Three More Middlemarch Quotes

George EliotBad enough that the doors shut on the Holy Father with nightfall in Italy. I also came to the end of the best novel I have ever read–on the same daggone day! Pray that I will find a reason for living tomorrow.

It was one of those moments in which both the busy and the idle pause with a certain awe. (Chapter 83)

We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement. (Chapter 79)

Not too many novels can compete with The Great Gatsby for most-powerful moralizing final paragraph. But Middlemarch wins. Eliot writes of her heroine, who has gone on to live an unremarkable life as the wife of a small-time politician:

Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength,* spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

* One of Cyrus’ prize horses drowned in a river which fed the Tigris. Enraged and bent on “revenge,” he ordered his entire army to spend the summer digging trenches on the river banks, to turn the swelling river into a marshland of rivulets. Then, the following spring, he went on to conquer Babylon.

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