“There is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms.”
– George Eliot (Quote courtesy of Goodreads)
I wanted to take this post to write about where the title for my blog comes from. I’m a fan of George Eliot’s writing, in particular The Mill on the Floss, Scenes of Clerical Life and Middlemarch. I like Eliot’s view on the world and like that she examined the rules and norms of the world around her and wrote about her own observations. Eliot lived an unusual life. She was born with the name Maryann Evans in 1819, but she wrote under a male pseudonym and lived with her lover (who was already married to someone else) for several years. (Click here for a PBS biography)
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
She wrote insightful critiques about the literature (and so, the life) of her time. (Check out some of her essays here) She also wrote beautiful, passionate novels. The passion in Eliot’s novels is perhaps what most appeals to me. I love that the quote above talks about human passion in the form of “gusts and storms” as coming from the “unmapped country within” all of “us.” We all have a psychological landscape, parts of it known and parts of it unknown, and certainly this is the source of much of our emotions and behaviors. I liked the idea of all people having mysterious “countries” inside of us. I think this idea emphasizes how important our humanity can be. People are complex, and can contain whole worlds inside them. To understand each other in moments of passion, whether positive or negative, we need to remember that all of us have a complex world inside us.
“Tom and Maggie” (public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Here’s one of my favorite early passages from The Mill on the Floss:
“This attic was Maggie’s favorite retreat on a wet day, when the weather was not too cold; here she fretted out all her ill humors, and talked aloud to the worm-eaten floors and the worm-eaten shelves, and the dark rafters festooned with cobwebs; and here she kept a Fetish which she punished for all her misfortunes. This was the trunk of a large wooden doll, which once stared with the roundest of eyes above the reddest of cheeks; but was now entirely defaced by a long career of vicarious suffering. Three nails driven into the head commemorated as many crises in Maggie’s nine years of earthly struggle; that luxury of vengeance having been suggested to her by the picture of Jael destroying Sisera in the old Bible. The last nail had been driven in with a fiercer stroke than usual, for the Fetish on that occasion represented aunt Glegg. But immediately afterward Maggie had reflected that if she drove many nails in she would not be so well able to fancy that the head was hurt when she knocked it against the wall, nor to comfort it, and make believe to poultice it, when her fury was abated; for even aunt Glegg would be pitiable when she had been hurt very much, and thoroughly humiliated, so as to beg her niece’s pardon. Since then she had driven no more nails in, but had soothed herself by alternately grinding and beating the wooden head against the rough brick of the great chimneys that made two square pillars supporting the roof. That was what she did this morning on reaching the attic, sobbing all the while with a passion that expelled every other form of consciousness,–even the memory of the grievance that had caused it. As at last the sobs were getting quieter, and the grinding less fierce, a sudden beam of sunshine, falling through the wire lattice across the worm-eaten shelves, made her throw away the Fetish and run to the window. The sun was really breaking out; the sound of the mill seemed cheerful again; the granary doors were open; and there was Yap, the queer white-and-brown terrier, with one ear turned back, trotting about and sniffing vaguely, as if he were in search of a companion. It was irresistible. Maggie tossed her hair back and ran downstairs, seized her bonnet without putting it on, peeped, and then dashed along the passage lest she should encounter her mother, and was quickly out in the yard, whirling round like a Pythoness, and singing as she whirled, “Yap, Yap, Tom’s coming home!” while Yap danced and barked round her, as much as to say, if there was any noise wanted he was the dog for it.”
A little child who drives nails into a doll sh’s named the “Fetish” after being inspired by the “luxury of vengeance” she found in the Bible? I’m in. George Eliot makes fabulous characters. Her books explore gender roles in fascinating ways as well. I haven’t read them all, yet, but they’re on my mental to-read list! Any other George Eliot fans out there?