Thursday, March 25, 2010

godless love

George Eliot deconverted from evangelicalism in her 20's. She was known as "godless" in both beilef and practice since she lived for much of her life with her "husband" George Lewes, although they were never legally married. Her relationship put her outside the boundaries of Victorian society.

However, Queen Victoria was always a strong fan of George Eliot. (In an aside, this reminds me that the queen was also an enthusiastic fan of Annie Oakley.) Victoria was not a promoter of complementary gender roles, as we would imagine them today. She was, nevertheless a romantically attached wife, as were George Eliot and Annie Oakley. These women were all of them pro women, as well as pro marriage.

Adam Bede was George Eliot's first novel, and recounts an incident which the author knew from real life, of a young peasant girl becoming pregnant by a man above her station. Of course, he could not marry her, and the book tells the dark story that ensues. Another sympathetically drawn character in the novel is a young female Methodist preacher, who visits the girl later in prison. We also hear her preach a sermon on compassion and empathy.

The unbelieving George Eliot is still able to depict a preacher in a positive light, highlighting her words of compassion and love. She in no way polemicizes gender roles in ministry in this book, and the young preacher does marry and happily retires from public ministry to become a wife and mother. There is no dichotomy of alienated feminist and domestic wife. For George Eliot, the true woman, is one who is both compassionate and equal, both preacher and wife.

Regarding love, Eliot writes in this novel,
    What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life — to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of last parting? (ch. 54)

No comments: