Friday, May 30, 2008

now she is the less deceived

Zadie Smith on George Eliot:

These days, when reading critically, the fashion is to remain aloof from the human experiences of novelists. Eliot herself was less squeamish. It was her contention that human experience is as powerful a force as theory or revealed fact. Experience transforms perspective, and transformations in perspective constitute real changes in the world. "Our subtlest analysis of schools and sects," she wrote, "must miss the essential truth, unless it be lit up by the love that sees in all forms of human thought and work the life and death struggles of separate human beings." Experience, for Eliot, was a powerful way of knowing. She had no doubt that she had learned as much from loving her partner George Lewes, for example, as she had from translating Spinoza. When Dorothea truly becomes great (only really in the last third of the novel, when she comes to the aid of Lydgate and Rosamund), it is because she has at last recognised the value of emotional experience:

"All the active thought with which she had before been representing to herself the trials of Lydgate's lot [. . .] all this vivid sympathetic experience returned to her now as a power: it asserted itself as acquired knowledge asserts itself and will not let us see as we saw in the day of our ignorance."