Theresa’s passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life: what were many-volumed romances of chivalry and the social conquests of a brilliant girl to her? Her flame quickly burned up that light fuel; and, fed from within, soared after some illimitable satisfaction, some object which would never justify weariness, which would reconcile self-despair with the rapturous consciousness of life beyond self. She found her epos in the reform of a religious order…. Many Theresas have been born who found themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes… With dim lights and tangled circumstance they tried to shape their thought and deed in noble agreement; but, after all, to common eyes their struggles seemed mere inconsistency and formlessness; for these later-born Theresas were helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul.
– George Eliot, Middlemarch
I first read Middlemarch in high school. It was not assigned to me; I think that year my only assignments were the dreaded Saxon Math homework and a few vaguely planned and never completely unit studies. I picked up the book myself, if memory serves, at the Library Book Sale. I remember clearly the feel of the paperback cover on my palm, the smell of the pages, the simple elation I felt as paragraph after paragraph opened new worlds.
I knew at that time that Middlemarch was special. It was a favorite book. It said something to my soul.
And to this day I can not remember one thing about it. The plot, the prose, the book that defined that year for me - gone. I can remember well the stories of books read even longer ago, quotes from stories that meant nearly nothing to me, but Middlemarch is lost.
And then I happened upon this. And Middlemarch lived for me again.
The above quote and the following article (follow the link: please read) changed me forever. Not that the article itself was the cause of my change, rather the article was the link that completed a phase of my change. I have gone back, again and again, to read and re-read what so eloquently puts into words my journey, the hard-won truths of my life, the glaringly obvious ways I have been hurt and hurt others. The darkness and light that plague me incessantly and brightly illuminate how I had once been so different.
Most often I read that little portion of Middlemarch. Every time I read it something else causes my breath to catch and my eyes to water. I wonder, and berate myself a little, how I could not remember this. How could I have missed this? The truths it holds for my life are tantalizing and frustrating and oh so clear.
After almost a year of returning, little by little, to this quote and to the world of Middlemarch, I am persuaded that I do not remember the book because it was too much for me to remember. I was a child with a child's simplicity. We are all beaten in the fire of life, we are all shaped. We all start somewhere else, as someone else. I began very simply, in a simple life.
I had an ardently willing soul. I found my epos in the reform of a religious order. I knew no other path, I saw no other option, I grasped no other avenue for an epic life. Outside of my small world, there was only a damned life.
Perhaps now I have only a life of mistakes, lived in dim lights and tangled circumstance. Perhaps I have lost something, now that no religion determines my thinking* or forms my life for me. But, perhaps, this is the epic life I was searching for all along.
*yes, yes, yes - religion and the religious culture i grew up in will always inform my thinking and life. i can not leave your culture and upbringing entirely behind me. but it is not "performing the function of knowledge" for me as it did in past years.