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Middlemarch is the book for Coronavirus: 25 epigrams

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What to do, when you are stuck at home because of the #coronavirus outbreak?

Read Middlemarch, by George Eliot.

George Eliot’s real name was Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880

I read Middlemarch recently and posted on its wisdom about sex and relationships (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

Middlemarch is also full of splendid epigrams.  Here are 25 beauties which caught my eye:

  • a man naturally remembers a charming girl with pleasure, and is willing to dine where he may see her again
  • There is hardly any contact more depressing to a young ardent creature than that of a mind in which years full of knowledge seem to have issued in a blank absence of interest or sympathy
  • A sense of contributing to form the world’s opinion makes conversation particularly cheerful (Comment: who has never experienced this after a drink or two?)
  • The remote worship of a woman throned out of their reach plays a great part in men’s lives
  • when gratitude has become a matter of reasoning there are many ways of escaping from its bonds
  • It is wonderful how much uglier things will look when we only suspect that we are blamed for them.  Even our own persons in the glass are apt to change their aspect for us after we have heard some frank remark on their less admirable points
  • what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.
  • It always remains true that if we had been greater, circumstance would have been less strong against us.
  • indefinite visions of ambition are weak against the ease of doing what is habitual or beguilingly agreeable
  • a first farewell has pathos in it, but to come back for a second lends an opening to comedy
  • Unwonted circumstances may make us all rather unlike ourselves: there are conditions under which the most majestic person is obliged to sneeze
  • In marriage, the certainty, “She will never love me much,” is easier to bear than the fear, “I shall love her no more”
  • that creeping self-despair which comes in the train of petty anxieties.
  • in the midst of his fears, like many a man who is in danger of shipwreck or of being dashed from his carriage by runaway horses, he had a clinging impression that something would happen to hinder the worst
  • Marriage is a taming thing
  • Does any one suppose that private prayer is necessarily candid – necessarily goes to the roots of action?
  • What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?
  • Only those who know the supremacy of the intellectual life – the life which has a seed of ennobling thought and purpose within it – can understand the grief of one who falls from that serene activity into the absorbing soul-wasting struggle with worldly annoyances.
  • What we call the ‘just possible’ is sometimes true and the thing we find it easier to believe is grossly false.
  • Men and women make sad mistakes about their own symptoms, taking their vague uneasy longings, sometimes for genius, sometimes for religion, and oftener still for a mighty love. (Comment: discuss.  Can “Vague, uneasy longings” be mistaken for love?) 
  • They are just the suspicions that cling the most obstinately, because they lie in people’s inclination and can never be disproved.
  • Marriage is so unlike everything else. There is something even awful in the nearness it brings
  • Where women love each other, men learn to smother their mutual dislike (comment: ouch, on behalf of all men!)
  • there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it.
  • 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.

I would welcome thoughts on Middlemarch, including on your appetite for more on this subject!

If you would prefer something cheery and much shorter than Middlemarch, you might like to try my Seven Hotel Stories:

Alternatively, if you like punchy political thrillers, my favourite is Blood Summit.

P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, feel free to friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button).  You can check out the range of writing on this site via my 5 pleasure paths.


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