of Nancy’s lost baby. Here is the  information, packed away in the drawer, at the centre of the emotional  problem. There was a burial dress, and that burial dress memory is the clue to Nancy’s loss and her somewhat rigid reaction to it:

years ago she had suddenly renounced the habit of visiting this drawer, lest she should in this way be cherishing a longing for what was not given –

She is religious, and desires to do and be right. Other children have not been ‘given’, and she believes it would be wrong of her to long for them. Therefore she denies herself  the possible comfort of looking at the baby clothes.  This is sad and possibly self-damamging.

I find myself thinking back to Silas’ trauma and wondering  what connections may lie between these two very different people. Silas’ cutting himself off feels much more animalistic – he retreated to a cave to lick his wounds and got stuck there, licking,  for ever, til Eppie wandered into his life.  Nancy’s response to her trauma seems more controlled but is it? ‘years ago she had suddenly renounced the habit’ –  is that control or a desperate measure to prevent pain?

Now, having opened the drawer with  the baby clothes in it, we get to see the lost baby and other potential children, too, as the problem at the centre of the problem is slowly revealed: a years’ experienced psychotherapist could not have done it better:

Perhaps it was this very severity towards any indulgence of what she held to be sinful regret in herself, that made her shrink from applying her own standard to her husband. “It is very different– it is much worse for a man to be disappointed in that way: a woman can always be satisfied with devoting herself to her husband, but a man wants something that will make him look forward more–and sitting by the fire is so much duller to him than to a woman.”

And always, when Nancy reached this point in her meditations–trying, with predetermined sympathy, to see everything as Godfrey saw it– there came a renewal of self-questioning. _Had_ she done everything in her power to lighten Godfrey’s privation? Had she really been right in the resistance which had cost her so much pain six years ago, and again four years ago–the resistance to her husband’s wish that they should adopt a child?

Now, like the lost baby, we find another layer of secret pain – the marital battle over adoption. Godfrey has wanted to adopt and she has resisted that idea. Twice. He longs for a child.  That she knows.  Of course she questions herself. Has she done what she can to make him happy? Everything but agree to adoption.

The question for Nancy, as she meditates over her Bible, is  did she really do her duty by refusing to adopt a child when her husband told her he wanted to do so?

    Had she really been right in the resistance which had cost her so much pain six years ago, and again four years ago–the resistance to her husband’s wish that they should adopt a child? Adoption was more remote from the ideas and habits of that time than of our own; still Nancy had her opinion on it. It was as necessary to her mind to have an opinion on all topics, not exclusively masculine, that had come under her notice, as for her to have a precisely marked place for every article of her personal property: and her opinions were always principles to be unwaveringly acted on. They were firm, not because of their basis, but because she held them with a tenacity inseparable from her mental action. On all the duties and proprieties of life, from filial behaviour to the arrangements of the evening toilette, pretty Nancy Lammeter, by the time she was three-and-twenty, had her unalterable little code, and had formed every one of her habits in strict accordance with that code.

When we read the first sentence we are reading  in Nancy’s own voice,

  Had she really been right in the resistance which had cost her so much pain six years ago, and again four years ago–the resistance to her husband’s wish that they should adopt a child?

But then something odd happens, and we suddenly find ourselves  seeing Nancy’s decision from outside herself. Dutiful she may be, by she’s also rigid, perhaps life-denyingly so:

Adoption was more remote from the ideas and habits of that time than of our own; still Nancy had her opinion on it. It was as necessary to her mind to have an opinion on all topics, not exclusively masculine, that had come under her notice, as for her to have a precisely marked place for every article of her personal property: and her opinions were always principles to be unwaveringly acted on.

George Eliot finds something appalling in this:  ‘opinion’, ‘precisely’ ‘every’ ‘unwaveringly’; all these words colour the sentences above and show us that Nancy is  limiting her self and her possible reactions by her inflexible sticking to what come down to  – not thoughts, not feelings but opinions. How  thin ‘opinions’ feel as a basis for life.

They were firm, not because of their basis, but because she held them with a tenacity inseparable from her mental action. On all the duties and proprieties of life, from filial behaviour to the arrangements of the evening toilette, pretty Nancy Lammeter, by the time she was three-and-twenty, had her unalterable little code, and had formed every one of her habits in strict accordance with that code.

Some terrible words alert me to a judgement being made by author: tenacity (which might in other circumstances be a good thing) pretty (again, could be good but here point to something merely external and at odds with the inflexible inner Nancy…) and finally, damningly, little. ‘Her unalterable  little code’. There’s something appalling to George Eliot in the coming together in one person of  girlish prettiness and rigid tenacity and smallness of mind. It’s a type of being that she will return to many times in her work over  the years of her writing life, most notably in Rosamund Vincy in Middlemarch.

Is it partly the result of the subjugation of women?  How can you grow fully rounded when  the space around you is so powerfully restricted? Yet if there is power there… and it displays itself in mental rigidity,  an inability to grow, or to change with circumstance.

pretty Nancy Lammeter, by the time she was three-and-twenty, had her unalterable little code, and had formed every one of her habits in strict accordance with that code.

that the setting out of your dressing table should be ordered in the same way as your  thoughts on adoption – I’ve always thought this and so I stick to it – is a damning indictment.  or is it an indictment?  Is it simply an investigation into  a particular person?

More next week.

Silas Marner Day 38: What’s Love Got To Do With It?

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Mimosa tree  coming into flower-bud,  Calderstones Park, Feb 23 

This morning I’m going back to Silas Marner (find an online text here) … and thinking about class. But is it class? Or is it education? Or is it education of the feelings?  Eppie is the daughter of a drug-addict mother and a nogoodnik posh-boy father. She’s got, like most of us, a pretty mixed gene pool. So there’s nature for you.

Now, as to nurture:

The tender and peculiar love with which Silas had reared her in almost inseparable companionship with himself, aided by the seclusion of their dwelling, had preserved her from the lowering influences of the village talk and habits, and had kept her mind in that freshness which is sometimes falsely supposed to be an invariable attribute of rusticity. Perfect love has a breath of poetry which can exalt the relations of the least-instructed human beings; and this breath of poetry had surrounded Eppie from the time when she had followed the bright gleam that beckoned her to Silas’s hearth; so that it is not surprising if, in other things besides her delicate prettiness, she was not quite a common village maiden, but had a touch of refinement and fervour which came from no other teaching than that of tenderly-nurtured unvitiated feeling.

I notice with a slight flinch ‘she was not quite a common village maiden’ and have to stop myself and try to  think carefully about what this means so as not to knee-jerk a class-based response.  I ask myself, what is fervour? What is refinement?

What’s meant by refinement, I wonder? It seems a class word, about being posh, but when I look it up it’s about being pure or full of feeling. I think of Jeanette Winterson, (read her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal) little fighting kid of Accrington, and I’d say, she had her own kind of refinement. And what is fervour? It, too, is a feeling word, warmth, heat of feeling. I think of Jeanette as different from many other Accrington kids -why? She felt a lot and what she felt propelled her – few other homeless gay kids of her time got themselves into Oxford to read English.  What Jeanette didn’t have was  the kind of love Silas gives to Eppie. I look back at the beginning of the paragraph:

The tender and peculiar love with which Silas had reared her in almost inseparable companionship with himself, aided by the seclusion of their dwelling, had preserved her from the lowering influences of the village talk and habits, and had kept her mind in that freshness which is sometimes falsely supposed to be an invariable attribute of rusticity.

Still something for me to worry about in lowering influences? I’ll come back to that. Eppie grows up in a tiny world  made up Silas – himself cut off from most of the village – and visits from Dolly Winthrop. The seclusion of their dwelling sets her apart physically, mentally and emotionally. What are village talk and habits, I wonder?   The modern equivalent is  life with the Kardashians, I suppose.  Silly, commonplace, superficial influences about bums and jewellry. No one at the most serious times of their lives, real love, real pain, will be getting through life’s biggest or deepest moments with those influences uppermost. But they are there, lowering away, on a day-to-day basis. Eppie is set aside from all that by being in an intense parent-child relationship which is full of love.

I take some time here because it is easy to read badly, too fast, and make  modern, mocking judgements about class. Eppie’s refinement and fervour

came from no other teaching than that of tenderly-nurtured unvitiated feeling.

‘Unvitiated’ = uncorrupted, pure, unsullied.

Perhaps such feeling is only possible at some distance from the world of Kardashians, or whatever the nineteenth century equivalent was? I’m thinking about Wordsworth – whom George Eliot read.

She was too childish and simple for her imagination to rove into questions about her unknown father; for a long while it did not even occur to her that she must have had a father; and the first time that the idea of her mother having had a husband presented itself to her, was when Silas showed her the wedding-ring which had been taken from the wasted finger, and had been carefully preserved by him in a little lackered box shaped like a shoe. He delivered this box into Eppie’s charge when she had grown up, and she often opened it to look at the ring: but still she thought hardly at all about the father of whom it was the symbol. Had she not a father very close to her, who loved her better than any real fathers in the village seemed to love their daughters? On the contrary, who her mother was, and how she came to die in that forlornness, were questions that often pressed on Eppie’s mind. Her knowledge of Mrs. Winthrop, who was her nearest friend next to Silas, made her feel that a mother must be very precious; and she had again and again asked Silas to tell her how her mother looked, whom she was like, and how he had found her against the furze bush, led towards it by the little footsteps and the outstretched arms. The furze bush was there still; and this afternoon, when Eppie came out with Silas into the sunshine, it was the first object that arrested her eyes and thoughts.

It’s interesting that Eppie never thinks about her biological father – she has no need to, because she has Silas, ‘who loved her better than any real fathers in the village seemed to love their daughters.’ The mother is a missing element, only known indirectly as a model in Dolly Winthrop and it is this missing element that Eppie is driven to seek, asking,

again and again asked Silas to tell her how her mother looked, whom she was like, and how he had found her against the furze bush, led towards it by the little footsteps and the outstretched arms.

Now we enter some pages of dialogue and plot, which I’m going to read through fast – Eppie raising the subject of her likely marriage and Silas doing his best not to be frightened at the change that is bound to come.

And so to the next chapter, XVII, where the scene changes and we are  back with the posh folks. Nancy née Lammeter and her sister Priscilla are also discussing gardens, and also dairies, and finally, Nancy’s inability to bear children; then Nancy is left alone, reading her bible and letting her thoughts wander. They wander towards  this issue of having children and her husband’s response to it. And this, George Eliot seems to imply, is in itself a kind of  prayerful meditation:

But Nancy’s Sunday thoughts were rarely quite out of keeping with the devout and reverential intention implied by the book spread open before her. She was not theologically instructed enough to discern very clearly the relation between the sacred documents of the past which she opened without method, and her own obscure, simple life; but the spirit of rectitude, and the sense of responsibility for the effect of her conduct on others, which were strong elements in Nancy’s character, had made it a habit with her to scrutinize her past feelings and actions with self-questioning solicitude.

I look up rectitude. It means straightness. Nancy’s a person who tries to be straight and decent, and has self-knowledge, examining herself and her actions.

Her mind not being courted by a great variety of subjects, she filled the vacant moments by living inwardly, again and again, through all her remembered experience, especially through the fifteen years of her married time, in which her life and its significance had been doubled. She recalled the small details, the words, tones, and looks, in the critical scenes which had opened a new epoch for her by giving her a deeper insight into the relations and trials of life, or which had called on her for some little effort of forbearance, or of painful adherence to an imagined or real duty– asking herself continually whether she had been in any respect blamable. This excessive rumination and self-questioning is perhaps a morbid habit inevitable to a mind of much moral sensibility when shut out from its due share of outward activity and of practical claims on its affections–inevitable to a noble-hearted, childless woman, when her lot is narrow. “I can do so little–have I done it all well?” is the perpetually recurring thought; and there are no voices calling her away from that soliloquy, no peremptory demands to divert energy from vain regret or superfluous scruple.

George Eliot is very interested in the lot of women who have nothing to do. In real life she was Marian Evans, an incredibly  intelligent, self-educated midlands woman, who  in her early years had run her father’s house, and in mid-life developed a career in the London literary world ,editing the Westminster Review before beginning her work as a novelist at the age of thirty-nine. She had no children.

I’ve gone away from the book! Back to the text, go back, go back!

But will pick up here next time –  lots to do today, garden calling.

Silas Marner Day 37: Time Travels in Us

Ness gardens in summer.JPG
Remember there was summer? Ness Gardens 2017

Picking up where I left off yesterday in Chapter  XVI – and not got long today. We move from the conversation with Dolly – trusten, trusten –  to fifteen years later, when Eppie, the child he found and learned to connect to human life through, is now nearly grown-up.

When we’re reading prose it’s so easy to rush on and get story… story… story…but there is more to life than narrative unfolding.  There’s time travel in us.

Our older and younger selves and the experiences of those younger and older selves mash together, though we hardly know it, but great  prose like this shows some of that complexity. It’s worth slowing down to the slowest possible pace to pick up whatever the complex text offers. Here, two periods of time sit side by side, as if related:

This dialogue took place in Eppie’s earlier years, when Silas had to part with her for two hours every day, that she might learn to read at the dame school, after he had vainly tried himself to guide her in that first step to learning. Now that she was grown up, Silas had often been led, in those moments of quiet outpouring which come to people who live together in perfect love, to talk with _her_ too of the past, and how and why he had lived a lonely man until she had been sent to him.

‘This dialogue’ refers back to the  piece we read yesterday, Silas’ conversation with Dolly, about what went wrong in his early life, how he was traumatised and how he has learned, through Eppie’s presence in his life, to trust. ‘This dialogue’ was more than a decide ago but it connects to the second sentence in this paragraph, which begins  ‘now’. Now that she was grown up…the step-father  has often reprised this dialogue, gone over his life-story, told Eppie of the change her presence has wrought in him.

Think of your life – think of a fifteen year period and how what happens at one stage sets up or changes what is going to happen in the future.  The ‘then’ creating, allowing, bringing into being the ‘now’. Wonderful to see Silas wisely sharing this vital life-information with the child.

For it would have been impossible for him to hide from Eppie that she was not his own child: even if the most delicate reticence on the point could have been expected from Raveloe gossips in her presence, her own questions about her mother could not have been parried, as she grew up, without that complete shrouding of the past which would have made a painful barrier between their minds. So Eppie had long known how her mother had died on the snowy ground, and how she herself had been found on the hearth by father Silas, who had taken her golden curls for his lost guineas brought back to him.

Silas had a choice: to trust or not to trust that Eppie could live with the truth of her own story. He might have created a ‘complete shrouding of the past’ – though of course gossips would have whispered it – but he would not contemplate creating ‘a barrier  between their minds’. Therefore Eppie knows her own story. I find it very moving that ‘Eppie had long known how her mother had died…’  it’s as if in this second go at having a life, Silas is choosing trust, and trust in love, even more strongly than the did the first time round in his previous life in Lantern Yard.  The scar tissue isstrongerthan the unbroken bone. And the child has  grown strong in that love and trust.

I’m thinking of the long  piece of human learning that is the experience of adult life –  fifteen years! Why don’t we think  moreabout development in adult life? We’re not finished! But learning hurts as well as bringing joy.

Time to stop now, this morning. But I think I am feeling my way towards are-reading of The Winter’s Tale.  The long gap of time.

Silas Marner Day 36: Trusten, or not trusting?

witch hazel .JPG
Witchhazel in the Old English Garden at Calderstones

Last time I read and wrote about Silas Marner, January 18th, I ended by saying I’ll come back to this tomorrow. Then I wandered off into busy-ness and didn’t write for a couple of weeks. I’ve missed Silas! I was in chapter XVI.  You’ll find a text here. I’d got to about this point, Dolly Winthrop, in her nineteenth century country accent,  struggling to help Silas come to terms with his previous trauma:

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.

Dolly is a believer, thinks she is not clever,  can’t read, and carries bits of bible text round in her head.   Yet her thinking her would do some good for most of us, whatever we believe, two hundred years later.  I’m thinking about positive psychology as a modern version of ‘trusten’. Can you keep ‘good’ foregrounded? Will it change your day if you do? I’m thinking about the many studies (see one reported here)  which show people with a religious faith are happier than those without.

Trust in  as yet unknown, or unimaginable good might not be a religious faith but does change how I respond to situations (when I can trust, which isn’t easy). I’m thinking of Tennyson:

From “In Memoriam,” LIII.

O YET we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroyed,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivelled in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

Tennyson ends where I often find myself, not trusting, but crying ‘I don’t believe that!’ I imagine Silas at the real bad moment, when his close friend betrayed him.  Do you trust that somehow good will come out of it? When  the trauma of betrayal is stinging? What could he, practically, have done? He’d still be cast out. He’s be part of no family, he’s have no community.

I’m thinking of people who commit crimes. is it possible to trust that somehow there is an invisible good and right behind  or alongside terrible human actions?

No, I don’t think so, and  not trusting overall makes me feel like ‘an infant crying in the night’.

But that’s where, for a religious person, habit and form kick in. When I was young I hated habit and form and thought they were old dead things that made people false. Now I think they are useful props which might hold you up and I would like to have some! And for me, reading is the habit and form, or offers the opportunity for such. It’s a good few years since I read Tennyson’s In Memoriam.  Not everyone will want to stand in the place occupied by ‘O yet we trust’, but it is a human place, and sometimes we must stand there. It’s the same place Dolly is occupying and it’s much easier to stand there with Dolly, her sleeves rolled up and some piece of washing or ironing or baking or preserving going on while she talks.

Silas puts the case for the difficulty of trust:

“Ah, but that ‘ud ha’ been hard,” said Silas, in an under-tone; “it ‘ud ha’ been hard to trusten then.”

“And so it would,” said Dolly, almost with compunction; “them things are easier said nor done; and I’m partly ashamed o’ talking.”

“Nay, nay,” said Silas, “you’re i’ the right, Mrs. Winthrop– you’re i’ the right. There’s good i’ this world–I’ve a feeling o’ that now; and it makes a man feel as there’s a good more nor he can see, i’ spite o’ the trouble and the wickedness. That drawing o’ the lots is dark; but the child was sent to me: there’s dealings with us–there’s dealings.”

The reality of the traumatic experience must not be denied: that episode did hurt and  when we look back, you can see the Silas we first knew (man with  the life of a spider, knowing no one, connecting to knowing, only spinning, spinning) as  seemingly irreparably damaged.

It is a lovely moment between the two when Silas considers what it might have been like to continue to trusten in the light of the attack on him by people he loved:

“Ah, but that ‘ud ha’ been hard,” said Silas, in an under-tone; “it ‘ud ha’ been hard to trusten then.”

“And so it would,” said Dolly, almost with compunction; “them things are easier said nor done; and I’m partly ashamed o’ talking.”

Perhaps it is simply not a possibility, as Dolly acknowledges. The damage is too great. Time must pass. Life must reassert itself. ‘It ‘ud ha’ been hard to trusten then” says Silas and I suddenly feel a huge stress on ‘then’.  At that point, you need the habit and form of an outer practice of trust to stand in for the now broken  inner reality.  That can come from other good people, but at that point in his life, Silas did not know any.  Or it might have come from religion, but it was his religious community that had turned on him. He had nothing  except his craft, the spinning, to use as habit and form. Lucky for him he had that. It got him through a long broken piece of time. (Thinking about The Winter’s Tale, where there is another wide gap of time – I’ve said that before, I know).

I’m thinking of  people leaving jail with terrible crimes behind them and no  craft, no habit, no outer form. What is left? To be your  broken, untrusting, bad self over and over?

As for Silas, his work gave him time and money, the cottage in Raveloe, the gold piled up on the hearth, the fire that attracted little Eppie into his home as he stood vacant, entranced. And all that led to some good:

“Nay, nay,” said Silas, “you’re i’ the right, Mrs. Winthrop– you’re i’ the right. There’s good i’ this world–I’ve a feeling o’ that now; and it makes a man feel as there’s a good more nor he can see, i’ spite o’ the trouble and the wickedness. That drawing o’ the lots is dark; but the child was sent to me: there’s dealings with us–there’s dealings.”

You’ve got to stay alive and have time, you’ve got to be safe and contained while you let life assert itself. How are we going to do that for our criminals leaving jail?

I’m thinking of Dickens, in the Autobiographical fragment, reflecting on the terrors of his childhood, writing,

I know how all these things have worked together to make me what I am

‘These things’  – parental abandonment, child labour, abject loneliness – made Charles Dickens the writer he became. Much good came to him in later life. Did it change the horror of his childhood? Of course not.  As in yesterday’s Denise Riley poem, ‘there’s no beauty out of loss, can’t do it’.  Read that chapter of  John Forster’s ‘The Life of Charles Dickens.’

Yet it remains true that you see what you look for: so it is worth letting Dolly ask you, what are you looking for? Can you see any good?

Next time I’ll go further in Chapter XVI, and we’ll read this terrific paragraph:

This dialogue took place in Eppie’s earlier years, when Silas had to part with her for two hours every day, that she might learn to read at the dame school, after he had vainly tried himself to guide her in that first step to learning. Now that she was grown up, Silas had often been led, in those moments of quiet outpouring which come to people who live together in perfect love, to talk with _her_ too of the past, and how and why he had lived a lonely man until she had been sent to him. For it would have been impossible for him to hide from Eppie that she was not his own child: even if the most delicate reticence on the point could have been expected from Raveloe gossips in her presence, her own questions about her mother could not have been parried, as she grew up, without that complete shrouding of the past which would have made a painful barrier between their minds. So Eppie had long known how her mother had died on the snowy ground, and how she herself had been found on the hearth by father Silas, who had taken her golden curls for his lost guineas brought back to him. The tender and peculiar love with which Silas had reared her in almost inseparable companionship with himself, aided by the seclusion of their dwelling, had preserved her from the lowering influences of the village talk and habits, and had kept her mind in that freshness which is sometimes falsely supposed to be an invariable attribute of rusticity. Perfect love has a breath of poetry which can exalt the relations of the least-instructed human beings; and this breath of poetry had surrounded Eppie from the time when she had followed the bright gleam that beckoned her to Silas’s hearth; so that it is not surprising if, in other things besides her delicate prettiness, she was not quite a common village maiden, but had a touch of refinement and fervour which came from no other teaching than that of tenderly-nurtured unvitiated feeling. She was too childish and simple for her imagination to rove into questions about her unknown father; for a long while it did not even occur to her that she must have had a father; and the first time that the idea of her mother having had a husband presented itself to her, was when Silas showed her the wedding-ring which had been taken from the wasted finger, and had been carefully preserved by him in a little lackered box shaped like a shoe. He delivered this box into Eppie’s charge when she had grown up, and she often opened it to look at the ring: but still she thought hardly at all about the father of whom it was the symbol. Had she not a father very close to her, who loved her better than any real fathers in the village seemed to love their daughters? On the contrary, who her mother was, and how she came to die in that forlornness, were questions that often pressed on Eppie’s mind. Her knowledge of Mrs. Winthrop, who was her nearest friend next to Silas, made her feel that a mother must be very precious; and she had again and again asked Silas to tell her how her mother looked, whom she was like, and how he had found her against the furze bush, led towards it by the little footsteps and the outstretched arms. The furze bush was there still; and this afternoon, when Eppie came out with Silas into the sunshine, it was the first object that arrested her eyes and thoughts.

Silas Marner Day 35: Circling round that rock again

a Building in Lysebo, Norway
A building and blurry me, well wadded,  in Lysebo, Norway January 2018

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.